In his 1983 book "Original Blessing," Matthew Fox, a Dominican priest, drew a distinction between "creation-centered" spirituality and "Fall/Redemption" theology. The latter derives from Augustine and emphasizes original sin, the need for individual redemption and faith as intellectual assent. The former, based largely on medieval mystics such as Meister Eckhart and Hildegard of Bingen, celebrates the original goodness of creation, calls for cosmic redemption and understands faith as basic trust.
Fox's new book "The Coming of the Cosmic Christ" elaborates on the ideas proposed in "Original Blessing." He begins his new book with a bleak description of the state of the world as he sees it. Humanity is committing matricide against Mother Earth by polluting its waters, abusing its non-human creatures, wasting its resources on weapons of destruction and ignoring the anawim, the oppressed and dispossessed of the world. This foreboding analysis counterbalances the optimism put forth in "Original Blessing" just five years ago. With apocalyptic fervor, Fox warns that, at the current rate, humanity is headed for destruction. It is a thoroughly depressing and frightening account.
The destruction of the Earth is the primary spiritual and ethical issue of our time, claims Fox. He proposes that Mother Earth's salvation lies in a renewed awareness of the Cosmic Christ. The archaic notion of private salvation as put forth in the Fall/Redemption tradition has run its course and is no longer relevant to the perils that threaten Mother Earth and its human and nonhuman inhabitants.
Fox calls the recovery of the Cosmic Christ a "paradigm shift," after Thomas S. Kuhn. The prime concern of the last century's theology, he notes, was the quest for the historical Jesus. Without abandoning this quest, Fox calls for a move to cosmic interpretations of the main events in Jesus' life as recorded n the Scriptures: the infancy, baptism and temptations, transfiguration, Crucifixion, Resurrection and ascension.
Fox identifies and castigates a number of obstacles to the recovery of the Cosmic Christ, most of them coming from the political and religious right. But he is critical of religious liberals as well. He faults the Enlightenment with engendering a rationalistic world view that squelches mysticism and creativity. His other villains include "Christofascism," Fall/Redemption theology, patriarchy, adultism, nationalism, anthropocentrism, psychologism and a roster of other "isms." His idiosyncratic vocabulary obscures his message at times, and even his best ideas get lost in a sea of redundancy. At half the length, "The Coming of the Cosmic Christ" would be twice as convincing.
Despite Fox's compelling portrayal of Earth's peril and his ardent call for spiritual renewal, his vision will strike many Christians, not to speak of others, as a fanciful dream. Even if one shares his abhorrence of "Christofascism" and the like, his call to "deep ecumenism," in which the world's major religions renounce their claims of ultimate truth, is, to put it very mildly, not likely to be widely answered.
The strength of his book is a feminist strength. Founder of Oakland's Institute in Culture and Creation Spirituality, he is at his best in a critique of the destructive side of patriarchal religion, particularly patriarchal Christianity. Fox calls for a recovery of a feminist spirituality that has been repressed for centuries and has only recently begun to re-emerge. He offers a number of suggestions for renewing worship practices and for recovering the mystical and artistic side of worship.
Few Christians, however, will follow Fox in his blurring of the line between the creator and the created. Fox refers repeatedly to the divinity inherent in all of humanity and in all of creation. But if humanity is innately divine, one wonders, why have we made such a mess of things? Why are we destroying the Earth?
Fox would respond that we need to realize our own divinity. The Vatican's response, it should be noted, has been a year of enforced silence for Fox, which he began on the morrow of a full-page advertisement in the New York Times: "My Final Statement Before Being Silenced by the Vatican." Enforced silence is no solution, yet Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, head of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, may be wrong without proving Matthew Fox right. Fox knows many things, but the Vatican hedgehog may know one as well.