I have been reading, again, a story from Peter Rollins’ new book “Orthodox Heretic“. My favorite story thus far is the story where the agnostic becomes an atheist. It is a fascinating story about coming to grips with conceptual idolatry and laying down reliance upon ideas, words and concepts about God, but taking up the lifestyle of Jesus in some fashion. I am also reading a book from Jean-Luc Marion, entitled “God without being“. Though I am barely into the book (which is dense and a slow slow read) already Marion has helped with his distinction between idols and icons. Idols capture our gazing and cease our exploration or any deeper examination…we are entranced so to speak, with what we think is a object worthy of our gaze. However, the reality is that the idol is merely an invisible mirror, reflecting to us a view of ourselves (which is precisely why I think we are truly so entranced by it). So our gazing at the object of the idol really displays our own visage (or something of our own thought in the case of conceptual idolatry).
The Icon, on the other hand, invites our gaze to consider that which is truly invisible and unreducible…it conducts our gazing toward another, toward that which exceeds reducibility into something visible. Hence the Icon does not limit our view and ideas but opens up our gazing, our thinking, our knowing (with appropriate humility and limits).
While I have not gotten further into Marion’s argument, it is clear already to me that part of what he is aiming at is the reduction that we impose with our words and the concepts we are attempting to describe. Even our word “God” is a reduction to the nature of the divine that we are naming. If we allow the word to represent in an absolute way the one to which it points, we are in real danger of setting up a conceptual idol, not having adequately recognized the function of language, even the language in what we consider holy writ.
In Rollins’ story, the philospher attempting to prove the non-existence of God, is visited by God who tells him “I do not Exist”. Now for some this story will seem blasphemous, believing that it is intimating that God is not real. But far from that, the story challenges our conceptual impositions upon the divine one we call “God”…even the assumption that God has “being” in the same way that we do. The One who is absolutely mysterious, communicates to the philosopher that he doesn’t exist (in the way that we conceive of being). So the philosopher is atheistic in that he rejects the conceptions of God that have been offered, not the existence of God. Although I am not certain, but I would be willing to bet that underlying this parable is Marion’s work “God Without Being.”
In Rollin’s story, the veracity of the encounter is expressed not in words and concepts but in existence. The aim of the philosopher’s living and work is altered, traveling not further into description but by incarnation. What if that which an author intends to say is not the point to which one should pay attention, but rather what those who read do in response to what they have read. Maybe we ought to value and read the living of those who follow God, rather than their words as a means of perceiving what they claim to believe and understand about God.