Malcolm X Was Right About Christianity

Yesterday I was reading one of Malcolm X’s speeches, “Black Man’s History,” and I came to this:

When you go to one of the churches you will notice that it is named after some word in their Bible: Big Rock Baptist Church, or Drinking at the Well Baptist Church, Friendship Baptist Church, Union Baptist, Israel Baptist, Jacob’s Ladder Baptist. They find some kind of old funny word in their Bible to name their whole religion after. Their whole doctrine is based on a verse in the Bible: “He rose.”

Apparently Malcolm knew a lot of Baptist churches, but that’s not what jumped out. It’s that last sentence, what he surely meant as a humorous insult. I read this and thought: He understood Christianity better than many of us Christians. I’m not sure if Malcolm had in mind the angels’ explanation to the disciples at the empty tomb or the Apostle Paul’s explanation in 1 Corinthians, but either way he was absolutely right that for Christians our entire doctrine rests on this singular belief: Jesus rose. This isn’t everything we’d want to say about the nature of Christian faith, but without it there isn’t anything to say. I wonder how many Christians could be this precise about the nature of our faith?

Beyond this essential fact is what I take to be his tone, simultaneously playful (he knew his audience) and dismissive. Throughout his speech Malcolm extolled his experience of Islam for it’s universality- that, according to Malcolm’s teachers, it had extended far longer than Christianity or Judaism and that its doctrine was drawn from the entire scripture and not, as he saw Christianity, a single verse. Here again Malcolm got something about Christian faith that many of us forget, which is the utterly strange and embarrassing nature of a faith that requires belief in a dead God-man’s return to life.

Malcolm would have agreed with Paul– this is a foolish stumbling block of the greatest magnitude.

On the Night Stand

Later this summer our family is taking a week vacation where our primary activities will be cooking, napping and reading.  I’m interested in what books you’d recommend I bring; I’m especially interested in fiction as I read far too few novels.

Malcolm X: A Life Of Reinvention by Manning MarbleI’m coming to the end of Manning Marble’s fantastic new biography of Malcolm X.  It’s a large book built on two decades of research and I’ve learned so much about this iconic figure, along with the context that was so influential in his life and work.

Parker Palmer’s small book, Let Your Life Speak, has been my weekly day-off reading for the past few weeks.  I’ve found myself referencing the book in multiple conversations and this will be a resource I recommend to those thinking about vocation, calling, career, etc.

Two books await some upcoming time away from work.  I’ve enjoyed Alan Jacobs’ essays and have been anticipating his latest, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction.  For my birthday last week Maggie gave me How to Write a Sentence by Stanley Fish, a book that promises to be far more interesting than the title suggests.  (Unless you’re the sort who notices the ways words are stacked together.  You know who you are.)

Lastly, my sister and brother-in-law gave me a subscription to The New York Review of Books that should begin arriving any day.  I have a thing about rotating magazine subscriptions yearly so this replaces The Believer which I thoroughly enjoyed, mostly for its utterly unpredictable but always intriguing content.