I felt uplifted by Matthew Fox’s challenge to the patriarchal Church [“The Mystic and the Warrior,” interview by Leslee Goodman, July 2015], which has perpetuated a story of sin: Eve is bad and Adam is forever blaming her. But as cultural historian Riane Eisler points out, the Adam and Eve story “tells us that there was a time when woman and man lived in harmony with one another and with nature.” And mythologist Joseph Campbell notes that in ancient Sumerian artifacts the female deity gives fruit to the male deity, saying, “Come in and be refreshed.” These artifacts represent a narrative created a thousand years before the Book of Genesis was written. Fox helps us rediscover a story that is not about a fall from grace but rather a divine blessing.
Oh, those wearisome Roman Catholics! They’re headed toward Protestantism: the priesthood of all believers; clergywomen; and sainthood determined by someone’s relationship with Christ rather than by a council of men.
Matthew Fox should look to the United Methodists as an example of a Church that’s made progressive changes.
After several years’ hiatus from subscribing, I received the July 2015 issue. I was shocked by the following quote from Matthew Fox, because what he says plainly contradicts the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “The Church teaches that human beings are born essentially sinful and bad.” Especially false is the “and bad” — I cannot understand why Fox said it. “Handicapped” might be a better fit, since we are not born in Paradise.
As a non-Christian, I enjoyed the interview with Matthew Fox. I wish him luck uprooting the Church’s deep-seated propagation of guilt and bigotry, by arguing against original sin and vouching for science, a feminine aspect to God, and for gay and other social rights. I wish he would also have touched on hell and resentment, another noxious core of Christianity.
I wonder what Fox makes of Jesus’s statement “No one comes to the Father but through me,” and the teaching that if you don’t quite buy (or hear) the story that he is the son of God, you suffer eternal torment in hell. St. Thomas Aquinas, the namesake of Fox’s theology school, professed that the bliss of heaven is made sweeter by the joy of looking down upon those suffering in hell. I think Fox, like myself, would prefer hell to an eternity alongside such company.
I imagine that, as a theologian, Fox could formulate a new interpretation to make hell palatable to liberal thinkers. This is how the Church has always incorporated secular ideas regarding science and social justice when the public finally demanded such — although always a bit tardy. Theologians are similar to lawyers, who take certain texts as authoritative and then gerrymander the parts they like, redefine terms, neglect context, and ignore or twist inconvenient pieces of evidence while emphasizing others — in order to sell a story, not truth.
Adapting Fox’s theology is like pouring liberal California wine into saggy and wrinkled Catholic sacks. Fox says the Church is dying. I hope this means that the repulsive things about it will die off, and we can keep what’s beautiful: the mythology, traditions, and rituals that give everyday life deeper meaning; and its concern for mercy, justice, and the suffering of all of us poor souls.
Although it is but a speck in Matthew Fox’s body of work, your interview “The Mystic and the Warrior” is a telling speck that leaves no question where he stands: with both feet planted firmly in midair.
Fox states, “I want to get at the root of Christianity, which, for me, is Jesus’s teachings on love and inclusiveness.” This statement seems profound on first read, but it renders the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ moot.
Christianity is about Christ: the salvation God affords to those who believe. Christianity is not about doing good deeds, social justice, inclusiveness, or anything else. Yes, good works are central to a Christian life, but the Gospel message is that Jesus came to give eternal life found in Him alone. He did not come to make bad people good. Any self-help seminar can do that.
If the Gospel is the good news, then there must be some bad news, which is absent from Fox’s understanding. Christian faith holds that sin leaves man in an eternal state of spiritual and physical separation from God. But Fox believes all people are born without any such stain. Such a view is antithetical to Christianity because it eliminates the need for a redeemer. If it were true that man is born good, then why does he continually choose bad? And if man is born without sin, why was Christ born of a virgin? It would seem an unnecessary step for God to take.
Fox recoils from a God that is “harshly punitive” — a ploy where Bible passages are taken out of context to show God as a moral monster, or to present two different Gods, one of the Old Testament and one of the New. But this ignores the countless pages in the Old Testament that show God’s justice, love, and provision for all people, even the Canaanites. Fox’s idea of the Cosmic Christ smacks of regurgitated New Age pantheism — we are all gods with some kind of divine power.
The Bible holds just as much water with Fox as the Koran, the Hindu Vedas, and any other “holy” book, which demonstrates his lack of any objective moral framework. He embraces a bundle of contradictory worldviews, even praising the “genius” of Mohammed. But the question remains: On what grounds is Fox’s morality based? For, without a transcendent, omnipotent, eternal, and immutable law-giver, there can be no objective moral values.
Matthew Fox responds:
“Eternal life” is not something that begins at death but something that begins in this lifetime. It includes the ever-growing awareness of the holiness of creation, the sacredness of our lives, and the decisions we make during our lifetimes — decisions to love instead of hate, to heal instead of despoil, to cherish the earth and honor all her creatures as other Christs, which we all are. Or, if you prefer, “other Buddhas.” Names for God are never final; no human words are. God’s incarnation — that is, dwelling in the flesh and in history — and His presence among us is confirmed by the Jesus story but is by no means limited to it. In John’s gospel it is not Jesus saying, “The only way to the Father is through me”; it is the Cosmic Christ saying that. We are all meant to be ways to the Father, and the Cosmic Christ, who is the “light in all beings,” is found in all beings. So creation itself is the way to the Father/Mother, the Source of all joy and light, and the Source of eternal life — a life that remains full of grace and gratitude for existence and wants to share that with others through works of compassion and justice.
Thank you for the moving account of Steve Kowit’s life [“The Whole Inexplicable Business,” July 2015], and for consistently including his poetry in your magazine. I belong to an organization called Veterans for Peace, and one of our goals is to shatter the myth that there is an irreconcilable gap between those of us who fought in the American war in Vietnam and those who fought against it. Many of us who didn’t stand up to the authorities who sent us to war appreciate Kowit’s stance as a conscientious objector. I am one of those people.
I was a professor at San Diego’s Southwestern College between 1996 and 2003, where poet Steve Kowit and I were colleagues. At the age of fifty-two I suffered a massive stroke that ended my teaching career. I lost the ability to walk, read, and spell.
Steve worked with me on my English skills over the phone every Sunday morning for thirteen years, helping me relearn the alphabet and build words. Steve would slowly read a sentence, and I had to write it on a piece of paper. He would read the sentence to me over and over.
Steve was a great friend and an amazing person: He was a member of Jewish Voice for Peace, an organization concerned about the war crimes being committed by the state of Israel against Palestine. He started the Animal Rights Coalition, the first animal-rights group in San Diego, and was a vegetarian almost his whole life. He even respected insects. If a fly buzzed in his classroom, Steve told his students that no one was allowed to harm it.
My wife, Joelyn, and I attended The Sun’s 2013 writing retreat at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. While there we took one of Steve Kowit’s poetry workshops. Joelyn wrote about a dream she’d had, which Kowit happily helped her expand into a poem. I was reluctant to share with him what I had written, but, ever the passionate teacher, he encouraged me to e-mail my work to him after the retreat. To my surprise he liked the poem so much that he published it in an online literary magazine.
Joelyn and I are among the many who feel Steve’s loss deeply. He was down-to-earth, fun to be around, committed to his craft, and enthusiastic about not only the words he wrote but those written by his students.
Our July 2015 Dog-Eared Page listed 2015 as the copyright date for Mary Karr’s “Houses of the Spirit.” The date should have read 1995, which is the year the essay was originally published in Vogue. The Sun regrets the error.