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I am Richard. Hear me Rohr.

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Dec 20, 2005

If you spend much time visiting the feedlots of the Catholic Left --Commonweal, NCR, U.S. Catholic, etc. -- you've probably noticed therein two major "tendencies" (to use the Marxist jargon): on one side, a stern, pro-abort, pro-feminist, confrontational camp; on the other, a mushy, New Agey, laid-back contemplative camp. For a window into the mindset of the latter, you can hardly do better than the squishy Franciscan Richard Rohr. I don't believe I've ever read a clearer statement of gnosticism than this meditation, posted on his website:

If you want and need religion, I think the Papacy is rather excellent at providing just that. No one does it better, and it will continue to appeal to a large percentage of humanity, many young people, and then again at the end of life. Individuals need the container to get started; nations and cultures need religion to hold together. Institutional Christianity, and the Papacy in particular, will give you intellectual arguments, enchanting rituals, grand historical sweep, a fine belonging system, and a clear morality to give you pleasing ego boundaries. This will hold you together quite well. It works at deep and good levels. It can create the real beginnings of spiritual desire, as it did for me. But just remember, it can also give you just enough of God to quite effectively inoculate you from any need or search for the real thing. This is the normal pattern, in my experience. "I have no need for inner experience. I have outer assurances". In fact, I find a rather clear correlation between one's preoccupation with outer forms and one's lack of any inner substance.

The question for me is how much of your life do you want to give to maintaining, supporting, and cheering the container, and when do you get on to finding your real life and "giving it away"? Any preoccupation with exalting or maintaining Peter does not seem to be the least part of Jesus' teaching, but once you replace the contents with the container, Peter becomes your concern, your figurehead, your projection screen, even your vicarious salvation. Peter is fine, but he was never meant to be a substitute for Jesus or the Gospel.

"If you want and need religion ..." It's all there, isn't it? The sharp, invidious divisions: container vs. content, exterior forms vs. interior reality, plebeian morality vs. patrician enlightenment. Even the patronizing tone is perfect. Remember the unctuously condescending gnostic (Marcias, the tutor turned traveling mystic) in Waugh's Helena? Rohr all over.

Let me concede that there's a grain of truth in his picture. It does happen that some Christians content themselves with purely formal compliance with the concrete requirements of churchmanship and cultivate no interest in God. But Rohr doesn't see this as a defective adherence to religion but as the function of religion full stop. It's a place to begin, a ladder that you kick away once you've used it to climb to a higher plane: "Religion can create the real beginnings of spiritual desire, as it did for me."

Note that, for Rohr, it doesn't matter much which religion you begin with. He's not really interested in truth claims. Where Judaism and Catholicism and Hinduism disagree, they've all missed the point. This puts him at variance with the huge majority of the adherents of these religions, of course, as does his tellingly dismissive compliment paid to morality: it can give you "pleasing ego boundaries." I'm not sure what ego boundaries are exactly, but I suspect they're the kind of thing that fortuitously tend to dissolve in an all-men's bath house in the Castro district.

It's clear that Rohr's Higher Life is not markedly family friendly. Breeders -- those simple folks engaged in the messy and fatiguing struggle to pay school fees and dental bills and turn their children into Christian adults -- aren't going to find much sympathy from him. After all, they make considerable sacrifices to keep alive some remnant of the "institutional Christianity" that Rohr disdains, and put themselves to great trouble to connect their children with it. One feels Rohr would advise the family interested in God (as opposed to mere religion) to stay home on Sunday mornings and watch the Discovery Channel. I'm wryly amused by the image of a Catholic mom, stuffing her four young children into snowsuits, unstuffing the one who has to go to the bathroom, re-fitting him, cramming the family into the minivan, racing to church on icy roads, and arriving steamy and panting three minutes late for the start of Mass -- only to meet Father Rohr in the vestibule, with his superior half-smile: "Institutional Christianity, and the Papacy in particular, will give you intellectual arguments, enchanting rituals, grand historical sweep, a fine belonging system ..."

Bless me, Father.

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