Peter Rollins: The Frustration of Reality

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Peter Rollins is a modern philosopher, speaker, writer, and theologian from Northern Ireland who promotes a “religionless” interpretation of Christianity called Pyro-Theology. Rollins’ work draws heavily on psychoanalytic theory and focuses primarily on finding the truth between the extremes and teaching people how to understand and accept some of the harsher realities of life.

In a short lecture he gives called “Embracing the Lack,” he explores an idea of three ideological positions towards the world called the Conservative, the Revolutionary, and the Rebel—which have heavily influenced our political culture (particularly in the United States).

He explains that the first two, the Conservative and the Revolutionary, are the same mentalities behind the political conservative and liberal, however, these positions are not simply confined to political ideology and are ultimately more of a way of interacting with the world and our frustration with it. 

Rollins describes the Conservative as someone who idealizes the past and wishes to return to how things were in some capacity—we see this now with those who want to “make America great again.” However, this mindset emerges in other areas too, such as someone who always idealizes past romantic relationships. 

The Revolutionary, on the other hand, Rollins says, is someone who tends to idealize the future. We see this with the politically liberal, who envision a world without inequality and are eager for a change of the status quo. Similarly to the Conservative position, the Revolutionary mindset can also be seen in people who, say, always jump into new relationships convinced that the new romance will solve their frustration. 

The interesting part here is that Rollins sees these positions or postures toward the world as simply two different ways of responding to the same innate problem. The problem is that there is an inherent frustration in living, an incongruence between what we wish to be true and what actually is. Albert Camus referred to this incongruence as the Absurd while Sigmund Freud referred it as a dichotomy between the “pleasure principle” and the “reality principle.” 

Because of this incongruence, Rollins says, we are all living double lives. One life witnessing or hoping for things the way we want them and another seeing things as they actually are. He says that this becomes apparent in relationships in the sense that we are ultimately dating two people when we become involved with another person—we are dating them as they are and as we wish they were. 

However, Rollins explains that this frustration can be a good thing because it motivates us to take action. He tells a story about himself as an infant and how he didn’t speak or walk until very late because his older sister was so attentive to him—carrying him around and bringing him food whenever he wanted it. Because of this lack of frustration, he hypothesizes that he never felt a need to acquire these fundamental skills. It wasn’t until a speech therapist advised his mother to curb his sister’s attentiveness that he began to learn to talk and walk. 

A problem occurs, Rollins says, not with this innate dissatisfaction with life, but in the adoption of the Conservative or Revolutionary position and the resulting belief that life’s inherent frustration can be assuaged. As Freud says, “We are forged by the fires of frustration,” and attempting to put out that fire would be to our own detriment and ultimately futile.

This is why there is a third position which Camus called the Rebel. This position embraces the frustration—or the Absurd—and lives life within this, using dissatisfaction as fuel to act continuously and consciously. The ultimate difference being that the Rebel isn’t trying to satisfy their dissatisfaction but to be satisfied by their dissatisfaction. 

Rollins says that becoming the Rebel—or developing this mindset towards life—is only possible in healthy communities that allow for diversity of thought and a confrontation of the dominant ideology. In a healthy community, we can take the time to see the frustrating reality of life—our Absurd existence—and develop a personal and beneficial attitude towards it. 


  1. Peter Rollins. “Embracing the Lack.”
  2. Peter Rollins. “Pyrotheology: From Unraveling to Raveling.”
  3. Jason Valendy. “Satisfying Our Dissatisfaction.”
  4. Academy of Ideas. “Introduction to Camus: The Absurd, Revolt, and Rebellion.”

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