Insurrection by Peter Rollins [Featured Review – Vol. 4, #25.5]

December 10, 2011

 

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“On the Cross, God as a psychological crutch dies, and we are overtaken by a deeply felt dark night of the soul. We experience the horrifying sense that life lacks any overarching meaning and the realization that there is no supreme gaze that would ensure our lives have lasting value. At the foot of the Cross, the old religious certainties (be they doctrinal, social, or political) are drained of all operative power, and we are left naked” (82).

When we lose God as deus ex machina and the security blanket of the church, we are left with a naked cosmic anxiety. Rollins exposes our use of self-deception, distraction, and embrace of the story we tell ourselves about who we are, to avoid the anxiety born out of the confusion, meaninglessness, and despair of our lives. But by examining our practices and actions we can find what we truly believe, and expose our own self-deception. Only then can we fully confront the anxiety of our finite, meaningless existence, and experience the death of the crucifixion. Although this all sounds despairing (and it is), there is hope here for Rollins. For this deconstruction process is what finally frees us from false religion, so we can experience the crucifixion, with all of its despair and anxiety, and find resurrection on the other side.

“…when God is found in love itself, then the very act of loving brings us into immediate relationship with the deepest truth of all…. God no longer pulls on us as something ‘out there’; rather, God is a presence that is made manifest in our very mist. Here meaning is not found in turning away form the world but in fully embracing it through the act of love” (120).

In the resurrection, God is no longer the object of our love, something distant from us that we seek to find and experience, but God is love itself. Resurrection is experienced when we fully embrace the deep suffering and fleeting nature of the human condition, yet continue to affirm God by embracing the world with love. And we find a new meaning in this love, for love brings new meaning, wonder, and beauty into the world. And since God is love itself, when we embrace the world with love, we indirectly love God. As Rollins says:

“In the Crucifixion we lose the idea of God as the one who justifies our loving engagement with the world by approving of it, but in Resurrection we continue to affirm God as we love the world regardless” (129).

When left in the ashes of our faith, now brunt to the ground, in the midst of our own exposed meaninglessness and suffering, we are called to fully love and embrace the world. Yet we must ask, should we just accept Rollin’s concept of resurrection because, after deconstructing what we hold as ‘faith’, this is what he offers for us to pick up? Do we really find God in this concept of resurrection, where we affirm God-as-love, or is this just a chorus of The Beatles’ “All You Need is Love” with God sprinkled on top? Is it fair to say God is only love, and not the object of our love? Would a church survive that truly embraced radical doubt and mystery in its songs and prayers?

On the other side of the resurrection, Rollins describes a provocative conception of the life of true faith, God dwelling with us when we fully love the world, courageously making decisions without the security of belief in a divine plan, and challenging systems of injustice without deceiving ourselves about our own participation in them, all the while embracing the painful reality of our human existence.

Rollins’ Insurrection may be the voice of truth you’ve been waiting to hear, or you may disagree with him completely. More likely you’ll be left asking: friend, enemy, or frenemy? But as one who wants to shake people awake and start the conversation, I think he would take any engaged reaction as a complement. So instead of an evaluation of his theology and a neat label to slap on the book, I leave you with an invitation to pick up a copy or two of Insurrection, and discuss it with a friend. Or join the conversation with our friends over at The Church and Postmodern Culture.