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To be an atheist you need God's help

May 05, 2008

Here is a parable I have been working on called ‘The agnostic who became an atheist”. I will print the parable below and hold off on giving a commentary until my next post. I recently gave a talk entitled ‘On the Supreme difficulty of atheism and why only the Priest can attain it’, which may help contextualize this parable. This talk is available online somewhere.

There was once a world-renowned philosopher who, from an early age, set himself the task of proving once and for all the non-existence of God. Of course such a task was immense for the various arguments for and against the existence of God had done battle over the ages without either being able to claim victory.

He was however a genus without equal and possessed a singular vision which drove him to work each day and long into every night so as to understand the intricacies of every debate, every discussion and every significant work on the subject.

The philosophers project began to earn him respect among his fellow professors when, as a young man, he published the first volume of what would turn out to be a finely honed, painstakingly researched, encyclopaedic masterpiece on the subject of God. The first volume of this work argued persuasively that the various ideas of God that had been expressed throughout antiquity where philosophically incoherent and logically flawed. As each new volume appeared he offered, time and again, devastating critiques of the theological ideas of God that had been propagated in different periods of history. In his early forties he completed the last volume, which brought him up to the present day. Yet the completion of this phenomenal work did not satisfy him. For he still had not found a convincing argument that would demonstrate once and for all the non-existence of God.

And so he spent a further sixteen years researching arguments and interrogating them with a highly nuanced logical analysis. But by now he was in his late fifties and had slowly begun to despair of ever completing his life project.

Then, late one evening while he was locked away in his study, bent wearily over his old oak desk surrounded by a vast sea of books; he felt a deep stillness descend upon the room. As he sat there motionless everything around him seemed to radiate an inexpressible light and warmth. Then, deep in his heart he heard the voice of God address him,

“Dear friend, the task you have set yourself is a futile one. I have watched on all these years as you pour your being into this endless task. Yet you fail to understand that your project can only be finished with my help. Your dedication and single mindedness has not gone unnoticed and it has won my respect. As such I will tell you a sacred secret meant only for a few… dear friend, I do not exist”

Then, all of a sudden, everything appeared as it was before and the philosopher was left sitting at his desk with a deep smile breaking across his face. He put his pen away and left his study never to return. Instead he joined a monastery where he saw out the last of his days in gratitude to God for helping him complete his lifelong project.

40 Responses to To be an atheist you need God's help

  1. Ric says:

    Thanks for this Pete – I find so much of your work resonates strongly with my experience. The deeper my faith gets, the less I believe in God and the more I would follow Jesus to the ends of the earth.

    I struggle to find a community where I can explore such ideas although I find painting a helpful expression of my experiences. I find that an image, like a story, retains a life giving ambiguity.

    Best wishes,

    Ric

  2. Adam Moore says:

    If anyone’s interested, I was able to dig up the .mp3 of the talk Pete mentions above.

    ‘On the supreme difficulty of atheism and why only the religious can attain it’

  3. Pingback: microclesia

  4. Dan Ra says:

    Pete,

    I hear you’re coming to Atlanta.

    Can’t wait.

    Dan

  5. wess says:

    Thanks for the link Adam, I couldn’t locate it.

  6. admin says:

    Hey Dan… I am not 100% sure where I am going yet (Paraclete are organising it), but I am sure you are right. Looking forward to it!

  7. Nasal Kola says:

    Oh mystic Pete!

    How are you my PoMosexual friend!

    let’s face it brother, you’re a closet atheist who just can’t ditch his crush on christ.

    Why don’t you face reality and join us godless heathens – come on in, the water’s lovely!

    Stop hiding behind linguistic gymastics, sophistry, obfuscation, meta-muddle, rhetoric, PoMo-nonsense.

    You’re a nice guy and clearly very intelligent – don’t squander your intellect on the above nonsense brother.

    Sincere regards,

  8. Catherine. says:

    Hey, When I first heard Peter rollins speaking I fell in love with him, not a romantic you understand but a love which I can’t describe. And of course longed for more of his wondefulness to be poured out. Reading this made me feel like that again, like someone actually has the answers and isn’t keeping them locked up. Thanks so much.

  9. admin says:

    Hey Catherine. Thanks for the endorsement! It’s great that you have got something from my ramblings.

    Nasal Kola – how wish it were that simple! But sadly it is not. In terms of my Pomo talk (by which I guess you mean continental philosophy) I must say that I finally chose that language because of its clarity and ability to dissipate obscurity! I was also trained in Analytic philosophy but found the phenomenological tradition offered me some amazing insights. But thanks for your concern for my soul :)

  10. Luke says:

    “…He put his pen away and left his study never to return. Instead he joined a monastery…”

    Pete,

    Last night, I vividly, miraculously heard a voice saying exactly the same word:
    (:word by word:) “Dear friend, the task you have set yourself is a futile one. I have watched on all these years as you pour your being into this endless task. Yet you fail to understand that your project can only be finished with my help. Your dedication and single mindedness has not gone unnoticed and it has won my respect. As such I will tell you a sacred secret meant only for a few… dear friend, I do not exist ”

    I put my pen away and left my study, too.
    But this morning, I don’t know which monastery I should be joining.

    Dear Pete, How did your philosopher identify the voice in his head as that of a god’s or God’s?
    What made him so sure that his final surrender is due to God’s revelation to him?
    And the most important question is “which God he is talking about?”
    His decision in joining which religious order could all well be determined by what kind of culturally favored God that is installed in his mind.

    How do you know that his decision to participate in a certain religious role-play even has anything to do with god/God at all?
    His final surrender maybe merely due to his mental exhaustion caused by the conflicting interest of LORDs that had been installed into his mental operating system.
    And he eventually needed a quick exit/reboot into whatever a familiar default cultural bias is and get himself settled with.

    I’d really like to know what your philosopher’s default is set to. I bet if we know which God (YHWH, in case Judaism is installed in his mind; Jesus, in Christianity; Allah, Islam; not to mention Buddha or Brahman etc.) was purportedly talking to him, we would know what (Judaic, Christian, Islamic) monastery he had joint into.

    Dear Pete, I need your help. And please don’t tell me that “God will help you…” or ” go back to your study some more and wait till HE/God is talking to you again …”

    Even if HE/SHE really meant that HE/SHE (namely, the God) “does not exist”, am I really safe to join a Buddhist monastery without His later retaliation with the fire of the Christian Hell?
    Can one join an atheistic monastery and still call him/herself and/or be treated (by other Christians) as a Theistian? Monotheistian? Pomotheistian? or better, Christian?
    Thanks in advance for any of your insight.

    Sincere regards,

    Luke

  11. admin says:

    Hey Luke. Not sure what to say. You have mistaken a parable for a philosophical argument. Your questions are in themselves interesting and something I might explore while teaching a university lecture course dealing with the philosophy of religion. But I honestly can’t see what relevance they have to the parable. It’s a little like treating a song or mythology as a piece of philosophical reflection. Could you perhaps clarify what you mean? My answer to your questions, as I am sure you know, would involve reference to the philosophical tradition. Perhaps you are asking what philosophers I have been influenced by in relation to these questions? They would include Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Heidegger.

  12. Luke says:

    My first impression of your parable is that it may well be an ordinary story rather than a parable.
    It reminds me of the real life story of the prominent atheist, Antony Flew.
    After Flew’s academic/book achievements in his 40s through his 60s, he himself later on felt unsettled and turned himself into a deist. (There seemed to be some Christians who attempted to frame him while he was in a state of mental decline and get him into admitting, in public interviews or in book publications, that his newly unspecified deity is in fact the Christian one.)

    It doesn’t matter how sophisticated your school of argument is, sooner or later, you will come to a sense that there is ALWAYS something beyond it. This is natural. It’s the Gödel’s incompleteness theorems at work . Some people, like Richard Dawkins or Nasal Kola, simply refuse to call it God; some, like Thomas Jefferson and Antony Flew, eventually call it God but refuses to recognize it as the Christian God ; Some, like the Gnostics, recognized the Christian God as a demiurge… You just can’t pretend you are not making any choice among these exclusive options.

    But there comes your clever poetic construct – to create a paradox, a story with a twist, the crucial technique to turn an ordinary story into a parable: You let your main characters ( the atheist and the God) both taking two opposing positions to themselves at the same time.
    1. You let your God showing the existence of HIS voice ( and words, scriptures, doctrines, churches, signs, natural disasters, just wars, servants, Pat Robertsons, etc. in our real life) and at the same time let HIM issued a supreme/ultimate confirmation of HIS entire non-existence to your doubting philosopher . ( The kind of experience has to be divine, and also just as schezoeffective as Alice’s seeing the grin without the Cheshire cat.) And 2. you let your philosopher going into a church-affiliated organization to make sure he is included in the “saved” or maybe “born again” population while all his incomplete arguable theories about God’s non-existence is upgraded as a divinely revealed truth, warranted by God Himself .

    So you see, I did treat your split-mind and double-talk pomo-mythologically:)
    Your parable mentions the non/existence of god, which is the most heatedly debated subject in the philosophy of religion, so are you sure you don’t want people to read any philosophical relevance into the parable?

    Your writing this parable tells me that you are getting to a point that you feel fed up and need to take a rhetorical flight at leisure out of a doomed circular-reasoning presupositionalist jumpboard of apologetic rationale. If you can’t ditch the label, as Nasal Kola suggested you to (by the way, you should not have dismissed his assessment of your situation that casually ), why not try “Zen Christianity” – Wow! You know what? I just googled it. Lots of people already “trademarked” it.

    As far as I know about it, Christianity is explicitly theistic. To invent an “atheistic Christianity” is like to sell people a circular-square shaped, vaporized hamburger .
    If certified Christians still call you Christian, then congratulations. If they don’t, why do you yourself?

    I may sound harsh, but I am honest to you. I speak to you in this tone is because I feel like that I am seeing a state of the art jet plane with a propeller mounted in its front.

    Pete, you are a jetplane, and I can’t stand to see the propeller.

    Sincere regards,

  13. admin says:

    Hey Luke

    Would love to address your concerns briefly. I too felt that the Anthony Flew affair was sad. Firstly, it was sad that some people took advantage of his intellectual decline (a friend of mine who interviewed him confirmed that his mental state was in question early on). Secondly, it was sad that some people took his change of view as something significant. Even if it wasn’t directly related to mental decline I can’t see what the fuss was about, ‘philosopher changes mind’, hardly seems like a newsworthy headline. It happens all the time. The point is whether his thoughts are coherent, insightful, creative etc.

    The ‘something more’ that you speak of is what interests me. I am not interested in the fact that people give this different names – (continental) philosophy has moved very far beyond that common insight – but rather exploring such things as the site of that something more and its existential impact upon us. Here I am interested in Zizek and Badiou’s work.

    I would want to disagree with your idea that the existence/non-existence of God is the most important issue in phil of religion. In fact it is the least important debate and is rarely even mentioned in the literature. This is a common misunderstanding similar to the one that people think psychoanalysts interpret our behavior in sessions. The only place this argument is still big is in the pop phil world and in undergrad philosophy class as a pedagogical tool.

    With phenomenology, post-structuralism etc. questions revolve around issues such as ‘what does it mean to say that God exists’. Also questions relate to the logical possibility of different modes of being (beyond what we intuit – in the Husserlian sense)

    The parable I wrote must, philosophically speaking, be understood in the context of the later debate and helps if people are familiar with the work of thinkers like Jean-Luc Marion.

    You are right that I have no time for apologetics. But again it would be hard to find a philosopher who does (at least one who is properly trained – there are a few in the analytic tradition who are exceptions to this general rule (and they baffle me).

    Also, while Christianity has almost universally been theistic that does not mean (1) that the word ‘theistic’ as we understand it today captures the various ways in which Christianity has approached the source called ‘God’, some of which seem very atheistic (2) that it cannot take another form in a different epoch.

    I am very flattered that you too are concerned that I am being held back by my particularist standpoint. However, you have to stand somewhere and it is in standing somewhere that one can begin to look out into the wide expanse of the universal. Most of my friends are not Christian, many of them having left it as part of a past they never wish to return to, and I would be happy to follow them. However, the conversation within the Judeo-Christian tradition, which stretches up to today (particularly in the work of people like Badiou, Zizek and Caputo), continues to provide me with a wealth of ideas. I do not see it as a doctrinal system somuch as a tradition which reflects upon (and shapes) life and thought. If I had numerous lives I would look as closely at other traditions. But sadly I barely have enough time to scratch the surface of this one.

  14. Stu says:

    I don’t know how much I can contribute to this, but the jet-plane/propeller image makes me want to.

    How can the question “Is there a God?” not be important? That’s the question I can’t help but ask. I am stuck between two responses:

    On the one hand, the question “what does it mean to say God exists?”, or perhaps “what kind of life provides a meaningful context for the statement ‘God exists?’” has come to seem more and more important, to the point where arguments for the existence/non-existence of God seem kind of irrelevant. The kind of life in which it makes sense to ask “Does God exist?” has already assumed a godless universe. And so the important question is “what is treated as God? what is treasured as if it were God?”

    But on the other hand, we can and do ask “Does God exist?”. The question arises, whether it is accompanied by trauma, mild interest or zeal. What do we do with this? It’s all very well saying it is the wrong question, that it only makes sense if you assume a buffered self which impassively surveys objects, etc. But it is a question, nevertheless. As in, the question happens, between and within human beings. And so how can the question not be important? If people treat the question as important, it becomes important.

    I don’t know how to resolve this tension, I have to admit. To me, the question of God’s existence is still important, despite all the problems with it. Is there, behind the world of things, (something like) a person? If personality is the origin of all things, it makes a difference. If the origin of all things is not personal, we are in a very different universe. I cannot in any way answer the question with ‘objectivity’, but I can, and do, ask the question. And to me, the answer matters, still.

    I don’t know whether Simone Weil was in the back/front/glove-compartment of your mind when you wrote the parable, but I thought of this quote when I read it:

    “A case of contradictories which are true. God exists: God does not exist. Where is the problem? I am quite sure that there is a God in the sense that I am quite sure my love is not illusory. I am quite sure that there is not a God in the sense that I am quite sure nothing real can be anything like what I am able to conceive when I pronounce this word. But that which I cannot conceive is not an illusion.” (Gravity and Grace)

    For me the question “Does God exist?” is not so much “Is my love illusory?” but “Is his love illusory?” It matters whether one who loves you real, or illusory.

    Seeya,

    -Stu

  15. admin says:

    Hey Stu

    I am sorry if I seemed to imply that the question ‘Does God exist’ is not important. What I meant was that, in contemporary philosophy of religion, the question is not important. I agree that, if a question is important to someone then it is important for at least one person (and the question is important for many). However your valuable post partly demonstrates what I mean as it is in many ways a microcosm for the history of philosophy. You start with the question, ‘Does God exist’ and, as you attempt to address it, you enter into a set of deeper questions, problems, aporias. That is why first year philosophy starts with the question, ‘does God exist’, but as one moves through this one finds oneself in stranger, deeper, and more interesting waters.

    There is an area of philosophy that deals with the question of whether there is a necessary, supra-intelligent, first cause in the universe. However, even within Scholastic thought (where we see it at work), it is only a small part. The question has also been attacked by atheists such as Nietzsche, Feuerbach, Marx etc. and theists such as Kierkegaard, Marcel, Pascal etc. as problematic.

    I would say that the metaphysical question of Gods existence is a philosophical dead end (a big statement that I cannot defend here as it involves a careful reading of many writers). However that does not mean that one cannot or should not believe in such a God. By no means! The point is that philosophy is unable to decide on that issue. But philosophers can do more than simply say “who knows”, they can show that the question does not need to be decided; that religion can flourish regardless of the answer. Indeed, I would argue (along with Derrida, Zizek, Bonheoffer, Caputo etc.) that this undecidablilty is one of the very features that Christianity needs in order to flourish!

    Glad that this post is still generating interest!

  16. Luke says:

    Luke-comm#3
    Could you deconstruct your parable and retell it in a non-Husserlian sense?

  17. Luke says:

    Luke-comm#4

    I can’t imagine that whenever you mention God’s existence/nonexistence-related issues in your undergrad or pop level encounters, you are able to hold your superior/post-graduate, post-structuralismic, “what-do-you-mean-by-God/by_exist?” type of pomo-styled questions till later when you think that they have become educated enough.

    Please tell me what is the atheistic-ness in your brand of Christianity. How did you relate your atheistic/mystic/phenomeno-existentialistic/ God/non-God to the God of Abraham/Mosus/etc.

    And with your being well-trained in analytical philosophy, you certainly shouldn’t miss out the flop-side of that philo-sophistry – so, how much Christianiticity you could make, out of the cloud of all the name brand or none-brand , or if you don’t have time, just your own brand of atheism?

    This post still generates interest is because people are curious to know what is your trick in making someone feel like he/she is in a “mode” of being a “shgged virgin”?

    Of cause you have to alter the original meaning of at least one of the two words. But I would really like to learn how you did it, step by step, starting from “what is your definition of God, if definition is impossible then what is your reference of God?” ” what do you think that a Christian’s definition/reference of God is?” “Is God of the Christianity personal?” “Do you count the one who asked Abraham to sacrifice his son a God/ the God (of your-deffinition/your-reference/your-experience)?”
    I know it all depends on “what does it mean by calling something as ‘being personal’ “. But please just list all the options of the possible modes of Being that your Christian God could be associated/dissociated with, and tell me why your pick(s) is/are logically/pheno-meno-intuitively (-in both the Husserlian and post-Husserlian sense)/post-pomo-pheno-meno-logically plausible.

  18. Luke says:

    Luke-comm#5
    This post still have some space left.
    Credit:
    I got a little cariried away because incorperating jargons and metaphors such as “pomosexuals”, “shgged virgins” really makes the discussion bearable.
    Thanks, Nasal Kola (in this thread of discussion) and Paul Roberts (in )
    I will refrain myself from their use from now on.

  19. Luke says:

    Luke-comm#6
    Sorry, I didn’t promise. I can’t help,
    Now thanks for Peter’s fifth gospel, you will never lose your “shgged virginity” with your newly found “pomosexuality” . You don’t need to make chastity pledge and keep the virgin vow to be a virgin (what does it mean to be a virgin, anyway? the philosophy of virginity is so first year undergrad …). You can be shgged and be a virgin at the same time. You have to lose your virginity in order to save it. In fact, if you want to be completely shgged, you need priest’s help. It has been a common practice among the Catholic churches for a while any way. Hey, Boys and girls, and priests, don’t feel any shame at all to be a shgged virgin. The highest form of being faithful is betrayal. you will always keep your ineffable virginity no matter what effing style you’ve had ever tried.
    Seriously, what’s the good news?
    According to PoMo-St. Peter’s, it’s OK to be an atheist and still be called Christian. In any market places, branding is everything. The atheism now only has about 10% of the faith/belief market share while Christianity, a whopping 75+% , So why not to package atheism, agnosticism, mysticism in a Christian box, and sell it through the world’s best established distribution network. Obscurantism, lies, bigotry, justifications of war, … all can be sold through that network. Atheism is a lot less harmful product and teaches people how to be sane and not to kill their own kids or bombing other countries after hearing voices etc. So let atheists hope its success.
    On the other hand, let Christians hope for its success too. It is more of a help than a threat to the Christendom. There have been growing number of closet-atheists amongst the church-goers, they are on the exit, but with Peter’s Gospel, they will be back in line. As long as they are kept in church, they could be herded as sheep, that is what the whole religious business is all about, membership. This gospel is very timely, it must be divinely inspired. The more dead the Christ becomes, the stronger HIS kingdom, the Christendom will be. So get Him betrayed and have Him killed again and again. Running out of ways to do that? Just bring in the atheist squad. Now the Christian Institute officially launches its Atheist Department and religiousless product line.
    You sweep the inquiry for God’s existence or name of the God(s) under a carpet called “philosophy of religion” from which you excused yourself without an answer or clearification..
    And you are so busy in “bearly scratching the surface of” the pomo-obscuratism, leaving no time for the fact that the experience of the transcendence by human beings are so common through all different cultures/traditions. You tried a brief catalog of those experience, repackaged them in a Christian Box and rushed to a local office of Ecumenics in the Christendom and patented the spirituality of the entire human race as that of the Christian’s .
    You are a business man. Religion is a business – postmodernists know it so well. You don’t care about God or no God,. You don’t care about other cultures/traditions. You care about your own culture, your own tradition and your own religious business in which you have a stake in it. Just like your master of obscurantism, Heidegger.
    Now with the declining in the business of the Christendom, you are trying to find a chance to salvage the Christian network by injecting more obfuscation.

    You have credencials in social political theory. So you know that business needs contracts, and Christian donctrines and dogmas lay out the terms as Christian business contracts. In the presence of such contract, you have the options to take it, or to leave it, or to abolish it. Slavery are the kind of social contract that had to be abolished and did. Decent Atheists feel the moral obligation to abolish the Christianity to save their kids from intellectural slavery. People or at least decently follow the rules – if you don’t like the terms, you break the contract and leave! As soon as he was convinced that Bible contains human fabrication, the Biblical scholar, Bart Ehrman left his church, or at least quit the membership of the church and be a decent agnostics. Many of your freinds must have left the Christian business for the same reason.

  20. admin says:

    Hey Luke… I feel a little depressed that you have such a low opinion of me and feel free to attack me so stringently. I can’t imagine that if we sat in a pub chatting you would hate me so much. Perhaps you hate what you think I stand for, perhaps you hate me, perhaps you are wrestling with your own demons. I guess it is probably a mix.

    I would like to respond to what you say but it is a mix of personal insult, intellectual critique and satire that is hard to unravel. It is actually very enjoyable to read – unless, of course, you are me.

    I should however say that I personally don’t go to church and haven’t for 10 years. Also I am not making any money from what I do (after my PhD I was on welfare for three years and currently live in one of the poorest areas of Belfast). I also have not entered the academy or the church as I want to think outside both (though I sometimes lecture at universities in order to eat).

    So I have little interest in the church and don’t see myself as their atheist Billy Graham. I am interested in exploring life, love, faith and death with friends and exploring a life of ritual and reflection.

    I am not sure what else to say. I would be happy to talk about specific issues, but I would be keen if you kept this theoretical rather than making it personal

  21. Luke says:

    Pete,

    I want to write you right away after I read your response. I’m on my employer’s time at the moment so I can’t write too much.

    Pete, just stop being depressed, if you are depressed and drinking. But keep being depressed and thinking.

    I did my ego-wracking-soul-search once when I worked as a warehouse manager, lefting/packing/shipping boxes with 2 other reluctant workers I had “managed”, – for 5 years. I was deeply depressed and thinking. And that was one of my best time. I’m sure you have had the same times.

    I decided to play this vicious antagonist on you with the intent of unmasking ego. If persona (personal) means mask, then yes, my attack on “you” is going to be experienced as a “personal” attack (not an insult!).

    Something and someones did this to me (from outside of me, and not “in the context of” the things one built his ego on) and I am thankful. With this wakeup attack, I started WILLING to see how much person(a) is really in myself.

    You have noticed that whom I attacked was a “Pomo-Peter”.
    But I refer you as Pete from the start, the same way as the other friends of yours, and I don’t hate you at all. Yet I just don’t want to see you, Pete, eventually getting totally possessed by the other one. The one who is not a member of the structure/establishment, while speaking in there, in a tone to make them think you are one of them and coming to help them with what they need to enhance the structure. I’m not opposing you for going to church. what I’m opposing is your going there with a double-agent (shgged virgin) status. I like to see Bart Ehrman go back to churches and speak there, the more often the better. And you too, but with a clear status.

    From your voice I heard at (the recording of) your lecture (at the School of Ecumenics), I can tell that you are a nice, intelligent and insightful guy, but I don’t want to hear your intent in working for the limited interest of a Religion in which you claim no interest.
    I’d like to see you working toward a culture that is for every one, not just for the superior ones.

    Christianity is too self-promoting, just reflecting the self-promoting nature of the God they are worshipping.
    It is very difficult for a person to see from outside of himself, let alone a culture.

    You (or your work’s objective is to) see thing(other culture, other religion) in the context of Christianity and you didn’t show the willingness to see Christianity in the context of the others. And you make excuses to hide that unwillingness.

    It is very difficult for one to see himeself from his outside, I know, but most of the difficulty is caused by the lack of WILLING-ness to do so! The rest of the difficulties are the technical-HOW.
    Faith is the willingness to go beyond – beyond the gripping affinity and “let the dead bury the dead”.

    Unless one (one persons or one culture) is WILLING to see him/her/it-self from his outside, he cannot find the “something more”.

    Of cause “There is no God beyond God” while YOU are all in YOUrself. This is how the western notion of “Being”/”God” gets so pathologically hazardous, and as a consequence, many philosophers/intellectuals turned schizophrenically profound, many “Good Christians/little Eichmanns” turned off their empathy and conscience, and lots of precious lives got gassed.

    Your atheism/agnosticism/mysticism/existentialism/etc will work out something valuable in the context of the whole humanity, but not just in’ Christianity.

    Yours truly,

  22. Rob says:

    Hi Pete,

    Maybe this isn’t the best post to raise this question in response to, but as many of the comments on your blog often go off topic, I’ll be cheeky and put it here anyway.

    As you have charismatic/pentecostal experience, I thought an interesting question to ask you would be if you have even personally seen or experienced a miraculous healing? If so, I have a few further questions. Firstly about the experience(s) itself/themselves. Have seen/experienced it recently? If not, does it feel less real than it did at the time? Is/are this/these experience(s) one of the reasons you cannot let go (despite wishing you had a better and more moral reason for not letting go – e.g. your? parable with Lucifer and the keys to the kingdom comes to mind) of this God idea completely?

    It seems to me that healing is often ignored (and I am including the parable you told of the blind man in that ignoring) in liberal and emerging thought, yet it was such an obvious part of what Jesus did. Not to say that I like the way it is talked about elsewhere, but at least (sometimes) it is on the agenda.

    To make the obvious more obvious, my line of questioning in the second paragraph is a result of my own grappling with this. I find much in what you write that resonates and in recent times have had in some respects what could suitably be called an Omega Course experience. But early on in my Christian experience and also a few years ago I was witness to some miraculous healings. In the case of the latter, someone I know got a cracked rib (shown on X-Ray) after getting crushed watching RHCP at the Reading Festival. He was in a lot of pain, so some friends and I prayed for him in the name of Jesus (I feel like cringing as I write this but feel simultaneously ashamed that I should want to cringe – damn I feel confused! ;-) ) and, much to his own surprise (he seemed shocked in fact), the pain had gone. The next day (a week after cracking it) he had another X-Ray and the crack had disappeared. Sometimes I think ‘Rob you are such an idiot, how can you doubt the Source of those events?’ But I do, and if a suitable alternative explanation for those healings popped up I think it is quite possible my doubt would move to total disbelief.

    But that being said, I would be grateful for any thoughts you wish to share on how healing etc factors into your own a/theism.

  23. admin says:

    Hey Rob

    Thanks for the post. I actually write a chapter on the miraculous in Fidelity of Betrayal. But that dodges your question slightly as it tries to shift focus away from spectacle toward miracle as metanoia. Having said that I have indeed been direct witness to a whole host of interesting things which defy easy interpretation (some very very interesting). For me, my move away from the Charismatic tradition was not because I was stifled by it or because I never saw it working in peoples lives but rather because I wanted to step beyond what I considered to be a confusion between the idea of the ‘God of the philosophers’ and the ‘God of faith’.

    It may sound strange but I place all things that look like divine intervention into the God of the philosophers category. This means that they potentially lend credibility to the idea of a God ‘out there’. They can be used as part of the philosophical debate and personally keep me sympathetic to the idea of God as ‘out there’. This idea is affirmed many times within the bible and throughout the Christian tradition (I am not using the term ‘God of the philosophers’ as a slag here, but rather as a description).

    However, for me the ‘God of faith’, is the one we affirm as the name of our transformation, the happening of metanoia. These two ideas (‘God of philosophers’, and ‘God of faith’) might link up but they also don’t need to and can’t be connected philosophically. In other words, someone could affirm the God of faith and yet question the God of the philosophers – indeed this is the position I defend throughout my work as the most fertile and potent one (and the one which is expressed by many within ikon).

    The God of faith is affirmed in the testimony, ‘I was blind but now I see’, while the God of the philosophers is affirmed in, ‘X points toward the idea of a first cause’. The relationship between these is not simple and I am keen make sure they don’t blur to much at the expense of the former.

    You will, if you know him, see the hand of Pascal at work here! Also I should mention that there is nothing to stop a Charismatic from embracing this idea and I am sure many in fact do. Indeed I would want this expression of faith to have a place within the emerging stuff – but that place will be very different than what you see with people like Tod Bentley et. al.

    Hope thats useful

  24. Luke says:

    Have a nice and happy 4th of July Holiday!

  25. Luke says:

    Never mind. I thought Belfast was in the State of Washington of the United States of America.
    We Americans think that the United States of America is the whole world.

  26. becky says:

    How does the concept of exclusion factor into the exploration of the charismatic?

    The Charismatic movement hit the US Episcopal Church in the 1980s – what started out as way to explore the God of faith soon morphed into the need to subscribe to a “right way of thinking” – those who had not experienced select gifts of the spirit and willing to ascribe to a specific modality of thought were somehow deemed as less worthy than those who had been slain as it were. My observations coupled with my own experiences is that many of us have witnessed some semblance of the divine but we choose to not use the word “charismatic” because we cannot identify with the Todd Bentley, Benny Hinns of this world. Here in the states at least, there’s a mad rush to categorize and classify Christianity (esp. in the Charismatic stream) to the point where that “thin space” that attracts me (and other seekers) to the Celts seems to be obliterated.

  27. Hugo says:

    I’m really just dropping by to say thanks for your contribution to the conversation. Theo Geyser pointed me in your direction (don’t know if you know him, but apparently he had a pre-release copy of your latest book), and your blog is food for my soul. ;) Your two books are on their way in the mail. I need some support and inspiration in the direction I’m trying to head. From what I tell, it sounds like I’d love to join in at Ikon. Maybe I’ll try to pop in some time for a brief visit.

    Much appreciated.

  28. Stu says:

    Pete, Rob,

    The exchange about the miraculous overlaps with some of my questions to the book (which I read last week), which are still vaguely on topic. I hope you don’t mind me interrogating you a bit more about this…

    I’m fascinated by this statement: ‘These two ideas (’God of philosophers’, and ‘God of faith’) might link up but they also don’t need to and can’t be connected philosophically.’ You acknowledge that there is something like a philosophical notion of God in scripture, and certainly in Christian tradition, running alongside this other approach in which we may wrestle with God in faith, but never actually conceive of him. And then you say that these two might link up, but that philosophically, they can’t be linked. That is, the God of the philosophers can’t be linked, philosophically, with the God of faith.

    But surely this is only a problem if you have already prioritised the philosophical discourse as a master discourse? In other words, the ‘failure’ of these two discourse to fully link up is only a failure in the eyes of philosophy, which needs everything to link up. And so it seems to me that the desire to completely dissolve the tension by leaving behind altogether the philosophical notion of God (or, you could say, the philosophical moments in the ongoing business of thinking about God) can actually be seen as a concession to the philosophical tendency to completely fix things in place. I can’t help but think that to completely leave behind the philosophical attempt to talk about God “out there” we artificially annex one aspect of human inclination and capacity – the philosophical – but, strangely, the only reason for doing so is a philosophical one.

    And in a funny sort of way, I felt that there is actually a tendency in the book to inadvertently prioritise epistemology in developing the idea of transcendence. I couldn’t quite pick up from the book how much you go with Marion’s understanding of saturated phenomena, but I’m sure I remember reading the word ‘saturated’ so I guess it’s in the picture somewhere. It’s been a while since I read Marion, but I remember thinking that despite its intentions, this approach still ends up with a primarily philosophical conception of God, because the starting point for understanding God’s beyond-ness is our failure to conceptualise an experience, the excess of the experience over our capacity, and the focus shifts back on to human knowing.

    I suppose my question is: do you see a danger that in emphasising transcendence we actually shift focus onto the human capacity for comprehension (because it is the failure of that capacity that ends up determining the meaning of “God”). In other words, that because philosophy fails to live up to its own expectations when speaking of God that we flee from all determinate talk of “what God is like” and refuse to emphasise anything other than Christian practice, which is free from the risk of any such failure.

    I think that Foucault may actually make a similar point responding to Derrida’s essay on ‘Madness and Civilisation’ – that in spite of Derrida’s belief that philosophical discourse is always marked by deep ruptures, and so on, he still believes that it is these philosophical ruptures that determine the course of all subsequent thinking. Which just re-instates philosophy back to the place it seemed to have slipped from, and gets to define everything in reference to its own failures. As much as I like the book (I did, by the way!) I can’t help but wonder if something similar is happening here: a philosophical approach to understanding God gets to call the shots by writing itself out of the game completely.

    I realise that that is quite a bit suggestion, and that you almost certainly don’t agree. Still -

    Thanks for reading,

    -Stu

  29. admin says:

    Hey Stu

    A careful and nuanced critique that is well put Thanks. Interestingly Bonheoffer says at one point that the transcendence of God is not an epistemological matter and I thought, when reading this, “someone could say this is where I go wrong”. And now I face it! OK what do I think? Well I agree that Marion and saturation haunt my first book (and perhaps to a lesser degree the second – I said to Caputo at that the time that I was surprised he enjoyed the first book as it had the fingerprint of Marion on it to a degree that I myself questioned). There are two main reasons for this.

    Firstly, I am starting with where the tradition I am writing into is at. There I perceive a big confused mess between the philosophical God and the God of faith which I want to address. And what I do is try to concentrate on undermining the philosophical God by using philosophy. Doing this to try and show that the philosophical rendering of God falls into philosophical aporias. Here I like Marion.

    Secondly, I want to engage in this process (of reading philosophy against itself in order to perceive it limits) so as to be able to privilege the God of faith. So the second book goes more toward this while the third (which will be the forth I publish as I am publishing a parables book before then) will really try to leave behind the philosophical God with the help of Bonheoffer and Zizek.

    So in some respects it is a strategic wager, attempting to draw people in a certain direction. Using my own journey as a template. However I must say that the books also carry with them my own weaknesses and what you pick up could also be said to be the residue of my own internal wrestling with breaking free from ‘the God of metaphysics’.

    So, in short I think you have given a very close reading of my work (thanks) and picked up on an important issue. The strategy I choose was to begin with epistemology (saturated phenomenon) but I do not want to end there. I would however add one thing. The God of philosophy and the God of faith are a messy mix and I think that in many respects it is not possible to divorce them i.e. we never really escape the God of metaphysics. The problem rather is working out their relationship and not prioritize the philosophical concept.

    Friend just called round so gotta run! Thanks again, plenty for me to think about

  30. Luke says:

    1.“Do you count the one who asked Abraham to sacrifice his son a God/ the God (of your-deffinition/your-reference/your-experience)?”

    2. Is that being whom Abraham contacted a demigod?

  31. Luke says:

    I mean “demiurge”

    2. Is that being whom Abraham contacted a demiurge?

  32. Stu says:

    Thanks for the reply Pete – I should probably add that it’s not like I have a better solution to any of this stuff. When it comes to the place of philosophical thinking in theology, I seem to flit between Caputo and Milbank, and that’s quite a big distance to be flitting, so I am definitely a long way from clarity.

    I suppose what I think is important is to work out the relationship in a way that can actually make sense in the living of life. As much as I can see the problems highlighted in talk of ‘overcoming onto-theology’ as real problems, it just seems very difficult, in practice, to completely exclude metaphysical thoughts altogether.

    A concrete example of this might be the chapter on creation ex nihilo in ‘The Weakness of God’. As much as it may be important to show that Genesis 1 is far richer than the abstract doctrine might suggest, it seems difficult to not at some point ask the questions about ultimate origins that the doctrine of creation ex nihilo engages with. Caputo links the doctrine to some kind of unpleasant urge to fantasise about an ultimate act of power (if I remember right, or is this him quoting Keller…), and this kind of implies that asking questions like “why is there something rather than nothing?” has no potential to lead to an enriching of our spiritual life.

    But I don’t really buy this – for me, anyway, trying to think of God in relation to the idea that all that is is ultimately attributable to a personal act is far more linked to a feeling of wonder and mystery than it is to a satisfied sense of intellectual closure. And so I feel that if a doctrine like creation ex nihilo can end up being part of a way of thinking of God that treats God like a necessary means to hold all our ideas together – fundamentally rational and unmysterious, not part of any disturbances in our sense of order, etc – then it’s not because of the idea itself (do ideas have selves?) but to do with how we end up using them. To blame the idea itself is to blame the fall on philosophy.

    Pushing this further, I almost think that this approach can end up denying the inherent goodness of one aspect of human capacity – the philosophical – and to do this is really problematic, because then you have to ask about how this makes sense of the idea of grace always perfecting nature (well, you don’t have to, unless you’re a Catholic, but still).

    It’s interesting to think about how any of this works in practice – for example, what do you say to teenagers when they start to ask philosophical questions in relation to the idea of God? My thought when reading Caputo’s chapter on creation was to think about how I would felt about it when I was 15. It’s hard to say – but probably very unsatisfied. Perhaps this is a result of a tendency to want to construct a coherent picture of everything, and increasingly I think that this desire is likely to remain continually unsatisfied. But I don’t think it’s a simply ‘bad’ desire, or simply irrelevant to faith.

    Anyway, thanks again.

    -Stu

  33. Pingback: The God of Faith and the God of the Philosophers

  34. Pingback: Contextless Links – 14 May 2008 : Digital Orthodoxy

  35. Thom says:

    I typed something about how this story confused me some time ago (a month or two I think), noticed the bookmark in my list and went to see if there had been a reply. Instead, my questions were deleted. What gives?

  36. Peter Rollins says:

    Thom, I am afraid I don’t let comments that seem rude and impolite to me on my site. I find that they cause things to degenerate. You might be annoyed with me for not posting your comment but really I do get lots of comments from various perspectives that are accusatory and not committed to intelligent, critical discussion. I lecture in philosophy in a variety of settings and so love critical discussion, but I don’t like when it becomes emotional as it makes everyone defensive and stops genuine dialogue.

  37. Thom says:

    Peter-
    Sorry. I wasn’t trying to be degrading. I was trying to understand this story and was going over possible interpretations.
    When I first saw the story on a youtube video that someone sent to me I didn’t realise that you were an apologist. I found this site after a google search for a phrase from the video so that I could clarify a few critical phrases that I couldn’t hear clearly. From a non-religious perspective, the story is quite confusing.
    Cheers,
    -Thom

  38. Peter Rollins says:

    Hey Thom

    Actually I am not an apologist or a church goer or Christian in the religious sense of the term. I often use parables, metaphors and analogies to explore my work. This parable, which is helpful to see in a wider context, is an expression of the idea (found in thinkers like Hegel, Ernst Bloch, Slavjo Zizek, Bonhoeffer and Altizer) that, in the ‘event’ (in the technical use of the term) of Christianity (as best seen in the earliest documents), describes a form of theological/existential atheism. Check out this recent lecture for more information,

    http://fora.tv/2010/11/09/Slavoj_Zizek_God_Without_the_Sacred

    I also have spoken on this in various places

  39. Pingback: “Atheism for Lent”: The Spiritual Practice of Doubt

  40. Pingback: And contrary to many popular conception of Christianity, the spiritual practice of doubt is central to the Christian tradition. To name only the most prominent example, according to Mark, the earliest of the canonical Gospels, Jesus cried out in existenti

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