Atheism for Lent

Our community group this year is listening to various podcasts and focusing on the meditation and reflection sparked by those podcasts.  If you’d like to follow along with us, you can check out my notes here on the blog each week.

March 14

I missed Cgroup last week because Isaiah was sick and I was upstairs with him while Jason took the reigns for the night.  If you want to catch the podcast we listened to last week (on love and relationships), you can catch it here.  Based on the laughter I heard coming from downstairs, it sounded like quite the lively discussion.

This week we listened to Rob Bell’s first interview with Peter Rollins.  Rollins is a writer, philosopher, storyteller and public speaker from Northern Ireland who has gained an international reputation for overturning traditional notions of religion.  When I finished the podcast, I immediately listened to the second half again.  And then one more time.  To use Rob Bell’s favorite phrase, SO GOOD.



It’s actually an interview from last year about Rollins’ thoughts on the connections between atheism and theism, which, he says, are much more porous than we traditionally believe them to be.  Both atheism and theism have great care and concern for the world but we often don’t recognize this similarity. He created a Lenten devotion that explores atheism as a spiritual practice and although I’m late to the party (nothing new there) I have since signed up for the devotional, which he updated for 2017, and I’m wading in with both feet.

So much of what he said in his interview resonated for me.   Particularly the section about losing your life in order to find it.  The Christian Church tends to offer certainty and answers as part of what it means to have faith but, Rollins argues, this is not actually good news.  We often do religion, so to speak, because we are scared.  We use it to mask and cover our anxieties and our fear.  Faith shouldn’t cover these things but rather help us work through the reality of them.

The good news, rather, is that life is hard and we don’t have all the answers.  Yet, paradoxically, there is still hope and joy and the possibility for living into the resurrection even so.

We typically believe that there are two options with pain and suffering:

  1. Run away from them, get drunk, have fun and forget.
  2. Listen to emo music in your room with a black candle in the dark and wallow in it.

But between these two options is a third way.  It is the Irish Pub.  Rollins says that the Church should be like an Irish Pub.  There is alcohol, music, people, as with any bar.  But unlike an American sports bar, say, where you go to forget your week, to score, and get drunk, an Irish pub is the place where you go to remember.  You remember your week and you talk about the tough stuff with your people.  You discuss your troubles at work and your hard relationships.  You go to remember.  And you will find life there.

You don’t run from your suffering and you don’t slosh about in it.  You face it.

I’m also still thinking about the section at the closing of the podcast when they spoke about everlasting life.  Living forever, Rollins claimed, is not a theological question.  It’s a scientific one.  The theological question is not about life after death.  It is about life before death.

Is life possible before we die?  Is it possible to experience a depth and a density to life?
If we can’t, everlasting life would be curse, not a blessing.
Heaven would be a place of people screaming for death.

We closed Cgroup asking the questions that Rollins asked.  What you are haunted by?  What do you need to face?  What are the ghosts you are running from?  What do you need to do in order to face them?

Praying for the courage to embrace those things.  The courage to face the difficulty and the uncertainty so that we can learn how to live and live well.

UPDATE (3/16/17) So far in the Atheism for Lent devotional series I understand… maybe 1/4th of it?  Tops.  It’s deep, y’all!  Rollins gave one of the texts this week this disclaimer at the top: In order to understand this, you will need a working understanding of Continental Philosophy.  OhhhKay.   I’m still plugging away and I’m hoping that the podcasts that Rollins includes each week (which I haven’t listened to, yet) will help break some of this stuff down for me.  ‘Cause so far I’m just squinting my eyes a lot, cocking my head to one side and saying, “whaaaa???”