thePhilBritton.

Short riffs on being human

Atheism for Lent 2020

This year, starting tomorrow, will be my 4th year taking the journey through Atheism for Lent. It's a de-centering practice that's been run for over two decades by Irish philosopher and theologian Peter Rollins, one of my favorite thinkers. The experience every year has been so rich and has really shaped the way I approach the world.

The idea is that we tend to think of atheism and theism as opposites, even at war with each other. But the reality is they are more intertwined than we realize, and they actually depend on each other. There is an inherent atheism baked into theism, and vice versa. The first week, you explore the common atheistic arguments, the ones you run into first if you google “why atheism.” Then the path moves to the mystics, and explores a theological form of atheism, of a God who is always beyond what we can comprehend, thus negating any concept of God we can come up with. Next, my favorite week, looks at the materialist thinkers, who answer “yeah, that's fine and all, but how about we focus on the world we exist in rather than worry about a world we can't grasp.”

That midway point shouldn't be rushed past, because that's the most profound stop on the journey, at least for me. It feels like the final unraveling of all the ideologies I'd set up to cover over the pain of the world. I spend a lot of time in reflection in late March.

From there, though, the journey out begins. You look at materialist theologies, like “religionless christianity” and Death of God theologies. Then you explore different paths forward and examples of what this could look like in our time.

The journey isn't easy, at times it's painful on a deep level. But it de-centers you in a good way, where you're able to experience and embrace the world around you as never before. I hope you'll join me and hundreds of others on the way.

Peace and tenacity,

PB

P.S. Two out of the last four years I chronicled my journey. You can find those articles here.

The Missing Piece

I've been reading Todd McGowan's Emancipation After Hegel for the last couple months, as part of a course Peter Rollins put together. By reading I mean struggling through understanding, but I do feel like I'm finally beginning to wrap my brain around the ideas in it, and in Hegel's philosophy project. This idea that contradiction or lack is at the core of being.

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Been a while... ::blows dust off blog:: I've been working on other stuff, but it's time to come back around to writing here. Shooting for a post a month in 2020.

I've been following the work of Peter Rollins for several years now, and lately he's been talking a lot about the philosopher Hegel. Specifically his idea that we, at our core, are a contradiction, and in fact reality itself as we experience it has contradiction at a fundamental level. It's fascinating stuff, and there's no way I could do it justice if I tried to explain it. I mean people have struggled with understanding Hegel for over a century! But I'm less interested in the theory aspect and more about how it functions in real life.

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I don’t agree with that. It’s not a good position to start from. Maybe what would be better is “This isn’t ideal, but I’m here, now, so let’s get started.”

This is something my dad told me often growing up. I'm going to try to riff on it a bit over the next few days. One thing I've always admired about my dad is that he's always been able to create and build neat and beautiful things with limited resources. An artist at heart, his focus is on what needs to be done, and then using whatever is at hand to create it. Rather than waiting until all the pieces are in place to start.

Seven days of blogging every day. Seven days of leaning into the fear, of working to build the habit and the discipline. Sometimes it feels mundane, but sometimes the mundane is profound.

How else do you get where you're going? Get a compass to make sure you don't wander.

When I look back, every move forward has come, at least in large part, because I've shown up. Not because I have the best ideas or skills or charisma, but because I've raised my hand, sat at the table, threw my hat in the ring and said “what can I do to help?”

Each and every one of us came from a mother. While Mother's Day celebrates the art and struggle of mother-ing, and rightly so, it's also a good day to pause and remember that we all started somewhere. We all entered this world at a specific place, a specific time, and a specific set of circumstances. It's true to say some of those are better than others, and it's true to say that's not fair or right, but all we can do is work with what we've got. Recognize it, name it, thank it, honor it, then move forward, and work to make the next person's entry point a little better off than the last time around. Then repeat.

My middle son and I had a nighttime routine for a summer where we'd sit up and watch Man vs. Wild videos until he (many times both of us) fell asleep. They were great, special times, but one of the things that has stuck with me is a phrase Bear Grylls would say often. He'd find himself in a sketchy situation, devise a rough idea of a plan to get out of it, and after explaining it to the camera he'd say “OK let's just get into this.” That little phrase indicated the moment when he decided that he had thought through the plan enough, and the rest would have to be figured out while he was actually executing the plan. There's a humble self-confidence in one's abilities in there, too, and the understanding that action, doing something, was the point. Not reckless or rushed, but not stagnant either.

Sometimes planning can be another way to hide.

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