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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  • Posted by: - Dec. 22, 2005 7:44 AM ET USA

    For another look at the relationship between "shell and content", visit the Breviary, p.1248. St Peter Cansius SJ understood the relationship. Following the apostolic blessing, he underwent a profound spiritual experience. One really needs to stay close to Peter !

  • Posted by: Vincit omnia amor - Dec. 21, 2005 11:39 PM ET USA

    Yes, Fr. Rohr's stuff ain't quite as harmless as it might seem! He's been confusing and misleading folks for many-a-year now.

  • Posted by: visions - Dec. 21, 2005 8:02 PM ET USA

    Please allow me to introduce myself I'm man of wealth and taste I've been around for a long long year Stole many a man soul and faith..........

  • Posted by: Sir William - Dec. 21, 2005 4:59 PM ET USA

    No surprise that some Franciscans have gone to self-assured smugness through such pap. Many identify St Francis in the glassy-eyed haze of "Brother Sun Sister Moon" that made Francis into a flower-child sans the naked dancing to Joplin, rather than the obedient, humble man who demanded that his 3 Orders be obedient to the Church in all things. He was a man of great joy, but strict obedience-unto-death in imitation of Christ. Many in the order want the dancing but despise the song.

  • Posted by: - Dec. 21, 2005 12:48 PM ET USA

    "Peter is fine, but he was never meant to be a substitute for Jesus or the Gospel." Wow. Who knew? In other headlines, water boils at 212 degrees.

  • Posted by: - Dec. 21, 2005 9:28 AM ET USA

    Father Rohr, why did Jesus bother to give the keys to Peter, if we are just to go obove him, thinking we know better? That is how the protestants operate, they all think they know better than the Church Jesus instituted with Peter, as the Head, in the Holy Chair.This is why we have such a cafeteria of, do as you feel,so-called-relgious thinking. Christ's Institution provides us food for the Soul, Sacrifice of the Mass,so we can partake of Jesus in person. it is not just an "enchanting ritual".

  • Posted by: - Dec. 21, 2005 8:41 AM ET USA

    I just read some of the offerings on Fr. Rohr's website. It's harmless in itself. Not exactly Catholic, but harmless.

  • Posted by: - Dec. 21, 2005 4:05 AM ET USA

    Another, distressingly familiar, example of a pedestrian intellect who's attended too many "workshops" for his own good. Beneath the sick-making low-grade language (thank the Higher Being that he didn't use "privilege" as a verb) lies a deeply self-involved human being for whom any real work is infra dignatatum. Life, and religion, are what happens while others smile at their bellies in a mystical haze.

  • Posted by: - Dec. 20, 2005 8:03 PM ET USA

    I'd rather have obvious "bad-mouthing" of the Church than Rohr's "Institutional Christianity, and the Papacy in particular...can give you just enough of God to quite effectively inoculate you from any need or search for the real thing." This is more deceptive and therefor more dangerous than the obvious rant against the "Institutional" Church that he so disdains.

  • Posted by: - Dec. 20, 2005 3:17 PM ET USA

    Thanks for the distinction at the beginning between the ideologues and the squishies. When we deal with what's going on "out there" we battle the infidel ideologues. But in the day to day struggle, it is the squishies we see and meet. Many priests I know who were ordained here in 80s are in this camp. It is very hard to argue with because "issues" never matter... its all about cosmic unity. You have discussions with them and they deny you are disagreeing. Drives me nuts.

  • Posted by: - Dec. 20, 2005 1:43 PM ET USA

    Fr. Rohr is a little too touchy-feely for my taste but at least he is not badmouthing the Church per se as VOTF or We Are Church do. However, I know some followers of Fr. Rohr personally. These followers I know claim to "transcend" the Church and have "risen above it." One follower has even visited Fr. Rohr personally and says he is a very kind man; I have no reason to disbelieve this. His claim that "God" and "the real thing" being mutually exclusive is pretty twisted though.

  • Posted by: Vincit omnia amor - Dec. 20, 2005 1:08 PM ET USA

    see, it's not just the Jesuits!