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Thinking Anew: Rediscovering Christian faith

In a comment on the American presidential election Fr Richard Rohr says that gospel values had little influence on the outcome

In 1998 the author Anne Rice announced she had rediscovered her Christian faith. Twelve years later, however, she said she was ceasing to be a Christian “in the name of Christ”. She said: “In the name of Christ I refuse to be anti-gay, anti-feminist, anti-artificial birth control, anti-science, anti-life.” For her the term Christian had been compromised and no longer signified an authentic follower of Jesus Christ.

Some will dismiss her views, seeing her as a disaffected outsider who never really belonged. But when similar views are expressed from within the church, albeit in less extreme language, they cannot be dismissed so easily. In a talk given last year Fr Richard Rohr, an American Franciscan widely respected for his spirituality and learning, questioned to what extent the values of Jesus Christ mattered to Christians in their everyday lives; how real was he for them.

Gospel values

In a comment on the US presidential election he suggested gospel values had little influence on the outcome: “As we saw in the recent US election Christians overall showed little prophetic or compassionate presence. Most Christians have not been taught how to plug in to the mind of Christ, thus they often reflect the common mind of power, greed and war instead. The dualistic mind reads reality in simple binaries, good and bad, right and wrong, and thinks itself smart because it chooses one side.

“This is getting us nowhere. We need the mind of mystics to offer any kind of alternative, contemplative or non-dual consciousness. We need practice-based religion that teaches us how to connect with the intellect in ways that actually change us from our finite perspectives. We must rediscover what St Francis called the marrow of the gospel. It is time to rebuild from the bottom up.”

Fr Rohr is suggesting that Christians need to rediscover what it means to follow Jesus Christ in today’s world. John Macquarrie in Paths in Spirituality suggests what this means: “We are summoned to a new level of identification. We are summoned to be disciples, and so to a discipline. A disciple is a learner and his discipline is the training whereby he learns. To learn the way of the cross is the hardest thing of all, and the training by which we are to advance in this learning is provided for us by the discipline of prayer and worship. Those who disparage prayer and worship and imagine that without these one can achieve some kind of instant Christianity do not know what they are talking about. They understand neither the weakness of our humanity nor the depth of the richness of the spiritual maturity into which Christ is calling us.”

Human side of the church

Prof Macquarrie questions the position of someone such as Anne Rice who steps outside the faith community but with Fr Rohr he challenges the rest of us who remain on the inside to recognise that faith is not some sort of spiritual respite home offering relief in a troubled and distracted world. As tomorrow’s gospel makes clear, its purpose is to be a dynamic force for good in a world that has lost its way.

Anne Rice insists that her faith in Jesus Christ remains central to her life: “But following Christ does not mean following his followers. Christ is infinitely more important than Christianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been, or might become.” Perhaps her difficulty is that she fails to recognise the human side of the church, the difficulty we all have from time to time knowing or indeed wanting to know what is consistent with the mind of Christ. But as we acknowledge this weakness we find reassurance in these words of St Francis de Sales: “We must not be disturbed at our imperfections, since for us perfection consists in fighting against them.”