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The Fidelity of Betrayal: Towards a Church Beyond Belief

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  • Posted December 21, 2010

    Christianity: A Religion without Religion

    What is Christianity? This is the central question that Peter Rollins seeks to answer in The Fidelity of Betrayal: Towards a Church Beyond Belief.

    Drawing on such philosophers and theologians as Pascal, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Bonhoeffer, and Zizek, Rollins provides his answer, constantly referring to Christianity as a "religion without religion," which is, of course, reminiscent of Bonhoeffer's notion of religionless Christianity. (Rollins's background in poststructuralist thought and continental philosophy, especially the influence of Hegel, is evident throughout this book.)

    What, then, is this religion without religion? At its heart is Rollins's notion of betrayal: to be a Christian, one must continually betray all that one affirms and believes, to doubt everything, especially the objective notion of truth.

    Truth is not, for Rollins, some Platonic form that the mind seeks to grasp. If one objectifies truth as something to be known by the mind or affirmed in creeds and doctrines, one has thereby distanced oneself from the truth: truth is somewhere apart from the believer, out there to be sought and known. In objectifying the notion of truth in this manner, truth is stripped of its life; it ceases to be a transformative power and becomes rote dogma. Thus, traditional Christianity has killed truth by objectifying it, and so this objective notion of truth must be betrayed so that real Christianity and authentic truth can live.

    Thus, Rollins gives primacy to betrayal of all beliefs, and doubt becomes a virtue in his vision of Christianity. Authentic Christianity is not a system of beliefs and creeds, of adherence to prescribed teachings. In this non-dogmatic vision of Christianity, many of the best Christians are non-Christians in terms of their beliefs (or lack thereof).

    But if we are to embrace Christianity as a religion without religion, exactly what, then, is this Christianity? According to Rollins, it is a way of life that questions all systems of power: governmental, religious, cultural, societal. Directly to this point, Rollins writes, "The Christian critique is not then directed at the people in power so much as the place of power itself" (page 170). It is the very idea of power, of subjugation, that Christianity seeks to overthrow, including the power wielded by Christianity itself.

    Any institution that says to someone, "You are not one of us," is to be questioned and undermined, subverted and brought down. No longer can the Christian say to the Jew or Muslim or atheist, "You are cannot be a member of the body of Christ." No longer can society say to lesbians and gays, to aliens and ethnic minorities, to women, "You cannot have full rights as citizens within our society." The authentic Christianity speaks rebellion and subversion against all institutions that oppress and exclude, against all expressions of dominance and power.

    Where does God fit into Rollins's paradigm? Although he does not explicitly mention Tillich in this book, he seems to have been influenced by Tillich's view of God as the ground of being: God is not some being out there (like the idea of objective truth) to be known by the mind; rather, God is that which makes being possible, is being itself. Rollins describes God as the Event that allows the miracle of Christianity to occur, and the miracle is the radical transformation that Christianity as a religion without religion brings into th

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