Friday, April 15, 2011

Religion as A/Theism: Rollins (4)

While the (more traditional) strands of negative theology in Pete Rollins’ first publication, How (Not) to Speak of God, form a type of ‘believing in God while remaining dubious about what one believes about God’ (p.26), more radical implications can be drawn, since there can be not just doubt about ‘who or what God is’ but, further, ‘doubt about if God is’ (interview with Pete for my PhD thesis).

Rollins’ second book, The Fidelity of Betrayal, follows the deconstructive theology of Derridean philosopher John D. Caputo to make a distinction between, on the one hand, the name and being of God and, on the other, the event of God. This is in order suggest a betrayal of religious beliefs and practices that emphasise the existence of God in fidelity to those that encourage the transformative event of God.

This more radical thread within Rollins’ work stresses that ‘[f]or Christians, it is a happening, an event, that we affirm and respond to, regardless of the ebbs and flows of our abstract theological reflections concerning the source and nature of this happening,’ such that ‘[t]here is no doubt for the believer that God dwells with us (as an event), yet there is a deep uncertainty about who, what, or even if God is (as a being)’ (The Fidelity of Betrayal, pp.141 and 144). This betrayal, negation or atheism is, Rollins suggests, integral to the Christian religion.

This means that critics of religion can be helpful in demonstrating the essentially a/theistic nature of Christianity. In particular, Freud, Marx and Nietzsche, as well as contemporary atheists like Derren Brown and Ricky Gervais, can aid our own recollection of and reflection upon those experiences of doubt and uncertainty in which we most keenly feel isolated from and abandoned by God. This is, after all, an experience that ‘we bear witness to at the very heart of Christianity itself’ (Rollins, "Dis-Courses Theory [Part 3]").

For in the Cross, when Christ cries out, “My God! my God! why have you forsaken me?” we see that the absence of God, the felt absence of the divine, is brought into the very heart of the faith. Instead of seeing it as some kind of test that we have to endure, or the result of our sin and our finitude, what we see is God experiencing the absence of God. Therefore the absence of God is seen to be a part of the life of faith. If a Christian is to participate in the Crucifixion, to stand with Christ, then part of the Christian experience is that absence itself ("Dis-Courses Theory [Part 3]").
This is, however, no ‘simple atheism’ (Ikon, "The God Delusion," Greenbelt Arts Festival, Aug 26 2007), for Christ’s cry represents God’s own feelings of abandonment by God, God’s own doubt, God’s own atheism.

This is an a/theism, then, that is both a theistic atheism in the tradition of negative theology – a mystical affirmation of God’s absence, or “distance” from, our beliefs and practices that idolatrously attempt to grasp and make God present – and a more radically atheistic theism – an existential affirmation of the absence of God’s presence itself. The latter is ‘analogous to the experience of waiting for one whom we love in a café. The later they are, the more we experience their absence. Our beloved is absent to everyone in the room but we are the only one who feels it’ (Ikon, "Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?" in Rollins, How [Not] to Speak of God, p.82). This is perhaps, then, what Rollins means when he says that ‘[o]nly the Christian can be an atheist’ (here).

What does the local atheism of our own religious beliefs and practices look like? Do we see that atheism as integral to our theism? Do our beliefs and practices celebrate or disavow our own experiences of doubt, disbelief, and abandonment by God?

If Christianity is a/theistic...

...what happens to my faith?

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