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By James A. Noel (auth.)

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In Calvin’s theology one was never certain if one was numbered among the elect or the damned. Smith’s theodicy gave no assurances in the ultimate sense on this issue while, at the same time, providing the rational for why some were assigned to the lot of workers and other to the lot of owners in this present life. No other scheme was possible. One alternative of the “classical civic humanist ideal of a virtuous republic which delegated productive labor to 42 Black Religion and the Imagination of Matter slaves” was repugnant to Christian scruples.

How did this happen? It happened because Smith’s politicaleconomy set the limit upon the modern Protestant theological imagination with the exception of the utopians. With rare exceptions, no Protestant thinkers after Smith have been able to address the aforementioned megaquestion from outside his framework of politicaleconomy: What are the possibilities and limits of human freedom in the world in relation to their ultimate source who is God? In having convinced all but a very few skeptics that the system of exchanges constituting global capitalism is the best of all possible worlds, the pragmatic possibilities conceivable to the Protestant theological imagination have already been foreclosed before its theoretical activity is even initiated.

Giambattista Vico, Mircea Eliade, and Charles H. Long have shown that invisible religious realities are imagined through material forms. The way the black body was imagined, described, painted, and forgotten allowed Europeans to imagine the valorized category of “whiteness” as the basis of their modern identity. How is human consciousness able to accomplish this? ” The first human beings, he speculated, were incapable of knowledge because their consciousness was hopelessly trapped within the ceaseless flux of sensations.

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