Creation Spirituality - Interview One
While for many being a Christian implies generous portions of intolerance, self-righteous proselytizing, and patriarchal zeal, some have dug deeper into the well oft he Western mystical tradition and have drunk from sweeter waters. Instead of embracing the religions of the East, they are finding parallel philosophies and equally enlightened gurus amidst the discarded relies 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, by the Vatican, a dangerous radical, heretic, and blasphemer. The author of over a dozen books, his best-known work, Original Blessing, rejects the idea of humanity innate sin and inevitable punishment, and instead proposes a creation-centered spirituality - a philosophy of mystical artistry, universal compassion, and the celebration of the divine within each human soul.
In 1960 Fox joined the Dominican order. He was ordained seven years later; and after acquiring a master 's degree in philosophy and theology, he went to study in Paris, where he earned a doctorate in spirituality. In 1977 he founded the Institute of Culture and Creation Spirituality at Holy Names College in Oakland, California, and began to formulate educational programs, encouraging participation from all creeds, races, and subcultures.
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 he returned to the States more dedicated than ever to sharing his message. After the year had expired his first words were "As I was saying ... " In 1993, after a number of failed attempts by the papacy at proving him a heretic, which would have led to his excommunication, Matthew Fox was dismissed from the Dominican order:
As church pews gather dust in the twilight Matthew Fox 's lectures are standing room only. The clergy at the Vatican must be wringing their hands as 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 as a viable lifestyle. That Jesus' message might actually have something to do with progressive social action is an idea that the church has traditionally sidestepped with dexterity, but listening to Matthew Fox, it is easy to entertain the idea that the true spirit of Christ is arising to turn the tables once again. This interview was held on August 8, 1993 at Matthew Fox 's home in Oakland.
David: I'd like to ask you, what were you like as a child and what childhood experiences shaped your spirituality?
Matthew: Well, I grew up in Wisconsin and I was certainly influenced by the beauty of the land there. I was also influenced by the presence of the Native American spirit, and from the time I was very little I had Indian dreams. It was a university town and the whole issue of ideas became very important to me. I was Catholic and my best friends were Jewish and agnostic, and we'd get into these philosophical debates which were a lot of fun. There was a priest I knew and he got me reading Thomas Aquinas, G.K Chesterton and so forth. So the intellectual side of faith became very important to me.
Rebecca: Were you brought up a strict Catholic?
Matthew: My father was Irish-Catholic, my mother was half Jewish and half Anglican and although she became a Catholic, she always kept her freedom. So it was a very ecumenical household. When I was a teenager we lived in a large house near the university with my six brothers and sisters. As they went out to college my parents would rent out their rooms to foreign graduate students.
So I spent my high school years next door to a seikh from India who wore a turban and cooked wheat germ at three in the morning, a man from Venezuela who would pull his shirt up to show his bullfighting scars, a communist from Yugoslavia, and an atheist from Norway. It was a very broad education.
When I was in college I brought a friend home for the weekend and afterwards he shook his head and said, "God, it's like being at the United Nations!" (laughter) I was never that interested in religion but I've always been interested in spirituality, and that's how I got interested in theology.
David: How do you define the difference?
Matthew: Well, I wish there weren't such a big difference between religion and spirituality, but people have to be very clear about the difference, and not simply settle for religion. Spirituality is about experience, and religion, unfortunately, ends up being about the sociology of the structures, in news reports of Popes coming and buildings being bought. Of course they also influence each other. For example, last week here in the Bay Area, the front page news of the Chronicle was that the Catholic church was trying to sell twelve of it's churches. Why? Because they have only thirty-five people coming to church on Sunday.
So that's religion. Religion has to sell it's buildings. Spirituality is connecting to the source of things, to the source of wonder and awe and pain and suffering and creativity and justice and compassion. Religion ought to be about that but unfortunately it wanders off the path.
David: Would you say that spirituality is based upon one's own experience, while religion is based upon someone else's experience?
Matthew: (laughter) That's good, but I wouldn't stress the "own" as distinct from the communal. At your deepest depth you are in touch with other people's joy and other people's sorrow - so it's not just a private journey, it's a journey into the ocean of experience. Jesus was spiritual - would you call him religious? He was taking on the religious establishment of his day. He was trying to bring out the juices of his tradition, which got him into 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. He ran an ashram in India for Hindus and Christians for fifty years. He said, if Christianity can't recover it's mystical tradition and teach it, it should just fold up and go out of business, because it has nothing to offer. I agree 100%. Spirituality is about mysticism which is about awe and wonder and the prophetic dimension of standing up to injustice because it interferes with our wonder.
David: How did your interest in theology develop?
Matthew: I had a lot of mystical experiences as a child and as an adolescent, even more. I remember when I was in 9th grade walking into the living-room when someone was playing Beethovan's 7th symphony, and my soul wanted to dance. When I was a junior I read Tolstoy's War and Peace and it's because of Tolstoy that I went into the priesthood, because I wanted to examine the spiritual experience I was having with literature and music.
I think that people are born mystics - we are all mystics as children, but it's taken away from us as we grow older. It's taken away subtly by education which trains 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 to your cosmic soul they give you football and shopping-malls. I was fortunate. I had polio when I was thirteen, so I let go of my desire to be a football hero like my brothers were. When I was sick in the hospital (they couldn't tell whether I would walk again) I met a very spiritual person who had been a monk before he married and had five kids. He became kind of a mentor for me and showed me that there was another path in life, besides the obvious.
So, when I got my legs back a year or two later, I was very overwhelmed with gratitude and I said, I'm not going to waste my legs, I'm not going to take this for granted. And I wasn't going to waste my life, I was going to do something interesting.
Rebecca: Gratitude seems to be very much an aspect of your spirituality. Prayer has been traditionally used to ask favors.
Matthew: Yuck! That's Santa Claus in the sky! Meister Eckhart said, "If the only prayer you ever say in your life is thank you," that would suffice.
David: Don't you think that it takes almost losing something in order to appreciate it?
Matthew: (laughter) Unfortunately yes. And that's what religion won't tell you - that we're losing the planet. We have everything to lose, it's basic. And that's why the only resolution is an awakening of gratitude and reverence for the planet, and falling in love in more than an anthropocentric fashion. In that experience there is an excess of gratitudinal energy, and that's what we need to change our destiny.
Rebecca: Could you explain to us some of the core values of Creation Spirituality and how they differ from Fall/Redemption philosophy?
Matthew: Well, one of course is why I called my book Original Blessing as opposed to Original Sin. My problem with Original Sin is that first of all it's so anthropocentric - sinning is what humans do, all other creatures do not sin. Thomas Merton says every non two-legged creature is a saint. That's why my spiritual director was that guy (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, Taoism, 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.
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 spirituality. We should be teaching every thirteen year old meditation including sexual practices that are ways into mysticism and also ways into safe sex.
The human species can't deal with it's moods and 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'd just received an award from the United Nations for his non-violent work. He said, "I don't have anything against the Serbians or the Muslims, the problem is our politicians who are building on the resentments. It's their war, not our war."
I think a lot of the Reagan years were about building on resentment - on a backlash against women and against black people. Religion ought to be assisting the human heart to cleanse itself of resentments and hatreds. Unfortunately it's so often used to make things worse.
Rebecca: Why has the Christian Church historically expressed so much fear of nature religions and thus of nature herself?
Matthew: I think the best answer to that comes from Frederick Turner in his book Beyond Geography, where he says when the European Christians came over here they had suppressed the wilderness inside - sexuality and sensuality, and when they saw it being lived by the native people, it came up as something unconscious and violent towards them.
The issue is wilderness. The church in Europe ordered the destruction of the Irish woods to try and get rid of the Celtic spirits. And this whole thing is about domesticating the wilderness, but of course it's also about the wild animals in us - the rage, the anger, the desire and the lust. The idea was that you had to wipe these out. Meister Eckhart says, "Put on your passions as a bridle of love." It's so non-dualistic. You embrace your passions and embrace the wilderness, and steer where you need to go. But it's not about stomping out the wilderness.
Rebecca: Is this fear of the wilderness partly the reason why the Church hasn't come out against the crimes of biocide and geocide?
Matthew: Well, that's the third objection I make to religion as it is usually practiced. And it doesn't address these areas because religion is preoccupied with the human.
David: Why do you think that the Church condemned sexuality and eroticism?
Matthew: It goes back to the patriarchy overtaking the Western church in about the fourth century when it inherited the empire. There's a statement by one of these ascetic philosophers, Philo. "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 is what gives you energy to do something about it. If you can keep that energy down, then those who are running things are safe.
In our culture, television and consumerism are the opium of the people. They keep people from getting in touch with their deep passions. People keep getting fed more and more TV and more and more things to shop for so that they don't ask the deeper questions.
David: And Creation Spirituality approaches eroticism and sexuality in what way?
Matthew: Well, as a gift of the Universe. There's a story and a history to sexuality. We've been told that it happened about 1.3 billion years ago. It was an increase in the possibilities of evolution and creativity. I think if you want to understand sexuality, you go back to it's source. It's really an invitation to be even more creative than we are.
The Song of Songs, a book in the Bible, celebrates love-making as a theophony, as an experience of the Divine. This is something that we should be bringing back in ritual, in our churches and synagogues, and we should be honoring it. The first lesson in sexuality is to honor the power within yourself and to respect that. Then find out how many different expressions of it there are besides genital expression which is pretty obvious.
How does it feed into or out of our relations with the earth? Can we be erotic towards the earth? We can be erotic baking bread, making love or vacuuming the living-room. Eros is the love and a passion for life that we bring to whatever we do. So I talk about taking Eros back from the pornographers. I think that religion and other elements of our culture have ganged up to repress Eros, which is really a sacred experience.
Rebecca: Is the repression of sexuality largely about the fear of surrendering control, do you think?
Matthew: St Augustine in the fourth century was the one who set it all up. He himself said that he didn't want to `lose control.' And again notice how sexual politics links to imperial politics. His whole world view was seized by the church and the empire which married it. But since that time there have been people objecting.
Augustine said, "Spirit is about whatever is not matter." Now just think about that. That's the most dualistic statement you could imagine. That means there's no spirit in bushes or trees or dogs or the water, so you can do whatever you like with them. Thomas Aquinas' Divine spirit is present in everything, in all of matter.
David: Timothy Leary said that anything we can define as spiritual, is just something that we haven't developed the technology to measure yet.
Matthew: Oooh! (laughter) I don't like that. I've explored mystery a lot and mystery is not something you're ever going to solve, it's something you live! The Jewish word for spirit means `to live'. There's that line in the Book of Wisdom in the Hebrew Bible which says, "This is wisdom, to love life." That's Eros.
David: What about Paganism and Shamanism? What role do they play in Creation Spirituality?
Matthew: These represent the forgotten, shadow side of our own traditions. When Christianity was healthy, it didn't stomp on paganism, it embraced it. A good example is Chartres Cathedral which is built right on top of the cathedral to the Goddess of Grain. At that time the church was not stomping on other religions, it was embracing them and bringing them in like a welcoming mother. Pagan comes from the word `paganis' with means a person who lives in the country. A heathen is a person who lives on the heath.
The church has put so much 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 what we have to learn from the native peoples. Of course, they also have things to learn from us. But their forms of prayer; sweat lodges and sundances and so forth, are powerful ways to pray. And they're powerful because they're not anthropocentric, they're cosmological.
They do things in circles, it's about microcosm and macrocosm. And it's not about reading books - it's not boring to sit in a sweat lodge - it might take you close to death! It's an adventure, and it wakes you up! So we have a lot to learn about ritual from native people and we have a lot to learn about forgotten aspects of our own spiritual capacities. In our culture, they lock you up if you go into a trance. In those cultures every member of the tribe is regarded as mystical. They think something's wrong if you can't go into a trance. (laughter)
David: Most if not all world religions are very sexist. What value do you see in the reclaiming the Goddess-oriented traditions?
Matthew: I think that the return of the Goddess is one of the most important movements of today's hope. The last time the Goddess returned was in the twelfth century and something really happened. That's when they invented universities which were not like they are now. They were venues where you went to find your place in the universe - it wasn't about the job market and bureaucracies. It wasn't expensive either. The student paid his professor directly and if you didn't like what you were learning, you didn't pay!
So the Goddess represents the Divine creativity in everybody and that's why she's often depicted as a pregnant female. What we know about that 25,000 year period when the Goddess reigned in Europe, is that there were no artifacts of war anyplace. I think there's an incredible insight here. If you pay attention to creativity itself, you might be able to do something about the war impulse. If you can keep busy enough giving birth, you're too busy to make war. As Eckhart says, "All the images we have for God come from images of ourselves."
So if we have just a male image of God, that legitimizes the other patriarchal privileges and oppression - including men towards men - that goes on in the culture. So obviously we need gender justice in our divinities.
In the West we have a couple of names for the Goddess besides the Goddess. One is the Cosmic Christ, which I think is a euphemism for the Goddess because it is about cosmic wisdom, and wisdom is Sophia. The first name given to Jesus in the New Testament is Sophia - lady wisdom. This shook up the male establishment so much that the second generation came along and brought in Logos to put the brakes on all this woman stuff.
The other name for the feminine side of God is the Godhead. You don't hear much about the Godhead in Western theology, but all the mystics write about it. Godhead is not a very adequate word, it really means God-essence. What it's about is the mystery that is the divinity. You hear a lot about the God who creates and redeems and so on, but the Godhead doesn't do anything, it's about non-action. It's like a great big cosmic mama and we're all in the Godhead's lap. So what we should be doing in the west is balancing our God-talk with the Godhead imagery and then you get a dialectic between the feminine and the masculine, and between action and mysticism.
Rebecca: Did the Church actually come out and say, God is male?
Matthew: (laughter) Well if I'm forbidden to say that God is mother then you'd have to draw that conclusion.
David: You said in Original Blessing that the whole Fall/Redemption concept was created by the ruling class for political reasons.
Matthew: Did I say that?
David: You did say that.
David: (laughter) Can you explain what you mean by this and why you think that's so?
Matthew: Well, if you can teach people that the number one religious problem is their sin and that when they came into the world they made a blotch on existence - and you can really convince them of that - they'll never get over it. The human species is very vulnerable. We talk about sexual abuse of children, but this is religious abuse. If you feed this into a child's mind, it reinforces all other abuse that they might be receiving from adults, and it gives it Divine legitimization.
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 homophobic society, you don't have that power to stand up and say, well this is what I believe. If we get cut off from our passion where's our compassion going to come from?
David: Do you think that the ruling classes were doing this very consciously and deliberately?
Matthew: I don't think that the ruling class thought it through that much, they've just inherited all these ways of coercion. You've heard the phrase, `Divide and Conquer' well that's what it is. It's dividing people against themselves. In the Reagan era, the Santa Fe Report done by the National Security Council did an analysis of Liberation Theology in South America which said, we can't destroy this movement but we can divide the Church against itself. It's exactly what's happening and we have this present Pope going around condemning the justice-oriented movements in the Church.
It's all sado-masochism. 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 being taught this through television all the time; you can't have friends until you get the right toothpaste and the right car. It's very subtle, but it's very real. I think that sado-masochism is the basic energy of imperial minds and structures. You can liberate a masochist by letting them in on their own power. Of course, the idea behind Original Blessing is that everyone is a blessing and everyone is original.
Rebecca: How do you define sin?
Matthew: I like Rabbi Heschel's definition. He says, "Sin is the refusal of the human 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. Aquinas has a great line, he says, "The object of the heart is truth and justice." It's not in the head! So we're here to develop our powers as images of God.
Rebecca: And sin is anything that limits our ability to express this?
Matthew: Yes. There can be sin all around us, but we still have some choices. People can pay attention to their own being and not yield to the false and illusory promises. They can try to find the friends and the philosophies and the rituals to develop their soul instead of selling it.
In terms of community, sin is also a social disease. We're surrounded by a lot of blessing and goodness and a lot of lies, so you have to be alert.
David: Does the Devil have any place in Creation Spirituality, and do you think that evil, as a force unto itself, exists in the world?
Matthew: I think there's no question that evil as a force exists, but I think that the danger is in objectifying it as the Devil outside ourselves. The force of evil flows through me and through everybody if we don't watch out. Hitler seemed like a pretty ordinary politician to a lot of Germans when he was first elected.
Evil is the shadow of angel. Just as there are angels of light, support, guidance, healing and defense, so we have experiences of shadow angels. And we have names for them: racism, sexism, homophobia are all demons - but they're not out there.
Rebecca: Do you see evil as an actual independent force rather than an absence of love?
Matthew: Both. It's an abscence definitely, but what happens when there's 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 for an evil spirit entering the human heart - is fear. Prayer is a way to strengthen the heart so that we don't yeild to fear which in turn leads to evil.
Rebecca: Considering how powerful Jesus' message was to the poor and the outcast, what explains the Church's traditional lack of social activism?
Matthew: When I look at the history of the Church, I see a lot of moments when there were groups of people who were working with the poor. One example is the invention of the monastic system in the fourth century.
You hear these stories about the desert fathers with long, white beards eating locusts. They actually were young men who went AWOL. When the Church married the empire, you could be drafted into the army and kill people in the name of Christ. So they went into the desert to avoid conscription and they became hermits. So it was really a political movement.
St. Benedict saw the corruption in Rome and he went off and became a shepherd in the hills and eventually developed this whole idea of monasticism which originally was a very small, simple lifestyle. Of course, after a while, monasticism became the big landowner in Europe, and you had St. Dominic and St. Francis in the thirteenth century who quit all that and started new branches like the Dominican Friars who worked with the poor.
And today there are hundreds of Christian nuns, lay people and priests who have given their lives, literally and figuratively, for the causes of the struggling poor in the US and in Latin America. The lack of social activism has not been so much with the rank and file but with the hierarchy.
Rebecca: Fundamentalist preachers very rarely quote from the New Testament, maybe because if they did they would have to admit certain things, like the rich having a responsibility to the poor.
Matthew: To be honest, I don't think that fundamentalism has anything to do with Jesus Christ. They call themselves Christians, but if that's Christian, count me out. Fundamentalism is built on fear and greed. They're telling you to give them your money otherwise you're going to hell. Christian Fundamentalism is an oxymoron, it's contradictory. Jesus was about giving to the poor and he was about driving out fear. He wasn't about raising millions of dollars for theme-parks and so on, or about giving religious legitimization to fascist clerical movements. I do not believe, that fascism and Jesus' message are compatible, unlike the present Vatican who wants to canonize this fascist, Josemaria Eserviva.
David: What is your concept of the kind of person that Jesus actually was?
Matthew: I was in Malibu and these people put me up in home with a Buddha statue. And I woke up in the morning with this idea that what makes Buddha different from Jesus was that Jesus never had a mid-life crisis, he died a young man. Buddha went through it all. He died in his eighties and so he had more of a take it easy kind of approach. Jesus was this impetuous young man! He wanted to get it all done, overturn the system and so on.
I think you need both. You need the Jesus energy, the prophetic energy, the anger to change things. On the other hand Buddha has the realization of cycles 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 best virtue. (laughter)
Rebecca: Guatama Buddha reformed Hinduism and created Buddhism which incorporated many Hindu principles, and it seems that similarly, Creation Spirituality is intending to reform Christianity while retaining much of it's framework. But when so many Christians wouldn't even consider a Creation Spiritualist to be a Christian, I'm wondering if the framework of Christianity is really flexible enough to accommodate this.
Matthew: Well, let's check the facts here. There are also many Christians who don't consider what's been called Christianity worth their time. I was just in Europe and I was lecturing in Sweden where two per cent of Lutherans practice and it's the state church! In England, three per cent of Anglicans practice, in France, four per cent of Catholics practice.
I don't quite agree that I want to keep the framework. I think the forms have to die. I think that the forms with which Christianity has been presenting itself, are for the most part dead. Is there stuff worth keeping? Of course: the mystics, the prophets, the gospels and Jesus and some of the theology about worship and sacrament - but not the forms! that's what killing worshippers.
The theology isn't that bad, it's really very cosmological. For example in the Catholic Church there's the idea of eating and drinking the body and blood of the prescence of the divinity of everything in the Universe - I think that's pretty far out and erotic. I would say, let's get some worship that lives up to this theology!
Rebecca: But you are using some of Christianity's framework. For example, in Original Blessing you pick out some very lovely quotes from the Bible; but the Bible is also full of rape, pillage, sexism, racism and other forms of violence which a large proportion of Christians accept as the definitive spiritual truth.
Matthew: Thomas Aquinas says, "Revelation comes in two volumes; the Bible and Nature." We've ignored nature as a revelation of Christianity for centuries, which includes our human nature and the nature of the universe. It's just as important as the Bible.
What I like about Catholicism is that it's never said that religion is only about the Bible, it's always used the word `tradition.' The Bible is only three thousand years old - the universe is 15 billion, let's not starve ourselves! You're right, the book has it's good days and bad days. But this is what theologians have always done and at certain times in history, certain passages become more relevant than other passages, and why shouldn't we pick and choose?
I like what Rabbi Heschel says, `the Bible is not a book, it's a drama.' It's a story! It's life!
Rebecca: Buddhism doesn't have this passion to convert as Christianity has. Why is it, do you think, that Christians have such a strong desire to `gather souls' that they have thoughout history defied the first commandment?
Matthew: I think that's the shadow side of the prophetic tradition, like the crusades for example. When Jesus is reported to have said, go preach this to all the world, your zealous empire builders took this as an opportunity to create dominion over people. It's similar to other crusades like capitalism, democracy or communism. A spiritual person could never think that way.
The key is in converting yourself, and that is a lifetime's task. Now, there is another thing. If you love your world view or your faith you might well want to hand it out as a gift to other people - to your children, for example. But offering a gift means that the other person can say, no thank you! (laughter)
Rebecca: Conversion by example can be very powerful.
Matthew: Exactly. I suspect it's when people unconsciously realize that they can't convert by example, that they begin trying to convert by force!
Rebecca: You claim that the earliest Christians had a very different view of Christianity. Could you describe this view and what is the evidence for this?
Matthew: The first generation of Christians were mostly women, slaves and generally non-privileged people. Jesus' message really appealed to such people who were very badly treated at that time. Then of course Paul, who was educated, took it into the Greek-speaking world and into the empire itself, making it middle-class in a way. Early Christianity wasn't very well organized. You had every city saying, `we're the Church', there was no central headquarters.
Rebecca: Like in the movie, Life of Brian, with the followers of the Holy Gourd and the followers of the Holy Shoe. (laughter)
Matthew: In a way, they were right. The base Church has to get back to that, that it's not a denomination, it's all different people interpreting the universe through their cultural DNA and experience.
Rebecca: Do you think early Christianity was more connected to the ancient Goddess religions?
Matthew: Otto Rank, who I consider one of the greatest prophets of the twentieth century, says that Christianity was a Mother Goddess religion from the start and that this is the reason for the Virgin Birth story. In other Goddess religions, the Mother Goddess gives birth to a Divine son who had intercourse with her. The Christians changed that. They insisted on Mary being a virgin because their Divine son went out into the world and didn't create incest in a closed circle like you get with Isis, but went into the prophetic dimension of changing society in a linear direction. I think that this is a very brilliant insight and it's also interesting that it came from a Jew.
Rebecca: What have you learned about the role of women in the early Church?
Matthew: I was asked to review a manuscript about the early church of the second century. They have frescoes on some of these churches in ancient Rome and there's one called Episcopa Theodora which means Bishop Theodora - a woman. You can see how someone tried to change the name from Theodora to Theodorus which is the male ending. (laughter) The fact is that there were no priests for two hundred years so it's difficult to determine mythology from fact.
I want to stress that your generation is post-denominational - you're post-Piscean. Pisces was the age of dualism, of two fish swimming in the opposite direction. I don't think that your generation was born with the same dualisms in your psyche. Christianity is a very young religion and it's only existed within the period of Pisces. Now it's moving out, so there's all this confusion and bedlam and boredom. Denomination is not that important. What I want to see is some really interesting worship.
A few weeks ago I was doing a program in Seattle and four punk Londoners from England came in who had started, using my theology, a community of thirty artists designing a worship service in Sheffield which they call Virtual Worship. (laughter) About four young people go to an Anglican mass in Sheffield - this group has 600 hundred people coming to every service. It's dark as a cave and they have video screens showing DNA and so on, and people dance. It's ritualistic.
It's really the next stage to some of these rock concerts which are also ritualistic but which aren't quite plugging it in to the 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 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, just look at some of the Rajneesh people. It's just another power. To give it direction you need mentors and elders and tradition.
Rebecca: It seemed that science and religion were once very much entwined but that there was a divergence somewhere along the line. What do you think were the reasons for this split?
Matthew: I think 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 what happened in 1600? The Church burned Giordano Bruno at the stake. He was a scientist and a Dominican, like I was.
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. They sold themselves to warmongers, politicians and nation-state ideology, and the Church became more and more trivial and silly.
David: Do you think that Descartes played a role in that?
Matthew: Absolutely. He said that the soul was the pineal gland! (laughter) In contrast, these cosmological medieval mystics all said that the soul is not in the body, the body is in the soul! So that means the soul is vast, not trivial. But now that science and mysticism are coming together - that's really exciting.
David: Science is based on repeatable experiments and religion is based upon subjective experience and faith. How do you see these areas becoming reconciled?
Matthew: I'm not really at home with the word, `subjective'. There are better words such as inter-communal or even trans-personal. Eckhart says, "What happens to another, whether it be a joy or a sorrow, happens to me." Compassion is all about inter-dependence. So there is no such thing as a subjective experience.
David: I understand what you're saying, but a scientific experiment is repeatable and you always get the same result if you follow the exact same steps. I don't know if you can do the same with spirituality.
Matthew: I would say that spirituality is much more interesting than science because it's always new. The fact is, awe happens. It happens all the time, not just to individuals but to groups of people and especially, to children.
I would think, however, that even today's scientists would say that no event in the universe is repeatable. You try to rule out extraneous factors, but there's always chaos and chance.
David: And science makes this incredibly audacious assumption that the universe is governed by fixed mathematical laws that never change.
Matthew: Right. Our generation has been taught to think in terms of the evolution of the universe, but the fact is that physics didn't get into evolution until the 1960's - it was just this biology thing. Then we learned how the universe is evolving. Now we're going a step further and understanding that even the laws that govern the universe are evolving!
David: For many Westerners, myself included, their first mystical experience occurred when they ingested a psychedelic substance. More than a few people think that some world religions were actually founded on an individual's experience with psychedelics. I'm wondering, have you ever had any experience with a psychedelic?
Matthew: No I haven't, because I've never felt it necessary. I've gotten high on all these 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. The best student I had who I taught years ago, got into spirituality through drugs and she ended up becoming a nun.
In my tradition as a Catholic we drink wine which is a drug, and Jesus drank wine. So even in Christianity in it's more classical sense, there has been acknowledgement of the role of drugs.
I think that the idea that religions were founded from people on psychedelics is hard to prove or disprove. It's like any other initiatory spiritual experience, the question then becomes where do you go from there? I tried marijuana in the sixties and it didn't do anything for me.
Rebecca: You didn't inhale. (laughter)
Matthew: I tried. (laughter) But I would say that if you had been taken to a sweat lodge when you were sixteen, you probably wouldn't have needed psychedelics. Also you need to consider that when the ancient people were doing drugs, it was within a ritualistic context.
Rebecca: You talk in Original Blessing about the need for a personal relationship with God, yet when many people think about that idea it's often anthropomorphic and sometimes trivializes the experience of God. Do you believe in a personal God and if so how does this belief act so as to encompass the vastness of spiritual experience?
Matthew: I reject the notion of talking about God as a person, but there's a difference between talking about God as a person and talking about God as personal. The term I use is pantheistic - everything is in God and God is in everything. That's pretty intimate, but it doesn't mean that we don't have to find our own way and do our own creating. I see the universe as a Divine womb and we're all swimming around in this soup.
I think eyes are very revealing. I was with a student who was dying of AIDS about two years ago. He had beautiful blue eyes and just before he died, his eyes went totally black and he sucked me into this vortex. This is just one example of the presence of the Divine showing itself through people.
Eckhart says, "the eye with which I see God is the same eye with which God sees me." So when I used to look into the eyes of my dog, I saw so much mystery there, so much more than he could tell me or wanted to tell me. I see things in eyes that are mysterious and unfathomable.
Rebecca: So it's personal, not personified.
Matthew: Not personified and not private.
David: How do you define God?
Matthew: Never. (laughter) It's sad that we put `in God we trust' on our bills and our missiles and bring God down to our projections. Aquinas has a great line, `God is the source without a source.' When you see God as a vitality and energy, you 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 Cartesian era, during the enlightenment, beauty was lost as a theological category. However, the last time we had cosmology in the west, in the middle ages, they called God beauty.
David: But doesn't defining God as beauty create a dualism? If you have beauty then you must also have ugliness, and is the ugliness then not a part of God?
Matthew: Another part of beauty is terror. The world isn't pretty, it's beautiful. Awe is a mixture of terror and beauty. You say that the opposite of beauty is ugliness. Right. I would say that all injustice is ugly, sin is ugly, tearing down the rainforest is ugly. To me, beauty is not about perfection, there's beauty in imperfection. If you look closely at a tree you'll notice it's knots and dead branches, just like our bodies. What we learn is that beauty and imperfection go together wonderfully.
I think this is part of the false consciousness of the culture. We think that beauty is having a perfect body with all the cosmetics in just the right place. You have to go back to nature to realize what beauty is.
Rebecca: Isn't part of the mystical experience, seeing the beauty in things that have appeared ugly to you before? Seeing the Godhead in even the lowliest form?
Matthew: That's right. I think the only ugly thing is human sin. Nothing nature makes is ugly.
Rebecca: Could you talk about some of the practical applications of Creation Spirituality?
Matthew: Much of our society is run on Fall/Redemption ideology. Health care is run on the idea of bringing in outside intervention in the form of surgery and drugs to heal your body which is inert and passive. That's the basic teaching of medical schools. It's not about the original blessing that our bodies are. Our bodies want to heal themselves, they have intrinsic power to find balance but they need some help when they get wounded.
Education runs on the same ideology. The idea of education is to force ideas into people's minds when our minds already desire to learn. We desire sex because it's fun, it's good for the species, and in the same way we want to learn because it's fun. But education has taken the fun out of it. We've taken the awe and mysticism out of our work.
Psychology is another area. Instead of asking what your problem is psychologists should be asking, where is your Divine energy and why is it being bottled up? I think there's a very important shift going in all of our work and this is how we're going to effect history. Creation Spirituality has to be brought into all work: into politics and business, into art, education health care.
Again, I think that ritual is the key. It provides the energy and courage for people to take risks at work, to reinvent work which is not pessimistic or patriarchal. Pessimism comes from the repression of creativity. If we're honoring creativity then all our work rules will become very different.
Most people are frustrated at work or don't have any, not because there's so little work to do, but because we're still thinking in terms of the Industrial Revolution and factories and control - Fall/Redemption ideology.
David: What do you personally feel happens to human consciousness after biological death?
Matthew: Well, I don't think that any beauty is lost in the universe. Hildegard of Bingen says, no warmth is lost in the universe. Einstein said, no energy's lost. I think that the beauty hangs around. Rupert Sheldrake would call this the morphic resonance and the Christian tradition would call it the Communion of Saints, the East might call it the incarnation.
David: Do you think that there's an aspect of yourself which still contains some of it's individuality and continues on?
Matthew: I wouldn't put it that way myself. 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.' What he's really saying is that there's no judgment.
Rebecca: Are you afraid of death?
Matthew: There was a time when I was afraid.
Rebecca: Was the loss of your fear a sudden transition or a gradual one?
Matthew: I think it was kind of gradual. I suppose it had something to do with facing death so many times too and experiencing other people's death. Part of coming to terms with death is experiencing the pain and sorrow that can occur in life and thinking that it can't be much worse. (laughter)
Rebecca: What's your take on reincarnation?
Matthew: The way I look at it is this. There's a shadow side and a good side to it. There is a certain complacency to the idea of reincarnation. It's like, oh well, we'll work it out next time around. Gandhi was told by his Hindu followers that he didn't have to worry about the untouchables because next time around they'll get a better deal. But this wasn't enough for Gandhi, because of Jesus and the West, and he demanded justice now. I think there's a certain cop-out, especially among wealthy, comfortable westerners who are into reincarnation because it gives them an excuse not to get involved to fight injustice.
On the other hand, I think reincarnation is really interesting. It's certainly more interesting than heaven. We've made heaven absolutely boring - who wants to go there?! (laughter) As a westerner I talk about the bridge between the East and the West around reincarnation. One is the Communion of Saints. I've experienced Eckhart and Hildegard. This morphic field is for real. Secondly there's this tradition of purgatory. When purgatory is cut out from the Fall/Redemption ideology, it's not about punishment, it's about learning to love.
Rebecca: What difference does it make to a person's life whether they believe that heaven is here and now on earth, rather than out there in some distant future time?
Matthew: It makes a lot of difference. For one thing it puts you in a non-dualistic state of consciousness, which is the key to realizing your connection to the divinity in all things and time, past present and future. It opens you up to ecstasy now! 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?
David: What role do you think consciousness plays in the evolution of the universe?
Matthew: I think that God is the mind of the universe. I don't think there's any other explanation for the accomplishments of the universe except for mind consciousness.
David: Do you equate consciousness with spirit?
Matthew: Partly. I think that spirit includes consciousness but that consciousness does not necessarily include all of spirit. The word consciousness is a little too psychological for me, a little too anthropocentric.
Rebecca: Do you see a Divine plan in nature?
Matthew: A Divine plan?
Rebecca: Yeah. It's a very popular idea right now especially with all this millennial energy getting stirred up, that we're all on our way somewhere. (laughter)
Matthew: Well, let's see, there's the American Way...(laughter) Science has confirmed that there's order in the universe as well as chaos. What's really interesting is that order comes out of the chaos - which is the creative process. You need the Via Negativa and chaos before you can get creative.
David: Can you tell us about your Institute of Culture and Creation Spirituality and any other projects that you're working on.
Matthew: I started eighteen years ago in Chicago and it was a deliberate and conscious effort to re-invent education. I'd done a study on spirituality and education and had found that they weren't treating justice, feminism, art or science as spiritual. I realized that you can't do these things in a Cartesian model of education and develop the right brain and the body.
So I threw out the model of education that we take for granted in the West and designed one which has right and left brain work. We do a lot of meditation and ritual, we include a lot of Native people and their music, and sweat lodges. We also study western and eastern mystics. And it's a model that works. It's not boring at all. People go through transformation and it's very powerful.
I would like to give this model away to universities, high schools, specialty schools. We would like to do conferences for journalists, cyber-spirituality people and artists.
Matthew: Yeah, computer nerds. You've got all this wonderful technology and power - what are you going to do with it, make more money for the insurance companies? We ought to be using that technology to do things that are worthwhile like birth rituals to heal people and empower them. That's what I'd like to do. All I need is money. (laughter)
Rebecca: Do you feel that your message is getting out there and that people are listening?
Matthew: There are several hundred Creation Spirituality based communities around the world. We just got word from aborigines in Australia and they want to start an ICCS program in Kimberley which is where the aboriginal culture is most strong. They want to take our model and use it and get white people and take them into the bush for a week and teach them about aboriginal ways. I'm very honored by that. At least the aboriginals understand what we're trying to do! So far the Westerners have been slower to catch on. (laughter)
Rebecca: It seems that there is a real crisis in the Church.
Matthew: I think that the Vatican is in a deep crisis of faith which they should be praying for. 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 who are looking for answers should just get on with the work. Frankly, I think that as we get on with the work, it's going to be so delightful and fun that everyone's going to want to come along. Nothing changes people like delight. The way our culture and religion is running is very undelightful and the most basic things like health care and education are ridiculously expensive.
Rebecca: Do you think it's possible that within your lifetime the power elite of the Church will ever undergo a real transformation?
Matthew: Repent of their sins? (laughter) Well, one can pray can't one?
Much thanks to David Jay Brown and Rebecca Novick for 'Mavericks Of The Mind' - the Internet Edition.
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