Whew! I am relieved that my journey with Idolatry of God is finally over! Though of course, in many respects, it’s just beginning: the hard work of further reflecting on, critiquing, questioning, adapting and applying the ideas will be a daunting and difficult undertaking.
The reason I enjoy Peter’s books and talks is because they provoke me, frustrate me and resonate with me. As someone who enjoys reading the same philosophers as Rollins, I appreciate that he (as one who has formally studied philosophy) can creatively engage with their ideas in the service of critiquing the Church. Of course, at the same time, he irritates me because he is not always astute (in my humble opinion) when it comes to biblical or theological nuances.
At the back of this book is an interview or conversation with Peter Rollins from which I will draw out some final thoughts.
The first question is how the book’s title relates to the book’s central concern.
Rollins feels that while many Christians avoid using “specifically theological language in their conversations and writings”, he is “interested in returning to, rethinking and reengaging with many of these ancient theological notions” because he believes they “possess a depth, potency, and weight … and incendiary force” that is lacking in the facile and superficial popular understanding prevalent in the Church today.
The key term in this book that he is seeking to explore is idolatry and more specifically, how God as presented in much of the Church today is “nothing more than an impotent Idol … nothing more than a product, a product that promises certainty and satisfaction while delivering nothing but deception and dissatisfaction.”
What compelled him to write Idolatry of God and does it contain a timely and significant message or this point in the history of the Church?
Having read most of his books, I would agree with Pete’s assessment of his project as seeking to find:
that Archimedian point from which we can overturn the mammoth structure that propagates a reactonary and idolatrous form of life in the false guise of Christian faith; a structure that we might mock with our minds, but which we embrace at a liturgical and material level.
In particular, he feels this book is his clearest and systematic exposition of the issues so far, and hence, serves an interpretive key to the rest of his books.
Next, he is asked about any specific characteristics of the modern church the book seeks to counteract and what changes he hopes to see w.r.t. worship, ministry, and community.
Basically I argue that the modern church engages in a host of material practices designed to act as a security blanket for life.
Rollins argues that our practices (songs we sing, the sermons we preach, the prayers we pray) tend to “solidify our tribal identities and promise fulfillment”, resulting in church becoming a “type of crack house selling feel-good drugs to those who enter its doors.” He feels that by acting as a security blanket to life’s suffering and pain, the Church acts as a “drug den, with the leaders being the nicest, most sincere drug dealers. What we pay for are songs, sermons, and prayers that help us avoid suffering rather than work through it.”
He argues that the Church instead needs to function as poets/singers, comedians and professional mourners. For more details, see the link in the preceding paragraph and/or watch this video.
Rollins is asked about what resistance he’s encountered from the religious establishment as a result of this book.
He acknowledges there are many people who disagree with him, some of whom are his closest friends. However, he occasionally encounters “a type of venomous disagreement” which he calls “resistance”, but which for him “signals the very opposite of genuine disagreement.” How so? Pete avers:
Resistance arises whenever a person feels some deep inner conflict over what has been said. This conflict is often the result of some kind of internal clash in which they resonate with what they hear but are unable or unwilling to express that. Strange as it might initially sound, people who show the most resistance to what I am saying often are doing so because what I am saying makes the most sense to them.
As for readers who resonate with this book, what are the next steps?
Peter acknowledges that it will not be a rosy path ahead for those who “get it”. In particular, for those who “are a part of some faith community, they might have to ask some difficult questions, questions that will likely be perceived as a threat to the organism.” Absolutely true: been there, done that. What are the alternatives then?
Alternatively, he suggests “the reader might feel convinced to start one of the contemplative practices” described in the book “or even attempt the creation of a collective which helps people to embrace mystery, unknowing and dissatisfaction.” I’ve tried a similar experiment before and would agree with Rollins’ understated comment that it won’t be easy. Part of the challenge for me was that our group at that time was filled with too many dogmatic people who had more answers than questions. Instead, he says it will take “the brave, the committed, and the stupid” to pioneer something. Well, my bravery is questionable and my commitment is not unwavering, but I’m definitely stupid enough to try doing something crazy! Who’s with me?