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The Naked Now (Richard Rohr) (2) The Dualistic vs Non-Dualistic Minds

Here are some generalizations from Richard Rohr’s book The Naked Now. Of course generalizations invoke ‘yes but’ retorts. Rohr deals with these – adequately in my view – in the book, but here I’m simply compressing the whole thing into ‘headlines’. Read his book for the whole story, and don’t be put off by these sweeping generalized statements. Ask: ‘Where am I / where’s my group in all this? If you’d like to hear him on these themes, visit the radicalgrace website and order, say, Richard’s CD’s “A Spirituality for the two halves of life” where he unpacks these two world views. While he tries to speak non-judgementally about the rigidity of the first half of life that needs such things as legalism, one gets the feeling that progressing to the second stage is superior.


THE DUALISTIC MIND is stuck in polarities, all-or-nothing thinking. It is ego-driven – and egos are into categorizing, controlling and defining realities. It is preoccupied with dogma (belief-systems) and law (regulating behavior in belonging-systems). Now ego, doctrine and law are necessary for humans to function in families/society: but when they are ends-in-themselves they tend to divide humans from one another and take over, and as a result True Reality is not experienced truthfully and completely.

The motivations for this sort of either/or binary thinking are sanity and safety. That’s why it’s into labeling, ranking, and categorizing people: developing closed systems, separating the deserving and the undeserving. These folks are liable to become overattached, overidentified and even enmeshed with others who a ‘like us’: and of course they are more likely to see the splinter in the other’s eye than the log in their own (Matthew 7:3). (A religion of belonging is inimical to transformation towards a life of Christlike love).

They also exhibit an inability to deal with paradox/mystery. How are electrons both ‘here’ and ‘there’ at the same time? (Quantum physics and astrophysics are replete with these sorts of logical impossibilities). Jesus is both human and divine (Nicea).

One-sided solutions are doomed to failure. Remember, you cannot see in total light or total darkness; only in shadowlands, with variances of light.

Law can only inform us about what is illegal/immoral; it cannot of itself lead to God, truth, goodness, beauty (Romans 3:20, 7:7). Legalistic religion teaches people what to know rather than how to know; what to see more than how to see. It is reductionistic. So ‘church’ is something one attends; the ‘faith’ is something one believes – where real transformation is not called for or even, sometimes, desired. It’s all meant to keep the troops in line. (When you are preoccupied with enemies, you are always dualistic and vice versa).

It’s all about believing cerebral ideas to be true or false and also it’s about sin-management. Now a binary system of either/or choices is good and necessary in the lofty worlds of logic, mechanics, mathematics and science, and in the everyday world of knowing whether to turn left or right or to get from point A to point B: this sort of knowledge has produced scientific and industrial revolutions that have served us to well in many areas.

But how does this dualistic mind affect theology? On the Continent of Europe, for example, they excel at highly academic theology; the U.S. has developed a narrow ahistorical fundamentalism – both of these are largely done in the head (and left brain at that). It’s all about oppositional thinking, it’s defensive, and generally unable to be inclusive, conversational, and respectful to those outside your small circle.

Jesus did not say: ‘This is my commandment: “Thou shalt be right!”


THE NON-DUALISTIC MIND has moved from belief/belonging systems to authentic inner experience. The lives of these people are characterized by wisdom and the freedom to be present. Because they are not locked into any system humans have devised (true spirituality is about ‘letting go’), they can affirm with Thomas Aquinas : ‘If it is true, it is from the Holy Spirit’. The recognition and integration of the intellectual, lifestyle and ethical implications of all this takes years…

‘Mystical seeing’ is ‘thinking without thinking’: it involves seeing with new eyes, and loving paradox! These people have a high tolerance of ambiguity (faith), an ability to hold creative tensions (hope) and move beyond personal advantage (love). They most easily see the divine image in oneself, and in others. For them ‘faith’ is not ‘the faith’ – intellectual assent to certain doctrines, judging them to be true or false. Rather, they engage in practices which allow them to open up (that’s faith), hold on (hope) and be infilled from a Divine source (love). It’s all about moving from a belief-based to a practice-based religion. (As I recall, Rohr doesn’t employ the concepts ‘orthodoxy’ vs ‘orthopraxy/orthopraxis’).

But only those who know they are loved and who suffer can ‘let go’ and become contemplative (so sinners and mystics have a head start).

Silence and God will be experienced simultaneously – even as the same thing (Thomas Keating). God is the One whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere (Bonaventure). So remember, if you understand it, then it is not God (Augustine). For example, every time God forgives, God breaks God’s own rules (once you understand grace, your tit-for-tat universe is forever undone).

Thomas Merton: ‘We are too rational. All that is best is unconscious or superconscious.’ Doubt and faith are correlative terms (Mother Teresa experienced decades of doubt). Our ‘faith’ is not that dogmas or moral opinions are true but that Ultimate Reality/ God/ Jesus is accessible to us. Non-polarity thinking teaches you how to hold creative tensions, how not to run from mystery, and how to practice what all the religions teach – compassion, mercy, lovingkindness, patience, forgiveness and humility… to resist the paths towards any shameful past or any idyllic future.

In every age, country, denomination, institution, diocese and monastery there is invariably a leavening remnant who understands all this. They have no time to be *against*: there is so much to be *for*.


Among ROHR’S TEACHERS (though he doesn’t necessarily endorse all they say) are: Hesychastic and Celtic Christianity, Aquinas, Bonaventure, Cynthia Bourgeault (The Wisdom Jesus), Catherine of Siena, the Desert Fathers and Mothers, Meister Eckhart, George Fox, Francis of Assisi (of course), Rene Girard, Francisco de Osuma, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Hugh of St Victor, Ignatius of Loyola, Jesus (of course), and James – and a surprising number of quotes from Paul, John of the Cross, Thomas Keating, Bernard Lonergan, Mother Teresa, Thomas Merton, Richard of St. Victor, Menno Simons, Huston Smith, Teresa of Avila, Eckhart Tolle (The Power of Now), simone Weil, Ken Wilber, Bill Wilson (AA’s 12 steps)…

In another article I’ll list the quotes which hit me between the (spiritual) eyes, and also offer a personal response…

Rowland Croucher
June 2010

More: Richard Rohr ‘Both-And’


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