On his deathbed the great psychologist and lover of the human race Erich Fromm turned to his friend Robert Fox and asked, "Why is it that the human race prefers necrophilia to biophilia?"
A significant question, this. Why do we prefer love of death to love of life? Missiles to celebration? Power-over to power-with? Greed to letting go?
I am sure that a question as poignant as this one can yield many rich answers, but I would like to offer just one answer from my own perspective as a theologian. It is this: Western civilization has preferred love of death to love of life to the very extent that its religious traditions have preferred redemption to creation, sin to ecstasy, and individual introspection to cosmic awareness and appreciation.
Religion has failed people in the West as often as it has been silent about pleasure or about the cosmic creation, about the ongoing power of the flowing energy of the Creator, about original blessing.
If the failure of religion in the West is one very basic reason for our culture's love of death—and I have no doubt that it is—then the recovery of a creation-grounded spirituality promises much newness and renewal to society, provided this recovery is not too late and is not thwarted by a lot of backward-leaning battles with tired fall/redemption theological preoccupations.
Let there be no question about it: what has been most lacking in society and religion in the West for the past six centuries has been a Via Positiva, a way or path of affirmation, thanksgiving, ecstasy. There are themes we can explore when encountering the Via Positiva. These are more than conceptual themes, however. They are journeys, deeply entered into, deeply felt, and deeply sharable. They are journeys of life, not death; of awareness, not numbness; of Eros, not control. And therefore they are journeys of salvation, i.e., healing power.
The Via Positiva represents a new power, in the sense that it has been forgotten; the power that pleasure is and that wisdom is. It is no coincidence that in both the Latin and Hebrew language the words for "wisdom" are related to "tasting."
"Taste and see how good the Lord is," shouts the psalmist.
The Via Positiva is a way of tasting the beauties and cosmic depths of creation, which means us and everything else.
Without this solid grounding in creation's powers we become bored, violent people. We become necrophiliacs in love with death and the powers and principalities of death. With the Via Positiva, all creation breaks out anew.
Adapted from the book Original Blessing by Matthew Fox. Copyright © Matthew Fox. Used with permission.