Father Richard Rohr strategies to gain credibility
Spurious references, shaming opponents, straw men and gish gallops

This is part 1 of this series.

Richard Rohr's Popularity

Richard Rohr is one of the most popular spirituality authors and speakers in the world. He is a favourite of Oprah Winfrey, Melinda Gates, the New York Times, PBS, Fr. James Martin, and progressive minded Catholics who value "woke" culture and "the Great Reset".

Fr. Rohr has had incredible traction, even among some who claim to be serious about their Catholic or Evangelical faith. Many outsiders think he is ushering in a new season of universal oneness where structure, hierarchy, denominations and tradition will be a thing of the past.

He is a polarizing figure, which is weird for someone who feels binary judgments are shallow. Nevertheless, Richard Rohr cannot be dismissed with knee jerk responses and a few sound bites. His audience and body of work are quite resistant to that type of fundamentalism.

For over 40 years Richard Rohr has used his platform as a Catholic priest to publicly challenge Catholic doctrine from within the Church. As Catholic laity, we think it is appropriate to publicly respond.

Spurious and strident references are peppered throughout Richard Rohr's talks and interviews

Richard Rohr's interviews, talks, and writings have common patterns, which obscure his true teachings and give them an appearance of legitimacy.

  1. Spurious References: Every 30 seconds he drops the name of a Saint (with a year like 1230 A.D.), a council or a Bible reference (chapter/verse). These are spurious or make False Equivocations, pivoting on words in these orthodox references, to mean things not intended in the text.
  2. Boasting credentials: Frequent mention of his academic credentials (i.e., "I studied Latin for 6 years", I've been a priest for 43 years", "In the Franciscan tradition", "in the 60's when I was in seminary")
  3. Thrust and retreat: Makes a dramatic outrageous heretical claim for effect (i.e., "it is incorrect to say Jesus is God"), then steps back with a magisterial qualifier, and then continues with a muted version of the original claim.
  4. Exploits failings: Of Church leaders and laity in history or present and uses it as a launchpad to attack the teachings of the Bible or the Doctrine of the Church. Ironically, his organization, the CAC, has admitted to sexual abuse and he has not said this has compromized his teaching.
  5. Straw Men: Presents a straw man of opposing views and shames people who hold those views, then offers a fake olive branch by saying "I'm not picking on those people, it could be anyone like that", then continues on with the insult (Gaslighting).
  6. Gish Gallops: A fire hose of ideas without enough time or detail to expose the weaknesses of each proposal.
  7. Identification: He uses his role as a white male Catholic priest to legitimize his critique all things white, male, straight, or Catholic under the Woke language of "privilege".
  8. Bait and Switch: He uses an orthodox name for an unorthodox teaching (and combines that with lots of spurious references #1 above).
  9. Manure sandwich: An orthodox top and bottom of a talk (start and end) and a complete heresy as the meat in the middle of the talk.
  10. Denial: Right before he launches into a proposition he says something like "this is not unorthodox or heretical". If he gets criticism, he simply denies he holds a certain position, even though there are all kinds of writings, interviews, and recorded talks to prove it, at which point his protectors kick in.

At first, he seems incredibly impressive as he rattles off dates, saints, councils and Bible verses. These references are short, with little context or in-depth analysis. Luckily, with YouTube, we can stop the video and ask:

"wait a minute, did Richard Rohr just say [name the saint] would agree to [name the topic] that Richard Rohr is proposing"?

Then one can go and look up the reference and find that it has very little to do with the proposal. There are plenty of talks, interviews and books which clearly demonstrate his true beliefs. Just filter out all the noise and hand waving (the 9 strategies above).

Below is an example. Notice (1) The Gish Gallop of references to Scripture, none of which affirm his position. (2) straw man arguments, which characterize Christianity's understanding of Jesus as "small", "tribal", "[our] divine mascot", "so in awe" of the incarnation. (3) Then he proceeds to make Jesus small by saying "the Universal Christ is another name for everything ... a bigger, older, larger category than Jesus" (6) the assertion that his position is "not unorthodox or heretical" but "utterly new" to most Christians because the Church "didn't tell us to pay attention to it". (7) He's the knight in shining armor to rescue Christianity from 2000 years of narrow mindedness. For good measure, he rattles off Black Lives Matters talking points, as if the Church has never defended the underprivileged. (8) It's all leading to the big zinger:

... what we're dealing with [is] the basis for a universal religion that doesn't need to be in competition with any other religion ... we're coming to a natural religion. (Richard Rohr, source)

Partial Transcript
... this is not a stretch this is not unorthodox or heretical but it's utterly new to most Christians that Christ is not Jesus last name. Christ existed from all eternity and that's very clear in Paul's letter and Ephesians, Colossians, the prologue to John's Gospel, the first paragraph of Hebrews. It's all through the scriptures. But you can't see what you're not told to pay attention to and the first 2,000 years Christianity was so in awe of the incarnation of God ... we never really got to recognize that Christ was a bigger and an older and a larger category than Jesus. Jesus revealed the Christ ... what we're dealing with [is] the basis for a universal religion that that it doesn't need to be in competition with any other religion ... we pull Jesus into our tribal worldview ... as our divine mascot ... we're coming to a natural religion. (Richard Rohr, source)

Ian Paul, a theologian, in a review of The Universal Christ, wrote

"I did not find a single biblical text which was cited with any plausibility; every single one was either misread, or taken out of context, or even cited with errors" ... "Rohr is leading us down some very odd paths and a long way from orthodox Christian faith at numerous points." (Ian Paul, source)

After examining dozens of references, we also have come to the conclusion that his references are disingenuous. It is hand waving and noise. There is simply too much of it to think he doesn't know what he is doing. It appears he has an agenda for the Church and that the "ends justifies the means".

His ability to successfully use this strategy in his climb to international stardom as an author and speaker is breathtaking.

His positions on Jesus, hell, the devil, the sacraments, etc. would horrify St. Francis, Blessed Duns Scotus, St. Bonaventure, St. Theresa of Avila, St. Iraneaus and even mystics like Thomas Merton and Karl Keating, and Catholic scientists like Pierre Teilhard whom he frequently quotes.

He enjoys his status as an ordained priest, and is very careful to not step beyond the teflon coating of legitimacy he has been granted by those who enable him. He often corrects interviewers with

"I'm not liberal! I'm extremely traditional! I really am [raising right hand ] but most conservatives are not traditional at all. They just call 1940 Alabama traditional. (Richard Rohr, source)

Notice the shaming of his opponents using the typical left wing target, Alabama. It makes you want to break out in a chorus of "Sweet Home Alabama".

There is not one "traditional" Christian theologian in history who held the position that Jesus is not the only saviour, and or who extended an invitation to communion for those who are in grave sin.

He's learned if he says "I'm traditional" enough and peppers his delivery with references, then people start to believe it. Here's a great example:

When I was first presented with this Franciscan Christology in the late 60s and then I saw it so affirmed in the New Testament I of course wondered well why doesn't everybody talk this way and then of course I was trained to look at two of our great Franciscan intellectual mentors St. Bonaventure 13th century and Duns Scotus in the 12th and 13th century. 

Here he's associating his Christology with that of St. Francis, and drops some names for further credibility and he let's you know he's been studying since the 60's and makes the untennible claim that his views are "so affirmed" in the Bible. But his Christology looks nothing like St. Francis' views. St. Francis was totally sold out for Jesus. Richard Rohr proposes a muted Jesus, stripped of his primary role as Saviour.

One gets dizzy trying to follow Richard Rohr as he weaves in and out of orthodoxy and leads us onto a high precipice. Then he coaxes us to jump off the mountain of old fashioned religious structures and orthodoxy, and trust the Universal Christ to be the wings beneath our wings. Who needs the Sacraments, the 10 Commandments, Church morality, or a surrender to Jesus? Here's a sample:

... Saint Ignatius of Antioch in the year 108 as he travelled across Asia Minor to be killed in Rome, he went to village after village ... and he finds every little village is already calling itself followers of Jesus... They weren't trying to go to heaven, they found their dignity in this world . (Richard Rohr, source)

Notice the reference to authority, St. Ignatius. Then suddenly he slips in

"They weren't trying to go to heaven."

Huh? Of course they were! The "Good News" preached by the early apostles was all about Heaven. Jesus is the "way, the truth and life". The most coveted grave plots in the Catacombs were next to the martyrs.

Here, Richard Rohr is just plain rewriting history. Why? Because for Richard Rohr, Jesus is not the Saviour. We don't need a Saviour because there is no such thing a sin.

Follows the Alexander Hislop model of references

His references are spurious and strident, like Alexander Hislop in the 1850's who wrote "The Two Babylons" about the Catholic Church as the "Whore of Babylon" (Rev 17:5) with all kinds of footnotes. The book got huge traction for over 100 years in Protestant circles, because it appeared well researched, until the book was discredited (footnote by footnote) in 2004 by a Protestant researcher, Ralph Woodrow. But the damage had been done. A large part of the Protestant world still thinks the Catholic Church is the Whore of Babylon.

Fallacy of Equivocation results in the opposite response to sin

Another technique he uses the Fallacy of Equivocation. This is when a fallacious argument references a source with the same word or phrase, but uses it in a different sense than what was intended in the source, with the goal to create a conclusion different than the source.

Here are a couple of examples. He says we are separated from God by "choice". However, the choice he is talking about is our choice not recognize ourselves as divine, our choice not to see the inherent divinity in all things is what separates us from god. Whereas the Christian view is that we are separated from God through original and personal sin and our "choice" is to repent and surrender our lives to Jesus.

The response to Richard Rohr's concept of choice is to continue in sin and feel good about it. The response to Christianity's concept of choice is to surrender to Jesus, and to sin no more.

Here's another example. In Chapter 1 of the Universal Christ he talks about neutrinos at the subatomic level that pass through everything in the universe. He concludes there's no such thing as total darkness. He equates this with the Gospel of John's Christ as a light in the darkness. He's equating the light of neutrinos at a sub-atomic level with the light of Jesus. John isn't talking about physics. Richard Rohr is equating physical photons with spiritual light.

Richard Rohr shames Christians with different viewpoints

Here's another example:

 It’s not correct to say Jesus is God. ... I’ve been a priest 43 years. Most of the Catholics Christians I’ve met would for all practical purposes believe Jesus is God only, and we are human only. We missed the big point. The point is the integration, both in Jesus and ourselves. (Richard Rohr, Source)

Notice how Richard Rohr paints a caricature of his opponents. He just made up out of thin air that Catholics don't recognize the humanity of Jesus. But that doesn't matter, his purpose is to strip Jesus of his eternal Alpha-Omega salvatory identity. This is a common pattern. He says a crazy heresy, then ducks back into orthodoxy for 15 seconds to qualify it, rattles off his credentials as a priest, a scholar or Latin expert, etc... before launching out on muted version of the original proposition.

Jesus IS God. It is incorrect to say that he is not, ever. Jesus is not an integration of the human and the divine in the same sense that we are an integration of our father and our mother. Jesus is fully human yes, and fully divine. To imply that Christ is an integration of the human and the divine just like we are, is simply not true. 

I believe that Jesus’ death on the cross is a revelation of the infinite and participatory love of God, not some bloody payment required by God’s offended justice to rectify the problem of sin. Such a story line is way too small and problem-oriented. (Richard Rohr, source)

Notice the common pattern. (1) the shrill characterization of the opposing view (2) the insult to people who believe the opposing view. (3) the presentation of his "reasonable" view.

Clearly underneath it, for Rohr, Jesus is not the "Lamb of God".

For all his talk about love, tolerance, and inclusion, Richard Rohr has no problem shaming Christians with different viewpoints with titles like "superficial, addicted, puny, little, bad theology, immature, tribal, cheap image of God, clannish, sentimental, domineering, arrogant, imperialistic, violent, exclusionary."

So much for showing us how not to be "dualistic" and "non-binary".

He is basically Gaslighting his audience. If you don't agree with his assertions he tries to shame you and convince you that you have mental problems, you're spiritually immature, etc. Theologian Ian Paul writes about Rohr:

His argument is choc-a-block with ... exaggerated caricatures of opposing views which are depicted as so ridiculous that it is hard to resist how superior Rohr’s own view is. You are either a happy universalist like him, or you are obsessed with a wrathful God who is just waiting to condemn everyone. You either agree with his vision of the cosmic Christ, or you are locked into a narrow misunderstanding which is over concerned with the human Jesus and misses the real point of the whole narrative ... his consistent line is that his position is the mature understanding of Christian faith, and that if you have any objections to it, it is essentially because you have not yet understood and not yet reached his degree of contemplative maturity. The answer to this is not to ask questions or delve into the arguments, but to sit and wait, read again, contemplate, and eventually enlightenment will come and you will realise that he is right. If you don’t do this, you are not only unenlightened, you are positively damaging, and you have ‘no good news’ (p 29).(Ian Paul, source)

Show examples of his shaming

Christians have historically have been more interested and a superiority of their own tribe group and nation than they are in the wholeness of creation (Richard Rohr)

the fact that Christianity for the most part has not changed people's politics but in fact allow us to be domineering arrogant imperialistic violent exclusionary tells me we maybe love Jesus although not very well but we certainly didn't know that the whole creation was the body of God the whole creation was the body of Christ so we're ready in the 21st century to bring. (Richard Rohr)

Unless and until we can enjoy this [cosmic sweep of love], so much of what passes for Christianity will amount to little more than well-disguised narcissism and self-referential politics. We see this phenomenon playing out in the de facto values of people who strongly identify as Christian. Often they are more racist, classist, and sexist than non-Christians. ...The god we've been presenting to people is just too small and stingy for big hearted people to trust or to love. (Richard Rohr)

"[the historic Church] found a way to communicate Christianity in a sort of "fast food" way. A few little doctrines to believe, a few little rituals to practice, a few little prayers to say." ... Priests have been tasked with "sin management". (Richard Rohr)

In Israel Jesus offered an experience, then Christianity moved to Greece it became a philosophy, moved to Rome became organized religion, moved to Europe and became a culture, then moved to America and became a business.(Richard Rohr, source)
The last 500 years we've been stuck in rational thinking.
At least one reason for our failure to understand Jesus’ clear teaching on nonviolence lies in the fact that the Gospel has primarily been expounded by a small elite group of educated European and North American men. The bias of white male theologians is typically power and control. From this perspective nonviolence and love of enemies makes no sense. (Richard Rohr, source)
We've found, after fifteen hundred years in the Western church of trying to preach the gospel primarily to kings, princes, the rich and powerful, that the message always seemed to get prostituted. It liberates nobody: the powerful remain in their illusions and preoccupations with security; the poor remain victimized and often bitter... American middle-class Christians seem to say. 'I just have the truth.' The rationalization of power, patriarchy and free-market economics is seldom owned, because one can't see one's own shadow side.(Source)

Richard Rohr argues that childhood fundamentalist guilt and childhood brainwashing are the reasons Christians believe that the devil and sin are real. He says that Catholicism is a religion of white privilege, and that our belief that Jesus as the only way, is part of an white exclusionary power structure that we learned to accept from an early age.

Straw men

A tool Fr. Rohr employs is straw man slogans such as "a loving God would never abandon 98% of people who are not Christians." Who can disagree with that? The only problem is the Church doesn't teach that. But that doesn't matter. He's on to the next assertion of the Gish Gallop.

Is non-duality is more spiritually mature than duality

Richard Rohr claims that people mature spiritually from duality to non-duality ignoring that Jesus is dualistic at the height of his "spiritual maturity" after his Resurrection. (Rev. 22:14-15). Christian maturity is growing in love, and that is distinct from non-duality. Love doesn't say "yes" to sin or falsity, which is what Rohr's non-duality does. The Bible says:

11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.  12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly,[b] but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.  13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. (1 Cor 13:1-13)

In our article on the Bible and Richard Rohr, we provide many examples of duality in the Bible.

Talking points borrowed from LBGTQ+, Black Lives Matters

On close analysis, many of his arguments against the historical Church are borrowed from diverse anti-Catholic sources like Fundamentalism, LBGTQ+ culture, woke theology, and Black Lives Matters. Here's an example:

“Colorblindness” is actually harmful in the face of measurable inequities for people of color. Pride parades and other cultural celebrations of identity are valuable expressions for many groups whose voices have been silenced. People with privilege and power like myself are called to move to the bottom and to destroy the illusion of our supremacy. (Richard Rohr, source)

Notice his message, "I can say this because I'm a white male priest". But his message is clearly "I'm not one of those white males". The strategy is to pose as an "enlightened" insider who can preach against the teachings of the Church because of some of its administrative failings.

Pride parades are public demonstrations of S&M, nudity, bondage, and foul speech with hundreds of children under 10 being dragged to them. We have separate articles on Is same sex attraction intrinsically disordered, gay marriage, gay sex and the Bible, and the Catholic Church and same sex attraction.

Does the Bible speak about pride parades?

Pride parades are like a parade at the Captial in the Hunger Games with decadence as its defining characteristic. Isaiah 3 may provide a narrative on Pride parades.

Their insolent airs bear witness against them, they parade their sin like Sodom, To their own undoing, they do not hide it, They are preparing for their own downfall ...They are haughty and walk with outstretched necks, glancing wantonly with their eyes, mincing along as they go, tinkling with their feet; ...In that day the Lord will take away the finery of the anklets, the headbands, and the crescents; the pendants, the bracelets, and the scarfs; the headdresses, the armlets, the sashes, the perfume boxes, and the amulets; the signet rings and nose rings; the festal robes, the mantles, the cloaks, and the handbags; the garments of gauze, the linen garments, the turbans, and the veils. Instead of perfume there will be a stench; and instead of a sash, a rope; and instead of well-set hair, baldness; and instead of a rich robe, a binding of sackcloth; instead of beauty, shame. (Isaiah 3)

Talking points borrowed from Evangelical Fundamentalism

It's weird that he would borrow arguments against Catholicism from fundamentalists, for whom he's shown not respect.

To undermine the authority of the Pope, he has adopted the Evangelical "little rock, big rock" theory to undermine Jesus' appointing Peter as head of the Church. We have a full discussion of that here. We also have a full discussion on the necessity of hierarchy which he says was not Jesus' vision.

Another device he uses against Catholic teaching is the "Red Letter Bible" approach.

 ... if Jesus never talked about it once, the churches will tend to be preoccupied with it (abortion, birth control, and homosexuality are current examples) (Richard Rohr, Source)

Suddenly, Richard Rohr become a fundamentalist, and tries to justify left wing culture war topics because Jesus didn't explicitly name those topic in the Gospels. We have separate articles on same sex attraction, abortion and contraception.

Richard Rohr's has never debated a serious historian or theologian

In his entire career he has not faced a serious scholar in theology or history in an open debate. He would not subject his reputation to that kind of risk.

A network protectors

Richard Rohr's reputation appears to have been anointed with a teflon coating which is protected by high ranking Church officials, mainstream media, liberal minded clergy and lay associations, liberal minded Protestants and even secular onlookers, especially in the mainstream media. He claims to have “Cardinal-bishop protectors wherever [he] has been." (source)

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