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Can Religion Save Humanity?


Question & Answer

Q: By A Reader
With all the news today of doom and gloom for our world, do you think religion can save humanity?
A: By Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox
Dear Reader,

Not religion itself which time and again gives evidence of being profoundly out of touch with its deepest roots.  But the essence of religion, which is spirituality, Yes.  An awakening of our deepest consciousness toward the Sacred is essential to save humanity (and by extension, the planet as we know it).  This is why so many people are moving from religion to spirituality today.

Religion is salvageable to the extent that it is not busy lying and in denial about science but is busy learning and becoming more in touch with its roots which are always roots of experience of God (not doctrines about God) and therefore about spirituality.  Spirituality is about the experience of God, while religion purports to be but alas often becomes so institutionalized and so compromised by culture—instead of criticizing it which is its prophetic task—that it does not prepare for the future but enshrines the past.

I recommend strongly the teachings of Howard Thurman who makes clear that religion must be judged by Life itself and does not have the last word.  Life does.  He believed that Jesus’s teaching was often “betrayed” by the church.  Bonhoeffer said the same thing—“God calls us not to a new religion but to life.”  Many mystics knew this too—this is why many of them name God as “Life.”  Religion begins with mystical experience, as the late monk Bede Griffiths reminds us—whether Buddha under the Bodi tree or Jesus in the desert or Muhammad receiving the Koran or the prophets wrestling with the God of justice.  That is why Carl Jung says that the way to renew religion is through mysticism—“only the mystics bring what is creative to religion itself.”

I don’t know anyone who has written about this better than Rabbi Heschel who warns us that religion can become “insipid.”  He writes: “It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid. When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion—its message becomes meaningless.”

Heschel, Bonhoeffer and Thurman are not alone among religious leaders who dare to criticize religion itself.  That is why conscience is the bottom line.  Teilhard de Chardin, Jesuit priest, mystic, poet and scientist, said that “our religion is becoming enfeebled.” Why? “Because it is not sufficiently moved by a truly human compassion, because it is not exalted by a sufficiently passionate admiration of the universe, our religion is becoming enfeebled.”[1] He wrote these words over sixty-five years ago.
~ Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox
About the Author
Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox holds a doctorate in spirituality from the Institut Catholique de Paris and has authored 35 books on spirituality and contemporary culture that have been translated into 74 languages. Fox has devoted 45 years to developing and teaching the tradition of Creation Spirituality and in doing so has reinvented forms of education and worship (called The Cosmic Mass). His work is inclusive of today’s science and world spiritual traditions and has awakened millions to the much neglected earth-based mystical tradition of the West. He has helped to rediscover Hildegard of Bingen, Meister Eckhart, Thomas Aquinas. Among his books are A Way To God: Thomas Merton’s Creation Spirituality JourneyMeister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior For Our TimesHildegard of Bingen: A Saint for Our TimesStations of the Cosmic Christ; Order of the Sacred EarthThe Tao of Thomas Aquinas: Fierce Wisdom for Hard Times; and Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic – And Beyond. To encourage a passionate response to the news of climate change advancing so rapidly, Fox started Daily Meditations with Matthew Fox – visit his website here.

Review & Commentary