Too many discussions in Christian tradition are framed in terms of either/or.

Theological debate deteriorates into winners and losers.

My understanding is correct and should be promoted. The obvious truthfulness of my position must be endorsed by everyone who wants to be part of my tribe.

Your idea is wrong. The self-evident error of your position must be exposed and the heresy of your position rooted out and banished from our midst for fear that it may undermine our identity as a community. You need to repent.

But life is more complex than a true or false exam. And when “right” or “wrong” are the only categories available to define reality, we frequently tip over into enemy-formation and the violence that almost inevitably follows such a narrow rigid worldview.

In the interests of driving an entire nation to acts of unspeakable horror, Nazi propagandists constructed a vision of the human community that separated people into tight, exclusive, and often ludicrous, categories of friend or foe based on artificially manufactured categories. The function of the social construct was to destroy the foe and promote and protect the friend.

In his chilling character sketch of Joseph Goebbels, Nazi scholar, Joachim C. Fest describes the motive behind Joseph Goebbels’ antisemitism saying,

Everything seems to indicate that in Goebbels’ anti-Semitism, over and above individual motives, we must see an example of that dialectic common to all totalitarian propaganda: the need for a barbarically exaggerated image of the opponent. This helps to harness the aggressions within a society while attaching the latent positive energies to emotional idealisations of its own leader figures. (The Face of the Third Reich, 94)

Antisemitism was a tool to manipulate people. It was used to manufacture a patina of cohesion that obscured the unavoidable reality of pluralism. Fear of the objectified and demonized “other”, combined with the desperate need to belong, were used to control the majority.

Jesus came to destroy the illusion of division. When he instructed his followers to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44), he was dismissing the entire category of “enemy”. Someone you “love” cannot be your enemy. For Jesus, there was no “other.” All human beings were equally welcome. Jesus offended the power structures of his day, by welcoming the “other” and embracing those his own authorities deemed unacceptable:

And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax-collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples—for there were many who followed him. When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with those who “should” have been excluded. The religious gate-keepers of Jesus’ day demanded to know, ‘Why does he eat with tax-collectors and sinners?’ (Mark 2:15,16)

When you sit at my table, it becomes more difficult for me to see  you as an enemy.

If we are going to move beyond either/or divisions, we must find ways to eat “with sinners and tax-collectors.” We need to come out from behind the protective walls of the fortresses we have built to keep ourselves feeling safe. We must come to know those from whom we feel separate. Sitting across the table from one another, we will almost certainly discover that we are less different than we at first thought. The things that unite us as human beings on a common journey are far greater than anything that may appear to be a cause for separation.

There is no battle between unity and diversity. They are partners, companions on the journey. We are all enriched by the challenge of forging ways to work that enable all people to have the dignity of making the contribution that is uniquely theirs to make.

When we come to know each other as people, we have the potential to move beyond the separation that is sometimes labelled “dualism” and to recognize the possibility of a deep “oneness” that is the true nature of all life.

Richard Rohr and Cynthia Bourgeault are prophets of oneness. They seek constantly to call us beyond either/or. They draw attention to the dangers of viewing life in dualistic terms and point to the possibility of seeing in larger more wholistic terms.


Below are some notes from the teaching of both Rohr and Bourgeault that point towards the possibility of working with a more unitive mindset.

First we need to see how different these ways of perception are. We all operate on a sliding scale between total duality and perfect oneness. But when we taste the difference between the two, we may move more closely towards the respectful vision of unity, able to embrace diversity, that Jesus held:

Two Ways of Perceiving:
from Duality or from Oneness

  1. Dualistic Thinking/Duality/Dualism:

reads reality exclusively from the small private self and is therefore said to be fundamentally “ego-centric”

views life in terms of differentiation/distinction – one of these things is not like the other

the ability to spot and point out difference is seen as insight and intellectual credibility

tends towards tribalism – my group is the right group; you need to join us, our way is the one true way

is a binary operating system driven by either/or bifurcation:

  • subject/object
  • in/out
  • us/them
  • good guys/bad guys
  • winners/losers
  • spirit, soul/body, matter
  • male/female
  • good/evil
  • right/wrong
  • orthodoxy/heresy
  • like/dislike
  • pretty/ugly
  • smart/stupid
  • true/false
  • heaven/hell

sees separation and difference everywhere

rigid black-and-white thinking

rejects ambiguity and paradox

argumentative and oppositional

is defensive

divisive – tendency to demonization and enemy-formation

centres in a nucleated sense of selfhood

inability to compromise

identity depends on what distinguishes you from the other

seeks meaning in differentiation

strong emphasis on separation/individualism

navigates by comparison

concentrates on information rather than experience

emphasizes answers rather than exploration

ends up with exclusive solutions

builds walls and barriers

seeks protection and security by staying in “my tribe”

moves towards division, fragmentation and isolation


  1. Oneness/Wholeness/Non-duality/Unitive:

is not either/or, but both/and (but not monism) – does not collapse all distinctions into one as some do in Eastern traditions

has the ability to bear paradox and ambiguity

has a healthy humility

understands gradations

able to operate in the in-between place, the grey zone

embraces the possibility of mystery

is willing to say, “I don’t know” or “I may be wrong”

tends more towards questions than dogmatic answers

has the capacity to hold the tension of opposites

views from the perspective of wholeness

perceives holographically

focuses on unity/oneness, sees commonality

sees the common shared reality of the human condition

dissolves boundaries

is, in the words of Cynthia Bourgeault, “unboundaried,” with a “flowing sense of selfhood”

“In the West, the unitive state is always looked upon as relational: a mystical marriage, in which one is fully joined to God in love, subsumed in God through that love. But one does not become God; and nondual realization is always one of union (‘two become one’), not identity. (Bourgeault, Cynthia. The Heart of Centering Prayer, p. 47.)

Romans 3:29-30

29Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one; and he will justify the circumcised on the ground of faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith.

Colossians 1:15-17

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.