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The idolatry of God : breaking our addiction…
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The idolatry of God : breaking our addiction to certainty and satisfaction

by Peter Rollins

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I was introduced to Peter Rollin’s writing through his book of parables called Orthodox Heretic. The idea of modern parables really fascinated and excited me about the power of creative writing and made me curious of Rollin’s as an author. He certainly has a gift for wit and storytelling. Strength that no doubt draw from his Irish nationality.

While book also make heavy use of stories, rather than leaving the reader to wrestle with them Rollin’s uses them to illustrate his premise: The Christian God has become just another idol. Through the book’s three sections idolatry is identified and defined, current ways of engaging with God are called into question, and a way forward is suggested.

Section one is the foundational to the premise of the entire book. It dissects the feelings of “lack” or “something is missing” that are common to the human experience. We’ve all felt that if we could just obtain, experience, or consume one particular thing that it could bring us fulfilment. The author associates this feeling with a key moment in infant cognitive development. Certain developmental theories claim that a child’s sense of self-awareness develops around 15-24 months.

During this shift, the child begins to understand that they are a “self” separate from everything and everyone else. The psychic shock of this change, Rollin’s says, leaves us with a permanent sense of loss which we spend the rest of our life seeking to alleviate. Rollin’s calls this sense of lacking ‘original sin’ and anything we use to fulfill the sense of lack an ‘idol’. Idolatry can manifest itself in our consumerism, sexuality, drug use, work ethics, or anything else we use to fill our sense of lacking. Unfortunately, as any of us already know, the idol never makes good on it’s promises.

Section two builds on the previous section’s premise and suggests that God himself is also used as an idol. For most Christians, to consider that the Bible or the Church could be idols is serious apostasy, but the suggestion that engaging with God could be idolatrous is downright heresy. However as the book points out, the desire to use God as an idol is not some post-modern crack-pottery. It was a real and prevalent issue in the scriptural accounts of Jesus’ life.

Somewhere in the history of Judaism an idea took shape and rooted itself deep in the culture. This idea undoubtedly grew out from Israel’s captivities and it was a blend of politics and prophecies meant to give hope to the oppressed nation. Hebrew scripture foretold that God would send a king to Israel. Further, this future king would rule all the earth and bring justice, abundance, and everlasting peace to all nations. The Israelites, however, began to dream of a king that would crush their captors and establish their nation as on of power. This idea was the prevailing idolatry of Jesus’ day. Israel was looking for a warrior Messiah. A powerful politician to take up arms. Even Jesus’ closest disciples believed him to be the this kind of king.

The New Testament bears out that they were often impatient with his lack of urgency for revolution. Some disciples chided him to take up arms and bring fire and brimstone down on their enemies. Jesus was even later betrayed as a result of one followers frustration and confusion. No matter their desires for King to fill their sense of “lack” Jesus continually refused to be become Israel’s idol. Instead he died by their own hands on the cross of their oppressors.

Rollin’s proposes that Jesus crucifixion not only confronted Israel and his disciples, but also confronts us with the reality that he will not be our idol. He will not fill a void in our lives, meet our needs, or be who we want him to be. Rather Jesus’ death reveals that our belief in “lacking” or “being separate” is an illusion. To be a follower of Christ, is not to expect Christ to eliminate “lack”, but to live in the reality that there is no “lacking”. When individuals find their being in God they will perceive all of creation as arising from God (even if that creation is unaware).

The rest of the section wraps things up by discussing the importance of Paul’s words: “Christ is all, and in all.” The reader is implored to see all of creation as arising from God (or finding it’s being in God) rather than thinking of God as something separate. In doing so this one finds that they are in God and God is in everything . Conceptually this means that a person reverts back to their birth state of pre-self awareness. They understand that they are no longer separate from everything else. The “self” becomes a paradigm that those who follow Christ no longer operate in because they are “born again”.

Section three offers practical examples of liturgy, poetry, and new ways of thinking. The goal is to equip readers to live and share the truths of the first two sections. Rollin’s gives the reader imaginative ideas on how to share this idol smashing message.

Overall I enjoyed this book. There were times when I struggled to follow Rollin’s logic. Other times it was immediately clear. There was enough of each to make wrestling with the ideas feel productive and satisfying. I really enjoyed the chapter on Paul’s proclamation against tribalism (Colossians 3). It was certainly one of the best expositions I’ve heard in some time on the radical nature of some of Paul’s writings. My favorite part of the book however, was section three. The performances and liturgies really ignited my imagination for faith and art. They left me feeling refreshed, challenged, and excited and longing for me. ( )
  erlenmeyer316 | Sep 21, 2015 |
There are all sorts of concepts in this book, and in usual Rollins fashion, it's hard to get a hold of an overarching principle. At the outset, Rollins defines Original Sin and Idolatry. He said:

"Original Sin can be understood very simply as the sense of loss that all humans experience in the process of coming to self-awareness, while Idolatry refers to any object that we imagine can fill this inner void." (p. 27, The Idolatry of God by Peter Rollins)

This definition turns the normal meaning of sin on its head, i.e., sin becomes amoral. I think it might have been better if he called this "sense of loss" Great Divorce instead of Original Sin. Then, of course, Rollins would have had to talk about what we should have been connected to that we're separated from. Actually, he does say that this sense of loss is an illusion, but that even so our first impulses are to find ways to abolish the void created by this sense of loss, hence the birth of the Idol.

By his juxtaposition of God and Idol, I think what Rollins is driving at is this: What if the God most of us believe in is just another Idol that we formulated to fill this void? I guess the other question (my question) is this: Is it okay if we use God as the filler of our void? Does God want to be used?

I like Isaiah 44 because it illustrates the human comedy so well. Here God talks about a woodcarver who takes a piece of wood and fashions an idol looking like a human from the piece of wood. He used what was left of the wood for heating or cooking. He enjoys the warm fire and the meat that he roasted. And then when he was done, he bowed down to worship the wooden idol that he made, calling the wooden idol his protector. God was quite disgusted with the woodcarver. He asked how anyone can be so stupid to trust something that can be burned into ashes.

Of course, we'd like to think that we're better than the woodcarver. But what are we worshipping instead of wood today that is equally stupid? In Isaiah 44, idols were in form of physical objects. Today, it is not that difficult to imagine idols that are constructs that are not physical objects per se.

One might want to sit down and contemplate what one is using to fill the void in one's life. If one thinks that the void filler is God, one might want to make sure that it's not an Idol masquerading as God. But this examination in itself is problematic according to Rollins. For example, he says that:

"To make the claim that you know God is actually to proclaim a no-God. It is to proclaim an Idol, masked as God." (p. 140, The Idolatry of God by Peter Rollins)

It seems almost as if Rollins is dissauding people from seeking or thinking about God, or it isn't clear what he means by "know God." One might even say that Rollins is agnostic. But then, I don't think agnostics keep obsessing about the crucifixion of Christ. Is it even possible to believe in Christ without knowing or believing in God, as seems to be the case with Rollins? Is Christ meaningful without God? Perhaps I should address my questions to Rollins.

One might respond to Rollins by saying, "Hogwash! Get Lost!" Or one might contemplate what one does in fact believe and know or not know. Rollins has had the latter effect on me, i.e., one of contemplation. ( )
  bookartisan | Jan 29, 2014 |
Have we turned God into an idol? In this thought-provoking book, you’ll learn to think about God, life, and love differently.

The idea of God as the fulfillment of our desires is so all-pervasive today that most of us take it for granted. But is this not the very definition of an idol? That which we focus on as the solution to our unfulfillment, in hopes of attaining happiness?

Next time you attend church, listen closely to the worship hymns. Each one promises to provide something which will fill the emptiness we feel by nature … a nature that began with birth, and our severing from the universe to create a separate being. In this way, the church takes it place beside every other industry that is in the business of selling satisfaction. Religious hymns become little more than advertising jingles, and the clergy come to resemble slick salespeople presenting their god-product to the potential consumer. If idolatry is the artificial search for ultimate satisfaction, then the church today does not offer an alternative to the idolatry that weighs us down, but instead blesses it and gives it divine justification.

What can we do about it? Rollins encourages us to be part of the problem, not the solution, and he closes the book with several intriguing group exercises to help us think outside the box, recognizing and embracing life for its uncertainty and unattainable satisfaction. Remember when Jesus died, and the curtain in the temple was torn from top to bottom? The Holy of Holies lay exposed, and the separation between man and God finally came down. So what did temple visitors find there, beyond the curtain of separation?

That’s right: nothing. There was nothing behind the curtain. That is not to say that Christianity is a lie, or that the scriptures are wrong. The reality is more interesting than this.

Like every other idol, God proves to be meaningful only while unattainable. Once obtained … once lived … the meaning dies, but is reborn, as it shifts from idolatry to experience. An experience which cannot be ours until we lay down our certainties and our doomed quest for ultimate understanding and satisfaction. ( )
2 vote DubiousDisciple | Nov 27, 2012 |
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This book shows how God has traditionally been approached as a product that will render us complete, remove our suffering, and reveal the answers. It introduces a radical approach to faith that invites us to joyfully embrace our brokenness, resolutely face our unknowing, and courageously accept the difficulties of existence. Only then can we truly rob death of its sting and enter into the fullness of life.… (more)

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