I’ve been contemplating this simple quote from Richard Rohr:
“I think some experience of God is necessary for mental and emotional health. You basically don’t belong in the universe until you are connected to the center and the whole, and a word for that is “God.” When you live in the false self you are “eccentric,” or off-center. You’re trying to make something the Center that is not the center—yourself or anything else. It will never work. Thus the only real sin is idolatry—making something God that is not God!
I would call the false self a relative identity. I would call the true self your absolute identity. The relative identity is not of itself bad or wrong. It’s simply not the true self! It cannot get you where you finally need and want to go.” – The Gospel Call to Compassionate Action” CAC.
I’m an evangelical Christian, which puts me in somewhat strange territory here on the Progressive Portal at Patheos. I’m not a true progressive inasmuch as that word is synonymous with American liberal politics (small “l” as in the continuum between liberal on the left and conservative on the right). My theological mentors painstakingly tried to root out disenfranchise me from my Liberal political theory (liberal with a big “L”), calling it the enlightenment project which seeks to deny that humans follow any narrative other than the freedom of the individual to choose what kind of life they wish to lead. I don’t think we can choose our own story quite so easily. We are born in the middle of a story that is already in progress. Understanding the true nature of that story (not choosing your own story), is where true wisdom can be found.
The sin of Liberalism (big “L”), and thus of both conservative/liberal politics is the same as all sin: idol making (a form of usurpation). Liberal democracies make an idol of the persons right to choose their own story so long as they don’t interfere with anybody else’s right to choose their own story. The Christian story tells us that we belong to one another, and to a story that we joined already in progress. The story is about the Redemption of all things through Jesus Christ. Our identity is not something we can achieve as we pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, it is constantly received from God and from the people of God. Rohr tells us that any identity we can achieve for ourselves is a false identity and cannot lead us to emotional health, which is why so many people who are overly committed to one side or another in American politics seem so emotionally unhealthy.
The political left and political right in our country both suffer from the same malady Rohr describes. They both seek to make something more ultimate than God. They give allegiance to the wrong narrative and make it more important than the story of God.
My prayer is that we will all have the courage to seek the contemplative life.