Atheist Posers?

May 16, 2009

I was recently introduced to the work of self-proclaimed Christian Atheist and Orthodox Heretic, Peter Rollins, who boasts a PhD in "post-secular religious theory." He is the author of books such as   The Orthodox Heretic ,     The Fidelity of Betrayal: Towards a Church Beyond Belief   and     How (Not) to Speak of God.   Intrigued, I spent some time with   Rollin’s blog .

Rollins hangs out with the likes of   Rob Bell , pastor of   Mars Hill —a mega-church here in my stomping grounds: Grand Rapids, MI. Bell is the 37-year-old gen-x author of   Velvet Elvis and holds sway over 8,000-10,000 parishioners every Sunday in a (get this!) former shopping mall cum sanctuary.

Rollins and Bell are both prominent spokesmen for the   emerging church movement which is variously described as evangelical, post evangelical, liberal, post liberal, etc. Many emerging-church-evangelicals I meet despise religion, the organized church, and what they perceive to be the modern state of Christendom. They are "spiritual" but not "religious." They are part of the church, but not the Church. They yearn to break free from religious institutions and get back to what they imagine to be an early, pre-creedal, and authentic Christianity. They want to take off their theological chains, and inject a sense of intellectual respectability into a faith whose credibility has been diminished by science. In using terms such as "atheist" and "heretic" to describe himself, Rollins seems to hope that some of the fashionable street cred of the New Atheism will wear off on his decidedly theistic, postmodern blather:

  I want to show that it is important to distance the idea of belief from an affirmation concerning the world that can be defended empirically. Indeed it is the idea that belief can be defended empirically that I argue actually eclipses the nature of belief itself. Instead belief must be understood as an affirmation concerning the nature of things that interacts with, but is not restricted to, facts. In short, beliefs are not placed into danger by being exposed as counter-factual.

Rollins also seems to be playing out of the Bush administration’s handbook by ignoring the reality-based community and creating his own reality:

  What we claim to be the case ‘now’ is ‘not yet’. It is a claim that may have no factual legitimacy in the present, but which can create the factual legitimacy when one conforms ones actions to it.

Rollin, Bell, and their ilk are disillusioned hipster evangelicals yearning for intellectual credibility. Their brand of Christianity has emerged into a no-mans land between their parent’s evangelicalism and the liberal, quasi-Christianity of Unitarian Universalists. A Zen Buddhist could co-opt their aphorisms as koans. But, unlike the emergent Christians seeking meaning in empty phrases, the Zen Buddhist would have a meaningful cup of tea.

It is true, as many have observed, that for not believing in god, atheists sure spend a lot of time talking about her. Similarly, the high priests of the emergent church portray god as ineffable and unknowable, and then proceed to pontificate ad nauseam. Having that much in common, perhaps a tea party is in order.



#1 Logan Narcomey (Guest) on Sunday May 17, 2009 at 5:06pm

Reminds me of a book I read called “Righteous” by Lauren Sandler. The book is an investigation of the evangelical youth movement through the eyes of an atheist journalist. She talks about their philosophy of “Sneaky Deep”, whereby totally secular conversations (about skating, rock music, etc.) begin with the deliberate intent to inch the dialogue toward how Jesus is the Lord and Savior. You come for the rock concerts they host then afterward, when your guard is down, they start talking about obeying Jesus and being anti-abortion.

#2 LarryC (Guest) on Monday May 18, 2009 at 5:37am

> In short, beliefs are not placed into danger by being exposed as counter-factual.

Paraphrased: “You should still believe us [or maybe “belive *in* us”] even though you yourself can easily show that we’re lying.”

“Blather” is too kind a word.  “Bull****”, or perhaps even “poison”.

#3 Jason (Guest) on Tuesday May 19, 2009 at 5:36am

It seems to me that you’ve equated Rollins to Bell and then to Bush(!), and then said therefore that he is a loon. That is a terrible fallacy to make, Jeff.

Though I don’t agree with this guy theologically, he seems to be much more open to dialogue than some of the people I’ve met at CFI (mainly other students).

As an atheist, when I read his blog I become intrigued. When I read what you’ve written above, all I hear is condemnation and anger.

You seem to be condemning him based on some of his beliefs (or perhaps the ambiguity surrounding them). That is no different than the evangelical churches that he is trying to change. I thought that at CFI the emphasis is not on what you believe, but that you are inquiring and thinking critically.

Now perhaps I sound angry and condemning… so I would just like to end this by saying that I still really appreciate what you do.

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