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28 July 2016: Charting a New Reformation, Part XXIX – The Ninth Thesis, Ethics (continued)

One of the ways the demise of yesterday’s religious power can be determined is to notice that things, once held to be ultimately sacred, now appear in jokes that cause people not only to laugh, but also to deal with the loss of the security of yesterday’s religious symbols at the same time. When James …

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Q & A:

I’ve just started reading your book Re-Claiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World and I’m finding it to be fascinating. I’ve always suspected that the Bible was a combination of folklore and revisionist history. Could you tell me how it is that you found that the virgin birth, the miracles and the ascension were all added 70-100 years later? Do you believe Jesus was the son of God or do you believe that this assertion was the product of years of embellishment? If you believe him to be the son of God, then do you think it’s possible that there were other sons and perhaps daughters of God?

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21 July 2016: ELIE WIESEL 1928-2016 R.I.P.

He changed the conscience of the entire world, yet he never held a public office. Even Nelson Mandela, perhaps the only other 20th century figure to move the world as deeply as Elie Wiesel did, finally achieved political power and served as the president of his nation, newly born out of intense racial strife. Wiesel …

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Q & A:

If developments in how we understand the way the world works means the death of theism and other theological revolutions, what does this mean for the welfare of those millions of Christians in the past who have believed on the basis of false concepts and beliefs?

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14 July 2016: Charting a New Reformation, Part XXVIII – The Ninth Thesis, Ethics

“The ability to define and separate good from evil can no longer be achieved with appeals to ancient codes like the Ten Commandments or even to later interpretations of the Ten Commandments like the Sermon on the Mount. Contemporary moral standards must be hammered out in the arena in which life-affirming moral principles are forced …

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Q & A:

I am intrigued with your series of essays, “Charting a New Reformation” – especially Parts 7 and 8 in which you develop the idea of God as “the Ground of Being,” a concept hearkening back to Paul Tillich.

I have a couple of questions:

Should I understand this as a form of “pantheism” where the universe and everything included in it is equal to God?

Or, is this “panentheism,” the idea that the cosmos exists within God who, in turn, “transcends,” “pervades” or is “in” the cosmos?

In other words, while pantheism asserts that “All is God,” panentheism goes further to claim that God is greater than the universe.

Or, perhaps, is your notion of God as “the Ground of Being” neither of these? Your concept of God as “the Ground of Being” resonates with my thinking. I just want to be sure I am understanding it in the way in which you wish it to be understood.

Please clarify his critically important concept for me!

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7 July 2016: Charting a New Reformation, Part XXVII – The Eighth Thesis, The Ascension of Jesus (continued)

The gospels of Mark and Matthew were composed while the Christian movement was still part of the synagogue. The gospel of Luke may well have been written after the fracture that caused the Christians to be expelled from the synagogue, but because Luke based his gospel largely on the gospel of Mark, his work still …

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Q & A:

As I begin to write this message, I realize that it’s not at all clear in my mind what exactly I want to say, just that I need to say something. My name is Harry and I live close to the city of Bristol in the United Kingdom. I really hope that this message reaches you, as I’ve just watched a video that I stumbled upon after much reading and watching of other documentaries and religious talks, a series of lectures, which you delivered under the title: “Why Christianity as We Know it is Dying.” I feel the need to express my appreciation.

I must admit that I do not describe myself as a Christian, but I would say that one of the main reasons for this is the yawning gap between what I perceive as the positive, charitable, loving message of the New Testament and the all too common face of Christianity today which is today so often intolerant, woeful and almost unrecognizable as a religion of peace or of love. Too many times I’ve found myself pushed away from the Bible by people who preach messages of hate, of prejudice and of things, which simply don’t make any sense regardless of your standing in life. When I study the biblical text, I find a lot that I admire, a lot, which I feel people could learn from today and that people should consider, but can’t reconcile that with the need for mysterious or gory symbolism, the gold finery that dresses the altar and the clergy, to say nothing of the practice of immersion in water as a cure all for previous trespasses.

I was reading Matthew 6, where Jesus is quoted as saying “Do not worry.” I feel it is such a beautiful passage and yet where is this message in the Christian Church today? I’ve never heard it spoken of; it is absent. The Christianity I know simply doesn’t have a place for it, just as it doesn’t have a place for many things which Jesus was said to have taught. The Bible for me cannot be an entirely accurate, entirely literal account of past events nor can one reading of it be the only way to avoid eternal punishments when our lives come to an end. That the Bible exists at all means that there were followers of Christ long before it was written and compiled as we know it today, so are we to believe, for example, that all the early Christians reside in hell, given that they couldn’t have possibly followed a book to the letter, which in their time didn’t exist? There must be room to interpret and discuss the Bible in the context in which it was written and to do away with much of the now obsolete traditions and rituals which still surround it. I need to express my appreciation for your words, for your open-mindedness and also for your humor. I know you aren’t the only person who questions the faith and continues to work with the Bible as opposed to supporting fundamentalism or simply casting it aside altogether, but you are the first person I’ve seen speak (albeit via a computer screen), who has expressed views, which resonate with my own and make me feel more comfortable about reading the Bible again. I can’t deny entirely my belief in God, but I also can’t identify with “the old Christianity,” which seems totally bent on control of those people who simply want some guidance in their lives. I’m not sure where my journey will take me from here, but know that this marks an important step. So I will now watch the second lecture from that same conference, “What a New Christianity for a New World Will Contain.” I wish you well and hope that my message will be received.

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30 June 2016: Charting a New Reformation, Part XXVI – The Eighth Thesis, The Ascension of Jesus

“The Biblical story of Jesus’ ascension assumes a three-tiered universe, which was dismissed in intellectual circles some 500 years ago. If Jesus’ ascension must be regarded as a literal event that occurred in history, it is now beyond the capacity of our 21st century minds to accept it or believe it.”   The late Carl …

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Q & A:

Thank you for your weekly emails. They are always informative and interesting. I’ve also read your books over the years and enjoyed your thought-provoking ideas and perspective. I am a nurse-psychotherapist in private practice and an adjunct professor for a psychiatric and mental health nurse practitioner program at a university. I will be teaching a course next year, which I have developed, entitled: “Depth Psychotherapy: Caring for the Soul.” I have studied James Hillman, Thomas Moore and have participated in many workshops and studies in Jungian Psychology for over two decades.

James Hillman spoke and wrote a lot about his disappointments around psychotherapy. Modern day treatment of mental health issues is caught in the “spirit of the times” medical model, including over diagnosing and overuse of medication to “relieve symptoms” and “improve functioning” as its primary goals.

Since “psyche” is a Greek word translated in English as “soul” and “therapy” means to “minister, care, serve,” I’m interested in studying how we can better connect psychotherapy practice back to its original meaning. I’m wondering if you would be willing to share your view of “soul,” how soul expresses/manifests in life and any ideas about a psychotherapy that could “minister” or “care” for the soul? Also, your ideas about the differences between souls and spirit and mind.

Thank you so much for your efforts and care in answering these questions.

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23 June 2016: Addressing the National Conference of the American Humanist Association

They gathered at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in downtown Chicago, some 500 delegates strong. They came from all across the United States and abroad with the Netherlands, in particular, being well represented. By and large they were a well-educated group made up largely of professional people: doctors, lawyers, business leaders and academics. Their single most …

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Q & A:

I recently spent a weekend with you at a Unitarian Universalist church in Sarasota and then I heard you again at the national meeting of the American humanist Association in Chicago.

I am a Humanistic Jew, past president of the Society for Humanistic Judaism and a member of the UU Church. At Sarasota I understood you to say that we must reject supernatural theism in favor of some other form of theism, which is so difficult to define that you described it as attempting to “nail smoke to a wall.”

This leads me to ask, why not go directly from supernatural theism to secular humanism in a form which is represented by Humanistic Judaism and by the Sunday Assembly accommodated by so many UU churches? Humanism seems to me to offer the community aspect of traditional religion without the supernatural underpinnings. Why then should we deal with the intermediate form of theism at all, which cannot even be defined in rational terms?

I have another suggestion, which I offer with great respect. Please do not make any more remarks which treat transgender people as though their gender is optional. Their gender is inborn, just as everyone’s gender is inborn, even though in the case of some transgender people the genitalia are out of sync. I know this because I am the father of an adult transgender son, born ostensibly female. Seeing this issue through my eyes might help you to see it in a different light.

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16 June 2016: On Celebrating my 40th Anniversary of Being the Bishop of Newark

It had the nature of a tribal gathering, or perhaps of “old-timers day” at Yankee Stadium. People came from across the nation and throughout the Diocese of Newark, which encompasses the Jersey suburbs of New York City, stretching from the Hudson River to the Delaware Water Gap. Clergy and people, who served so many years …

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Q & A:

This week’s column was written before the tragedy of the Orlando, Florida massacre.

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9 June 2016: Charting a New Reformation, Part XXV – The Seventh Thesis, The Resurrection (concluded)

Paul was the first, perhaps he was also the most important, but he was not the only witness to the resurrection of Jesus in the biblical narrative. To complete our story and to validate anew a different concept of resurrection, we turn briefly to the other narratives. Be warned, surprises await us even there. Mark, …

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Q & A:

Having been a “seeker” for most of my life and enrolling full time for a theology degree once (thankfully stopped after six months), your books in particular (and those by Marcus Borg) have finally enabled me to decide where I stand. Thank you most sincerely for your courage and insight.

I have two questions – perhaps the first is more of a comment. I am happy that people may choose to believe whatever they wish. I’m aware, however, of a “restrained anger,” perhaps more of a frustration, within me about the role of the organized Christian Church, past and present and with those who simply “follow like sheep.” I seldom show this and am sensitive to people’s right to do and be whatever they wish. It has to do, of course, with what I see as the tragic “misdirection” that was adopted, though often/sometimes in “good faith.” I’d hate to become a “nouveau fundamentalist.”

Second, I have been working on calling God “something else” because I want to try and escape the traditional “baggage” that goes with the name. This is quite hard being close to my 70th year now and brought up, until a few years ago, as a “traditional Christian,” but it seems important to me. I understand God to be “divine” or “the essence” of everything; to be the “connectedness” of all things; to be the power and influence that we cannot and should not fully understand. I see that God is in me and all things and must rather be “let out” than “let in,” as I was brought up to believe. I’m not sure that I qualify to be called “Christian” any more (which does not concern me). I attend a Sunday gathering that acknowledges and respects all faiths and we use Jesus, amongst others, as an important source for furthering the “Kingdom of God,” the “here and now.”

I’d really appreciate any comment on this – perhaps I’ve “gone overboard,” but it seems just right to me!

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2 June 2016: Charting a New Reformation, Part XXIV – The Seventh Thesis, The Resurrection (continued)

Last week, we explored the Pauline corpus of the New Testament in order to learn what Paul meant when he wrote that “God raised Jesus” to the “right hand of God.” This was the concept for which Paul used the word “resurrection.” It is quite a different concept from what this word has come to …

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Q & A:

Having read the question and your spot-on answer of December 31, 2015, I find the questioner evoked a question for me.

Homo sapiens may not be the highest form of physical life in the universe, therefore, could the divine be as intimately a part of a space alien as a human?

In my own thinking, I would have to say “yes,” it is possible and even likely. Perhaps the question is unanswerable at this point in time, but humans most often consider themselves to be the highest form of evolution in the universe, yet we do not know if there might be higher forms of physical and divine life possible.

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26 May 2016: Charting a New Reformation, Part XXIII – The Seventh Thesis, The Resurrection

“The Easter event gave birth to the Christian Movement and continues to transform it. That does not mean, however, that Easter was the resuscitation of Jesus’ deceased body back into human history. The earliest biblical records state that “God raised him.” The reality of the experience of resurrection must be separated from its later mythological …

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Q & A:

My understanding is that if it weren’t for Paul, the Jewish sect of Jesus’ followers would not have survived and become the “church” as we know it.

I’m curious, what do you think that Paul understood as the gospel? The doctrine of atonement was not formulated until Paul was long gone-yet he preached “to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ…and him crucified.” Was Paul just stating an historical fact or was there more to it? In either case, what was Paul preaching?

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