Feb 22, 2012

Insurrection Ch. 5 & 6: Participation Creates Reality

This is my continuing "review" of Peter Rollins' book Insurrection, although I'm really writing with a mixture of review, summation, and personal reflection. In short, these writings are more a way for myself to work through what this all means, rather than a "review" per say, or my trying to convince anyone else of these ideas. Additionally, please note that my beliefs expressed here may not necessarily coincide perfectly with Rollins'.  You can view the previous installments in previous posts below.
Beliefs are important, but the comforting powers of beliefs need to be rejected.  Those comforting powers lie in the way that beliefs ease our anxieties, i.e., the way they satisfy our psychological need for God to exist.

The real event of the cross is not that some great injustice was done, or that an innocent man was killed, but rather that God as a psychological crutch dies.  There's more than just a feeling of God not being present--God actually is not present.  There is forsakenness of any divine figure, and then nothingness.  Every sense of certainty, identity, and order are drained of all operative power, and we are left naked.  There is an experienced loss of all meaning (existential atheism); the very foundation we've built our lives on is ripped away.

"The cross is the moment when we join with Christ in crying out, 'Why have you forsaken me?'" (p. 82.)  Religion is buried.

Anxieties are different than fear, in that fear has an object, but anxiety does not.  Fear is being scared of something, e.g., spiders.  Anxiety, however, has no object.  It is "a response to the foreboding shadow of nothingness itself."  (p. 83.)  As creatures who have a hardwired psychological need to believe, nothingness is the worst thing of all.  That's what makes Crucifixion so hard to truly participate in.  Anxiety is pure despair, with nothing but nothingness looking back at us.

Religion is what happens when we abuse our psychological need for God--when we believe in a constructed God in order to get relief from these anxieties.  The anxiety of death is avoided by believing in eternal life.  The anxiety of meaninglessness is avoided by believing that God is in control of, or at least aware of, everything.  And the anxiety of guilt is overcome by constructing and embracing a narrative of one's "personal life" to represent the truth of who a person really is, as opposed to the desires that drive one's actions.

That last part--the gap between our personal lives and true selves--is the majority of Chapter 5.  Rollins explores how we like to think that our personal lives (beliefs) are what really matter, and that we compensate for this shortcoming by trying to make our actions live up to our beliefs, i.e., "live out" our faith.  But the problem here is that our actions don't fall short of our beliefs--they ARE our beliefs.

Rollins' example of Hitler is a succinct way to describe this.  Hitler had an immaculate personal life--one that many of us would find admirable.  He didn't touch alcohol, he loves children, he was an aficionado of the arts and culture.  But the funny thing is, this narrative of personal piety that Hitler wrote into his life scares us, because it reveals to us that our own highly-prized personal lives can't possibly reflect the truth of who we are, since we know that this is not the truth of who Hitler was.

Furthermore, it is made clear that attempting to extinguish this gap between our beliefs (personal life) and actions (public life) only serves to affirm it.  The gap itself doesn't actually exist--we only tell ourselves that it exists, because then we can say that we at least have a good belief system, no matter how often our actions fail to "live up" to it, as if our actions are subject to something other than our beliefs.  In reality, however, our practices do not fall short of our beliefs, but our practices are our beliefs.

Christianity by-and-large has become a mode for us to both exacerbate this gap and avoid our anxieties of death, meaninglessness, and guilt.  Intellectual affirmation has been prized over life itself, convincing us that we are what we believe, and that our actions are somehow separate from those beliefs.  "The life of faith becomes a crutch," Rollins says, "and the Crucifixion becomes nothing more than a mythology we pay lip service to."  (p. 107.)  There's not an "outer world" that needs to be brought in line with some "inner world," for the very act of trying to align these "worlds" acts as a barrier to real, radical transformation.

But there's good news too.  The Crucifixion is where we actually confront our anxieties.  Then, resurrection can happen.  But Resurrection is not an "answer" or a "solution" to crucifixion--To truly live in a state of Resurrection means to be willing to undergo Crucifixion again, and again, and again.  This willingness is called Incarnation:  A way of living called Love (or God) in which we experience the world as worth living for.  It is an embrace of humanity, rather than a God "up there."

We don't live this way because God loves the world... We live this way, and that is God loving the world.  (How's that for a theological understanding of God?)  The highest truth is not to be loved, or give love, but love itself.  Belief in God, then, has nothing to do with a supreme being, but rather an embrace of humanity.

True affirmation of God is the material practice of love.  We become creators of destiny, rather than slaves to the idea that "everything happens for a reason" (deus ex machina).  We participate in the creation of the eternal itself.  Participation creates reality.

Feb 17, 2012

Insurrection: Chapters 3 & 4: A monologue

This is my continuing "review" of Peter Rollins' book Insurrection, although I'm really writing with a mixture of review, summation, and personal reflection. In short, these writings are more a way for myself to work through what this all means, rather than a "review" per say, or my trying to convince anyone else of these ideas. Additionally, please note that my beliefs expressed here may not necessarily coincide perfectly with Rollins'. View the first installment here and the second here.
In reading chapters 3 and 4 of Peter Rollins' Insurrection, I feel like I'm finally getting to what might be considered a thesis statement for the first half of this book, entitled Part 1: Crucifixion:

"It is possible for people to believe there is an ultimate meaning in the universe without being religious at all--that is, people do not use this belief in order to avoid a full confrontation with their humanity. It is a belief that they can calmly discuss over a drink and which they are happy to rethink. Such people have a reasoned and healthy belief that does not need to be passionately defended against those who disagree." (pp.61-62, emphasis added.)

In an attempt to describe the means by which this thesis was arrived (whereby I wrote in the margins of my copy, "THE POINT!"), I have written an internal monologue that could be used to describe the ironic methods by which many Christians today arrive at a place of "rejecting religion":

"I'm not religious, I just follow God, which offers me the psychological benefits of religion while still allowing me to play the part of rejecting religion. I intellectually affirm the crucifixion, but I don't want to bear the wounds that it leaves. My relationship with God takes the place of my honest confrontation of life.

"I intellectually affirm Christ's forsakenness on the Cross, but I still want sermons that give me answers, songs that give me peace-of-mind, and prayers that tell me it's all going to be OK. That certainty is more important to me than the possibility that that universe might be random and there's not a goddamn thing I can do about it. Even though I say God is not a cosmic vending machine of peace and love and happiness, I want the church to treat God like a machine so that I can use it as a security blanket, allowing me to accept the circumstances that should beget suffering instead of allowing those circumstance to cause me to suffer.

"I affirm doubt and uncertainty as a part of faith... So long as I know with absolute certainty that God is bigger than my doubts. Then I can doubt with absolute certainty."
That's the funny thing about the essence of religion. It's seemingly unavoidable. It's a "psychological phenomenon" (p. 61). Religion is not, and never has been, and never will be, on the decline. It's just doing what it always has done: Taking on a new shape to make it harder to identify, akin to a flu virus.

So what's the point of it all then? Why go to church? Why be a Christian? Is it even possible for these things to be good, or at least honest?

Yes, I believe it is. The essence of Christianity is in the experience of suffering. The essence of religion is the avoidance of suffering.

If it's all about experience, then are beliefs futile? No, as long as they are not a crutch to prevent embracing the world (suffering), and as long as they are not a security blanket (a structure of certainty).

Christ affirmed his belief in God. But he also experienced the loss of his belief's comforting power.

Feb 16, 2012

Insurrection: When Crucifixion Became a Myth

This is my continuing "review" of Peter Rollins' book Insurrection, although I'm really writing with a mixture of review, summation, and personal reflection. In short, these writings are more a way for myself to work through what this all means, rather than a "review" per say, or my trying to convince anyone else of these ideas. Additionally, please note that my beliefs expressed here may not necessarily coincide perfectly with Rollins'. View the first installment here.
Belief in God is perfectly human--life is hard, full of suffering and bitterness, and we have a natural desire to bring to it order, meaning, and something other than randomness. This is the essence of our psychological need for God to exist. However, religion today is most commonly understood with a deus ex machina mindset: It is the affirmation of a constructed source of explanation, meaningfulness, and solutions to our problems--a.k.a. God.

By rejecting God, one is usually labeled an atheist. But can you really blame a person for being an atheist? Doesn't a God who only exists to satisfy me sound a little feeble? Yes, it does. But that doesn't make me an atheist. In fact, Rollins is going so far as to say that accepting atheism is the only way one is able to participate in Crucifixion. And I agree.

So, the questions now are "What is crucifixion?" and "What is atheism?"

Is crucifixion God sacrificing His son for us? Is it reconciliation for our sins? Does it put us in good standing with God? Is it something that was done for us by which we define ourselves, rather than defining ourselves by what we do?

Is atheism the intellectual denial of the existence of God?

Defining both of them is the only way to define either of them, because experiencing both of them is the only way to experience either of them: Crucifixion is existential atheism--a real, experienced, and felt loss of God. It is undeniable. It is the sacrifice of everything that satisfies our psychological need for God, which is, of course, God.

When religions talk about giving up false gods, they usually mean giving up anything that one worships other than God (e.g., money, cars, Xbox). But what about worshiping dues ex machina? Isn't this "God of the machine" just replacing these (equally) false gods?

In fact, religion usually tells us to give up false gods so that we can find true meaning, purpose, security, and ultimate reality in God-with-a-capital-G. But what about giving up false gods by engaging in existential atheism--In other words, giving up everything that satisfies our desire for God? What about giving up everything including God? What about giving up everything that comes after the phrase "so that"? No one ever talks about giving up that God.

But giving up this God is what Crucifixion truly is.

The church has domesticated the crucifixion into a mythology--a story that brings meaning into meaninglessness. Yes, we affirm that it actually historically happened. But we also look at it with a dirty lens muddied up by the "what does it mean for me?" mindset. Therefore, no sacrifice was actually made. Again, it is simply a deus ex machina.

This is why Christ's words "Why have You forsaken me?" are so wrought with meaning, and yet meaninglessness. Contrary to popular belief, he wasn't crying out to God in the midst of suffering--No, he was suffering in the midst of his utter loss of God.

And the beauty, as well as the horror, of it is that we can participate in it too. We no longer are a slave to our psychological need for God. We can simply enjoy the grace that is the fact that our need exists, much like our taste buds make our need for food enjoyable.

"When we truly participate in the event of the Cross, we are forsaken by ourselves--We are cut off from the system that we construct and which constructs us." (p. 35) There is nothing but our naked self. Nothing but pure purity.

Edited on 2/17/12 at 3:28pm.

Feb 15, 2012

Insurrection: God as deus ex machina, or, The Need to Need God

In my proceeding reviews of Peter Rollins' book Insurrection, I will be writing with a mixture of review, summation, and personal reflection. In short, these writings are more a way for myself to work through what this all means, rather than a "review" per se, or my trying to convince anyone else of these ideas. Additionally, please note that my beliefs expressed here may not necessarily coincide perfectly with Rollins'. And lastly, I fully understand that my having a blog does NOT automatically make me a writer. (You know who you are.) Ok, here we go...
Shane Hipps once humorously described the human taste buds as one of the greatest forms of grace: We need to eat to survive, and we have been graced with the fact that eating is an enjoyable endeavor... Hallelujah! Funny as it is, this alliteration of grace should be taken very seriously: We have a psychological desire to eat, which is the reflection of our need to eat, which is an evolutionary advantage to the continuation of our species.

I was reminded of this while reading the first chapter of Peter Rollins' book Insurrection, entitled I'm a Christian! I'm a Christian! Rollins starts off this book by quite simply rejecting the notion of God as we know it. And I don't mean the easy-to-reject notions of God, such as the 'reject religion, embrace Jesus' kind of stuff, but actually reducing our claimed existence of God to a psychological need.

C.S. Lewis made famous his argument for the existence of God by saying that we could no more invent or imagine God than we could invent a new color. On the other hand, Voltaire said, "If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him."

I used to cling to Lewis' idea. But now, I'm with Voltaire.

Rollins opens with a description of our human psychological need for others. In short, we don't simply desire others, but we desire others to desire us. This results in relationships.


But on a more subtle level, it also results in an imagined desire of others for us. This manifests in the form of fantasies. In our world of internal monologue, we are never alone--someone is always watching us. When we "dance like nobody's watching" we're really imagining people watching us, or for that matter, literally dancing in front of other people. When I'm working on my motorcycle and solving a mechanical problem, I'm imagining my dad watching me (and being impressed!). We are always "being watched." Even our fantasies involve relationships

So it is clear that we desire love from others, with evidence of this both in our tangible experiences and our fantasies. But unfortunately, our fantasies quickly become unsatisfying, and our relationships ultimately prove imperfect and conditional. Sadly, our needs are never really met. So what happens now?

The solution is to construct a source of unconditional love and desire. This is what we call God.

The next step is to convince ourselves and others that God was not constructed by us: a process commonly known as evangelism. There's basically three ways to do this:
  1. Physical force. Examples are the Inquisition, the Crusades, etc. Not much of this really exists in the developed world anymore.
  2. Psychological coercion. This is when a person is made to verbally admit their need for God, although no actual belief exists, such as people who "accept Christ" to avoid going to hell. Again, this doesn't really happen anymore, accept maybe with small children.
  3. Rationalization. This is what does happen in churches today. Rationalization simply means to convince oneself of a belief one already holds, or to look for evidence supporting a belief that has already been accepted without evidence. Knowing that people (perhaps unknowingly) already have the aforementioned psychological need for God, preachers simply remind congregants of their desire for unconditional love and for their life not to be meaningless, and then offer a solution via God. Now, the potential convert has found the evidence they were sub-consciously searching for, and convinces them self (i.e., rationalizes) that God exists and desires a relationship with humans offering unconditional love.
Therefore, getting people to believe in God is very easy. In fact, it is no different than getting a child to believe in Santa Claus. And getting others to believe creates community, relationships, and love, so not only does God solve our psychological need for God, God also solves our need for others.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer called this the deus ex machina--God out of the machine--a term that was coined by critics of ancient Greek theater to describe terrible playwrights who used God as a character to divinely make the plot do whatever they wanted. (We see this today in TV where characters are "killed off" because the actor is leaving.) God is a way to solve a problem.

Today, we call this philosophy. Philosophy, when honestly evaluated, is the necessary search for evidence of God because we have already decided to believe that he exists due our psychological need. At the pinnacle of this discipline are questions like "Why does God allow suffering and evil in the world?" and other irrelevant theodicy. It's just a feeble attempt to help us cope with life--a solution to a problem, but not a means of changing the world.

So it seems that rejecting our psychological need for God--much like rejecting one's taste buds and therefore avoiding junk food--is the only honest way to live a happy and healthy life. Our psychological need for God is an immature emotion that needs to be dealt with and overcome.

Yikes. Is this atheism?

Sounds more like Crucifixion to me.


Having just read Peter Rollins' book Insurrection, I don't even know where to begin in trying to express how this book has affected my beliefs and, hopefully, my actions as a human being. There are so many ideas that I want to throw out right now, but I believe a more methodical approach may be required, as the various ideas in the book build upon each other.

As Rob Bell said so accurately, the book "pushes you off a cliff," and although I do feel like I'm flying more than falling, I still feel the need to re-read this book and record my thoughts chapter by chapter in an effort to more perfectly shape my wings.

I first witnessed the antics of Peter Rollins in the summer of 2009 at a conference hosted by Mars Hill Bible Church (a.k.a. "the Mars Hill in Michigan") called Poets, Prophets, and Preachers, and later in various podcasts, and more recently with his books. He has been saying things that resonate with my soul at a frequency I didn't know how to hear before.

But this book took it to another level. Subsequent posts will be chapter-by-chapter synopses, thoughts, reactions, and feeble attempts to get my guts back into my torso.

Feb 6, 2012

A Parable, 2

There was a well-known pastor who frequently asked his church members, "Did you pray today?" Knowing this question was coming, the church members always made sure they had said a prayer on days they would be seeing their pastor.

"Yes!" they would say. "Today I prayed for so-and-so to come to know Christ!" Or, "Yes! Today I prayed for my brother, who is recovering from surgery in the hospital!"

One Sunday morning, a homeless man wondered into the church. The pastor, seeing the homeless man from across the room, was quick to take the opportunity to welcome him into his church--especially since all the churchgoers were watching.

After saying hello and introducing himself, the pastor leaned in close and asked the homeless man, "Did you pray today?"

The homeless man leaned in even closer. "Prayer happened," he whispered, "and I was there."


Inspired by Richard Rohr's The Naked Now.