I Hide the Truth From You so That I Can Hide it From Myself

posted 3/2/13

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Hegel provides a theoretical frame that enables us to understand why State apparatus can continue to operate effectively even when few, if any, of the people participating in it actually believe in it. In other words, going through the rituals (marches, services etc.) without subjective connection with the ideology. As Zizek would say, the State is treated here as a subject supposed-not-to-know, a subject who has to be shielded from the truth of our disbelief. This then helps those who participate to avoid directly confronting their disbelief and undergoing the difficult work that would need to be done in the aftermath (revolutionary reconfiguration). It thus enables us to maintain the status quo.

A good way of understanding this structure is to go to a nightclub at the weekend and watch how the club becomes a subject supposed-not-to-know (about our loneliness, broken hearts or lack of fulfillment etc.). How many of those in the room enact the rituals expected enthusiastically without actually subjectively embodying them in order to avoid the difficult work that would need to be done if enacting the disbelief. Or to take a different example, we can see this in the way that God functions for many within the world of contemporary worship music. Here God is treated as a subject supposed-not-to-know about our doubt, brokenness etc. By singing songs that claim we are happy, fulfilled and utterly devoted we protect the Big Other from seeing the truth of our inner antagonisms  The more frenetically we sing the more we attempt to conceal the truth from this Big Other. In this way we are able to avoid the difficult work that would be involved in directly confronting the tensions in our subjective world. As such, churches and nightclubs can offer the same psychological support for us and thus can both be considered as a form of religious activity: an activity designed to sustain a subject over and above us who protects us from our own conflicts.

12 Responses to I Hide the Truth From You so That I Can Hide it From Myself

  1. Tom says:

    Pete,

    I recently read The Idolatry of God and thoroughly enjoyed it. It challenged many of my underlying assumptions.

    Do you have any advice about raising children?

    I have three young children. Part of me wants them to grow up in church, but I’m also hesitant to lead them into religion since I know it is deceptive and ultimately destructive. My wife and I grew up in church. We find it paradoxically ineffective with dealing with reality in most circumstances. Yet we can’t quite give up on it all together.

    Any resources you could recommend regarding children and religion?

    Thanks for your sincerity and diligence in the important work you’ve set out to accomplish.

    My best,

    Tom

    • Michael Sherman says:

      Tom,
      I am a pastor with 4 children. I share your concern. The responsibility is yours as it is mine with my children. My children know the underlying truth of the things we do at church. They know more than most of the adults because they haven’t had enough time to build as solid and permanent idols as the adults. I tell them they are right. I tell them church is boring. I tell them it is their responsibility to make it what they think it should be. I offer any assistance I can give, but acknowledge that what they know and see is absolutely true.

  2. Todd Erickson says:

    Which is interesting, in that many people talk about going to church specifically to attain a state where they are energized and hopeful about the week to come; because they have participated in the music and heard the affirming message, they are then built up so that they can survive being broken down by the week ahead.

    But what has failed within the Christian life so that the only purpose of church is to keep daily, normal life from destroying us? How is the power of Christ, or the relationship with the creator, so empty that only Sunday can truly protect us?

  3. Dave Recker says:

    I have come to the conclusion that the church has become like a Jiffy Lube business. You go on Sundays and get a lube job to get you through till next Sunday. If we want to be fulfilled we would do best by serving others in some way through the week.

  4. Joel Hafvenstein says:

    Pete – I haven’t read Zizek or Lacan, which may be why I don’t understand what’s gained here by thinking of the State or nightclub (or even God, I suppose) as the subject that we strive to hide things from.

    I get that clubbers may use the social, ecstatic rituals of the club as a way of hiding loneliness from themselves and each other… but are they also trying to hide their emptiness from “The Club” in some meaningful sense? I see the role of ritual in papering over disbelief, but not where the “subject over and above us” comes into it.

    In the other examples, I can see how self-deception inevitably implies lying to/hiding truth from the State or God. But the way you phrased it makes it seem like deceiving the “subject supposed-not-to-know” is primary — that in some way we need a big external “You” to hide the truth from, if we’re going to hide it effectively from ourselves.

    And I’m not sure I see that. Sure, in conventional worship songs we try to conceal our brokenness from God as well as from ourselves. But aren’t they primarily about hiding it from ourselves? You’ve elsewhere compared worship music to (other) pop radio music. Don’t they perform a similar function here? And perform that function whether we’re singing them to God (a Big Other), in a karaoke bar (witnessed by lots of Little Others), or simply in our heads to reassure ourselves?

    “The more frenetically we sing, the more we attempt to conceal the truth from…” … well, from us, I would have thought. And only secondarily and implicitly the subject(s) we’re singing to. But if you have time, I’d be delighted to hear more about the added insight we gain by introducing a Big Other as the subject we’re desperate to deceive.

  5. Toy Adams says:

    “The Church is a whore, but she is my mother.”

  6. Margaret says:

    I agree totally that we all involve ourselves in things to try and kid ourselves we are not lonely, broken etc. I suppose a version of “fake it to make it” exists which may work if we are dealing with a transitory bad mood or something not very important. Real brokeness needs a lot of hard work, and you cannot begin that hard work without facing up to who and where you are. All agreed.

    I also agree that the church, with some very notable exceptions, fails totally to go into the difficult areas and keeps us in this song-induced drug-bubble. My problem is this: where else do you go? Whatever else, the church has kept an awareness of God and the message of Jesus alive and accessible to a lot of people. If, in the interests of truth, we close down the 95% of the church which is not doing what God meant it to do, it will be very difficult indeed for the remaining 5% to keep alive that faith which Jesus brought. There will be spirituality abounding, but the danger will be that it will be as much the supermarket serve me stuff already prevalent. However bad the church is – and I am continually disillusioned by it and its people -it does have a place where sacrifice, discipline metanoia, evil etc can be met and dealt with. Where else would such things be held in one place and so readily accessible to those who look for them?

  7. Charis Varnadore says:

    Walter Kaufmann in a lecture on S. Kierkegaard stated that the larger the church becomes, the less effective it will be. And of course, he is correct since a large mass of people (community?) can be dealt with only on an abstract level through activities such as music, etc that can never address the issues of the individual, or the small groups that define community. By the way, the word “community” should no longer be used in today’s church since it is too crowded in today’s assemblies. Charis

  8. Helmut says:

    The Great Other – whether It is called Nature or Nature’s God – is always your opponent, not your refuge or sustenance. And the very perception and conception of difference, or Otherness, is the sign that the Godless ego-”I”, rather than Truth, is the presumed basis of conscious existence.

    Every separate ego-”I” or self-possessed body-mind, is always involved in a passionate and mortal struglle with the objectified Other.

    Every ego-”I” is active as the opponent of all opponents, but there is no final victory. And every opposition is an irrational and fruitless search for equanimity, peace, and love.

    The ego-”I” is inherently, always, and irrationally (or meaninglessly) opposed. The “other” is always an opponent in effect, if not by intention. The ego-”I” is confronted by binding forces, and it is itself a force that is tending to bind every “other”.

    The “other” and the ego-”I” are mad relations, always together in the growling pit, bound by Nature and the State too, to do Nature’s deeds to one another. And as experience increases, it begins to become clear that Nature itself (and the State too) is an Immense Pattern that always seeks and inevitably attains superiority, dominance, and destruction of every part and self.

    I the case of the State, and the power-and-control pattern created by it, the potential for destruction is amplified as technology becomes more and more powerful.

    Welcome to the (potentially) catastrophic pattern created by the military-industrial-”entertainment”/propaganda complex! The inevitable end-time result of a now world-wide “culture” based on the inherently destructive presumption of the Big Other.

  9. Pingback: Are Churches Any Better Than Nightclubs? (hint: if the obvious choice were the right answer I wouldn’t have written this)

  10. Pingback: Are Churches Any Better Than Nightclubs? (hint: if the obvious ... - musicBlogs

  11. Wes says:

    I was listening to the song “Do you really like being alone” by Manchester Orchestra while reading this post. Sweet serendipity.

    “And I tried hard to sing like they did
    With my arms raised in the air I was praising
    You said that when we died it would send
    But even baby Jesus knew that I was faking.”

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