Creation Spirituality Communities

I have a problem. Last night I was talking with a friend of mine, and the conversation went into a discussion about Creation Spirituality. My friend stated that this was nothing more then a cult of personality centered around Matthew Fox – “a defrocked priest”. He went on to say – in order to prove his point- that on the national level the only person writing about Creation Spirituality is Fox. I wasn’t sure what to say him. The books that I know of that discuss Creation Spirituality in any detail are those by Fox, and he was removed from his order. I would like some “ammunition” to debate with my friend, but at the moment I am lost. Any ideas, thoughts, suggestions from the community would be welcomed.

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Hi Michael,

Sounds as if your friend is a pretty orthodox sort of guy. I've been around the progressive Christianity world for several years (reading people like Jim Wallis, J. Philip Newell, Marcus Borg, John Dominick Crossan, Walter Wink, Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer and others), and Matthew Fox is only one among many. He seems to be the primary author on the subject of Creation Spirituality, but by no means the only one. Creation Spirituality is full of thinkers on the subject, and a mine of good writing on the subject. GreenSpirit, an affiliate organization in the UK is also a mine of information and writing on the subject. I was led here by reading J. Philip Newell, who writes about the Celtic stream within Christianity that the Roman Church (and the old Calvinistic Church of Scotland) tried to eradicate (but failed; it went underground). Your friend would likely not like Newell's writing, either, since he regards Pelagius as an important influence, as I do. I regard Pelagius as a victim of political persecution because he was anti-imperial and solidly in line with the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth to distinguish him from Jesus Garcia and all the others :).

Matt Henry, who has been around Creation Spirituality a lot longer than I have, will know of others who have written books on the subject. But Matthew Fox is the most prolific writer on the subject. And he is a "defrocked" (fired would be the term used in secular circles) priest. But then Cardinal Ratzinger (aka "God's Rottweiler") sent a lot of others packing, too, some of whom left the priesthood so they could continue their ministry.

What Fox has done (as I see it) is take Jesus' message away from the exclusive "property of" the official church and "universalize" him and his message -- so that he speaks to all humankind everywhere, and centers it within creation (which is why it is called "Creation Spirituality"), which corrects traditional theology that separates Christianity and Jesus from creation and lives in an other-worldly sphere.

Incidentally, Michael, about your friend's mention of Matthew Fox being fired from (defrocked by) the Church. Lots of good people get fired every day, so all that means is that Fox persisted in his disagreements with the Church to the point where Cardinal Ratzinger had him fired. But look at the Church's history (I'm speaking of the Roman Church here): it has a long and horrible history of persecuting good people for their "unorthodox" views and either sending them away in "disgrace" (as they did Pelagius, branding him a heretic), burning them at the stake, and torturing them (as happened to St. John of the Cross, to name one notable example). Archbishop Helder Camara, who was Catholic Archbishop of Recife and Olinda, Brazil and a leading light in the Liberation Theology movement and advocate of the poor, had his seminary closed and his teachers and priests fired by his successor when he retired, which many regarded as a spit in the eye of his poor parishioners.

Is Creation Spirituality a "cult of personality". Let me say this about that: If it were, I would not be anywhere near it. Fox spends too much time including others. Cults of personality have no room for such nonsense, as they are focused exclusively on the "Great Leader", his (or her) team of sycophants, and they punish any and all who disagree with the "Great Leader" and his or her point of view. I once worked for a Christian organization that became one of those. It was centered on a person whose face and voice were everywhere. By the time I left, it was also punishing those (firing them and leading them "in disgrace" from the building) who had the gall to question or disagree. It was not a pretty picture. Creation Spirituality, in my experience, is nothing at all like that.

I'm sure that others will have their say on this subject as well.

Thanks for raising the question, Michael. I hope we have a lively discussion on the subject. Before I forget, I have one suggestion: Ask your friend what other specific objections he or she has to Creation Spirituality beyond the "cult of personality" and "defrocked priest" objections, and note down his or her answers.
George;

Thank you. you bring up many good points, some I had not thought about. I will have to do some reading on Pelagius as I am not that familar. I have read only one book by Newell. I need to pick up his latest - Christ in the Celts I think? Anyway, I did bring up the point about Ratzinger firing not only Fox but also many others (after all, the old name of the office Ratzinger lead was the Holy Office of the Inquisition), and he said that it was because those folks had moved away from the church and no longer held the faith of the church in thier hearts (yes, my friend is a very devout Catholic). He insisted that Fox was fired for pushing the Creation Sprituality movement. When I tried to talk to him about the "original blessing" concept vs. original sin, he just went back to the agrument of cult of personality. The sad thing is that he hasn't read any of the books and is just going on what he has heard of other sources.
Matthew Fox is a powerful scholar with a stunning depth of analysis and breadth of expertise; he displays a creative, weaving intellect that can make you shudder; he has written and taught from his conscience with persistent courage at immense personal cost. The tendency of some to attempt to make a cult around someone of his nature is consistent with a pervasive habit of our culture, and as such, unsurprising. That Matt has resisted, dampened and deflected such a development is not so much a victory of a deft duck-and-weave so much as it is the natural manifestation of a person living the principles of the spirituality he espouses. In his teaching, Matt often throws the conversation open to the whole room, with an imperative invitation that everyone there has something to contribute. "Every one of us is a version of Creation Spirituality..." was one explicit explanation Matt offered a couple of years back.

As George has said, above, Matt Fox "spends too much time including others" for CS to be all about himself. In Original Blessing, it's more than 120 pages into the book before you can find a whole page that doesn't explicitly name and cite another thinker, and then not many such pages after that. One of the reasons he was silenced and subsequently expelled from the Dominicans was because he was inviting other powerful teachers who offended the church's sensibility to teach with him (non-Christian or indigenous people, for example), which would seem to me to be the signs of someone not desperate to hog the limelight.

I would say that any accusations that Matt has, himself, cultivated a cult of personality around himself are simply empty and ignorant. In fact, such accusations draw more attention to him than he has done himself. Having said that, of course, the accusation might be that others have crafted a cult around him...

Yet I would say that if CS were a cult of personality around Matt Fox, you'd see some different things... for example... are there any websites dedicated to the praise of Matt Fox? Even his own website is hardly an example of well-crafted personal promotion. The Creation Spirituality Communities website (here) is hardly a shrine to Matt Fox: there's no overabundance of conversations about his work (much less anything at all about Matt as a person), no surfeit of photos of the man, no sycophantic deference to him.

The only formal effort in praise of Matt's work that I can think of is Originally Blessed, which I compiled in celebration of the 25th Anniversary of Original Blessing. In that book, a conscious effort was made to create a response to Matt's work and ideas, more than creating a volume about him. The reason for this is that in his book 25 years earlier, Matt explicitly invites others to continue the thinking and development of ideas within Creation Spirituality. The reason that I included some material that might be more in praise of the person, is that a core principle of CS is that each of us has a mystical insight, a prophetic voice and a creative impulse that must be honoured: that Matt Fox honoured his so immensely needs to be acknowledged. (Matt has thanked me for noticing that he hasn't made it about himself, and by responding in kind in Originally Blessed.)

As to whether or not others are writing under the explicit banner of Creation Spirituality... Some are, but not many. Donald Schmidt has a couple of excellent liturgical resource books. Kate McLennan's recent The Messy Buddha has an excellent explanation of CS. Caitlin Mathews wrote a children's book, The Blessing Seed, which doesn't name CS but is an exploration of the four paths. There's more, I'm sure, including a number of doctoral students who have published their CS dissertations. George noted, above, some of the others whose work is consonant with CS, and in our Book Reviews community on this website is a booklist which is certainly far from complete, but maybe a good starting point.

I'd say one thing about the "lack" of explicit CS writing: there's not a huge amount of didactic stuff to be written about. CS is a way of looking at life, at spirituality, that is not tied up in conceptual navel-gazing. It's more about embracing and creating the poetry, the paintings, rituals, songs, dancing, laughter-making and all manner of creativity that is birthed in the Universe, with or without our human help. Perhaps if theology in general had spent more time with the poetry and less with the parsing, then we'd be in a different place. As it is, there's not too much more that needs to be said to "explain" CS. Even Matt Fox's work has not been always explicitly expounding CS; I don't think he's ever gone outside its principles, but it's not always about those principles. (I would add, that another reason that this is not a cult of personality, is that just because something falls from the lips of Matt Fox does not mean that it is Creation Spirituality.)

As to the original sin/original blessing thing... the presence of original sin in the history of theology is thanks not to the Bible, but to Augustine, who is credited/blamed for being so introspective and self-focused that he may have invented Autobiography. So maybe original sin needs to be viewed as a product of the cult of personality of Augustine, and then perpetuated by the pinnacle of ad-hominem, individual-aggrandizing spirituality, the circus of personality cult that is the Papacy.

Ironically -- or appropriately? -- this is certainly the most I've written about Matt Fox on this website.
Matt: Thank you for such a positive and heartfelt response. It is good to hear the other voices in CS and to have them expand the concept and meaning for us all. I had never thought about the fact that this site and even Matthew Fox's own site are not about him, but CS. I have certainly seen other leaders -Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, and yes Catholic - who make the discussion of views a discussion of THIER views, usually with a sales pitch to buy their latest book.

Bill: I agree that my friend is very closed when it comes to his faith, and I do wish he could open up a little because I think it would add to his catholic faith so much. An interesting thing happened yesterday. I recieved a copy of the magazine Radicial Grace from the Center for Action and Contemplation which was founded by Franciscan Father Richard Rohr. The issue that was sent to me (Vol 22.# 1) dealt with working with the Earth and renewing our life with it. To me it tied in with alot of what CS does, and I plan to give my frind the magazine when I am done.
Thank you everyone for such great responses.

Michael, you hit the nail on the head in your comments about Radical Grace magazine. Many people write about CS, but they don't call it CS. That is exactly the reason it is not a cult. We tend to be blind to what we don't believe. But once something is brought into our awareness, we are then able to see it. If you start looking at other writers, you will see CS in their writing. It just doesn't have a name. That is where you friend's argument falls apart. But it is also a point he will most likely deny with his firm rooting in catholicism. Since he doesn't understand CS, he can't see it in other writings.

Matt Fox put a name on a concept, a philosophy, a belief system, a way of perceiving the world. His greatest mentor in the development of his thinking was Meister Eckhart, who was also condemned. Meister Eckhart lived 700 years ago and wrote about what Matt is expounding today. Matt also credits Hildegard, Julian of Norwich, St. John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Nicolas von Cusa, all Christian mystics who lived 400-700 years ago. The church doesn't like mystics, because they have the knowing that one can experience a direct knowing of God. The church exists on the basis of being your intercessor with God. But Matt also credits Kabballist writers, Islamic mystics, indigenous writers, and celtic, hindu and buddhist mystics among others. His concept of deep ecumenism is that once you get beyond the dogma, the same message is found in ALL of the wisdom traditions. That is what his book, One River Many Wells, is saying. God is a mighty underground river that each tradition taps via their own well. Another way of saying there are many paths to the divine. (The catholic church "knows" there is only their way) Rumi wrote of this when he said a house has many windows but it is all the same light that is entering them.

Bill is right about your friend's religious blinders. Taoism gave me an understanding of Christianity that I never grasped in my christian years. Phillip Yancy, a "conservative" Christian writer, relates how Gandhi, who rejected Christianity because of his experiences in South Africa and India, is probably the greatest example of someone who fully lived Jesus' teachings. You have to be open to possibility, or you remain where you are. Perhaps you are beginning to place some cracks of possibility in your friend's thinking.
It is remarkable to read these posts, and see no one point out that Matthew Fox
is not "defrocked." People who should know better seem to admit the false charge!
"Good people get fired every day" is a rather weak rejoinder. He was
dismissed from the Dominican Order, which is another thing entirely, and would
not affect his status as a priest. (He continues as a priest in the Episcopal/Anglican
Church.)

Please try to enter these discussions from a more informed position.

As regards the "cult of personality" accusation, that is vague enough to be incapable
of refutation, but the person arguing with Michael may simply have rigid beliefs.
This was a bit harsh and not sensitive and compassionate. I beg
forgiveness.
Thanks, John. I appreciate your return to say so. I value your voice 'cos you're never afraid to speak against a current.

To be fair, Michael "quotes" his friend about the "defrocking," and as you observe regarding the "cult of personality," you could say also that the term "defrocked" is likewise pretty vague. In common parlance, I'd argue that "defrocking" catches more than it technically ought.

George's observation about “being fired” is quite astute, given that I don't think George has ever had the opportunity to meet/study with Matt Fox, but Matt, in person, regularly refers to himself as having being “fired by the Pope” (which, of course, is also technically incorrect, since he was dismissed by the Master of the Order of Preachers).

Overall, though, this discussion is about a cult of personality, and whether or not CS as a movement is that. I fear that scrutinizing such as this about what happened to Matt Fox 15-odd years ago may suggest that there is more weight on Matt's person than I think is the case.

To the “person on the street,” he is a priest who got booted out. Neither defrocked nor excommunicated, for the record, but, yes, dismissed by his own Dominican Order (Order of Preachers), the Order itself acting under duress, apparently, from the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (aka Inquisition), which was under the leadership of its Prefect, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI.
Dear Michael, I see you have had several very good responses to this already, though I must admit to not having time to read every single one of them. However, one thing that springs to mind is about the ‘unthought-through’ use of the word 'cult' in the first place. It is often used to attack anything that people might find as being something new, different, challenging or widening out into areas they don't want to go and therefore seen as a threat.

I think we need to first of all ask, "What do we mean by the word 'cult' anyway?" It seems to me that many of today's religions could have been branded with such a term when they first got going. Most people have a popular negative media idea of the word and use it in a derogatory way of course. Perhaps you should ask your friend for his definition of the term and see if the interpretation is justified. If he means that CS is about thinking outside of the box, challenges old dogmas and is prepared to listen to someone of the likes of MF because he has something relevant to say for our stage in both the Earth's and human history, then it doesn't exactly sound very negative and perhaps ought to be taken as a compliment.

Also, as others have said who’ve already answered on this already, most of us are not involved in CS spirituality because we are particularly MF groupies, but have had numerous other influences that have led us to a comparable standpoint. MF, for me, is one of many, though I would say that he has a good way of bringing a lot of strands together into a collective whole, which I admire. But unlike what people might ‘normally’ think of as cult like activities, we don't see people involved in CS ideas and practices worshipping MT as some kind of guru who they then give away their life's savings and common sense to, or being abused, made to feel guitly if they don't agree with a particualr standpoint, or have their freedom restricted in some way.

Blessings, Steve.
Your point about not worshipping MF is well taken. As well as the understanding that he doesn't really push his own agenda nor does he want people to only follow his thoughts. To me his books are stepping off points to not only CS but to other forms of spirituality as well. Via CS I have discovered the works of many fine and wonderful thinkers (including those on this site) who have challegened my beliefs and in some cases changed my thoughts. While my friend and I still get together to hike, we no longer talk about Religion/Spirituality on our hikes, which is a shame because it is in nature that I feel closest to God.

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