Recommended only for specific purposes
Fr. Richard Rohr is a new author for me, a Franciscan priest writing about moral and spiritual maturity. The book was recommended to me by a friend who like me comes from a strict evangelical background. I found the book very interesting to wrestle with.
The subtitle, The Search for Our True Self, is the theme of the book. Using moral reasoning, personal pre-suppositions, and Scriptural illustrations, Rohr seeks to help the reader understand the difference between the false self and the true self. He suggests that all of us start out dominated by the false self.
Three key presuppositions are these:
The goodness of God fills all the gaps of the universe, without discrimination or preference.
Death is not just a physical dying, but going to full depth, hitting the bottom, going the distance, beyond where I am in control, fully beyond where I am now.
When you go into the full depths and death, sometimes even the depths of your sin, you come out the other side—and the word for that is resurrection (pp. xix-xxi)
One statement that he made relates to the Wesleyan quadrilateral.
Personal experience for me is the underdeveloped third to something needed to overcome the tired and dualistic food fight between Catholic “tradition” and Protestant “sola scriptura.” Critical reasoning is then precisely what it takes to coordinate these three principles in a fair way (xxii-xxiii).
He also makes the point that many people who are very religious, especially traditionally religious, are still dominated by the false self. I agree with Rohr in this and think it is because many substitute growth in knowledge of religion for a personal moral and spiritual maturity. False self is defined as the ego, the false front, the external definition of us, the focus on ourselves and having it our way. He relates it to Paul’s use of the word “flesh” which he calls an unfortunate choice of words (p. 38). But Rohr seems to have a more difficult time defining the true self, the immortal diamond. It is not exactly what is usually called “soul” but rather a combination of spiritual and moral maturity, unselfishness and healthy self-esteem. For him it is also God in us.
The process that Rohr describes of dying to our false self and coming alive to our true self has many parallels in the Methodist doctrine described by John Wesley called sanctification. In it we put off the old self and put on the new self which is created to be like God in righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:22-14).
Some great quotes:
God’s life and love flow through you as soon as you are ready to allow it. That is the core meaning of faith – to dare to trust that God could, will, and does have an eternal compassion toward you (p. 96)
Much of the Christian religion, in misunderstanding and seeking to avoid the major death of the false self, became moralistic instead, piously and falsely “sacrificial” about many arbitrary and small things… “Sacrifice” usually leads to a well hidden sense of entitlement and perpetuates the vicious cycle of merit, a mindset that leaves most of us to assume that we are more deserving than others because of what we have given or done (pp. 39, 40).
Good therapy will allow you to cope with greater serenity and efficiency because you will learn how to do your human job well and with personal satisfaction. True spiritual direction can link that human job with your divine job without dismissing the human job in the least (p. 32).
One thing I find unfortunate in Rohr is his universalism. He cites 1 John 3:1 to show that all people are already God’s children (p. 4). But the book of 1 John is addressed to Christians (1 John 2:12, 5:13) so the verse is misapplied. I would say on the one hand, we are all God’s children in the sense that we are all created by God and on the other hand, we all need to become God’s children in the spiritual sense as Jesus taught(John 3:5). Rohr says, “We start elitist and we end egalitarian (p. 6)” So of course, Rohr would just say that my non-appreciation of his universalism is exactly where I cling to my false self. But I would return that his universalism comes from his presuppositions and hermeneutic, and not from Scripture. His hermeneutic of using only some New Testament accounts (p. xxii) helps him avoid hard questions. Using OT accounts makes it more obvious that the Gospel story is firmly a part of a distinct history which was itself chosen by God from Abraham forward. This history argues against universalism. While it is certainly true that God has been broadening his kingdom intentionally ever since Abraham, there is a parallel truth that He is also at the same time intentionally culling out evil. Culling out evil may focus on helping us past our false egos for those who cooperate with God, but none of us always does that and some avoid it heartily.
Because it is so laced with universalism, I can only recommend this book to specific audiences. It will be interesting to those who would like to study a contemporary liberal Catholic voice. Professional counselors trying to relate faith to the practice of therapy will find some very helpful perspectives in it. Those who are interested in the subjects of spiritual maturity and interfaith perspectives may also find it useful. Critics of fundamentalism of all types will find a rich spiritual perspective to help get past the hate rhetoric.