With a broken-down oven, in a hotel kitchen, on an uninhabited island
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While for many Christianity implies intolerance, self-righteousness, and patriarchy, some have dipped into the well of the Western mystic tradition and drunk from sweeter waters. Rather than embrace Eastern religions, they are finding equally enlightened philosophies amid the discarded relics of the Christian church.
Matthew Fox, a Dominican priest, theologian, writer, and teacher, is one such person. He has been called “a green prophet” by the archbishop of Canterbury, and a dangerous radical, heretic, and blasphemer by the Vatican. His best-known work, Original Blessing, rejects the idea of humanity’s innate sin and inevitable punishment and instead proposes “creation spirituality” — a philosophy of mystical artistry, universal compassion, and celebration of the divine within each human soul.
In 1960 Fox joined the Dominican order, and seven years later he was ordained. After acquiring a master’s degree in philosophy and theology, he studied in Paris, where he earned a doctorate in spirituality. In 1977 he founded the Institute in Culture and Creation Spirituality at Holy Names College in Oakland, California, and began to formulate educational programs, encouraging participation from all creeds, races, and cultures.
In 1988 the Vatican, fearing Fox’s popularity, silenced him for a year. He used the time to visit and listen to the liberation theologians of Central and South America and returned to the United States more dedicated than ever to sharing his message. In 1993, after a number of failed attempts to prove him a heretic — which would have led to his excommunication — the Vatican dismissed Fox from the Dominican order.
Now he speaks freely about the motherhood of God, the spiritual relevance of environmental consciousness and love for animals, the interconnectedness of all religions, and the acceptance of homosexuality.
The church has traditionally sidestepped the idea that Jesus’ message might actually have something to do with social action, but listening to Matthew Fox, it is easy to entertain the thought that the true spirit of Christ is arising to turn the tables once again. This interview was held at Fox’s home in Oakland.
— Rebecca McClen Novick
Novick: Were you brought up a strict Catholic?
Fox: My father was Irish Catholic. My mother was half Jewish and half Anglican, and, although she became a Catholic, she always kept her independence. So it was a very ecumenical household.
When I was a teenager, we lived in a large house near a university. As my six brothers and sisters went away to college, my parents rented out their rooms to foreign graduate students. I spent my high-school years next door to a Sikh from India, a bullfighter from Venezuela, a communist from Yugoslavia, and an atheist from Norway. When I was in college, I brought a friend home for the weekend and he shook his head and said, “God, it’s like being at the United Nations!” So I got a very broad education in world culture. As a result, I was never that interested in religion, but I’ve always been interested in spirituality.
Brown: How do you define the difference?
Fox: Well, I wish there weren’t such a big difference between religion and spirituality. Spirituality is about experience, while religion, unfortunately, ends up being about the organization of the experience — popes coming and going and buildings being bought and sold. Of course, they influence each other. For example, last week it was front-page news here in the Bay Area that the Catholic Church was trying to sell twelve of its churches because they had only thirty-five people coming each Sunday.
That’s religion: religion has to sell its buildings. Spirituality is connecting with the source of creativity, justice, and compassion. Religion ought to be about that, but unfortunately it wanders off the path.
Brown: Would you say that spirituality is based upon one’s own experience, while religion is based upon someone else’s experience?
Fox: That’s a good formulation, but I wouldn’t stress one’s own experience as distinct from the communal experience. At your deepest depth you are in touch with other people’s joy and sorrow — so it’s not just a private journey. Jesus was spiritual — would you call him religious? He was taking on the religious establishment of his day, trying to bring out the juices of his tradition, and it got him in a lot of trouble. That happens all along the line — it’s happening today, too, with liberation theology.
Bede Griffiths is a monk who died recently. For fifty years he ran an ashram in India for Hindus and Christians. He said that if Christianity can’t recover its mystical tradition and teach it, it should just fold up and go out of business, because it has nothing to offer. I agree 100 percent. Spirituality is about mysticism, which is about awe and wonder and about standing up to injustice because it interferes with our wonder.
If you teach people that the number-one problem is their sin and that when they came into the world they made a blotch on existence, they’ll never get over it. We talk about sexual abuse of children, but this is religious abuse.
If you teach people that the number-one problem is their sin and that when they came into the world they made a blotch on existence, they’ll never get over it. We talk about sexual abuse of children, but this is religious abuse.
Brown: How did your interest in theology and mysticism develop?
Fox: I think that we are all mystics as children, but that capacity is taken away from us as we grow older. It’s taken away subtly by education that exercises the left brain and ignores the right brain. They take away your crayons right when you need them most — at puberty. When you should be getting in touch with your cosmic soul, they give you football and shopping malls.
I wasn’t affected by that. I had polio when I was thirteen, so I let go of my desire to be a football hero like my brothers. While I was in the hospital (it wasn’t clear whether I would walk again), I met a man who had been a monk before he married and had five kids. He became a kind of mentor to me and showed me that there was a path in life other than the obvious.
So, when I got the use of my legs back a year or two later, I was overwhelmed with gratitude and said to myself, I’m not going to take this for granted; I’m going to do something interesting.
Novick: Could you explain the core values of your creation spirituality and how they differ from fall-redemption philosophy?
Fox: Fall-redemption philosophy is based on original sin. My problem with the doctrine of original sin is that it’s so anthropocentric. Sinning is what humans do; other creatures do not sin. Creation spirituality’s concept of “original blessing” is much more accurate. We know now that for fifteen billion years, the universe has been preparing our way: getting the temperature right, the ozone layer balanced, the oxygen level perfect. Religion that begins with sin refuses to acknowledge this.
Another difference is the emphasis creation spirituality puts on all the images of God. I love the rabbinic phrase that says that every time we walk down the street we’re preceded by hosts of angels singing, “Make way, make way, make way for the image of God.” What does it mean to be an image of God? It means that we, too, are creative. Obviously, creativity is very important to creation spirituality. In fact, the basic prayer form is what we call “art as meditation.” In our teachings, we paint, sculpt, and dance as meditation.
Art is the yoga of the West. But art has been co-opted by capitalism to the point where it’s always about product and what it costs. The essence of art is the relationship between one’s own creativity and matter, whether matter is the muscles of our body, or paints, or the strings of an instrument. Art as meditation awakens the artist in everyone, and, when that happens, spiritual energy flows.
Novick: And in fall-redemption philosophy, creation is seen as a once-only event?
Fox: Creativity is not emphasized. You can read those theologians until you’re blue in the face and they’ll never talk about art or creativity. They just talk about sin and redemption and Jesus, forgetting that Jesus himself was a storyteller, an artist.
Another difference is the way they deal with the via negativa — the darkness and suffering. You hear fundamentalists — and the premier fall-redemption institution is fundamentalism — saying, “AIDS is God’s punishment,” or, “Earthquakes happen in California because there are so many gays there.” But of course all those people in the Midwest got flooded out. Why were they being punished?
For creation spirituality, the darkness is not a matter of guilt; we’re asked to do something about suffering by facing it, not denying it or blaming it. Fall-redemption Christianity has people wearing hair shirts and beating themselves. I think that if you’re living a full life you don’t have to do that. You don’t have to make up enemies inside or out — they’re already there.
Novick: I’m intrigued to know why you choose to remain a Catholic when your philosophy seems more closely aligned with Eastern religions.
Fox: I’m a Westerner. We’re not going to change the West by going East. The East has a lot to teach us, but essentially it’s like a mirror saying, Can’t you see what’s there in your own religion? Carl Jung said that Westerners should not be pirates, thieving wisdom from foreign shores as if our own culture were an arid land.
Much of my work has been on the medieval mystics who have been ignored and condemned. Meister Eckhart was condemned by the church in the fourteenth century and is still on the condemnation list. Then there was Hildegard of Bingen, a Renaissance woman of the twelfth century — musician, poet, painter, healer, scientist, and mystic. The Middle Ages was an amazing time. Thomas Aquinas, whom I wrote about in my latest book, was the last theologian to really care about bringing science and religion together. He was condemned three times before the church canonized him a saint.
Our religious ancestors were not all stupid, and certainly not as stupid as some of the people running the churches today. People like Aquinas, Eckhart, Francis of Assisi, Julian of Norwich, and Nicholas of Cusa were all part of the same movement.
And there was a period of about two hundred years, beginning in the eleventh century, when the Goddess came roaring into Christianity. Have you ever been to Chartres Cathedral? It’s a temple to the Goddess, Mary. They built five hundred like it all over Europe.
So I try to draw on the Western tradition first because I’m interested in social transformation. Very few of us can go East. We have our own cultural DNA, and we have to stir things up and make demands on it.
Novick: Still, why have you remained a Catholic in particular? Catholicism doesn’t seem to have much room for personal spiritual experience.
Fox: Catholicism, going back to its medieval mystical tradition, has a rich heritage of spirituality that it needs to recapture. I’m interested in deep ecumenism. I think that the deeper you go into your own tradition’s spirituality, the closer you come to the living waters of wisdom. God is a great underground river. There are many wells into this river: Buddhism, Taoism, Judaism, Sufism, the Goddess, native traditions, Christianity. To connect with the great river, we all need a path, but when you get down there, there’s only one river.
Novick: Have you actually been excommunicated by the Catholic Church?
Fox: No. I’ve just been expelled from the Dominican order. Technically, I’m still a priest — they can’t take that away from me — but they can forbid me to practice. I’m not allowed to give public Mass, for example.
Novick: What specifically about your views does the church object to?
Fox: It’s the same problem they have with Latin American liberation theology: that there’s a movement around this. The Catholic Church doesn’t like movements. Creation spirituality includes women, gays, lesbians, artists, and native peoples; it involves people who don’t have strong voices in the Vatican. The church is afraid of that. If I had the church’s worldview, I would be threatened by the things I’m teaching, too.
Novick: But have they informed you of exactly what it is they don’t approve of in your teachings?
Fox: They gave me a list, yes. Their first item is that I’m a feminist theologian, although I didn’t know it was heresy to be a feminist. Second, I call God “Mother”; well, I proved that medieval mystics did and even the Bible does. Third, I call God “Child”; mystics did this, too. Fourth, I don’t condemn homosexuals. Fifth, I believe in original blessing rather than original sin. Sixth, I’m not as depressed as they are. . . .
They have hundreds of years of experience getting rid of people, so it was subtle how they handled my case. They got the Dominican order to command me to leave California and go back to Chicago, which would have meant ending the program and the magazine and the community here. I refused to do that, so they kicked me out on grounds of disobedience. Obviously, the real reason was that they wanted to end my work.
Brown: Besides the overemphasis on original sin in Christianity, what do you see as some of the primary problems of world religions today?
Fox: I think the primary problem is anthropocentrism. When we put religion in the context of creation, we learn a little humility; we see that there’s no such thing as a Buddhist ocean or a Roman Catholic rain forest or a Lutheran cornfield.
The second problem with religions is that they’re about religion and not about spirituality. They’re pointing to the moon and confusing the finger with the moon.
Also, the human species can’t deal with its resentments. Look at Bosnia; it’s all about resentment. We did a summer program in New York and a fellow showed up from Croatia. He said, “I don’t have anything against the Serbians or the Bosnian Muslims; the problem is the politicians who are building on the resentments. It’s their war, not ours.”
I think that in this country the Reagan years were very much about building on resentment against women and black people. Religion ought to assist the human heart to cleanse itself of resentments and hatreds. Unfortunately, it’s often used to make things worse.
Novick: Why has the Christian church historically expressed so much fear of nature religions, and thus of nature?
Fox: I think the best answer to that comes from Frederick Turner. In his book Beyond Geography, he says the European Christians who came over here had suppressed the wilderness inside — their own sexuality and sensuality. When they saw it being lived by the native people, they developed hostile feelings toward them.
The issue is wilderness. In Europe, the church ordered the destruction of the Irish woods to try to get rid of the Celtic spirits. It’s a matter of domesticating the wilderness. But of course it’s also about the wild animals within us — the rage, the anger, the desire, the lust. The idea was that you had to wipe these out. Meister Eckhart provides an alternative: “Put on your passions as a bridle of love.” Embrace your passions and embrace the wilderness and steer where you need to go. You don’t try to stomp out the wilderness.
Brown: Why do you think the church condemned sexuality and eroticism?
Fox: It goes back to the patriarchy taking over the Western church in about the fourth century. Philo, one of the ascetic philosophers embraced by the church of that period, said, “We must keep down our passions just as we keep down the lower classes.” That gives you some insight into history, doesn’t it? Passion and compassion are related. A passionate response to injustice gives you the energy to do something about it. If that energy is kept down, then those who are running things are safe.
In our culture, television and consumerism keep us from getting in touch with our deep passions. We keep getting fed more and more TV and more and more things to shop for so that we don’t ask the deeper questions.
Brown: How does creation spirituality approach eroticism and sexuality?
Fox: As a gift of the universe. We’ve been told that sexuality developed about 1.3 billion years ago and brought an increase in the possibilities of evolution and creativity. I think that if you want to understand sexuality you should go back to its source. It’s really an invitation to be even more creative than we are.
In the Bible, the Song of Songs celebrates lovemaking as an experience of the divine. This is something we should be bringing back in ritual in our churches and synagogues; we should be honoring it. The first lesson of sexuality is to honor and respect the power within yourself. Then find out how many different expressions of it there are besides the obvious, genital expression. How does it affect our relations with the earth? Can we be erotic toward the earth? I think we can be erotic baking bread, making love, or vacuuming the living room. Eros is the love and passion for life that we bring to whatever we do. I want to take eros back from the pornographers. Religion and other elements of our culture have ganged up to repress eros, which is really a sacred experience.
Novick: Do you think the repression of sexuality is largely about the fear of surrendering control?
Fox: Saint Augustine was the one who set it all up in the fourth century. He said that he didn’t want to “lose control.” (Notice again how sexual politics links up with imperial politics.) Augustine said, “Spirit is about whatever is not matter.” That’s the most dualistic statement you could imagine. It means that there’s no spirit in bushes or trees or dogs or water, so you can do whatever you like with them. Augustine’s whole worldview was taken up by the church and by the empire that married the church. But since that time there have always been people who object.
Brown: Timothy Leary said that anything we define as spiritual is just something that we haven’t developed the technology to measure yet.
Fox: I don’t like that. Mystery is not something you’re ever going to solve; it’s something you live. There’s a biblical line that says, “This is wisdom, to love life.” That’s eros.
Brown: What roles do paganism and shamanism play in creation spirituality?
Fox: They represent the forgotten, shadow side of our traditions. Pagan comes from the word paganus, which means “a person who lives in the country.” (Similarly, a heathen is “a person who lives on the heath.”) When Christianity was healthy, it didn’t stomp on paganism; it embraced it. Chartres Cathedral is built right on top of a temple to the goddess of grain. Mostly, though, the church has put a lot of venom into stamping out paganism, and it’s all about a hatred of ourselves, of our own earthiness. The word humility comes from the Latin humus, which means “earth.” Real humility means acknowledging our relation to the earth and recognizing what we have to learn from native peoples. Of course, they can learn from us, too. But their forms of prayer — sweat lodges and sun dances and so forth — are powerful ways to pray. It’s not boring to sit in a sweat lodge — it might take you close to death! It’s an adventure. In our culture, they lock you up if you go into a trance. In those cultures, they think something’s wrong if you can’t go into a trance.
Brown: What value do you see in reclaiming the Goddess-oriented traditions?
Fox: I think that the return of the Goddess is one of the most important movements providing hope today. The last time the Goddess returned was in the twelfth century, and something really happened then. That’s when universities were invented, and they weren’t like they are now. They were where you went to find your place in the universe — not just in the job market.
The Goddess represents the divine creativity in everyone; that’s why she’s often depicted as a pregnant female. What we know about the twenty-five-thousand-year period when the Goddess reigned in Europe is that there are no artifacts of war to be found anywhere. Perhaps if you’re paying attention to creativity, if you’re always giving birth, you’re too busy to make war.
Eckhart says, “All the images we have for God come from images of ourselves.” So if we have just a male image of God, it legitimizes patriarchal privileges and oppression — including of men by men — that exist in the culture. Obviously, we need gender justice in our divinities.
Brown: You said in Original Blessing that the concept of fall and redemption was created by the ruling class for political reasons. What did you mean?
Fox: If you teach people that the number-one problem is their sin and that when they came into the world they made a blotch on existence, they’ll never get over it. We talk about sexual abuse of children, but this is religious abuse. If you feed this into a child’s mind, it reinforces all the other abuse that the child might receive from adults and gives it divine sanction.
So people never come into their own power, which includes trusting their own experience of anger and outrage. Whether you’re a woman in a sexist society or a gay person in a homophobic society, you don’t have the power to stand up and say, This is what I believe. If we get cut off from our passion, then where’s our compassion going to come from?
The fall-redemption model is a system of sadomasochism. You have to instruct one group in masochism while developing your own sadism. What is masochism? It’s the “I can’t” syndrome. We’re taught this through television all the time — you can’t have friends until you get the right toothpaste and the right car. It’s subtle, but very real. I think that sadomasochism is the basic energy of imperial minds and structures. But you can liberate a masochist by letting them in on their own power. The idea of original blessing is that everyone is a blessing and everyone is original.
Novick: How do you define sin?
Fox: I like Abraham Joshua Heschel’s definition. He says, “Sin is the refusal of humans to become who we are.” I like that because it’s evolutionary. I think that we’re here to become something — to become who we are. Who are we? We’re creative beings who desire beauty and justice. We’re here to develop ourselves as images of God.
Brown: Do you think that evil, as a force unto itself, exists in the world?
Fox: I think there’s no question that evil exists, but I think it’s dangerous to conceive of it as the devil outside ourselves. The force of evil flows through me and through everyone. Evil is the shadow angel. Just as there are angels of light, support, guidance, healing, and defense, so we have shadow angels of racism, sexism, homophobia. They’re not out there; they’re inside us.
Novick: Do you see evil as an independent force, rather than an absence of love?
Fox: Both. It’s an absence, but like a vacuum it sucks something in. I like the way Native Americans put it; they say that God does not make evil spirits, but humans and human institutions do, and that the door through which an evil spirit enters the human heart is fear. Prayer is a way to strengthen the heart so that we don’t yield to fear, which in turn leads to evil.
Novick: Considering how Jesus aided the poor and the outcast, what explains the church’s traditional lack of social activism?
Fox: When I look at the history of the church, I see a lot of moments when there were groups working with the poor and trying to reform society. One example is the monastic system in the fourth century, which was originally an attempt at a very simple lifestyle.
Today there are hundreds of nuns, laypeople, and priests who have given their lives — literally and figuratively — for the struggling poor in the U.S. and Latin America. The lack of social activism has been not so much within the rank and file as within the hierarchy.
Brown: What kind of person do you understand Jesus to have been?
Fox: I thought about this one time when I was in Malibu, staying in a home with a Buddha statue in it. I woke up one morning there with the idea that what makes Buddha different from Jesus is that Jesus never had a midlife crisis; he died a young man. But Buddha went through it all; he died in his eighties, so he had more of a take-it-easy approach. Jesus was an impetuous young man who wanted to get it all done, overturn the system.
I think you need both. You need the Jesus energy, the prophetic energy, the anger to change things. You also need the realization of Buddha that there are cycles to life and that everything is fine the way it is. I see Jesus essentially as a very inspired, energetic, passionate Jewish prophet. Prudence was not his strong suit.
Novick: Buddha reformed Hinduism and created Buddhism, which incorporated many Hindu principles. It seems that, similarly, creation spirituality seeks to reform Christianity while retaining much of its framework. But is the framework of Christianity flexible enough to accommodate such change?
Fox: I don’t quite agree that I want to keep the framework. I think the forms have to die. Is there something worth keeping? Of course: the mystics, the prophets, the Gospel, Jesus, and some of the theology about worship and sacrament — but not the forms. They’re what’s killing worship.
Novick: You claim that the early Christians had a very different view of Christianity. In what way?
Fox: The first-generation Christians were mostly women, slaves, and other nonprivileged people. Jesus’ message appealed to people who were badly treated. But then Paul, who was educated, took that message into the Greek-speaking world and into the empire itself, making it middle-class in a way. Early Christianity wasn’t very well organized. There was no central headquarters. Every city was saying, “We’re the church” — and, in a way, they were right. The church has to get back to that idea: that it’s not a denomination but different people interpreting the universe through their cultural DNA and experience.
A few weeks ago, I was doing a program in Seattle and four punks from England attended. They told me they had started a community of thirty artists in Sheffield and had used my theology to design a worship service they called virtual worship. Now only a handful of young people go to Anglican Mass in Sheffield, but this group has six hundred people coming to every service. It’s dark as a cave and they have video screens and people dance. It’s ritualistic.
It’s really the next stage beyond rock concerts, which are also ritualistic but aren’t plugged in to a spiritual tradition. This group has been kicked out of the church, but the bishop, lo and behold, is actually supporting them, so they have autonomy. It sounds like this might be the most important thing happening in white Christian worship in the world.
Otto Rank points out that the pagan soul is in all of us, and you have to pay attention to it to get your energy going. But I also think that tradition is very important, because once you start evoking mystical power, you can go really crazy with it. To give it direction you need mentors and elders and tradition.
Novick: It seems that science and religion were once very much entwined, but that there was a divergence somewhere along the line. What were the reasons for the split?
Fox: The key was the breakdown of the medieval cosmology in the fifteenth century and then the religious wars of the sixteenth century, which scared the hell out of scientists. And then in 1600 the church burned Giordano Bruno, a scientist and Dominican, at the stake.
In the seventeenth century, they arranged a truce. Scientists said, “We’ll take the universe and you Christians can have the soul.” So the soul became more and more introspective and punier, unconnected to the universe. And science went out to find the power of the universe — atomic energy — without a conscience. Scientists sold themselves to warmongers, politicians, and nation-state ideology, and the church became more and more trivial and silly.
Brown: Some Westerners say their first mystical experience occurred when they ingested a psychedelic substance. Have you had any experience with psychedelics?
Fox: No, I haven’t, because I’ve never felt it necessary. I’ve gotten high on other things: music and nature and ideas and friends. However, some of my best students are people who got into spirituality initially through some kind of drug.
In Catholicism, we drink wine, which is a drug, and Jesus drank wine. So even in Christianity there traditionally has been acknowledgment of the role of drugs. But as with any other initiatory spiritual experience, the question then becomes where you go from there. I tried marijuana in the sixties and it didn’t do anything for me.
Novick: You didn’t inhale.
Fox: I tried. But I would say that if you had been taken to a sweat lodge when you were sixteen, you probably wouldn’t need psychedelics. You also need to consider that when the ancient people were doing drugs, it was within a ritualistic context.
Novick: In Original Blessing you talk about the need for a personal relationship with God, yet to many people that suggests an anthropomorphic and trivialized idea of God. Do you believe in a personal God?
Fox: There’s a difference between talking about God as a person and talking about God as personal. I believe everything is in God and God is in everything. That’s pretty intimate. I see the universe as a divine womb in which we’re all swimming around.
Brown: How do you define God?
Fox: Never. It’s sad that we put “In God we trust” on our money and our missiles, and reduce God to that level. Aquinas said, “God is the source without a source.” When you see God as vitality and energy, your question about whether God is personal takes on a different dimension: is energy personal? Well, sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t. John Muir said, “The best name for God is Beauty.” During the Enlightenment, beauty was lost as a theological category. However, the last time we had cosmology in the West, in the Middle Ages, people called God “Beauty.”
Brown: Isn’t defining God as beauty dualism? If you have beauty then you must also have ugliness. Is the ugliness then not a part of God?
Fox: Another part of beauty is terror. The world isn’t pretty; it’s beautiful. Awe is a mixture of terror and beauty. To me, beauty is not about perfection; there’s beauty in imperfection. If you look closely at a tree you’ll notice its knots and dead branches, just like our bodies. We learn from nature that beauty and imperfection go together wonderfully.
I think the only ugly thing is human sin. Injustice is ugly, tearing down the rain forest is ugly. But nothing nature makes is ugly.
Brown: What do you believe happens to human consciousness after death?
Fox: Hildegard of Bingen said no warmth is lost in the universe. Einstein said no energy’s lost. Well, I don’t think that any beauty is lost in the universe. I think that the beauty endures.
Brown: Do you think there’s an aspect of yourself that still contains some of your individuality and continues on?
Fox: I wouldn’t put it that way. Eckhart says, “When I return to the source, the core, the fountain of the Godhead, no one will ask what I’ve been doing. No one will have missed me.”
Novick: Then what about reincarnation?
Fox: The way I look at it is this: There’s a shadow side and a good side to it. There is a certain complacency inspired by reincarnation, like, “Oh well, we’ll work it out next time around.” Gandhi’s Hindu followers told him that he didn’t have to worry about the untouchables because they’d get a better deal the next time around. But this wasn’t enough for Gandhi, and he demanded justice now. I think reincarnation is a common cop-out, especially among wealthy, comfortable Westerners who are into it because it gives them an excuse not to get involved in fighting injustice.
On the other hand, I think reincarnation is certainly more interesting than heaven. We’ve made heaven absolutely boring — who wants to go there?
Novick: What difference does it make in a person’s life if they believe that heaven is here and now on earth, rather than out there in some distant future?
Fox: A lot of difference. For one thing, believing heaven is here and now puts you in a nondualistic state of consciousness, which is the key to realizing your connection to the divinity in all things and times — past, present, and future. It opens you up to ecstasy. If you don’t make love with the divine now, then are you going to do it later? Jesus said the kingdom of God is now. Why wait around?
Novick: It seems that there is a real crisis right now in the church.
Fox: I think the Vatican is in a deep crisis of faith. They don’t trust theologians, they don’t trust women, they don’t trust gays, and they don’t trust nature. The rest of us who do and are looking for answers should just get on with the work. Frankly, I think that as we do it’s going to be so delightful that everyone’s going to want to come along. Nothing changes people like delight.
Novick: Do you think that the power elite of the church will ever undergo a real transformation?
Fox: Repent of their sins? Well, we can pray.
This interview will appear in the anthology Voices from the Edge: Mavericks of the Mind 2, to be published in the fall by Crossing Press.
David Jay Brown
Rebecca McClen Novick
I just read your interview with Matthew Fox. Lately I have been struggling with the same topics he addresses.
One passage leapt off the page at me: “Jesus never had a midlife crisis; he died a young man. But Buddha went through it all; he died in his eighties, so he had more of a take-it-easy approach.”
I believe, as Gandhi said, we are all Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Taoists. I also believe, having been raised Catholic, that our strongest roots are in our own cultural belief system, which as a result affects us, in subconscious and conscious ways, more than any other path. But, thanks to Fox’s insight, I’ve decided to change religions, at least for now.
Goodbye, Jesus. Thanks for all you’ve given me. It’s been nice. I am absolutely certain the church edited your words, weeding out the sex and laughter and happiness and peace of mind. I would follow you further, but I am tired: tired of suffering and sacrifice and anxiety and paranoia. The church has me whipped. I can’t fight it anymore.
Buddha, I will study your words instead, striving to follow your example — at least in the ways that feel honest to me. I am forty-two. I have five grandchildren. Maybe you had grandkids who played all about you, too. Maybe great-grandchildren. Statues show you fat and laughing. I have a bit of a belly myself and I want to laugh. I want to dance. I want to have sex with my wife. I want to sing, to wear perfume.
So I have switched. I am now a Buddhist. Goodbye, Catholicism. Goodbye, Christianity. I am a Buddhist for now. And a Muslim, a Hindu, a Jew, a Taoist. And, yes, a Catholic.
Rebecca McClen Novick and David Jay Brown’s interview with Matthew Fox [“The Trouble with Religion,” April 1995] was perfect. As I read, I was silently repeating, “Yes, yes, yes.” It was like seeing my thoughts on Catholicism, Christianity, Jesus, and God materialize.
The guilt I once experienced when I could no longer reconcile my spirituality with Catholicism, or any other organized religion, was intense and painful. I remember hearing over and over how faith came only via the “grace of God”; how we should pray for those who did not believe that they might be granted such grace. I remember the very first thing I found it impossible to believe — that the loving God who gave us Jesus would condemn unbaptized infants to an eternity in limbo. By the time limbo was discontinued by the church hierarchy, I had worked through the guilt. When I heard about the decision I laughed and said, “About time they got around to that.”
I enjoyed reading your interview with Matthew Fox, as I enjoyed his book Original Blessing. He is a very courageous man who rightly points out some common, grievous faults in Christian practice and nobly stands up for his beliefs.
Still, I would like to point out some things myself.
It’s a good thing Fox calls his religion Creation Spirituality and not Creation Christianity, because, apparently, he is not a Christian. A Christian believes that Jesus of Nazareth was the divine Son of God. Fox says, “I see Jesus essentially as a very inspired, energetic, passionate Jewish prophet.”
Either man invented God or God invented man. If (as I believe) the latter is true, then it’s not our job to shape God to our own beliefs but to try our best to figure out what God wants us to believe. If the Bible is truly God’s word, then we should try to figure out what God is saying there, not what we’d like Him to say.
It is possible to be a Bible-believing Christian and still think: to hold that God (as revealed in the Bible) wants us to have respect — indeed, love — for people with different beliefs and philosophies; that He expects us to love, study, and protect his creation; that He wants us to use love, not hate, to improve human lives here.
Yes, the Bible does say there is sin (as well as blessing) in the world. But it’s possible to be a theologically conservative Christian without having to be a politically conservative one.