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Matthew Fox

(points to painting of a white spitz on the wall) who died a year ago – my dog, Tristan. Animals and other beings, they just go about their work, they don’t sit around feeling sorry for themselves and counting their sins.

Rebecca: My dog does.

Matthew: (laughter) Well they do pick up the ambiance. So `original blessing’ is so much more accurate. The fact is that what we know from the nuclear stories is that, for 15 billion years, the universe has been preparing our way; getting the temperature right, the ozone layer balanced, the oxygen level perfect – and it’s taken for granted not to acknowledge this. Religion that begins with sin is presuming 15 billion years of amazing preparation.

Another difference is the emphasis that we put on all the images of God. I love that rabbinic phrase that says every time humans walk down the street we’re proceeded by hosts of angels who are 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 are creative. Creativity is very important to this whole tradition, in fact the basic prayer form is what we call art as meditation. This is what we do in our teachings. I hire a lot of artists and we do painting, sculpture and dance as meditation.

Art is the yoga of the West. Art has been coopted by capitalism and it’s always about product and what it costs. The essence of art is the relationship between one’s own creativity and matter, whether it’s the muscles in dancing, or paints, or the strings of an instrument. Art as meditation awakens the artist in everybody, and when that happens spiritual energy flows.

Rebecca: And in the Fall/Redemption philosophy creation is seen as a once and for all event.

Matthew: Well creativity is not emphasized. You can read those theologians until you’re blue in the face – they’ll never talk about arts or creativity – they just talk about sin and redemption and Jesus; forgetting that Jesus himself was a storyteller, he was an artist. Another difference is the way they deal with the via negativa – the darkness and suffering. You hear these fundamentalists – and the Fall/Redemption institution is fundamentalism – saying things like, AIDS is God’s punishment, earthquakes in California are because they’re so many gays there. But of course all those good people out in the mid-west were badly treated by mother nature when they got flooded out, right?(laughter)

So the darkness is not about guilt, it’s about doing something about it and facing it, not denying it or blaming it. The asceticism of Fall/Redemption Christianity has people wearing hair-shirts and beating themselves in front of crosses in the basement. 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!

There’s a wonderful Native American dance which has to do with facing the enemy and the teaching is of the enemy being outside and inside. But the point is to pay attention and deal with them, not to wallow in guilt. Cheap relgion builds on fear and guilt and I don’t think that was what Jesus was about – he was about driving out the fears.

Rebecca: I’m intrigued why you chose to remain a Catholic when your philosophy seems so much more closely aligned with eastern religions.

Matthew: Well, a lot 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, but so was Galileo for three hundred years. Then there was Hildegard of Bingen, a renaissance woman of the twelfth century, musician, poet, painter, healer, scientist and mystic. The Middle Ages were amazing times. Thomas Aquinas, who my last book was about, was the last theologian to really care about bringing science and religion together. He was condemned three times before they canonized him a saint.

I am 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, hey, can’t you see what’s here in your own religion, what are you, stupid? Carl Jung said that we Westerners cannot be pirates, thieving wisdom from foreign shores as if our own culture was an arid land.

Our religious ancestors were not all stupid and they were certainly not as stupid as some of the people running the churches today. People like Aquinas, Eckhart, Francis of Assisi, Julian of Norwich, Nicholas of Cusa were all of the same movement. David Bohm, an English physicist says he owes more to Cusa than to Einstein.

So 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 an incredible experience to be there, it’s a temple to the Goddess. And they built five hundred like that all over Europe – to Mary the Goddess.

So I try to draw on the Western tradition first because I’m interested in social transformation – a few can go East but that’s almost elitist. We have a cultural DNA, we have to stir things up and demand things of it.

Rebecca: I can understand remaining a Christian with the insights you gained, but why did you remain a Catholic? Catholicism doesn’t seem to have much to do with personal spiritual experience.

Matthew: Catholicism, going back to its medieval mystical tradition has a rich heritage of spirituality which it needs to recapture. But I am interested in deep ecumenism. I think that the deeper you go into your own tradition in terms of spirituality, the closer you come to the living waters of wisdom. In this image, God is a great underground river. There are many wells into this river: there’s Buddhism, Taosim, Judaism, Sufism, the Goddess, Native traditions and Christianity.

To connect with the great river, we all need a path, but when you get down there, there’s only one river. What I’m doing is connected with the East. I have a Hindu from India teaching Shakta yoga in my program. We teach T’ai Chi and Aikido. We have Sufis, Buddhists, Jews, Catholics and Protestants and witches. (laughter) So the future of religion is interdenomination.

David: But you have a certain kind of loyalty though to Christianity.

Matthew: Why should I, they just kicked me out? (laughter)

David: But it seems that you’re working to build a bridge back to people in the Christian tradition.

Matthew: I’m interested in bridges. I’m interested in truth.

Rebecca: Was one of your reasons for working within the tradition rather than branching off from it, so that you could reach a greater number of people?

Matthew: Well, I do speak English better than I speak Japanese, I read Latin better than I read Sanskrit.(laughter)

Rebecca: (laughter) Well, you don’t have to speak Japanese to be a Zen Buddhist. Have you actually been excommunicated by the Catholic church?

Matthew: No. I’ve just been expelled from the Dominican order. I’m still a priest technically they can’t take that away from me, but they can forbid me to practice. I’m not allowed to give public mass etc…

Rebecca: What specifically about your views do they object to?

Matthew: I think that the real issue is the same problem they have with Latin American liberation theology and that is that there’s a movement around this and the Catholic Church doesn’t like movements. Our Creation Spirituality includes women and gays and lesbians and artists and native peoples, so it involves the kinds of people who don’t have strong voices in the Vatican. It’s fear. If I had their world view, I would be threatened by the things I’m teaching too.

David: Why?

Matthew: Because they have a pretty good thing going. You could start with the fact that they’re all male.

Rebecca: Have they informed you of exactly what it is they don’t approve of in your teachings?

Matthew: They gave me a list, yeah.(laughter) Their first thing is that I’m a feminist theologian, although I didn’t know that it was heresy to be a feminist. Secondly, I call God mother; well, I proved that medieval mystics do and even the Bible does. Thirdly, I call God child. Well, mystics do this too. Number four, I don’t condemn homosexuals. Number five, I believe in Original Blessing more than Original Sin. Number six, I’m not as depressed as they are.. (laughter)

Rebecca: Did you get the opportunity to respond?

Matthew: You see, they have hundreds of years of experience of how to get people, so it was subtle how they did it. They got the Dominican Order to give me a command to leave California and go back to Chicago which would have meant ending the program and the magazine and the community here. So, I refused to do that and they kicked me out on the grounds of disobedience. The real reason was obviously that they wanted me to end the work.

Rebecca: They did silence you for a year, from 1988 to 1989. What did you do during that time?

Matthew: I went along with that. I’d never had a sabbatical before and I went to Brazil, Nicaragua and Crete. During this time I made some decisions, one of them being that I wouldn’t go along with the second silencing because it was against human dignity.

David: In addition to the over-emphasis on Original Sin in Christianity, when you take an over-view of all the world religions today, what do you see as some of the primary problems they have, and what can be done to alleviate them?

Matthew: 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 an Anglican river, or a Lutheran cornfield or a Baptist moon.

The second problem with religion is that it’s about religion and not about spirituality. It’s that whole thing of pointing to the moon and confusing the finger with the moon. So, they should be pointing to

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