Continuing with my engagement with Peter Rollins's book Insurrection let me swing back in light of my last post and point to other areas where I'm in significant agreement with Rollins.
In fact, there is a great deal in Insurrection that overlaps with the work in my recent book The Authenticity of Faith (I've linked to the publisher as Amazon is now back-ordered). In many ways, much within The Authenticity of Faith makes the empirical, research case for what Rollins is describing in Insurrection.
You can think of The Authenticity of Faith as Insurrection in the psychological laboratory, statistics and all.
For example, recall that at the start of Insurrection Rollins begins by talking about god as deus ex machina. Deus ex machina is Latin for "god out of the machine" and it refers to an ancient Greek plot device where a god, in the form of a Greek deity, would swoop in to resolve the plot (e.g., rescuing the hero after he/she made a self-sacrificing choice). And by "swoop in" I mean literally swoop in as the deity would be lowered in on ropes (hence the phrase "god out of the machine"). In short, the deus ex machina is a plot contrivance to get us to a happy ending. The god rescues the story from ending on a tragic note.
Rollins contends in Insurrection, rightfully so, that for many Christians god functions in just this manner. God is a fixer, a band aid, a balm, a Santa Claus, a force field, a butler, an answer, an opium. When life gets hard, when our life story tends toward tragedy, god is a deus ex machina that is lowered into our lives to save the day and make us feel happier.
This has been a criticism of religious faith for a very long time. In The Authenticity of Faith my focus is on Freud's influential version of this argument (Rollins also cites Freud in Insurrection), that god is a form of wishful thinking and existential consolation.
One question I try to answer The Authenticity of Faith is if all religious believers use god as a deus ex machina. The problem, obviously, for a researcher like myself is how you go about assessing this among Christians. You can't just describe the deus ex machina version of god and then ask people, "Is that how you feel about god? Is your god a deus ex machina?" Few would admit they are using god in this way.
So, what I've done in my research is to identify a suite of beliefs that are associated with a deus ex machina theological configuration. People are more willing to endorse particular beliefs in comparison to asking them to honestly assess their unconscious motivations regarding belief in god. These beliefs are assessed in an instrument I created called the Defensive Theology Scale:
In my research I use the Defensive Theology Scale to assess the degree to which people have a deus ex machina view of god as described by Rollins (and Freud). I then compare these people who score low on the scale, those who eschew these beliefs.Deus Ex Machina Beliefs as Assessed by the Defensive Theology Scale
Special Protection: In the face of a hostile universe, the belief that God will especially protect the believer (and loved ones) from misfortune, illness, or death. The universe is existentially tamed.
Special Insight: In the face of difficult life decisions, the belief that God will provide clear guidance and direction. God’s guidance reduces the existential burden of choice.
Special Destiny: In the face of a life where meaning is fragile, the belief that God has created a special purpose for one’s life, a “destiny” that makes life intrinsically meaningful.
Denial of Randomness: In a life full of random, tragic, and seemingly meaningless events, the belief that God’s purpose and plan is at work. No event, however horrific or tragic, is existentially confusing or disconcerting. All is going according to plan.
Divine Solicitousness: The belief that the omnipotent God is constantly available and interested in aiding the believer, even with the mundane and trivial. God is an “eternal servant,” our Cosmic butler.
So when you sort people in this way do they behave differently? More specifically, do they behave in the ways Rollins describes in Insurrection?
Part 3 of The Authenticity of Faith has some answers to those questions based upon a couple of different empirical investigations I've conducted. One of those I'll highlight in my next post in the Slavery of Death series.