The dualistic mind - Fr. Rohr

This was put out today on the CAC meditations. It does give food for thought:

The Egoic Operating System

Monday, March 17, 2014

Dualistic thinking, or the egoic operating system, as Cynthia Bourgeault calls it, is our way of reading reality from the position of my private ego. “What’s in it for me?” “How will I look if I do this?” This is our preferred way of seeing reality. It has become the “hardware” of almost all Western people, even those who think of themselves as Christians, because the language of institutional religion is largely dualistic itself. It is a way of teaching that has totally taken over in the last five hundred years. It has confused information with enlightenment, mind with soul, and thinking with experiencing. But they are two very different paths.

The dualistic mind is essentially binary. It is either/or thinking. It knows by comparison, by opposition, by differentiation. It uses descriptive words like good/evil, pretty/ugly, intelligent/stupid, not realizing there may be 55 or 155 degrees between the two ends of each spectrum. It works well for the sake of simplification and conversation, but not for the sake of truth or even honest experience.

Actually, you need your dualistic mind to function in everyday life: to do your job as a teacher, a doctor, or an engineer. It is great stuff as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough. The dualistic mind cannot process things like infinity, mystery, God, grace, suffering, death, or love. When it comes to unconditional love, the dualistic mind can’t even begin to understand it. It pulls everything down into some kind of tit-for-tat system of worthiness and achievement, which is largely what “fast food religion” teaches, usually without even knowing it.

Adapted from A New Way of Seeing, A New Way of Being: Jesus and Paul

To me, I really don’t see dualistic thinking as “a way of thinking that has totally taken over”. Nor do I see it as a “very different path”. To me, it makes more sense to go back to the language of conscience.

Doesn’t our conscience designate what is good and what is bad, and that very conscience acts as a guide to our behavior until empathy is more developed?

If that is the case, dualism is more than just a “way of thinking”; dualistic thinking is the result of an innate mechanism within the human psyche itself, a natural phenomenon. Look at the universal appeal of “Star Wars”! So even Manichaeism has its natural underpinnings, and rather than be condemned, the mindset of Manichaeism could be accepted as part of a spiritual journey.

I am not saying that Fr. Rohr is not accepting the dualistic mindset, indeed he shows a place for it in the world. I agree with him that it does have its limitations though.


Doesn’t our conscience designate what is good and what is bad, and that very conscience acts as a guide to our behavior until empathy is more developed?

That is true IF you believe that a Catholic conscience must be formed properly and formed by the teaching of the Church.

I have heard Father Rohr speak and read some of his other works. He has a different view of conscience.

I think there will always be tension between a dualistic and monistic point of view, and this is as it should be. When people like Rohr talk about letting go of our dualistic mindset, it only because most of us are so firmly entrenched in dualistic thinking that we rarely consider unity and union. Concerning the conscience, I think as long as one refers to “my” conscience, we are still engaging in dualistic thinking. But as I say, for me it is not a matter of either/or, but more like both/and. For now at least, while we are on earth, the dualistic mindset seems stronger, too strong perhaps, so people like Rohr and Merton and others set out to remind us of our connectedness, through God and in God.

ITASM the “dualistic” mind frame is a necessary aspect of life as a finite mind with a precarious embodiment, in an infinite universe.

Indeed, it makes us who we are.


For those that adhere to the Catholic Church, that will be the case. However, everyone has a conscience, and it may be formed by other sources. We hope/believe that our Church has the best formation.

I don’t remember reading Fr. Rohr’s view of the conscience. I’m thinking that it should be a part of the “dualism” discussion, but I don’t remember seeing his views about the connection.

Interesting perspective. I use “my” and “our” pretty loosely when referring to the conscience. It seems to me that the conscience is an internal, God-given, mechanism, but there is an existential aspect about it. The way I look at “conscience” no two consciences are exactly alike, it is impossible. If a person uses “my”, they may be humbly taking ownership of their individual view. However, if a person says “my” in terms of “my way is right, and yours is wrong”, this could (probably?) be coming from ignorance.

Fr. Rohr seems to think that the language of dualism is ingrained in the institution, but I don’t really see it. It is the way we use the language that communicates dualism. For example, instead of saying, “that institution is evil” we could say one of these:

“To me, that institution has people in it that are somewhat blind and ignorant about what they are doing.”

“The people of that institution mean well, but have policies that allow for actions that are hurtful, such as abortion.”

“When I see X institution having policies that do not protect the environment, I feel angry, because I value the environment.”

The person with the dualistic mindset will be perfectly fine with “that institution is evil”, and the statement will reflect a place in the journey. A person who uses one of the others above is probably speaking from a different perspective.

Fr Rohr doesn’t seem to be teaching anything different than the mystics did centuries ago, only he’s using contemporary language and current psychological understanding unknown to doctors like St John of the Cross.

St John often wrote about detachment from the appetites, which in essence is detachment of the ego false serving agendas we have.

All of the spiritual masters of the Church talked about detachment from “self,” but it was the false self created by the ego as we’ve come to know today that blinds us from our true being. God knows us however, and all wrote about how the spiritual journey is a path to know God more deeply, but also of self-knowledge.


Spot on.

This is essentially what the Rule of St. Benedict is saying through the 12 degrees of humility.

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