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Church as Fetish

The Beyond Evandalism Conference began last night in Hollywood with 70-80 people in attendance. It was exciting to see so many of my dear friends from all across the country turn up for this roughly day and a half event.

After an extended clip from the incredible film The Big Kahuna (more on that later, perhaps), Peter Rollins began with this opening talk entitled, “Lessons in Evandalism.” It was a fast paced, often disjointed jaunt through philophopy, psychoanalytic theory and theology to essentially make the argument that we have given God away; that in the actual experience of most people in our world, Nietzsche was right, “God is dead.” Bonhoeffer, argued Rollins, said essentially the same thing. In his time, Bonhoeffer make the observation that God was always on the retreat, with less and less power, reduced to an idea – simply an explanation for what we cannot explain. We need God to help us face the likelihood that life is meaningless, everyone we love is going to die, that we have come from nothing and will return to nothing. So, God is pushed to the margins, not only of our lives, but also of society, to the point where God has now power at all anymore.

As a result (and this was one of Rollins’ main points last night) we become purveyors of irony, not believing in our grounded being but only intellectually. Irony, he suggested, is sitting in Starbucks with your friends critiquing the dominance of corporations in our public life. In a deeper sense, he suggested that the church, therefore, becomes necessary as an “air vent” in our society, allowing the people to let off steam, thereby guaranteeing that nothing changes and the world carries on much as it always has. This happens because, in our practical experience, God is dead and we have killed him. His blood is on our hands.

When we tell people that if they come to our church and believe in God they will find the answers to all the great mysteries of the universe, or even just the troubling questions in their life, we are engaging in an ironic gesture, and the church becomes a fetish which, ironically, prevents us from experiencing the full reality of our situation. People carry on living as they always have, nothing changes except now people have a fetish, called church, that merely masks the reality of people’s individual and more importantly, their shared experience.

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