Peter Rollins at his best. The Christian rejection of heaven
I would add that it would say today, “there is no Christian or non-Christian for all are made one in Christ.” Christianity itself has to be rejected by the church in order, paradoxically, to get back to the radical scandal of Christianity."
God himself often acts “contrary to nature” to erase our judgments about what is or is not natural or unnatural. This suggests that in the same-sex union debates we may have to rethink “nature” in light of God’s election. God has chosen the Gentiles, by nature sexually deviant in the eyes of the Jews, and has grafted them into the tree of Israel. God overrides the standard argument in the minds of the Jews and, in doing so, also acts “contrary to nature.” Such actions on the part of God should give us moderns pause when we reason about “nature” in the same-sex attraction debates.
Kester Brewin on the history/theology of piracy—an act of freeing an enclosed space to the commons. Whether it’s 17th c. pirates expropriating imperial navy ships’ goods for the benefit of the poor, today’s online music sharing in the face of capitalistic corporations, or heterdoxical hermeneutics subverting totalizing religious doctrine (for example, reinterpreting the Prodigal Son parable as a tragedy instead of a triumph), the archetype of the pirate has always been a radical inspiration.
Back when PETA used to be cool… Bruce Friedrich debates Lee Strobel (ew) and some other dude about the importance of veganism for Christianity. I know the “Jesus was a vegan” argument is sketchy but other than that his arguments are really good (he went vegan by reading Andrew Linzey!) and Strobel/this other guy lack any real theological (facile readings of the Last Supper, Genesis, etc.) understanding
Gonna reflect on the conference in a bit but want to think about Rollins’ talk at the pub the night before as that’s where he talked about some new stuff that wasn’t in his book. Tried to shoot video but the room was packed and there were too many people in the shot so just gonna write down my thoughts on it here before I forget. (And sat between Janet Abbey and Barry Taylor which was cool)
All around us there is a capitalistic hedonistic superego injunction to enjoy. It’s in television, cinema, even religion: “things will be good if you attain this object.” Christianity often makes Jesus into this kind of object (like how worship music—God—mirrors the same structure as pop music—sex, money).
There are obstacles to attaining this object of desire (if you want to make a lot of money, you have to work hard and exploit others, if you want to be more spiritual, you have to discipline yourself and pray more). In the Edenic narrative, what’s interesting is that there are no obstacles for Adam and Eve: they live in complete freedom and harmony with God. It’s not until the introduction of the prohibition between them and the Tree of Good and Evil that they come up against an obstacle. As Lacan/Zizek show us, the prohibition is everything—it’s the very thing that creates the excess desire, as in the case of two children who are perfectly happy until one of them has something the other wants, which creates an excessive desire for that object.
Not only is there this universal ideological injunction to pursue an object that will finally make us whole and complete (God, money, sex, whatever), we find ways of creating prohibitions to maintain the illusion that we can be whole and complete. Because, once we really do attain that object (having a spiritual experience, getting a lot of money, getting the girl/guy we want), we find that we are still just as broken and incomplete as before, but we hold on to this pursuit anyway precisely in order maintain the illusory hope in meaning and satisfaction. This is also where Lacan/Zizek come in with neurotic-obsessive and perverse subjectivity.
Not only do we sustain the prohibition/injunction structure in terms of ideological belief, interpersonally this prohibition can act as (Girard’s) scapegoat mechanism. In Christianity, Jesus is the ultimate scapegoat, in which the crowd cries “crucify him!” Jesus subverted the ideological structures of his day, from the Pharisees’ religious rituals to the Zealots’/tax collectors’ political conflicts—both of which were dominating prohibition/injunction narratives that created an object to be attained (in the first, God, and in the latter, political power). Jesus refused to be the messianic savior that would use religious/militaristic power to solve the world’s problems. And so, he became an Other that needed to be removed—on a cross, outside the city walls and outside all social meaning systems. Just like the prohibition, the scapegoat is something to be removed in order to get what we want (in fascism, it’s the ethnic Other, in religion, it’s our own sin and incompleteness, etc).
What we find in Christianity is that God himself is the scapegoat—meaning, take away the scapegoat, and you take away the whole pursuit of satisfaction completeness. This is why the veil was torn from the top down following the Crucifixion—there was nothing inside the Holy of Holies, there is no perfect object that satisfies desire, there is nothing behind the veil. The whole pursuit of meaning and satisfaction devoid of pain and hardship (read, heaven) is revealed as a hellish ideology that separates us from ourselves and each other and causes the problem in the first place. Take away the prohibition/scapegoat, and we realize that we can’t find perfection, and are then liberated to move through pain and unknowing, which paradoxically makes possible a meaning as close to perfection as we could ever imagine._______________________________________________________________________
Hm yeah Hegel provided most of the philosophical impetus for it with his triadic dialectical reformulation of the Trinity wherein basically God the Father dies in the Incarnation, dies as Jesus in the Crucifixion, and lives on as Holy Spirit in the Resurrection. It’s the omnipotent, omniscient, wholly transcendent big Other as God that is dead, but not necessarily “God.” Nietzsche made this famous by recognizing that humans had held onto this ontotheological (Heidegger’s word i.e. God as the a priori grounding of truth, meaning, and reality) God ever since Jesus’ death, but that philosophical-cultural moods were shifting in the 19th century (i.e. postmodernism) so that again humanity could realize this idea of God was forever now a fictional illusion.
Now, there’s two general interpretations of the death of God. There’s an a/theistic version found in Bonhoeffer, Tillich, Eckhart, Caputo, Rollins, etc. that says the God Father irreversibly changes in the Incarnation—God “beyond” this Father no longer gives us meaning/safety/satisfaction, and is in fact unable to. So, asking whether God “exists” isn’t even the right question because God is so forever changed by the Incarnation that we finite beings lack the appropriate language and understanding to comprehend God’s existence after the Incarnation and Crucifixion. It recognizes that mainstream (liberal and conservative evangelical) theistic conceptions of God are simply idolatrous and illusionary because by naming God, they hide God, and so the point is to remain faithful in an un/knowing in-between of theism and atheism to stay as true as possible to God’s being. Here, the “death of God” is more of a metaphor for the cultural shift from modernism to postmodernism and how that radically changes how we understand God.
Then there’s the actual “death of God” version, found in the work of Altizer, Zizek, Vattimo, etc. that basically just takes Hegel/Heidegger/Nietzsche more seriously and says God’s act of the Incarnation is so fully kenotic that God quite literally sacrifices Godself in it. It’s not that “Jesus is God” but that “God is Jesus” and now no longer “exists” except as the Holy Spirit consciousness of the church. Here, God is literally dead and has been since the Crucifixion. So the secularization of the 19th century is not something to lament but something to be celebrated as Christians can stop using a transcendent God as an ideological crutch and start being God’s eschatological existence via the Holy Spirit.
There are other contexts to understand the concept but these are the two basic ones. I like both but currently identify more in a/theism myself, but I would agree with both sides in saying that mainstream Christianity today is getting God totally wrong because it’s still stuck in modernist Enlightenment philosophical assumptions that most philosophers today recognize no longer work._______________________________________________________________________
Been thinking about this since reading Beck/Rollins… It really sucks that most of the Tumblr Christian Community is obsessed with apologetics because it’s entirely derivative of Enlightenment modernist philosophical assumptions (objectivity, rationalism, foundational realism, etc) which are super white Western values and I’m convinced this way of holding your Christianity (focusing time on debating Others into your narrative) just can’t escape being racist to some degree. I don’t see the black and latino liberation theologians holding any of those values (yes they’re mostly coming from a Catholic background but it doesn’t seem to change the trajectories of their work)—they’re much more focused on orthopraxis than “orthodoxy.” I think these two perspectives are inherently in tension against each other (within the modernist paradigm) and if so then focusing time and evangelism on believing the right things is inherently taking time away from actually doing works of justice and mercy, like, the things that count._______________________________________________________________________
In what ways does contemporary religion fuel and serve as “surplus exploitation”?
Just as the worker submits their labor power to the capitalist, so too does does the believer have a kind of labor power in the church: their belief. The priest uses all means of rituals to sustain this belief, with worship and prayers and sermons that use emotion to draw out a spiritual experience from the believer. As long as the believer feels that they have been spiritually stimulated, they will come back the next week for more. The sanctuary is just a room full of people hoping to experience God—there’s very little, if any, community in most churches. The believers’ surplus is exploited by the church not so much for money (although there are of course churches that do this) but for its collective illusionary power: everyone is there to sustain their narrative in the face of a meaningless, hedonistic, suffering world. As long as they can experience God in the way of atoning for guilt (very pathos-driven worship songs) and repressing existential anxiety (praying for good things to come), their fear and stress can be relieved, but only so much that they will have to come back next week for more. This is contemporary religion’s role in late capitalism that it plays so well: giving workers and consumers some kind of meaning in a way of life that fails to deliver. It feeds off of their suffering—this was Nietzsche’s insight—and yet exploits and reinforces it by leaving it fundamentally unchallenged.
In your own words, what is the revolutionary potential that could persist and continue to aid political liberation?
The church’s first task would be to provide a meaningful challenge to capitalism: not one that simply exists within it and hopes for some kind of far-off change but that sees itself as the change. A community that turns the world upside down by taking Jesus’ words about enemy-love, laying down one’s life for one another, etc. seriously. As Marx’s dialectic shows, a particular state of being cannot change until it is faced with a contrasting state; through the antagonisms of these opposed systems, a new system emerges. Of course, this is not a simple synthesis that combines the two theses—as if the Kingdom of God would merge parts of capitalism with itself—it is something in which the former antagonisms are no longer around (this is what we see in the Paulinian collective of believers in Acts 2 and 4). By whatever means the church becomes a part of the proletariat’s liberation, it can be nothing less than a complete eradication of capitalism.
How can Christianity move beyond interpreting the world and potentially change the world?
First, of course, it would have to be the change it wants to see. As I said, it would have to take Jesus’ words seriously—loving our neighbor (enemies, the Other, animals, etc.) in every sense of the word. I don’t think Christianity can be a part of revolutionary change by simply existing apart from the system and trying to compete with it until enough people join it. It would need to be embrace all the unknowing of being radically involved in political struggle, even if this means testing its nonviolent values (if anything, this is what the Incarnation tells us with God leaving heaven to become a naked, dirty human being). If anything, what we’ve seen with most revolutionary movements in the past is that, well, they were low in numbers. If every Christian entered into solidarity with the movements around the world, it would be a challenge to the system that the world has never seen. I don’t think this implies the liberal simplistic kind of ecumenism that exists already—it would be a distinct and unifying theology that could finally get Christians to meaningfully be a part of something new._______________________________________________________________________
I think the sick soul is willing to live in between faith and unfaith, belief and disbelief, because this is the only way they can remain truthful to their lived experience. The pieces of life and the life of faith are not so easily fit together. There are gaps, there are missing pieces, and someone has taken away the puzzle box showing us the grand scheme of things. Or, to use another metaphor, life is experienced as broken glass. Life is experienced as shattered. The puzzle pieces here are shards, bits of brokenness that we try to piece together again into a whole. And as we handle the pieces, we are often cut and wounded. Life resists our attempts at putting the pieces together, intellectually and emotionally. I can only assume that for the sick souls some piece of the puzzle is their experience of God, the Divine, and the transcendent. The movement toward disbelief is untenable for sick souls because it would involve ignoring these pieces within their life experience. And in a similar way, the overall experience of shattered brokenness also prevents a drift toward healthy-minded consolation, the too-easy belief that life makes sense, that the pieces of the puzzle are easily fit together. As a result the sick soul lingers, perhaps for a lifetime, in this ambiguous location, holding onto pieces, God among them, that don’t quite fit together.
The logic here should by now be obvious. If a fear-based dogmatism leads to violence and intolerance, the experience of doubt may actually be cultivated to reap ethical and moral benefits. Doubt becomes a moral and spiritual exercise. In this we see how individuals might consciously choose the path of the sick soul despite the emotional cost. While solace is lost, openness to Others is gained. As Berger and Zijderveld (2009) summarize: “Sincere and consistent doubt is the source of tolerance.” But this goes beyond mere tolerance. True, by refusing to engage in worldview defense, sick souls are better positioned to approach Others with warmth, curiosity, and a spirit of hospitality While engaging with Others will cause the sick soul to ask some hard questions about the ultimate truthfulness of their own worldview, the moral benefits here are obvious. But the deeper significance of exposing oneself to the suffering, pain, and ambiguities of life is that the exposure allows one both to see and stand ins solidarity with those who are suffering. Thus the virtues of the sick soul are less about tolerance, although that is no small accomplishment, than about an increased capacity for empathy, compassion, and love. Facing the evil and suffering in life is hard and it raises all sorts of difficult questions for people of faith. But if William James (1902) is correct, the path of the sick soul, as hard as it is, may be in his words “the best key to life’s significance, and possibly the only openers of our eyes to the deepest levels of truth.”
Perhaps then in the final analysis, faith dogmatically understood, must be traded for love. Doubts are the burden that believers must carry to keep their eyes opened to the suffering of others. It is as Moltmann (1993) described it, “The more a person believes, the more deeply he experiences pain over the suffering in the world.” What, then, might be the ultimate proof of the authenticity of faith? Perhaps it is as simple as St/ Paul suggested int he First Epistle to the Corinthians: “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13)."
Richard Beck, The Authenticity of Faith, pg 265
Not only is this super well written and a nod to Rollins/Zizek but is like a creed for the Glitteclesia and I love it._______________________________________________________________________
At the same time, confessing Christ as Lord, and honoring his call to be peacemakers, means that we can no longer remain silent about the truth that this material contradicts the enemy-loving, non-violent attitude he commands us to have. As a number of concerned scholars have been saying, to remain silent about violence-inciting material is to condone it and to thus bear some responsibility for the violence it incites. Indeed, even Jesus renounced the Old Testament’s “eye for an eye” commands (Lev. 24:19-20; Ex. 21:24) and replaced them with his command to “turn the other cheek” and to love our enemies ( Mt 5:38-45)."