Book :: The Divine Magician

Release Date: Jan. 20, 2015

When I first encountered author Peter Rollins in 2006, I loved his approach to thought and theology, but I mostly disagreed with him (even when I wanted to agree). Revisiting his work in 2013 and picking up his then-latest book The Idolatry of God, I was able to read with fresh eyes and found him to be saying – sometimes word-for-word – exactly what I had been thinking.

In reading Rollins, one thing has become clear to me: you can’t read him for what you think he is saying. There is a lot of semantic overlap in his language and he intentionally keeps it vague to force the reader to challenge his own preconceptions. As such, when something he writes conflicts with what you may believe, it is imperative that you not immediately dismiss his conclusions, but consider them all the more deeply.

In The Divine Magician, Rollins expands and clarifies a concept that is at the heart of his previous work, The Idolatry of God. Here he forms a more cogent, precise, and graspable argument by focusing on the process of magician’s illusion as the backdrop for his theory. Fans of Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige film will immediately understand this process as it is described. Those unfamiliar with the analogy are helped along by the author’s conversational style and an ample amount of diagrams.

It would be fruitless for me to attempt to boil down the author’s 200 pages into a mere 200 words, and to try would be to do everyone involved a great disservice. In a recent interview, however, the author summarized the work as such:

One thing that both the critics of religion and its defenders seem to agree on concerns what Christianity actually is. To paint with broad brushstrokes, they agree that it involves a belief in God, the idea that we can reconnect with this God, and the notion that this reconnection will re-establish a lost harmony. The former attacks these ideas, the latter defends them.

In contrast, The Divine Magician presents a radically different reading of Christianity. One unconcerned with what people believe, that is not about reconnecting with some ultimate source, and that is most certainly not caught up in re-establishing a lost harmony. What people will find within the pages of this book is an unapologetically this-worldly reading of Christianity, one that views the subversive heart of the gospels as nothing less than an insurrectionary invitation to become a cultural dissident who challenges the status-quo, embraces the world and has the audacity to embrace freedom.

 I really enjoyed this book, but I felt a little underwhelmed because I had just re-read Idolatry only a couple of months ago and didn’t find this new work to unearth any great new revelations. That said, here Rollins provides much better language for his readers to convey these ideas to others. Further, it is clear that the author himself has further solidified his own (non)understanding.

Having recently finished What We Talk About When We Talk About God (Rob Bell) and A Farewell to Mars (Brian Zahnd), I found several welcomed streams of continuity present in Magician. At one point, Rollins echoes Bell’s praise of the Alcoholics Anonymous community as a place where people embrace their “lack” or their incompleteness rather than fantasizing about a more perfect union unto themselves. Rollins also spends a good number of pages investigating the scapegoat mentality discussed at length by Zahnd. If there is a single concept that warrants more discussion by all parties – those who agree and disagree with both authors – it is this idea that we must cease our blaming, vilifying, and ostracizing of the “other”.  As such, I’ll end with this quote,

In order to destroy the scapegoat mechanism, a different strategy must be adopted. Instead of trying to create a community where there is no outsider, the real answer lies in understanding that there is a sense in which we are all outsiders. In concrete terms, this means that a community faces its own lack, rather than ignoring it and thus creating a scapegoat who must carry it.

The Divine Magician, 46

Film :: The Resurrection of Jake the Snake

Before you dismiss this as something you aren’t interested in, hear me out… If you’ve ever known someone who struggled with addiction, abuse, or self-hatred, this film is for you.

For me, the story of this film begins 15 years ago when I sat down in a movie theater to watch the much-talked-about documentary Beyond the Mat. The film followed several professional wrestlers and showed their lives – you guessed it – beyond the mat. Perhaps the most talked about subject of the film was Jake “the Snake” Roberts, a man who had been one of the most feared and respected practitioners in the business at the height of his career. When the film was made, however, Jake was deep into a heart-breaking downward spiral; a shell of a man who couldn’t hold his body, his mind, or his life together.

The Resurrection of Jake the Snake picks up 13 years later as former world champion Diamond Dallas Page and filmmaker Steve Yu respond to Jake’s cry for help to change his life. Now, changing lives is nothing new to Page who had previously helped disabled Gulf War veteran Arthur Boorman transform his body and his life through DDP’s custom yoga program (the aptly-titled DDP Yoga). So, Dallas compels his former mentor to move in with him for a course of rehab and personal training in hopes of Jake earning back the life he’s lost, including his family.


About halfway through the adventure, the “accountability crib” welcomes an additional resident, “The Bad Guy” Scott Hall (aka Razor Ramon). By some accounts, at least at the time, Hall’s state was even worse than Jake’s. With Scott’s move in, we get to see Jake transition somewhat from purely receiving to passing on a bit of the help that he has already been graced with. While I don’t want to spoil the ending, it’s easy to find yourself choked up just like the characters on the screen are as they achieve a measure of personal validation they felt would never come.

So, I have to tell you, this film is fantastically well made. Much of the filming is better than a number of the documentaries that I’ve seen (and reviewed) in recent times. Even video clips that have clearly been recorded on inferior equipment are made to look good and rarely break the flow of the film. The filmmakers welcome the cameras into their world in a way that is truly immersive without feeling staged. Better than anything, though, is the willingness of the film’s chief subjects (Roberts, Page, and Hall) to be authentic and transparent with their emotions. Throughout the film we see genuine tears of both pain and joy – aspects that these men have had to bottle for much of their professional lives.


If I had one negative reaction to the film it would have to be the wealth of explicit language. My chief concern with this is that it inherently limits the audience who will be willing to view the film. While fans of the subjects will likely have no problem with this, it could be limiting to the wider viewing public.

This was a truly unique viewing experience for me, because I’ve been watching this whole story develop via social media and YouTube over the last two years in real-time. I took note when I heard that DDP was helping Jake. I watched along with many others as Scott Hall publicly embarrassed himself by making public appearances while intoxicated. And I really took notice when Page and Jake brought Hall into their program. In fact, the changes that these men made were so remarkable that it got me up and moving again – because if Jake and Scott could do it, so can I.

All that is well and good and it makes for a fantastic film that I can’t recommend highly enough. But beyond all that, what I’ve taken away from the experience is looking more closely at the example of Dallas Page. While many of us have friends who are hurting and in need, it’s far too easy to simply say a kind word and never take any action. That wasn’t good enough for DDP. He couldn’t sit idly by and let his friends suffer the same fate as so many others had done in their industry. He laid down his own life both socially, financially, and professionally to save his friends. That’s the kind of guy I want to be.

The film had its festival premiere Friday (Jan 23) and the filmmakers are currently shopping it for distribution. We’ll update you when we have more info on when and where you can see it.