I’m starting this post on Tuesday night, but it’s meant to be for Sunday, two days ago. I would backdate, but apparently the WordPress theme I’m using doesn’t allow that, which I know because I’ve tried. Oh well. I don’t think anybody but me is counting, and I don’t care. If anyone else were counting, I still wouldn’t care. I’m too tired.
SO! On that chipper note, on to AfL’23 Day 33, in which Dr. Peter Rollins, our Fearless Final Guru lays upon us the geas that shall carry us through this next-to-final week of our decentering Lenten practice. How’s that for an effing sentence?! 😁
Peter says of the coming week:
“This week we look at what faith might look like in the aftermath of the dialectical journey you have taken. The structure this week could be loosely described as a movement from a type of epistemological unknowing to an ontological unknowing. This means that, in different ways, much of this week’s material revolves around faith as embracing the dialectic, not simply as a means for moving towards the truth, but, move fundamentally, as an expression of the truth.”–Dr. Peter Rollins,
Atheism for Lent,
Heavy, heady stuff from where I’m sitting. Ever since my friend Scott Maslar introduced me to Peter’s work 5 years ago, I’ve been in the midst of this “aftermath.” The few times since then that anyone has asked me directly “what do you believe?” I have wanted to answer “I don’t know, and I don’t think you know what you believe, either.” That probably sounds condescending and arrogant, which is probably why I’ve never answered that way directly.
But I believe it to be true. None of us know what we truly believe. We have our known knowns…our known unknowns…our unknown unknowns…and, most interestingly, our unknown knowns. That’s where our true beliefs lie. They lie buried deep and are very tricky to mine, and most of us are scared of the dark. I know I am.
So, for me, Atheism for Lent shoves me farther into this “cloud of unknowing,” this weird, liminal space between theism and atheism that simultaneously makes zero sense whatsoever and makes more sense to me than anything I’ve yet encountered. I’ve been in this space for half a decade, and the AfL practice only intensifies it. GOOD. That’s what I need. Bring on the dialectic! I affirm something, then I negate it, gaining a new affirmation, which I then negate again and turn into the next new affirmation, which requires another negation, and so forth. Turtles all the way down. I am not moving toward Truth; I am following the turtles, and that is an expression of Truth.
That’s my fidelity to the faith I was raised in.
Quick little recap of how this has worked through AfL’23 so far:
- Week 1, Affirmation: “God Exists,” basic theism
- Week 2, Negation of the Affirmation: “God Does Not Exist,” basic atheism
- Week 3, Negation of the Negation –> New Affirmation: “God as Supreme Being Beyond All Conception,” the mystics and the saturating Reality we cannot put qualifiers on
- Week 4, Negation of the New Affirmation –> New Negation: “God as ‘Us,'” how we conceptualize God is how we ourselves are (theology as anthropology; psychological and politicial critique)
- Week 5, Negation of the New Negation –> Newer Affirmation: “God as Ground of Being,” taking this world and this life absolutely seriously in a commitment that bears witness to a deeper Reality we cannot touch but that religion — AT ITS BEST — orients us to; in the pursuit of Truth, there is already an emerging of and an immersion in the Truth
I’m not biased toward Weeks 3 and 5 at all, no. 😉
In the coming week — Week 6! — Peter will introduce us to thinkers who are both inside and outside the contemporary church structure. Peter calls them “people who are inside the future church,” people who are in the church that is not yet. They ask and propose answers to questions so rich and deep and difficult, the church framework cannot hold up under them and collapses into and out into something new. These questioners articulate something that requires a reformation.
This week’s thinkers see God as a “groundless ground.” They’re interested in a certain openness, novelty, and antagonism that is beautifully expressed in the teachings of Jesus and in the Crucifixion:
- John Caputo discusses how there’s a promise in certain words, such as democracy or justice, a promise that’s never completely fulfilled; there’s always something in justice that is unjust, always something in democracy that’s undemocratic. “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.” There’s something in these concepts that is always still to come. This is the restlessness of being human (“drive” in psychoanalysis, being satisfied by never being satisfied). The life of faith is maintaining an openness toward and a willingness to fight for the “still to come”; the life of faith is living in the space between.
- Richard Boothby’s work is connected to the idea of an openness to a possibility, a groundlessness. He talks about love as a type of orientation to the lack (groundlessness) in the Other. I’ve heard something similar in Peter’s work: “love is giving something you don’t have to someone who doesn’t want it” (he credits Jacques Lacan). Instead of trying to give an answer to the Other’s lack, we make a shelter in our being for that lack. We don’t want the Other’s lack, but we take it into ourselves as they takes ours into themselves. In addition, we don’t know what we desire, and the Other doesn’t know what they desire either. But true religion is a religion of love, in which we remain eternally open to the dimension of Unknown in the Other. This is terrifying, especially in the concept of “love your enemy”: remain open to the dimension of the Unknown in your enemy. We do none of this “because it works” or “because it’s good.” That would be simple economics, nothing but a contract. We do it out of love and a willingness to be vulnerable.
- Todd McGowan delves into the experience of dissatisfaction and alienation and connects them to theology. One of his book titles encapsulates this: Enjoying What We Don’t Have. This moves into the heart of Christianity.
- Slavoj Žižek has made significant innovations in the fields of philosophy, psychoanalytic theory, political theory, and theology. He’s profoundly interested in Christianity, particularly the idea of God as self-divided: Christ, God on the cross, crying out against Godforsakenness. To Žižek, the estrangement Tillich describes isn’t something we overcome; instead, we realize that our alienation is a reflection of the alienation in all of Reality. We resonate with the Wounded God on the Cross, and this resonance is salvatory, helping us come to terms with our groundlessness (instead of finding a scapegoat to blame it on). Our estrangement becomes productive instead of destructive.
Aside: Peter also goes into a brief treatise from Albert Camus on the difference between the conservative and the revolutionary:
- the conservative wants things to go back to “how they were then,” back to some “Golden Age” of humanity when everything was, if not right, at least more right than it is now; this can be personal or collective
- the revolutionary looks forward to some golden future time when alienation and estrangement are overcome and we have true justice, mercy, equitability
- AND THEN THERE’S THE REBEL: dissatisfied, but enjoying the dissatisfaction; “Johnny, what’re you rebelling against?” –“What’ve you got?” — this is embracing alienation: the kingdom of God is in the fight for the kingdom of God
And that’s all for now. I’ll probably spend this whole week catching up, since I’m now two days behind. That is, I’ll play catch-up as long as my health and energy allow. My kiddo will be home sick tomorrow for the fourth day in a row as well, so we might do nothing but play Minecraft if we feel blah enough.
Onward and upward.