PERENNIAL WISDOM AND CHRISTIANITY: COMPATIBLE?

By Marcia Montenegro (page 1 of 2)

Perennial Wisdom, also known as the Perennial Philosophy, the Perennial Tradition, or even the Wisdom Tradition, is a belief surfacing in the church although rarely under that name. Perennial Wisdom infiltrates through other practices such as Contemplative Spirituality and the Enneagram, both of which stem from the influence of Richard Rohr (b. 1943) and his followers. Rohr, a Roman Catholic Franciscan friar and the founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is a self-avowed follower of Perennial Wisdom and does not hide it.

The Basics

The term Perennial Philosophy first appeared around 1540 from the Italian humanist Agostino Steuco, and later by German mathematician and philosopher G.W. Leibniz in the 18th century. In the 20th century, a major spokesperson for the Perennial Philosophy was the Swiss-born Frithjof Schuon (1907-1998), a prolific writer on metaphysics, spirituality, art, and anthropology. Perennial Wisdom was popularized through the writer Aldous Huxley whose book, The Perennial Philosophy, was published in 1945. So what is the Perennial Philosophy? Several descriptions yielded this concise overview from a Perennial site at https://tinyurl.com/2sur73kw:

1. All life arises in and is an expression of the nondual Infinite Life that is called by many names: Ultimate Reality, God, Tao, Mother, Allah, YHVH, Dharmakaya, Brahman, and Great Spirit among others.
2. You contain two ways of knowing the world: a greater knowing (called Atman, Soul, Self, Spirit, Mind, etc.) that intuitively knows each finite life as a unique manifestation of Infinite Life, and a lesser knowing (called self, ego, ahem, kibr, etc.) that mistakes uniqueness for separateness, and imagines itself apart from rather than a part of Infinite Life.
3. Awakening the greater Self and knowing the interconnectedness of all life in the singular Life carries with it a universal ethic calling the awakened to cultivate compassion and justice toward all beings.
4. Awakening your greater Self and living this ethic is the highest goal you can set for yourself.


Not all followers of Perennial Wisdom would organize the above points in that order or even those categories, and would possibly modify it, but the points presented above appear basic to the Perennial Wisdom view and serve as convenient points for discussion. More on the four points are below beginning under the heading "Panentheism."

Followers of Perennial Wisdom

Perennial followers are found worldwide. There are two main types of Perennial wisdom, one is evolutionary, believing that humanity is evolving, and the other is not evolutionary (Credit goes to Dr. Ronald V. Huggins for this information, and other insight he has given me on this topic).

This is not an academic article, so those two views and other finer points of Perennial Wisdom are not addressed in this article. Only an attempt to explain the main ideas, including those promoted by Richard Rohr and some others, are given and answered here.

Perennial Wisdom is different from the idea that truth is found in all religions, which is broad and can be applied to different beliefs. Although Perennial followers would agree with that statement, their views go far beyond that sentiment. According to followers of the Perennial belief, the exoteric (outer) aspects of religions make religions appear to differ from each other, but the esoteric (inner) truth binds all religions together in the same core reality. All religions come from the same root or source in the Perennial view and are united in the same core truth.

Followers of Perennial Wisdom do not, however, advocate a global faith or a uniting of all religions. They believe that the same thread of wisdom runs through all religions, and therefore, all religions share and eventually lead to the same core truth and Divine Reality. Consequently, all could find the Perennial truths via their own faith tradition through an inward journey (mysticism). The inner journey via mystical practices is the bridge that leads one to the truth that unites these religions.

Terms such as "Divine Reality" and "the Divine" refer to God, though this god is not usually referred to in personal terms. The first of the four points given above expresses this idea.

Followers of Perennial Wisdom tend to continue in a traditional religion and may call themselves followers of the Hindu tradition the Buddhist tradition, the Christian tradition, etc. The word wisdom may also be included, as in the Christian wisdom tradition. Christianity, for example, is viewed as only one of many wisdom traditions. This article focuses on Christian Perennial followers.

The Contemplative Aspect

The term contemplative in this context refers to advocating certain practices that involve techniques such as following one's breath, repeating a word or words, imaginative prayer, and/or other techniques designed to bring one into a state of (non-thinking) awareness of the Divine and union with the Divine. This may go under the names prayer, meditation, centering, contemplative prayer, or other terms.

These practices are allegedly based on (what are called) the desert fathers and mothers, The Cloud of Unknowing, and the Centering Prayer Movement started by now deceased Trappist monks Thomas Keating( d. 2018) , Basil Pennington (d. 2005), and William Menninger (d. 2021). The Centering Movement also incorporated Hindu and Buddhist meditation techniques. (See CANA article on Contemplative Prayer for more information at http://www.christiananswersforthenewage.org/Articles_ContemplativePrayer1.aspx).

Richard Rohr is an enthusiastic promoter of Contemplative techniques and speaks admiringly of Thomas Keating. This contemplative aspect is significant because followers of Perennial Wisdom believe mysticism is the door through which one journeys toward realization of Perennial truth. Therefore, contemplative practices are strongly advocated and often include a variety of techniques.

Perennial Wisdom emphasizes the inner journey as necessary, and doctrine is secondary or even extraneous. As David G. Benner (b. 1947), a Master Teacher of Rohr's Living School, puts it:

The Christian wisdom tradition is not a set of beliefs to be embraced but a transformational path to be walked (From Preface to Living Wisdom; Wipf & Stock, Second edition, 2019).

To read more about Benner and this book, see CANA article on Benner's book at http://www.christiananswersforthenewage.org/Articles_LivingWisdom.aspx.
 

Panentheism

The first of the four points given in the first section above speaks of all life as an expression of the nondual life, meaning God (God has various names). All creation, including the earth, stars, animals, rivers, plants, rocks, and humans, arise from the nondual divine Source and contain the divine Source. As Richard Rohr puts it, everything and everyone has divine DNA.

This view is panentheism, a belief that all contains God. It is not pantheism, which is the view that identifies God as the same as creation, usually stated as all is God.

Panentheism effectively erases the biblical distinction between God and creation (though its advocates may try to refute that). In truth, since God created the universe from nothing, God cannot be part of what he created. God's omnipresence does not entail God being part of his creation; it merely expresses the reality that God cannot be contained anywhere. Therefore, God is present everywhere. The omnipresence of God is not panentheism.

Panentheism ties God into creation. This view of God denies biblical attributes of God such as his non-dependence (non-contingency) on anything; his immutability (God does not change (Numbers 23:19; Hebrews 13:8; James 1:17); his existence outside of time; and his Divine Simplicity (God has no parts/divisions) versus the dipolar panentheistic god who is in creation and transcends it. (To learn more about panentheism, see John W Cooper, Panentheism: The Other God of the Philosophers, From Plato to the Present; Baker Academic, 2006).

All Perennial Philosophy followers are therefore necessarily panentheists. Richard Rohr openly admits belief in panentheism and supports it as an historic Christian belief, although it is not.

The Greater Knowing

The second point in the list is about everyone having a greater knowing versus a lesser knowing from what is called the ego, which is the false self. The greater knowing is allegedly an intuitive knowledge of the Perennial truth but the person may not have had a conscious realization of this truth.

The Perennial Wisdom follower believes that the conscious rational mind of the ego causes one to mistakenly believe that he or she is separate from the Infinite (God). This false sense of separation gives rise to supposed wrong teachings about God and humanity. For example, the Christian Perennialist rejects the teaching that Jesus atoned for sins on the cross as necessary. The Perennialist would posit that the ego mind has blocked realization of the Perennial truth through this atonement doctrine and the person needs an awakening through contemplative practices to get past it. In fact, Rohr has called contemplation a process of unlearning.

Rohr denies the atonement for sins or the need for forgiveness since all are already "in" Christ. Like any Perennialist, Rohr also denies God's wrath on sin. Since the Perennial god is a part of creation and more impersonal, there is no Perennial concept of God's righteousness. Without righteousness, God is lowered to a human standard of what is good or just, which, of course, is heavily flawed, relative, and in the end, meaningless. And since the Perennialist denies God's wrath, then sin is not an issue.

 

 

 

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