Peter Rollins

Satisfying Our Dissatisfaction

listening to Peter Rollins talk about different philosophical ideas always makes me long to be as smart as he is. The other day I heard a lecture he gave and he was talking about being so many of us are dissatisfied. He spoke of two postures of how we address our dissatisfaction - Conservative and Revolutionary.

The conservative is dissatisfied with how life is and believes the way to satisfaction is somewhere in the past. Be it a certain decade or a time in the persons life, it sounds like the conservative is not so much a person as it is a tactic to satisfy our dissatisfaction. I act conservative sometimes when I think of how much “better” and “simpler” life was when I was in high school. Of course, there is no way for us to go back in time and so being conservative means we are trying to bring the past into the present in order to satisfy our dissatisfaction.

The revolutionary is also dissatisfied but this posture is one that believes satisfaction is not in the past but in the future. We act like the revolutionary when we believe that life will be better when we get “over there”. Be it with a different house, job, government, afterlife, or whatever, the revolutionary tries to bring the future to the present. Of course, Rollins points out, that most revolutionaries that succeed in their task are often among the first to be killed by this new reality.

Rollins’ point is not that conservative or revolutionary is better over the other, but that they are two sides of the same coin. They both believe that life is about satisfying our dissatisfaction, they just disagree on the tactics.

Rollins says there is a different posture, a different coin if you will, that both the conservative and revolutionary are suspect of - the Rebel. The rebel is not seeking to satisfy dissatisfaction but to be satisfied with dissatisfaction.

The rebel shows us that being dissatisfied is a feature and not a bug to the human condition. Dissatisfaction gives us energy and that energy, if ever satisfied, would be hellish. It may be difficult to imagine, but if your sports team won every game they played and it was a forgone conclusion they were going to win, then sports would be boring. You would loose the energy to participate in the game because you know you will win.

The rebel does not play the impossible game of trying to satisfy dissatisfaction but plays a new game all together and learns to be satisfied with dissatisfaction.

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While the religious leaders of his day wanted Jesus to look to the past to satisfy their dissatisfaction, the zealots desired Jesus to bring the future kingdom to the present. Jesus resisted the conservative and the revolutionary postures toward the dissatisfaction in the world.

Jesus was a rebel who showed us the way to address our dissatisfaction - by being satisfied with it.

The Problem Is We Practice "No Other Gods Before Me"

Of the “Ten Commandments” perhaps you can name a few: Don’t steal, Don’t murder, honor you mother and father, keep sabbath. Many of these are straight forward, but Peter Rollins mentions an interesting point from philosopher Slavoj Zizek. The point that I gathered is Zizek argues that commandment “You shall have no other Gods before me” might me that we should not have gods “in front” the God of the Bible. As in physically before, in front of. The idea being that we all have little gods and perhaps the commandment is saying, keep your other little gods, just don’t worship them in before (in front of or prior to worshiping) God.

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This may sound odd but the Bible does not begin at monotheism. Monotheism says that there is ONLY one God. However, when you read the Bible you will see that there are in fact many gods. For instance, Psalm 82 assume there are many gods: God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment (82:1). In a monotheistic worldview there is no need to mention other gods.

However the Bible does not stay in the polytheistic world very long before it makes a theological step toward monotheism. Before arriving at monotheism, there is a long stop at something called henotheism. Henotheism might admit there are other gods, but that our God is the best. Psalm 95 says, For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods.

This is where Zizek’s observation comes into play. The Ten Commandments is in the era of henotheism and thus having no other gods before the God of the Bible makes sense in a henotheistic world.

But today we are supposed to be monotheistic. That is we are supposed to understand that there is only one God. No others. This God is the Alpha and the Omega - the greatest and the weakest. God is all there is.

However, a case might be made that we are stuck in the henotheism. We live our lives taking the commandment “no other gods before me” very literally. That is, we worship our little gods of power, money, ego, prestige, nature, resentment, and envy but we don’t do it “before” we worship God of Jesus Christ.

The problem is not that we worship God, it is that we practice having no other gods before God.

Choosing Conflict Over War

War is often thought of as the ultimate conflict. Of course there is great loss of life and civilization in any war, there is great devastation and destruction in war. As it has been said, war is hell.

However, according to Peter Rolins, war is not the ultimate conflict but the absence of conflict. Meaning that we would rather see the eradication and elimination of the other person(s) than be in conflict with them. As such, war is what happens when groups/people refuse to have conflict and wish the destruction of the other.

Photo by  Jordy Meow  on  Unsplash

Photo by Jordy Meow on Unsplash

The United Methodist Church has been in conflict for a long time. For some it is exhausting and no longer worth the fight. Some believe that we have irreconcilable differences. Some feel that we cannot be united as long as the Book of Discipline is not changed or if it is not being followed. Some believe that we are better off apart than together. 

Put another way, there are many who would rather not have see or interact or be in conflict with others in the denomination. There are some who choose war because it gives a false comfort. We believe that no conflict means comfort. No conflict means war. Even the building of peace has conflict. The difference in peace and war is that peace puts conflict in its proper place and war banishes conflict all together. 

I choose conflict over war. 

I choose to be in conflict with those I disagree with. Those who I feel are being total jerks and those who think that I am a jerk. I choose to be in conflict with those who break the Book of Discipline and those who desire it to remain unchanged. I choose to be in conflict with those who think I am a heretic and those who think I am saint. I choose to be in conflict because I choose relationships (even conflictual ones) over war.

The Uniting Methodists are people who understand that conflict is nothing to fear. In fact, conflict means we all are alive! If there is no conflict then the "others" have been eradicated. If there is no conflict then there is only war. I pray the UMC will come to see that the long conflicts of our denomination are signs of health and engagement. Let us not fall victim to the false comfort that comes from the sirens calling us to war. 

"I Am with the Goats" - A Tale

Peter Rollins’ book Orthodox Heretic is a collection of what I will call parables, even in the preface he hesitates with that label. These parables are the sort of parables that I adore and give all sorts of insights to wisdom. If I were to dream up a book this is the sort of book that I would want to have the creativity to write. This book is sort of a combination between the sayings of the desert abbas/ammas and David Eagleman’s book Sum: 40 Tales from the Afterlives.

It is in the spirit of Rollins’ book that I offer up a sort-of tale of my own based on Matthew 25 which I will call “I Am with the Goats”

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‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’

As the sheep walked into eternal life, Jesus joined with the goats. Perplexed by this action, a sheep, “Jesus where are you going?” Jesus replied, “My ministry with those on the margins never stopped. I AM and always have been among the goats.”