I’ve been on a bit of a Richard Rohr kick lately, receiving his daily email from the Center for Action and Contemplation. His most recent series of emails has been speaking of the Perennial Tradition, the idea (not original to Rohr, certainly) that there is a collective or common wisdom that “keeps recurring in different religions and with different metaphors” but which, at a foundational level, is essentially the same. Many religious people find this idea objectionable or threatening, because it seems to undermine the uniqueness of their particular religious tradition. In fact, the idea of the perennial tradition honors the uniqueness of each tradition that bears it, and recognizes the ways in which each of those traditions contributes to it. What the idea does challenge is the exclusivity that many people like to attach to their own religious tradition: that their’s is the only one that has any truth or value. Or, as it is often put in the Christian tradition as well as others, that there is only one religion that can get you to God.
As Rohr reflects on the essential elements or recurring themes of the perennial tradition, he focuses on three principles:
- There is a Divine Reality underneath and inherent in the world of things.
- There is in the human soul a natural capacity for, similarity to, and longing for this Divine Reality.
- The final goal of all existence is union with this Divine Reality.
Each of the world’s religious traditions honors and utilizes each of these principles in their own ways, and I certainly find that these principles speak to my own experience of the core elements of the Christian tradition and what I have observed and learned about with respect to other religious traditions.
For me, acknowledging that the perennial principles speak to something deeply true about human experience that is expressed in each of the various religions does not in any way undermine my commitment to Christ or compromise what I perceive as the uniqueness of the Christian tradition. What it does do is help me feel a greater connection to my fellow human beings, and to realize deeply, as someone once said, that we are all spiritual beings having a human experience.
I leave you with this quote from Richard Rohr, which to me rings beautifully and urgently true:
Most people, particularly young people, have no knowledge that the purpose of their life is union with Divine Reality. They have been told that the purpose of life is to get a degree and make money and have kids and die. That’s the narrowed-down secular understanding of reality, which is de facto followed by many Christians. Most are no longer connected to the perennial philosophy, and just waste time fighting their own religion. This is not wisdom at all—it is low-level survival. We’re now living in a largely survival mode in our culture. No wonder so many of our kids turn to drugs, drink, and promiscuous sex, because there’s nothing else that’s very exciting or very true.