Life is painful. It’s full of doubt and uncertainty. And it ends, in this world anyway, with death. For many, the antidote to this pain has been religion. The appeal is obvious: comforting stories, a clear sense of right and wrong and eternal life as the carrot at the end. Even New Atheists such as Alain De Botton have retrieved some of the comfort traditionally offered by the church. But has the church taken up the easy sell of “ending suffering” and promising answers to unanswerable questions.
In contrast to this "Good News," Peter Rollins argues for a radical and initially disturbing Gospel: we can’t be satisfied, life is tough, and we don’t know the secret. We should attack the idea of God as that which makes us whole, removes our suffering, and offers us the truth. Rollins is less concerned with the question of life after death than with the possibility of a life before death, and his "churches" challenge escapist versions of spirituality, inviting us to embrace complexity, ambiguity and pain. Doubt is part of life, and religion should be able to explore it – instead of presenting an all-singing, all-dancing distraction.
Peter Rollins is a leading figure of the radical Christianity movement and author of books such as How (Not) to Speak of God and Insurrection. A philosopher, theologian, believer, and doubter, he has developed a number of contemplative practices to help Christians accept doubt and complexity, such as ‘Atheism for Lent.’
Chair: Simon Longstaff is Executive Director of St James Ethics Centre, and is co-curator of Festival of Dangerous Ideas.