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The Birth of Jesus, Part I: Introduction

8 November 2012: 7 Comments »

Most of the portraits of the mother of Jesus that hang in the great museums of the world are dependent first on the biblical stories of Jesus’ birth and second on the presumed appearances of his mother at the foot of the cross.  Take those two traditions away from the New Testament and the mother …

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Question & Answer

Ed Branthaver, via the Internet, writes:

Question:

You have been a long time favorite author of mine ever since I read Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism. I have every one of your books in my personal library.  I grew up in the tradition of a liberal Church of the Brethren to which I still hold some loyalty.  However, in all my years, I was never able to understand much of the biblical language or teachings.  I was in my 60th year before I discovered you and your writings.  Let me say you are the first person who has helped me understand what for a long time has confused me.  Recently, I came across a small book by Anthony Freeman, God in Us.  He claims that his use of the term God (instead of referring to a supernatural being) refers to the sum of all values and ideals in life: Positive values like goodness, love, knowledge, wisdom, power (used rightly), etc. and negative values like freedom for the fear and tyranny of death, of suffering, etc.  He says, “Do you believe in God? is like asking “How long is a piece of string? Just tell me what sort of God you have in mind and I will tell you whether I believe in him (her, it.)”  He labels his philosophy, Christian Humanism, and his call to “radical insecurity” which carries an element of uncertainty, sure sounds a lot like your recent call to “Think Different, Accept Uncertainty.”  Could you call the New Christianity for a New World Christian Humanism?

Answer:

Dear Ed,

I have known and admired Anthony Freeman for a long time.  He was an Anglican priest until the Anglican hierarchy decided that his view of God was not sufficient for him to represent that church as one of its ordained servants.  I would never have made such a judgment.  No person’s view of God is the same as God!  I’m not at all sure that the view of God reflected in those Anglican hierarchical figures is a view of God that is sufficient for them to remain in their respective positions of authority either.  They simply validate tradition while Anthony has challenged the adequacy of that tradition.  Only time will tell which attitude is closer to the truth and history has consistently shown that those who stand outside the traditional theological lines are harbingers of the future majority.

Does this mean that I believe that Anthony’s view of God is complete?  No, but neither is the view of his hierarchical theological judges or my view of God.  What ecclesiastical heresy hunters never understand is no human mind and no religious tradition can ever fully embrace or express the truth of God in any human words or in any established doctrines and dogmas of any church.  Churches are always pretending that they possess the ultimate truth of God.  I think that is nothing short of idolatry. I believe I experience God and I can talk about my experience.  I do not believe I can define God, nor do I believe anyone else can.

I find the phrase Christian Humanism to be an appealing one.  The opposite of humanism is not the lack of or the inability to embrace the reality of a supernatural deity.  The opposite of humanism is to be inhumane!  I think Jesus is about expanded life and expanded consciousness; about calling us into the fullness of lour humanity.  Humanism shares that goal, but would probably not embrace my definition. Humanism is thus not my enemy, but my ally. I think of myself as a Christian Humanist, but I want both of these words to carry equal weight.

I hope this helps.

~John Shelby Spong

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