Desire aims to do nothing less than give you a new paradigm for reading the Bible. I’m one of those people who likes to have my beliefs challenged, so reading this was both thrilling and exhausting.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.
Desire Found Me is a book about soteriology — what did the death and resurrection of Jesus mean? — filtered thr0ugh the prism of mimetic theory.
Although it makes me wince to do so, I’m going to throw around the words evangelical and progressive in this review. I apologize at the outset. Both terms have a wide field of meaning. In this article, I am using the terms to describe different views of the Bible’s accuracy and authority. With the word “progressive” I am referring to people who think the biblical authors were simply wrong on some points, or at least many of the things they said that appear literal shouldn’t be taken literally. In contrast, an evangelical approach to the Bible reads the text less critically — the assumption is that I can trust everything in there, and don’t need to question whether the biblical author was right or wrong as I read. I hope that makes sense.
Desire is essentially an articulate expression of one form of progressive Christianity. Reading Desire Found Me prompted me to rethink my decision to approach scripture from an evangelical perspective. Andre’s work in this book is really that thorough and compelling.
I grew up in very religious surroundings, and attended to a small Christian college where I obtained a bachelor’s degree in biblical studies and a master’s degree in biblical languages. I lived in a very conservative bubble – both theologically and politically. But throughout my young adulthood I programmatically attempted to put every one of my religious beliefs to the test.
I vividly remember the high school Bible class in which a church elder told us we shouldn’t believe anything unless we could prove it by the Bible. If we students ever discovered something in the text that contradicted what he taught us, he said we should tell him so he could correct the error and transmit only pure Bible teachings. I took this approach to heart, and mastering the Bible (ah, the hubris!) became my quest. In my early 20s, after years of holding all religious teachings up to the mirror of scripture as I understood it, I moved on to the next level — putting the Bible itself (and theism itself) to the test.
As I mention in my recent book, a few months after I graduated with my master’s degree I reached a place in my intellectual development where I could no longer believe in the god I’d been taught. This was followed by three years of agnosticism and spiritual exploration. I opened my minds to all kinds of possibilities. I devoured books on humanism, Zen Buddhism, and wacko conspiracy theories. What worldview would I embrace now that key aspects of my previous southern-American-white-Christian-fundamentalist worldview were on the junkheap?
One paradigm that stuck with me from those years was the Robert Anton Wilson’s concept of “reality tunnels.” Wilson, a freethinker, novelist, and pioneer in LSD research, explained in his wacky book Prometheus Rising that everyone walks through life with a sort of tunnel vision. Our conscious minds tend to acknowledge facts and ideas that jibe with our preconceived notions, but ignore or reject ideas that don’t fit our own predetermined versions of reality. Wilson encouraged his readers to become adept at peering through different reality tunnels — kind of like trying on different pairs of glasses.
For example, I found that, once I understood how atheist skeptics like Martin Gardner and Michael Shermer perceived the world, I could easily look at religious phenomena and dismiss them as psychological idiosyncracies. But then, the very next minute, I could look at the world through a religious reality tunnel and see the beauty, power, and truth inherent in many religious experiences and concepts. Learning to switch reality tunnels has made me better at empathizing with and understanding people with differing views, and lets me see things from multiple angles. Everybody should try it.
In those years I also got a kick out of reading books by David Icke, a conspiracy theorist par excellence who believes the world is controlled by the illuminati-like machinations of shape-shifting reptilian beings from another dimension. Watching the nightly news through Icke’s reality tunnel makes the world a truly frightening, yet interesting, place. The skeptic Michael Shermer and the conspiracy theorist David Icke are both certain they have overwhelming evidence to support their worldviews, but they could hardly disagree more.
The bottom line is that you can choose the tunnel through which you view reality. Or you can simply remain stuck in the one you inherited from your culture. After all these epistemological adventures, I have consciously chosen to embrace a moderately evangelical approach to Christian scripture because I believe the worldview it births is the most beautiful reality one could choose to inhabit and, correctly understood, it’s the worldview most likely to create a culture of altruistic love. Not everyone will agree with that assessment, but that’s where I’m at right now.
During my period of agnosticism, I wrote a novel (which shall never be published). The book was essentially the child of my faith struggle at the time. As I wrote and rewrote and rewrote, the characters’ journey changed to reflect my own inner metamorphoses. In the story, the protagonist meets a mischievous and world-wise friend who encourages him to question his fundamentalist beliefs. The protagonist loses his faith and spirals in despair, but his friend has vanished. The protagonist is desperate to find him and figure out how he can be so self-assured in spite of his agnosticism. When the two finally reunite, the friend explains to the protagonist:
“It’s simple. You’ve seen the world through different glasses, different reality tunnels. You’ve seen the strengths and weaknesses of your religion. Most likely, you can see both sides of anything now, argue any position you want.”
“This is why they say knowledge is power. You, sir, are no longer a slave. No longer a slave to prejudice or the ignorance of your upbringing. . . . Now that you know that all belief systems are both equally true, and equally false, you get to choose.”
Let me be clear here that I don’t really think all belief systems are equally true and equally false. That’s the character‘s philosophical position, not my own. My point is that my faith as it stands now is a conscious choice. I know both its strengths and its weaknesses. And as such, I can entertain a book like Andre’s that invites me to choose a somewhat different version of the Christian religion.
Andre Rabe’s book begins with this warning: “This book is a risk. A risk to your current state of mind, a risk to some of your deeply held beliefs and as such a risk to who you think you are.”
This warning was right up my alley. Reading this book, which really is a theological tour-de-force, was an opportunity for me to try out a new reality tunnel.
What you’ll find in Desire Found Me is a clearly-reasoned explanation of one highly-intellectual manifestation of progressive Christian theology. To reiterate, I think most of my readers would fall under the banner of “evangelical,” by which I mean they hold the Bible to be the authoritative and inspired word of God. To evangelicals, while the Bible contains difficult passages that must be wrestled with, it is not acceptable to disagree with the Bible’s content, ir say that a biblical author must have been mistaken. I have chosen, in my own walk of faith, to adhere to an evangelical approach to scripture. Although I agree with many things my progressive brothers and sisters teach, I do not self-identify as progressive.
All this is to say that reading Desire Found Me was exhausting because I was determined to hear Andre out, to peer at scripture through his reality tunnel. I had to stop many times and ask whether his reality tunnel was closer to the truth than my own.
Perhaps my key area of disagreement is that Andre does not hold to the literal existence of Satan, angels, and demons. He considers belief in these personal entities to be superstitions. I simply cannot go that far because the biblical authors — whom I have chosen to deem as authoritative for my own theology — clearly believed in these beings. I do not allow myself to think that the Devil’s temptation in the wilderness was allegorical when nothing in the context of the Synoptic Gospels suggests such a reading. Nor can I reckon that the legion of demons that entered the pigs were some sort of psychological projection. My choice to read the Gospels as a roughly accurate historical account precludes me from embracing Andre’s theology whereby no pure spirit-being exists besides God himself.
Like Andre, I have a keen interest in Exousiology — the study of how evil tends to corrupt human power structures. But unlike other exousiologists like Walter Wink, I believe the corruption inherent in human systems actually results from the nefarious activities of malevolent spirit-beings. This demon-haunted theology of mine is simply a reflection of my choice to embrace what I perceive to be the worldview of Jesus and his disciples. If Jesus believed in Satan and fought demons, then I intend to do the same.
So what I’m saying is that if you’re an evangelical this book will challenge your theology. This is not a knock on Andre or his magnificent book. Andre makes a good case for progressive theology if you’re willing to go there. If you’re already a progressive who’s willing to admit the biblical authors were mistaken on a great many points, then you’ll probably find this book to be a rollicking good exploration of the psychology of redemption in the Christian system.
Let me be clear about Andre, though. He hangs his theological hat on the bodily resurrection of Christ. In fact, the book contains a brilliant exploration of the implications of the savage death and amazing resurrection of Jesus the god-man. Regardless of your stance on angels, demons, and biblical inspiration, this book exalts and celebrates Christ. Andre’s observations on the cross and empty tomb are a boon to any reader.
My verdict? I’m very glad I read this book. It was beautiful and challenging. And I love few things better than a beautiful challenge. Now, onto some more nuts and bolts.
The heart of this book is an application of Rene Girard’s “mimetic realism” theory to the biblical metanarrative. Mimetic theory begins with the psychological observations that humans are social creatures whose behavior consists mainly in reflecting or imitating the behavior of others. We learn by mirroring what we see, and we are all driven by desire. When we see what another person desires, we then desire that same object in turn. But desiring the same objects puts us into conflict.
The second crux of this theory is that humans’ incompatible desires leads to violence. Human jealousy and hostility grows so treacherous that, in order to avoid destroying ourselves, humans have learned to identify scapegoats. Whenever our community is endangered with self-annihiliation, we find a person or minority group to blame for our troubles, and we wreak our deadly violence on them. Under Girard’s theory, human civilization itself began with this sort of human sacrifice. The murder of the scapegoat created a temporary sense of peace. In order to maintain peace and order, human societies ritualized sacrifice, which became the foundation for religion and social cohesion.
In light of this theory of human social origins, the death of Christ is an incredibly significant moment. The religious and secular establishment that killed Jesus reenacted this original sin of human sacrifice against the one perfect human — against God himself in flesh. By willingly absorbing this horrific unjustified violence — and even forgiving the perpetrators — Jesus exposed the rotten core of human culture. He peeled back the veneer of human civilization and shone the light of God onto the violence inherent in human society and traditional religion. From another angle, Christ’s willing death demonstrated God’s amazing love and capacity for forgiveness. For those who understand the cross, it changes everything, including the way we view ourselves, our god, and our social structures.
I really appreciated Andre’s articulate application of mimetic theory to biblical theology. He has increased my theological vocabulary and given me some new tools with which to explore the mystery of the cross.
So, at bottom, Desire Found Me is a book of soteriology. It explores the question of what exactly Christ saved us from and how he did the saving. The book offers this mimetic re-imagining of atonement as a superior alternative to other theories such as penal substitutionary atonement, the ransom theory, and even the Christus Victor approach (with its emphasis on demonology).
I agree with Andre on so many points in this book. He teaches the creation story almost exactly like I do: by comparing Genesis 1 with other contemporary accounts (like the Enuma Elish and Atrahasis Epic), it becomes obvious that the Genesis author was intentionally subverting the dominant ancient near eastern creation myth that the world is essentially the debris left over from warfare between the gods. Rather than creation occurring through divine violence, Genesis gives us an orderly creation that’s executed peacefully. Instead of an origin wherein human were made to be slaves to the gods, Genesis suggests that humans were made to be God’s friends and to help him rule the world. This is good material regardless of your view of scripture.
Also, Andre imagines a God who is capable of surprise and who interacts with his creation through the experience of time rather than outside time. Andre’s God is a passionate God who desires relationship with humans and who rejoices when people turn to him in love. He calls the Lord a happy God, a God of endless possibilities. In other words, Andre is an open theist who rejects divine impassibility and immutability. I think this view of God is closer to what we see in the biblical stories of YHWH and Jesus that what we get from “Classical” Christian theological systems that, in my view, borrowed too heavily from Greek thought and strayed too far from the emotional, relational God of the Hebrews.
Andre also demonstrates, using scripture, that the early Hebrews were not philosophical monotheists — an important point that I think many Christians overlook. At best, the pre-exilic Jews were henotheists, believing in multiple gods, but worshipping only YHWH as their nation’s protector-god. God had to meet people where they were, so to speak. In interacting with the patriarchs and the post-exodus Israelites, the laws he gave accommodated their limited views of what a god could be, while simultaneously sowing seeds that would blossom into the monotheism and rejection of religious ritualism that we later find among Christ’s apostles.
So, there is a sort of theological development taking place from Genesis through to the Gospels. The idea of Satan and demons does develop (or one might say is progressivly revealed) over time. The Israelites slowly transition from polytheists to henotheists to monotheists. God gives them laws that begin the slow process of undermining institutions like slavery and patriarchy. It is only in Christ, i.e., God himself in his fullest most unfiltered expression, that we can truly see what God is like and what he wants from us.
If these ideas are new to you, Andre’s book might be vexatious. But if you’re willing to slip into Andre‘s reality tunnel, you may come to the end of the book a changed person. You can get the book here.
Bren Hughes (M.A., M.Div., J.D.), is a lawyer and former minister who blogs at BrenHughes.com and recently authored Heaven’s Muscle: Unleashing the Power of the Spirit Within You. If this post was meaningful, share it!