by Peter Rollins
July 15, 2014
In my last book there’s an interesting typo on the back cover. While Tony Jones assures me that he wrote, “If you don’t want you’re faith to be challenged, don’t read this book,” you will see on the back,
If you don’t want you’re faith to be challenged, do read this book
In [psycho]analysis, the analyst listens carefully and patiently for the precise moment when the person on the couch stumbles, makes a slip, or hesitates. For it is at these moments that an unconscious truth is potentially being spoken. Ironically, it is precisely such slips of the tongue that the person on the couch attempts to dismiss with phrases like, “that’s not what I meant,” “or I just made a basic mistake.” Here they spoke something without intending it, they confessed something without meaning it, and the clinical work of analysis bears witness to the fact that such unintended sayings can act as a royal road to some undisclosed, and often unpleasant, truth. Hence psychoanalysis is a discipline that listens out for what everybody else ignores, passes over or just plain fails to see.
So what if we were to put The Idolatry of God on the couch and ask what this mistake (what is called a “sic” in publishing) might mean? Of course it is highly unlikely to be intended by anyone involved in bringing the book to press. The copy/editor would have no reason to do it on purpose, and the editors where unlikely to have left it in for the sake of malice. Indeed I’m very sure that I was shown a copy of the back cover before it went to print, and I certainly didn’t see the mistake.
Just like in daily life, the relatively large number of people looking at the book before its publication missed the slip entirely. Indeed, more than this, I’ve never once had anyone mention it to me, which leads me to suspect that there is virtually no one in the world who has actually noticed it.
But what truth might be held in this unseen Freudian publishing mistake?
I want to throw out one possible interpretation, and it’s this. The book itself is attempting to ask people to question their fundamental way of being in the world. Not just religious people, but those who describe themselves as secular (though the book is more aimed at the former). It’s making a demand… and the demand is to overturn our pursuit of wholeness and mastery so that we might find liberation through embracing a fractured existence without guarantees.
But what if this is precisely the kind of book one can read so as to broadly avoid such a fundamental change and maintain the status quo? What if many people read me precisely to feel a little bit edgy without having to actually do the work that I am asking? This is a point that Katharine Moody insightfully glimpsed in an article entitled “Becoming Church Mice: From Refusing to Lead to Refusing to be Led.” Here she writes,
"Rollins’… courses like Atheism for Lent and The Omega Course [were] courses designed to send people off course. They were not so much offered as courses to be faithfully replicated than [to be] inspiration… to depart from Rollins’ courses and create their own… His work tries to recall us to the fact that we are all poets, all singer-songwriters and story-tellers. For… [we] all weep and pray, all doubt and disbelieve, are all a/theistic. The community of faith is called to be a community of Poets… rather than of Critics. We are to all enter into this Crucifixion experience fully ourselves… But… in a reversal of the function of many other church leaders who believe on behalf of the community, are we letting Rollins disbelieve on behalf of the community?" [Italics mine]
In other words, by reflecting upon the smashing of the idols are we really just doing the equivalent of having a nice daydream in which we imagine being freed from a horrible job so that we can wake up refreshed and actually go to it?
For dreams, at their worst, act to make our reality bearable.
Yet, perhaps an alternative is possible. For dreams, at their best, can lead into a fight where we struggle to change our reality.
Rendering it into something wonderful.