The Cynic & the Fool: The Unconscious in Theology & Politics is available today.
Immediately after publishing God Is Unconscious, I knew I’d write another. I wanted something more accessible, more personal, and not for my academic fields alone. I was beginning dissertation research and had all this new information that I wanted more than just my committee to see. I would soon start teaching undergraduates, and I wanted a book any of my students could find helpful. So three months after GIU was published, I sat down to draft The Cynic & the Fool.
I organized the book around a simple question: when we hear a claim that cannot possibly be true, (1) is the false claim pouring forth from the misinformed yet honest fool, or (2) is the claim being twisted by a cynical nihilist who knows perfectly well how to manipulate and mislead? A quote was stuck in my head: “The fundamental problem of political philosophy is still precisely…’Why do men fight for their servitude as stubbornly as though it were their salvation?’”
But I kept stumbling through examples which seemed perfectly irrelevant at the time. I explored how delusional news stories and conspiratorial thinking operate, though these were seldom in the public conversation. I covered theories of populism, fearing it was wasted page space since America hadn't had a genuine populist movement in decades. I wrote of the aggressive drive of white supremacy, the enjoyment of cruelty in American religion, and the theological investment we put in empty symbols, which leads us to praise hypocrisy as a virtue rather than vice. For the first time, I cautiously wrote of losing a job as a pastor when my understanding of LGBT persons matured. I wrote about economics, debt, and our repetitive demand for lower pay and fewer services. I explored how widespread apocalypticism ensures the world will burn not from the fire of heaven but instead from the heat of carbon. I wrote about the Evangelical-Capitalist resonance machine—how do we understand the former’s enjoyment in being the puppet of the latter? How can we analyze our crises when we not subjects who desire knowledge but instead subjects who blindly desire? I hesitated over so many stories, arguments, and examples I feared would seem unnecessary at best or indefensibly paranoid at worst.
I feel a mix of excitement and horror at my work now. I wrote that first draft in May 2015. A month later, a certain business mogul would declare his candidacy, and ever since this question—knave or idiot?—proliferates in the background of the chaos.