Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Foundations for a Radical Christianity, Part 4 - A New Philosophy

I was lost without my friend and guide.
But with him I find paths to light and truth.
                               - re slater

Today's topic will show the basic struggle theology and philosophy pose to one another. Even as theology would decry philosophy as a pretender to revelation, so philosophy would decry theology's ignorance to social conditioning and existential blindness to its one-sided interpretations. It is the contention here that each discipline needs the other in order for each to come to the highest possible congruence to the aide of the other in ascertaining meaning, identity, and purpose.

As an example, the theological-philosophical discipline of "process theology" (a kind of theological outlook which I accept - but not entirely) would regulate Christianity to the realm of theo-poetics of ethics and mystery and away from the fabric of a Christian metaphysics of philosophy. However, I believe Christianity is more than these elements though it can, and does, subsist within these elements as well. So the system of process theology as both a philosophy and a theology can only be a partial descriptor of the Christian faith and not its sum total.

Similarly with worldly philosophies which influence Christian doctrine, the faith of its believers, its church liturgies and histories, and can even be found within the very enclaves of its original biblical authorships and ancient faith communities. It is the astute Christian theologian who can separate theology from the world's philosophy and yet use that worldly philosophy to teach of God and godly things such as shown by the Apostle Paul as he spoke to the Greeks on Mars Hill. Or by Jesus as He spoke to the religious priests stuck in their own theological ruts of Jewish interpretation.

Thus the effort today by many postmodern theologians to describe a Christian faith that comports well with the best of the world's sciences and philosophies without detracting from Christian doctrine. More so, theology is helped in its communication with non-theological philosophies by learning how it is what it is. Or why it is that it is. In essence, philosophy gives to theologians the tools to think about their studies in ways that might become unbounded from themselves, their institutions, and constituencies. Especially by hermeneutical traditions themselves driven by culture suppositions and inherited religious subjectivities.

Why Does Knowing Philosophy Matter?

Today, a Radical Christian theology will use the insight gained from the postmodern philosophies of the 20th and 21st centuries to exacerbate a more insightful biblical hermeneutic of interpretation than the earlier classical ones so popular among today's more classically orthodox audiences. An orthodoxy that has become sacrosanct for its traditionalists not unlike the orthodoxy held by the Jewish teachers of the Law in Jesus' day. But an orthodoxy nonetheless needing to be disturbed if it is keep pace with being relevant to today's global societies.

Today's technological cultures readily recognize the shortcomings of previous theologies built upon more classical philosophical structures. And because of that also recognize that the theology of the church can be wholly apart from what Jesus seems to be declaring in the Gospels. Thus making for a tension between the old classicists of Christianity to their newer contemporary counterparts arguing for a more progressive Christianity. One that is more flexible to the kind of inflexible fundamentalism or conservatism being loudly bantered about but at a lost to make meaningful connection to today's postmodern societies.

What is needed is a neutral, third-party arbitrator. And this is where contemporary philosophy can step in and offer a helpful service to the church and its faithful. A service that might help us stand outside of ourselves. Outside of our pet interpretations of the Bible. And outside of our colloquial interpretations of God's Word. To discover that we must change or risk becoming dead in our traditions and of no use to God as witnesses to the world.

Examples abound of this need, such as the influence of Hellenistic thought upon Christian doctrines; or neo-Platonism upon evangelicalism today; or Thomism upon Natural Theology of yesteryear. It would not be unusual to suppose that today's sciences and philosophies have come to where they are because of their ability to self-redact. So too with postmodern Christianity. It both needs, and finds itself, in the position of necessary redaction against all previous iterations of itself through the past Christian centuries.

And it is through this process that a better biblical understanding of the Bible, of God, of ourselves, can-and-will be more faithfully reproduced even though it may be differently re-configured than its neo-classical / medieval / Reformational antecedents. It can become a helpful process to identifying our human (and church) failings in thought and belief. As well as rally us back to the faith of Jesus in radically subversive ways which can be spiritual healthy to ourselves, our culture, and our church.

As example, we testify to the God who IS in the popular biblical phrase - "I AM who I AM" (Ex 3.14). And though it may be praiseworthy to worship a God who is self-existent, self-content, and self-possessing in a stoically Greek way of thinking, yet we miss its ancient Jewish import until we reconsider this biblical phrase through the existential philosophies of recent generations immersing us back to its original meaning. That God is He who is becoming - "I Am who I will become." A phrase that gives us hope to the static stitches of our lives refusing to move forward but knowing they must if personal fulfillment is to be had in the passages of time by the experiences of the turmoil of creation and presence of being.

It is for this reason that Christianity must utilize philosophy as an outside critic to its biblical interpretations and hermeneutics of the Christian faith. Without philosophy's "external criticism" Christian theology would be at a loss to critique itself before God's word. Moreover, Christian interpretation always tends to lift up our self-righteousness, our pretensions to holiness held within our sinful hearts, our fears of moving from human traditions and religious folklores less we enter into the Holy of Holies. Into the very presence of a God who demands we lift up our eyes unto the hills and see with His eyes the sorrow of the nations and their need for a Savior by the presence of Christ's gospel. And by a personal commitment to society in this life without awaiting the nether regions of a heavenly utopia in the life hereafter.

The Paradox and Mystery Between Theology and Philosophy

Surely this is both a paradox and a curiosity of the relationship between theology and philosophy. Each needs the other in identifying and speaking to social movement. Theology can never deny that there is a philosophy behind its theologian's words and thoughts. Nor can philosophy be so blind as to deny that God's revelation may guide its highest and best works.

I have used Alain Badiou in past illustrations whose philosophy of being is as close to the gospel as the gospel is to itself. Except that Jesus was Badiou's personal core in place of the atheism he espouses, his excellent philosophy bears with it stark parallels to the very heart of God's atoning work in Christ. This is as close to a human philosophy as I can find to the theology of Jesus as I have gone on to explain in several articles. But one that I have used to elucidate the profundity of the gospel within Radical Christianity.

And so, the church would be wise to craft the philosophical underpinnings of its theologies upon those philosophies that give to its hermeneutics the broadest reach. And when it does it must go back to do the hard work of re-conceptualizing what Christian doctrine may meaningfully become in light of this newer interaction. Because if it does not it will be done by other, poorer hands and minds less enlightened to the fullness of God's presence and being in this life.

A Comparison of Import

I sometimes think philosophy is theology's able-bodied friend who walks the paths of life with us to aid us when we are harmed and there to enable us when it is harmed. The dual roles of truth - one from the human side and the other from the Godward side - were not designed by God to be in conflict when each is attuned to the other.

The human experience can be a powerful truth-telling event to the testimonies of God when equally yoked and not unequally burdened by the church's unhearing ears and unseeing eyes. Otherwise we will find stubbornness, unenlightenment, and disbelief in the place of humility, yieldedness, and faith. But with the tandem interaction of both disciplines - each in circumspection to the other - a kind of guidance can be had as presented to us by God's Holy Spirit.

In the most basic terms, divine revelation requires interaction with human insight, and human insight requires reflective interaction with divine revelation. Neither can exist alone without the other. Such is the nature of humanity in relationship to the Divine. Such is the nature of personal or social investigation, observation, inspection, testing, and experiment.

Finally, even as philosophy might inform the church to its theologies, so too might well-constructed theologies inform philosophy to its metaphysical shortcomings and failings as well urge it forward to its heights and glories. I have met good philosophers whose conclusions are very Christian-like in their presumptions upon this good earth. But, in truth, those presumptions must bear a grounded reality in God through His Son Jesus as the foundation stone for all resulting human economies.

Be those philosophical conclusions to "love one another" or that of "political subversion" for the greater good of the unempowered hungering for release from oppression and tyranny. Without revelation philosophy has no guide. And without philosophy revelation has only its distortions and fables devoid of inward-looking mirrors telling us who we are. They each must inform the other with circumspection and attenuation to their own underpinnings.


R.E. Slater
May 18, 2015

I looked into the mirror of my reflection
unseeing who I am without its silvered surface
reflecting a kind of meaning that I give it
back to myself from an unreal world
to one of sterile presence absent
arbitror or council, redeemer or friend.

- re slater

Is There (Can There Be) A “Christian Philosophy?”

by Roger Olson
May 1, 2015

*Please note I have added graphics, paragraph subtitling, and quotations to the article below to elucidate it meaning for a Radical Christianity without altering the content of its author

For a variety of reasons and influences, modern Protestants have been
reluctant to engage in, if not outright resistant to, anything that could
be called  “Christian philosophy.” - Roger Olson

Why Christianity Has Been Skeptical to the Idea of Philosophy

Many Protestants, especially those influenced by Kant’s anti-metaphysical philosophy that put religion in the realm of “practical reason” and those influenced by dialectical (anti-natural theology) theology, resist all talk of a “Christian philosophy.” (This is to say nothing of many “experiential Christians” who think “philosophy” is just a bad idea in and of itself.)

For a variety of reasons and influences, modern Protestants have been reluctant to engage in, if not outright resistant to, anything that could be called “Christian philosophy.” To Kantians (whether they’ve ever read Kant or not) all religion belongs under the umbrella of “values.” They emphasize that Christianity is away of life, not a metaphysical vision of reality

The question is whether it is ever entirely possible to escape metaphysics. An argument can be made that certain metaphysical assumptions underlie all religion and ethics.

Of course, metaphysics is not all there is to “philosophy,” so one might still be a Kantian and engage in Christian philosophy as analysis of language (for example). Still, by and large, modern Protestantism has tilted away from anything labeled “Christian philosophy.” I think a major influence on that tilt has been Karl Barth and company and their rejection of natural theology. Anything labeled “Christian philosophy” smacks to them of natural theology with all its attendant dangers. So-called “Postliberal theology” is simply another chapter in the saga of Barthian-style antipathy to natural theology.

One notable exception to this is Swiss theologian Emil Brunner (d. 1966) who was by all accounts a dialectical theologian (even if not exactly a disciple of Barth). For him, as for Barth, all Christian doctrine derives from special revelation and faith is essential for true knowledge of God. His emphasis on “I-Thou Encounter” as the soul of Christian faith derives from Kierkegaard and the lesser known Ferdinand Ebner; it embraces a strong element of subjectivity in Christianity. One would not expect Brunner to speak of a “Christian philosophy” and yet he did.

"Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter,
[and] not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.

There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object.
The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never
made  as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated."

 - Emil Brunner

In Dogmatics III: The Christian Doctrine of the Church, Faith and the Consummation, Brunner endorsed a Christian philosophy and even called the Christian doctrinal consensus a profound Christian ideology. (I think that was an unfortunate choice of words, but I know from the context what he meant—not a political platform but a Weltanschauung - a particular philosophy or view of life; the worldview of an individual or group.) Earlier, in Revelation and Reason the Zurich theologian stated that “Christian philosophy is a fact.” Then he says “Christian philosophy is…both possible and necessary, because as Christians we neither can, nor should, cease to think. It is not reason, but rationalism, that makes Christian philosophy appear impossible.” (392) Brunner even went so far as to write an entire book on The Philosophy of Religion from the Standpoint of Protestant Theology.

All that is meant to illustrate is that there was at least one dialectical, neo-orthodox theologian who was not afraid to embrace the idea of a Christian philosophy—although he severely limited it in a way virtually all secular philosophers would resist.

Philosophy and Christian Metaphysics

Other Protestants have embrace the idea and engaged in something they called “Christian philosophy,” but fewer have embraced or attempted to engage in an explicit Christian metaphysics. I suspect that is largely because Protestants have tended to relegate the science of metaphysics to Catholic philosophy and to pagan and secular philosophies. Metaphysics seems inevitably speculative, leading away from revelation and faith. However, if “metaphysics” is simply defined as attempting reasonably to understand and explicate the ultimate nature of reality and reality itself behind appearances, issues not explicitly addressed in biblical revelation but implied by it, then there does not seem to be any reason to reject metaphysics—even from a Protestant perspective.

"[Christian] metaphysics is the science of understanding and explaining reality
as implied by biblical revelation and faith."

- Roger Olson

Among Protestants “Christian philosophy” and especially “Christian metaphysics” has largely been confined to Anglicans such as William Temple (Nature, Man and God) and Eric Mascall (He Who Is). In very different ways these and other Anglican theologians have engaged in what they would call, and rightly should be called, “Christian philosophy” including metaphysics. Many Protestant critics, however, would say they borrowed heavily from Catholic thought (e.g., Thomas Aquinas and Thomism generally). For the most part, however, modern Protestant theologians (to say nothing of pastors and lay people) have been reluctant to talk about “Christian philosophy” especially if that includes metaphysics.

Does Christian Philosophy Lead to Loss of Faith or Revival of Faith?

What might a biblically faithful, orthodox Protestant, even evangelical “Christian philosophy,” including something like metaphysics, look like? What might it do? And would it necessarily lead down some slippery slope to natural theology and even unbelief—replacing “faith” with attempting to use autonomous reason to peer into realms of knowing reserved for God?

  • If “philosophy” is pre-defined as excluding revelation and faith, then, of course, a Protestant Christian philosophy would be hard to embrace.
  • If “metaphysics” is pre-defined as a purely rational investigation of ultimate reality behind appearances, then, of course, it has little place in a Protestant Christian theology or philosophy.

Which is not to say a Protestant Christian can’t engage in it; it is only to say he or she might have difficulty doing so as a Protestant Christian.

But what if “Christian philosophy,” including metaphysics, is defined differently? Not as excluding revelation and faith and not as using autonomous reason to peer into ultimate reality but as investigating the implicit assumptions of revelation itself about revealed truths including the nature of reality itself behind appearances? In other words, might a Christian philosophy include the discovery and investigation/explication of the underlying “world picture” assumed by the biblical writers and essential for supporting explicit Christian doctrines?

Why would this be important? What would be its use? Let me explain my thinking about this.

Throughout my life as a Christian thinker (and I was that in a sense even as a teenager) I have noticed a strange phenomenon among American Christians. When I was a teenager, for example, I often heard missionaries (among them my own aunts and uncles) talk about the evils of “syncretism” on the “mission field”—even among their own converts. This was, according to them, one of the biggest challenges they faced—converts bringing with them, into their Christian lives, pieces of absolutely foreign-to-the-Bible-and-everything-traditionally-Christian world pictures derived from their indigenous cultures. In Bible college we were taught to fight against this syncretism which seemed to exist mainly, if not exclusively, on the mission fields (and among Catholics generally).

But then, especially during seminary and my Ph.D. studies in theology and philosophy of religion (where my main professor was Baptist theologian John Newport) I noticed how profoundly syncretistic much of American Christianity really is. Over the years I have encountered many, many self-identified Christians in America who have unthinkingly adopted elements of world pictures completely alien to the Bible and historical, classical Christianity. A clear (at least to me) and ironic example is social Darwinism [sic, "survival of the fittest" - re slater] which is rampant among conservative Protestants in America. They don’t know that’s what it is, of course, but it’s easily recognizable in, for example, their attraction to the writings of Ayn Rand [capitalism will overcome as the purest form of political economy - re slater] and to certain radio talk show hosts. Another, and usually very different, example of American syncretism among Christians is reincarnation which, researchers say, is embraced by approximately twenty percent of Americans—no doubt including many who consider themselves Christians.The point is that, apparently, a person can confess Christian doctrines and at the same time embrace beliefs totally contrary to the biblical world picture underlying those doctrines.

How Does Christian Philosophy Behave itself with Christian Doctrine?

What I am calling “Christian philosophy” including metaphysics, then, would investigate the foundations or pillars of Christian doctrines that they assume but do not explicitly say.

An example of this from second century Christianity would be the church fathers’ emphasis on creatio ex nihilo—“creation out of nothing.” It is nowhere explicitly stated in Scripture; it cannot exactly be called a “revealed truth.” However, the Christian fathers developed and promoted it to protect revealed truth from the encroachment of alien ideas of creation from non-Christian myths and religions. Creatio ex nihilo is an example of metaphysical foundational belief, a metaphysical pillar, of Christian doctrine—the doctrine of God.

I think we need an ongoing project of this kind of Christian philosophy, even metaphysics, because so many contemporary Christians have absorbed notions about reality, even about God, from secular or pagan cultures and attempted to include them among their Christian doctrinal beliefs.

Some years ago I had a conversation with a Christian professor of computer science who taught at an evangelical Christian university. He informed me that he believed that God, our God, the God of the Bible, Yahweh God, is a cosmic computer and that computer science reveals much about ultimate reality that is valuable to and enriching of Christianity.

I could cite literally scores of examples of that kind of thinking among even evangelical Christians—thinking that, if followed to its logical conclusion, would undermine if not destroy basic Christian beliefs (e.g., that God is personal, not an “It” but a “Thou”). I have met and had conversations with Christians, including intellectuals and professors, who picked up and embraced ideas about reality, physical and social, that completely conflict with biblical revelation. They rarely seem to notice it or accept it even when that is pointed out.

Some years ago I read a series of guest columns in the local newspaper by a retired history professor who had taught at a Christian university for many years and was extremely popular with alumni. In his columns he called for Christians to scrap belief in miracles and anything supernatural and embrace a “scientific worldview.” (He was a member of a Baptist church.) To the best of my memory he never attempted to explain how this would “fit” with being a Christian. My guess is that he was Kantian and reduced Christianity to ethics only.

Throughout most of my thirty-three years of teaching theology in three Christian universities I have been at the periphery, if not the center, of the debates within evangelical academia about “integration of faith and learning.” All three universities paid lip service to it and, I believe, at least some people at all three seriously believed in it and attempted it. In fact, at one of them, candidates for what was falsely called “tenure” (five year contract) were required to write an essay about how they integrated Christian faith with the disciplines they taught. We had many faculty meetings (forums, symposia, workshops) about faith-learning integration. For five years I served as general editor of a Christian scholarly journal devoted to faith-learning integration.

I have noticed that many people who attempt to explain what faith-learning integration means simply fail. That is, they do not explain it well at all which contributes to consternation about the practice among many well-intentioned Christian faculty members.

I have written about faith-learning integration here before, so I won’t repeat what I said then. However, it seems to me that if and insofar as one wants to practice it something like Christian philosophy, including metaphysics, development of a Christian world picture where “world” includes that which is unseen and “picture” includes more than what is explicitly stated in Scripture, is necessary. Faith-learning integration is not (for example) pondering the meaning of the doctrine of the Trinity for mathematics (or vice versa). It is asking questions about the suitability of holding a basic Christian world picture that necessarily underlies explicit Christian doctrines, while holding and even teaching methods and ideas that seem to conflict with that. Can one be a sheer cultural relativist and also a Christian in the mental sense of “discipleship of the mind” (a phrase borrowed with gratitude from James Sire)? Can one picture God as a great cosmic computer and also a Christian in that sense? Should one, as one Christian professor told me, leave Christianity outside the laboratory and classroom and keep them in water tight compartments?

I suspect we need to work on developing a Christian philosophy, world picture, including metaphysics, for the sake of avoiding syncretism and for the sake of having a holistic, integrated Christian mind.

Being Discontent with Status Quo Religion Can Be the Beginning Point to Finding God

Dreaming into the World: Beyond Neurosis, Perversion and Psychosis

by Peter Rollins
April 04, 2015

One of the critiques often leveled against psychoanalysis is that it is effectively a normalizing discipline. That it aims to integrate the individual back into the social fabric that she feels alienated from.

Politically speaking this is viewed as problematic, for the very experience of psychic alienation testifies to a problematic environment. The truly radical move is not then to reintegrate a community into that system from which their symptom erupts, but rather to help weaponize them so that they might better overcome it. The positions of neurosis, perversion and psychosis are thus romanticized and read as potent outbursts against oppressive systems.

In short, our world is in crisis and the supposedly psychic anomaly of a subjective “disorder” is in fact the Archimedean point to be used for toppling the oppressive system that gave rise to it.

From this perspective the normalizing of the individual or community implies a form of reintegration into a politically, socially or religiously oppressive environment. Instead of birthing a properly dissident political subject, one produces docile and obedient citizens. This critique gains even more persuasive power when one considers how impossible it would be to sustain a therapeutic clinic that seeks to increase dissatisfaction and alienation. The posture of analysis would thus seem to be in opposition to a radically political one.

In light of this there is a tendency for some academics to celebrate the political vitality of neurosis, perversion or psychosis.


Leaning on the insights of Todd McGowan in his excellent Enjoying What we Don’t Have I want to push back on this celebration of such conditions in individual or communal form.

It is true that neurosis, perversion and psychosis are cries against the system that gives rise to them, but the problem in each case lies in the particular way that they remain impotent to change what they cry out against.

In the case of neurosis, the individual or community retreat into fantasy as a means of escaping the exigencies of life. The fantasy provides a way of imagining sexual, political and religious freedom, yet this fantasy doesn’t touch upon the social reality it rejects. It tends to be a retreat from the world as it is, into a purely private world of fantasmic pleasure.

In perversion the individual or community does fight against an oppressive, repressed, and hypocritical system. They don’t retreat into some fantasy life, but attempt to live out their fantasy. Yet the problem here is that the perverse act requires what it fights against, gaining pleasure from provoking the system it rejects. Because of this it becomes a type of transgression that demands what it rejects in order to sustain its libidinal economy.

Finally, in psychosis, one can definitely see an attempt to construct a different type of world that would overcome the one that presently exists. Yet it rarely gains a foothold. In paranoia the individual or community forms a world at radical odds with social reality. It is a world full of dark conspiracies, maniacal villains and insidious plots all aimed at undermining them. Because of the extreme nature of these fantasies it is only in rare moments that they gain any traction at all. The paranoid vision is just too bizarre to make a change and remains on the fringe.

In contrast, psychoanalysis outlines a different approach. It is true that ego psychology can be seen to offer a way of reintegrating people into their social environment, adapting them to their world. However the properly Freudian tradition rejects this. In this tradition [it is] the “normal” individual (one who does everything that a given society judges decent, right and upstanding) is considered to be exhibiting a particular type of abnormal reaction.

For Freud, the "healthy individual" was not someone with only a minimal need for fantasy, i.e. someone so content in their world that they don’t require much of a fantasmic supplement. Rather the "healthy individual" is able to mobilize their fantasies of a better world so that they directly touch upon the social fabric, contributing to its ongoing transformation. Instead of retreating from the world, the healthy individual or community is able to let their dreams impact the world that sustains them and work for real change. Finding satisfaction in this act.

To contrast this with the neurotic act we can say that our fantasy of a better world is not what we use in order to cope with the painful one we inhabit, but rather is the fuel that feeds our desire to make that world less painful.

This is the difference between a hope that we use to avoid changing the world (e.g. the hope that the next world will be better than this one), and a hope that demands our involvement in changing the world (e.g. the hope that there will be justice for minorities brutalized by the State). In other words, a hope that requires my involvement to become a reality. A theme I take up in The Divine Magician.

In short, dreams shouldn’t take us out of reality, but inspire us to change it.

* * * * * * * * * *

You Can Fulfill Your Dreams… Just be Prepared for the Abject Horror

by Peter Rollins
May 05, 2015

In a previous post I contrasted neurotic, psychotic and perverse political strategies to a psychoanalytic approach that attempts to help people realize their fantasy in reality (rather than in a retreat from, or protest against, it). The problem here, as Todd McGowan points out, is that the political potential of psychoanalysis can start to sound like a sophisticated form of the motivational poster that asks us to fulfill our dreams. This however fundamentally misses the truly subversive politicial potential of the discourse.

In order to gain a better understanding of the relationship between fantasy and reality in psychoanalysis (which is a large subject) we should first consider how the realization of the fundamental fantasy in an individual’s social reality is actually traumatic to the subject rather than joyous.

The reason for this stems from the idea that our basic fantasy is a type of lie we tell ourselves in order to cover over the trauma of an originary loss. To directly realize one's fantasy (rather than simply achieving some practical goals) means confronting the deception of the fantasy and thus feel the tremor of an inner lack it covers over. This can be described as a type of failure that is hard baked into the very heart of success.

The success of achieving one's fantasy is ultimately a failure insofar as one perceives their desire as connected to the object that the fantasy aims at. For instance, if one directly fantasizes about becoming a millionaire, then achieving the goal exposes, at a subjective level, how the true function of the fantasy is precisely to keep one from achieving its aim, so that one can keep the fantasy alive. The goal posts must thus be changed by the individual in order to keep the fantasy (and the function of the fantasy) alive. If this doesn’t happen the individual can suffer from a breakdown.

In psychoanalytic theory one of the reasons for confronting our fundamental fantasy is not so that we can better “achieve our goals,” and find fulfillment, but precisely so that we can confront the lie of our fantasy.

The point is not to do away with fantasy, but to try and change the relationship we take up in relation to it. The new relation is one that doesn’t locate the pleasure of the fantasy in achieving it, but in directly assuming the fantasy regardless of fulfilling it. The individual realizes that the goal of fantasy is not in its being swallowed up in some final victory, but is concerned with keeping our desire alive.

Politically speaking, this means that we engage in a certain cause without deferring our pleasure to the point when the cause is achieved. This approach does not simply drain the pleasure out of fighting for the cause in the moment, but it also ensures that any ultimate success is experienced as a type of subjective failure or destitution.

Instead, we must try to reposition ourselves so that we can directly enjoy our commitment to the cause itself; learning to directly embrace it as an end in itself. To do this means that we give ourselves to it in a mode of action outside the realm of economic exchange. From the position of rational calculation this can seem like a form of madness, for if we embrace our cause as an end in itself we might end up giving ourselves to seemingly lost causes.

This is one of the lessons we might take away from the Norse gods. From what I’ve been told (I’ll need to do some research to check), some clans would follow Norse gods destined to defeat. If this is in fact the case, then it gives a powerful expression of the approach outlined here. Namely, that we pursue our highest goal regardless of the ultimate cost or outcome for the pleasure is found in the commitment itself.

Take the example of environmentalism. What if we truly embrace the idea that we’re past the point of no return, and that a catastrophic crisis is just around the corner. That there is nothing we can do to avert a coming environmental apocalypse. If we then give up trying to actually make a difference; our activism is likely still caught up in a deferred desire for a positive outcome. Here we misconstrue the role of fantasy as its disappearance in fulfillment. If however we still give ourselves unconditionally and absolutely to the cause, then it is possible that we are directly assuming our excessive desire for the cause as an end in itself.

Not only is this type of relation to our fantasy healthier, but the type of uncompromising action that comes from this stance is precisely what marks a true militant for truth.