Are Non-Dual Teachings Deemed Heretical by the Church?
Q: “Do non-dual Christian leaders such as yourself, Richard Rohr and Cynthia Bourgeault have to worry that your non-dual teachings will be deemed heretical by the Church? I have always thought that that fear keeps nonduality Christian teachers from publicly expressing the depth of their nondual beliefs.”
Ilia: Non-duality is the belief that entities do not exist in opposition to one another or separate from one another. Non-dualism is another name for unity. The concept of non-duality is ancient and arose with Eastern religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism and the primacy of pure consciousness. Quantum physics has opened up a new interest in non-duality in so far as consciousness plays an active role in measurement and thus in the description of reality. The physicist David Bohm developed a theory of implicate order based on quantum physics to describe a wholeness in nature. He once said that if our eyes had no lenses, the entire universe would appear as a hologram. Even on the level of biology, we are beginning to realize that wholeness and non-duality comprise nature. Harold Bloom in his book The Global Brain describes the network of life on Earth as one that is a global brain in which each of us plays a sometimes conscious role. Arthur Koestler proposed the word holon to describe the hybrid nature of sub-wholes and parts within in vivo systems. A holon is something that is simultaneously a whole and part.[i] From this perspective, holons exist simultaneously as self-contained wholes in relation to their sub-ordinate parts, and dependent parts when considered from the inverse direction. Koestler defines a holarchy as a hierarchy of self-regulating holons that functions first as autonomous wholes in supra-ordination to their parts, secondly as dependent parts in sub-ordination to controls on higher levels, and thirdly in coordination with their local environment. Holarchy is the principle of holons or whole/parts whereby the number of levels in a holoarchy describe its depth.[ii] David Splangler distinguishes hierarchy from holarchy in this way: “In a hierarchy participants can be compared and evaluated on the basis of position, rank, relative power, seniority and the like. But in a holarchy each person’s value comes from his or her individuality and uniqueness and the capacity to engage and interact with others to make the fruits of that uniqueness available.”[iii] Ken Wilber notes that evolution produces greater depth and less span; as the individual holon acquires greater depth, the span or the collective gets smaller and smaller.[iv] A whole atom is part of a whole molecule; a whole molecule of part of a whole cell; a whole cell is part of a whole organism. Similarly, the human person is a whole society. Reality is composed of neither wholes nor parts but of whole/parts—holons—or what Ken Wilbur calls integral systems.[v]
The word “catholic” comes from the Greek katholikos meaning “according to the whole.” Catholicity is consciousness of the whole and undergirds a way of life towards wholeness. Hence as Ignatius of Antioch realized in the second century it was the best word to describe the early Christians, a religion of new wholeness with God at the center. Jesus was a wholemaker. Jesus’ deep oneness with God empowered his sense of catholicity, a non-dual consciousness of belonging to the whole and the whole belonging to God. He lived from this wholeness by going “all over Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the Good News of the Kingdom, and healing people from every kind of disease and sickness” (Matt 4:23). He constantly challenged others to “see,” to awaken to the presence of God and to be part of an undivided whole, the “kingdom” (or “kin-dom”) of God, where Jew and Gentile, rich and poor, male and female are invited as equals to the divine banquet. He reached out to everyone and invited each person into a new relatedness with God and neighbor, challenging the powerful and raising up the poor. Jim Marion claims that “Jesus saw there was no separation between himself and any other person. . . .He saw all human beings (and indeed the whole created universe) as part of himself.”[vi] The catholicity of Jesus’ message is this: we are to realize the whole we are part of and to love the whole; to find a conscious voice of praise and glory to God in the whole, and to creatively participate in this unfolding reign of God. Jesus saw that all life is shared life. He went out of his way to emphasize the all-inclusiveness of God’s merciful love and he tried, at every opportunity, to raise the level of consciousness to a higher level, in order to attract a new wholeness. Jim Marion writes:
He deliberately praised the faith of the pagan Roman centurion as superior to many in his religion (Luke 7:9). He did the same in the case of the pagan Canaanite woman (Matt 15:21-28). Jesus deliberately spoke at length with the Samaritan woman even though, in his culture, men almost never discussed serious matters with women, and even though Samaritans were considered heretics and there shunned by orthodox Jews (Jn 4:7-26). He deliberately told the story of the good Samaritan who, unlike the priest and the other Jewish religious officials, showed himself the true neighbor to the man robbed and beaten along the road (Lk 10:30-37). And to the constant scandal of the morally separatist and righteous, Jesus made a habit of associating with people, such as tax-collectors and even prostitutes, whom his society considered sinners (Matt 9:10).[vii]
His law of love is the law of the whole. His acts of healing expressed God’s compassionate love for the wounded of this world, showing that God desires to liberate men and women from suffering, if we ourselves desire to be made whole. “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked the blind man, Bartimeus. “Rabbi, I want to see,” he said. “Go, your faith has healed you” (Mk 10:49-51). God’s desire for healing must be our desire for healing, just as God’s desire for unity must be our desire for unity. Salvation is not a spiritual grace alone; it is a physical and bodily healing that “embraces health, sanity, relationships, community and wholeness.”[viii] God’s healing love embraces the whole of reality but one must be receptive to God’s love for wholeness to be realized.
The Church cannot condemn non-dual consciousness because non-duality is the heart of the Gospel message. The challenge is to live this new consciousness in a way that aligns with nature itself and with a world of change. Teilhard de Chardin spoke of Gospel wholeness as theogenesis. Teilhard described a unitive principle undergirding wholeness and called this principle “Omega.” Omega is the most intensely personal center that makes everything personal and centered.[ix] It is both in evolution and independent of evolution, within and yet distinct from the process itself.[x] As the principle of centration that is both within and ahead, Omega emerges from the organic totality of evolution.[xi] It is operative from the beginning of evolution, acting on pre-living cosmic elements even though they are without individualized centers, by setting them in motion from the beginning, a single impulse of energy.[xii] Omega is God who is within and ahead. Teilhard claimed, in the future only a God who is functionally and totally ‘Omega’ can satisfy us. While in the case of a static world, the creator is structurally independent of his work–in the case of an evolutive world, the contrary is true. God is not conceivable except in so far as he coincides with evolution but without being lost in, [sort of a ‘formal’ cause] the centre of convergence of cosmogenesis [n]. The God who is in evolution cannot be a God who creates from behind but must be ahead, the prime mover who is Omega. His faith in Christ led him to posit Christ, the future fullness of the whole evolutionary process, as the “centrating principle,” the “pleroma” and “Omega point” where the individual and collective adventure of humanity finds its end and fulfillment. Jesus is Omega incarnate. The one who is in evolution is himself the cause and center of evolution and its goal.
Jesus’ catholicity is a new consciousness for a new cosmos, a living banquet of life empowered by God. His program of life is not only to be attentive to the whole, of which each of us is a part, but to create a new whole by receiving the Spirit, the life-giving energy of God, and participate in the emerging “kin-dom” of mutuality and shared life.
Non-duality is the heart of the Christian message. It is this new level of consciousness that is deeply needed in the world today. We would do to refocus our attention from a Church in crisis to a Church in evolution and realize the great call into new life.
[i] For a discussion of holons see Cannato, Radical Amazement, 94 -102; Judy Cannato, Fields of Compassion: How the New Cosmology is Transforming Spiritual Life (Notre Dame, IN: Sorin Books, 2010);Ken Wilbur, A Theory of Everything (Boston: Shambhala Publications, 2000).
[ii] Mark Edwards, “A Brief History of Holons,” https://www.integralworld.net/edwards13.html.
[iii] Wiki pedia holon/ holoarchy
[iv] Wilbur, Theory of Everything, 50.
[v] Ken Wilbur, Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: the spirit of evolution (Boston: Shambala, 2001), ??
[vi] Jim Marion, Putting on the Mind of Christ: The Inner Work of Christian Spirituality (Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads, 2000), 8.
[vii] Jim Marion, Putting on the Mind of Christ
[viii] Edwards, Jesus and the Cosmos, 54.
[ix] Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Activation of Energy, trans. René Hague (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1970), 112.
[x] In this respect, Omega is like the strange attractor of chaos theory; within the system and yet different from the system’s pattern of behavior. For a discussion on chaos theory see Ilia Delio, The Emergent Christ: Exploring the Meaning of Catholic in an Evolutionary Universe (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2011), 26-7.
[xi] Teilhard de Chardin, Activation of Energy, 114.
[xii] Teilhard de Chardin, Activation of Energy, 121.
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