Peter Rollins: Is God Dead? A Peek Into Radical Theology

Peter Rollins: Is God Dead? A Peek Into Radical Theology June 3, 2024

In this conversation, Peter Rollins discusses the themes of loss, death, and redemption. He shares his experiences growing up in Northern Ireland and how it shaped his work on scapegoating and peace. Rollins emphasizes the importance of embracing our contradictions and the inherent loss and death that is part of being human. He critiques the idea of a pre-traumatic state and highlights the redemptive power of encountering our own dividedness. The conversation also explores the role of grief and the need to acknowledge and process loss. Rollins connects these ideas to the concept of the death of God and the tearing of the temple curtain, challenging the notion of liminality as a space where the finite and infinite meet. In this conversation, Peter Rollins and Tom Rundel discuss the concept of God and the different ways it is understood. They explore the idea of sublimation and liminality, with Rollins arguing that the eternal exists within certain objects rather than behind them. He sees Christianity as radical in its belief in the death of God and the alienation within the divine. They also discuss the concept of hope and the importance of living in the present moment. Rollins suggests that a better understanding of God in the modern world is one that embraces self-division and ontological unknowing.

Tom Rundel (00:02.626)

All right, we rolling. We rolling. Peter Rollins, welcome to the Liminal Living Podcast. It’s awesome to have you here on the show today.


Peter Rollins (00:09.742)

Thank you, I appreciate the invitation. Excited to have a conversation with you.


Tom Rundel (00:14.498)

Yeah, you, I’ve been listening to your voice. I’ve been reading your work for about 20 years now and just really excited for this conversation. But I just saw you drink something right there. What are you drinking? What’s your drink of choice this morning?


Peter Rollins (00:30.08)



Tom Rundel (00:31.906)

man, you go with the potent stuff?


Peter Rollins (00:33.994)

Yeah, well, yeah, it’s good. It’s quite early here. It’s well, it’s about three o ‘clock, so it’s not too late. I thought I wanted to get my mind active. My mind is at its best in the morning. So by the time I’m at around three or four, you know, my mind is not as sharp. So I thought for this podcast, I would do an espresso and make sure I can try and give you and the audience the best that I have, which isn’t necessarily much good. So we’ll we’ll try and maximize.


Tom Rundel (00:42.946)



Tom Rundel (01:02.612)

Well, that’s all that is great. I appreciate you taking a little espresso for us. What where do you find yourself in the world right now?


Peter Rollins (01:11.022)

So I am in sunny Belfast. I say sunny, it is raining at the moment. I don’t know if your listeners, any of them know my work or whatever, but I lived for the last 15 years basically in America, mostly in Los Angeles. But I’m from Belfast, Northern Ireland, and I’ve been home for about a year and a half now. And it’s been lovely reconnecting with the place. I was never much of a traveler. I went to America.


because of an invitation and it was an invitation that I turned down for a year and I kept getting invited and invited and I kept saying no and eventually I said yes and I’m glad I did and I reluctantly started to travel with my work but it’s nice to reconnect with home.


Tom Rundel (01:56.613)

Now you’ve grown up there in Northern Ireland, Canada, the seventies and eighties and everything. How did that shape you? The soil of Northern Ireland?


Peter Rollins (02:06.19)

Yeah, that’s a it’s always a difficult question. I think that question is often easier answered by other people. You know, you’re so in something that it’s hard to see how much it’s influenced you. You know, just like a language, it’s kind of you imbibe it. I can say a few things about that. But, you know, you don’t consciously think about the location when you’re doing your work. But when I grew up in Northern Ireland, I guess I saw.


an awful lot of division, a lot of scapegoating. And I saw a lot of how we build walls between people. And my work actually became very interested in the notion of scapegoating and how we overcome scapegoating and what peace looks like and those kind of questions. And I guess in a sense that came out of my experience in Northern Ireland. We have one of the most successful peace processes.


in the history of the modern world in Northern Ireland. I mean, a lot of people now don’t realise it. You mentioned it, so obviously you know a little bit and maybe I don’t know what age you are, but maybe you were out in the age where Northern Ireland was in the news. But for younger people, they might not know that there was a 30 year kind of war going on in Ireland. And then we find peace and we find a way to move forward together. And we created what was called the Good Friday Agreement.


and I’ve seen the city be transformed. So, you know, most peace processes don’t really work that well, but the Northern Ireland one’s been pretty good.


Tom Rundel (03:42.887)

That is pretty neat. Like in America for the last, I don’t know, probably since 2015, 16, things have been really amping up. And you know, our civil war was back in the 1800s. And I don’t think we ever ended it well. We just, you know, there’s some reconstruction stories of the South and the North and that I don’t think ever resolved. And those tensions.


Peter Rollins (03:59.694)



Tom Rundel (04:08.646)

between North and South and progressive and conservative are really starting to polarize and tear us apart. What is it about the peace process in Ireland that helped give a successful rebirth of a new kind of a people that maybe Americans can learn from in our time of polarity?


Peter Rollins (04:17.55)

Mm -hmm.


Peter Rollins (04:33.07)

Yeah, I mean, that’s interesting. I mean, one thing I would say, you know, as someone who’s not progressive, I would say the Northern Ireland peace process wasn’t progressive. That’s the first thing to say. I would say it was apocalyptic. So I’m an apocalypticist. And what I mean by that is whenever you know the future, whenever you know how history is going to turn out and that you’re on the right side of history and that those other people are on the wrong side of history, then.


it’s very difficult because you can love somebody but in a patronizing way because you know that you’re on the right side of history and you know the other person isn’t. So in terms of progressivism, it’s like Tyler Deschardins’ omega point, you kind of know where everything’s going, at least in the near future. An apocalypticist doesn’t know the future. So apocalypse meaning kind of the incoming of what you do not expect.


And an apocalypticist has to kind of, what an apocalypticist does, and I think actually this is a true left position and the left today have lost this. So for me, there is no left of significance in America at the moment. But in kind of leftism coming from Hegel and Marx, there’s the idea that you don’t know what the future looks like. All you can do is bring the contradictions and the conflicts that exist within the present.


to the surface. And when they come to the surface, they become so impossible to bear that something new erupts. And you don’t know what the new thing will be, because every time you try to imagine what the new thing will be, all you’re really doing is…


It’s like sci -fi movies. Sci -fi movies are not about the future. They’re about a certain reification of the present and purification of the present. So in the same way, when you try to fulfill your dreams, your dreams are idealized reflections of your present reality. The idea is not to fulfill your dreams, but to be able to dream new dreams, to be able to enter into a space beyond what you could have imagined. Now, I mention this because the reason why the peace process was apocalypticist was


Peter Rollins (06:43.566)

every side had to basically go, one is the tensions are going to destroy us. We’re getting to a point where the tensions and the aggressions and the scapegoating is just going to collapse society. This is not about morally right or morally wrong. This is about basically everybody suffering horrifically, everybody knowing people who were killed, everybody knowing people who were injured. So there was a sense in which the tensions were so on the surface that something had to change.


and everybody had to come together and go, we don’t know what the future looks like. We have to work it out together. And then there was a bringing together of the different people, the different paramilitary organizations, the different political groups, and they created the Good Friday Agreement. And ironically, I think Christianity and its radical materialist reading is an apocalypticist religion, which we can talk about or not later on, but I love the idea that the Good Friday Agreement was precisely called the Good Friday Agreement. And it was where…


Again, we go like, we don’t know what the future looks like, but it can’t be like the present. And I’ll just say one very practical example of this. In terms of therapy, the reason why I’m very against most forms of therapy and mental health, there’s a few reasons. The anti -psychiatry movement of the 1970s was very interesting with people like R .D. Lang. But the idea is that mental health usually means a few things. One, it means adaptation.


to your environment. So how do you better adapt to your work and how do you adapt better to your relationship? And so there’s a kind of sense of being in the world, right? I’m very interested in maladaptation. Psychoanalysis is not therapy. Psychoanalysis is about how do you enjoy your maladaptation? You’re in the world, but not of it. So it’s not about adaptation. The other thing about a lot of therapy, even object relations, is that often…


the therapist knows what the future looks like. It’s almost like you go into therapy and the therapist knows that your relationship’s bad and they’re trying to help you see that it’s bad, right? And they’re trying to help you see, or maybe you should move your job, and you’re almost treating your therapist like a life coach who has some sort of expertise and knows what you should do. The problem is then therapy becomes inherently conservative, as in conserving whatever the values of society are.


Peter Rollins (09:02.766)

In psychoanalysis, the analyst doesn’t take a normative position. They don’t know that it’s like a profession. They don’t know they they are there to help you encounter your own unconscious. And in analysis, the idea is the analyst doesn’t know what the better life for you is being married or single polyamorous, monogamous, whatever. Right. The therapist is not there to be a life coach. The the analyst in a way is there’s some problem in your life.


your symptoms aren’t working, you’re in suffering and you’re trying to unpick that suffering and that symptom. And in a way, you don’t know where that’s going to go and neither does the analyst. You just know that you can’t stay where you are. So if two people who are a couple go to an analyst for help, the analyst doesn’t know whether they should break up or stay together. And


Really, they might think they know, but they don’t know. The point is, the tensions in the relationship are so bad that something has to change. And who knows what will happen? Will they stay together? Will they separate? But something has to change. And the worst thing that can happen is two people split up with each other, but don’t split up with the type of relationship they had. So they continue to have the same type of relationship with the next person, next person, next person. So anyway, that’s a long answer to the idea of an.


I think the Good Friday Agreement worked precisely because there was a sense in which the tensions of the present were so palpable, they were on the surface, they were felt by everybody, and people had to lay down a teleological idea of what the future looked like to wrestle with it together.


Tom Rundel (10:44.14)

Yeah, that’s that’s really interesting. I’ve never thought about that aspect of therapy as being just like glorified life coaching, but not necessarily like changing the fabric of who you are and addressing the inner, you know, brokenness of an individual, which I think can be helpful at times in times when you’re really confused. But that psychoanalytic piece gets down to like the, you know, that unconscious level of what are the


Peter Rollins (10:51.118)



Tom Rundel (11:13.548)

the things how have you been formed? And how is that driving your decisions and your values of today? And I think you know, like in America, we don’t need therapy, we need psychoanalysis. Because you know, the left and the right are like attacking each other. Because we have these visions of what it ought to be like you said, instead of embracing an apocalyptic way forward, we’re


Peter Rollins (11:22.254)



Peter Rollins (11:26.286)

Yeah, it’s funny. Yeah.


Tom Rundel (11:38.187)

holding on to the vision of the left or the right or the progressive or the conservative or whatever, and then scapegoating the other side. And that’s just going to lead to more conflict, I think.


Peter Rollins (11:50.51)

No, absolutely. And it is interesting in America. And I feel now I can speak to America because I lived there for 15 years. But definitely in America and in the West, psychology has become one of the dominant forms of thinking about the mind and neurobiology and neuroscience and mental health and psychotherapy. These are the various ways that the mind is being thought of. Psychoanalysis.


is popular in philosophy and in the academy and in places in Europe. And it’s becoming popular again because of people like Shizek, but it has had less power behind it. And I don’t want to be too conspiratorial, but one of the reasons why is because psychology and especially in its relation to psychiatry, there’s a lot of money to be made in drugs. And if you think of the mind,


If you think in terms of, and this is a very confessional Christian way to think, if you think in terms of there’s a pre -traumatic subject that falls into trauma and that can be brought out of that trauma, right? So you’ve got the fall, so you’ve got original blessing, you’ve got the fall, and then you’ve got redemption, right? So that Christian narrative, so even in, I say, object relations, even with someone like Fairbairn, you have, he ironically was a Christian, you have a notion of a pre -traumatic subject.


A subject before trauma, a subject before alienation, who is one with the mother, oceanic oneness, et cetera, et cetera. Now, with Fairburn, you have this idea that trauma is almost a necessary thing to become a human is to fall into trauma, but there still is a pre -traumatic subject. In psychoanalysis proper, there is no pre -traumatic subject. The subject is traumatic. There’s the traumas that happen to you, but there is the trauma that is you.


There’s something fundamental about being a subject that is an experience of loss. Now, when you start with this notion of trauma as a central kind of beginning point, then you don’t have this notion of, there’s something that can get me back to my pre -traumatic state, whether it’s psychedelics or sexual liberation or commodity satisfaction or whatever it is that you decide will kind of get you back to that state.


Peter Rollins (14:08.974)

you realize that alienation is one, an inherent part of being human, and two, actually, well, the source of all our suffering, but also the source of all of our joy, what makes life meaningful. Once you realize that, what life becomes about is in some sense embracing the trauma and the alienation that is being human.


it’s very kind of quite existentialist idea. You somehow embrace that because if you don’t embrace it, you put it onto somebody else and you start to think, the world would be great if only we got rid of the Republicans or if we got rid of the liberals or if we got rid of the immigrants or if we got rid of woke people or if we got rid of, you know, whatever it is, right? There’s whatever exit is that we want to get rid of, then everything would be great because you’re caught up in the fantasy of a pre, you know, a pre full oneness and.


Tom Rundel (14:43.177)



Peter Rollins (14:59.598)

That’s, I think, yes, that’s very much in the blood of a lot of contemporary thought. And psychoanalysis rejects that because in psychoanalysis, what you try to do in the cure is come to realize that you are a bit fucked up and that’s okay. And you kind of, once you are able to embrace that dimension of you, that you are a contradiction between, you know, for example,


You grind your teeth because you want to shout at your partner, but you also are scared that she’ll break up with you. So you grind your teeth because you’re keeping your mouth shut, right? So that’s a symptom. A symptom is a coagulation of a contradiction. But when we realize that, yes, we are contradictory and somehow we make space for that in ourselves, I think we enter into a different form of life. Anyway, again, sorry, I’m waffling.


Tom Rundel (15:47.145)

that is good stuff. I think the espresso is working. Well, I wrote a text to a friend this morning. He’s my friend, Paul Jones, and he’s like, I’m one of the one of his biggest fans. I’m a Patreon supporter. And and so he’s been excited for this conversation because he’s a part of the podcast. But I’m I kind of in preparation for this, I wrote something.


Peter Rollins (15:52.846)

Yeah, how brilliant. Thank you.


Tom Rundel (16:16.81)

down that just kind of hit me and it seems like it’s fitting with the language we’re using but then putting some Christian vocabulary to it. I said we don’t get to choose what a redemption looks like when it arrives but we are given certain ingredients and circumstances for which to co -create that redemption and make peace with how different it looks than our expectation. And there’s something a little bit apocalyptic about that where I don’t get to decide what I’m supposed to look like on the other side or


I think a lot of disappointment and trauma of existence comes from how life does not turn out the way that we’ve been envisioning it to or desiring it to or dreaming it to. but like occupying the liminal space of just the present moment, we’re able to kind of work with the ingredients that are in our life and work with the, you know, the disruptions that we, the contradictions that we are.


to try and find the happiness of this moment and train it then make peace with how different this looks then how we wished it were or envisioned it from before and i think i like that compared to your you know that pre -traumatic and post -traumatic existence or self that we are envisioning but then never really comes to pass the have any thoughts around that


Peter Rollins (17:39.438)

Yeah, no, absolutely. And I mean, the difficulty is so I am in a tradition of, you know, what’s called radical theology. And we could maybe, you know, talk a little bit about again what what I mean by that, what that means. But in a nutshell, the I would say that our natural inclination is to imagine a pre say a pre traumatic.


past, sometimes it’s a golden age, sometimes it’s oneness with the mother before the separation and the subjectivity, whatever, right? So there’s an original blessing, then there is a fall of some kind, and an attempt to return to that. So that’s our notion of redemption. That’s our notion of…


how the world works. And it doesn’t matter if you are confessionally religious or not, somebody might give up on Christianity because it hasn’t given them that, but then they go straight into psychedelics and they go straight into polyamory or they go straight into commodity satisfaction. None of these things I’m against, by the way, I’m not against psychedelics, I’m not against polyamory, I’m not against buying stuff. But if you think that that’s the thing that’s gonna fix you. And so like in the 1960s, for example, there was the old, the…


the acid heads became Jesus freaks because they were getting high on psychedelics and then it wasn’t really working anymore. So then they started getting high on Jesus. And today I know a lot of religious leaders who are doing the opposite. Now they’ve kind of given up on getting high on Christianity and they’re all into psychedelics, right? They would like history repeats itself, right? Everyone wants to get high or with, or, you know, the technology that.


Tom Rundel (19:14.828)

Mm -hmm.


Peter Rollins (19:18.99)

the idea of getting high as an escaping our physicality through downloading ourselves or through the singularity, et cetera, et cetera. There’s lots of promises about a kind of redemption, sacred and secular. I, you know, I say I have to show my working out here. I don’t I don’t expect anyone to believe me from just saying what I’m saying. But in a nutshell, what I want to argue for is that actually.


I suppose I’ll say it like this. Death is something that can frighten us all, right? The idea of death and we’re all gonna die. And the ways around that is sometimes we can take the stoke wisdom, which is, hey, while we’re alive, we’re not dead. And when we’re dead, we’re not alive. So in a way, don’t worry about death, because it’s never around. And as soon as death is around, you’re not, right? So that’s the stoke way. Or…


Tom Rundel (20:10.925)



Peter Rollins (20:13.006)

The religious way is death is an illusion or death is something that is overcome. Or even technology, death is something that we will overcome through medical procedures and through technology. But the good news of Christianity for me is that you’re already dead, right? That death or lack is something that has already happened to us. We are fundamentally riven with death, with nothingness. Death is a companion within us. And all we have to do is symbolize it.


come to embrace the death that we already are and that already inhabits us and that this is redemptive. Now, this is so counterintuitive that when people first hear it, it’s hard to even make sense of the idea that redemption lies in a sense in encountering dividedness, death, loss at a fundamental level. But that’s what I want to argue for. So for me, that is


such a counter understanding of what salvation or the cure or redemption is. But my vocation is to help people see how redemptive that message is.


Tom Rundel (21:25.678)

That sounds a lot like the baptismal confessional of a lot of like the liturgical Protestant traditions You know when you’re you’re baptized there, you know You know the verses in Romans are spoken over you where you are buried with Christ and his death and raised with him in his resurrection and Being that having that companion of death with you at all times Not just Well, I was gonna say not just I am going to die I


Peter Rollins (21:49.518)

Yes, absolutely. So, go ahead.


Tom Rundel (21:55.757)

But circumstances around me that I enjoy or I do not like, they will die. Companions around me that I enjoy or don’t like, they are going to die. Like death is a reality that not just inhabits me, but the world that we inhabit as well because the things close to us are gonna pass as well.


Peter Rollins (22:13.902)

Yes, yes, absolutely. And then, and I won’t even push that to the point of going, and there is a sense in which, as Julie Rees says it is that life is a constellation of death. Now what I mean by that, so let’s take Paul Tillich as an example, is he talks about in The Courage to Be, really three forms of how death haunts us. The first is very simple, which is you go.


Maybe you’re almost hit by a car and you go, I almost died. Right. So there’s death. That’s to come. But then there’s also guilt. Guilt is a sense that you are not who you think you should be. Right. In continental philosophy, alienation is another word for that. But you’re kind of you experience yourself as not what you should be, as not what you are. So guilt. So guilt is, in a sense, an affect that arises from a fundamental lack that’s within you. And then meaninglessness.


It’s his third for Paul Tillich is how death or lack or nothingness inhabits us because we feel that life and what we do lacks meaning. So we exist, but we exist in a way where our life feels that it has no value. But another maybe even simpler way to understand it is using someone like Donald Winnicott, who he says that there’s an experience people have called primal agony.


And it’s often whenever it’s late at night and you’re falling asleep and you’ve got this terror that you’re going to lose the person that you’re going out with. You’re going to lose your job. You’re going to be cancelled. Whatever it is, the world is going to end. And it’s this primal agony that so disrupts you and creates so much anxiety and suffering in you. And for Winnicott, he says that often what you find in this fear of loss, that is to come.


is that actually the loss has already happened. There was some fundamental loss in the childhood, maybe for example, the child was sent away to boarding school and so they had this separation from their parents or something and that loss has not been able to be symbolized. It wasn’t put into the symbolic register and so the fear, the primal agony of a loss that is to come is the inability to symbolize a loss that has already happened.


Peter Rollins (24:35.822)

And through analysis, you put words on that fundamental loss. And as you do that, the primal agony begins to dissipate. But again, that’s just exactly give you loads of examples. But that’s an example of how kind of a sense of absence infuses us. And this is very, very important because this is what’s missed in so much contemporary society. So even in religion, you’ve got traditional theists say God exists and traditionally theists say God does not exist.


But with someone like Simone Weil says, no, God is the inexistent thing. There is God is the name, the signifier of a lack of a failure. But what I mean by that and more without getting theological for a second is that there is a type of nothingness that is something. It’s not just that there are things that exist and things that don’t exist. There are things that don’t exist in a way that that make an impact on us. Right. So loss and death is is kind of.


is something that distorts our experience and we have to come to terms with.


Tom Rundel (25:39.19)

I do a lot of funerals for our community. I think I did over 30 of them last year. And so I’m very familiar with the death process. And like, at the end, I always I try to help people do something with grief. I don’t think we know what to do with grief as a society, because we we live in that we create an illusion that there is no loss and everything will keep going as is.


Peter Rollins (25:47.022)



Peter Rollins (26:00.142)



Tom Rundel (26:07.309)

And then there’s these little disruptions that come in along the way that we overcome. But eventually life is how we envision it or how we want it to be or dream it to be. And in those times of grief when you’ve lost a spouse or a child or an infant or a grandparent or someone who’s very significant to you, it almost introduces like an error loop into


how you perceive the world is functioning for you or ought to function for you. And then you have to go through those stages of grief, which involve anger going all the way down to acceptance. But we live in that denial of death and loss, almost like a psychological crutch so that we don’t have to ever look at it. But then here we are at a funeral, we can’t ever not look at it. And so at the end of every funeral, I make sure.


Peter Rollins (26:58.446)



Tom Rundel (27:00.91)

To quote Mary Oliver where when the poet Mary Oliver, she says if you really want to learn to live You have to learn to do three things and the first is to Love that which is mortal. You have to admit that the thing you love is mortal The second is that you have to learn to hold it to your bones Knowing that your happiness you know rests in this person’s presence in your life and the third thing is when the time comes to let it go to let it go and


to just go through that acknowledgement that this is a natural part of life, to name the grief that the people are holding, to tell them this is what it will do to you, this is what it will feel like, it will be confusing. And then to just give them space to say, I have lost, and this isn’t how I envision things to be. Just seems so helpful to people to be able to process grief and loss and death as a part of.


Peter Rollins (27:54.926)



Tom Rundel (27:55.823)

our natural existence instead of ignoring it or just trying to get over it or cliche it away. Do you have any words around that grief process in what we’re talking about?


Peter Rollins (28:06.158)

No, absolutely. So I run a festival every year called Wake. And a wake is an Irish ritual that used to happen before a funeral. Mostly it happens after a funeral now. But it’s really a time where you gather around the body of the dead person and you tell stories and you drink and you cry and you laugh. So a wake is a…


is a way to begin to symbolise the loss, to put words to it, to begin to process that and as you said, to the work of mourning. And the idea of Wake, the festival, is that we need to do that in a sense to symbolise not just that as a death, we’ve all experienced losses of various kinds and I think that’s deeply important, but also the idea that loss is…


fundamental, not as a future potentiality, but as I said, it’s something that infuses everything. And this is important to me because a community for me is a group that’s gathered together around shared identities, shared things, shared enemies, shared values, shared beliefs, shared language. Right. So that’s what a community is. A communion is a group that’s gathered together around a shared loss.


So traditionally the death of God, right, communion. So communion is not you’re gathered together around a shared identity, but a shared loss of something. And today in terms of politics, for example, one of the things you see in America primarily is people who often associate on the right, they believe in what’s called positive universals. So what you have people who associate on the right is the idea of.


Tom Rundel (29:29.07)



Peter Rollins (29:56.269)

At its best, society should run on meritocracy, notions of blind institutions that treat everybody the same. So the watchword for the right is equality. And although judicial systems and educational systems and the policing system aren’t perfect, they are at their best mostly blind. They should be blind, universal positives that influence us all.


the people who associate on the left, the liberal left, you have the notion that there is no positive universal. All positive universals are disguised particularities. They help certain groups over others, right? So certain groups benefit these institutions. So on the surface, it looks like these views are a historical there. They fell from the sky almost. They benefit one group at the expense of another. So the watchword of those people is equity.


Equity is where you give different people different things depending on what they need. So you don’t have positive universals, you have the critique of positive universals and what you have is particularism. You have various communities that intersect with each other. Now what I’m arguing is that actually we need the critique of critique. That there is something universal but the universal isn’t something positive, the universal is negativity itself. That what joins us together,


is that we are all desiring beings. We’re all beings marked with a fundamental loss, a fundamental death. And a communion is a gathering that where people are bound together, the social bond is around a shared loss. The death of God is for me, that’s the term, I think that’s the privileged term in philosophy in a sense for this notion that a lack.


lies at the foundation of everything and can join us and bind us together. So yes, the work of mourning, the work of awake and the religious dimension of that are all very important to my work.


Tom Rundel (32:04.688)

That’s really interesting the way that you describe awake is how I perform a funeral. That’s what I do except without the drinking. We don’t have alcohol at the event. They usually retire to a bar afterwards to do more of that. But it’s it. Yeah, now this this death of God moment where, you know, in the Christian story and vocabulary, we have, you know, Christ on the cross.


Peter Rollins (32:14.414)



Peter Rollins (32:19.246)

Yeah, yeah, well, that’s it. Yep.


Tom Rundel (32:32.143)

And I was talking with my friend Paul about this today about that the temple curtain renting to show where God was not, you know, everyone assumed that God was in this temple. You know, there was a time where that was challenged. You know, after the. Right before the Maccabean revolt, when the the Greeks came to town and any of us, you know, slaughtered a pig on the Holy of Holies, everybody assumed that God would strike him down.


because he walked into the Holy of Holies and sacrificed a pig on the altar. But then they realized, wait, it didn’t happen. And they had to then try to rethink their process of where is God in this exodus of where, in the exile of where we are. And then they have that second moment where Christ is kind of crucified in the temple curtain, rents top to bottom, again, revealing this is where God.


was not we like to create temples that kind of house God for us as being an other as being an out there or an up there kind of a thing. But then in this death of God moment, the temple curtain is rent from top to bottom revealing God is not in this place. And I don’t think it’s a one time event that happened where it’s like, God wasn’t in the Judaism temple system of the, you know, first century Palestine. But do you think that we go through?


different temple rentings situations that reveal the place where we thought God was, God was not, and then have to rethink faith and life on the other side.


Peter Rollins (34:08.462)

Yeah, absolutely. It’s funny you mention this because this is actually my critique of the way liminality is often understood in the spiritual world. So I was kind of feeling like, dear, I feel a bit bad because I might be kind of critiquing some dimension of that term. I’m not sure how you use it. But actually, I love the way you’ve just described that. Because if you let me, I’ll put that in my words. I think you said it very, very well. And.


a kind of a draw out what I think is going on in this image of the temple curtain. What I would say is, in a sense, like, and again, you know, you come back to me then and how you think of this idea, this word liminal, because I know in anthropology and in architectures used in different ways, but in spirituality, often liminality means a kind of semi permeable membrane, a space, a place where the temporal and the eternal touch.


where the finite and the infinite meet, where the existence and essence meet. Now, it’s on the realm of the finite existence and the temporal, but it’s this space, they call it thin spaces, whether it’s temple ruins or a church or a mountaintop, a place where these two realms touch. Now, I want to offer a philosophical critique of that kind of notion.


But before I do that, I think that critique is also in this theological dimension because you could think of the liminal space here as the temple curtain, right? There is the court of Gentiles where everybody hangs out. There’s the temple curtain and then behind the temple curtain, there’s the Holy of Holies where God is. And so the temple curtain was really a place where the Holy of Holies and the court of Gentiles kind of they didn’t touch, but they almost touched this curtain was the memory.


And then obviously the priest could go in occasionally and all of these kind of rituals around this almost like this liminal space, like a screen. Now the interesting thing about Christianity, very radical. I don’t, I’m not a confessional Christian, so I don’t think confessional Christianity maybe yet has done justice to these notions of the death of God and the renting of the temple curtain. But in this, the reading I want to give and the reading you gave, which I think is a brilliant reading, the temple curtain.


Peter Rollins (36:30.67)

rips and what you realise is on the other side of this liminal space is nothing. The other side is just like this side, right? Is that the fiction that on the other side there’s something amazing undivided whole was itself a function of the screen. So I’ll say a couple of things about this very quickly but Lacan was talking about this and he referenced…


Tom Rundel (36:39.124)



Peter Rollins (36:58.414)

ancient story from Greece, fifth century Greece. And it was two painters, Zexis, I think it’s Zexis, who was this great painter. And this other guy, Peripheus. Yeah, Zexis, Zexis and Peripheus. And Zexis was the greatest painter, supposedly, or I thought he was the greatest painter. And then Peripheus wanted to challenge him. So they had this


competition that you may know this story that a competition who could create the most realistic painting. And so on the day in question, once they’d done their paintings, people gathered and there were two curtains and Xexus went first and he pulled his curtain back and he had painted grapes. And these grapes were so lifelike that the birds of the air came down and started trying to eat the painting, like hit the canvas.


And of course he was very proud of himself. And then they looked over to Perethius and they said, okay, it’s your turn, pull back the curtain. And Perethius, of course says, my painting is the curtain. And what you realized is, Zexus had painted a painting so realistic that it fooled the birds. Perethius had painted a painting so realistic it had fooled the audience. He painted curtains.


but they were so realistic that people thought that they that he could pull back the curtains to see the painting. And Lacan uses this in a way to kind of do the difference between sublimation and liminality. Sublimation is there are certain objects that create the illusion of something beyond them. They capture within them the eternal, not the eternal behind them, but the eternal kind of within them. And


Tom Rundel (38:28.085)



Peter Rollins (38:52.462)

The interesting thing is how do we make sense of that? There are certain objects in the world that capture this sense of transcendence, this sense of the eternal. But I want to kind of reject the idea that this eternal exists behind something. But I want to say it exists within something. And for me, Christianity is most radical is in a sense this. And again, you referenced that I love that, like my last book, I wrote.


My last book was 10 years ago. I’m writing a book now, which I’m excited about. But the last book I wrote was about this very subject. The moment that the temple curtain rips in the biblical text, it’s connected directly in one of the gospels, at least, with the cry of Christ, my God, my God, why have you forsaken me? So Christ cries out, my God, my God, why have you forsaken me? The temple curtain rips. You see that there’s nothing in the Holy of Holies. You can read this as.


And this is what is interestingly unique about Christianity. For me, it’s like Christianity, if there’s anything about it that’s unique, it’s the idea of God dying. And this has become central, obviously, within the Christian narrative right from Paul, right from the Apostle Paul. This is a very strange notion because either God exists and can’t die, right, because God’s eternal and necessarily existing, et cetera, et cetera, or God doesn’t exist and God can’t die because…


God doesn’t exist, Santa Claus doesn’t die, right? But in Christianity, this notion that God dies is fundamentally absurd, right? Which is really interesting. Tertullian was the first to kind of really understand there’s something significant in this, and then Luther, and then Hegel, and you know, right, Nietzsche, and all the way through. But the very moment when you realize that within God, there is alienation, right? Where God is alienated from God. So all religion…


And Shizek talks about this in all religions, basically, I am alienated from the absolute, right? There’s there’s a sense in which whether it’s an illusion or not illogical reality, I have I’m alienated from from the truth. But in Christianity, the truth is alienated from itself. Right. So in Christianity, there’s a moment where you realize that I’m not just alienated from the absolute. The absolute is alienated from itself. And at this very moment, the temple curtain rips. And you realize that that this.


Peter Rollins (41:11.054)

realm of non -division doesn’t exist. That for me is the conversion movement of Christianity, the nihilistic core of conversion. Now there’s a step beyond that which is really really interesting and I’ll just say one thing and then I’ll stop but the beyond is potentially where you realize that God is not an object that you love but God is rather the depth dimension that you experience in the act of love itself. So there’s a very interesting move in the biblical text but


But at the moment, what I’m primarily interested in is that, yes, exactly what you mentioned, the temple curtain rents and you realize that this kind of platonic notion of two realms that exist is kind of dissipated. And you work with this idea that, my goodness, what if the nihilistic moment is what if everything is divided, even the absolute, there is no undivided wholeness. And then what I want to argue is after that,


what the camp would call subjective destitution, that experience of horror. That’s by the way, why religious experience for me is horrific. It’s not, you don’t get it on DMT, right? Again, I’m not against DMT or whatever, but whenever people have high experiences, I’ve done drugs as well and you have great experience, go like, no, no, no. The religious experience is an experience of death and subjective destitution is the experience of radical self -division. But once you participate in that death,


that crucifixion, there is a different mood of being that you enter into.


Tom Rundel (42:46.326)

I like where you took that about the liminal space kind of separating the holy from the non -holy in this dualistic kind of way. And the contemplative tradition that I am most familiar with is kind of the abolishment of the dualism. And I think that those thin spaces that you were talking about where eternal meets non -eternal.


I think it’s a psychological construct because when I get into a thin space, it gives me access to what’s already in me. But I have a harder time getting at what I’m surrounded by the normal autopilot constructs that guide my life that.


divert my thinking away from things. But then I go to, you know, Lake Michigan, which is one of my very happy places. And I’m listening to the waves crash and my anxiety levels come down. And it feels like a thin space, but not necessarily metaphysically describing, you know, this is where heaven and earth meet kind of a thing, but more of like psychologically, it is helping me get to the holy places that I am. And when this temple curtain rents,


Peter Rollins (43:53.006)

Mm -hmm.


Tom Rundel (43:58.678)

I think a lot of people like in the deconstruction movement when the temple curtain rents and they say, there’s nothing holy. There was nothing behind the curtain the whole time. I think that is a natural reaction. I think the other one could be when the temple rents and it opens up and it’s like, everything was holy. There’s two ways to see the temple rending moment.


where you become disillusioned, where you thought God was behind the curtain, and then, you know, the curtain reveals that God was not there. And you can have a disillusionment moment where you’re like, there must be no God kind of a thing. God is dead. But then this death of God moment reveals that, you know, God was not behind the curtain.


God was the thing that was permeating the depth of love you’re talking about. When we experience love, God is a thing permeating all creation, the whole cosmos of holiness. There are no thin spaces of this is holy, this is not. There is more of this temple -rending moment is nobody can, nobody can consolidate the power of giving access to God and put it into a curtain.


and put it behind a curtain and put it behind a show or a sermon or a light show or a worship service or whatever. God cannot be contained in the temples that we place God in. And this temple -rending moment says, no, all is holy. God is everywhere. God is everything in everything, permeating through all of things. Does that kind of jive with where you’re going?


Peter Rollins (45:33.422)

Well, I really like the articulation of it. So I’ll say a couple of things. One is I almost want to say everything is holy, but I want to spell that with an H, right? So and I’ll kind of come back to it. And here, the position that you’re articulating and I, which is kind of like a position that was in my first book, How Not To Speak Of God, I think that is a very, I think there’s basically two.


Tom Rundel (45:43.286)



Peter Rollins (46:02.286)

reasonable positions when it comes to this stuff. One is that, so with the traditional definition of God, one of the traditional definitions of God that you get, say, in Anselm, which is very key, is God is a signifier for that which cannot be signified. So that’s a psychoanalytic way of saying it, but ultimately Anselm says that the word God, if we define God as,


the greatest being, right? That, you know, the being that has the maximum perfections, right? Then, then basically, Anselm’s logic is this, you probably know it, but his logic is, if God is maximally perfect, that’s the definition of God, whether God exists or not, whenever we use the word God, we’re talking about the maximally perfect being. One of the things he says is, well, if we can conceive God,


then we can conceive something greater than God, because we can conceive of something greater than conception. So God, if God is conceptual, then God isn’t the greatest being, because we can think of something greater than God, which is something that is transcends our ability to conceptualize and experience. And he basically says, so God is the name we give to that which cannot be named. That’s that which names us.


So we, it’s not that we name God, it’s God’s name names us, right? So that’s a very traditional confessional notion of God. And it’s one that is very dominant within the mystical traditions, pseudo -Dinatius, et cetera, et cetera. This idea then leads to the notion that religious experience is a saturation experience. It’s an experience of something that short circuits us.


So it’s a counter experience Jean -Luc Marion talks about as the saturation of saturation. Rudolph Otto talks about it in the idea of the holy. And that notion that God is not contained in temples, in experience, in conception. And there’s a sense of a transcendence. But funny enough, that’s not my position. So it’s fine. But I really like it. So I’m going to articulate kind of maybe where I’m coming from for a second. And then.


Peter Rollins (48:21.358)

I know whenever your listeners hear the two, they’re not going to like my one, they’re going to prefer the first one. I get it. But I’ll at least give an idea of the second one. In radical theology, it also goes with the idea, yes, that God is the name for something that cannot be named. Right. So it’s what’s called a master signifier. And we get this in lots of ways when love is a signifier for what cannot be signified. So poets talk about love, but no one ever fully articulates love.


Tom Rundel (48:25.719)

I’m going to go ahead and close the door.


Peter Rollins (48:51.086)

democracy, justice, freedom, they function in this way. Jacques Derrida was very good on this set. Whenever, you know, the property constructionist, he talked about how these words contain more than can be contained. Right. And so he said, like, if ever you think you’ve got democracy, you don’t. That’s the point when you become totalitarian, because there’s a certain sense in which democracy is always something to come.


There’s a messianic dimension to it. There’s an eschatological dimension to it. And, you know, John Caputo’s, that’s why he’s a radical theologian. So the difference between a mystical theologian and a radical theologian is the mystic sees God as, in a sense, saturating us with hyperpresence. The radical theologian sees religious experience,


more in absence than in hyper presence. And the key kind of transitional figure here in the modern world was Paul Tillich. Paul Tillich was not a radical theologian, but he was the bridge into modern radical theology. And because for Paul Tillich, God is the ground of being. And so for Paul Tillich, religious experience is the


And by the way, I’m sorry for talking so much, but you invited me on to talk. And also I want to apply because I don’t think I’m directly answering your question here, but I’m indirectly will get somewhere because I think you’ll probably go with this. I think you like it. But it does connect in some way. So Paul Tillich says God is the ground of being. And what he means by that then is that religious experience is the experience of being caught up in something that you cannot grasp. Right. So he said in his book, The Search.


Tom Rundel (50:18.872)

you keep going.


Tom Rundel (50:25.912)



Peter Rollins (50:43.918)

Mansour, sorry. Well, what was his last ever book? It was my search for absolutes. He he says that, you know, the philosopher seeks truth, but they never get it. But they’re motivated by it. So they’re in it, but they never get it. So they have this experience of absence, the absence of truth that they stand in. The artist who tries to paint beauty never gets it. They always miss it. But again, they’re kind of.


driven by this what he calls ultimate concern for a beauty to come that they do not have and the lawyer they want justice they want the law to be just but it never quite is so they’re motivated by a justice that is always to come so it’s so there’s a deconstructive dimension to paul tillich similar to derrida right so this is really interesting to me because for the mystics religious experience is something that happens


in a place, like you mentioned going to a certain place, right? So religious experience happens maybe in a certain place or at a certain time of your life and sometimes just to certain people, right? Some mystics might say, well, it happens to all of us occasionally or it happens to a few people or it happens occasionally. But Paul Tillich, his notion of religious experience is happening in everybody all the time.


And so right now we can have our religious experience because for Paul Tillich religious experience is ultimate concern. It is the sense in which we are taken up by something that we do not have. And now what’s interesting is one is religious experience is universal. It’s everyone experiences it. You can’t deny it. Even when you’re really depressed and your ultimate concern is minimal, while there is life, ultimate concern can be uncovered. You know, Victor Frankl’s good on that. So.


And then secondly, and here’s a really interesting thing, religious experience isn’t a saturation. It’s not a short circuiting and overwhelming. It’s an absence. It’s a lack because again, the philosopher lacks the truth that they seek. The artist lacks the beauty that they paint and the lawyer lacks the justice that they try to write into law. But it’s a present absence.


Peter Rollins (53:05.39)

It’s an absence that is fundamentally present that drives you to try to create better society, to try and do better work, et cetera, et cetera. Now, the reason why Paul Tillich isn’t a radical theologian is because God is still substantive, but religious experience is an experience of absence. Radical theology makes the next move and says that absence is even in the absolute itself. That’s when you get into radical theology.


And that’s where like Thomas Altizer is. That’s where Slavishyzek is. That’s where kind of my work is. And yeah, so all of that to say that I really like what you’re saying, but my my critique of some of the contemplative tradition and some of the mystical tradition is that this notion of absence and lack stop short. And it’s it’s like we cannot grasp God.


but God still can grasp God. What I want to argue is there’s a certain dimension within the Absolute itself that does not grasp itself, which in scientific terms is just to say there’s an indeterminacy within reality itself.


Tom Rundel (54:17.721)

It kind of sounds like an understanding of hope. Like to have hope means that you don’t have what you hope for yet. Because as soon as the thing arrives, you no longer have the hope because you have the thing. And one of my favorite spiritual writers of all time, Thomas Merton, he says if you really want to understand hope, you have to understand how much like despair hope is. Because.


Peter Rollins (54:28.686)

Mm -hmm.


Tom Rundel (54:46.617)

Hope is the thing that drives us forward. We don’t have the thing that we hope for yet. We don’t have justice or democracy or perfect love or these things. But then that hope that we can achieve it, find it, or whatever, that’s the thing that gets us the creative energies within us to work for something better in the here and now. And like,


Peter Rollins (55:15.438)

Absolutely, yeah. Now, the only thing I want to add, but the reason why this is a really good back and forth is because what I want to do is kind of articulate the subtle differences here for people to kind of get, is that there’s a subtle difference between hope in something we currently do not have, but will one day have, and the idea that there is eternal hope, i .e. there is something about reality itself.


that is asymmetrical or not at one with itself. So this hope is never satisfied, but still it’s what motivates us. Exactly what you’re saying is what motivates us is what moves us. But what Hegel called absolute knowledge and his phenomenology of spirit.


The whole book basically says that we’re always trying to overcome contradiction. Reality is overcoming contradiction. The move from being to life, life to consciousness, consciousness to self -consciousness, self -consciousness to reason. These massive movements in cosmic history are to do with this overcoming of contradiction. And Hegel brilliantly argues incredibly difficult book that, you know, you have to you can’t just read it like you have to.


postgraduate degrees to read, right? But basically his argument is that eventually you realize that we’re not overcoming contradictions, we’re deepening contradictions. And eventually we come to what he calls absolute knowledge, which is absolute knowledge is the realization that contradiction lies at the heart of everything. I’ll tell you one story, if you let me, that I think articulates this in a nutshell. This guy, this guy Seamus, who loses his job.


Tom Rundel (56:49.753)

Mm -hmm.


Peter Rollins (56:55.886)

and he’s really terrified, he’s not going to be able to pay his rent. And he prays to God, he’s a very pious man, and he hears the voice of God. And God says to him, Seamus, sell everything you have and take that money and go to Vegas. So Seamus doesn’t understand, but he remembers Abraham and Isaac, and he just goes like, just to pay. So he sells everything he has, he has about $30 ,000, he goes to Vegas, and he hears the voice of God. God says, Seamus, go into the first casino you find.


and play one hand of poker of Texas Hold So Seamus does it and he gets dealt seven two off. He’s about to fold and he hears the voice of God say, no Seamus, I want you to go all in. Seamus is like seven two off, goes like go all in. So he goes all in, three people follow him. Somebody’s got Jack ten, somebody’s got a pair of queens, somebody else pair of vases. no. But he hits a two on the flop. He hits another two on the turn or sorry on the river. He hits a


a two and the turn he hits a two and then on the last card hits a seven and he gets a full house and he’s like whoa and he wins and then he hears the voice of God saying Seamus take all that money and go and play a hand of blackjack and he goes puts all his money in one hand of blackjack gets dealt 16 he’s about to stick here’s the voice of God saying hit so he hits he gets a two so now he’s on 18 he’s about to stick here’s the voice of God Seamus hit again hits again gets an ace


Right, so he’s now 19 and he’s about to stick and he hears the voice of God hit again. He hits another two. He gets a blackjack and he wins. my goodness, I don’t believe it. Now there’s a crowd gathered around him and he hears the voice of God again going, now take all that money, go to the roulette table and put it all on seven. So Seamus does it, goes to the roulette table, he’s sweating bullets, puts all the money on seven, there’s a whole crowd around him. The ball starts spinning.


round and round and it starts to bounce and as it slows it’s bouncing and bouncing and then sure enough it hits seven. Everybody starts screaming and clapping and Seamus is crying his eyes out and he looks to heaven and he says God I don’t believe it and he hears the voice of God one last time. I don’t believe it either you’re the luckiest motherfucker I’ve ever seen right. Now I think that parable captures the heart of Christianity.


Tom Rundel (59:12.569)



Peter Rollins (59:20.046)

I think if you understand that parable, you understand the radical nature of Christianity that we think that, you know, we don’t know the answer, but the blueprint is in heaven. God has the answer. The the the the subjective destitution of Christianity, but also the Salvatore moment is you realize that there is an unknowing in the heart of the absolute as well, that that at the heart of all of reality, there is a spontaneity and a novelty. And that’s there’s a quantum dimension to everything.


Tom Rundel (59:49.913)

Hmm, I think that may have been the best story I’ve ever heard in my life just for the record.


Peter Rollins (59:54.094)

Yeah, I heard it when I was very young and I realized a reversion of it. I thought that’s a great way to describe my position. So yeah, I’ve got a few good ones, but that’s one of my favorites.


Tom Rundel (01:00:04.025)

Mm -hmm.


That is great. Like my concept of liminality is not necessarily to enter into the you know the places where eternal and heaven meet but to occupy the the not yet of what is because if you really think about life where we’re always looking to the horizon for the thing to get here whatever we you know hope for but then when that comes we’re never like we’re never really like that wasn’t the thing.


Peter Rollins (01:00:23.982)



Peter Rollins (01:00:30.35)

Mm -hmm.


Tom Rundel (01:00:36.409)

And then we start looking for the next thing and like happiness, joy, peace, contentment, whatever we hope and dream for always seems to be three steps away. And we say, as soon as I get paid or as soon as I hit the jackpot or as soon as then, and I think that liminality is just acknowledging that we are in constant transition, that there is nothing really certain that’s on its way to come and rescue us, but to learn how to be in the present moment with an open hand.


that says I will learn how to take the ingredients of what are around me and make something beautiful with what I actually have instead of constantly looking to the horizon for the next salvation that is to come to try and say, how can I craft the salvation of this moment with what is actually here? And to learn to live in the present moment that way, I think is my concept of liminality, how I view it.


Peter Rollins (01:01:31.15)

No, I really like that. And here’s the thing. So the contemplative tradition is like I’m very close to the contemplative tradition. So and here’s what I want to kind of like, because I think the contemplative tradition and you’ve articulated it really well, that’s not that’s the position. The thing that I want to to kind of like where I think this might even be in the contemplative tradition. But if not, I think it’s where there’s a real fertile ground here.


is the move from epistemological unknowing to ontological unknowing. And I think Merton was close in this, but from what I’ve read of Merton, it was, yeah, I still think it was epistemological unknowing. And the difference for me is I could tell another story. Can I tell one more story that I think, and then I’ll, very quickly, it’s a story about three guys who die on the same day and they all go to heaven. It’s a mystic, an evangelical pastor and a fundamentalist.


Tom Rundel (01:02:13.849)



Peter Rollins (01:02:24.206)

And as we all know, you have to get an interview with Jesus before you get into heaven. So they’re all waiting to get their interview with Jesus. And the mystic goes first. He goes into the room. St. Peter turns a little sign around, meeting in progress, and he’s in there for about half an hour. And then he comes out laughing. He goes, I knew I was wrong. I knew I was wrong. And he walks into heaven. Then it’s the evangelical pastor’s turn and he gets up pretty confidently and he goes into the interview room. The signs turned around and he’s in there for about three hours.


And the door opens and he comes out, he’s crying, how could I have been so wrong? How could I have been so wrong? And then he goes into heaven. And finally, it’s the fundamentalist turn. Fundamentalist gets up, dusts down his Bible and he goes into that room and he’s in there for about 12 hours. And then the door flings open and Jesus comes out and says, how could I have been so wrong? Right. Now, I told that story in my first book.


Tom Rundel (01:03:15.577)



Peter Rollins (01:03:20.59)

And at the first talk I ever gave, I told that story. And when I told that story, I told it in the naive way. The naive reading of the story is that we should be like the mystic, right? The mystic doesn’t, you know, how could I have been so wrong? Let’s be more like the mystic. But in my book that I’m writing at the moment, I finish with the story. And what I’m arguing is, I got it wrong. We’re supposed to be like the fundamentalist, right?


What happens in the story is the fundamentalist so questions the absolute that the absolute realizes that it’s divided, right? So God realizes that God does not have the answer. And I go like, that’s the idea of ontological unknowing. So epistemological unknowing is that the unknowing is what we have in relation to the absolute. Ontological unknowing is unknowing is in the heart of the absolute itself. That move, I think,


really significant because whenever you maintain epistemological unknowing we still have this notion of God as undivided, as lacking the lack, as complete and as whole. And what I would argue elsewhere is that actually perfection is something you can’t love, right? That perfection is something that we are divided from. When I talk about nothing binds, the social bond being connected around a shared lack,


What I want to say is that the radical meaning of Christianity is I am unified by God precisely when I realize that God is not unified to God. Right. It’s precisely the moment when I realize that the absolute is riven with unknowing that that that’s where the bind is. And in psychoanalysis, this is the difference between alienation and separation. So.


In alienation, the first experience of the infant is alienation. And this is called the know of the father. And this is where the infant and the mother begin to have distance between each other. So the infant doesn’t feel that they’re one with the mother. And what the infant wants to do is get back to that, right, and find out how can they be the object of desire for the mother. Now, if this doesn’t happen.


Peter Rollins (01:05:33.486)

I always say that if this doesn’t happen, you become Irish, right? Because you’re so close to your mother. That’s why they say Jesus was Irish, because he lived with his mom until he was 30, and she thought he was God. But the true term for it is psychosis, right? The psychotic, there’s been a failure of alienation, right? So the psychotic remains too close to the other, and, you know, they’re very experienced. Perversion is the second one, right, where there’s a problem between alienation and separation. But the…


Tom Rundel (01:05:38.33)



Tom Rundel (01:05:42.586)

I’m going to go ahead and close the video.


Peter Rollins (01:06:01.902)

But what happens in separation is when you realize that not only are you distant from the other, the other is distant from themselves. That’s separation. So separation is redoubled alienation. So most religion, I would say religion as such, tries to overcome alienation by going backwards. Radical theology doesn’t try to overcome alienation. It redoubles alienation. It cures alienation by seeing that alienation is within absolute reality. Now,


There’s different names for this. In mathematics, it’s Girdles and Completeness Theorem. In physics, it’s Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. In politics, it’s democracy, the non -at -oneness of the social body that creates complexity. In biology, it’s called evolution, the non -at -oneness of the biological organism that creates complexity in organisms. So there’s different names for this in different realms. But for me, the ultimate name for it, the name that covers all of it, is the death of God.


Tom Rundel (01:06:58.819)

Wow. Yeah, I think that God as the perfect being in the sky that sometimes comes in and fixes things for us, but most of the time doesn’t and causes a lot of confusion. I think that’s a real medieval feudal.


understanding of God, you know, there’s a Lord of the tower and I’m just a, you know, menial farmer out here trying to just work and sometimes the Lord comes out of the tower and you know, offer some blessing but most of the time sits in the tower. And a lot of the theologies that encapsulate modern day Christianity come from like this medieval.


construct of reality and understanding. And I’m wondering, in an age where cosmology is exploding and quantum theory is changing the fabric of our understanding of what reality is and evolutionary biology and all of these things are coming in to revolutionize how we metaphysically see the world.


Peter Rollins (01:07:41.55)

Yes. Yeah.


Tom Rundel (01:08:02.619)

And now we have this Lord in the Tower medieval understanding of God that just doesn’t fit in the modern day world. What do you think is a better container for an understanding of God as we progress forward in the world? And this will be my last question for you.


Peter Rollins (01:08:19.342)

brilliant. Well, yeah, I’m getting excited about this one because it’s brilliantly said. So, yeah, what you described, that medieval notion of God is interesting. And here’s the scary thing is there’s going to be and there is a revival of it. I want to talk about why there’s a revival of it and kind of trying to make sense of it. Todd McGowan’s book, The End of Dissatisfaction for Anybody’s Interest, I think gives a deeper reading of this. But there is one. I want to talk about three types of God.


So let’s talk about the God that you just mentioned, the medieval God, which is similar to Freud’s primal father. Right. So this is the idea of God lacks the lack. God is some being that, you know, is undivided, not castrated. Right. And we all, everybody else is. So in feudalism, we’re all castrated, which means we’re all, life’s a bit shit. We all experience the lack and we’re all in it together. Now, interestingly, this,


This type of God creates a lot of social solidarity. The reason for that is because we’re all in it together, right? No, none of us can get the Bugatti. None of us can kind of like kind of have, you know, there’s no there’s no Instagram that’s telling you that you can be perfect or whatever. We’re all in the village together and we all know how we’re going to live and how we’re going to die, which creates a lot of, say, social solidarity. And it minimizes things like envy and jealousy and that kind of stuff. So there is a form of social bond, but there is an exception.


to that social bond, there’s an exception to castration and that’s the Lord, or that’s God, right? That’s, you know, and the primal father. Now, interestingly, in the modern world, the God is the demand to enjoy. This is the Lacanian understanding, and she’s ex -brilliant on this, which is, this is the God who says no one needs to be divided, nobody needs to be castrated. So the superegoic injunction is not you should be nicer to your mum.


Right. But rather you’re not having enough sex. You’re not going out enough. You’re missing out. Right. So people today, especially in America, obviously feel what’s called kids called FOMO. But it’s it’s a super egoic injunction to enjoy. And you feel guilty for not enjoying. You feel guilty for not having enough fun, for not getting out and et cetera, et cetera. And this is becoming, you know, really, really difficult. Now, interestingly, and Lakan.


Peter Rollins (01:10:40.366)

very famously said as a little critique of Sartre, who in his famous essay, Existentialism as a Humanism, he said, he kind of quoted Dostoevsky, it’s a bit of a misquote, doesn’t matter, it’s a quote of Dostoevsky saying, if God is dead, everything is permissible. And Lacan brilliantly, in his usual way, said, no, no, no, if God is dead, nothing is permissible. And what Lacan was meaning and what he talked about is that when you take away all of the obstacles in life,


You don’t create freedom, you create a strong anxiety and a strong fear of the other and you create an inability to do anything. So when I lived in LA where you could technically have sex with anybody you wanted and do whatever you wanted, I haven’t been in a place where people were having less sex and less relationships and more fear of the toxic other and an inability to go out, right? And it’s interesting in America, there is a technology.


developed in the late 20th century to help young people have sex. And it’s interesting that it happened in America, which is a world where prohibitions were taken away. And it was a ring that you put on your finger that said, you won’t have sex, right? So a purity ring. And this purity ring then made sex prohibited, which made it more sexy. So technically, people had more sex when they wore purity rings because it created an obstacle, right? You have to have a type of obstacle to make sex.


sexy, right? Whenever there’s no obstacles, people start having less sex and you’ll see the statistics here where a lot of young people are having less and less sex. They’re having less and less and what they’re doing is having more and more contractual sex. So you have, you pay money and only fans for some sort of sexual service to escape the danger of the toxicity of the other who might, you know, claim that you did something or whatever. Anyway, all of this to say that’s the God of today.


We live actually, I wouldn’t say we live in the God of the feudal gods yet, although actually I think what you said is very true. I’m going to come back to you, but at the moment we live in the God of the demand to enjoy. That’s the secular God, the God. And that creates a fragmentation of social reality because it creates jealousies and envies because you feel that you’re castrated, but you feel that everybody else isn’t. You feel that everybody else is having fun and having the money and having the great life. And so you envy and jealousy. So you see increased social fragmentation.


Peter Rollins (01:13:05.486)

you also see, and this is the problem, the response to the God of the demand to enjoy is the feudal God. What people do in LA, for example, is if you actually want to have a relationship, you go to a conservative church. Ironically, that’s a place where it will be easier to meet somebody and to have a sexual relationship with its kind of like boundaries and all of that. And you’ll notice that conservative churches often…


they do promise the man to enjoy, but by other means. So the promise is if you want the best sex, do sex within marriage. If you want the best, so, you know, these people like, you know, like in Hillsong, it’s not the old kind of feudal god as such. It’s kind of like the god of the demand to enjoy, but with feudalistic framework. So again, if you want to have all of this fun sex life, well then do it in traditional.


in traditional ways, that’s how you’ll find the emancipation. Right, so that’s one thing you can see going on. What for me is the answer to this is not the God who is undivided while we’re all divided and not the God who is undivided and who tells us that we can be undivided, but rather, and you’ll know where I’m going with this, is rather the God who is divided, the God where we realize not just I’m castrated, but God is castrated. And the word for this is hysteria.


Right. Hysteria is a word for someone who experiences themselves as divided. Now, and traditionally this was related to women. Right. So the hysteric was, you know, it was basically a female neurosis, right. It’s not completely female, but obsession is male neurosis. Right. So the obsessive has certain issues and the hysteric, but within psychoanalysis, you know, Freud even says it and then it develops. Freud says we’re all hysterical and actually hystericism is not bad.


It’s the truth, right? So if someone’s an hysteric, they ask questions like, do I love my partner? Do I not? Am I an imposter in my work? Am I not? Am I, you know, am I doing what I should be doing? All right. That’s the hysteric. The hysteric experiences themselves is divided. Right. And then, you know, Freud says there’s an hysteric in all of us. But what I’m arguing is that God is hysterical. And in other words, that that is not something to be overcome.


Peter Rollins (01:15:26.19)

that experience of self -division, it’s something to be welcomed. Even in the movie Barbie, it was actually hysteria was the way that they found freedom, because whenever the Barbie dolls started to embrace their hysteria, that’s when they kind of woke up. And that’s kind of the psychoanalytic insight is that we experience our self -division. But the key for me is that a god of self -division means that…


we’re no longer oppressed because we no longer have a fantasy that, but God’s undivided and there’s another reality is undivided. Just go like, no, everything is divided. And there’s something about his, the, the, the self division of the world and that anxiety is the effect of hysteria. Right? So there’s something that anxiety is and Kirgore said this, the, the evidence of our freedom. So,


Yeah, that’s why I think radical theology has something interesting to say because in a way when we embrace my God, my God, why have you forsaken me? This moment of self -division, this moment of the death of God, I think that it frees us from the frenetic pursuit of wholeness and satisfaction and completeness and we can embrace a radical ontological unknowing that is riven into the very heart of reality.


Tom Rundel (01:16:39.871)

I have loved this conversation. It was everything I was hoping it would be. And I am just, I am, yeah, this is gonna be one of those podcasts that I’m gonna listen to three or four times. And just still, there’s so much rich content here. I wanna thank you so much for the honor of you coming and sharing things with us and having this back and forth dialogue that was just really helpful for me as I developed my concepts around liminality and have these discussions.


Peter Rollins (01:16:45.87)

Tom Rundel (01:17:07.871)

These definitions are just, it was just really, really helpful for me. And there’s so much here that we could like, we can unpack what you have written so much, you have, you know, podcasts, you have lectures. How can people connect with, you know, your work and what you’re saying? Where do you want to send them? If they take, you know, some of the things you said here, they want to learn more about it. Where would you send them?


Peter Rollins (01:17:13.454)

thank you, Tom.


Peter Rollins (01:17:33.774)

Yeah, so in terms of me, I would say I’ve got a YouTube channel where I’m putting more and more free content up. So that’s the best place at the moment to find what I’m doing. I haven’t done much. I’m actually just about to bring out an article with everyday analysis called the Profane Temple, and you can get that online. But also, if people are interested in this, there’s a beautiful book by Richard Boothby called Embracing the Void that I would really recommend people.


and also the work of someone like Todd McGowan’s really good. But yeah, if people are interested in my work, the best place to start is YouTube because it’s free content. And obviously I, like everybody, have a Patreon and have all of that, but there’s lots of free stuff out there. And I’d say the first thing you want to do, check out the most recent seminars, you know, my old books, don’t worry about them. I’ve got a book coming out, but it will be another year or two. So yeah.


Tom Rundel (01:18:19.12)

Okay. All right. Well, when that does come out, I’ll happily have you on. We can talk about that project.


Peter Rollins (01:18:29.422)

Thank you. I’ve listened. I’ve had a blast. I really appreciate what you said. That’s very kind of you. And I love doing this podcast. Thank you.


Tom Rundel (01:18:36.064)

well thanks for coming on. It’s been amazing.


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