Insurrection: A Critique

In the most recent post of my Slavery of Death series I used Peter Rollins's book Insurrection to help illustrate some of the important ideas of Ernest Becker from The Denial of Death and Escape from Evil.

In the comments of that post some of you wanted me to say a few more things about Insurrection. Given that in my last post I pointed out things I liked about the book I figured I'd write another post about some of the problems I see in Insurrection.

The main criticism I have of Insurrection is this: It's a theological and psychological non sequitur.

What I mean is this. The core of Rollins's argument is that we need to undergo a "death of god" experience to truly experience the resurrection life of love, right here and right now. As Rollins writes:

In this very act of forsaking the religious God, along with all the psychological comfort that comes with it, we can find a way of fully affirming God--not in some belief we affirm but in the material practice of love. So then, as we turn away from the obsessive desire to find fulfillment, meaning, and acceptance, we come into direct contact with them. This is life before death; this is life in all its fullness.
To get to love we have to undergo a "dark night of the soul" where we learn to live without God.

But here's my question, why should that be the case? What's the connection? Why does love follow from the death of god?

Rollins isn't particularly good in answering this question or in connecting those dots.

Reading through Insurrection I've looked for passages where Rollins tries to make the turn from "the death of god" to the practices of love. What, in his mind, connects the two? Logically, theologically, and psychologically?

It seems, and readers here can correct me if I'm wrong, that the critical chapter in making the transition from "crucifixion" (death of god) to "resurrection" (practice of love) occurs in Chapter 6 "We are Destiny." There Rollins discusses the contrast between God as an object of love versus God as love itself. This, it seems, is the critical connection. Rollins here making this case:
[W]e are introduced [here] to a radically different way of understanding God's presence in the Resurrection. Here we no longer approach God as an object that we love. Indeed, the idea of loving God directly becomes problematic. Instead, we learn that God is present in the very act of love itself. We do not find happiness by renouncing the world and pointing our desire toward the divine, but now we discover the divine in our very act of loving the world. God is loved through the work of love itself (Matthew 18:20, 1 John 4:20). It is in love that we find new meaning, joy, and fulfillment ...

When God is treated as an object that we love, then we always experience a distance between ourselves and the ultimate source of happiness and meaning. But when God is found to be love itself, then the very act of loving brings us into immediate relationship with the deepest truth of all. In love, the fragile, broken, temporal individual or cause that draws forth our desire becomes the very site where we find pleasure and peace. God no longer pulls on us as something "out there"; rather, God is a presence that is made manifest in our very midst. Here meaning is not found in turning away from the world but in fully embracing it through the act of love.
As best I can tell (again, correct me if you disagree), this is the critical passage connecting the "death of god" with love. The logic seems to go like this. If God is an object of love "out there" then our love becomes directed away from this world. Love, we might say, becomes "spiritualized," and not in a good way. By contrast, if God is love itself, we are thrust into the world.

This notion should sound familiar to regular readers as Rollins is explicitly following Dietrich Bonhoeffer here. I've worked through Bonhoeffer's notion of living etsi deus non daretur ("as if there were no god") here and how this creates the immanent transcendence of the "religionless Christianity" here. Rollins's analysis in Insurrection is also unpacking these ideas.

Now I agree with all this, both with Rollins and Bonhoeffer. We need to resist the other-worldliness inherent in religious belief and practice. I'm a huge fan of this move.

That said, I'd like to raise three quibbles with Insurrection.

Quibble #1. While Rollins unpacks Bonhoeffer's religionless Christianity and etsi deus non daretur he fails to go on to discuss Bonhoeffer's treatment of the "arcane" or "secret" discipline in the Letters and Papers from Prison. What is this discipline and why is it secret? In his letter from April 30, 1944 Bonhoeffer describes the discipline as "worship and prayer." These are religious rituals directed toward God as "object." But why are worship and prayer to be kept secret? Bonhoeffer's worry is that these explicitly religious rituals will prove distancing and off-putting to a religionless "world come of age." Thus, according to Bonhoeffer we should hide these practices, as far as the world is concerned Christians should look "religionless." Christians shouldn't practice worship and prayer in public. "Before God and with God we live without God in the world."

But here's the critical issue and the point where I think Rollins might have run off the rails. Specifically, Bonhoeffer isn't rejecting or denying the role of worship and prayer in sustaining the community of saints. Worship and prayer aren't eliminated. They are just secret. The religious, transcendent dimension isn't collapsed in a "death of god" move. The ritual is simply removed from public view as it is simply incomprehensible to the "world come of age." Worship and prayer are to be "words between friends." The best articulation of all this comes from a 1932 lecture Bonhoeffer gave in Berlin:
Confession of faith is not to be confused with professing a religion. Such profession uses the confession as propaganda and ammunition against the Godless. The confession of faith belongs rather to the "Discipline of the Secret" in the Christian gathering of those who believe. Nowhere else is it tenable...

The primary confession of the Christan before the world is the deed which interprets itself. If this deed is to have become a force, then the world will long to confess the Word. This is not the same as loudly shrieking out propaganda. This Word must be preserved as the most sacred possession of the community. This is a matter between God and the community, not between the community and the world. It is a word of recognition between friends, not a word to use against enemies. This attitude was first learned at baptism. The deed alone is our confession of faith before the world.
This is a very different view of religion than what we find in Insurrection. For Bonhoeffer there is an economy "between God and the community."

This brings me to Quibble #2. Rollins seems to be suggesting that we have to choose between "God as other-worldly object of love" versus "God as the act of love itself." This is framed as an either/or choice. But why? Why not both? Why can't be God be both immanent and transcendent? Can't both be endorsed?

Take, as a real world example, Dorothy Day. Here we have an exemplary Christan when it comes to living out the works of mercy. If anyone is an example of a loving insurrectionist it was Dorothy Day.

But here's the deal. Day was a devout Catholic who believed in God as an object of love. She attended Mass every day, sometimes twice a day. She prayed the Rosary constantly. God as object of love sustained Day's living love as God. Just as Bonhoeffer said the secret discipline would sustain us. And for Day it was "secret." Day didn't make the poor go to Mass with her. She didn't try to convert them. As far as the poor were concerned, Day was "religionless." God wasn't used by Day to create "enemies," injecting religion between herself and the poor. But let's be clear, religion sustained Day, week in and week out.

So how does someone like Dorothy Day fit in the scheme of Insurrection? She's living a life of love, radically so, but with God as an object of love. Does that make sense in light of Insurrection?

In short, why does Rollins insist we have to choose? Can't we, instead, be Christians like Bonhoeffer and Day? True, both Bonhoeffer and Day were extraordinarily concerned with how "religion" is a constant temptation, sucking love out of this world into the black hole of other-worldly spirituality. But that's a far cry from saying that we have to choose one over the other.

Which brings me to Quibble #3. If all Rollins is talking about is other-worldly spirituality, about how "God as object of love" pulls us away from "God as love," then it seems, given what we've just discussed, that his cure is disproportionate to the disease. He's demanding a root canal when a filling would do. He's hunting rabbits with atom bombs.

Recall, again, what Rollins is asking us to do. We are to undergo a death of god experience that shatters us. In the words of Rollins: "In this dark hour, when the very earth beneath us gives way, we experience utter desolation."

What is unclear here is why we have to experience "utter desolation" if Rollins is just asking us to be more loving. Why can't, say, a transcendent worship experience with a great praise band motivate me to be more loving? It happens. Why can't things like worship and prayer, as mentioned by Bonhoeffer, be the route to loving-kindness? This is what I'm talking about in saying there is a non sequitur in the middle of Insurrection. Rollins doesn't explicate the necessary connection between undergoing "utter desolation" and love. Nor does he explain why such a drastic experience is required when less extreme options are available.

True, religious ritual tempts us into other-worldliness. But "utter desolation" tempts us to commit suicide.

It's not like Rollins's route to love is risk free.

So why prefer it?

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47 thoughts on “Insurrection: A Critique”

  1. In response to your last two quibbles, I think it's much like when I have advised students about life management issues. The approach that obsesses with "priorities" and "either-or" thinking often fails us. Sometimes it is better to see an "orderedness" of how everything fits together. We may still focus on one thing or another in the moment, but that does not undermind the general connectedness of everything.

  2. My problem with Rollins is that he seems to be trying to update Barth and Bonhoeffer's critique of religion in "postmodern" terminology but is neither as profound or radical as either of them. 

  3. I would never attempt such a feat, for it's from that dark night of the soul that I ultimately found my love for God. However, I think there is something to be said for living religionless, worshiping and praying in secret. Jesus says nothing of worshiping in huge stadiums to attract huge crowds. Instead, he prayed in secret, asking people to keep watch while he did so.

    Also, the image of hunting rabbits with A-bombs was rather amusing. =)

  4.  "True, religious ritual tempts us into other-worldliness. But "utter desolation" tempts us to commit suicide."

    How well I know.  Belief and worship in "god as object" require a leap of faith many people find both illogical and irrational.  "God AS love" seems no different than saying "Nature is God", so we worship Mother Earth, or the "flow" achieved when playing at one's favorite hobby.  It's an emotion, and humans seem to need God to be a person, similar in many ways to ourselves.  In this there is no escape from other-worldliness, since God remains invisible, unless personified through our emotions.

    How can a person *love* love?  That, psychologically, seems the ultimate folding in onto oneself.  In the act of loving, I become God.  Therein lies the source of that utter desolation.

  5. One thing I notice biographically in Therese and Mother Teresa, among others, is that their love for God as object could have as easily become other worldly escapism, as it does for so many, with their highly spiritual experiences early on. But both lived out the kind of selfless love Rollins is talking about while having experienced that dark night as an long, ongoing reality. Whether they could they heave lived out such sacrificial love without the dark night, I don't know. Somehow I doubt it, given that the predominent default Christian reality (at least toward the world) is religious escapism and Bible thumping. So I think he's right about a dark night's necessity. I'm thinking that only in such a dark night's sense of abandonment does faith have to get really real.

    I like your balance with Bonhoeffer. Seems like that's exactly what Jesus was talking about in Matt. 6 with praying secretly behind closed doors"to your Father" rather than a public religious display of "Bow, O worm, to thy Deity." As pointed out in the movie "Troy," such devotion, whether public or private, often seems "a one-sided romance."

  6. Thanks for the insightful critique Richard. I think what you're positing is the spiritual formation we've known throughout church history, which encompasses a dark night of the soul.  What gets really interesting in my understanding is that the saints and mystics that underwent this formation often did become focused on very concrete loving acts, even the desert fathers and mothers practiced incredible hospitality in their solitude.  But they often recount a blurring of the lines between themselves and God outside of themselves, hence the dark night in which God's presence becomes invisible to human perceptions and intuitions not because he is 'dead' but because he is so immanent with us (i.e. Mother Theresa's despair that has only become prominent in recent years through the release of additional journals). Its on the other side of the dark night that we realize that it was God leading us into a deeper intimacy than our sense and feelings could allow for (similar to a trying to broadcast HD pixelation on a standard, old screen - it just doesn't work as well as the old image on the old screen or the new HD on the new hardware). I also think this perspective helps challenge Moltmann and Rollins' reading of Psalm 22 on Jesus' lips as Jesus really being abandoned by God rather than experiencing the perception of the abandonment of God.  

  7. I agree about the dark night and love. My quibble with Insurrection isn't that there is a connection but that the connection is unspecified at times or misspecified at others. In my opinion, this is because Rollins has misidentified the root problem. Other-worlinessness isn't the main issue. The issue as I've argued in the Slavery of Death series is violence. This is where I think Rollins would benifit from engaging Ernest Becker's work. It would help Rollins have a more robust theology of sin, which is pretty anemic in Insurrection.
    But here's the deal, he's definitely on the right track.

  8. Dr. Beck, I have not read 'Insurrection.'  Based solely on and in response to your critique, it sounds to me as if the profoundly devastating (spiritual) experience is the way that God/God's love has been revealed to Rollins.  I think we all have a tendency to assume that the way in which God's mercy and grace has been made known to us personally is *the* best and only way.

    In my own experiences, at the lowest, darkest moments of coming to the end of myself, there was a moment of "heart being strangely warmed" by what I interpreted as God's loving presence with me...  Or as John Newton expressed, having been "lost but now found; blind but now seeing."  Certainly there was a very private, prayerful, anguished (desperate?) willingness on my part for God to make himself known.

    My husband, a convert from Hinduism (Brahmin caste) has his own theory about awakening to God's indwelling presence and conversion/transformation.  He theorizes that we all are born with God's Spirit within us.  At the point in time when we become aware of it, the power of God's love in us and toward us is activated.  In that activation, we are enabled (driven?) to pour that divine love outward.  This theory no doubt derives from my husband's grounding in the Hindu religion (Brahma).  But I don't know that there isn't some truth in it for us to consider?  Certainly, I look to Jesus Christ as the fullest revelation of God with us -- "Immanuel."

    Belief systems and religious ritual can serve as a tempting substitute for the real transformation of the soul, by a deep encounter and awakening to the genuine presence of God within us.   The distractions and mental/spiritual walls that we erect allow us to go on believing that the god of religion is the "real deal."  Constant, contemplative/meditative prayer is a good antidote to self-delusion and the "golden calf" of God as religion / belief system which can be contained and nicely managed, it seems to me anyway.  :-)

  9. I wonder how much this is to do with Slavoj Zizek. I haven't read Insurrection, so I don't know if he comes up explicitly, but I know that he's pretty influential on Rollins, to the point that if you've read Zizek it sometimes looks like all Rollins is doing is translating his work into the language of Christian theology. And the thing with Slavoj Zizek is that he really doesn't believe in God; he calls himself a Christian atheist, which basically means that he thinks Christianity is a necessary stage on the way to atheism, which is to do with the realisation that there is no God, that all God ever was is a projection of some part of our own selves outside of us. And Zizek is great if you want to do a critique of idolatry, to distentangle God from our own fantasies. But he's not so great if you want to do any sort of orthodox Christian theology - he doesn't believe in God! And he's also pretty rubbish at explaining what happens once you get past the death of God, and his version of what love look like are not always very persuasive. So it seems to me like the problems you're identifying in Rollins' work probably have their root in the problems with Zizek's work.

  10. Rollins does cite Zizek, whom I've not read.

    I'm sympathetic to the Christian a/theists, shoot I probably am one. My issue isn't that this isn't a legitimate way to go, just a question about it being the only way. Which is why I bring up Dorothy Day to say, what about her? Or St. Francis? Or Bonhoeffer?

  11. It sounds to me as though Rollins is positing that God is simply our personification of love. That seriously does not work for me. I can't go there, nor do I want to. Nor do I intend to. The human race, as important as it is for us to practice the love of God amongst our fellows, is not the ultimate object of our love, nor is it/we the pinnacle of the purpose of God. We are myopic navel gazers if we think so. Yes, we are important to God, but we are accessories to His ultimate intention, which involves Christ primarily, and the human race secondarily.

  12. Great thoughts, Dr. Beck.  It's been awhile since I've read Insurrection and I don't have my copy to reference before I comment (it's loaned to a friend), but I thought I'd input my experience with the text.  As I commented to the first post, Insurrection helped me grapple with some tough stuff when I first read it.  Mainly, it gave words and 'purpose' to the death of god I had been experiencing for quite some time but been unable to find meaning behind.  (I wish I had read more Bonhoeffer at that point).  So in my reading, I'm not sure I got so much that the death of god is the only way from Rollins.  Perhaps it was there and I simply missed it in my relief of understanding my own situation more fully :)  Either way, I do think it's an important (although imperfect) work, and I again thank you for taking the time to review.

  13. But Zizek isn't an a/theist; he's actually just a straightforward atheist. For Zizek, God really is just a human projection: 'God' might exist as a relationship of love within a community (though 'God' is just picture-language for a social phenomenon) but God definitely doesn't exist as an object out there to love, a real being to have a relationship with. I think that's the problem. 

  14.  It sounds to me like your question is "why is the cross necessary?"

    A conceivable defense of Peter Rollins putting such a priority on the death of God experience is that it is at the heart of the cross, and Jesus says if you want to be my disciples you must pick up your cross and follow me. The implication is that we are to undergo a cross experience of our own. Peter's interpretation of the cross is often too existential and not political enough for me, but I think he pushes for the death of God experience as necessary because he sees it as synonymous with the path of discipleship.

    So it is not just about avoiding the temptation of otherworldliness in treating God as an object. It is about following God in the wake of the event that spawned Christianity.

  15. Which means....what? God's intention is for Christ...for what?

    Zizek was mentioned as an influence on Rollins, above. So is John Caputo's interpretation/application of Derrida. Where the question, in its full weight, always haunting, echoing Augustine, is, "What do I love when I love my God?" This is the point, I think. If I love God, but do not love my neighbour, do I really love God? Rollins is a materialist, in that, my material actions show  what I truly believe. So, to say "I love Jesus" requires something like what Jesus says, "When I was hungry..." and so on. By loving people, we love God. That's my interpretation of him anyway. 

  16. Yes. Again, and I may have to say this a lot and repeatedly in these comments, I don't see a huge difference between Peter's approach and my own. I chose the word "quibble" in the post intentionally. These aren't objections that knock down his project or thesis. I'm speaking here to the edges of his ideas and pointing out locations where I place the emphasis a bit differently or where I wish he'd make a connection more explicitly.

    For example, I don't see in the NT a big "death of god" push, even in light of the cry from the cross. For me, it's a death of self per Philippians 2.  Now where I agree with Peter is that the deus ex machina god is just a projection of myself. Thus, to undergo a death of god I'm really undergoing a death of the self, which, as you note, is absolutely critical to discipleship. This conflation of self/god is big in the work of Ernest Becker and I think, if Peter used Becker, it would tighten up his case, psychologically speaking.

  17. Hi Brandon,
    Here's what I really like the book. If you've undergone the death of god experience, as have many here on this blog myself included, Rollins's book is awesome. It gives you language and a way to move forward in the wake of that experience. And words can't express just how important is for some of us. And so, for that, for the pastoral and therapeutic aspect of the book, Peter's to be rightly praised. Again, for my own walk I found the book enormously helpful, and well as the rest of his books.

    In short, my comments here are more academic than personal in nature. We're just shooting the breeze here about a very good and widely read book.

  18. Peter Rollins is my most recent addiction. I'm a big fan (just for disclosure sake). I'm also a big fan of yours and I think it's fantastic that you're pushing in this way and I think you're right that Ernest Becker has a lot to add to what Peter is saying.

    Here is why I think Becker would say Rollins is right to push for the Death of God - because the Death of Self isn't really threatening to people with a stable immortality project. People are quite willing to accept the idea that they will die so long as a loving protective God is in view and death just means going to heaven. To really help someone confront the existential horizon of their own life you have to kill their God, their immortality project. As you say, this isn't killing the True God who is trying to lead us over that cliff into freedom from the fear of death, but the God who functions as a safety rail preventing us from getting too close to the edge and thus feeling the fear we normally would.

  19.  To refine the point, may I suggest that "death of God" is not literally the end of our belief in God, but the letting go of the "god(s)" we had made Him out to be -- which, ultimately, proved to be wrong/false.  That deconstruction allows room for a fresh start, an openness to God's real and been-there-all-along presence.  I like to think that even avowed atheists, in their rejection of God, have only misunderstood Him.  If they knew even a fraction of the real God, a happy reunion would ensue.  :-)  In my own experience, I vividly remember praying in the dark (inside and outside my mind), "I think I have never really known you, God...  I think what I have been told about you was mostly wrong.  I can't keep living if You don't show up and help me.  Pleeeeease show me who you are; who Jesus really is."  So, I guess that was both an acknowledgement of my own ignorance and incompetence, and also an openness to apprehending the Living God, whoever He might be.  I hoped, of course, that it was a loving, merciful, compassionate God!  And, as I shared earlier, there was an unusual, private moment of "grace."  During that same time, I also believe that God reached out to me through others who loved and cared in tangible ways.  None of it happened inside a church or faith community, however.  I can't wait to read Becker's 'Denial of Death.'  I get smarter hanging around this blog (fringe benefit -- besides wonderful community/fellowship)!

  20. Thanks for the reply.  I think I picked up on your appreciation for the book in the post (and I appreciate you expanding on that) and that the post was more academic.  I'm a fan of how you treat things of this nature, truly.  Just wanted to share my experience with Insurrection as well :) 

  21. I agree. Where I think Becker helps his case is that Becker points out how the immortality project (and the god that supports it) makes me violent. So it's not that I disagree with the death of god idea, just that Peter isn't connecting the dots. Like you said, his treatment is more existential than political. Peter tries to get to the political at the end of the book but I think something is missing, the link Becker provides.

    As I said to Patricia in this thread, the missing part in the book is a robust theology of sin and the satanic vis-a-vis the Principalities and Powers. See, if this link was in place Peter's whole argument comes into the clear: the immortality project/god is the source of the sin/satanic. To be saved from sin this project/god has to die. Enabling love to truly emerge on the other side.

    But as best I can tell, he doesn't make this connection. His focus is on other-worldliness versus immanence. Which is a great focus. But it doesn't speak to sin and the Powers, or connect all the dots.

    In short, Becker helps him complete the circuit. More, it helps Peter transition from the existential to the political. The necessary connection I'm asking for in the post is provided.

  22. Totally agree with you Aric and Richard. I love me some Peter Rollins. I, too, have experienced (am experiencing) the Death of God that we are here speaking of.

    For some reason this comment made me think of George MacDonald. Specifically I'm thinking of Lilith and Unspoken Sermons. I'm finding that he threatens my "stable immortality project" in a most fascinating way. You might say he leaves the immortality intact but completely blows up the "stable" part.

  23. Very well put. Couldn't agree more.

    For me it really had to be an actual end of my belief in God. I had to come to the point where I admitted to myself, and a few others, that I didn't think I actually believed in God anymore. Of course I am beginning to see that this has been much more like what you describe: the god I stopped believing in HAD to be completely destroyed.

  24. Responding to your quibbles:
    1. Re Bonhoeffer, I'd like to see the original German of the quote.  "Secret" may not be the best translation of whatever word he used.  The whole thing sounds similar to what L. Newbigin wrote in "The Gospel in a Pluralist Society":  Christians need to be faithful, not boastful, and the best witness to Christianity in the "public square" is our lived-out love.  The "hidden" quality of our worship is something that, if deeply considered, could really work against the pridefulness of "being right" and truly foster humility.

    2 & 3.  ISTM that Dorothy Day related to God not as an object, but as Subject to Subject.  This is part of the issue of weakness of understanding (insofar as we can understand it) of the Trinity.  The objective thing happens because of the concept of God as "substance" without also understanding God as Persons (Subject).  A Person can never be an object.  The great theological contribution of the Eastern Fathers regarding ousia/hypostasis/energia, explaining how it is possible for created humans to know and have relationship with the uncreated Godhead, and what Love is about in all of that, was essentially ignored - thus the transcendence/immanence problem, as well as the "objectification of God" which developed in the medieval west.

    Other remarks:
    It used to be that any perception of hypocrisy was avoided like the plague, so praxis was deemed less important; how could one be sure that external loving acts were coming from the the reality of invisible, interior love?  The concept of "duty" has been scorned for the same reason.  We're not always going to "feel the love"; does that mean that what we do that is actually self-giving for the benefit of the Other is negated?  I think that's why most people have had trouble with the revelations in Mother Teresa's journals, and why Therese of Lisieux's Little Way is so hard to comprehend for us, even as Christians, and especially us Baby Boomers, who have held the (Romantic - and maybe gnostic?) ideal that only the inner and unseen has and conveys value, and if a person's experience and action are not congruent, then the act is negated.

    This reminds me of how N.T. Wright traces how  "accepting Christ as personal Savior" as an outcome of a "Gospel presentation" came about as connected to the philosophy of the times, starting with the Enlightenment notion of "objective truth", proceeding to the Romantic ideal that anything Real was experienced in the inner person, in "the heart", and ending up with committing an existential act of a "decision for Christ".  It sounds to me like Rollins (whose writing, what I have read of it, I think is a needed corrective to esp American Evangelicalism) is merely advocating the leap of another existential act, which I think is ironic.


  25. Of course there is truth in your husband's view!  Boy, how closely his ideas come to Orthodox theology - very short steps from the one to the other.


  26. "We declare our beliefs in how we live, not what we say. "

    I came to the same conclusion, in the face of very pious Christians justifying themselves with "I 'believe in' (read: have the correct mental checklist about) Jesus, so I'm forgiven, no matter how much I'm mean, derisive, arrogant, condescending, dismissive, sarcastic, belittling, unapologetic, posturing, practice gaslighting, play semantics just to beat you down in a battle of words ..."

    I came to understand the Gospel, not as a belief checklist, but a life strategy.

  27. Hey Richard.

    I've finally given up on trying to prove this thing. Either I'm not very good at defending the arguments for God's existence or Alvin Plantinga is right when he says the arguments aren't strong enough. I'll go along with the conclusion that the arguments and evidence make it rational to believe in the resurrection. But I tend to lean on the more experiential side of things. My relationship with God is more like a dance. As a dreamer I like to relax into the music and the dance. As the music ceases we become the music and dance the timeless turning of soul in harmony with soul as we merge and become one. This merging of the souls cannot be understood with the mind but it is real. It lifts me out of the ego into love. To me, all this trying to prove God is just ego. Too often the amature apologist places too great of an emphasis on the intellect not knowing it's limitations. The rational values of the mind confirm the ego's illusion of it's own identity when it's own limitations are not taken into consideration. I'm leaving behind this illusion of security and following the inner longing of my heart.

  28. Thanks. I appreciate your experience here. It is well articulated.

    My experience is the polar opposite. It too began with the awareness of God not responding. But for me, the weight fell on waiting for God to respond, needing God to respond, believing God would respond, precisely as a transcendent help from beyond my own resources. I found that the waiting, the trusting, the ability not just to offer acts of love (I had been doing that) but to receive and recognize love from others, was at stake. Could I trust, or was I going to make myself the "hero" who ran around solving problems by myself? Could I have that grateful awareness of a giving God that made my service joyful and humble and fruitful, or was I going to be drawn by my disappointment into a place where even my service was sad and proud and ineffective?

    I wonder if we are describing the same thing different ways, or if we are really standing on two opposite sides of the "faith" question. But I'm terribly happy that you wrote what you wrote, because it helps me think about my experience in maintaining my faith in God:

    God is precisely the one who answered when there was no answer, precisely the one who teaches me what love is when my own attempts will not get me there. God is precisely in Jesus, enduring the cross--for the joy before him, saying "Not my will but Thine," never ceasing to look up to the God who was abandoning him. God is something more than the act of loving; it is for this very reason that God empowers a new sort of love which is simply not possible on my own.

    I hope you do not mind this counter-credo. Again, thank you very much for your honest openness.

  29. I believe different religions all have different tidbits to offer us regarding wisdom and knowledge; after all, what is the source of their wisdom? Millenia of life experience and God's common grace shown to all. They don't capture God fully, as only Jesus does, but they aren't all to be dismissed as "demonic" as many evangelical pastors may say. That's just my opinion!

  30. This reminds me of the question I have heard twice, one from an Aussie and once a Brit, both obviously not enveloped in the American evangelical culture of religion. They both asked, "What is God, to you?" It is an interesting question, just on its own merit. "What" is he? Love? Jesus? The creator? All of the above answers work for us, but don't always suffice for the non-religious/Christian/spiritual/whatever. I think Rollins comes close in his estimation that "when God is found to be love itself, then the very act of loving brings us into immediate relationship with the deepest truth of all."

  31. All language is picture-language. It may be that Zizek's God is actually realer and grander than the one you posit.

  32. Maybe Rollins needs to specify "for whom". I think for materialists like me, who try to be honest, this is a good way, and possibly the only way. How broadly this applies is up for debate. I'm still trying to puzzle through a friend's comment that we're all materialists now. At the moment, I'm unconvinced. There seem to be plenty of substance dualists running around, and that still seems to be our biological default. But even the dualists seem to be practical materialists.

  33. Very interesting post! I mentioned that an earlier post had
    my mind spinning around in circles… After reading yours (and others’) quibbles,
    I feel ready to articulate a couple of my own that I’ve been wrestling with
    since then.

    The first was that the link he describes between “experiencing
    the death of god” and love runs counter to what I’ve faced over the last couple
    years. My own spiritual crisis started on Easter, 2010. It lasted almost a full
    year, and that was by far the most self-centered year of my life. I was
    constantly focused on my own feelings and ideas as I tried to make sense of
    what was happening to me.  Granted, there
    have been benefits to the experience (especially in terms of empathy, though I’m
    still facing costs from it as well), but the idea of purposely going through it to become more loving just doesn’t
    jive well with what I’ve felt so far. If anything, as I’ve recovered, I feel
    like my ability to love others is positively correlated with experience of
    God’s immanence.

    The second is harder to put in words, so I apologize if this doesn't make any sense. It seems to me, at least for my case currently, that other-worldliness
    is a much smaller obstacle to love than a search for truth that’s been taken to
    a compulsive extreme. Certainly being open to truth and letting go of false
    beliefs that hinder love is essential, but part of my mind says something like
    this: “I’m ok with cutting myself off from sources of joy, peace, and spiritual
    strength that make it easier to be kind and loving toward others, as long as I
    know I’m not a person who believes things that aren't true to feel better about
    life.”  I was burned once by the
    realization that a lot of what I believed in was a projection of myself/terror
    management tool. Sometimes I feel like the one thing I won’t offer up to God is
    my fear of being burned again. This leads me to put the best possible spin on
    what I can really pin down as true, and avoid thinking about what I can’t. I'm not saying that this is Rollins motivation, but it would at least be part of my motivation for following him.

  34. I've been through the comments and I don't think this point has been made, but I apologise if I am repeating a thought someone else has already shared.

    I think the problem for me in Rollins' argument (as you describe it given I haven't read the this book of his although it seems to follow on from How Not To Speak of God), is Christological. For me, Christ is the object of Christian attention for the simple reason that Rollins affirms - we cannot approach God in the abstract. I would go as far to say, that for Christian people, the only meaningful conversation we can have about God is a conversation about the God who comes to us in Jesus.

    And this perhaps resolves the non sequitur. To follow/believe in/trust/claim as Lord, Jesus Christ, is to find both the object and expression of love. A turn to Christ is a coming into the knowledge of God (albeit provisionally) and the beginning of a new life lived in love. Christ is simultaneously the epistemological, existential and ontological answer to the question, "What is God like"? Not to conflate the Trinity, simply that Christ reveals what is otherwise hidden including the other two persons of the Trinity.

    What do you think?

  35. Cameron, I think you are right on all points:  Common grace, partial truths to be respected in various religions, and to dismiss other religions out of hand as "demonic" shows a lack of understanding of God and differing beliefs.

    I will say this, that neither should we glorify Hinduism or Buddhism as somehow having transcended the pitfalls of the Christian religion.  In my husband's firsthand observations and experiences, the "powers and principalities" at work in the Hindu religious institution (i.e., caste system) are as evident as in Christianity.  There always seems to be a danger of corrupting what's good, when earthly power is at stake.

    For what it's worth, I regard my mother- and late-father-in-law with the highest respect.  They both have had an ability to transcend their cultural (religious, socio-economic) boundaries in loving others well.  I'm very fortunate to have been embraced into their family, especially given its "priestly" (purity) status.  It's really very remarkable.  I want to be that kind of Christian (generous, embracing) in return.  They set a high standard for love, and also make it so easy to love in return -- bringing out the best in our relationship.  Would that we all could be that way, all the time...

  36. Richard, after reading your take on Insurrection, I came across another thoughtful engagement of the book which centers on comparing it to Bonhoeffer's work:

  37. One of the final paragraphs- beginning with "What is unclear" is the one which has haunted me. While I have no clean answer, I wonder if it points to Holiness being something else than perfection.

  38. Richard, your concern here has been a big concern for me. I've struggled with this idea for a while, and have come up with what I think is a more holistic answer, without simply being a compromise between the two views.

  39. As much as I prefer your arguments logically, Richard, I find a lot of truth in what Rollins is saying...except that his route of "desolation" is not necessarily the surefire way to practiced love. Bitterness and ennui, more likely.

  40. jlh, I don't mind at all. In fact, I may be the one running counter, not you. But, no matter. It's silly to expect everyone to see it the way I do.

    Patricia, I have decided to no longer "declare" my beliefs. My new answer, for good or ill, is to tell whoever asks to observe how I live my life... that will tell them what they need to know. In that regard, if there is any good news to be found, it will be that God will not toss me out like yesterday's garbage because of that.


  41. I think you're making a great point. Rollins does talk about Christ but mainly as a model of crucifixion. He doesn't discuss Christ much as object of Christian attention when it comes to issues of moral obedience; Christ as "Lord" becomes an object of faith which he's pushing against.

  42. Hi John,
    Regarding your own death of god experience in 2010 you're pointing to something I was trying to say in the post. Yes, for many a death of god experience might make them more loving. But that isn't necessarily the case, as your own story points out.

    So that's where I'd like to see Rollins unpack the connections in more detail. The move from one to the other isn't clear to me. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. And that means there is a third variable in play. So what is that third variable?

  43. First, Dr. Beck, I love your blog. It, along with the web comic xkcd, are my only daily reads. i don't read my e-mail as often as i read your blog.

    A couple of observations:
    1. It seems to me that the same criticism can be leveled at Insurrection as The Bible Made Impossible. What Rollins asks of people is either existentially impossible or psychologically unadvisable.

    2. I have found that "emergent" thinkers like Rollins wind up as inflexible as the most hidebound fundamentalist or Pentecostal in their views. They have traded one set of rules for another. At the end of the day, Rollins is just offering a more intellectually palatable set of diametric oppositions. "I am right, follow me and my interpretation". The reality is that all interpretations are bankrupt (including this one) because our ideas about any part of the divine must always be more wrong than right because we seek to describe and apprehend  in the divine something of a fundamentally different order of reality.

    Oh well, enough of this crap. Gotta go watch Zach and Miri make a Porno on Comedy Central. Love your blog.

    Brian Krumnow

  44. "... but God definitely doesn't exist as an object out there to love, a real being to have a relationship with."

    That's what Peter Rollins is saying.  And whether that is true or not isn't the point, it's what we *do* with it - how we live - that is important.

    The important question, then, isn't 'does God exist?' It becomes 'how do I follow God?' That answer, for Rollins seems to be, that old chestnut - Jesus.  Though his (and Zizek's) vision of that may not be 'orthodox', it's more exciting, more truthful, and more appropriate for this day and age.

  45. This is a helpful reframe:

  46. I for one need the "utter desolation" because the way i was introduced, raised and taught to relate and know God does not allow me to hold both other-worldliness and move into "God as love.  There has to be this death for me to break and be striped of what has made me in order for me to gain new life.  It might not be for everyone but for me i clearly know and understand why it must be this way. I don't think its something that can be explained but something that has to be lived out.  It might be that not everyone needs this experience. But some of us do need it.  Without it we might not go beyond what we were taught.
    Even before i read this book God started bring me through this process. I hated it. I still do not want it but i have had the experience to let me know that i need it.  It was literally killing my God. And i was very scared to let it happen. I felt like i was loosing Him and i did't know what i would become without Him. The earth beneath was giving way.God's encouragement to me was to "try it and see what happens".  I am still seeing what is happening. What i have found so far is what i was trying without success to get before this death.  I am having life that is overflowing with God.  I am finding freedom to love like i have wanted to but was too selfish to do.Thank you for your questions on this topic they have lead me to a deeper understanding of the life i received from reading this book.  You are awesome!Franklin

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