Books #14-17: Race relations, theology and religion, oh my!

Fast facts: We’re going to do this a little differently today since there are FOUR books in this blog…

Book 1: “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander. Genre is nonfiction criminal justice, race discrimination and relations; adult audience. Rating: 10/10; please read this book. If you care about anything at all, please, please read this.

Book 2: “Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God” by Kelly Brown Douglas. Genre is nonfiction race relations, racism in the United States, and religion/theology and race. Adult audience. Rating: 9/10; please also read this book, if you care about anything that is holy and good and important.

Book 3: “Christ and Culture” by H. Richard Niebuhr. Genre is Christian theology and ethics; adult audience. Rating: 8/10; this is a classic book that, although imperfect, should continue to be read.

Book 4: “Varieties of Religion Today: William James Revisited” by Charles Taylor. Genre is religion, religious experience, psychology of religion; adult audience. Rating: I’m not sure I’m qualified to rate this book. I literally don’t know what I read.

I read all four of these books for class this semester. I also read an entire 450-page book about world religions, but I decided not to count that in my 50-book goal simply because it wouldn’t make for a very good blog post.

All of these books were heavy reads that required an immense amount of focus and intentionality in reading. There was most certainly no Netflix and read with these babies!

alexander

I have wanted to read The New Jim Crow since I first heard commentary on it last semester. When I found out in the fall that my ethics professor was assigning this book for my spring class, I was really excited. Michelle Alexander did not disappoint; through in-depth research, wonderfully crafted arguments and the use of case studies, she clearly and convincingly argues that the War on Drugs and mass incarceration act as today’s modern Jim Crow.

This book built perfectly upon the research my classmates and I did in our honors sociology class, where we discussed personal and systemic discrimination. More than once while reading this book I entertained thoughts about attending law school for the sake of fighting this “war.”

The New Jim Crow is a vital resource for anyone in pursuit of understanding white privilege and minority discrimination, specifically of blacks in America. Certainly there is a large part of the population who would not believe Alexander’s argument, but I am not one of them. Everyone, truly everyone, needs to know about this book. Her writing is clear and compelling in such a way that I think it has the power to open eyes and change people’s perspectives, if read with charity for the “other.” This book is that important.

brown douglas

I read Stand Your Ground immediately after finishing The New Jim Crow. Although I do not think Brown Douglas is as skilled at writing as Alexander, I think her argument includes a necessary component that Alexander doesn’t touch on very long—that blacks in America suffered at the hands of whites long before the Jim Crow era and that America’s very foundation continues to affect the lives of blacks in America today.

Douglas begins her argument long before the first day of American independence, and she weaves a historical journey from Germany, England, Africa and other nations and how they culminated in the “melting pot” we now know as America. She argues that America was created on a basis of Anglo-Saxon exceptionalism that placed Anglo-Saxon men at the highest point of freedom. Meanwhile, African-Americans were given the title of chattel, mere property. Because of this title, blacks were never afforded the right to “stand their ground,” and as a result, we live in a society that kills innocent people like Trayvon Martin.

Douglas delves deep into theology, history and ethics in this book. In the midst of reading Stand Your Ground, it became clear that I was nowhere close to being done with this field of research. Although few will see this statement, I am proud to announce that my senior honors thesis will be centered around this topic—race relations in the United States and how Christians should respond. I cannot wait to share this research with the world in November! (Eeeeeek, that’s so close!)

niebuhr

Christ and Culture is a revealing read. Niebuhr spells out five types of responses to the question of how Christ interacts with culture. There are two extreme types, radicals and culture Christians, and then three middle-ground types, the synthesists, dualists and transformationists.

The book is not prescriptive, but rather descriptive. Although its typology is no doubt somewhat outdated now, nearly 70 years after its first publication, Niebuhr still has a great deal to reveal to readers about how Christians engage with dominant culture. Since I read this for class, I also read several critical articles of the book; in the end, however, I think Christ and Culture is worth reading, if for nothing more than to recognize why it is some Christians seem to be operating from totally different worlds.

charles taylor

I swear I read this short, 116-page book from Charles Taylor. I even answered a couple essay questions about it for a final exam. However, friends, for the life of me I cannot begin to tell you what it is about. It was way over my head…of course, perhaps that is because I read the entire thing the night before our final class session, and I was also simultaneously holding a conversation with my roommate. Y’all, maybe I shouldn’t count this one after all…