The Idolatry of God… and My Ideologies (Ch. 1)

I began this new year with many pseudo-resolutions. You know the type: the “I’m probably not going to actually do this thing in it’s entirety but at least I want to start strong”. And two of mine were reading and blogging more. The last couple of years for me (the two following my graduation from Bible College) have been a “what the hell do I believe?” existential crisis. I am just now, finally, at a point where I want to explore and wrestle with some alternatives to the fundamentalist/evangelical cult mind. Thus, I have began this exploration with reading Peter Rollins’ The Idolatry of God: Breaking Our Addiction to Certainty and Satisfaction. You can find out more about him at his website.

Part of the thing I’ve come to like about Rollins is his intellectual mind. He writes incredibly philosophically– which I appreciate. Because of this, I am finding that I do need to wrestle with some of his definitions, ideologies, and assumptions before I move onto the next set of definitions, ideologies, and assumptions.  So, this blog will hopefully help me work through some of my questions and struggles with my faith and current belief system (or lack thereof). In addition, it gives me the opportunity to hopefully converse with those of you that can speak to some of the points I wrestle with. I would love for this writing and wrestling to be a mutually beneficial choice.

To begin with: Chapter 1– The big idea that is communicated here is that we feel a lack, a void in our human experience. And that we bear witness to, as God created, life: creatio ex nihilo (creating something out of nothing). Rollins tells an analogous story that explains that an illusion of something can generate a desired effect: Nothing being made to look like something and this creating a result. Of course this idea, feeds the main point that our feelings of a void are actually an illusion which generates the desired effect (unhappiness/dissatisfaction with the world as it is), and thus we are creatio ex nihilo on our own. This happens when we first enter self-consciousness (between 6-18 months). We experience the void feelings, because we are able to actualize ourself in relation to everything that is not ourselves (an inner vs. an outer world). It is purely our feelings of separation (from a world that is not ourselves), that creates a sense of loss. In actuality, there was no physical, measurable loss that occurred, so these feelings of loss and void, are purely an illusion. This is where I first have started to have issues: is an illusion that generates an effect actually creation though? Rollins postulates that the illusion of something can result in the creation of something else. But I just don’t know if an illusion that leads to a desired effect, can actually be defined as creation.

As we age, this belief that something will fill the void is constant. Rollins distinguishes between objects that we seek because we feel they will improve our life and objects that we believe will fill the void we feel at the core of our existence. Obviously, this is something we all definitely experience and cannot deny. We see ourselves and others every day seek after not only enjoyment and improvement but also existential fulfillment. Rollins add that this seeking of existential fulfillment– this insane need for something to fill the void, while appearing worthwhile, is actually a self-destructive drive. This is where Rollins brigs up the MacGuffin– a name given to whatever object helps drive a narrative forward and create an enduring tension within an audience. This MacGuffin is the perfect metaphor: an illusion that becomes a creation. For this MacGuffin is a vessel, an empty void that promises fulfillment,  but is utterly nothing in content. Basically, Rollins points out here that our dreams and fantasies act in the same way the–“ultimately covering over the fact that what we think will satisfy our souls is really powerless to do so”.

This leads into the discussion of Original Sin– as this is the theological name given to that felt void, gap, and separation at the core of our beings. Here Rollins sets himself apart from conservatism. He understands Original Sin to be the first primal separation that we feel when we become self-conscious. Having only ever heard Original Sin referred to as inherently existing mar on humanity, I am struggling with this non-shame/guilt ridden understanding of the term. Rollins acknowledges this struggle when he says: “Sadly almost the entire existing church fails to embrace the full radically of what Original Sin actually means, for they presuppose that there is something we are separated from, something that will bring wholeness and insight.” I think the entire existing church would say we are separated from unity with God. It is very difficult to get away from my fundamental upbringing. I can’t imagine a world in which Original Sin does not mean I am effectively marred and unholy before I was even born, simply because I am human. And yet I desire to get away from that crazy, shame-based theological mindset, but getting my mind around Rollins’ understanding of this, could take some time and wrestling.

Of course, this is the point where Rollins can title his book: The Idolatry of God. He explains how because we have this first illusionary felt void, that now we spend our entire lives seeking something that will not fill it, precisely because this void does not actually exist except in our feelings of its existence. Moreover, when we say that God will fill this void (since it is a “God shaped hole”) we make him into an idol and a product. To this, Rollins holds the church more responsible, as “ A god by any other name would smell as sweet“. He ends the chapter with noting that “whatever we act toward as if it were the thing that would rid us of our sense of emptiness… always ends in wanton destruction.”

So… one chapter done. I appreciate any thoughts or opinions that would be a contributing voice to this conversation.

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