Apr 23, 2015
Apr 13, 2015
Mar 30, 2015
[image from ukbloke]
HOW TO PROPERLY LIE
One theme I develop in my new book God Is Unconscious is that political/religious dynamics often press leaders into the roles of either a 1) fool or 2) cynical knave. Can we know whether a liar is an honest fool or a cynical opportunist? Does the mode of operation tell us anything about the populism supporting the lie?
In psychoanalytic theory, the lie closely associates with ambiguity (“I don’t really know what I meant”) and mistakes (“I swear I didn’t mean what I just said!”). It isn’t done consciously, but wherever you find one element of the triad, you quickly find the other two entangled. The triad is further bound up with two more: frustration/aggressiveness/regression and inhibition/symptom/anxiety.
“Our faith in others betrays in what respect we would like to have faith in ourselves.” - Nietzsche
You reap what you sow, and the extremist leader is very often pressed into a cynical relationship to the truth. Much of my recent research examines the far Right’s dependence on stoking conspiratorial thought. The examples are so many: climate denialism, death panels, the intent of Common Core, IRS targeting, Benghazi, the Obama Kenyan/Muslim theories, concerns about sharia law, and, in this case, Christianity as a persecuted faith. With very few exceptions, we simply don’t see this addiction within liberalism or the Left. After enough air-time on Fox, conspiracy theories become a shibboleth the Right-wing politician must either 1) actually believe, 2) pretend to believe, or else 3) be excommunicated as a RINO.
EVANGELICAL-CAPITALIST RESONANCE (AND ITS DISCONTENTS)
The political theorist William Connolly uses the term Evangelical-capitalist resonance machine. Identities are continually re-invigorated by stoking our investment in the “controversy of the day.” Wall Street judges Evangelicals as useful idiots, while Evangelicals (at least, in theory) may judge Wall Street for greed or moral bankruptcy, but the two can work as allies since their very different doctrines share a future-denying affinity. As Connolly explains, “[Capital] discounts its responsibilities to the future of the earth to vindicate extreme economic entitlement now, while [Evangelicalism] does so to prepare for the day of judgement agains nonbelievers. These electrical charges resonate back and forth, generating a political machine much more potent than the aggregation of its parts.” So instead of thinking of economy as merely creating folk ideologies, Connolly sees the relationship as a resonance. The two aren’t equals—only one can be the Master.
To their credit, it doesn’t seem Evangelicals are generally aware of either 1) how this strategy plays or 2) the grossly immoral results. Small gods don't have big hearts: one thing that’s always lost on dogmatic religious types is how truly deplorable the supposed founder of their faith found the dogmatic religious types. I grew up in Arkansas where HB1228 is being debated now, the implications of which are identical to Indiana’s “religious liberty” bill. It’s tremendously encouraging to see friends protesting the doublespeak, but power dynamics normally ensure a harmful view wins by default.
Even if/when these laws are overturned, the weight of evidence is always put on those who desire equality rather than those who aim to restrict rights. They win by rephrasing in legal or moral terms, but of course—and this is really important to acknowledge—nobody “experiences” themselves as a bigot. They’re just reporting what the big Other said, and they definitely have a gay friend. To keep the stars aligned in his favor, the Master continually stokes the resentments of straight/white/Protestant/patriarchal entitlement. This ends with what Nietzsche called ressentiment, a perpetually toxic state of reactionary hostility.
Entitlement-stoking flies under the radar under the auspices that we have only the options of 1) Left, 2) Right, and 3) the socially-prized, lukewarm souls who “see how both sides have a point.” Never mind that America does not actually have a major political party pushing policies traditionally considered Left-leaning. The “both sides have a point” position sounds thoughtful but, in fact, always concedes a disguised advantage to the Right (because half-way between the liberal centrism and the far Right is still…guess what?). In other words, if a progressive speaks her opinion that LGBT discrimination is “bigoted,” this is always considered far more inflammatory than when a conservative actually acts to withhold basic human rights.
IT IS WHAT THEY ARE PAID TO DO
In psychotherapy, the analyst should always guard against “understanding too much.” When we enter someone else’s fiction (“I understand how you can see the world that way”), we risk becoming grafted into a defense mechanism. There isn’t a singular reason why people despise LGBT persons—there is a resonance of reasons, but to argue away one of those reasons will only make way for a new reason to jump in. Those who haven’t the eyes to see will not suddenly see.
To wrap this up, let’s go back to the fool/cynic theme of politicians and religious clerics. It’s easier to see if you think about how the expected hysteria from Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity differ from the hesitations of Chris Hayes or Rachael Maddow. Or consider how Glenn Beck occasionally admits he is playing a character and doesn’t necessarily believe his propaganda; this does not hurt his bottom line as an entertainer. This is how I put it in my chapter on political psychopathology:
“Is this not exactly the frustration we have with the liberal pundit mocking the supposed foolishness of the extremist politician? The position of the liberal pundit during an interview with an extremist is usually a choice between (1) insulting the guest’s position by exposing the disturbing conclusion of a line of thought or (2) countering, in a manner ironically recalling William F. Buckley’s famous refrain, ‘I will not insult your intelligence by suggesting you really believe what you just said.’ … Whereas the conservative pundit has an expected party line, the position of the liberal is always unsure. As viewers we intuitively understand the language game signaling to the respective sides, but the liberal pundit perfectly displays this (ultimately quite anxious) desire to believe in the direct sense.”
One can be skeptical, informed, and even cynical about politics and still (perhaps foolishly) desire a leader who believes in contributing to the common good. Whether skeptical or foolish, something in us draws us to leaders projecting the ethical certainty we never attain (of course, neither do the leaders). On the other hand, the fool—who desires to hear what his itching ears will hear—will always find a knave who will lie to him. Maybe figures like Pence (or Cruz, Huckabee, and the like) actually believe their own rhetoric, but I doubt it. Toxic does not always mean stupid, and I’m trying to give their well-concealed critical thinking capacities the benefit of a doubt. They are well-educated and perfectly adept at navigating the upper echelons of the society they inhabit. They have a role to play, and if I had to bet, they know their skill set favors the vindictive. It is what they are paid to do.
If you want to read more on this, the book is God Is Unconscious: Psychoanalysis and Theology.
“Tad DeLay's wonderfully written book on the interface of theology/religion and psychoanalysis, God is Unconscious: Psychoanalysis & Theology (Wipf and Stock, 2015) is a fascinating recollection and meditation of the discipline's unfolding into the intellectual worlds of the 20th and 21st centuries. I identify the work as a 'book' because I have not decided just what genre the book should be received into; and that could be a good thing. I recall that Michel Foucault once said his major works were more like novels than philosophy. I'll therefore stick with 'book,' though genealogy, novel or rhapsody would work just as well.”
Mar 16, 2015
You can now order my first book God Is Unconscious: Psychoanalysis & Theology at Amazon. For those interested in reviewing the book, we will have details soon.
A theory of the unconscious is such an odd thing to write about, first because the unconscious itself is not something that exists at all but rather insists. It's a fiction with a potential, not a hidden tier of synaptic connection in the way that most people talk about “subconscious” motives. It’s a method of speaking indirectly to schematize behavioral repetition and patterns of thought, a way of showing every attempt at meaning or tribalism becomes infused with a false consciousness retroactively justified with limitless creativity all for the purpose of propping up a semblance of security.
Second, as the subtitle suggests, I am crossing not one but two theories of fictions, and instead of privileging one over the other I let them expose one another with the hope of producing more than the sum of their parts. And third, almost by definition, you can’t write about psychoanalysis without saying more than you mean to say about yourself. That’s unusual for an academic work, and it scares me a little, but it makes the project all the more personal to me. I researched this book during a very challenging time, and it's to those friends who were there while I researched, processed, outlined, wrote, edited, and rewrote this project that I owe this book’s completion.
So to just a few of you:
To Kester, you took an interest in my work early on and were the first to tell me over and over “write that book!” Back when it was merely an embryonic idea in my first year of doctoral work, I couldn’t imagine anyone would care what I had to say. You convinced me it was time to store the material in a book and launch it out into the world. You hosted me in London and talked through so many of the early ideas over late nights on your patio. You care so deeply about your friends, and you have a natural curiosity that I hope I can always emulate.
To Clayton, you went out on a limb and vouched for me back when you barely knew me. You’ve been a perfect academic mentor, always happy to be a sounding-board, and you’ve given feedback on talks and the early manuscript. Beyond your scholarship which clearly influences mine, I’ve seen how much your students genuinely love you, and that’s the kind of professor I hope to be. You have a reputation in our circles for enthusiastically supporting everyone you can, and I can vouch for that.
To Pete, in addition to writing the forward, you’ve been a constant source of encouragement with talking about how you conduct your work. It’s odd to think I started reading you within a week or so of beginning to read philosophy so long ago in my undergrad days, and it was your first book that put me on the path of seeing some nascent potential in applying philosophy to my interests in religion. I suppose I’m saying that this is your fault! We really only happened to become friends around the time I started writing this, and you’ve been there for me to the final product.
To Jack, I don’t know if you’ll even see this, but I have a lot of respect for you and couldn't tell you how much it’s meant to me to talk through my ideas with such a great mind. I’ll never forget talking late into the evenings at the bar in Cheltenham, and even though we have different opinions on psychoanalysis, you have been nothing but gracious and encouraging wherever we have had time to catch up. I started my reading in this field of radical theology with your books in my first year of seminary, and what I have produced four years later is indebted to your work.
To a great group of friends in Los Angeles and back home—Steven & Kelli, Keegan, Shane, Luanne, Billie & Rob, several Nates, Tim, Zach, Lucas, Sean, Barry, Tripp, and Bo—you all were there for me during the period where I was processing the material that is now in book form. You all are among the very few who know me well enough to see exactly where my work—ostensibly about psychoanalysis and theology—is often enough just my attempt to process who I am.
To the Wipf & Stock crew, you all put up with the revisions and questions that only a brand new author can panic about. And thanks to Dave, who said “hey, I know this publisher I can introduce you to.” And to Jesse, I never imagined I would see so many people online, who know nothing about me or my work, becoming interested based purely on such a great first stab at a design. You all are great at what you do.
And finally Deven, you’ve been there through wins and setbacks throughout the whole time we’ve been together. You edited the manuscript and offered so much feedback to the point that you probably deserved your name on the cover given the amount of re-writing we did together. As a fellow educator who cares deeply about making the world a better place and who works so hard to make it so, you are the first to remind me that nothing we do matters if it doesn’t translate to enrich the common good. You have supported me and believed in me all the way to the finish, and I couldn’t ask for a better partner.
There are probably another fifty or so who have helped with questions, promoted my work online, responded to my talks, and encouraged me to run with this odd line of scholarship simply by helping me believe this material matters to people. You all are the best.
Mar 6, 2015
Feb 27, 2015
While Amazon is temporarily out of stock of my book, my publisher is offering a 40% discount if you order directly from the publisher’s website ($11.40 as opposed to Amazon’s $19) using the promo code “DELAY”.
I know this does nothing for my friends outside the US, but Amazon should be supplied in all regional markets in the next week or two!
Of course you can still pre-order on Amazon if you wish.
Peter Rollins discusses my book here.
Feb 23, 2015
I am very pleased to announce that my first book God Is Unconscious: Psychoanalysis & Theology is now available for order! It will be available through Amazon and elsewhere for international orders in the next few weeks, but you can order it now at the publisher's site.
“Slow reading can bear fruits that are inaccessible to those who merely skim an author. DeLay has read Lacan diligently and searchingly, and he has come up with some important insights into the complex relationship of psychoanalysis, religion, and theology. Students of religion will profit from his clear and careful exposition of Lacan’s rich and provocative thought. And students of Lacan will come to understand why only theologians can be truly atheistic: our loyalties for deities come and go, but the true Other is neither in need of defense nor threatened by our disloyalties.” - Ingolf U. Dalferth
“Tad DeLay has bravely explored and mapped the notoriously difficult territory of Lacan that others have only dared to read about second-hand. We should not only salute his courage but be hugely grateful for the gifts he has returned within this rich and important book at the bleeding edge of psychoanalysis and theology.” - Kester Brewin
“God Is Unconscious is a brilliant and accessible overview of Lacan’s thought, demonstrating how it directly applies to religion and politics. DeLay develops an original understanding of perversion and how it applies to contemporary conservative Christianity. Anyone interested in understanding how religion works in social, political, and psychological terms should read this book.” - Clayton Crockett
Feb 16, 2015
“Our faith in others betrays in what respect we would like to have faith in ourselves.” - Nietzsche
“It is when the Word is incarnated that things really start going badly.” - Lacan
“The underside of a signifier’s power to tell us who we are contains an ever-present, if only latent, power to construct the most unforgivable narratives. And so in our twenties or thirties we enter therapy to begin to discern what happened to us in our earlier years. We imagine we begin the process for any number of reasons, but the psychoanalysts raised the idea that all these reasons are derivatives of two—and ultimately only two—reasons we seek this solution. First, we feel separated by a constitutive and fundamental lack in ourselves and suspect we will never be loved, accepted, or known as fully as we wish. Second, our alienation ensures we shall never fully escape our history, and it is profoundly disturbing to realize the best and the worst experiences mold us in ways beyond our control. We are irrevocably the symptom of the experiences shaping our desire, and we cannot regress to a neutral state of non-conditioned naïveté.
Our alienation begins the moment we learn as infants that there rules of the house we are powerless to protest. This trace inscription evolves into an elaborate latticework of self-imposed injunctions that shape our identities. Like the old Stalinist motto—the more you profess your innocence, the more you deserve to be shot—the more we obediently submit to the superego crafted precariously from our parents and friends, our political economies and our books, our demons and our gods, the more we are under its judgment. We live in the aftermath of the signifier’s incarnation, we adopt our psychopathological dispositions, and we anxiously feel the gaze of what became called the ‘big Other.’”
Feb 13, 2015
This is a separate project I've been waiting for, and I am pleased to announce this book's release today. It is truly an honor to share space with John Caputo, Catherine Keller, Brian McLaren, Clayton Crockett, Peter Rollins, Barry Taylor and plenty of other brilliant people. So many in this group have become friends over the last two years, and I am excited to see this out.
Order from Amazon.
Special thanks to Erin and Ryan Schendzielos along with Micah Purnell.