Week of 5/20-25/2024: Resisting Religious Fascism & Learning to Play with Dogmas

May 20, 2024: A Mother’s Wisdom in Resisting Ecclesial Complicity & Religious Nonsense
On the 110th birthday of his mother (who died 21 years earlier), Matthew reminisces about his trip to visit his mother, just before the story about his silencing by the Vatican was about to hit the papers. He wanted her to hear the news directly from him, first, to prepare her. Much to his (pleasant) surprise, she revealed how she would walk out of church, with his father’s full agreement, whenever “the priest says something stupid.” Even after she’d had hip surgery and had to use a walker. From this, Matthew concluded: “There are many ways to combat falsehood in religion’s name.”  

Matthew Fox’s full-page ad in the New York Times before he was silenced. From Matthew Fox’s archives.

May 21, 2024: A Church Protest by Myself and Jerry Mander in the New York Times
Matthew reproduces the actual full-page ad he published in the New York Times in 1988, the day before his silencing: “My Final Statement Before Being Silenced by the Vatican.” The ad called out the Vatican for turning its back on the values of Vatican II (1962-65), as well as its opposition to Liberation Theology and other theological exploration. The ad cost $14,300 ($38,000 in today’s dollars), but a tiny announcement at the bottom of the page garnered enough donations to cover it! This strategy was pioneered by Jerry Mander, whose often hilarious “anti-ad ads” for the Sierra Club did much to awaken public awareness of environmental issues caused by corporations’ short-sighted profit motives. An anthology of these ads was collected in 70 Ads to Save the World.

May 22, 2024: My Up-Close and Personal Experience with Fascism
“I was honored to be excoriated by” two Popes (John Paul II and then-Cardinal Ratzinger, later Benedict XVI) upon Matthew’s publication of Original Blessing. In addition to the New York Times article referenced in yesterday’s DM, Matthew’s direct letter to Ratzinger, “Is the Catholic Church Today a Dysfunctional Family?” was picked up by the National Catholic Reporter as a front-page article. Despite this receiving the largest and most positive response in that publication’s history, one section — “Is the Catholic Church Reverting to Fascism in Our Time?” — led to Matthew’s expulsion from the Dominican order after 34 years of good standing. This proved to be a blessing in disguise, as it allowed him to continue to do theology and to pioneer, unhindered, the Cosmic Mass and, later, the Order of the Sacred Earth. 

Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger embrace, October 22, 1978.
Public Domain image by Levan Ramashvili on Flickr.

May 23, 2024: Destroying Institutions: Warnings from History
Many institutions are being weakened by criticism designed not to improve or renew them, but to destroy them altogether. Autocrats and fascists may step into the resulting vacuum and create chaos, remaking those institutions to protect only the most powerful, and persecuting everyone else. In On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, historian Timothy Snyder warns: We tend to assume that institutions will automatically maintain themselves against even the most direct attacks …. [Fascism rejected] objective truth  in favor of a glorious myth articulated by leaders who claimed to give voice to the people. Our one advantage is we might learn from their experience. Choose an institution you care about — a court, a newspaper, a law, a labor union — and take its side.” 

May 24, 2024: Playing with Dogmas: Instead of Dogmas in a Box, Dogmas in a Sandbox!
After praising Pope Francis’s refreshing attitude toward not considering “tradition” to be fixed and unchanging, Matthew proposes that “dogma” is not meant to be rigid, but is instead a partial explanation of a theological mystery …. that can and should be played with, to understand it more fully. All ideas are for playing with! Like in a sandbox, where imagination has free rein, “where you can say ‘what if?’ and see where it leads.” Thomas Aquinas says the nearest word to “contemplation” is “play.” Nothing in the universe is unchanging, all is in flux. 

The “Kalinka” is one of the best-known Russian folk dances. Video by Marx Olberg/The BBC Newspaperman.

May 25, 2024: Play, Art, Thawing and Melting of Dogmas and Ice, continued
Matthew gives more examples of treating dogmas in a spirit of play: 1) The Australian Aborigines’ practice of laying art on the floor, instead of on walls, so that everyone may sit around the art, see it from different angles, and tell different stories about it; 2) Matthew’s experience chaperoning a party of Soviet and American college students during the Cold War (1969), each group frozen in their attitudes, coldly and suspiciously glowering at each other from opposite sides of the gym, until the tension thawed through music and dance. How different history would have been, had European missionaries since 1492 chosen to play with the stories of Jesus, rather than force indigenous peoples into believing them?  

Banner image: Having fun at the North Charleston Arts Festival’s Children Festival at Felix C. Davis Community Center in Park Circle. Photo by Ryan Johnson. Wikimedia Commons. 

Recommended Reading

The Pope’s War: Why Ratzinger’s Secret Crusade Has Imperiled the Church and How It Can Be Saved

The Pope’s War offers a provocative look at three decades of corruption in the Catholic Church, focusing on Josef Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI. The final section in the book focuses on birthing a truly catholic Christianity.
“This book should be read by everybody, not only for its ferocious courage, but also for its vision for what needs to be saved from the destructive forces that threaten authentic Christianity.” ~ Andrew Harvey, author of The Hope.
“In the gripping The Pope’s War, Matthew Fox takes an unwavering look at the layers of corruption in the Catholic Church, holding moral truth against power.”   — Jason Berry, author of Vows of Silence: The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II

Confessions: The Making of a Post-Denominational Priest (Revised/Updated Edition)

Matthew Fox’s stirring autobiography, Confessions, reveals his personal, intellectual, and spiritual journey from altar boy, to Dominican priest, to his eventual break with the Vatican. Five new chapters in this revised and updated edition bring added perspective in light of the author’s continued journey, and his reflections on the current changes taking place in church, society and the environment.
“The unfolding story of this irrepressible spiritual revolutionary enlivens the mind and emboldens the heart — must reading for anyone interested in courage, creativity, and the future of religion.”
—Joanna Macy, author of World as Lover, World as Self

Creativity: Where the Divine and Human Meet

Because creativity is the key to both our genius and beauty as a species but also to our capacity for evil, we need to teach creativity and to teach ways of steering this God-like power in directions that promote love of life (biophilia) and not love of death (necrophilia). Pushing well beyond the bounds of conventional Christian doctrine, Fox’s focus on creativity attempts nothing less than to shape a new ethic.
“Matt Fox is a pilgrim who seeks a path into the church of tomorrow.  Countless numbers will be happy to follow his lead.” –Bishop John Shelby Spong, author, Rescuing the Bible from FundamentalismLiving in Sin

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4 thoughts on “Week of 5/20-25/2024: Resisting Religious Fascism & Learning to Play with Dogmas”

  1. Avatar
    Martina Nicholson

    Dear Fr. Matt, I am loving your reflections on play! Also, on being aware that we do not have to force people to agree with us. We can learn to tolerate and “play with” minority opinions! It is quite wonderful to learn, in the 12 steps, that there is respect for the minority opinion, and real desire that all should respectfully be heard. Concept 5 says “The rights of appeal and petition protect minorities, and ensure that they be heard.” Some may eventually become the majority opinion, but we do not have to kill people to make them agree, nor do we have to coerce them to change. Evolution is a pattern of Increasing complexity and knowledge which helps us begin to parse out and “Play WITH” difficult and multi-dimensional ideas. We can explore them; and meanwhile, we will work with majority opinion, aiming at the common good. Being able to be fully heard, and included, and to give assent to the majority, even when we disagree, is the path forward, taking us away from violence and war. Learning to live in community with cooperation and care for the common good is the best way for us to show love and respect for God and creation. The Church has had to come to terms with deep errors, such as in condemning Galileo, and in condoning slavery. We can learn and grow! THANK YOU!

  2. Avatar

    May God’s Love, Wisdom, Truth, Peace, Justice, Healing, and Transformation continue growing in the hearts/Souls and lives of All our sisters and brothers around the world, especially in Our lives of service with one another in God’s Compassionate Spirit of LOVING DIVERSE ONENESS….

  3. Avatar

    Dear Matthew,
    Thank you for sharing the newspaper article you wrote in response to your silencing in 1988. It gave me perspective on how long you have been fighting this fight. Everything you said then is even more relevant today. The principles expressed in your work need to reach a larger audience.
    I wonder how we can get The NY Times, the Washington Post, the PBS Newshour and others to interview you and print your story? Is there a way your readers can sign a petition that can be sent to the media outlets asking them to cover you and your message? Your potent message based in historical and scientific knowledge needs to be heard by the general public especially at this time in American politics and global warming.
    I know there is a wider ear waiting to hear all that you have to say!!

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