Catholics and the Age of Aquarius

The Catholic church recently suspended one of its most colorful priests: best-selling author, Matthew Fox. The New York Times responded with a sympathetic profile, portraying Fox as a religious celebrity who fills empty churches with his user-friendly spirituality. Why would the Catholic church risk ridicule by defrocking such a popular priest? The answer is that Matthew Fox's theology looks a lot more like New Age mysticism than orthodox Christianity. There is hardly a New Age cause that Fox has not embraced: astrology, environmentalism, goddess worship. On the staff of his teaching center, he has hired a well-known witch, or "Wiccan priestess." Other faculty members include a Zen Buddhist and a North American shaman, or witchdoctor. Fox even teaches that Mother Earth is Jesus Christ, being crucified anew through pollution. Yet Fox insists he is not a New Ager. My theology is not pantheism, he says, where God is everything. Instead, it is panentheism-where God is in everything. But it's hard to see any real difference. At the heart of Fox's theology is the teaching that we are all divine. Hatred, strife, environmental disaster-it all stems, he says, from forgetting our true divinity. What the human race really needs is not so much redemption from sin, says Fox, but "deification"-a mystical awakening to our divine nature. In his words, "We are all Cosmic Christs." Fox may call this panentheism, but it's hardly any different from Hindu pantheism, where enlightenment means realizing we're all part of God. In fact, all mystical religions boil down to essentially the same thing: a spiritual experience in which we sense our unity with the divine. This is why Fox teaches that no spiritual tradition gives absolute truth, that they're all relative. Mysticism renounces absolute truth claims because what is ultimate is the experience itself--the mystical insight into our own divine nature. As Fox puts it, "mysticism is . . . a common language uttering a common experience." In his view, Christianity is merely one of several routes to that "common experience." The danger is that the average churchgoer may be deluded into thinking Fox's New Age mysticism is true Catholicism. In the words of Jesuit theologian Mitch Pacwa, Fox's teaching has become "a vehicle for Catholics to enter into the New Age Movement with a pseudo-Catholic sanction." And it's not a problem for Catholics only. Fox is often invited to speak at Protestant seminaries as well. Many Protestants have reduced their faith to experience, which makes them just as vulnerable to shedding the unique teachings of the Bible for a generalized mystical experience. We should applaud the Catholic church for its courage in taking an unpopular stand by defrocking a popular priest. But the real solution is for Christians everywhere to ground our faith in the objective word of God in Scripture. All traditions are not relative. The biblical tradition gives real truth. But if we ground our faith in experience, we open ourselves to every wind of mysticism, whether promoted by wiccans and shamans . . . or by respected theologians like Matthew Fox.


Chuck Colson



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