Richard Rohr – Right and Left

The idioms “Right” and “Left” came from the Estates General in France, where to the right of the throne sat the nobility and the clergy (interesting how the clergy moved over there, given Jesus’ poverty), and on the left sat the commoners–over 90 percent of the French population at that time. I suspect that some form of the Right is necessary for order and continuity in a culture, and some form of the Left is necessary for truth and reform in a culture. You need them both, and they recur in every culture in some form. It is only dualistic thinkers who cannot see this.


In the biblical tradition, these two poles are symbolized by the kings/priests and the prophets, beginning with the Egyptian Pharaoh, and the first prophet, Moses. There is a necessary tension between the kingly/priestly world view and the prophetic world view. There is only one instance in the Hebrew Scriptures that those two ever make friends, and then only barely. This is when David the King accepts the critique of Nathan the prophet after Nathan accuses David of his deceit, violence, and corruption. David has the humility to admit, “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:13). Moreover, he does not chop Nathan’s head off, which is the norm in all of literature. It is this action that sets David on a course toward wholeness and holiness. But it is rare.

The Right considers itself the product of rationality, experience, and civilization. The Left normally takes shape in people’s movements arising out of high-minded ideology or unbearable injustices, and often both. The Left’s movements are not rational or well planned at the beginning; they are intuitive and come from the suffering of the little people, who are of no account and have no press, power, or status. Thus, they rely on symbols, songs, slogans, and charismatic leaders to get off the ground.The biblical pattern of Exodus, prophets taking on empires, has been repeated time and again in history. Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., would be outstanding examples of such prophets in our time, and we all know how their stories ended. Only in Oscar Romero, Nelson Mandela, and now Pope Francis do we begin to see the two normal oppositions begin to work together in one person. Romero was both prophet and bishop, Mandela was both prophet and president, and Pope Francis is both prophet and Pope. I am not aware of any previous Pope that I would call a prophet. Non-dual thinking and non-dual spirituality are finally emerging in our time.
Gateway to Silence
God hears the cry of the poor.

Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

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