Howard Thurman’s Jesus and the Disinherited, Part 3

See all four parts of this series:

Chapter 4: Hate

The disinherited experience unpredictable gusts of hatred.

“Christianity has been almost sentimental in its effort to deal with hatred in human life. It has sough to get rid of hatred by preachments, by moralizing, by platitudinous judgments. It has hesitated to analyze the basis of hatred and to evaluate it in terms of its possible significance in the lives of the people possessed by it.” (p. 75)

Thurman gives an anatomy of hatred. Hatred starts with a contact without fellowship or warmth.

“In the first place, hatred often begins in a situation in which there is contact without fellowship, contact that is devoid of any of the primary overtures of warmth and fellow-feeling and genuineness. Of course, it must be borne in mind that there can be an abundance of sentimentality masquerading under the cloak of fellowship. It is easy to have fellowship on your own terms and to repudiate it if your terms are not acceptable.” (pp. 75-76)

“In the second place, contacts without fellowship tend to express themselves in the kind of understanding that is strikingly unsympathetic. There is understanding of a kind, but it is without the healing and reinforcement of personality. Rather, it is like the experience of going into a man’s office and, in that moment before being seated, when the full gaze of the other is focused upon you, suddenly wondering whether the top button of your vest is in place, but not daring to look. In a penetrating, incisive, cold understanding there is no cushion to absorb limitations or to provide extenuating circumstances for protection.” (p. 76-77)

Understanding is not always sympathetic. There is a sort of understanding that can be given even to an enemy, the kind calculated to “be used as a weapon of offense or defense.” (p. 77) This sort of understanding without sympathy characterizes the relation between strong and weak.

Unsympathetic understanding gives way to active ill will. And when ill will becomes embodied and dramatized, it becomes “hatred walking the earth.”

This is hatred is mutually reinforcing between the strong and weak. The hatred of each group is fueled by the hatred of the other. In fact, I might add, it is easier for the strong to get by without such hatred. The strong have the luxury of not really thinking about the weak, provided that they will only stay away. They have no need of them.

“I was once seated in a Jim Crow car which extended across the highway at a railway station in Texas. Two Negro girls of about fourteen or fifteen sat behind me. One of them looked out of the window and said, ‘Look at those kids.’ She referred to two little white girls, who were skating towards the train. ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if they fell and spattered their brains all over the pavement!’ I looked at them. Through what torture chambers had they come—torture chambers that had so attacked the grounds of humaneness in them that there was nothing capable of calling forth any appreciation or understanding of white persons? There was something that made me shiver.” (p. 78-79)

Thurman invites the reader to imagine what it would be like to be the child “who had to do without” in a family of five children where there was always enough only for four. Perhaps the child would complain to the closest sibling and be told that this was disloyal to mother and father. Perhaps the child would speak out to his father only to be reprimanded. In the quiet of night that hatred will kindle from the smoldering fire of resentment. Hatred will soon become “a source of validation for your personality.” It gives to you a sense of significance to fling in the face of others’ estimate of you.

“It is this kind of attitude that is developed in the mind and soul of the weak and the disinherited. As they look out upon their world, they recognize at once that they are the victims of a systematic denial of the rights and privileges that are theirs, by virtue both of their being human and of their citizenship. Their acute problem is to deal with the estimate that their environment places upon them; for the environment, through its power-controlling and prestige-bearing representatives, has announced to them that they do not rate anything other than that which is being visited upon them. If they accept this judgment, then the grounds of their self-estimate is destroyed, and their acquiescence becomes an endorsement of the judgment of the environment. Because they are despised, they despise themselves. If they reject the judgment, hatred may serve as a device for rebuilding, step by perilous step, the foundation for individual significance; so that from within the intensity of their necessity they declare their right to exist, despite the judgment of the environment.” (p. 81)

“Hatred makes this sort of profound contribution to the life of the disinherited, because it establishes a dimension of self-realization hammered out of the raw materials of injustice.” (p. 82) Hatred leads to a sort of self-realization as a rallying point for personality. It unlocks our agency. “A strange, new cunning possesses the mind, and every opportunity for taking advantage, for defeating the enemy, is revealed in clear perspective” (p. 82). It also produces a preternatural endurance, that of a boy who being overpowered will say, “I’ll die before I cry.” (p. 82)

When hatred has produced this sort of self-realization, it also generates a sort of illusion of righteousness. “Often there are but thin lines between bitterness, hatred, self-realization, defiance, and righteous indignation. The logic of the strong-weak relationship is to place all moral judgment of behavior out of bounds.” (p. 82) In other words, behavior which would bring about self-condemnation is necessary and defensible. It is merely settling an account. So, hatred is a useful tool for protecting ourselves against moral disintegration. It gives us a moral clarity and courage about the rightness of own actions. This is very useful in war times to inspire young men to do things they could not make themselves do otherwise.

Devastatingly, hatred plays this role in the strong and the weak. It gives use complete immunity from self condemnation for the brutality with which we treat each other. In adopting a life-negating attitude toward the other, I am merely adopting a life-affirming attitude toward my brother and sister.

So, hatred does fulfill a creative and inspiring purpose. It is reasonable to suppose that Jesus understood this well. Yet, writes Thurman, “In the face of the obvious facts of his environment he counseled against hatred, and his word is, “Love your enemies,… that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust.” (p. 86)

“Despite all the positive psychological attributes of hatred we have outlined, hatred destroys finally the core of the life of the hater. While it lasts, burning in white heat, its effect seems positive and dynamic. But at last it turns to ash, for it guarantees a final isolation from one’s fellows. It blinds the individual to all values of worth, even as they apply to himself and to his fellows. Hatred bears deadly and bitter fruit. It is blind and nondiscriminating.” (p. 86)

“Jesus rejected hatred. It was not because he lacked the vitality or the strength. It was not because he lacked the incentive. Jesus rejected hatred because he saw that hatred meant death to the mind, death to the spirit, death to communion with his Father. He affirmed life; and hatred was the great denial.” (p. 88)

Howard Thurman’s Jesus and the Disinherited, Part 2

See all four parts of this series:

Chapter 3: Deception

Howard Thurman’s next topic raises a very strategic moral question for the strong. Why is it that disempowered people deceive? He writes, “Deception is perhaps the oldest of all the techniques by which the weak have protected themselves against the strong. Through the ages, at all stages of sentient activity, the weak have survived by fooling the strong.” (p. 58)

Thurman cites a litany of examples: the deceptions of birds in nature, of children against the parental will, of women toward men, of slaves toward their masters. Deception is a very old and tested defense against power, which raises serious ethical questions. Is truth required in the face of oppressive force, violence, or the threat of death?

Thurman argues that there are three basic alternatives: (1) to accept that given one’s situation there is no choice but to deceive; (2) to place deception on a scale of moral hierarchies and compromise given certain circumstances; or (3) a complete and devastating sincerity.

In the first case, when a man knows he is defeated before he has started, there is no question of fair dealing, no sense of community. A person must do what is necessary to survive.

Thurman writes,

“The fact is, in any great struggle between groups in which the major control of the situation is on one side, the ethical question tends to become merely academic. The advantaged group assumes that they are going to be fooled, if it is possible; there is no expectation of honesty and sincerity. They know that every conceivable device will be used to render ineffective the advantage which they have inherited in their position as the strong. The pattern of deception by which the weak are deprived of their civic, economic, political, and social rights without its appearing that they are so deprived is a matter of continuous and tragic amazement. The pattern of deception by which the weak circumvent the strong and manage to secure some of their political, economic, and social rights is a matter of continuous degradation. A vast conspiracy of silence covers all these maneuvers as the groups come into contact with each other, and the question of morality is not permitted to invade it.” (pp. 63-64)

The consequences of such a situation are devastating. A man who feels forced to life will eventually lose the capacity to see the truth. “The penalty of deception is to become a deception, with all sense of moral discrimination vitiated.” (p. 65)

In the second case, compromise is a sort of deliberate strategy as occasion necessitates. The whole business of these sort of deceptive compromises is “sordid and degrading.” But even so, they are generally seen to be necessary in extreme circumstances to the extent that they are seen to be amoral.

A consequence of this is that religion is seen to be applicable only in those areas where it is seen to be “reasonable,” given contextual difficulties. It is hard to see these sorts of deceptions as in any way harmful to the disinherited. “Not to be killed becomes the great end” of moral action. (p. 69) But this justification of these sorts of deceptions are also present in groups like the Nazis and the KKK. The exaggerated emphasis on not being killed cheapens life.

Therefore, Thurman recommends the third alternative, complete and devastating sincerity. One can be completely truthful “whatever the cost may be in life, limb, or security.” (p. 69) He writes, “There must always be the confidence that the effect of truthfulness can be realized in the mind of the oppressor as well as the oppressed. There is no substitute for such a faith.” (p. 70)

Jesus challenges the disinherited with a powerful revolutionary appeal, “Let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.” (p. 71) Was Jesus naïve? Is he counseling suicide? Thurman argues no. Jesus was well aware of the great social pressures in which he operated. His words must not be dismissed so easily.

We must always remember that we live in the presence of God, under his scrutiny. And “there is no really significant living for a man, whatever may be his status, until he has turned and faced the divine scrutiny.” (p. 71) We must be mindful that the judge waits to give his verdict on the significance of men’s deeds.

And we must utterly reject hypocrisy because so doing removes a major defense mechanism of the strong. (I think here of the reasons why people do not give to homeless people.) Sincerity is not itself a defense against the dominant, but it leaves the dominant with not defense, no lasting sense of moral superiority to lean on in their own self-deception.

Hypocrisy from the weak is a sort of tribute, or tithe, paid to the dominant group. By withholding this tribute, by offering simple sincerity instead, the dominant group loses its advantage. “Instead of relation between the weak and the strong there is merely a relationship between human beings. A man is a man, no more, no less. The awareness of this fact marks the supreme moment of human dignity.” (p. 73)

The Logic of the Body (Lexham 2020)

I am really excited that my book, The Logic of the Body: Retrieving Theological Psychology, is set to be released with Lexham on November 4, 2020. Kevin Vanhoozer has submitted an introduction. Below is a quick preview, publisher’s blurb, and endorsements.

Publisher’s Blurb

“Do not be anxious about anything.” When it comes to stress and worry, that’s all we really need to say, right? Just repent of your anxiety, and everything will be fine.

But emotional life is more complex than this.

In The Logic of the Body, Matthew LaPine argues that Protestants must retrieve theological psychology in order to properly understand the emotional life of the human person. With classical and modern resources in tow, LaPine argues that one must not choose between viewing emotions exclusively as either cognitive and volitional on the one hand, or simply a feeling of bodily change on the other. The two “stories” can be reconciled through a robustly theological analysis.

In a culture filled with worry and anxiety, The Logic of the Body offers a fresh path within the Reformed tradition.


“This is not only first-rate, but desperately needed. To cite one example, a holistic approach to the human person is crucial for addressing the embodied habits of anxiety.”
JP Moreland, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, Talbot School of Theology, Biola University and author of Finding Quiet

“Certain books have the ability to transform our understanding of ourselves, of life, and of ministry. For me, The Logic of the Body is one such paradigm-shaping book. This is Christian scholarship at its best—careful exegesis of biblical passages, illuminating retrieval of historical categories, thoughtful and critical engagement with modern science and secular sources, all in order to do constructive theology in service of the church. Every pastor, theologian, and counselor needs to read this book.”
Joe Rigney, Assistant Professor of Theology and Literature at Bethlehem College & Seminary, Pastor at Cities Church, Saint Paul, MN

“Having suffered from serious public-speaking anxiety in my 20s and 30s, I read Dr. LaPine’s book with great interest. Is an anxious Christian a contradiction in terms, caused by lack of faith? In showing why the answer to this question is ‘no’, LaPine masterfully engages Thomas Aquinas and contemporary thinkers such as J. P. Moreland in defense of a ‘dualistic holism’. This is a most welcome book from a young doctor of the soul.”
Matthew Levering, James N. and Mary D. Perry Jr. Chair of Theology, Mundelein Seminary

“Demonstrated mastery of a highly circumscribed academic area is a hallmark of late modern scholarship. But how are we ever to gain a greater grasp of the whole, in order to approximate, analogically, more of the divine understanding, the true aim of Christian scholarship? Collaboration is essential, but also individuals willing to transcend late modern disciplinary boundaries and do their best to master multiple academic areas. LaPine has demonstrated such transdisciplinary competence in this remarkable synthesis of classic and contemporary Christian theological and philosophical reflection and secular empirical research on the role of the emotions in healthy human functioning. It also exemplifies what some would call a Christian psychology.”
Eric L. Johnson, Director of the Gideon Institute for Christian Psychology & Counseling and Professor of Christian Psychology at Houston Baptist University

“I am grateful for LaPine’s new study in theological anthropology, The Logic of the Body. A careful, scholarly piece of retrieval theology, it judiciously draws on the riches of the historical tradition in conversation with contemporary philosophy, neuroscience, and psychology, in order to develop a constructive theology of the emotions for today. It is not simply an academic study, however. With a sympathetic eye, LaPine uncovers a blindspot in the contemporary, Reformed tradition’s under-developed anthropology, which tends to underestimate the role of the body in our emotional life. This has effects in our pastoral counsel. In its place, he puts forth a holistic model suited to both Biblical revelation and a more careful pastoral practice. And as a pastor to college students wrestling with every emotional malady spanning from anxiety to depression, addiction to self-harm, this is what I appreciate most. LaPine manages to shine new light on the way Christ redeems us in the Gospel, both body and soul, and yes, emotions too.”
Derek Rishmawy, RUF Campus Minister at UC Irvine, Ph.D. Candidate at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and Co-Host of the Mere Fidelity Podcast

Matthew LaPine’s The Logic of the Body: Retrieving Theological Psychology is both a timely and learned contribution to the ongoing academic conversation about the intersection of theology and psychology. More importantly, it is an invaluable contribution to pastoral theology. Pastors need to know what it means to be human, and they need to know what it means to be flawed moral agents. LaPine speaks to both of these perennial issues and adds to this important conversation, offering a fresh and original contribution that is imminently serviceable in the life and ministry of the local church. Highly recommend! 
Todd Wilson, Co-Founder and President of the Center for Pastor Theologians, author of Real Christian and Mere Sexuality, and co-author of The Pastor Theologian

“Few books are more relevant to the pastor’s care of souls than Matthew LaPine’s book, The Logic of the Body. Representing the best of evangelical scholarship, LaPine leans on church history and faithful exegesis to charter a helpful vision of the body’s part in sanctification. His proposal for an eschatologically sensitive psychology produces hope, realism, and compassion for the pilgrim’s progress in this life. This book is a crucial tool for the high stakes of ministry.”
Jonathan Parnell, Lead Pastor, Cities Church, Saint Paul, Minnesota; author, Mercy for Today and Never Settle for Normal

“Emotions and embodiment are two vital aspects of the human experience, and yet far too often Christian accounts have pitted them against one another in problematic ways. Thankfully, Matthew LaPine’s volume pushes us to avoid picking between a psychological account and a theological one, but instead aims to help us see them together in a fresh way. His proposal offers much insightful reflection for all of us who care about more holistic accounts of the human person.”
Kelly M. Kapic, Covenant College and author of Embodied Hope

“A theological account of what it means to be human—that creature specially made by God and for God—cannot afford to ignore the topic of human emotions insofar as their devastation by sin is one of the chief causes of our departure from God and their sanctification by grace is one of the chief ways in which God moves us into deeper fellowship with himself. In this learned study, Matthew LaPine demonstrates the promise of a broadly Thomist approach to human emotions for theological anthropology. Learning its lessons well will benefit anyone involved in the care of souls.”
Scott Swain, President and James Woodrow Hassell Professor of Systematic Theology, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, FL

“Contemporary Protestantism has written therapeutic checks that its moral psychology just can’t cover. One of the most pressing orders of the day is to develop an anthropology and moral psychology that does real justice to the whole counsel of God. Theologians also need to avoid ignoring or simply parroting neurophysiology. Matthew LaPine prompts such development with this argument for a holistic and tiered psychology. All future work in this area will have to engage with his arguments.”
Michael Allen, John Dyer Trimble Professor of Systematic Theology, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, FL, USA

“All too often, Christian attempts to show mercy to those struggling with mental illness have caused harm because of questionable assumptions about the human body and the human person. This book is a greatly needed theological and historical exploration of those assumptions.”
Alex Tuckness, Professor of Political Science at Iowa State University and co-author of The Decline of Mercy in Public Life.

“Far too often when dealing with negative emotions we divide body and soul, not seeing individuals holistically. I’m thankful for Matt’s faithful work to present a comprehensive biblical treatment of theological psychology. In this book, he humbly offers us a more responsible, sophisticated, and compelling framework for handling emotions. I believe this book will greatly benefit the church.”
Laura Wifler, Cofounder of Risen Motherhood; podcaster; coauthor, Risen Motherhood: Gospel Hope for Everyday Moments

“As a work of theology, The Logic of the Body is a rare blend of first-rate scholarship and first-rate pastoral insight. LaPine accomplishes what few even attempt: He writes a work that must be considered by both the academy and the church. By offering a more robust evangelical theology of how people change, the insights of The Logic of the Body have reshaped my approach to pastoral care and community life in the local church. If you are a pastor who wants to faithfully apply the Gospel in a way that is both true to Scripture and true to life, take the time to carefully read this book.”
Mark Vance, Lead Pastor, Cornerstone Church, Ames, IA

“Matthew LaPine pulls from history, theologians, scholars, experience, story, and ultimately scripture to lead us on a pathway of grace through the messy world of seemingly contradictory solutions surrounding mental health. This book not only helps those of us doing ministry in real-time but also gives a balm of hope to those who struggle with our own mental health battles, showing that there might be a way and a whole new type of conversation we can have around these topics. With both the gentleness of a shepherd and the fortitude of a well-studied and engaged mind, Matthew shows us a new way to minister and learn about mental health as believers.”
Andrea Burke, Women’s Ministry Director at Grace Road Church, Rochester, NY, Writer, and Host of Good Enough podcast