Thursday, 31 January 2013

Peter Rollins: The Idolatry of God - a review

I finished the book three days ago and having let it "sink in" I now am ready to write a review. 
This is the first Peter Rollins book that I have read. I ordered it as soon as it came out on the basis of an interview I read about Rollins work last year in "Reform" magazine.
The book is subtitled "Breaking the addiction to certainty and satisfaction". It is this addiction or longing that is a serious problem for humans, religious and otherwise. He argues for this diagnosis of the human condition using some theories of psychology which I have not previously encountered. He says that the basic human condition involves an aspiration or longing for an unattainable perfection that will bring complete sense of well being and peace. This aspiration is objectified into various idols that are longed for and yet when attained prove illusory in terms of the satisfaction they give. This feeling of longing for an unattainable idol can be called original sin. The model works with many different idols, both religious and secular. In traditional evangelical Christianity Jesus is seen as the "idol" that you have to accept into your life to make all things well and find the certainty and satisfaction that you are seeking. (He has several astute critical comments on the practices of churches.) However the crux of the argument in the book is that the Christian hope is not about conforming to this model but about destroying it. Thus Christ's message is to show the emptiness and futility of our desire for satisfaction and certainty. He says that central to Christianity is the experience of the absence of God as experienced by Christ in his cry of dereliction from the cross. Doubt and uncertainty become the central tenets of faith. God isn't an object to fill our needs. Salvation comes from accepting our brokenness and using it to help heal a broken world.
I wonder how much Peter Rollins has been influenced by the Buddha in this analysis? Buddha practised yoga until he reached the highest levels of enlightenment but after the ecstasy he found that he was again plagued by greed, lust, envy and hatred as he was before the religious experience.  He began a new practice to enhance the natural impulses of empathy and compassion. In this way he broke the longing for fulfilment. Buddha saw that to live morally was to live for others so after enlightenment he said that a person must return to the world and practise compassion. 
Peter Rollins also talks about the need for true encounter with those of faith viewpoints very different to our own in a spirit of vulnerability and unknowing. This is something we have been trying in our eclectic "Soul Space" meeting made up of Protestant, Catholic, Quaker, Baha'i, and Unification church participants. (see my blog post about Soul Space here) 
The final section of the book outlines some of the imaginative and creative sessions where the author has worked with others to challenge and stimulate an experience of God's presence and absence. 
This book has put into an ordered and systematic form a coherent radical Christian faith. The book is easy to read and doesn't use complicated theological or philosophical language. You may not agree with all of it but it is a stimulating read. 

To buy this book click here

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