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Radical Politics

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Politics: Week 1

Radical Politics
Thursday, July 12, 2018

There is a lot of talk today about “radical” politics on both sides. The politicians and party on the far side often look “extreme” and so the very word “radical” now has a somewhat negative connotation. “Radical” just comes from the Latin word radix, meaning “root.” For something to be “radical” it should cut to the root of the issue and deal with causes, not just symptoms, which politics rarely does on either the Left or the Right.

Authentic religion alone is radical—and that is not an overstatement—because it has the power to transplant our Imperial “I” into the Largest Field. At its best, spirituality moves us far beyond our “private I” and into the Fullest Reality (although I admit this only happens in a small minority of believers). In his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus directly says that our inner attitudes and states are the real sources of our problems, preceding our outward behaviors. Most religion is obsessed with a small number of outer behaviors, and we clergy think it is our job to enforce these outer behaviors. This is largely a waste of God’s time—and ours. Jesus says not only that you must not kill, but that you must not even harbor hateful thoughts and feelings (see Matthew 5:21-22). He clearly begins with the necessity of a “pure heart” (Matthew 5:8), knowing that the outer behavior will follow. Too often we force the outer, and the inner remains fully operative within us like a cancer. Note how many Christians are still racist and classist!

If you walk around with hatred and prejudice in your heart and mind all day, morally you’re just as much a killer as the one who pulls out the gun. That seems to be what Jesus is saying. The evil and genocide of World War II was the final result of decades of negative and paranoid thinking among good German Christians, Catholic and Lutheran. The tragic fascism of Nazi Germany was fomenting in people’s hearts long before a political leader came to catalyze their hate and resentment. Now it seems we are seeing the same in the United States.

Jesus tells us to not harbor hateful anger or call people names even in our hearts like “fool” or “worthless person” (Matthew 5:22). If we’re walking around all day thinking, “What an idiot he is,” we are already in the state of sin. Sin is more a state of separation and superiority than any concrete action—which is only the symptom. How we live in our hearts is our real truth.

Jesus insists that we love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44). For Jesus, prayer seems to be a matter of waiting in love, returning to love, trusting that love is the unceasing stream of reality. Prayer isn’t primarily words; it’s an attitude, a stance, a state that precedes “saying” any individual prayers. That’s why Paul could say, “Pray unceasingly” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). If we think of prayer as requiring words, it is surely impossible to pray always. Whatever we do in conscious, loving union with the Reality right in front of us is prayer. As Leonard Cohen sang, we have had far too much of “killers in high places [who] say their prayers out loud.” [1] You know this is true.

If we continue to fail to address the underlying matters of the heart, mind, and soul, then we will only cut off one head of the Hydra—and then watch it grow many more.

[1] Leonard Cohen, “Anthem,” The Future (Columbia: 1992).

Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Radical Politics,” Sojourners,

Image credit: Dorothy Day OblSB (1897-1980) was an American journalist, social activist, and Catholic convert. She became a key figure in the Catholic Worker Movement and earned a national reputation as a political radical. Learn more at
Inspiration for this week’s banner image:
As long as we unquestioningly buy into the egoic system, where the roots of our narcissism often lie hidden, we’re going to have problems. If we think we can say our private prayers and still genuflect before the self-perpetuating, unjust systems of this world, our conversion will not go very deep or aid in the unfolding of history. Dorothy Day was not afraid to say it strongly: “We need to change the system. We need to overthrow, not the government, . . . but this rotten, decadent, putrid industrial capitalist system which breeds such suffering.” —Richard Rohr
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