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The God of Faith and the God of the Philosophers

July 23rd, 2008 · Posted by Hugo · 10 Comments

About four weeks ago, Theo Geyser introduced me to Peter Rollins — unfortunately not personally, he just mentioned his latest book. At home, I immediately took a look at Peter’s blog. One of the first posts I read, as it caught my eye and resonated with my ways and thoughts:

To be an atheist you need God’s help

It is a parable. And many atheists’ conditioned knee-jerk responses may have them fuming at simply reading that title, which is understandable. But they would be mistaken, as Peter isn’t an evangelical fundie, he’s a trained philosopher. And he’s exploring particularly interesting ideas…

Of most interest to me, also in the process of better understanding Peter’s views and thoughts, were the comments below that post. Good reading… Here I am reproducing one of his last couple of comments in its entirety, I hope he doesn’t mind:

Hey Rob

Thanks for the post. I actually write a chapter on the miraculous in Fidelity of Betrayal. But that dodges your question slightly as it tries to shift focus away from spectacle toward miracle as metanoia. Having said that I have indeed been direct witness to a whole host of interesting things which defy easy interpretation (some very very interesting). For me, my move away from the Charismatic tradition was not because I was stifled by it or because I never saw it working in peoples lives but rather because I wanted to step beyond what I considered to be a confusion between the idea of the ‘God of the philosophers’ and the ‘God of faith’.

It may sound strange but I place all things that look like divine intervention into the God of the philosophers category. This means that they potentially lend credibility to the idea of a God ‘out there’. They can be used as part of the philosophical debate and personally keep me sympathetic to the idea of God as ‘out there’. This idea is affirmed many times within the bible and throughout the Christian tradition (I am not using the term ‘God of the philosophers’ as a slag here, but rather as a description).

However, for me the ‘God of faith’, is the one we affirm as the name of our transformation, the happening of metanoia. These two ideas (’God of philosophers’, and ‘God of faith’) might link up but they also don’t need to and can’t be connected philosophically. In other words, someone could affirm the God of faith and yet question the God of the philosophers – indeed this is the position I defend throughout my work as the most fertile and potent one (and the one which is expressed by many within ikon).

The God of faith is affirmed in the testimony, ‘I was blind but now I see’, while the God of the philosophers is affirmed in, ‘X points toward the idea of a first cause’. The relationship between these is not simple and I am keen make sure they don’t blur to much at the expense of the former.

You will, if you know him, see the hand of Pascal at work here! Also I should mention that there is nothing to stop a Charismatic from embracing this idea and I am sure many in fact do. Indeed I would want this expression of faith to have a place within the emerging stuff – but that place will be very different than what you see with people like Tod Bentley et. al.

Hope thats useful

Following all that, I simply couldn’t help it: I ordered both books he has out already. They’re lying here next to me. They are How (Not) to Speak of God (amazon, kalahari) and The Fidelity of Betrayal: Towards a Church Beyond Belief (amazon, kalahari) — see the Amazon links for reviews and overviews. (Pity they’ll have to wait a while… I have two books on “high priority”.)

With regards to “What is God?”, I believe I share Peter Rollins’ take: I’m much more interested in the “God of faith”, which Peter nicely defines as “the one we affirm as the name of our transformation, the happening of metanoia”.

Let the discussion begin… thoughts, experiences (of conditioned knee-jerk reactions, e.g.), questions?

Categories: Religion and Science
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10 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Clare // Jul 23, 2008 at 3:11 pm

    He does look like exactly your cup of tea. 🙂

  • 2 Hugo // Jul 23, 2008 at 3:29 pm

    In particular, it seems a good response to science-denying fundies that have been taught that you don’t need any proof other than the personal relationship with God. (We’ll get to that.)

    There is something that they have a personal experience of. Sure. They call that God. Sure. But does that have anything to do with the age of the earth? Nope, not really. That really is a separate issue… and if these issues can be understood separately, it may allow addressing the science-denialism without fighting every aspect of their psyche and culture.

  • 3 Ben-Jammin' // Jul 23, 2008 at 6:53 pm

    It is a parable.

    I read it. I don’t get it.

  • 4 Hugo // Jul 23, 2008 at 10:12 pm

    In response to Ben-Jammin’, a bunch of haphazard thoughts:

    I have a friend who somewhat recently wrote a blog post about why he is not a Christian. He writes about God a lot, he is something of a “religion journalist”. He writes about Jesus as well. Why he isn’t a Christian, per se, was related to particular doctrines that he found relevant only in the context of a particular ancient tribe. But I digress.

    He wrote that to him, God is more something that does not exist than it is something that exists. I think he looks at religion from something of an “elite” perspective, rather than a “popular” one. And he still prays, I think. Not for supernatural divine interventions, mind you.

    How this story speaks to me, personally, is largely through the way it resonates with my own experiences. My experience (my “brief psychotic break”?) last December, is one that can be expressed in the terms of this parable. I have described it as “my meeting with God”. And a voice booming in my ear, metaphorically, or call it my thoughts about my existential crisis as I was facing “the Absurdness” of existence, said “Mortal! What more do you want?!”

    The very first commenter on that post said this:

    The deeper my faith gets, the less I believe in God and the more I would follow Jesus to the ends of the earth.

    The parable speaks to me about the relationship between the God of Faith, and the God of the Philosophers. Richard Dawkins talks about the God of the Philosophers, in the sense that Peter lumps divine intervention into that category. I also do that (Peter’s lumping that is, not Dawkins’ talking). Dawkins rates himself, on his “Dawkins scale” from one to seven, as a six. The question then, how can one reach a seven? (This would be the kind of “atheist” the parable talks about.)

    My views on the religious tradition and the striving and eventual reaching of a position a number of the so-called “elite” might have, connects with that opinion of my first friend. (That friend has some experience in Buddhism as well, having actually gone so far as to attend a monastery for some time.) I look at Dawkins’ linear scale from 1 to 7, and I think “but don’t they realise it wraps around?” I.e. I see it as something of a circle, that 1 and 7 wraps around, are somewhat adjacent, that you can find yourself on a place on that circle that is between one and seven. 😉

    Much of Peter Rollins’ work is going on about connecting to that something inside, that something from which religious convictions and “spirituality” flows, that piece or source of, um, “existentialist convictions”, inside. That which could be called the God “of faith”. Much of my own experience (aka psychotic break?) drew on things I had learned in Stellenbosch Gemeente months prior, I can identify some of the components, including experiences during a “toewydings week”. To me, it completed the circle, and left me standing in awe, having discovered “God dwelling in me”. The “God inside”. And the… um… meh.

    I don’t like writing about it, because writing is reductionistic. This is something of a feeling/experience that I’m trying to write about. I feel spelling it out kinda does an injustice to the whole experience. It certainly isn’t the “KISS” way of approaching Humanism, but the journey gives something of a different perspective and angle on “life, the universe, and everything” and how to play a positive role in it all. The experience itself was pretty profound.

    My favourite kind of “Christian” would be those that don’t believe in an afterlife (or alternatively, that have no beliefs about the afterlife). Those that don’t appeal to supernatural and divine intervention. Those aspects are not “necessary”, but I think they are “sufficient”: I feel those people connect to what I consider to be the “heart” of Christianity. And clearly I believe it does have heart, even if much of contemporary Christianity seems “heartless” (figuratively). In any case, I think this parable may speak to, and of, those people.

    “God says: I don’t exist”… the “God of Faith”, talking about the “God of the Philosophers”. The “something inside”, coming to a conviction that is in itself a kind of leap-of-faith, that ends up intimately connecting you with your chosen way of life. Be that Jesus (ala that first commenter, who describes it well), or be that some other meaning created by someone, in an existentialist sense.

    By the way, (not completely unrelated, but related in the way I make weird jumps and connections in my mind), I loved the third “fundamentalism from an existentialist perspective” post on de-conversion: Existentialism: Death and Isolation « de-conversion. At some point I’ll try to do the “reinterpretation” thing, sketching out what I might describe as “liberal Christianity for existentialists”, 😉 sketching out a “liberal Christian” tradition and its conscious and self-aware answers to the existentialist’s “big questions to ponder”.

  • 5 Hugo // Jul 23, 2008 at 10:22 pm

    If I write about psychotic breaks any more, I’m going to have to make a post of this little paragraph from Wikipedia’s article on “metanoia” (translated to something like “repent”, meaning to rethink, etc):

    In Carl Jung’s psychology, metanoia indicates a spontaneous attempt of the psyche to heal itself of unbearable conflict by melting down and then being reborn in a more adaptive form. Jung believed that psychotic episodes in particular could be understood as existential crises which were sometimes attempts at self reparation. Jung’s concept of metanoia influenced R. D. Laing and the therapeutic community movement which aimed, ideally, to support people whilst they broke down and went through spontaneous healing, rather than thwarting such efforts at self-repair by strengthening their existing character defences and thereby maintaining the underlying conflict.


    An experience of a kind of mental “rebirth” it definitely was, and more adaptive, yea, also. It (hehe, objectifying my mind) had to settle back into reality, which took a little while, with post-thesis euphoria possibly also playing a role.

    Ugh, I really do hate writing about this. Maybe the best way to express something like it, would be to make a film about it. Picture that: a modern reinterpretation of the story of Job. The final rush of perspective could be something akin to cramming the whole of the BBC “Planet Earth” series into a brain in 30 seconds. Hehe, dramatized, sure. But leaves you sitting back in awe, marvelling at this remarkable existence in all its glory and incomprehensibility.

    If that paragraph doesn’t sit well with some readers, think of it in a pantheistic sense, maybe? (Viva a God of philosophers and scientists. 😛 )

    Chew on the grit of life…

  • 6 gloep // Jul 23, 2008 at 11:34 pm

    Jung se idees kan (en gaan my) ‘n leeftyd neem om te verteer en herkou. I like.

  • 7 Ben-Jammin' // Jul 24, 2008 at 1:12 am

    I don’t like writing about it, because writing is reductionistic.

    Well, this I can relate to. There are any number of things I don’t even try to put into words but just enjoy or wonder or cringe at.

  • 8 Hugo // Jul 24, 2008 at 1:43 am

    @Ben: phew, I breathe a little easier. 😉

  • 9 miller // Jul 24, 2008 at 6:50 am

    I tend to think that the god of faith (if I understand what you mean) is also overrated. I put the transcendant into a large category of “things for other people” along with sports, alcohol, television, and movies. I often provoke quite a reaction when I say I’m not really into movies! The reactions are not as strong when I say I’m not into spirituality. I wonder why.

    But it’s not like I object to other people being into sports or whatever. And I really do believe that religion would be better if it kept the god of faith and dropped the god of philosophy.

  • 10 Linda // Jul 25, 2008 at 4:25 am


    I call it a “mind blink,” where it’s seemingly so insignificant, but the whole world looks different after the blink. Perhaps it’s more clarity…. I don’t know.


    WHAT?!!? You don’t like movies?!? I am just appalled beyond description. I don’t know if we can be friends… 😉

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