Something that one learns quickly in a first year philosophy class is the need to suspend this attitude of agreement and disagreement so that we might enter into the world of the philosopher we are reading and let their vision impact our own.
While reading a thinker the question, “where do I agree or disagree with them,” effectively domesticates them and acts as a defense against the possibility of their work actually vacillating our existing paradigm. By vacillating our existing paradigm I mean the experience where one remains within ones intellectual frame, while experiencing it as a frame.
This is a vital experience in the critical process for we need to be exposed to other thinking in order to gain a vantage point over our own way of seeing the world; all the while avoiding the fantasy of being able to step outside of it.
The following is an excerpt from Peter Rollins’ newest book, The Idolatry of God: Breaking Our Addiction to Certainty and Satisfaction. In this section, Rollins describes a service in which those gathered are invited to interact with and change the words as they saw fit to the Nicene Creed. At the close of the service, the finished arrangement as follows was then read aloud:
I believe that creeds aren’t worth the paper they are written on… But I still believe in God.
I believe that if you look at my life, you’ll only sometimes see what I believe.
I believe that if we have two coats, we should give one away (though I don’t do it).
Today I don’t believe in anything; tomorrow who knows.
I sometimes believe in God—one who existed before time, beyond gender or fathom.
Maker of heaven and earth and ginger (all good things), whales, two-hundred-foot cliffs, cloud banks, shipwrecks,
And in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost—how?
Born of a fourteen-year-old, Mary, scared out of her wits
Was crucified, dead, and buried, and I used to believe in the penal substitution theory of atonement, but now I just see a violent death and struggle to see how violence can ever be redemptive…
He descended into hell, or was hell all around him all the time?
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended into safety of abstraction, away from having to feel this, from dealing with this,
And sits, maybe sprawls, on the right hand of God, the Father Almighty.
I believe in me; I believe in the Spirit, Sophia, wisdom…
The holy catholic (i.e., everybody) Church;
The Communion of saints; does this mean me?
The Forgiveness of sins (but I still fell shame); (don’t you?)
The Resurrection of the body.
I believe in singing the body electric
And the life everlasting,
A life we find right here in our midst.
It could be said that humans have always sought, in different ways, to be God. It is natural for us to want to escape our finitude, to have the answers, to gain a God’s-eye view of the universe. But interestingly, within the Christian narrative, becoming like God would mean embracing our humanity. For this is what we see in the Incarnation. Becoming like God would mean affirming our finitude, celebrating our limits, and accepting that we are immersed in mystery. These are not signs that we’ve somehow failed to touch the heart of faith; instead, facing their reality demonstrates courage and faith. Indeed, it is a sacred act that is not something we do to our faith but is an expression of our faith. When we accept our unknowing and brokenness, we are not weakening our faith, we are boldly expressing it.
We build our lives around comfort and safety and ease. We feel entitled to painless living. Both physically and emotionally. We will go to great lengths to avoid our interior pain—our sadness, grief, powerlessness, fear, despair, shame, and anger. As Carl Jung said, “People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own soul.”
But what is the psychological equivalent of a painkilling pill?
I think we numb our psychological pain with myth.
By myth, I mean the ever-so-slightly deceptive stories we tell ourselves. About ourselves. About other people. About the world we live in. Our personal myths are the beliefs that protect us from the pain of life.*
By praying out what we are holding without reserve we can actually be doing the very opposite of what the express language communicates. This becomes evident in those who, by expressing themselves in this way, work through their feelings and act in more reasonable and gracious ways in the aftermath of the unfettered expression.
In contrast to the usual understanding of the “Good News” as a message offering satisfaction and certainty, Peter will be offering a radical and destabilizing alternative, arguing that it actually invites us to embrace the idea that we can’t be whole, that life is difficult, and that we don’t know the secret. Decrying the popular view of God as a type of product that will render us complete, remove our suffering and reveal the answers, he will offer the blueprint for an incendiary faith that courageously embraces brokenness, resolutely faces up to unknowing and joyfully accepts the difficulties of existence.
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