Dr Peter Rollins, a Research Associate with Trinity College Dublin at Belfast (the Irish School of Ecumenics) returned to Belfast today for a seminar on ‘The Uprising of Christ: The Resurrection as Insurrection.’ Rollins is currently based on the east coast of the US.
Rollins is fresh off his Insurrection Tour of US and Canadian cities, in which he, Pádraig ÓTuama and Johnny McKeown provided a pub-based example – in word, music and visual – of what Christianity in post-modernity might look like.
The Insurrection Tour started in Belfast in March. Rollins said that the form and content of the pub experience (or ‘theo-drama’) had developed since then. He joked that the Belfast launch was ‘the rubbish one’; and that you should never open a tour in your hometown!
Today’s seminar was a chance for Rollins to distil the main points of the talks he gave during the Insurrection Tour and to field questions and comments about his ideas. You can listen to the full talk and discussion below.
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Most of Rollins’ remarks centred round themes he has been exploring over the last year or so, including,
To Believe is Human
Rollins said that Joel Osteen’s job is easy, because it doesn’t take much to get people to believe something: ‘you have to be three times better (or more convincing) to get people to doubt.’
Osteen is a prosperity-orientated American evangelist/self-help guru who – it could be alleged – tells people what they want to hear by implying that change is easy and can bring them health and wealth.
Rollins, by contrast, sees Lacanian analysis as a framework for understanding how people can be prompted to desire real and meaningful change in their lives. Health and wealth are not the goals, instead the point is instigating a process of self-discovery that allows people to live justly and with integrity.
To Doubt is Divine
Rollins acknowledged that ‘doubt’ has become fashionable in church circles but expressed anxiety that this would tame what he sees as the role and power of doubt within Christianity.
He admitted that in his first book, How (Not) to Speak of God (2006), he didn’t push his discussion of doubt far enough. Rollins says that after reading this work, people could come away thinking that doubt is a good thing for Christians, because it helps them to be more humble about their faith and to ask more questions. (And maybe that’s fair enough.)
But he adds that this kind of doubt can be pleasurable because it allows us to congratulate ourselves on our cleverness, but doesn’t demand too much of us either intellectually or in the real world.
And, Rollins adds, this kind of doubt still allows room for a ‘meta-belief’ that although we may doubt God, God never doubts us. He says that this meta-belief acts like a security blanket.
The way to move beyond the security blanket is to identify with Jesus’ words on the cross: ‘my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ For Rollins, these words are Jesus’ confession that he has experienced the full trauma of doubt as he has been ripped away not only from his God, but also all the religious, social and political narratives that grounded his life in his world.
Militant Doubt & Material Faith
Rollins contrasted this ‘militant doubt’ to the ‘humble doubt’ of How (Not) to Speak of God and said that what the resurrection is about is participating fully with Christ in the ‘trauma’ of doubt.
Participating in the trauma of doubt means entering into darkness and ultimately recognising that the real test of who you are is what you do, not what you believe. The resurrection of Christ is then present in the life that you are living. Rollins called this ‘material faith.’
Rollins was asked if he thought that doubt was either good or bad. Rollins responded that it was neither good nor bad, rather he thought of it as a doorway out of intellectual abstraction (some might call it existential angst!) and into ‘material faith’ or ‘resurrection Christianity.’
Rollins’ talk provoked a lively discussion among those present, some of whom questioned whether it was necessary to talk so much about doubt or to use the tools of Lacanian analysis to convince people to live like Christians, i.e. doing justice, loving mercy, walking humbly with God.
I think that’s an open question for those of us who are interested in or involved with what has been variously called emergence, emerging and emergent Christianity. Does the philosophy behind it matter?
I suspect that it does, and that the ways of thinking that Rollins is talking about are embedded in the practices of emergence Christians in ways in which we are just beginning to understand …