Posted in Meditation, Philosophy

Podcast: Peter Rollins, The Idolatry of God

I have listened to the podcast and I noted that Peter Rollins was sharing about his book on the idolatry of God which may be summarised in one of these train of thoughts, as noted by a reviewer:

“By embracing and participating in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, we give up our desire to find satisfaction and thus find a deeper satisfaction, that can be grasped here and now. “Not one that promises to make us whole…but one that promises joy in the midst of brokenness and new life in the very embrace of pain.””

(From “Exclusive: “The Idolatry of God” by Peter Rollins”)

I have listened to the host of the interview sharing about why he felt the need to ask Pete the question about dealing with a loss because he himself had lost his 25-year -old son last summer, and he broke down and wept as he shared about this sad news with Pete after the interview. He had come to find that Pete’s perspective on coming to terms with one’s loss particularly helpful for him because he felt his experience was validated, which is an important part of the human experience. Yes, the depth of human experience is larger than any religious box, as it involves authenticity and freedom.

I was reflecting that Peter Rollins’ worldview is similar to the buddhist’s worldview about being free from attachments to desires to be happy and satisfied. It reminds me of a video message by Peter Rollins last June, in which he also shared a similar message about how the church system was like a vending machine selling products, telling people to worship this god or pray this way in order to be happy and satisfied, which only results in people using god or religion as a psychological crutch. I remember that during the Q&A session in that particular video, some of the audience could not help but notice the similarities between his worldview of non-attachment and the buddhist worldview of non-attachment, as someone asked him about buddhism, and I think Pete was open to that worldview, if I remember correctly.

After all, some worldviews, such as the importance of being free from attachments to an idol or illusion in order to experience deep joy and peace in the midst of sufferings and uncertainties, share a common truth, which transcends religious boundaries and philosophies. I was listening to his latest interview again earlier, this time without my headphones, so I could catch his accent better, and I could relate to his growing up in a highly religious and divisive environment in which people would fight and kill over differences in belief systems which form their identities, and I agree with him on the need to find commonalities among different belief systems or religions and be open and willing to learn from one another instead of allowing differences in beliefs create strife and divisions over them.

Pete observed that the strong and hostile reactions that conservative evangelicals had over Rob Bell’s book “Love Wins” have gone beyond mere disagreements over doctrines; rather their hostility is merely a reflection of the internal disagreements inside them which they have not dealt with because of their attachments to certainties, and the book happens to stir up or trigger those internal disagreements within them. So the conservative evangelicals are not so much having a personal vendetta against Rob Bell but rather are experiencing an internal conflict within themselves, and Rob Bell’s book happened to challenge the very idol of certainty that the evangelicals had been desperately trying to hold on to, and they see his book as a threat to their self-created security blanket about their faith, not willing to undergo the necessary but painful road of questioning and doubts in order to find true freedom from their attachment to idols/psychological crutches and their addiction to and obsession over certainty and satisfaction.

According to this buddhist worldview, attachment is the root cause of suffering.

‘Attachment is the origin, the root of suffering; hence it is the cause of suffering.’ [1]

Similarly, this article suggests that by accepting that suffering is part of life, and embracing pains and uncertainties as part of the full and deep human experience, it is possible to liberate oneself from attachment, and even experience a deep and profound sense of peace and acceptance in view of life’s inevitable sorrows and pains.

“Buddhist practice, in this perspective, is oriented away from the world: life is suffering, the world is a place of uncertainty; liberation lies in freeing oneself from attachment to worldly things and concerns, attaining a transcendent enlightenment.”

Like what Pete said, this worldview is not meant to make people depressed even though it sounds depressing, but rather it is meant to remind or awaken people to the fact that they are already depressed, and they only need to acknowledge and accept that sufferings are part of life to be free from depression, which is a paradoxical truth, as he also acknowledges it.

I learnt that there are others who have also noticed the similiarities between Peter Rollins’ worldview and buddhist worldview of practising non-attachment as a way of liberation. This book reviewer noted that Rollins has been sharing a deep spiritual truth in his latest book about how we can welcome doubt and express compassion even in the midst of our suffering, which resonates with Buddhism’s central teachings about living in compassion and appreciation of the world as we find it.

“Contemporary Christianity works well for millions of Americans because America is a successful nation. One reason that Buddhism meshes well with impoverished Asian cultures is that Buddhism’s central teachings urge people to quit striving after human desires and focus, instead, on right living that compassionately helps others and awakens a deeper appreciation of the world as we find it. Buddhism begins by taking into account that life will involve a great deal of suffering—something most American preachers are hesitant to proclaim. Rollins starts with that deep spiritual truth and preaches a Christian hope that, even in the midst of suffering, we can appreciate each other, we can express our compassion and we can appreciate the sacred wonders of the world around us. This survivor’s faith welcomes doubt. This survivor’s faith frees us from striving after typical symbols of success. This is a Christian message that finds hope and a way forward, even as tragedies befall us.”

(From “Why read Peter Rollins – he preaches a survivor’s faith“)

I myself experienced an existential crisis in my early 20s, and have written poems as a form of catharsis, so I am no stranger to this existential depression, so to speak. I was reflecting that there is a difference between transformation and denial – two persons may be smiling in the midst of sufferings, but for different reasons – one may have learnt through pains and hardship to come to a place of transforming one’s perspectives of life to embrace the inevitability of sufferings, while the other may be simply suppressing and avoiding the reality of sufferings and trying to be happy, which may work in the short run but may not be useful in the long run because reality will always catch up somehow. There comes a time when every person needs to face the reality of sufferings in life, and finds their own way of accepting and embracing life’s pains, struggles, uncertainties and sufferings, in a way that they can handle. I like Thich Nhat Hanh’s perspective on how this transformation of fear and pain into a deep, profound sense of peace and acceptance is carried out.

Nhat Hanh: “So you recognize that fear. You embrace it tenderly and look deeply into it. And as you embrace your pain, you get relief and you find out how to handle that emotion. And if you know how to handle the fear, then you have enough insight in order to solve the problem. The problem is to not allow that anxiety to take over. When these feelings arise, you have to practice in order to use the energy of mindfulness to recognize them, embrace them, look deeply into them. It’s like a mother when the baby is crying. Your anxiety is your baby. You have to take care of it. You have to go back to yourself, recognize the suffering in you, embrace the suffering, and you get relief. And if you continue with your practice of mindfulness, you understand the roots, the nature of the suffering, and you know the way to transform it.”

(From “Oprah Winfrey’s Interview with Thich Nhat Hanh, 2012“)

72621_597375043623525_846568786_n Thich Nhat Hanh

So to me, buddhism, even though it is commonly seen as a philosophy rather than a religion, is neither theory nor theology, but rather a practical, hands-on and do-able way of living that every person can practise. This is not to say buddhism is the be-all and end-all, as it does not profess to give a definite answer to every question or mystery in life, but rather is based on time-tested wisdom and understanding about the nature of existence. I am still learning myself, and at the same time, I find there are also meaningful truths to learn from other belief systems, such as the concept of grace and true identity from the christian gospel of inclusion and Jung psychology, for example.



I am a beloved child of Divine Love/Great Spirit, and so are you. We are spiritual beings on a human journey. My main interests in life include Nature, music, spirituality, inspiration, philosophy, sports, reading and photography.

7 thoughts on “Podcast: Peter Rollins, The Idolatry of God

  1. I am still struggling with what Rollins says, but I think its articulated well. I also enjoyed your connection to Buddhism here. I think we could do an existential reading of Buddhism.

    1. Thanks for your encouraging comment. I have discovered Peter Rollins’ messages about a year ago or so, which provide great insights to make sense of my journey from evangelical or mainstream christianity towards a more progressive and inclusive form of spirituality. It took me some time to understand and assimilate some of his ideas as they are quite deep and profound. I find it interesting that his idea on being free from being attached to an idol is similar to the buddhist worldview. I am not sure how to do an existential reading of Buddhism though – perhaps you could explain what you meant by “existential reading”?

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