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3 September 2009: The Study of Life, Part 6: Rethinking Basic Christian Concepts in the Light of Charles Darwin

As I retraced Charles Darwin’s steps through the Galapagos Islands, I contemplated anew his impact on traditional Christian thinking. I had been working intensively on Darwin for about three years in preparation for my book on eternal life. Darwin, more than anyone else, had shaken the foundations of belief in eternal life by defining human …

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Q & A:

Karen Hutton from Pleasantville, California, writes:

Is there any purpose in staying a member of a traditional Christian Church if you no longer believe the things the church regards as its core beliefs? Why have you stayed with your church, given your criticisms of many of the basic aspects of Christianity?

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27 August 2009: The Study of Life, Part 5: Galapagos II — My Search for the Meaning of Life as I Walked in Darwin’s Footsteps

In the preparation required to write my new book on eternal life, I soon discovered that this subject raised all of the contemporary theological issues that threaten to destroy Christianity as we have known it. It was clear that I would have to turn the traditional religious approach around. I had to read the modern …

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Q & A:

Hans Jørgen Danielsen from Norway writes:

With great enthusiasm I've just finished your book Jesus for the Non-Religious. Among your other writings, your continuous search and consistent campaign in this book for a new reformation within the Christian Church is truly among the deepest and most honest I have come across!

You touch a string deep within me. For years I have questioned the path Christianity has taken — a path that leads nowhere. While "everybody" sees it, they keep these things to themselves, not daring to speak up. The clergy look elsewhere — towards scripture and the "immortal" dogmas. They flee a situation because they don't want to get involved in it. Instead their stubborn attitude just reinforces a situation that gives no answers to the ever-increasing gap between knowledge and religious dogmas.

We see signs of Christian fundamentalism in certain circles in the United States, where a movement presented by Philip Johnson has launched the "wedge of truth" strategy, a wedge that is supposed to be forced through all new discoveries in evolution or in astronomy. This wedge is supposed to break up our acceptance to new findings by pointing to the ever-important Bible. This is no less than religious despotism! By cutting out humanity's quest for knowledge, we cut out what it means to be human beings. Evolution will never end. Humankind will develop further into something we don't see today. And we shall all disappear someday — either self-conflicted or through earthly conditions being too harsh on us.

Christian dogmas have historically limited the human quest. No better can we witness this by studying the enlightenment that followed the middle ages. Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo — they all went forward against the oppression from the Church, facing grave consequences. For Kepler this meant he had to abandon his astronomical studies, having been ordered to return to the university in T

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20 August 2009: The Study of Life, Part 4: Tracing the Story of Charles Darwin in the Galapagos Islands

Still pursuing the meaning of life as the necessary prerequisite for raising the question of what might lie beyond life, we left the Amazon Rainforest and made our way by air from Quito through Ecuador’s major port and biggest city, Guayaquil, to the sole airport in the Galapagos on the island named Baltra. This is …

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Q & A:

George Williams, via the Internet, writes:

You wrote the following in your essay dated May 14, 2009:


"Most people today still think of Joseph as a carpenter, unaware that the earliest reference in Mark, before Joseph was known in the tradition at all, portrayed Jesus alone as the carpenter, identifying him as the son of a woman." I don't ever recall seeing this "son of a woman" passage. I did an online word search of the RSV and came up dry. Would it be possible to point me to the chapter and verse in which this was written?

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13 August 2009: The Study of Life, Part 3: On Meeting a Shaman in the Amazon Rainforest

In studying for my recent book on life after death I spent considerable time examining the religious history of human beings. Our religious journey has been long and complex. Beginning in the hunter-gatherer religion of animism we have traveled as a species through the fertility cult religions of our early agricultural civilizations into the coupled …

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Q & A:

Gary Anderson from Duluth, Minnesota, writes:

I've heard of pastors in our area who tell lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people that "they can change if they turn to Jesus." What can you say to this?

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6 August 2009: The Study of Life, Part 2: Exploring the Drive to Survive in Animate Life and in Self-Conscious Life

As I said in last week’s column, in that wonderful lull in the life of an author that occurs between the time the book goes to press and the time it is published, we decided to go on a trip to study life itself. Before one can speak about life after death, as I seek …

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Q & A:

Donna Kaplan asks:

I have a question about the scripture passage from St. John's Gospel that you quoted recently in one of your columns: "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but by me (meaning Jesus)." What about the Jews?

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30 July 2009: The Study of Life, Part 1: A Journey Into the Mystery of Life Begins in the Amazon Rain Forest

In that mysterious and wonderful lull that comes in an author’s life between completing the writing and editing of a book and waiting for its publication, my wife and I, with one daughter and two granddaughters accompanying us, set off on a trek in search of the meaning of life and its origins. Following in …

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Q & A:

David George of Sacramento, California, writes:

I was so interested to learn of your growth experience as a youth and your attribution to Robert Crandall. I felt your joy and appreciation. The Rev. Morton T. Kelsey touched my life in a similar fashion at the critical time. I've lost track of him. Can you tell me whether he died or of his whereabouts?

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23 July 2009: The Origins of the Bible, Part XXVIII: The Chronicler — Final Chapter of the Old Testament

The Old Testament, as we Christians organize it, closes in the post-exile period of Jewish history. That would date its final works in the mid to late 300s BCE. The biblical story thus comes to a conclusion in a very difficult period of Jewish history. They were a defeated nation returning from exile and trying …

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Q & A:

First, I have purchased all of your books and to use an old cliché have been blessed by them, although the evolution of my theological development was slow. Thank you so very much for your insights.

Recently you wrote an article about your new book out in September on Eternal Life. I can hardly wait to read it. In that article you wrote that the church did not "reflect the impact of such shapers of modern thought as Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Darwin, Freud, and Einstein." I keep a shelf full of books on Einstein and I recently read the National geographic article on Darwin — it was great. Question: The shapers you referred to are all men. What about the women? I am for egalitarianism and I am a feminist, so the absence of any reference to women as shapers in your article caught my attention. The feminists of the 70s had a profound impact on our society.

I believe that our wholeness depends on the equality of men and women and their interaction with each other, in some fashion, such as the recognition and use of the anima and animus as prescribed by Carl and Emma Jung.

I have written a book (not published), titled Dad's a Minister, Mom's a Cop. Being somewhat liberal in the early days of my ministry, it was difficult to serve in evangelical churches, but I stuck to my beliefs and had at my side a wife (California's first patrol woman to drive a squad car alone) who helped me exemplify our egalitarian ways. Some shapers, although not at the level of the men you mentioned, were helpful to me: Joseph Campbell, Simone de Beauvoir and Elizabeth Gould Davis to mention a few. Recently, I have read books by Karen Armstrong and Louann Brizendine that can be considered contributors to the shaping of modern religious thought. Again, thank you for all you do, you are truly a shaper.

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16 July 2009: The Origins of the Bible, Part XXVII: The Liturgical Books of Lamentations and Esther

One of the things that seems to escape the notice of those who believe that the Bible was somehow dictated by God is that the Bible is first and foremost a liturgical book. That is, the Bible was written to be used on occasions of public worship. It was never intended to be read as …

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Q & A:

Tad Evans, a retired Episcopal priest and the grandson of the well known and well remembered Walter Russell Bowie, sent the following verse that he attributes without certainty to English Bible scholar Michael Donald Goulder. One of my columns on "The Shady Ladies" of Matthew's genealogy inspired Tad to pass this along. I thought it too much fun to keep it to myself and so I run it today in place of the "Question and Answer" feature.

I hope you both enjoy it and that it sends you back to your Bibles to read Matthew 1:1-17 on which it is based and to check out his references to the Hebrew Scriptures.

– John Shelby Spong

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8 July 2009: The Origins of the Bible, Part XXVI: The Wisdom Literature

Four books of the Old Testament are generally regarded as being the constituent parts of what has been called “Wisdom Literature.” They are Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon. We have treated the book of Job earlier in this series (see Origins of the Bible XXIII) and will not repeat that. Job is …

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Q & A:

When I pray any kind of prayer, there is an energy created within me that I believe in some way adds to a sacred energy in the world. I'm not sure how far it gets, or whether it does any good other than add to the positive energy in the universe. If I'm made of "stardust" then maybe there is an energy connection with others, perhaps through our "ground of being." I know that praying, saying formal prayers, taking the various liturgical prayers, prayerful reading of scripture, meditation and the like, are energizing for me and I hope the energy goes somewhere. I'm happy with the energy.

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2 July 2009: A Vision of the Rebirth of Christianity Occurring in Sweden

It was the kind of initiative that one might hope to see coming out of Rome, Canterbury, Constantinople or even from one of the multiple centers of Evangelical Protestantism. The invitation was to speak to a conference designed to bring together critical thinking Christians who were eager to find a way to “sing the Lord’s …

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Q & A:

I have just read your answer to John Baker, who wanted to know where he can go to connect with a "Spong pastor." I, too, wonder if you could point me to someone here in Australia. I have read a number of your books, including Jesus for the Non-Religious and Why Christianity Must Change or Die. I have a list of others I still want to read. I am currently reading J. A. T. Robinson's Honest to God as a result of reading your autobiography. I talk about them all the time. I find it sad that I have to censor myself sometimes so as not to offend certain people with my new progressive ideas. Your books have awakened something in me and answered many questions I have long pondered. It amazes me how intelligent and educated people can be so medieval in their thinking when it comes to God, Jesus and the Bible. As a Christian I have believed we must challenge and expand our minds. There is so much to learn. It's funny how Christians claim we are so different because God gave us "free will" but condemn and judge anyone who dares to use it. The first book of yours that I read was Why Christianity Must Change or Die. After I read it I felt a real change in my spiritual growth. For a while I was very confused, hence I had to continue my journey, a journey I have really just begun. By reading your book I forced myself out of a comfortable place where all my questions had answers through the "inspired word of God," being touched by the Holy Spirit and "Faith." God and Jesus are more real and alive to me than ever before. Anyway, back to my original question — who can I contact to connect with as a Progressive Christian in or near Port Macquairie, NSW, Australia?

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