Richard Rohr Re The Profane

Again, I must let Richard Rohr speak for me today, sharing his observations about the importance of getting beneath the surface of things. He argues that everything is profane…even religion…if you keep on the surface of it. And the profanity is particularly pronounced if it happens in the domain of religion for the sacred is blasphemed even as it is purportedly worshipped. As Shakespeare put it, “With devotion’s visage and pious action we sugar o’er the devil himself” and “When love begins to sicken and decay, it useth an enforced ceremony. There are no tricks in plain and simple faith; but hollow men, like horses hot at hand, make gallant show and promise of their mettle.”

If we just stay on the fearful or superficial side of the religious spectrum, religion is invariably defined by exclusionary purity codes that always separate things into sacred and profane. God is still distant, punitive, and scary. Then our religious job becomes putting ourselves only on the side of “sacred” things (as if you could) and to stay apart from worldly or material things, even though Jesus shows no such preference himself.

After the beginnings of mystical experience (which is just prayer experiences), one finds that what makes something secular or profane is precisely whether one lives on the surface of it. It’s not that the sacred is here and the profane is over there. Everything is profane if you live on the surface of it, and everything is sacred if you go into the depths of it—even your sin. To go inside your own mistakenness is to find God. To stay on the surface of very good things, like Bible, sacrament, priesthood, or church, is to often do very unkind and evil things, while calling them good. This important distinction is perfectly illustrated by Jesus’ parable of the publican and the Pharisee (Luke 18:9-14).

So the division for the Christian is not between secular and sacred things, but between superficial things and things at their depth. The depths always reveal grace, while staying on the surface allows one to largely miss the point (the major danger of fundamentalism, by the way). Karl Rahner, the German Jesuit, and one of my heroes of Vatican II, loved to call this “the mysticism of ordinary life.


14 thoughts on “Richard Rohr Re The Profane

  1. N℮üґ☼N☮☂℮ṧ

    To stay on the surface of very good things, like Bible, sacrament, priesthood, or church, is to often do very unkind and evil things, while calling them good.

    I appreciate your post, but who decides what is “superficial” and what is “depth”. Those who think they are more spiritually attuned to God?

    Karl Rahner, one of Richard’s heroes, had some very interesting and questionable beliefs that he came up with himself, and assuming that God told him through “special revelation”. There are too many to mention in this post, but I’ll touch on one. He taught that if someone had not accepted Jesus Christ as his/her savior, because they’d never been exposed to the message of the Christian gospels, yet sought God and lived a moral life, they would still gain eternal salvation (Anonymous Christianity). It sends a strong message of the fate of unbelievers; that even though they try to live a moral life (prosocial behavior is intrinsic), they are still condemned because they didn’t seek god.

    “In the days ahead, you will either be a mystic (one who has experienced God for real) or nothing at all.”― Karl Rahner

    So he is proclaiming that he has experienced God “for real”. He’s basing this on “divine revelation” and interpretation of cannons in the New Testament which all distinguished Biblical scholars know contains no original manuscripts, and the copies have been altered by scribes throughout the centuries.

    I personally think that belief in God should be a personal thing, and kept to one’s self. Too many people, including those who think they know the ‘real’ god, appear to be coming across as superior, even though they think they are humble.


      1. literary lew Post author

        Just a quick response as I’m busy. A more thorough response is forthcoming.
        Regarding your virulent anti-religion stance, “Me doeth think the lady protesteth too much.” And, I’m made to think of a quip from H. L. Mencken, though only obliquely relevant, with your quick intelligence you will understand—“The problem with sexual abstinence is its over emphasis of sex.”

        And, my radar is going off on several fronts in this current discussion. One is that I had a ‘conflict habituated relationship” (clinical jargon here) decades ago in which my partner and I had a relationship only on the basis of mutual antagonism. We were, as T. S. Eliot noted many years ago, “United by the strife which divided them.” I hope that in due time you and I can find common ground on which we can frequently stand as has been the case with every one of my other blogging friends


      2. N℮üґ☼N☮☂℮ṧ

        It’s telling that you see this as an anti-religion stance, especially after the private dialogs we’ve had. I think we have found common ground via email over the last couple of months. You’ve even told me we were on the same page. Maybe you were just tickling my ears? I don’t know, but your blog postings tend to contradict what you share outside of WordPress, and sometimes I call your hand on it.

        I won’t bother commenting on your blog anymore, as you don’t seem to want to explore deeper. You see my challenges as antagonism rather than debate. Debate is not for the faint at heart. It stretches you, and sometimes that can be uncomfortable, but growth is usually the result.

        When you put yourself out there for all the world to read, you have to be prepared to be challenged. It’s a lesson most people learn on WordPress, eventually. I spend a lot of time reviewing your sources and beyond, and mulling over what you write. I will admit that I can get impatient with people who don’t do their homework, or tend to sugar coat and/or make excuses to justify many things that are challenged. I understand now that your blog postings are not up for debate. I apologize if I crossed your boundaries and/or offended you.

        No need to respond. I’ve taken up enough of your time, and will move on; although I hope you will continue to stay in touch from time to time via email and Skype. I still consider you my friend.

        All the best to you Lewis.



      3. literary lew Post author

        It is exhilarating to be right, isn’t it? I been there and done that. But the more I insist on being “right” the more some body “out there” has to be wrong or “uninformed.” I personally think there is a Beneficence in the universe, dating back to the original germ of being which I so boringly and conventionally call “grace”, covers us all even those that I disagree with. I seek common ground, not contention.


      4. N℮üґ☼N☮☂℮ṧ

        None of this is exhilarating to me, and I was never seeking contention. Based on your response, it’s apparent that you still don’t get it, (why I challenge you) even after the numerous emails we’ve exchanged.

        Take care.


  2. Sandeep Bhalla

    This is interesting that the heat wave we are facing in New Delhi has finally reached WP. I think both of you, Lewji and Victoriaji are right but the unable to see common ground. This is a typical problem of quotation. One person says some words from different layer of mind, another person quotes those words in different context and yet another person reads the consequence and dangers underlying. Best part is all are correct. Fortunately here two out of three are corrigible enough to be reconciled.

    1. As per my humble understanding Lew quoted a saying to support the view, his current month chain of thought, that there is something beyond the rituals of religions.
    Now the person who said those words, belonged to theological school which believes that people can be ‘made’ to see ‘more’. (I refrain from dignifying the word ‘profane’ here.)

    2. Victoriaji rightly saw the danger of this notion. Who will judge what is profane and what is not? History has told us and we see for ourselves, while living under threat of terrorism, that this business of judging others has serious consequences. But Victoriaji did not confine herself to this she added more comments about Christianity and some person who died long ago.

    3. Instead of replying to main plank of argument, Lew ji noted an anti relgious stance and replied and it flared into the controversy like any religious talk. Sulking was good. It shows the deep felt relationships.

    4. Now this is the danger of quoting others or re-belogging. We may agree with words but when we quote, it is taken to be an agreement with entire philosophy which is rarely so. Worse is that we get emotionally attached to views or reviews which are just like ripples on the surface of ocean of thought. There are no words, worth sulking or getting irrited over.

    5. This reminds me of a short story by O’Henry, perhaps its title was ‘A Cosmopolitan in a Cafe’.

    6. Belief is the single most dangerous thing but science could also not do without it e.g. x=0. But it must not be used to made castle of salvation. Nor Disbelief should be made a weapon of pillory. Both must be handled with extreme care and caution.

    7. The discussions and debate on philosophy is a serious if not dangerous turf, we must remain consious of it and personal relationships are felt which can neither be dealt nor built hence must not be swapped for leverage in arguments. We all have our conflicting layers or memories which may be loosely called hypocrisy but we must not catch at the neck and condemn rather, as a friend, show a smalles possible mirror image.

    Both of you please let me know when I fail and wherever I fail.

    Have a good day and keep locking horns.

    (P.S.: I do not know anything or believe anything about O’Henry or his thoughts or philosophy or religion)


  3. literary lew Post author

    Thanks for chiming in, Sandeep. But this exchange has evoked an ugly old beastly in my heart, the need to be right and anytime it rears its ugly head, I am given pause. For, the need to “be right” always creates bad karma in that it necessitates someone being ‘wrong.” I prefer to seek common ground and find disputation for the sake of disputation draining and reeking with bad karma. Therefore, this will end real soon.

    Re the question of who has the authority to denounce anyone “profane”, my simple answer is, “I do!” Or, I am one of the many who have that power as long as I remember that I offer only a perspective and am not offering an objective stance on that issue or any other. But I am a “speaking subject” and therefore, have the right to “speak” or in this case “write” in this WP format. But I do not offer the Truth though I do have faith in a Truth that is present in this void, a Presence than escapes the confinement of words and is very active in all of us, including those who feel and think and believe differently. For that reason, I try to offer them some respect.

    But, let me emphasize again that a beast has been stirred from its slumber in my heart. And this is good as it is merely the Universe reminding me, “Lewis, don’t forget. That dark side still rages in your heart” so try to offer graciousness when you see it in others. Sometimes i fail.

    Thanks again.

    Actually, I have a suggestion. I think this dear person and I should settle the issue with a public mud-wrestling contest. This reminds me of an old David Letterman quip, “Personally, I’m into mud debating.”


    1. N℮üґ☼N☮☂℮ṧ

      Thanks for your feedback. I realize you were addressing Sandeep, but I would like to reiterate that I neither believe or disbelieve. Having once been a devote believer, I have since come to realize that it’s OK to acknowledge “I don’t know”. There are too many gods to chose from, and many if not most believers think there god is ‘the God’ and has ‘the Truth’. God can’t be proven one way or the other, to date. If I had to label myself, it would be humanist-agnostic.

      My only issue with belief is that it organizes en masse, and with that comes side-effects which can and has harmed and divided our species, although I also recognize the benefits it can bring. Sometimes, however, those benefits are and have historically been at the expense of others, and that is my main concern. Were it not for the side-effects, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. I have to concur with Jiddu Krishnamurti when he said:

      “The constant assertion of belief is an indication of fear.”

      As far as a mud-wrestling contest, I’m not interested. I didn’t realize that’s what you meant in your email earlier today when mentioning a new blog format. I prefer to direct my energies at exploring how the environment, including culture, impacts us all, (the negative and the position), and finding ‘common ground’ as mentioned at the end of this short video:


  4. Sandeep Bhalla

    As stated earlier the need to be right arise from being ‘sticky to belief or disbelief’. This debate inspired me an article today. However the belief is not experiencing. Experience happen when we let go all that we know. Belief or Disbelief. Let go of memories, past, knowledge everything. Rest what is my experience is dead leather tanned by my words which can not be eaten. Any way a life lived without knowing the ‘self’ is quite unselfish in a selfish way.


  5. N℮üґ☼N☮☂℮ṧ

    Sandeepji, thank you. I appreciate your gentle reproof and wisdom. It helps me gain a better understanding from a 3rd party perspective. I would like to bring some clarity and closure to this.

    Lewis, you quoted Richard, who quoted Karl Rahner, who’s considered to be one of Richard’s heroes and played a major role in forming many of Richard’s opinions. So, I spent time trying to gain a better perspective of your viewpoint by reading more information about Richard and Karl. One of the issues was that Karl claimed ‘special revelation’ and invented “Anonymous Christianity”. Vatican II accepted and promoted it which also states that those who have been given knowledge of Christ, and fail to act “… could not be saved.”

    This is what I meant by you not doing your homework sometimes. You have readers who appreciate you, and no doubt esteem you, so what you say holds weight. We (and I speak for myself) need to hold ourselves accountable for those things we unintentionally promote and remain open to constructive criticism. To further elaborate…this notion of ‘Anonymous Christianity is condemned by Liberal Christians and other faiths (and I agree with them) because it would be impossible to find anywhere in the world a sincere Jew, Muslim, Atheist, etc, who would not regard the assertion that he/she is an ‘anonymous Christian’ as presumptuous. It’s an ‘honorary’ status granted unilaterally to people who have not expressed any desire for it. Furthermore, the majority of the world’s population are born into non-Christian families. This belief comes across as denigrating the beliefs of others by supposing that they are ‘really’ Christians by default without realizing it. Hopefully you can see the ultimate message this sends, and carries a tone of fundamentalism.

    So, as I mentioned to you in my most recent email, and have mentioned this numerous times in previous emails and in some of your posts—I don’t have issues with the fact that you believe in God, except perhaps the times when you go about trying to prove God’s existence. Belief is a personal issue, but it has profoundly impacted the whole of society throughout history. What I question are some of the sources and people (living or dead) you use to represent and back up your beliefs and/or viewpoints.

    Lewis, I apologize for being tedious about details. I’m a big picture thinker, and I can understand why that can be annoying. As I mentioned before, I am a pain in the ass sometimes. Thank you for understanding.

    Much respect to both you and Sandeep.



  6. Pingback: Karl Rahner on humanity’s sense of guilt before God | Bill Walker | Blog

  7. Pingback: The Sin of Exclusion – Richard Rohr | Katie and Martin's Blog on the Lutheran Church in Australia

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