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.


  1. Once again, very will written! I wish I could write with your proficiency and eloquence. However, I can't say I agree with Peter's interpretation of the crucifixion. I do think that the crucifixion was/is a profound and multifaceted event. But as I research this topic, I in no way see that Jesus was doubting God(himself) when he stated "my God, My God, why have you forsaken me?". I believe he was drawing attention to the prophecy in Psalm 22 that starts the same way in order to validate that he is the Messiah and he is the fulfillment of that prophecy (http://carm.org/questions/about-jesus/why-did-jesus-cry-out-my-god-my-god-why-have-you-forsaken-me). Even if this were not the case, it could be argued that at the very least he made that statement to express the excruciating distress he was experiencing because of the actual palpable separation from God that he was experiencing for the very first time.

    I agree with some of the points that Peter is making. There's definitely validity in what he is saying as far as not using religion as a crutch and that we're not meant to live in a safe and secure bubble but I really think he's missing the boat on this one. However, I do want to state that I do not think that my viewpoint cannot be skewed as well but I do think that contextually it is a fair interpretation. These are very interesting thoughts that could lead to interesting conversation. We can definitely chat about this more during practice or over a pint if you'd like... I know I would!

  2. The Psalm 22 thing is a popular interpretation, due to the fact that all good Jewish boys (including Jesus) would have memorized it. But this interpretation is merely religious, because it offers a comfortable method of explaining away Jesus' forsakenness. Jesus' would have memorized psalm 22 in Hebrew, but his words on the cross were spoken in his native Aramaic language. So Jesus' words were much more deliberate and honest than merely quoting a memorized passage. To interpret the words as fulfilling a prophecy would be to say that the crucifixion was all an act, and Jesus was "winking" to us as if to say that everything was really just fine. This interpretation is another example of how beliefs have been prized over experience for the comfort they offer.

    1. Sorry, I didn't see that you had replied. So I apologize for the delay. I don't think it explains away anything. "Jesus' forsakenness" happened. On multiple occasions Jesus did point to proffecies and made proffecies. So why would he stop during the most important moment in history? If Jesus were fulfilling prophecy, why would the crucifixion be merely an act? What would be wrong with him quoting that passage to prove that he is indeed the Messiah? So in a way yes, everything was going to be OK. If there ever was a moment that things were OK, that would have been it because his sacrifice made us OK.