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6 June 2007: The Third Fundamental: The Substitution by Death of Jesus on the Cross Brings Salvation, Part II
Last week we began our analysis of the third fundamental that traditional Christians stated, in the Tractarian Movement in the early years of the 20th century, was basic to a proper understanding of Christianity. It focused on what Christians came to call “the doctrine of the Atonement.” In many ways it proclaims a barbaric understanding …
The idea of calling God "He" bothers me. Although I had a loving father, in
my 28 years of teaching I have come in contact with many who were abusive.
One year, a grandmother came in for a parent conference and revealed that
her granddaughter's father, under the guise of saying goodnight prayers with
his daughter, sexually abused her for years. I wonder how this girl will be
able to receive God's message when she continually hears God referred to as
"He"? Even the hymns are filled with references to "Him." Fortunately, our
current pastors use "God" — not the pronoun — and few in the
church have noticed. I write on behalf of all the girls of this world who,
like my beloved student, have been hurt deeply by their fathers.
It is hard in our generation to put into a single sentence the substance of the Third Fundamental that traditional Christians, at the beginning of the 20th century, said was essential to the Christian faith. Officially, it is referred to as “The doctrine of the substitutionary atonement through God’s grace and human faith.” Those words …
I once worshiped and sang in a parish that was presided over by a
brilliant gay priest who preached against gays. I knew he was gay; I knew
his sub rosa partner well. Like so many people, I remained silent about his
homophobic preaching since I believed (and still do) that one's sexuality
and personal life are just that — personal. I was disturbed as he
cemented a "traditional, conservative" parish, based on the primacy of men,
the unsuitability of women for the priesthood and other policy roles in the
Church, a hypocritical disdain for homosexuals, and stunningly beautiful
liturgy and music. Then an Anglican bishop at the Lambeth Conference said
he was appalled and called the Church heretical for allowing a Native
American priest to celebrate the Mass in his own language and use the
language's word for Great Spirit as a translation for God. That did it for
me. I could no longer associate with a view of the world and the deity that
was essentially — although the parishioners would never have seen that
— fundamentalist. I left that church — and all organized
Christianity — after that.
I applaud your quest. Reading your columns and editorials is now my only
connection with active Christianity. Thank you.
23 May 2007: The Death of Jerry Falwell
He represented everything that repels me about religion. He was closed-minded, bigoted and abusive as religious people tend to be when they believe that they possess God’s truth. Yet, I never disliked this man. He tapped into something in the American psyche that, had he not done so, I believe, someone else, perhaps worse, would …
A brief note from a South African who has benefited from your e-mailed
articles. Thank you for spelling out a different theological approach so
clearly and sincerely. I will be obtaining your new book as soon as it
becomes available here.
I have become rather sad and angry about the way in which clergy and church
lay leaders have sold members down the river for so many years. People have
not been encouraged to question, doubt, and debate, but have been presented
with a party line and told to believe it or else! The average church member
has never been exposed to the theological teaching you and many theological
schools present. Certainly in South Africa, the majority of Christians are
fundamentalist/evangelical types, who are totally dismissive of anyone who
thinks differently. I find it more and more difficult to minister to my
congregations with integrity, and look forward to retiring in a few years
“I’m not afraid of your Yahweh, I’m not afraid of your Allah, I’m not afraid of your Jesus, But I am afraid of what you do in the name of your God” Dear Friends, These were the words of one of the pieces of music featured recently in a concert in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It was …
9 May 2007: Special Question and Answers from Bishop Spong
Dear Friends, This week I will break momentarily my series on the rise of fundamentalism in America to cover a few pressing issues that I experience and that you, my readers, keep bringing to my attention. Today I will take you inside your television screen and show you what goes into even four minute segments. …
My husband and I really enjoyed "Sins of Scripture." We were
both raised Catholic and now belong to what you so accurately refer to as
the Church Alumni Association. My family consists of Polish immigrants, so
they are what I call "fundamentalist Catholics." Think Irish Catholic...it
is that sort of fervor and dedication to the Church and the belief that the
Catholic Church is the only true Church. The Poles are not different.
We are now facing a dilemma. We did not get married in a
Catholic Church, which you can imagine caused a lot of grief. We have
"lost" some family members as a result, who are no longer speaking to us.
We just had our first baby, and the pressure is on to have him baptized
We have gently told my family that there will be no baptism.
They are beside themselves. It is one thing to deny ourselves the Kingdom
of Heaven they say but to cast our own child into the pit of hell because of
our own sin and stupidity, well, it is unforgivable in their eyes. Friends
of my father have urged him to "take the matter into his own hands," by
which I think they mean to simply baptize our son without our consent. My
father turns a bright red/purple with rage when the topic comes up and I
fear he is going to give himself a heart attack...at which point I feel
intense guilt and think maybe I should just give the man peace of mind that
his grandson will not wind up in hell for all of eternity. I think it is
absolutely absurd that anyone would characterize the perfect loving God I
experience as this scary monster throwing unbaptized children into hell, or
even purgatory, which are concepts I don't believe in anyway...you get the
point, this is why I "dropped out" in the first place.
So, I come to you with a request. Since we do not have the
wealth of theological knowledge to back up our feelings about God, and they
(the fundamentalist Catholics) have the backing of the Pope, the Bishops and
the "Church," my husband and I often stutter out a bunch of "We
believe...statements which just irritate the fundamentalist Catholics even
more because, in their eyes, it does not matter what "we believe," it
matters what "the Church" thinks.
Can you advise us on how we can gently help my fundamentalist
Catholic family members to respect our decision? We really need your help
on this because I'm afraid we are about to lose more family members and,
instead of losing them, we would really like to live in harmony and mutual
respect with them.
2 May 2007: Discussing Biblical Theology on CBS Television
The medium of television is a fascinating place through which to seek to dispel the ignorance of biblical fundamentalism. The time is always short, the network needs to be “fair and balanced” and neither the producer nor the interviewer is necessarily well versed in the subject matter. To push against these barriers in a brief …
Thank you so much for your series on the rise of fundamental
Christianity. I particularly enjoyed the essay that described the Five
Fundamentals and the one on the First Fundamental - the inerrancy of the
Bible. I have wondered whether the Bible itself ever claims to be the
inerrant word of God. I recognize the difficulty of this question, since
the Bible itself is a hodgepodge of many books that have been bundled
together over the ages. What I have found, however, is that discussing
biblical scholarship with fundamentalists usually gets me precisely nowhere.
They are unwilling to recognize that Moses could not have written the Torah,
or that the gospels were written years after Jesus' death. They continue to
believe that the books of the Bible arose more or less intact in that
particular order and mystically assembled themselves into a unit. They
insist that the obvious contradictions or factual errors are just our
misunderstanding of "the Word." They propose that the "texts of terror"
have been misinterpreted to justify the social evils of slavery, racism, and
sexism, or - worse - fundamentalists continue to quietly believe that these
social evils are indeed ordained by God! So, I want to take the argument
back into their court. I want to challenge the fundamentalists to prove to
me, via the Bible, that the Bible actually claims to be the inerrant word of
God. If the Bible itself doesn't claim it, why do they believe such an
outlandish claim? And my question to you is: does the Bible anywhere make
For years now the book entitled “The Holy Bible” has topped America’s best selling list by a wide margin. The pity is that this book is seldom read and even less seldom understood. Most Christians encounter the content of the Bible only when they are in church, and that normally consists of only a few …
I was introduced to your Internet essays only a few months ago and was so impressed with your ideas that I purchased and read your book A New Christianity for a New World. I heartily agree with your arguments against the existence of a theistic God and with your discussion of the implications to which such arguments lead. However, there is one fundamental implication that was not discussed in this book: the issue of immortality. As a scientist trained in physiology and biochemistry, I find it impossible to believe in the existence of life after death. I would be greatly interested in your comments on immortality, a topic intimately associated with all religious belief.
18 April 2007: Tragedy on a University Campus
It is arguably among America’s most beautiful universities, nestled as it is in the mountains of Southwestern Virginia. Its official name is Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, though popularly referred to as VPI or Virginia Tech. It is well recognized in college athletics. I have been on that campus numerous times while serving as …
I have a concern that I would like to share with you. I come from
Massachusetts, where pedophilia in the Catholic Church has been public since
the early 1960s. It has been an occasional topic of talk radio, newspapers,
and the underground. However, it was not until very recently called by its
appropriate name — instead it was referred to as homosexuality. I am
sure that you are aware of the vast difference between pedophilia and
homosexuality. In my opinion, the Catholic Church (and perhaps others) have
always used that misconception as justification for their dislike and
disdain for gays. Many pedophiles have also hidden behind the innocence of
I believe that the general public has been so indoctrinated by this
misconception that they still carry some of the old beliefs, and that
remains the biggest obstacle to acceptance of homosexuals
I also believe that, as you say, "the Catholic Church created the biggest
closet for homosexuals." It also created one of the largest closets for
pedophiles, and rather than deal with it for what it is, the Church has
fostered many untruths about homosexuality.
I would appreciate it if you would consider the above. Perhaps as you
champion the cause of God as love, you will also assist the public and all
homosexuals in clearing up this misnomer.
The story of Jesus’ birth has now been celebrated in pageants, Christmas cards and in hymns for almost two thousand years. The characters in this drama like Mary, Joseph, the Christ Child, the Shepherds and the Wise Men are familiar icons even in our secular society. The star in the East, Bethlehem, the manger and …
I'm really bothered by the fundamentalist Christian movement that talks so much about the 'end times.' My daughter-in-law admits to being a fundamentalist Christian, and my husband and I get into some discussions with her from time to time. I'm wondering about your views on the book of Revelation, since I haven't heard you mention it. Do you have any reading suggestions about Revelation?"
Marilyn's husband adds:
I recently reviewed the Book of Revelation, which I hadn't read for some time. There's been a lot of fuss about end times among evangelical friends and family. It's no wonder, in the 2x2 church in which I grew up, that we didn't spend a lot of time reading this book. I have a question about the 12 tribes mentioned, of which 12,000 each are spared: Are they the original Israel and Judah tribes (which couldn't have all been around when this material was supposed to have been written)?
I return this week for a second look at the first of the “Five Fundamentals,” that series of principles which in the early 1900′s gave birth to the rise of fundamentalism in America. In this second column I want to examine the claim that the Bible is the “inerrant Word of God” from a different …
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