White Property, Black Trespass: A Theological-Political Account of Criminalization
This dissertation develops a theological-political account of the criminalization of black and economically dispossessed peoples and sketches toward a political theology in pursuit of a world freed from it. It begins by conveying the political and theological origins of the whiteness, absolutely exclusive private property, and patriarchy that criminalization exists to serve and protect. Emerging together from the confluence of European colonialism, racial capitalism, and the Christian theological thought and practice that buttress them, whiteness, private property, and patriarchy are manifestations of a self-deifying aspiration to godlike power and invulnerability that transforms nonwhite and economically dispossessed peoples into exploitable resources, on the one hand, and inherently criminal threats that necessitate carceral intervention, on the other. As such, I argue that criminalization constitutes a distorted manifestation of a Christian soteriology of subjection that defines sin as a corrupted ontological state characterized by the disobedient refusal to be subject to God, and salvation as that which enables a return to life-giving subjection. Much as for soteriologies of subjection, the pseudo-soteriology of criminalization rests on the presumption that the “criminal” refusal to be properly subject to a law made by and for the pseudo-godlike possessors of whiteness, property, and patriarchy establishes a relation of indebtedness and guilt that can only be paid by carceral debt-satisfaction or punishment that returns “criminals” to their proper subjected place in the social order. Despite being framed as a kind of salvation for those made subject, carceral captivity is in fact a form of damnation to hell on earth. As such, the only thing that criminalization “saves” is the white supremacist capitalist patriarchal social order itself. In contrast to the individual, exclusive, and unlimited “possession” that constitutes the normative (white, propertied, male) modern person and “his” godlike power over creation, and in contrast to a carceral soteriology that sacralizes subjection and permanent relations of obligation, I conclude by sketching, first, toward a personhood based in theological-political “participation” in the life of God, others, and the world, and, second, toward a decarceral soteriology based in release from forced captivity and the healing of infirmity.