Non-certainty and creativity

The retired psychoanalyst Patrick Casement has recently published a small book called Credo? In it he writes about not being sure – hence the question mark. Casement started his young adult life as a devoted theology student, to the extent of planning to become ordained, but then was horribly disillusioned by the insensitive response by the church to a life crisis that Casement was undergoing. Instead, he became a probation officer, before training and working for many years as a psychoanalyst, and over the years writing a number of books. The most famous is probably ‘Learning from the Patient’, which opens up the relationship between analyst and patient, and decries the tendency for psychoanalytic thinking to become self-perpetuating by insisting on the correct way to interpret according to set theory. Anyone who is too sure about religion or analytic work can quickly become someone who is sure that those who disagree must be in the wrong.

Alongside his work as an analyst, Casement has had a lifelong relationship with Christianity, calling himself a Christian agnostic. He understands how the appeal of certainty certainly has deep roots, for after all we seek for security wherever we can, and in the service of much needed security in an uncertain world we develop splits into good and bad. Casement writes on the psychological origins of this:

‘So, from the start, we have had to believe that we were being taken care of by the “best mother in the world”, regardless of anything that might bring that into question … in the service of that illusion we soon learned to split off whatever experience challenged that idea of security, thus inventing a “good” mother from whom only good could come, and a “bad” mother to whom all bad experiences could be attributed. Adult versions of these illusions can be found in the notion of idealised parents, which may also be projected onto God the Father and the Blessed Virgin Mary, over against the devil – that ultimate “not me” wicked one’.

As Rowan Williams writes in his recommendation of ‘Credo?’, ‘easy certainties set up a barrier against the full demands of difficult truths, the ways in which they teach us to live in a smaller world than we need for our health and sanity.’ Being certain and sure of things limits us – even if it appears to offer some sort of security. Instead, Casement favours a sureness around being present, and really listening to another person and respecting them, whilst recognising what it is in the other that can never be known.

Not-knowing both in psychoanalytic work and in religion can be creative, and lead to a living vital truth rather than a passive given truth. He sees non-certainty as different from uncertainty, it is not about indecision nor ignorance instead it is a positive choice to remain, for the time being, non-certain. Casement points us to the word for ‘certainty’ in Sanskrit which is the same as the word for ‘imprisonment’ – whilst the word for non-certainty’ is the same as the word for ‘freedom’.