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The Divine Magician: The Disappearance of…

The Divine Magician: The Disappearance of Religion and the Discovery of…

by Peter Rollins

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A classic magic trick has three parts:

1. The Pledge: “An object is presented to the audience” (3)
2. The Turn: “This object is made to disappear” (3)
3. The Prestige: “The object then miraculously reappears” (3)

In The Divine Magician, Rollins uses this unorthodox metaphor to describe Christianity. The sacred object is the Pledge—be it the tree of the knowledge of good and evil or the Divine presence in the Holy of Holies. The crucifixion of Jesus is the moment when the curtain is pulled away and we realize that the sacred object is not there. In the end, the sacred returns in a deeper way than before.

"The Prestige of Christianity testifies to an experience in which the sacred is no longer that which pulls us away from the profane, but rather is that which emanates from the profane. This is not about some belief in the inherent meaning of things; rather it is living as though everything has meaning—a life that cannot help but relate to the world as rich, regardless of what we think. The sacred thus is not some positive thing, but the experience of depth and density operating in things" (90).

Rather than the Pledge—an object forever removed from us—the Prestige pushes us “deeper into the world” (91) in love.

Peter Rollins excels at making complex ideas immediately understandable. He brings Lacanian-style psychoanalysis to the arena of theology with a philosopher’s grasp of the big picture.

My problem with Rollins lies with his radical theology (I’m using “radical theology” in its technical sense—a post-modern theology). He seems to find the greatest meaning in life when he leaves his deity behind. While his talk of the Pledge and the Turn gripped me, his description of the Prestige sounded vague and almost Oprah-esque at times. This is sad, because the Pledge, Turn, and Prestige could be used in a wholly orthodox sense. The Prestige could be understood as Spirit-indwelling—the divine no longer behind a curtain but within.

As always, Rollins is insightful, engaging, and honest. You don’t have to agree with all of his arguments to love the man’s spirit or his writing. ( )
  StephenBarkley | May 24, 2015 |
Are you courageous enough to subject your belief in God to psychoanalysis? I dare you to open the cover on this one.

In The Divine Magician, Rollins compares the Gospel to a magic trick in which the magician presents an item, makes it disappear, and then makes it reappear. These three steps are called the Pledge, the Turn and the Prestige.

100 years or so before Christ, Roman general Pompeius Magnus stepped behind the temple curtain in Jerusalem and was surprised to find “the sanctuary empty and the Holy of Holies untenanted.” Religion offers us a sacred object, the fulfillment of every desire, but Rollins invites us to look behind the curtain, exposing its traumatic absence. There is nothing there!

But this is not the end of the journey. We don’t need to be saved by the sacred object but from it. Being freed from religious structure, we are prepared to rebuild in a more positive way, and God reappears.

This book will make you look inward, and that’s not easy. Thankfully, it’s also a fun read.

Howard Books, © 2015, 208 pages

ISBN: 978-1-4516-0904-2 ( )
  DubiousDisciple | Jan 8, 2015 |
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Rollins examines traditional religious notions from a revolutionary and refreshingly original perspective. At the heart of his message is a life lived through profound love. Just perhaps, says Rollins, the radical message found in Christianity might be one that the church can embrace.… (more)

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