Cornell West: a modern prophet on a religious quest in the modern age


It is time for me to renew my religious quest in the modern age. 

I have hear Brother Cornell West, as he likes to be known,  speak a couple of times and once in person at Arizona State University where they invite the world’s greatest teachers to come to speak and invite mere minions like Chris and I. He is a flamboyant speaker and in my opinion a great thinker.  He has taught at Harvard, Princeton, and Union Theological Seminary. He is a frequent speaker and in fact says he has never been  home for one weekend. Usually he has 4 speaking engagements per weekend! He is the author of 20 books and has edited 13 more. I have seen him frequently on Real Time with Bill Maher where he usually outshines all the other guests.  He is never boring. He also had a part in the Matrix.  Naturally, he rarely sleeps.

West is also “a prominent and provocative democratic intellectual” according to his own website. He is not shy as you tell from that. He is certainly not shy when he speaks. Although I have not heard him call himself a prophet I think the word is appropriate. He is a modern prophet on a religious quest in the modern age. He has said this of himself: “I am a profoundly Jesus-loving free black man who bears witness to truth and justice until the day I die.”

Cornel West is a man of great interests who  has a passion to communicate to a vast variety of publics in order to keep alive the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. – a legacy of telling the truth and bearing witness to love and justice. That is what being a prophet is all about.

One person he does say was a modern prophet was Martin Luther King Jr. Cornel West sees the legacy of  King as one of “telling the truth and bearing witness to love and justice.” That is what the Hebrew prophets did. That is what Martin Luther King Jr. did and that is what Cornell West has done. Being a prophet is not about making predictions. That is cheap prophecy.


This is what West said in 2015 after his talk at the University of Winnipeg:


“Martin Luther King, was an example of a modern prophet.  That does not mean he made predictions about the future. That is not what prophets are about. That is cheap notion of prophet—a trickster.  West, said, inspired by King ,that there were 4 diseases eating at the heart of the US democratic experiment and they are poverty, racism, militarism, and materialism. They are eating the heart out of that great country.  (And the same thing is happening in Canada, I would add.)


That type of thinking became a danger to the oligarchs. They were more than uneasy with it. Just before Martin Luther King Jr. died 72% of Americans and 55% of Blacks in America, disapproved of him because he was too dangerous. “Anybody filled with that much love and full of that kind of fire for justice and will cut against the grain.”  That’s why corporate radio referred to him as an extension of Hanoi. They called him a Communist. The truth always allows the suffering to speak out.”

West sees the essence of the job of the prophet (mirroring the Hebrew Prophets of the Bible: “My job is to go down swinging for truth and justice,” said West. That is the job of the prophet. He wants to give voice to the powerless. The powerful don’t  need his help.

I will speak more about him in future posts.




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