Matthew Fox – One River, Many Wells
Living Dialogues
Duncan Campbell

Episode 9 - Matthew Fox – One River, Many Wells

From Thomas Berry, author of The Universe Story: Matthew Fox may well be the most creative, the most comprehensive, surely the most challenging religious-spiritual teacher in America. He has the scholarship, the imagination, the courage, the writing skill to fulfill this role at a time when the more official Christian theological traditions are having difficulty in establishing any vital contact with either the spiritual possibilities of the present or with their own most creative spiritual traditions of the past. In this brilliant dialogue relevant in so many ways to the current national and international political landscape and illuminating a way forward, Matthew and Duncan explore the mystical river underlying all the Christian, Hindu, Judaic, Buddhist, Islamic, indigenous and other wells that access that source. In the process, the dialogue covers the role of imagination and creativity, the return of dance and music in experiential awakening in indigenous peoples and rave-inspired spiritual ceremonies such as the cosmic mass, and the deep definition of personal warriorship. More details on this episode go to



Matthew Fox – One River, Many Wells

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Duncan Campbell: Welcome to Living Dialogues.  I am your host, Duncan Campbell, and with me for this particular dialogue, I am really delighted to have, once again, as my guest, Matthew Fox.  Matthew is the author of a brilliant book entitled “One River, Many Wells”, exploring deep ecumenicism.  He has also published a new edition of his original book entitled “Original Blessing”, as well as being the author of 20 additional books, some of them real classics in our spiritual literature here in the last quarter century of the millennium.  Matthew is a visionary activist and one of the most important religious thinkers and teachers of our time. His theology of Creation Spirituality, the belief that we are born in original blessing, has re-invigorated the faith of countless seekers and earned him the headline making censure of the Vatican, which officially silenced him in 1989 and then precipitated his dismissal by the Dominican Order in 1993 for refusing to be repatriated to Chicago and to give up his University of Creation Spirituality, in Oakland, California, where he now remains.  He became an Episcopal priest subsequently to being expelled by the Catholic Church in 1993.  So, Matthew, it’s a great pleasure to have you back here on the program.

Matthew Fox: Thank you, Duncan.  It’s good to be back.

Duncan:  The last time we spoke, we talked about your biography, your autobiography, entitled “Confessions”, which you wrote deliberately as a kind of book-end, as you put it, to the confessions of St. Augustine, the 4th Century Catholic, who invented the concept of original sin, that of whole as an administrative tool to more efficiently control and run the empire that essentially the Church had inherited from Constantine.  And now today you are using your own work as a kind of book and by reclaiming which you believe is the original message of Jesus, the original message of Christianity that we are born into, an original blessing, that kind of basic goodness, and not a basic defectiveness and you contrast Creation Spirituality with the lamentable fall/redemption spirituality that has dominated so much of the institutional churches’ role in humanity for the last two millennia.  So as we move now into the new millennia, I would like to invite you to explain definitions and how you have literally reclaimed the original message, not only of Christ, but of the Buddha and the deep universal message of all faiths throughout the planet.

Matthew Fox: Well, it’s good for me, Duncan, of what I have been about, trying to deconstruct, take apart the Christian tradition to find what’s really valuable there and to reconstruct it in language and images and concepts that are practical and useful and effective in our time and in many ways this is a move from religion to spirituality and in my latest book, “One River, Many Wells”, as you say, I’m trying to apply some of these principles across the board.  So, in this book, I’m…. It’s not a book of comparative religion at all. It’s rather joining in all the spiritual traditions, Hindu, Sufi, Christian, Jewish, the Goddess tradition, Celtic, African, African-American, Native-American, and indeed, even today’s science which is seeking wisdom and sometimes even finding it.  I’m trying to join all these spiritual traditions so that as a species we can get moving.  I mean, look what’s happening in Palestine even now. We’re still having these religious wars, where my God is beating up your God, even though we claim to believe in the same God.  It’s a little peculiar and obviously my God is beating up your God for at least 5000 years and it’s just getting ridiculous.  The fact is the earth is fading at the hands of our species and we better get our act together real fast and to do, I think, we need spirituality because spirituality takes us to our radical roots.  And it takes us to what is potentially the best in us; our capacity for compassion, our capacity for celebration and joy, our capacity for forgiveness, our capacity for starting over.  So I think a book like this is over due really.  And, of course, I am not alone.  The Dalai Lama is calling for more and more inter-faith dialogue and experience.  He also makes an interesting point.  He says the biggest obstacle in inter-faith happening is bad relationship with our own faith and so that takes me back to the original point, you know, for Christians, are they still going to believe in original sin, which is Augustine’s idea that was set up to run an empire with in the 4th century, where they go back to Jewish concepts of Jesus, which indeed, is about original blessing and so to really enter into deep ecumenism you have to clean up your own religious act, your own relationship to your own faith.  In this regard Jesus Movement in our day has been a big help.  They’ve been helping us see the in Jesus and Paul, for example.  And….

Duncan:  Let’s elaborate on that, Matthew.  You make that point about the difference between the historical Jesus and the tradition of the cosmic Christ and the difference between the teachings of Jesus and the teachings of Paul, both of which are explicated for our audience, by the way, in the Jesus seminar run by Robert Funk and others and published in our magazine which comes our quarterly and maybe you could tell us a little bit about your distinction that you are making there.

Matthew:  Yes, well, what these people have managed to accomplish has really been a 200-yr search but as essentially to boil down real words in the Christian Bible that we contribute to the human person called Jesus.  And they concluded about 15 or 20% of the words contributed to Him are really His and that’s fine because zeroing in on those really gives us a picture of who this person was and what his agenda was.  Now it doesn’t mean that the other 85 or 80% of the words are useless or that people are trying to pull the wool over our eyes, but they came out of the community itself. So they were triggered by the experience of the historical Jesus.  And the tradition is about the Divine image of God being in every creature of the universe and in every one of us.  So in that sense, Jesus is not the only Christ by any means.  Buddha was a Christ, if you will, and Gandhi was a Christ, and King was Christ, and we all are, and this is again where the 4th Century Church confused people in its Macean Council, for example, telling that Jesus is the only son of God, when in effect Jesus’ teaching was that we are all sons and daughters of God and here’s how you do it.  It’s about compassion.  So this is all part of our clearing up our own tradition so that we can appreciate and begin to connect to the wisdom in the other traditions of the world because, obviously, the Holy Spirit and creator God is not restricted to one denomination.

Duncan:  And who would you say, Matthew, about the contribution of Paul.  You’re making the comment in the preface actually to the re-publication of your book, “Original Blessing”, that it is when the two traditions of the historical Jesus and the Cosmic Christ are balanced that we have a balanced grasp of the Jesus story and the Christ story and Spirit can come alive again.  And so what is Paul’s role in this?

Matthew: Paul never met the historical Jesus.  He came along after Jesus was killed.  So he did have a conversion experience, obviously, and it was an experience therefore of the Christ and the Christ is what the Buddhists call as the Living Buddha as distinguished from the historical Buddha.  The Christ is that Spirit that carries on after the historical Jesus was killed.  But there are issues in Paul because he was a theologian.  He wasn’t Jesus, if you will, that can confuse us.  For example, he supported slavery and he is invoked still today, by some, in terms of homophobia because he criticizes the homo-sexual movement in his day, although many scholars would say that about the prostitution side.  But, nevertheless, he gets dragged into all kinds of fierce debates that take us off the essence of the message of Jesus.  Paul brought together in himself the Jewish tradition being a Jew, the Roman tradition because he was a Roman citizen, the Greek tradition because he was educated in Greek which was the reigning intellectual tradition of the time; and then, of course, the experience of Christ.  And that’s his power that he brought Christ’s message beyond the Jewish community into the greater community.  But in doing so he paid a price.  For example, he has a split in his psyche about flesh and my previous book is called “Sins of the Spirit, Blessing of the Flesh”, and I’m trying to redeem that word “flesh” because beginning with Paul, who was Greek educated, you see, it was the Greeks who had a problem with matter versus spirit.  Paul relinquishes Jewish sense of holism and took on the dualism of the Greeks.  And so flesh became, he says, “Flesh and blood will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”  Well, Jesus never talked like that.  And so, since Paul we have been dualistic and it got worse with Augustine and others.  So he set us on a very wrong track, regarding women and regarding matter and flesh.  And that’s because of his Greek education.  Getting a Greek education in those days was like going to Harvard or Stanford in our day. I gave you an inside trap where you paid a price for it and the price Paul paid was he lost some of his Jewish wholeness and Jesus taught as a Jew and not as a Greek.

Duncan: And in fact it’s very interesting to hear you talk about how in the modern era one of your antagonists, or one who has reacted very badly to your publication is the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the paper world of and unkown probably to most of our audience the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is the old Holy Inquisition, which we are all familiar with from history, which was never disbanded and only re-named and here you mention that the office of the Holy Inquisition and its new incorporated form as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith remains essentially anti-Semitic and out of touch with Jewish theology and with the heart and mind of the historical Jesus.

Matthew: Yes.  Far more committed to St. Augustine, than to historical Jesus, sworn on with original sin.  I think subconsciously, unconsciously, they believe that if original sin doesn’t carry the day that they are going to be out of work.

(Laughter). That may not be such a bad thing. But I think that is really the issue.

Duncan: Well, you know it’s very beautiful that you say that because there is the famous passage or chapter in the Brothers entitled the Grand Inquisitor, in which Jesus in this imagined story told by Evan to his brother Aliosha comes back to earth in the 16th Century and espied by the 90-yr old Grand Inquisitor in the crowd, who knows who he is and immediately he has him arrested and brought before him and says, Look.  We have spent 1500 years, you know, establishing ourselves here and getting humanity to give us their freedom in the name of their freedom because we’ve convinced them that they are basically defective with original sin and they need our mediation and that they can’t get there alone when you come back from 40 days in the desert and say, “Man does not live by bread alone”, this is an elitist message.  There’s only a handful of people that can handle that existential truth and we give them what they want.  The bread we give them is miracles, mystery, and authority and that gives them a sense of security and we are the ones that are truly compassionate because they are not capable of making this deep journey into what we would call the Cosmic Christ hood themselves.

Matthew:  Yes, it is the Christ community of the question of trust, isn’t it and control versus control?  They are not capable and so we are projecting original sin onto others really and as you say authority or control carries the day.  And when you think about it, analyze that that’s really a fascist mentality.  Only a few have the answers and everyone else needs to get in line.

Duncan: And in fact what is really deeply interesting to me, and this is a subtle point, but one, I think, is quite brilliant in your book.  You identify or associate pessimism with this kind of hierarchical control and also with original sin because there is this sense of down in the mouth-ness, as if something is wrong with us and we need to be redeemed after the fall and it gives a kind of sense of darkness about the body, about oneself, about separation from the Divine as opposed to Creation Spirituality based on original blessing, a basic goodness that all of creation is good, that we are inherently whole, that we are inherently good, and what’s very subtle here is that you point out that Jesus as a Jew was a peasant Jewish cynic, a member of a particular, I guess, sub-tribe, known as cynics, and I would like you to comment of that and here’s why I am going with this.  Our modern secular media tends to decry and smear anyone who comes forward and challenges authority or the status-quo as a cynic, as falling prey to cynicism about politics as if we are the ones who are being pessimistic rather than the dominant establishment itself which thrives on propagating pessimism and a kind of false surface happiness to be achieved by materialistic consumerism.

Matthew:  Exactly.  And in so many ways the corporate ideology has picked up on the ideology of original sin.  They have the same dynamic that you have with Augustine.  That a few of us would run the world, thank you, and the rest of you are not up to it.

Duncan: And you can go purge your indulgences at them all..

Matthew: There you go.  Exactly.  Buy your way of out of it.  Keep us in business.  And that’s your only way out.  Exactly.  It is really amazing secular ideology and for redemption religion.  They’ve just carried over.  For example, advertising.  So much of it is based on the idea that you don’t have what it takes inside.  You have to get it from the outside.  That’s extra one on redemption, you see, mediated by the power that wants to be in B and B.  So, now, as far as the word cynic used of Jesus, that’s a rather technical term. It comes from a Dominic Crossan and the other scholars of the Jesus Seminar.  In Jesus’ day, there was this movement.  It comes of cynic. But it didn’t mean cynical.  It meant they lived very simply.  They went from village to village teaching and preaching really about egalitarianism, justice, and simple living and it’s that movement that the historical Jesus was part of.  But we can misunderstand it if we think that their message was cynicism.  It wasn’t.  It was responsibility.  It’s about taking responsibility and of course that’s part of the Original Blessing teaching too.  If we have, we all have the Divine image in us, and the Spirit in us, then we’ve also got responsibility to apply that in our work rules and all our relationships and so you move into creativity then.  What are we doing with this holy imagination, this Divine image that is ours and how are we returning blessing for blessing?  Because, as you say, if we begin by teaching people pessimism they don’t have the energy to do anything worthwhile. When you do creative work, meta-endorphins are released in your brain.  That in fact release stress and relieve pessimism and cynicism.  So, the very work of creativity is physiologically encourages our joy and our sense of community.  So that’s one reason why, for example, at our school, we emphasize what we call meditation.  Doing meditation that is centered on the process of creativity itself is a healing, a healing work and it empowers you to help others to heal. So, there is, as you say, a big industry, starting with the pessimistic notion of original sin or starting with original blessing.

For full transcript, please contact Duncan Campbell