The Performance Principle: Richard Rohr
Friday, March 22, 2019
Religion in the second half of life is finally not a moral matter; it’s a mystical matter. While most of us begin focused on moral proficiency and perfection, we can’t spend our whole lives this way. Paul calls the first-half-of-life approach “the Law”; I call it the performance principle: “I’m good because I obey this commandment, because I do this kind of work, or because I belong to this group.” That’s the calculus the ego understands. The human psyche, all organizations, and governments need this kind of common sense structure at some level.
But that game has to fall apart or it will kill you. Paul says the law leads to death (e.g., Romans 7:5, Galatians 3:10). Yet many Catholics I meet—religious, laity, and clergy—are still trapped inside the law, believing that by doing good things or going to church, they’re going to somehow attain worthiness or acceptance from God. This was Luther’s authentic critique of much of the Catholic church as he knew it.
One of the only ways God can get us to let go of our private salvation project is some kind of suffering. This is why Christians hang the cross at the center of our churches, why we kiss the cross, and why we say we’re “saved” by the cross. Yet for all this ritualization, it seems we don’t really believe what the cross teaches us—that the pattern of death and resurrection is true for us, too, that we must die in a foundational way or any talk of “rebirth” makes no sense. I don’t know anything else that’s strong enough to force you and me to let go of our ego. However we’ve defined ourselves as successful, moral, better than, right, good, on top of it, number one . . . has to fail us!