In the latest season of the podcast Learning How to See, Brian McLaren, Richard Rohr, and CAC staff member Paul Swanson discuss the ways a dangerous façade or “cult of innocence” can be used to claim superiority over others and even deny reality:
Brian: We’d like to talk about innocence. . . . We’re trying to help people get an assessment of our Christian faith that in no way minimizes or negates the beauty and the wisdom and the depth and the insight, but also in no way minimizes the horrors that have been done in the name of our religion, in the name of our Church, in the name of Jesus, in the name of the Trinity, in the name of God. One of the things we want to talk about is this idea of Christianity as a cult of innocence. 
Richard: Seldom have I evoked so many implications and ramifications by one phrase, at least in the realm of theology, then when you gave me this phrase “cult of innocence.” I said, before even you explained it to me, “That’s it. That’s what Christianity allowed itself to become.” And it’s so triply ironic, because the Latin word innocens means “unwounded.” Here we worship a wounded man, and we said, “in his wounds are our salvation,” and yet much of our moral concentration is on proving we’re not wounded, we’re not wrong, we’re not at all bad, we’re not unworthy. Whereas Jesus, in utter freedom, says to the rich young man, “Why do you call me good? God alone is good” (Luke 18:19). That is such a line of inner freedom, where there is no need to be thought of as good. . . .
Brian: One of my friends years ago said to me (we were both pastors), “Brian, I think the biggest challenge that we pastors [face] is whether we want to be better than we appear or appear better than we are.” He said, “I’m really trying to make it my goal to be better than I appear, but it’s such a temptation.” . . . But [the way Jesus just dismisses it] is for him to say it’s a game I don’t even want to play. . . .
Paul: Richard, what you just said reminded me of something you had taught on a while ago about Christianity being a religion that has this amazing medicine called grace, but the way to succeed in the church is to say that you don’t need that medicine. That you can survive without it.
Richard: Yes, you can put in the word mercy, or unconditional love, all the things we’re supposed to be about. We convince people that we don’t really need it, because we’re not sinners. Oh, come on! Pope Francis’ first public talk when he was elected, this strange bishop from Argentina, they said, “Who are you?” The first words out of his mouth were, “I’m a sinner.” What liberation, my goodness! 
 The phrase “cult of innocence” is inspired by a tweet from Nadia Bolz-Weber and explored in chapter 16 of Brian McLaren’s new book Do I Stay Christian? A Guide for the Doubters, the Disappointed, and the Disillusioned.
 Adapted from Brian McLaren, Richard Rohr, and Paul Swanson, “Christianity and the Cult of Innocence,” June 17, 2022, in Learning How to See, season 3, episode 5 (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2022), podcast.
Explore Further. . .
- Read Richard on grace and the twelve steps.
- Learn more about this year’s theme Nothing Stands Alone.
- Meet the team behind the Daily Meditations.
Image credit: Claudia Retter, Lily Pond (detail), photograph, used with permission. Arthur Allen, Untitled 10 (detail), 2022, photograph, France, used with permission. Claudia Retter, Lake Wale’s Pond (detail), photograph, used with permission. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge the image.
This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story.
Image inspiration: We see the simplicity of these black and white photos: the lines of the leaves, the focus on just one flower, one stem, one patch of grass. Innocence, in its state of simplicity and grace, is not deluded by a desire for more; it accepts what is.
Story from Our Community:
In Minnesota, the large flocks of geese heading south, tells us winter is coming. My grandson misses the geese and whenever and wherever he hears their honking on a fall day, he rushes to find them in the sky and waves “goodbye.” It is a privilege to share nature with children. —Irene M.
Prayer for our community:
God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough, because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.