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Credo? Religion and psychoanalysis, by Patrick Casement

30 April 2021

Anne C. Holmes reads about a living truth

IN THIS distillation of previous writings, Patrick Casement has gathered a lifetime of reflection on the relationship between religion and psychoanalysis, including his own spiritual journey. Having thought that he had published his last book on psychoanalysis, he was encouraged by his grandson to publish this “mini-book”, and it is a gem.

Having read theology and considered training for the priesthood, he records his early deep disappointment with both a religious and a senior priest, who failed him at a time of personal crisis. He turned his back on a Church that could be so pastorally inept. His vocation took him to train as a psychoanalyst, a setting in which he has challenged any tendency towards too rigid an adherence to theory or the right to interpret the inner world of patients.

His six decades of practice have been marked by a willingness to listen to and learn from his patients, and by publishing various books and speaking at several conferences, he has greatly influenced many practitioners.

While Casement distanced himself from the institutional Church, he continued to raise questions of belief and to challenge the limits of human answers, whether within religious or psychoanalytic contexts. The result of his questioning was to discover that doubt and faith go hand in hand if one is to find a belief in God that is more than a human projection.

From his rejection of the Church, he became a “questioning agnostic” until he identified a “Resurrection Principle”. By this he means a sequence in both nature and human experience, whereby new life grows out of death. The path to this is via “not-knowing”; he cites both Winnicott and Bion, distinguished psychoanalysts who affirmed the importance of meeting individual patients each session without “memory, desire or understanding”. He arrived at the idea of “no-certainty”, as the only protection from binary beliefs. One telling comment after his critique of Christian narratives that focus on fear is to say that where “superstition reigns, there will more often be full churches”. Truth can be only provisional.

Commended by Rowan Williams for its insight that learning about a living rather than passive truth comes from being listened to and held in attention, this deserves to be read by all thoughtful people, especially those in ministry.

The Revd Dr Anne C. Holmes, a former NHS mental-health chaplain, works as a psychotherapist and SSM in the diocese of Oxford.


Credo? Religion and psychoanalysis
Patrick Casement
Aeon Books £9.99
Church Times Bookshop £9

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