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.


  1. Sorry for posting in the initial blog, meant to post it here...

    Interesting thoughts and very well written! However, I'm missing how that ties to Crucifixion as mentioned at the end. Could you break it down for me? I tend to be a little dense sometimes :) Why do you think that "psychological need" is there in the 1st place though? Thanks for sharing!

  2. That explanation of the crucifixion part will come in later posts, as well as the psychological need.

  3. A cliffhanger huh? I guess I'll have to tune in for the next episode!