The "Creation Spirituality" of Father Matthew Fox
On March 30 and 31, 1990 Father Matthew Fox held one of his internationally known "Creation Spirituality" seminars in Wichita, Kansas. The seminar took place at St. Paul's United Methodist Church and was sponsored by the Acuto Center for Renewal and Prayer attached to the Wichita convent of the Sister Adorers of the Blood of Christ. Pre-registration for the seminar was $60 per person, registration at the door $75, not exactly geared to poor people. Sister Rita Robl, director of the Acuto Center, told this writer during a telephone inquiry that some 350 persons attended the seminar.
Besides the March 30/31 seminar, the Acuto Center also conducted a 6-week course on Fr. Fox's "creation spirituality" in January and February 1990, using his book Original Blessing as the text. Session titles included "Earthiness as Blessing"; "The Motherhood of God"; "Recovering the Cosmic Christ"; and "Compassion--Erotic Justice." The course was taught by Sister Patricia Ann Hatcher, ASC, profiled in the January/February 1990 issue of Creation Magazine, edited by Fox. Sister Patricia Ann's spiritual odyssey is interesting; she traveled from Liberation theology in 1974 to Creation Spirituality in 1975 and Global Education Associates in 1976. In 1988 the World Instant of Cooperation named her the winner of its Peacemaker's Award for work in the Wichita community.
Fox, a Dominican priest, is the founding director and on the faculty of the Institute in Culture and Creation Spirituality (ICCS) at Holy Names College in Oakland, California. He is an internationally known author whose books include The Coming of the Cosmic Christ; Whee! We, Wee All the Way Home: A Guide to a Sensual, Prophetic Spirituality; and Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality, about which more below.
The ICCS, founded in 1976, offers a Master of Arts in Spirituality at $7,800; a 9-month Certificate at $7,300; and fall and spring 4-months-sabbaticals at $3,600 (housing and food not included). There are three track options: (1) Culture and Spirituality, centering on "deep ecumenism," art, and education; (2) Geo-Justice and Spirituality, centering on (a) global peace and global spirituality; (b) "HOW CREATION BINDS all peoples and cultures together"; and (c) developing "a spirituality of compassion which ... engages in the struggle for social transformation." Finally, track (3), creation spirituality and psychology, "revisions psychology in light of the ancient belief that psyche and cosmos are one ... " The ICCS also sponsors summer institutes and workshops in Creation Spirituality in various parts of the country. A 1990 ICCS brochure begins with a glowing endorsement by Thomas Berry, president of the World Teilhard Foundation, and states that "ICCS offers a unique program of courses emphasizing the integration of ART, MYSTICISM, and SCIENCE to AWAKEN THE COSMIC CHRIST in each individual and in society." The faculty includes the famous witch Starhawk and Brian Swimme, author of The Universe is a Green Dragon, and co-author with Fox of Manifesto for a Global Civilization.
The ICCS and Fox's "creation spirituality" are thus clearly closer to the cosmic evolutionist views of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and the agenda of the New Age Movement than to biblical Christianity. Nevertheless Fox rejected the "New Age" label in a March 31, 1990 interview with a Wichita Eagle reporter, though he also affirmed his openness to New Age ideas. After a 4 -year investigation by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger the Vatican forbade Fox to teach his views during 1989. Fox used his year of silence to travel to Central and South America and to Europe to meet with other Catholics criticized by the Vatican. Fox said Vatican criticism against himself might resume, but that he felt some of his views were being adopted, for example in a public letter by Pope John Paul II on ecology.
At the February 3, 1990 Midwest Conference on Creation Spirituality in Rosemont, Illinois sponsored by "Chicago Call to Action," Fox urged his audience to build a new church of the people. He said Western Christians could learn bravery from Third World "martyrs" who in turn would learn cosmology, defined as the study of the universe and its origin and evolution, from the West. He called for the granting of separate rites to black Catholics and Native Americans, the opening of full church ministry to women, and attacked all "fundamentalism" including "Vatican literalism."
In the well-known Catholic journal The Wanderer (April 26, 1990) George A. Kendall describes Fox's "creation spirituality" after attending Fox's lecture at Ann Arbor, Michigan. Kendall begins by singling out Fox's call for a return to worshipping the earth as "Goddess" and "intense focus on feminine images of the sacred." According to Kendall, Fox
sets up the earth, as the cosmic principle of creativity, in the place of God, the uncreated creativity, and thus erects a thoroughgoing pantheism. ... The earth, set up as the kind of power Fox makes it, is a terrible, evil power over us, a power which demands, for instance, that we sacrifice all human civilization in order to restore a pristine earth which was never part of God's plan for the world, or that we destroy millions of babies in abortion chambers to save the earth from the alleged perils of overpopulation.
Kendall deals with Fox's support of the ideologies of feminism and "gay rights" by pointing out that these ideologies, contrary to the Church, "see human beings as so many isolated individual atoms, each of which seeks only its own 'fulfillment,' 'self-actualization,' or whatever. These ideologies thus destroy that central unity, the family, on which the health of every society depends so totally." Kendall's most important comments, however, concern Fox's very concept of "creation spirituality" and deserve being quoted at some length:
Some years ago, when I first heard that there was a Fr. Fox teaching something called "creation spirituality," I was intrigued ... because it was my own belief that affirming the goodness of the creation is at the heart of Christian Spirituality, and that too many Christian thinkers had neglected it.
But when I actually did learn more, I realized that the whole problem
with Matthew Fox's "creation spirituality" is that it is not a creation
spirituality at all. It is a sham, a lie, and a deception, because ... in fact,
like all the anti-Christian ideologies which proliferate today ... it rejects
the creation and wants to destroy it. ... When Fr. Fox affirms the goodness of
the "creation," he is making a different statement than the orthodox Christian
... For the orthodox Christian, the creation, the world, the cosmos, the
universe ... is a finite community or family of particular beings, each of
which is what it is and nothing else, but each of which is related to every
other and has a place in a universal order which God gave it. God is of
course present throughout this community of beings, and His light shines
through them so that in some way He can be known through the things He
has made-- yet they are in no way identical with God nor God with
them. The unity of this cosmos, as orthodox Christians understand it, is a
unity of community, not one of identity, where all particular beings are
swallowed up in some kind of undifferentiated unity. ...
The Church has
always affirmed this created world, especially in opposition to the various
gnostic groups which, through the centuries, have tended to reject it, seeing
its finitude, its particularity, and so forth, as representing a kind of fall
from the only perfect reality, which is God Himself. To get an idea of what Fr.
Fox means when he talks about the creation, we could practically reverse
everything said above. Fox refuses to think in terms of any clear distinction
between the creation and the Creator. He complains that ... "too many
Westerners still think of God as up there someplace," an error which he
dismisses as "theism." "We have to let go of that theistic God and enter into
the deep mystical tradition of panentheism ..." These are not the
statements of someone who merely believes that God is present in all
creatures. ... They are the statements of someone who deeply resents and
hates the very notion that God is in any way distinct from the creation
and in any way transcends it. Whatever disclaimers he makes to the
effect that he is teaching "panentheism" (God is in all things) rather than
"pantheism" (God is all things), nearly everything he says is consistent with
the latter, not the former.
This means that when Fox speaks of the creation, he
does not mean the creation at all ... Rather, he means a divine cosmos
which is God. But this is an entirely different kind of entity than the actual,
non-divine world which God created. In doing so, he is of necessity
rejecting the real creation. ... It only makes sense to talk about creation
if there is a Creator and the two are not the same. ... So in reality, his
creation spirituality ... is actually a rejection of God's creation. It is an anti-creation spirituality. Kendall relates other details of Fox's program to
this fundamental point, stressing especially Fox's idealization of a
primitive society, sometimes expressed in bizarre extremes such as
Fox's claim that forcing children to learn to read is "adultism." When
someone asked Fox about the "dark side" of the cosmos, such as natural
disasters or pestilences, Fox responded that we must stop looking at the
cosmos in anthropocentric terms. If human beings, even great numbers
of them, perish, it is not really important in terms of the cosmos as a
whole, of which man after all is but an insignificant part. Similarly, the
abortion holocaust is insignificant compared to the concerns of ecology.
Kendall rightly concludes that Fox completely denies man's special role in
God's creation according to Genesis, and that Fox's creation spirituality
"is thus really anti-creation spirituality--it is a demonic spirituality,
destructive of God's creation."
The Church has always affirmed this created world, especially in opposition to the various gnostic groups which, through the centuries, have tended to reject it, seeing its finitude, its particularity, and so forth, as representing a kind of fall from the only perfect reality, which is God Himself. To get an idea of what Fr. Fox means when he talks about the creation, we could practically reverse everything said above. Fox refuses to think in terms of any clear distinction between the creation and the Creator. He complains that ... "too many Westerners still think of God as up there someplace," an error which he dismisses as "theism." "We have to let go of that theistic God and enter into the deep mystical tradition of panentheism ..." These are not the statements of someone who merely believes that God is present in all creatures. ... They are the statements of someone who deeply resents and hates the very notion that God is in any way distinct from the creation and in any way transcends it. Whatever disclaimers he makes to the effect that he is teaching "panentheism" (God is in all things) rather than "pantheism" (God is all things), nearly everything he says is consistent with the latter, not the former.
This means that when Fox speaks of the creation, he does not mean the creation at all ... Rather, he means a divine cosmos which is God. But this is an entirely different kind of entity than the actual, non-divine world which God created. In doing so, he is of necessity rejecting the real creation. ... It only makes sense to talk about creation if there is a Creator and the two are not the same. ... So in reality, his creation spirituality ... is actually a rejection of God's creation. It is an anti-creation spirituality. Kendall relates other details of Fox's program to this fundamental point, stressing especially Fox's idealization of a primitive society, sometimes expressed in bizarre extremes such as Fox's claim that forcing children to learn to read is "adultism." When someone asked Fox about the "dark side" of the cosmos, such as natural disasters or pestilences, Fox responded that we must stop looking at the cosmos in anthropocentric terms. If human beings, even great numbers of them, perish, it is not really important in terms of the cosmos as a whole, of which man after all is but an insignificant part. Similarly, the abortion holocaust is insignificant compared to the concerns of ecology. Kendall rightly concludes that Fox completely denies man's special role in God's creation according to Genesis, and that Fox's creation spirituality "is thus really anti-creation spirituality--it is a demonic spirituality, destructive of God's creation."
Fox's Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality Presented in Four Paths, Twenty-Six Themes, and Two Questions (Santa Fe, NM: Bear & Company, 1983) fully confirms Kendall's evaluation and reveals numerous other crucial divergences of Fox's "creation spirituality" from the biblical creation perspective. First is Fox's painstaking effort to present God as both male and female, with emphasis on the latter, including by androgynous renderings of Bible passages. Thus Psalm 150:1, 3-6 is cited as "Praise God in his temple on earth, praise her in her temple in heaven, praise him with blasts of the trumpet, praise her with lyre and harp" and so on, alternating "him" and "her" in subsequent lines (p. 116). Obviously Fox does not attribute any importance to the fact that Jesus Christ, the Father's express image and likeness (Col.1:15), is God's Son, not "Son/Daughter." Fox fully accepts the "higher critical" view of all Scripture, which allows him to pick and choose between his several "Yahwist authors," Isaiah and "Deutero-Isaiah," and so on. No one at all familiar with the Bible would fail to notice Fox's eclectic use of it to buttress his own views.
Throughout his book Fox pushes his "liberationist" political agenda of socialism, feminism, gay rights, "global" ecology and one-worldism. On the second page of the text he says that "Above all, the people have become victims--victims of world wars, massive military taxes, needless unemployment, dire conflict between haves and have-nots" (p. 10). Man's sin is conspicuously absent from this list of man's chief problems. We soon learn why: Fox attacks the biblical Christian "fall/redemption model of spirituality" which is "dualistic and patriarchal" and begins with "sin and original sin" (p. 11). This point is so important to Fox that he devotes a lengthy appendix (Appendix B, pp.316-319) to listing the differences between the "fall/redemption spirituality" he rejects and the "creation-centered spirituality" by which he would supplant it. For example, in the "fall/redemption" model, suffering is "wages for sin," for Fox it is "birth pangs of universe." The Bible says God created all things perfect, "good" and "very good" in His sight (Genesis 1), and that man's sin brought about suffering (Genesis 3). It has nothing to say about suffering as "birth pangs of universe." For the "fall/redemption" model, death is "wages for sin," for Fox it is "a natural event, a prelude to recycling and rebirth." The Bible says in Romans 6:23 that "the wages of sin is death." Fox's view of death is taken from evolutionist Hindu mysticism. For "fall/redemption theology" holiness is "quest for perfection," for Fox it is "cosmic hospitality." This point comes up again when Fox contrasts the biblical call to purity from the world with his own definition of holiness as "Hospitality to all of being." If this means anything, it means that a Foxite ought to be hospitable to Hitler and his Nazis, and, of course, also to the people he rejects so angrily, biblical Christian "fundamentalists"! We could go on and on, but these examples give sufficient flavor of the whole.
A major theme of Fox's "creation spirituality" is evolution. The first longer reference is most significant and sets the tone for all others and for "creation spirituality" as a whole:
Fall/redemption theology concentrates on sin--yet sin, after all, is part of the anthropomorphizing of our existence. For if the universe is twenty billion years old, human sin is only as old as humanity or at most four million years old. This means that fall/redemption theology leaves out nineteen billion, nine hundred ninety-six million years of divine/earthly history! One result of this rather substantial lacuna is, ironically, the very trivializing of sin, the inability to grasp sins like genocide and ecocide and biocide of which the human race is fully capable. (p.19)
Fox's "creation spirituality" is really "evolution spirituality." Consider this quote: "My most recent beautiful experience was taking a break from writing this book to walk in newly fallen snow ... What beauty! Sticking to all the branches of the trees, covering all of creation under a common blanket of white and warmth. Think how the cosmos yearned for twenty billion years to show off this one day of a snowfall's beauty!" (p. 219) The Christian believer in biblical creation also rejoices in the beauty of newly fallen snow, but he praises God, the personal, sovereign Creator Who designed this beauty within His original creative decree, and created man in His own image and likeness, uniquely able to appreciate and rejoice in this beauty. Fox's understanding of beauty is evolutionist and dialectical: "Beauty is a microcosmic intuition of a macrocosmic reality: Blessing does prevail, life and death, pain and joy, dark and light, conflict and resolution of conflict, commitment and letting go, are all connected" (p. 218). It is a passage reminiscent of the perverted Marquis de Sade's assertion that "What is, is right." Not for Fox the promise of Isaiah and Revelation that God will make all things new, and that in His new heaven and earth He will wipe away all tears: "There shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, no more pain, for the former things have passed away" (Rev.21:l-5). Fox implicitly denies the eternal separation between God's own overcomers, and the unrepentant "cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars" consigned to hell (Rev.21:7-8). This is because his "evolution spirituality" accepts and even embraces pain, tears, darkness, bloodshed, murder, and any and all sex, all part of the suffering indispensable as "birth pangs of universe." In principle no act is excluded as too morally repulsive. Logically adherents of "evolution spirituality" should accept incest with minor children and the lifelong emotional scarring it causes along with "gay rights." After all, this outrage to children and their innocent suffering matter little within the "non-anthropocentric" world view in the twenty-billion-year-old evolutionary cosmos. On the contrary, this is part of the dialectic of "blessing"! Fox's "evolution spirituality" is satanic to the core in its rejection of both God and man. It is not true that Fox has no redemption in his spirituality; only for him the redeemer is not Jesus Christ's death on the cross, but rather, incredibly, "tragic evil," if deliberately made part of our lives. He writes: "Tragic evil, then, is redemptive. ... But to achieve its power, evil itself must become part of our dialectical way of living; it cannot be controlled by dualistic relationships to it. Beauty is born of the coupling of love of life and its harmonies with pain at life and its discords" (p.213), Leaning on his favorite author, Meister Eckhart (1260-1329; posthumously convicted of heresy by the Catholic Church), Fox urges his disciples to embrace and abandon themselves to God as "superessential darkness," and to nothingness (p.137ff., p.154-55). Yet we read in 1 John 1:5: "This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all." Jesus Christ says: "I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life" (John 8:12). Fox counsels that "We also need to let sin be sin for a while. To allow sin its rightful and even instructive place in our own and others' lives. Not to do this is to multiply the sin" (p.161). Yet we read in 1 John 1:6: "If we say that we have fellowship with Him [God], and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth." In whatever Fox teaches on God as darkness and man's embrace of darkness our Lord Jesus Christ's words apply: "If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!" (Matthew 6:23).
In this connection Fox cites Norman 0. Brown, the neo-Freudian, Zen Buddhistic mentor of the lawless college youth of the 1960s, Besides Meister Eckhart, Brown, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Gandhi, Fox reveres a number of medieval women mystics. This writer is familiar with one of them, Julian of Norwich (1342-1415) and her book The Revelations of Divine Love, and cannot agree with Fox that she belongs in his list of ancestors of his "creation spirituality." Her respect for the Church and its orthodox teachings is evident throughout her book. Her recognition of God and Christ's mother-like, nurturing qualities (borne out by Scripture itself) by no means makes her a precursor of contemporary feminists and adorer of their female "god." The place of others in Fox's "Family Tree of Creation-Centered Spirituality" (Appendix A, pp.307-315), such as St. Francis of Assisi, St. Thomas Aquinas, or Erasmus, to name some obvious examples, may thus be likewise unjustified. Certainly Fox was wrong in listing our Lord Jesus Christ in his "Family Tree" and in awarding Him his highest mark of five stars. Our Lord came to fulfill God's law, not to break it (Matthew 5:17-20). He taught us to pray to God as "Our Father" (Matthew 6:9). He told us that we must be born again from above, or we could not see or enter the Kingdom of heaven (John 3:3, 5, 7), while Fox says we should all consider ourselves "royal persons," kings/queens in the kingdom. Our Lord was named "Jesus" because He saves us from our sins (Matthew 1:21). He clearly warned us of eternal damnation in hell for unrepentant sinners (Matthew 25 and elsewhere in Scripture). He confirmed the creation account of Genesis, at the same time reiterating His Father's creation decree that a man should marry a woman, not another man (Genesis 1:27, 2:24; Matthew 19:4-5). Over and over again our Lord Jesus Christ's words plainly contradict Fox and plainly affirm the orthodox, biblical, "fundamentalist" Christianity Fox rejects.
Fox recommends that the Bible ought to be reread with the themes of his own "creation spirituality ... posing the questions" (p.307), that is, superimposed upon Scripture as its guiding and interpreting principle. The Bible itself warns against such a practice (Deut. 4:2; 12:32; Rev. 22:18). Isaiah 8:20 tells us that if would-be teachers do not speak according to God's law and testimony, there is no light in them. Fox's teachings clearly fall under this condemnation.
In conclusion, then, Fox's "creation spirituality" is in reality an anti-creation or evolution spirituality, which all Christian believers must reject root and branch. "For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? Therefore come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the LORD Almighty. Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (2 Corinthians 6:14-15, 17-18; 7:1).
The author thanks her beloved friend in Christ Mary Jo Heiland for indispensable help in obtaining research materials for this article.