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Life as Participation
Life as Participation

Participatory Morality

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Life as Participation

Participatory Morality
Thursday, September 9, 2021

Jesus’ message of “full and final participation” was periodically enjoyed and taught by many unknown saints and mystics. It must be admitted, though, that the vast majority of Christians made Christianity into a set of morals and rituals instead of an all-embracing mysticism of the present moment. Moralism—as opposed to healthy morality—is the reliance on largely arbitrary purity codes, needed rituals, and dutiful “requirements” that are framed as prerequisites for enlightenment. Every group and individual usually begins this way. I guess it is understandable. People look for something visible, seemingly demanding, and socially affirming todo or not do rather than undergo a radical transformation to the mind and heart of God. It is no wonder that Jesus so strongly warns against public prayer, public acts of generosity, and visible fasting in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:1–18). Yet that is what we still do!

Any external behavior that puts us on moral high ground is always attractive to the ego because, as Jesus says, “you have already received your reward” (Matthew 6:2). Moralism and ritualism allow us to think we are independently “good” without the love and mercy of God and without being of service to, or engaging deeply with, anybody else. That’s a far cry from the full and final participation we see Jesus offering or any outpouring love of the Trinity.

Our carrot-and-stick approach to religion is revealed by the fact that one is never quite pure enough, holy enough, or loyal enough for the presiding group. Obedience is normally a higher virtue than love in religious circles. This process of “sin management” has kept us clergy in business. Hiding around the edges of this search for moral purity are evils that we have readily overlooked: slavery, sexism, racism, wholesale classism, greed, pedophilia, national conquest, LGBTQIA+ exclusion, and the destruction of Native cultures. Almost all wars were fought with the full blessing of Christians. We have, as a result, what some cynically call “churchianity” or “civil religion” rather than deep or transformative Christianity.

The good news of an incarnational religion, a Spirit-based morality, is that you are not motivated by any outside reward or punishment but by participating in the Mystery itself. Carrots are neither needed nor helpful. “It is God, who for God’s own loving purpose, puts both the will and the action into you” (Philippians 2:13). It is not mere rule-following behavior; rather, it is our actual identity in God that is radically changing us. Henceforth, we do things because they are true and loving, not because we have to do them or because we are afraid of punishment. Now we are not so much driven from without (the false self method) but we are drawn from within (the True Self method). The generating motor is inside us now instead of either a lure or a threat from outside us. This alone is a converted Christian, or converted anything.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self (Jossey-Bass: 2013), 102‒106.

Story from Our Community:
I believe in an evolutionary God, so I often relate to what Fr. Richard is saying in his meditation. I often say that vulnerability is another word for incarnation, and we are all called to be incarnate. —Carol C.

Image credit: Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Figuras en el Castillo (detail), 1920, photograph, Wikiart.
Image inspiration: We cannot see where these women have come from or where they are going. What is captured here is a moment of participation: taking each step, one at a time, together.
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