Skip to main content

Peter Rollins recently made an interesting point on his blog, and, to paraphrase, it goes something like this:

Q. What do the state, nightclubs, and worship services have in common?

A. All have rituals that people participate in willingly, though not really knowing why, and where the true self is kept safely hidden from self and others, thus empowering the institution to continue as is, without threat of revolt.

Speaking of a worship service, Rollins writes:

Here God is treated as a subject supposed-not-to-know about our doubt, brokenness etc. By singing songs that claim we are happy, fulfilled and utterly devoted we protect the Big Other from seeing the truth of our inner antagonisms  The more frenetically we sing the more we attempt to conceal the truth from this Big Other. In this way we are able to avoid the difficult work that would be involved in directly confronting the tensions in our subjective world. As such, churches and nightclubs can offer the same psychological support for us and thus can both be considered as a form of religious activity: an activity designed to sustain a subject over and above us who protects us from our own conflicts.

Translation: it’s hard to be real in church because the whole system seems to work better if you’re not.

Which is not good.

The problem, though, is what to do about it. Maybe the solution–or at least the move in the right direction–is for people to decide to be real whether or not everyone gets it. It also helps if church leaders model transparency, but even if they don’t, that shouldn’t stop anyone else from picking up the ball and running with it.

Maybe people just don’t like to be vulnerable and intimate. There are probably many nature and nurture reasons for that, which only reminds me how thickly armored we are on all sides, which makes all this following Jesus stuff so hard to pull off, seeing that Jesus was pretty real in how he dealt with others.

Being real as a follower of Christ is the whole point. It’s not about control, painting on false masks, protecting our egos, or whatever else keeps us at a safe distance from God and ourselves.

Again, I’m not really sure what the solution is–other than cut it out.

[Peter Rollins is a writer, lecturer, storyteller, public speaker, and founder of ikon, a faith group that has gained an international reputation for blending live music, visual imagery, soundscapes, theatre, ritual and reflection to create what they call ‘transformance art’. He has a PhD in Post-Structural thought (Queens University, Belfast). He is currently a research associate with the Irish School of Ecumenics in Trinity College, Dublin and the author of Insurrection: To Believe Is Human To Doubt, Divine, The Idolatry of God: Breaking Our Addiction to Certainty and Satisfaction, How (Not) to Speak of God, and The Orthodox Heretic: And Other Impossible Tales.]


Pete Enns, Ph.D.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works. Tweets at @peteenns.