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14/05/00

 

Matthew Fox- Some Frequently Asked Questions

WHO?

Dr Matthew Fox is an American theologian, an ex Dominican, an ex Roman Catholic priest, and now (1995) an Episcopalian priest in San Francisco Diocese.

He holds MA's in Philosophy and Theology and is a Doctor of Spirituality (Instiut Catholique, Paris).

He founded the University of Creation Spirituality at Holy Names College, Oakland, California.

In 1988 he was 'silenced' by the Vatican, and six years later he was dismissed from the Dominicans for refusing an order ( to relocate to Chicago). He writes, teaches, and lectures.

Relationship to NOS?

LIMITED: Matthew Fox's works were read by the theological people and wider community of NOS, He preached several times and returned home. It was stated in service that the church considered his work a useful perspective but they did not agree with exactly everything he said. NOS later , He preached several times and returned home. It was stated in service that the church considered his work a useful perspective but they did not agree with exactly everything he said. NOS later visted California to promote the alt worship idea. to promote the alt worship idea. This article was writen about the same time. Of CB Mathew Fox later said . . . "His actions are the antithesis of all I have worked for the last 30 years . . I feel great relief that this has been exposed and the abuse has been stopped. I was unaware of any of the abuses in the community"The (UK)Times p1and p3 25/8/95

 

 

Natural Mystic?- Steve Turner questions Matthew Fox in March 1995

Q: What is it that most concerns with the state of contemporary Christianity?

MF: I would like to see a Christianity where Jesus was at the home. That would mean a Christianity that was not about orthodoxy, correct beliefs, but more about orthopraxis (correct actions).  

Q: Don't correct actions follow from correct beliefs?

MF: Actually, correct action really follows out of correct heart and spiritual practice. Jesus was all about compassion, and compassion isn't about feeling sorry for people. It's about justice on one hand, and celebration on the other. I don't think Christianity has been involved in that for some time.  

I would like to see Christianity move from from being a religion, to being a way of life and spirituality again. It doesn't have to be religion anymore. The empires are over. What we need is an awakening of the human species, and the Gospels, along with the Christian mystical tradition, . . .they have a lot to offer. We need to become aware of the Cosmic Christ, which means recognizing that that every being has within it the light of Christ. This is a source of both revelation and reverence. If we have that awareness we can no longer take things for granted. If we had gratitude there wouldn't be an ecological crisis and there'd be celebration rather than boredom. People live their whole lives externally and this sets them up for addictions. We have an economic system based upon setting up addictions. We can do much better than this, and as a species we have to.  

Q: You were raised as a Catholic and trained as a priest before you joined the dominicans. When did you begin to be dissatisfied with traditional Catholic teaching?

MF: In the first place, it was in terms of spiritual experience. I knew there was something going on that I wanted to explore. My main reasons for becoming a Dominican was to explore spiritual experience.  

Q: Had you had experiences you couldn't explain?

MF: Yeeh. I wanted to go deeper. I found them very alluring. I wanted a contemplative life. During my training as a Dominican I told them that my generation was not going to be interested in a religion without spiritual experience and we were not getting trained in this. We did philosophy and theology- which I enjoyed- but it didn't answer the experiential dimensions of religion, which I felt were the real issue.  

Q: Is a spiritual experience just a matter of feeling good?

MF: It's feeling ecstatic! Feeling connected to all things- tasting mystery, going to the edge. It's transdeDEnt. I wrote to thomas Merton about this in 1967 and he said "Isn't it a pity that people are going into LSD to have spiritual experiences, when we have a tradition in the Church which no one knows anything about? I think that letter is as relevant in 1995 as it was then.  

Q: What makes your experience better or more relevant than the experience someone has on mescaline?

MF: Well it's cheaper! It's safer. You can get up the next morning, go to work and not be threatening to people. And it's not a consumer item.  

Q: We call these experiences 'spiritual' but people have had identical experiences after falling of ladders and hitting their heads.

MF: I know one person who was hit by lightening and he's been a psychic ever since! Mysticism is an energy we all have within us. The notion in the modern industrial world is that a mystic is someone really weird, really on the fringes of things. In indigenous cultures, you're sent out into the desert as a teenager to have mystical experiences. This is why Christianity itself has to change. I believe we're all mystics. We're all mystics as children. Mysticism is just a capacity for awe and wonder.  

Q: Many children already testify to direct experiences of God.

MF: Catholicism has a mystical tradition precisely because it is pre modern. Protestantism and the printing press began at the same time, which is both a blessing and a curse. The idea that the 'Word of God is texts' is unbelievably narrow. Mister Eckhart said in the 14th Century, "every creature is a word of God". That kind of ecological, cosmological theology, where you read the text of nature as a revelation, is precisely what we need at this time of ecological crisis. Aquinas said in the 13th century, "Revelation comes in two volumes: nature and the Bible". Well we've ignored nature. How many seminaries have a physicist or a biologist on the faculty? My school [the University of Creation Spirituality] is still the only one, and it started 18 years ago.  

Q: Do you mind being called 'New Age"?

MF: Very much. I think it's intellectual laziness on the part of journalists. I've written a 600 page book on Aquinas, who's been dead 700 years, 500 pages on Eckhart, who's been dead 800 years, and a book on the Cosmic Christ including Jesus , who's been dead 2000 years. What's New Age about? The new Age is a Johnny come lately.  

Q: New Agers often look back to pre Christian rituals.

MF: My criticism of the New Age is that it doesn't look back because it wants to be so new.  

Q: What of its interest in shamanism and ancient myth?

MF: OK. But isn't it funny that they go back in other peoples traditions but not their own? They don't look into Christianity or Judaism. The reason is that there is in almost all new Agers a wounded religious child- a Jew, a Catholic or a Protestant- who had a taste of mysticism, but weren't nourished as an adult. They had the courage to go looking and I acknowledge that, but I think they tend to ignore the shadow, to ignore injustice. I call it fundamentalism for the rich. They go to Shirley Mac Lane workshops at $2000 a day and they feel saved; but no one else is. They have this attitude, "We're saved and you aren't"  

Q: Would you challenge the leaders of the movement?

MF: Of course. I'm doing it now. I challenge them, but I also feel a strong ecumenical bridge to them. I see a good side to them and a weak side. In Europe they're talking about a New Age II, and they're saying it will have a political consciousness. I say "bring it on. I'm ready ".I hope it'll have a historical consciousness, too. We can't make up a new religion off the top of our heads. We inherit the cultural and religious DNA of our ancestors.  

Q: A lot of your followers are wounded Catholics. Do you appeal mostly to people who are disenchanted with the Church, or are you making an impact on atheists?

MF: Well, a lot of atheistic scientists are becoming mystics, and they're looking for a spirituality with intellectual teeth. But atheism never really caught on in America like it did here. Something like 62 per cent of American would call them selves religious, and 75 believe in angels.  

Q: Can you explain creation spirituality to me?

It was my mentor Pierre Chenu, who I studied under in Paris, who named this tradition. In it's earliest tradition in the Bible, the 'J' source. It is the tradition of the Wisdom Literature in the scriptures. It's the tradition of original blessing rather than original sin. 'Original Sin' was not used till the fourth century, by Augustine. It is the tradition of the great mystics of the West: Hildergard, Francis, Aquinas, Eckhart, Julian of Norwich. It is the tradition of the anawim itself. It does not fit into empire building ambitions of Christianity. This is why Hildergard has been forgotten for 700 years.  

Q: But what is it?

It's about experiencing the divine all around us and through us. Existence is Holy. It's about beginning our spiritual journey's with awe and wonder instead of guilt. It's about discovering the deep down goodness in things.  

Q: Is the Cosmic Christ you talk of the wisdom which existed before creation?

MF: Yes. It is Christ in everything.


Q: In cancer?

MF: Christ is alive in all things. To the extent that all things contain being, they are bearers of the Holy. When things get out of balance- cancer, Aids- we don't know enough about the biological tales of our universe to pass judgement. the overall thrust of creation towards humanity is benign; otherwise, we wouldn't be here.  

Q: Doesn't it tend to mean that Christ is in all the good things but not in the bad things? We think of nature as sunshine and fields and the mountains, but it's also earth quakes and animals tearing each other apart.

MF: That's right. Beauty and terror go together.  

Q: So, is Christ in the terror?

MF: Absolutely: that's the meaning of the crucifixion. That's the beauty of Christianity and of the Cosmic Christ. Christ is in the wounds as well as the light.

Physics tell us that there are are protons in every atom of the universe, and that amazingly parallels John 1, saying that Christ is alive in all things. Hildergard said that every creature was a glittering mirror of divinity. That 's the Cosmic Christ.  

Q: You say that Christ is in terror and the beauty. If the terror destroys the beauty, does that mean that Christ is in effect destroying himself?

MF: Well, he submitted to the terror of human history and empire and our religious folly, in the person of Jesus and . ., I need to say yes, , in the person of Ghandi, of Martin Luther King, and of many other people who have been assassinated because they stood for human compassion.  

Q:Is Christ in the assassin as well as the assassinate?

MF: Of course he is. that's the point of loving our enemies. He's there, not as an assassin, but as a being in a human being.  

Q: If the assassin has the Cosmic Christ in him, what makes him want to kill people?

MF: Choice.  

Q: Is Christ not present in the choice?

MF: Humans can choose to take their divine energy and use it to destroy. Life and earth are put before us, and we are free to choose death. We all choose death from time to time. Is Christ in that choice? No. But Christ is in the power to choose.  

Q: The catholic hierarchy regard you as a heretic.

MF: You flatter me! They've never really said that. The vatican has complained about my work.  

Q: What was the central compliant

MF: One -I am a feminist theologian. I didn't know that was heresy. Two -I called God 'Mother'. I have proven that all the medieval mystics called God 'Mother'. Three, I called God a child. Four, I don't condemn homosexuals. Five, I had a witch on the staff of my school.  

What they are really complain about is that Creation Spirituality, like liberation theology, is a thing they don't control.

Q: Do you like being thought of as a heretic?  

MF: No, because I'm not one. I've done my home work. Several years ago, three conservative dominican theologians spent 2 years studying my work and concluded that I was working within the tradition. . .they threw me out not because I was a heretic, but because I didn't obey.

Q: You get much more attention as a 'heretic'

MF: In 1989, I went silent for a year and the more they tried to silence me the more people read my books. Leonardo Boff had already said that millions more people heard of Liberation Theology when they tried to silence him. Some people think that the vatican really loves me deeply and was trying to make my work better known by throwing me out.  

Q: To the Catholic Church you're a rebel, but to secular eyes you look as if your going with the flow. ritual, shamanism, feminism, solidarity with the poor, respect for indigenous cultures, these are all very fashionable interests in 1995

MF: If people knew my history and read my books, they would see that I haven't been about what is fashionable. I insist that I'm working through the Christian tradition, and it's more fashionable to leave all that. Since I was booted by the Dominicans I've become an Episcopalian (Anglican- ED) priest  

Q: You have said the spirituality is sterile without art, and art is sterile when divorced from spirituality.

MF:I think the art world, like other professions, has to change paradigms today, and move away from secularized views of the world. By . [which] I mean sucking the sacred and the awe of things. A lot of artists have been thrown over board during the mechanistic age because they've been prophets resisting the descrilsation of our world.

Now, the moment has come where artists can move centre stage and help lead us, which is what artists have always done. I spoke about this recently at Art Schools in France and Chicago, and got resounding ovations from both places.

Artists have been lonely and abused. A high percentage of our artists this century have gone into alcohol and drugs because they haven't been sustained by the community.  

Q: What would you say to someone who asks you "What must i do to be saved?"

MF: get an inner life . . . 'pay attention to joy, wonder, awe . . grief sorrow and anger. . .when you've done that, your ready to create, and it is in the act of creating that we contribute to redemption- that is to healing.  

Q: We save ourselves?

I would call it redemption. We are Sprit. We are called to be instruments of healing and salvation. As Rabbi Heschel says 'God needs man'.  

Q: Does that not make you quite unbiblical?

MF: [No] very biblical . . Jesus said "Go away- your trust has saved you", he didn't say I have saved you  

Q: Trust in What?

MF: . . .the woman who anoints {Jesus'] feet. Jesus said "you're faith has saved you" So, this woman who had feelings for Christ's holiness and beauty is saved by following those feelings, not by following the advise of [those around Jesus]  

Q: Surely it is not trust that saves, but the object of that the trust. If you put your faith in something that is false or evil, that isn't going to save you is it?

MF: No but I don't think that would be trust. It would be something else.  

Q: What is the central human problem? Paul would have said it was sin which had separated us from God.

MF: Well, I would say its a combination of addictions on one hand and injustice on the other. I think they both come from low self esteem, from not experiencing the wonder of our existence. When you have dignity, you can love others as yourself.  

Q: Is that why Christ came and died?

MF: I think the people who killed Jesus are not unlike the people who killed Ghandi and Martin Luther King . . envious and unable to deal with the amount of liberation that Jesus proposed.  

Q: Are you saying the death of Jesus had no more significance than . . Martin Luther King{s}? . the Church is founded on the fact of the crucified Christ

MF: It's not- we are mistaken there. The empty tomb ought to be held up as having as much archetypal power as the cross.  

Q: All right the life, death, resurrection and ascension . .

MF:. . you zeroed in so much on the cross that you've tended to leave out the life and resurrection. We have an imbalance here. the cross preoccupation has turned on it's side and become a sword. In the Americas we have had holocausts.  

Q: Why then did Christ live, die and rise from the dead?

MF: As Aquinas said 'God became human in order that human beings might become God'  

Q: In that case, was not what he did far more significant than what MLK did?

MF: Oh yes. I would say that Jesus was more fully the Christ than MLK was. But King did a pretty darn good job!  

Q: As you construct your theology, what is the revelation from which you judge it? You quote the Bible . . [and] widely from other sources.

MF: [They] aren't equal to the Bible, but they are very important. No one was literate at the time the Bible was created, some how could literalism in the bible be the only for the sprit to work in? The Sprit works in community not specifically a book.  

Also the sprit works in nature, and, and that includes your nature and mine through our experiences. That is what is at the heart of mysticism. It is trusting our experience and looking for the spirit their.

Q: How do we evaluate our experiences? People claim all sorts of visions and revelations. Is their a truth against which we can check them?

MF: that's an important question. I think Jesus had a very good test "By their fruits you will know them"  

Q: Meaning love joy peace and so on?

MF: Justice, compassion, celebration, Eckhart says 'the first gift of the Sprit is newness' The saintly people I've known all seem very young. They are always open to new things. Eckhart says the Bible starts with the words "in the beginning" because God is always in the beginning. He is always new. people who are close to God are always close to beginning.

I think the key test to the claim of mystical experience is justice. In other words, the mystic experience is a prophet in action. Prophecy often acts out of anger in order to interfere with injustice, but if it doesn't have a mystical base it becomes excessive and abuses others in I the name of it's theology.

I see mysticism and prophecy as the dialectic of adult spirituality: each puts a rein on the other.  

Q: You are very interested in justice. Do you still hold to the Roman Catholic belief in a last judgement?

MF: Well, I think we judge our selves.  

Q: So you don't

MF: I think the metaphor of heaven or hell as places beyond is just that; a metaphor. We create hell on this earth and Jesus was obviously in favour of the latter, because that is the prayer that he taught us.

I think it's very primitive to think of these in terms of place in another time. It's dualistic.  

Q: Dualism is when you regard good and evil as equal partners in creation. you speak of justice and injustice. Surely, that is not dualism?

MF: I don't think so. One is the lack of the other. It's more a dialectic.  

Q: When you replace sin with lack of self esteem, and hell with hell on earth, aren't you softening everything so that you won't be accused of being too fundamentalist.

MF:I don't think so. I do use the word 'sin'. We can name it today- its not a secret. racism, sexism, colonialism, antroprocentism- these are sins.  

Q:. . fashionable sins . .

MF: They seem fashionable sins to live out! They dominate our culture and its institutions. Our economy is . based on consumerism, which is . .a combination of gluttony, greed and envy . . . . .  

Q: Your theology now diverges dramatically from traditional Catholic teaching.

MF:. . . . Aquinas said that the sins of the spirit were far graver than the sins of the flesh . . . they are exactly what [is] . running the world.

The trouble is that our tradition is far richer than our interpreters have been. Christianity is so much more trivial than Jesus.  

Q: How are you finding life as a protestant?

MF: . . . . we are living in a post denominational time . . . neither . . [label] cuts the mustard. I cherish both the mystical tradition of {Roman] Catholicism and the Protestantism's. . . prophetic side.  

Q: I hear that you brought the alternative worship group [. over].

MF: We brought 36 of them over to put the Crace Cathedral -the issue of the youth is at the heart of all spirituality. An african spiritual teacher says that when a culture loses its spirituality only the young can bring it back. That's a marvellous statement.-the issue of the youth is at the heart of all spirituality. An african spiritual teacher says that when a culture loses its spirituality only the young can bring it back. That's a marvellous statement.

When I saw the young of Sheffield bringing it back, so much so that they have 600 people at mass Sunday nights, with an average age of 27, something is afoot. When we brought them to SF, we had to hand out tickets to keep people away . . [people] were so interested . . . .

So many came and discovered that worship does not have to be boring. Worship can bring in the new cosmology, it can bring the community alive so that it can deal with the issues [of] today, including our grief. It is not about getting people in church, its about getting people awake . . . .  

 

have a web site which was last reported at Celebrate!

 NOTE: The group that eventually came about from this is, I believe,"The Festival of the Holy Names "an experimental worshipping community in Berkeley, California devoted to inclusivity, justice, and lots of dancing! We are working to reclaim the Christian ritual tradition for ourselves, re-mythologizing the Eucharist and sharing responsibility for presiding, proclaiming the royal priesthood of all peoples".They have a web site which was last reported at Celebrate! and some of their prayers can e found at http://www.geocities.com/WestHollywood/8527/eucharist.html

Q: Some people might like your ideas but would rather you left God out of it . . .

MF: I didn't say their was no heaven or judgement. I said that we judge our selves. We create our heaven . our hell. And it goes far beyond our lifetime, as we know when we listen to the stories of people who have been affected by what their parents or grand parents have done.  

Q: You still cut out the eternal dimension. Why not go .. . New Age . with[out] the . .Christian element?

MF: I cut out the objective element. It is very modern to think their is some box out their, eternal heaven .. . That as a Newtonian World . .not the way the universe is . .. [it] is .. constantly creating and destroying; why wouldn't our existence on this plane also contain a great deal of mystery and birthing? We are taught about resurrection . . . the form it takes is a mystery.

Q: You believe in it?

MF: [yes] everything lives, dies, gets reborn. Stars and supernovas burst then give out their beings in other forms when they die. It seems to me that Jesus is telling us that this is a cosmic law, which is going to apply to humans as well. 

 Q: Is there anything in the bible that you believe simply because it is in the bible, and not because it has been scientifically proven?

MF: I do think we have to strain the biblical stories through our own experience, and that they will have a different interpretation in different cultural periods. That's what makes them so rich. Adam and Eve and the Fall has multiple interpretations. Appropriately so. It's a story, a metaphor, and any work of art can be interpreted in multiple ways. All of them are meant to bring out truth and wisdom.  

Q: Tell me something that you accept purely by faith.

MF: . . Science isn't the only test . The other is personal experience . . [which is] my primary test. We're meant to experience God. The scriptures say "taste and see the Lord is good!"  

Q: The last judgement can't be proved . . or experienced. . .

MF: Hildergard talks about judgement in the light of the act of creativity. What she is hinting at is that every time you give birth you are facing the Gods of life and death. So I think every time we give birth we are facing final judgement. Every time we face a serious choice that is a final judgement.  

Q: What do you say to people who ask "can't we . .have a secular vision of what you are talking about"?

MF: We've tried to desacrilise language and civilization for the last 3000 years, and look at were its got us. We are destroying . . species [MF: gives some fashionable but unreliable stats here - ED]

If you can not acknowledge the Holy in things, the holy in all things, the sacred in all things, and the right for all things t o be here far beyond the human agenda, then we are involved in a self destructive path.

Our young are on drugs, they are in despair, they are committing suicide. Schools are boring, religion is boring, economics is unjust and we're sitting watching TV, while the world literally collapses around us. This has been brought about by the first civilization ever to try to set itself up in the name of desacrilation.

Then look at the industry of psychology trying to pump a little life into these depressed souls. Look at the industry of entertainment. In America this year, we've paid a basket ball player $26 Million to sign a contract . . it shows that people live vicariously for us. We're couch potatoes. We don't want to live.

We've just about given up. Unfortunately we're dragging all the other species down with us. Unless we recover a sense of the sacred, we'll never know what life is about and we'll have nothing to teach our young people.  

Q: Can you sum up you mission in life?

MF: To recover prophetic mystical tradition of the West so that we can link up with the powerful traditions of the East and the North and the South, and together can have a renaissance, and give birth to a new civilization that is worthy of our species, and will protect the health of the planet and the children who are yet unborn.  

Q: Is it going well?

MF: Its a bumpy road.

This interview was conducted in the UK 4/3/95

 

Quoted from:

Turner, S. (1995). "Natural Mystic?" in Third Way June 1995. Sorry no more details yet.