Rick:Welcome to Buddha at the Gas Pump. My name is Rick Archer. Buddha at the Gas Pump is an ongoing series of conversations with spiritually awakening people. We’ve done nearly 600 of them now and if this is new to you and you’d like to check out previous ones, please go to batgap.com, B-A-T-G-A-P, and look under the past interviews menu. This program is made possible through the support of appreciative listeners and viewers, so if you appreciate it and like to help support it, there’s a PayPal button on every page of the website. My guest today is Father Richard Rohr. Father Rohr is a Franciscan priest, founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and academic dean of the Center for Action and Contemplation’s Living School. An internationally recognized author and spiritual leader, Father Richard teaches primarily on incarnational mysticism, non-dual consciousness, and contemplation, with a particular emphasis on how these affect the social justice issues of our time. His work has been featured on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday and Krista Tippett’s On Being and in the New York Times and so forth. So thank you, Richard, for doing this. I’ve wanted to talk to you for a long time, so I’m glad we were able to do it.
Richard: I’m happy to be with you. Thank you.
Rick: Thank you. I thought we might start with a bang by zooming out to the biggest perspective we could have and then getting more into the details after that. So here we go. So I’m always inspired by astronomy. I have my desktop pictures, pictures of galaxies and stuff that just keep changing every few minutes. Right now I’m looking at Nebulae as I’m talking to you. And as you know, for most of the history of Christianity, people thought that the earth was the only inhabited planet in the center of a very small universe and that Jesus was its exclusive Savior. And the Church dealt harshly with Galileo and Giordano Bruno and others who dared to suggest a vaster astronomy. Now we suspect that there may be trillions of inhabited planets in a vast universe and even multiple universes. Jesus couldn’t possibly be on a road trip to save all of them, but I think your definition of Christ helps to resolve the obvious dilemma this might create for some Christians. What do you think about that?
Richard: Okay, where do I start? You’ve obviously read the Universal Christ, right?
Rick: I have.
Rick: Let me just hold it up here and show people. This is Richard’s latest book, The Universal Christ.
Richard: Catholic and Protestant. And this isn’t just to be clever, but they tend to think of Christ as Jesus’ last name. They put him just automatically together as if he was born of Mr. and Mrs. Christ. And as you know, Christ as a title means the Anointed One, our Mesach, Messiah in Hebrew. Unless we recognize when a Christian makes a faith affirmation, “I believe in Jesus Christ,” he’s actually without knowing it, making two different levels of affirmation. The second one he doesn’t tend to know about. The first one is to Jesus, as the evangelicals would put it, as my personal Lord and Savior. It’s rather chummy and personal and sweet, and I don’t mean that as a put-down. It’s a great and necessary start for most people, because that’s how love starts. But the Christ is a universal concept that existed from all eternity. In our language today; from the moment of the Big Bang. Whenever God decided to materialize, show the God Self, reveal the innards of God, that was the birth of the Christ. Now our word for that is the Big Bang, but lest you think I’m unscriptural, this is rather clear, actually, if you go back with that recognition, in the first chapter of John, the first chapter of Colossians, the first chapter of Ephesians, the first chapter of 1st John. It’s always the first, where they do what you’re doing right here. They start with the great big cosmic Christ, and then narrow in on the personal Jesus. So let me sum it up this way. Jesus is how your religion becomes personal, concrete, situational, now, here. Christ is the universalization of that same love, that same grace, that same gift of God. So they’re both brilliant, really, but you have the best of all when you have both. And the second has not been explained to 99% of Christians. I’m lucky, as you mentioned, that I’m a Franciscan, and because of Francis’s love of brother Sun, sister Moon, brother Fox, sister Fire, brother Wind, everything was relational for him. Our school of theology, starting in the 13th century, always had a cosmic notion of the Christ, along with the personal notion of Jesus. But we were a subtext inside of Catholicism. We weren’t the main line. But the wonderful thing was, we were never condemned as heretics. Francis was just so humble, he knew how to slide around the Roman authorities and the Inquisition, and we got scot-free, you know. But the trouble, the sad thing for Western civilization is, our whole Protestant tradition, as wonderful and needed as it is, almost never had any notion of the Universal Christ. It’s rare among Protestant theologians. It’s more commonly found in Eastern Orthodoxy. So Eastern Orthodoxy, Franciscanism, and much of Celtic spirituality, which was outside the Roman Empire, as you know, we enjoyed this cosmic, ever-present, omnipresent notion of God. There, now nail me down to explain that more, but that’s the big picture.
Rick: Yeah, good. I remember when I saw Franco Zeffirelli’s Brother Sun, Sister Moon, I don’t know how accurate that movie was, but it had a really profound effect on me. I couldn’t even get out of my seat in the theater.
Richard: Many people have told me that.
Rick: Yeah, I felt so zoomed out, you know, so , I felt that sort of cosmicness and it was hard to talk or anything afterwards. Great movie. I also loved his Jesus of Nazareth series.
Rick: Well, what you just described fits with my understanding of what enlightenment is, which is, in the Eastern context, which is the integration of the universal with the individual, so that both can sort of be a living reality and one can function in the world and yet be cosmic at the same time.
Richard: You named it. That’s what we’ve lacked. And the big price we’ve paid for it, Rick, is our lack of earth care, lack of a good theology of sexuality, anything to do with embodiment, physicality, and least of all, not least of all, we haven’t known how to universalize Jesus’ message. It became a tribal religion, which is exactly, in my opinion, what he wanted to break us out of with Judaism. He loved his Jewish religion and was dedicated to it, but he felt, it seems to me, that it was too tribal. And he and Paul tried to make it universal with little success, because consciousness, and really until the last century, has been tribal. And we’ve only begun to move out of that. So we couldn’t understand things without the help of a new cosmology. We needed quantum physics. We needed that picture of the Nebula in front of you, like you have, to suddenly realize that we need a God at least as big as the universe. And if Jesus just came to save this one little planet Earth, it’s a horrible misuse of God’s time. I mean, God is very inefficient. What about all the rest? So I’m very happy you have the picture of the Nebula in front of you. It just keeps us humble and keeps God big. And if you have both of those, you’re off to a good start.
Rick: Yeah. I don’t know if you’ve met Michael Dowd personally, but you quoted him in your
Richard: Oh yes, he’s been here to visit me twice.
Rick: Good, yeah, and I’ve interviewed him. He has a favorite quote from Carl Sagan about how, you know, the discoveries of science shouldn’t be a threat to religion. It should actually be an inspiration to them because it would help them realize that God is much more than they thought he was, even more profound, more significant, you know?
Richard: And you’d think that would make people excited, wouldn’t you? But we want a God that we can control, a God who is for us, and I’m sad to say; against anything that is not us, however your group defines us. That’s why we have racism still, why we have homophobia, why we have – well, go down the whole list – sexism. It’s always pulled into a small box.
Rick: I was just laughing because I saw Sister Jean on TV today praying for her particular team. Thank God, help them shoot baskets. – Yes, she must be a very loving woman from what I hear.
Rick: She’s delightful.
Richard: That’s the only way to make friends in this world. You’ve got to be at the tribal team level, and then your team loves you. Whereas people like Jesus, who love everybody, have a whole bunch of enemies. They always do.
Rick: Does it say somewhere in the Bible that God is omnipresent?
Richard: Oh, it would be all through the Bible, actually. But it doesn’t always make it so clear until the New Testament, that this God is primarily hidden and revealed inside of matter, through matter. And that left us with almost a platonic worldview that was anti-matter. And once we became anti-matter, we became anti our own embodiment, and anti-planet, and anti-animal. Go down the list.
Rick: And what we were just saying about science, I mean, these days, from what we know through science, if we look at a single cell, for instance, we see this incredible marvel of intelligence and creativity and organizing ability and whatnot that we don’t even fully understand. We maybe understand one percent of it, and that’s what we’re actually looking at the whole time, you know, that miracle.
Richard: Well said. Well put. Even, was it Einstein who said, “It’s not a wonder that there are miracles. It’s a shame that we don’t see that everything is a miracle.” He said it better than that.
Richard: That was the gist of it.
Rick: So, God is hiding in plain sight.
Richard: Hiding in plain sight. Well put.
Rick: So, I mean, if that, if it’s literally true that God is omnipresent, then we can, it follows from that that there is no, we couldn’t find any place in the entire universe where God, which God does not pervade.
Richard: Where God is not.
Richard: The Psalms even say that. “Go up to the heavens, He is there. Go under the sea, He is there.” And we were given more than enough hints, but we always tried to grab it to ourself. Starting with our good Jewish ancestors, who thought of themselves as the Jewish chosen people, which they were, but their experience of chosenness was given so they could communicate that same chosenness to everybody else. And that was the great insight of Paul, why he had such tension with his own Jewish religion. He didn’t see that enough of them universalized. Yeah. They personalized, but didn’t universalize.
Rick: So, what I was reading when I introduced you about, you know, your interest in the social justice issues, and I’m sure that includes environmental issues and things like that, well it ties in with that, “Whatsoever you do unto the least of these, you do unto Me.” It seems to me that, you know, we’re swimming in this ocean of God and although it might have once been considered idolatrous or pantheistic or something to see it that way, it actually is that way. And if we mistreat anything in creation, we are mistreating God. Would you agree with that?
Richard: It’s so correct. You still have invited hatred or ugliness into the world through your heart by agreeing to hate, eliminate, diminish anything. And that’s why, you know, some of the Eastern religions were maybe more enlightened than we are by not even stepping on a worm. Yeah, Francis wouldn’t step on a worm because he said, “Why did God create that worm? Must have been for a reason. It’s not up to me to eliminate it from the cosmos.” What a different world we would have had if we would have respected life. But now we’re in the strange position, as you know, where Christians are known for protecting life before it’s born. And I, you know what I’m going to say. And feverishly so. But once it’s born, there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of care about the poor, against capital punishment, against war,
Rick: against gun possession. R; Agains poverty. Yeah, it’s heartbreaking.
Rick: Yeah. Incidentally, it rained here a lot last night, and I just spent a while this morning picking worms off the driveway and throwing them on the grass, because otherwise they’re going to dry up in the sun. I can’t resist doing that.
Richard: I grew up in Kansas, and I remember doing the same thing. Now we don’t have many worms here in New Mexico. It’s too dry. Yeah, poor thing.
Rick: You can save the lizards somehow. Before we get too far away from the Big Bang, I don’t know if you know Tim Freak. He’s a British philosopher. He spoke at the SAND conference when you were there, I think. Anyway, he and I have this ongoing private debate, and he sort of feels that God is somehow coming into existence with the creation of the universe. And you said something similar. You said, you know, Christ came into being with the Big Bang. And I say, yes, true, but that’s only half the story because the fullness of potentiality that we call God must have to have been there even before the Big Bang in order for the laws of nature that brought about the Big Bang to come into play. So, there’s like the un-manifest aspect of God and the manifest aspect, and the manifest is evolving, but the un-manifest is sort of a continuum of potentiality or something.
Richard: Well, let’s see if this helps. If I’m leaping away from you, pull me back. You can basically, in my opinion, use the word consciousness, love, God, interchangeably. Yeah, and that’s not a put-down of God or anything. It’s just this consciousness is clearly evolving in its capacity to be received. Now, we call that process theology. And the old pre-Vatican II Catholicism I was raised in had no room for development in God. God was a static notion, a substance, a being, not being itself. It’s very hard for us to think that way anymore. In fact, if you stay there, especially with all the toxic images of God that we have, a God who would condemn people to punishment for all eternity, create the worst possible monster you can think of, and a lot of people believe that’s God. That is so sick. How do you undo that? That’s much of our work. If we don’t recognize that the metaphors we use for God, and all we can use are metaphors, no other language is available to us except metaphor, God is like, God is like. Just the many metaphors used in the Hebrew Scriptures, and there are many, defy any notion that there’s one notion of God. There was never one notion of God in the Old Testament or the New Testament. Jesus brings them together for Christians, as much as you can hope for, and saying God is nonviolent, God is all-forgiving, God is merciful, God is good. But most people don’t enjoy that, and the sad thing is, most Christians don’t enjoy that. They made Jesus back into a punisher-in-chief, tyrant-in-chief, even though there’s no evidence for that in his lifetime. Like there’s two different Jesuses, the Jesus before the resurrection, who’s very forgiving, the Jesus after his ascension into heaven, who becomes punisher-in-chief. I can’t accept that, and I’m joining a larger and larger portion of theologians worldwide who would agree with that. It’s an unworkable theology. It creates very judgmental people, very exclusionary people. Very, I’m going to say it, hateful people in the name of God. And does that need much proof at this point in American history? How many Christians appear to be living with a totally justified hatefulness? It defies description.
Rick: Yeah, there’s that famous saying, “Man was made in the image of God,” but it sounds like a lot of people have flipped it over the years, you know, making God in their image rather than…
Rick: Yeah. Basically, I think…
Richard: That’s what the ego does. Makes everything into an extension of itself, even God.
Rick: Yeah. Now, obviously, that raises some issues when we think of the Holocaust or, you know, any number of horrible things that we could mention that have happened over the years, and if it’s all God, you know, if God is all pervading, then the obvious question is, well, how could he allow that to happen? My simple answer is that if you’re going to have a universe, you have to have relative polarities, and so the whole, you know, if you’re going to have Shakespeare, you have to have both the tragedies and the comedies, but what would you say to that?
Richard: That’s… the way you put it is a fairly good answer. You know, Carl Jung came up with the same thing psychologically, that if there is to be light, there must be darkness, and if there is to be… well, let’s put it in the language Christians are more familiar with. If there is to be resurrection, there has to be death. It’s the nature of the entire known universe, which is mostly empty space and black holes. There always has to be the pushback, the resistance, and then the overcoming. In our school here, I teach what is almost a naive notion. I’m amazed people draw upon it so much, but I always tell the students to picture three boxes. First box is order, second box is disorder, third box is re-order, and you can’t do a non-stop flight to the third box. You must go through disorder and with free will and grace, choose re-order without throwing out order and without throwing out disorder. There’s very few people who are willing to do that. Most conservatives remain trapped in the first box and insist on the order they learned in grade school. No matter what horrible implications it has. Most progressives and academics are trapped in the second box of permanent cynicism, permanent dismissal of everything, pretty much. You pick this up if you go to almost any university. You graduate a cynic. I have to fight it every day because I’m too damn educated, you know. But if I can hold on to what’s good about order, what’s necessary about disorder, you have to break the rules to know that there are rules. Then you come to the true meaning of resurrection or enlightenment. People who can hold both, you can suddenly deal with imperfection, with exception, with contrariness, with polarities as you put it. We’ve got a long way to go to make this apparent, but it’s so apparent in the physical universe, even inside the atom, proton, electron, neutron, you know, it’s everywhere showing itself.
Rick: I try to take a God’s eye view of things personally, not that I achieve that, but you think, all right, well somehow God manages to subsume and encompass and embrace all these polarities and diversities and paradoxes and conflicts and everything. If he can do it, then maybe we could expand our perspective to the point where we’re able to do it to some extent, you know?
Richard: Well put. In a number of my books, I call God, from my perspective, the Great Allower, A-L-L-O-W-E-R, capital A. It just seems like, God’s capacity to allow, to risk free will, is endless. Unless you have free will, you don’t have love, and so it’s the great risk God took for the emergence of love. You have to be free not to love, to love. And that was a big part of the Catholic tradition at its better moments, (it) was the insistence on the protecting of free will, and that we are free. I watched the old 1950s movie last week with some friends East of Eden.
Rick: John Steinbeck.
Richard: John Steinbeck, yeah. And he makes a great deal of that Hebrew word that is spoken to Cain after he kills his brother, “Thou mayest.” The Hebrew word is “timshel.” He goes on and on about this in the written novel. “Thou shall, thou may, thou may,” excuse me, “Thou mayest.” He doesn’t give him a command, he gives him freedom. “Thou mayest.” Or even in the first chapter of Genesis, “You may eat of all of the trees in the garden.” Wow! That’s massive permission! And then we come along with a set of little commandments. “Don’t do that, don’t do that, don’t do that. This upsets God.” It’s just no way the breadth of freedom that even the Bible gives us. But I’m afraid we got trapped there.
Rick: Well, but isn’t that one of those paradox things? Because we do have freedom, and it’s not infinite freedom, but we have a great deal of wiggle room, you know? And we wouldn’t, it would be anarchy if everybody just did whatever the heck they please, you know?
Richard: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Like, you need the ten commandments for social order. I mean, to stop stealing from one another and lying on to one another, and stealing one another’s wife, that’s good social order. I wouldn’t say it’s enlightenment, but it’s early stage, what I call in my book “Falling Upward,” it’s the first half of life. We need that to survive together. Now you compare that to the eight Beatitudes of Jesus; “Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the meek, blessed are the peacemakers.” That’s like ten degrees higher levels of consciousness. But Christians don’t quote it very much, they really don’t. It’s because we’re not sure we really agree with it. Really, we’re not sure we really agree with it.
Rick: They’re cherry-picking.
Richard: That’s my opinion.
Rick: Yeah. Some of the ancient traditions, like Lao Tzu and the Tao Te Ching talks about how the more enlightened a society, the fewer rules and regulations you need. You don’t need all those “thou shalt nots,” because people spontaneously act in accordance with the Tao, you know, in accordance with God’s will.
Richard: Well, you know, the great Saint Augustine, who was one of the few who was honored in both the Eastern Church and the Western Church, he has a line that only really fairly advanced people can understand. But you’re ready. It says, “Love God and do what you want.”
Rick: That’s good.
Richard: Love God and do what you want. That’s brilliant.
Rick: Because if you really love God, you really do, then you’re gonna do what he wants anyway.
Richard: Exactly. And you’re not gonna hurt any species, or you’re gonna steal your neighbor’s wife, or you just naturally are imbued with that same love and that same universality. But what a line; “Love God and do what you want.” I think it’s true.
Richard: But dangerous in the hand of 17-year-old boys with hormones.
Rick: Right, okay, I love God. Come on, let’s get on with it. And yet, you know, even creation itself has a lot of violence in it. I mean, stars explode and kill all the life that might be orbiting them, and yet if they didn’t do so, we wouldn’t exist because we’re made of stars. And so there has to be this sort of destruction. You were saying this earlier, in order for creation, new creation, to take place.
Richard: I don’t think there’s any exceptions to that rule, Rick. Everything is three steps forward and two steps backward. You get it, you lose it. You get it, you lose it. The Buddhist Heart Sutra, you well know, gone, utterly gone. As I get older, and more and more of my peers are dying, and so many things that I took for granted as a young man or a young boy are all gone. There’s just, no one even knows about them anymore. That becomes so real to you, that, there’s nothing that lasts forever, even the Grand Canyon is going to keep changing.
Rick: And that’s not a problem.
Richard: That’s not a problem, there you go.
Rick: Although, you know, again, I see there’s always this both/and thing, because it would be nice to have a habitable planet for the, you know, foreseeable future, and we may not have if we carry on the way we have.
Richard: That’s right. >> So, all right. Now, our mutual friend Doug Scott, who has been on my program, suggests that…
Richard: Oh, he’s a dear man.
Rick: Oh, he’s great.
Richard: He’s like a spiritual son to me.
Rick: Yeah, I’ve just met him in the last year, and we really struck a chord, and we stay in touch. So, but anyway, he suggests that your latest book, The Universal Christ, which I held up earlier, synthesizes the wisdom of your over 50 years of public ministry. So, we’ve probably already discussed a lot of the gems of that wisdom, but what haven’t we discussed that this book synthesizes that you have learned in these 50 plus years?
Richard: Wow, which would be most helpful? There’s no point in theological abstraction. I’m fascinated by theology, but, well, you know, one real obstacle, and let me start with a generic understanding. As long as religion is merely transactional, people remain at a very immature level. You do this much good, you deserve this much of heaven. You do this much bad, you deserve this much of hell. And then we Catholics even added purgatory. It’s not just useless theology, it’s destructive. And we did that because that’s how the mind thought, really, till the last century. Everything was Newtonian physics, you know? Causality was direct. Now, with quantum physics, we realize causality is multifaceted from many sources. Now, the reason I’m saying it in such grand terms is, we did that with the very notion of the cross. And my chapter in that book on; did Jesus need to die for our sins, it might seem like a secondary issue. But for many people I’ve taught over the years, it’s an absolute breakthrough. Because our explanation for the cross, all you need to go to is any southern state and drive the highways, and you’ll see the signs; Jesus died for our sins. And I know what, well, I guess I know what they’re trying to say, but you have to ask them, what does that mean? Does that mean God, the Father, as we called him, was not naturally, organically in love with what he created? And even the word “he,” of course, is too small. God is beyond gender. But we made God stingy, who couldn’t love what he created unless he got a certain amount of blood sacrifice. Now, if you were Jewish and your whole religion was based on animal sacrifice in the temple, this metaphor worked. But if we’d be honest, it doesn’t work for us anymore. Why does God set up a huge arbitrary condition to love us? As if God changed God’s mind on Calvary. “Didn’t love us, now I love you, because I got my son’s blood.” You know, I’ve done a lot of work with men. That’s where I first met Doug Scott, in fact. And such a high amount of men have what we call the “father wound,” with abusive fathers, alcoholic fathers, emotionally unavailable fathers. It’s everywhere. It’s all over the world. Well, you come along and you say, “God the Father is the same way.” They’re just programmed to believe it. That’s why it’s persisted, in my opinion. So, the one chapter, I forget which one it is. Just read that to understand the atonement in the way we Franciscans did. Forgive the narcissism of that. But I’m going to sum it up in two sentences. Jesus did not come to change the mind of God about humanity. It didn’t need changing. Okay, got it? Jesus did not come to change the mind of God about humanity. It didn’t need changing. Jesus came to change the mind of humanity about God. That God could be trusted. That God was love, infinite love that you could surrender yourself to. So, the cross didn’t pay any price. It revealed the eternal outflowing nature of divine love. That changes, really changes the Christian religion. And it was believed much more strongly that way in the Eastern Church, in the Franciscan tradition. But good old Calvin, I don’t know if you were raised Calvinist, but he created this horrible phrase, the penal substitutionary atonement theory. I always say even the word sounds horrible. Penal substitutionary. Why would anybody base their life on that?
Rick: Sounds like Rikers Island or something.
Richard: Yeah, it’s garbage theology. Forgive me, those of you who were raised with that. But I have to say it strongly because it’s got to go to redeem the Christian religion. To move us from a religion of transaction to a religion of transformation. And why John’s Gospel says, “You must gaze upon the one you have pierced.” And in that gaze, an exchange of love given and love received, the heart is changed. But presently, one more phrase, this penal substitutionary atonement theory keeps us inside of retributive justice, which is almost the only justice our penal system understands, our courts understand. To what was revealed to us in the prophets, particularly Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, restorative justice, that God says, “You know the way I’m going to punish you, Israel? I’m going to punish you by loving you even more.” And it’ll be hard to take that love because you know you didn’t deserve it. Maybe you’ve spoken ill of someone, I’m sure not you, I have, and then that very person comes and is nice to you, and you’re almost angry at them that they’re nice to you. Because you have to change positions from, you know, them being a bad person and you being the offended person. You have to let go of your offense. A lot of people will not do that. And retributive justice keeps us all in our little roles that we’ve decided we need for some reason.
Rick: I know you’ve worked in prisons a lot, mainly there in Albuquerque, I guess, and I don’t know if you saw Michael Moore’s movie a few years ago where he went to Sweden or someplace like that and showed how the prison system works over there. And it’s like they really give these guys a healing environment, you know, where they have their own kitchens and they’re actually using knives and dangerous weapons in their kitchens, and they have TV and they have the internet and they have recreation, and it’s like it really actually helps to rehabilitate them, because there isn’t this sort of retributive, is the word you used, attitude.
Richard: Retributive, yes.
Rick: Yeah, it’s more like, okay, what can we do to to heal this guy? Yeah, and you know, I didn’t see that particular Michael Moore movie. He’s really a brilliant movie maker. You don’t remember the name of that, do you? I forget. I think it might have been the movie, “Where Should We Invade Next?” or something like that, because he was showing how good some of the other countries are.
Richard: Yes, yes, I should look for it. Yeah, see, I was jail chaplain here in Albuquerque for 14 years. What a useless system. Take away a man’s dignity. Take away a man’s self-respect. Make sure you treat him like you know what. What makes you think, and I want to say that to the orderlies, most of whom love their one-upmanship position over the prisoners. What makes you think this is going to turn out a happy man or a healthy man or woman, for that matter? The women at least try to recreate family. The men don’t as much. They remain loners. They’ll often look for father figures, but apart from that, it’s cutthroat, you know? Breaks your heart, breaks your heart.
Rick: Before we lose it on this point about Jesus died for your sins. Sometimes I’ve wondered whether what that might mean is – well, let me actually read another question that I had for you here, and I’ll tie it in with that. In your recent book, “What Do We Do With Evil?” you discuss a social notion of sin rather than individual sin, and your new book, “The Universal Christ,” discusses a social notion of salvation, and you say, “We are all guilty of one another’s sin and not just our own. We’re all good with one another’s goodness and not just our own.” And the way I thought that might tie in is, sometimes I wonder whether, you know, Jesus somehow going through that horrific experience took on a whole load of karma, and if you align yourself with Jesus, then He takes some of your burden in some retroactive way. I don’t know if that resonates with you at all, and I might be totally wrong, but the thought just came to mind.
Richard: No, you’re not totally wrong. You know, that was the one addition to what we call the Apostles’ Creed, used in the mainline Protestant and Catholic Church. It was four centuries into Christianity, we added to the Apostles’ Creed; I believe, in the communion of saints that all who have access goodness are connected to one another. They didn’t make a statement about the communion of evil, but I think it’s an equal communion. Forgive me, but we saw that in the politics and election of the last four years in America. That people who want to be negative, who want to be racist, hateful, sort of enjoy one another’s company. I don’t know what else to say. I’m not saying these people are going to hell, forget that language. But they’re sure not enjoying heaven now, I can say that much for sure. And you see that very often in the ravaged face, the dissolute, angry face. When you carry everybody else’s garbage. I think that’s hell and it’s right here. God can’t wait to love such people and gaze into their eyes and say, “You know, you got it wrong, but I’m going to give you another chance.” That’s what Catholics really meant by the notion of purgatory. That infinite love could never give up on anything it created.
Rick: Yeah, so let’s explore a little bit more this idea of we’re guilty of one another’s sin and share one another’s goodness. What that means to me is that there’s a collective consciousness, and we’re all like waves on an ocean we are, you know, and we each partake of the same water, so to speak. And that’s not to say that it’s completely homogenous, and if there’s pollution in the ocean, that all the waves are going to be equally polluted, but we can’t help but be affected to some degree by the influence of collective consciousness, or we can’t help affect it. It’s reciprocal.
Richard: You just stated it perfectly. That’s it. All is connected for good and for ill. And you know, once we recognize this as a social concept, both sin and salvation. The terribly low self-esteem, self-hatred. I mean, so many people I’ve worked with. I’ve been a priest 51 years now, and it seems like much of humanity is suffering from their own form of PTSD, if I can use the overused word today. But how did this happen? How did this happen? You just sit with someone long enough, and they’ve all got their tragic story to tell of abuse, of abandonment. It breaks your heart. But if we had been given a positive theology, that God came, as Jesus said in John 10, to give us life and life more abundantly. Whereas we clergy, some great Protestant theologian said this, I forget who it was, saw our job as ‘sin management’. You know, the whole centerpiece became sin and how to deal with it. We used Genesis 3 as our starting point, whereas we should have used Genesis 1.
Rick: What do those say for those who are not familiar with them?
Richard: Okay, yeah. Genesis 1, where we should have started, says four times in a row, “It was good, it was good, it was good, it was good, it was very good,” on the fifth day of creation. Genesis 3 is so-called the fall; the eating of that horrible little apple.
Rick: I had one for breakfast. Uh-oh.
Richard: I did too. I mean, as if God could be so petty to let all of humanity suffer because someone ate an apple. I mean, come on.
Rick: Well, if we just take that as a metaphor, what do you think that was actually saying?
Richard: I think it was saying, not disobedience as much as autonomy. You know, the vine and the branches is Jesus’ notion, our metaphor for reality. It’s all connected. And the apple is a notion of, “I will stand alone. I will stand apart. I will do what I want to do.” It’s arrogance. It’s pride. It’s self-sufficiency, it seems to me. And that’s what does everybody in. Once you think you don’t need your neighbor, you’re going to do stupid things to him and to everybody else. So you can call it the fall, but it’s more just a metaphor that we’re all wounded. No exceptions. No exceptions.
Rick: And don’t you think maybe that just as, you know, we were talking about free will earlier, just as a child who’s completely sort of in his parents bubble, you know, reaches teenage years and begins to break out and attain some autonomy and independence and free will, and he could get in all kinds of trouble because of that.
Richard: All kinds.
Rick: But it’s necessary for him to go through that phase in order to really become a mature adult. So maybe the fall of, you know, Adam and Eve, so to speak, was not necessarily a bad thing. Maybe it was a necessary stage in order for a much grander development to eventually take place.
Richard: You named it, Rick. It’s the second box; disorder. There’s a great hymn that we sing in the liturgy on Holy Saturday night, and it speaks in Latin of felix culpa, “O happy fault, O necessary fault.” It had to happen. Don’t spend any time bemoaning it. It had to happen for us to choose the good from a free position. You said it better than I did. Thank you.
Rick: I doubt that. So, I think we’ve covered a bunch of this, but one of the points I wanted to ask you is that you say that your calling and the CAC’s work, Center for Action and Contemplation, which incidentally is a cool name, Action and Contemplation. It sort of integrates, it’s like we were saying before, it integrates the sort of cosmic with the individual in the name. But anyway, you say that your calling has been to retrieve and reteach the wisdom that has been lost, ignored, or misunderstood in the Judeo-Christian tradition. And as I said, I think we’ve covered a lot of that, but maybe we can just zero in on that for a few minutes and tie up anything we haven’t covered.
Richard: You know, the notion of non-duality was made very clear in three of the Eastern religions; Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism. In the Western Church, we just had, in the Catholic Church, we called it “unitive consciousness.” It wasn’t as descriptive a word, but non-dual is coming now to be rediscovered. And what we mean that, you can’t just present people with two options and say, “Choose one and you’ll be saved.” And most of our moral theology is dualistic, in that sense. It’s all, I mean, even our election, Republican, Democrat, choose one and hate the other. This is not enlightenment. And by great pain we’re coming to see this. That reality presents us with much more subtlety, much more nuance. Now, a word for that nuanced reality was wisdom. Wisdom as opposed to just information or knowledge. Our universities teach us knowledge. They’re not prepared. They’re really not prepared to teach us wisdom. You can’t get a degree in wisdom.
Rick: I know, even if you study philosophy or something, you end up getting more confused sometimes.
Richard: Yes, yeah. My way to simplify it, is there’s two universal paths of transformation that lead you to this wisdom; great love and great suffering. If you avoid them, you’ll never be wise. You’ll never be. You might be religious. You might be law-abiding, but you won’t be wise or loving. You have to take the risk of falling into deep love with somebody, something. I got a beautiful letter from a a veterinarian yesterday and his little book, telling me all he has done with animals and for animals. That serves the bill. You’ve got to love something more than yourself, something, someone. As the Franciscan tradition said, you start with a stone, you build to water, you build to rocks, you build to animals, and they all build on one another. But if you’ve never fallen into the well of love, there’s some things you just cannot know. Now, when you do love, I don’t know if you’re a married man. Yeah, then you know this better than I do. If you do love, you will suffer. You will, either for the sake of that faithfulness of that relationship or the children you bring into the world. But suffering eventually follows any great commitment of love. Those are the paths that have been available since the beginning of time. The Stone Age people were capable of great love and great suffering to rewire their mind. And we in organized religion came along and made it pretty complex. You didn’t have to be in love. You didn’t have to suffer for anybody. You just had to be a Lutheran or a Catholic. You know, that just won’t work anymore. Not to pick on the Lutherans. I love them. But…
Rick: They’re the ones that Garrison Keillor was always talking about, aren’t they?
Richard: Yes, yes. In Minnesota. Right, right.
Rick: Yeah. Okay. So, speaking of suffering, here’s a quote that I didn’t quite understand. Let’s see how we’re doing on time. We’ve got about five or ten minutes left. You mention, you say, that Jesus’s justice strategy is solidarity with suffering itself wherever it is. I’m bringing this up because you were just talking about suffering. This is the core meaning of his crucifixion and why the cross is our unique agenda for salvation and liberation, even more than working or fighting for justice, per se. And I don’t completely understand that. I always saw the crucifixion as just sort of a horrible event in a barbaric age, you know, where people would do such things to one another. And obviously, all is well and wisely put. And it wasn’t an accident. Nothing is. But I just, and it did happen, and obviously it can’t be ignored. But elaborate a bit on what you mean by that thing I just said.
Richard: Well, if we see the extended arms of Jesus, the imprisoned hands and feet of Jesus, as committing himself to universal identification with every act of suffering that has ever existed since the beginning of time. As an act of solidarity, not an act of sacrifice, then we realize religion isn’t so much sacrifice, because that gets you into being more heroic than your neighbor. I’m more sacrificial than you are. But solidarity is much more subtle. How do you just show basic friendship to the people in your neighborhood, in your country, in your world? So we’ve learned that in our school, to not so much emphasize heroic acts of service as generous acts of solidarity; communion with, empathy for. That’s actually putting you in union with the pain of the world. If you don’t have enough pain of your own, you can identify with the pain of others. So solidarity instead of sacrifice. Because sacrifice, and I’ve learned this first rate, is, especially among men, is; I’m going to be more heroic than you’ll be. And I’ll go off and work in the jungles of Africa to save my soul. And you really don’t have an act of generosity there. It’s well-disguised narcissism. It’s all to save my soul. And the people who you’re helping in Africa can feel that. And I gave enough retreats in missionary settings to know that it’s true.
Rick: So this has been great, and obviously it’s just been a little dipping of the toe into the world of Richard, into the ocean of Richard Rohr. And hopefully it’ll be an invitation for people to look more deeply into your work. There’s tons of stuff on YouTube, and there are programs that the CAC offers that people can, if they want to really get more involved, and there are, you’ve written about 30 books or something like that.
Richard: I talk too much.
Rick: No, you don’t.
Richard: But anyway, thank you, thank you.
Rick: There should be more people talking like you.
Richard: It’s a delight to meet you, Rick, really. We got the same name.
Rick: Yes, we do.
Richard: God bless you.
Rick: Yeah, thank you so much. And thanks to those who’ve been listening or watching. Probably most of you realize this is an ongoing series, so just go to batgap.com and you’ll see what’s what, past ones, future ones, and so on. So, thanks, Richard. Take care.
Richard: Thank you, brother. You were a delight.
Rick: You were too.
Richard: God bless.
Rick: Talk to you later.