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30 April 2008: The Universe, the Star of Bethlehem and Professor Alex Filippenko

Whether I am on the lecture circuit, where I spend most of my time, or in my home a normal day for me starts about 6:00 a.m., when I go either to the hotel’s “fitness room” or to the first floor of our home to spend an hour or more on a treadmill. It would …

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Q & A:

I have been learning from and enjoying your newsletter

for four years. While I have not always completely agreed with you, I

have not significantly disagreed with you until recently. Your

comment several weeks ago about the "integrity" of John McCain was

badly misplaced. I have been a resident of Arizona for over 30 years.

I was concerned when McCain moved to Arizona with the intent of going

into politics, but I was very pleased when he became a "Goldwater

Republican." Early in his career he followed that path, but as he

became more and more a national figure he changed. To this day I

proudly claim to be a Goldwater Republican, but McCain no longer can

be identified with the Senator's libertarian views. While I disagreed

with Goldwater's position on civil rights, it was consistent with his

desire for as little government involvement as possible.

Senator McCain has a perfect "Christian Right" voting

record on women's rights, particularly on reproductive rights. His

opinion on stem cell research and a number of other Christian Right

issues is very much what they want, in spite of their current

protestations. McCain has a temper and holds a grudge against those

who cross him. If you know any Republicans from Arizona please ask

them. His record is far from clean on "helping" big business. He

continued to work for Charles Keating even after Keating's practices

were suspect.

Senator McCain is as pro-war as his new best friend George Bush; he

is just smarter about how he expresses it. The only point I will give

him on this issue is that he has a son who is in the military. I have

long felt that a president or congressperson should have a child or

grandchild in the military. I wonder how long the Iraq invasion would

have lasted if the Bush twins had been serving on the front line.

Thanks for listening and for your continued insights in

the newsletters.

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23 April 2008: The Origins of the Bible, Part V The Elohist Document

Most people do not seem to realize that events in what we call the secular world of history shaped so much of the writing of the biblical story. When I get to the formation of the gospels in this series, it will become obvious that the Jewish war with Rome that began in 66 CE …

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Q & A:

Enclosed is an article from a few weeks ago about evangelical Ben

Witherington's visit to Charlotte, North Carolina. He has "taken your

name in vain" — has this ever happened to you before? He was

quoted in the Charlotte Observer as saying the following:

"Bishop Spong is out of his depth. He is not a biblical scholar; he's

not even a scholar. He's what I call a pundit. When I do debates

with Bishop Spong, he really won't debate. He's kind of like a dog

who barks backing up. He's noisy, but when you challenge him, there's

no substance to his argument."

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16 April 2008: Who Are the People in Pennsylvania Who Will Choose the Democratic Nominee?

The somewhat blurred eyes of the nation’s political stargazers are focused at least until April 22 on the State of Pennsylvania. That is the date on which its citizens will play a determinative role in choosing the potential President of the United States. If Senator Clinton wins, she is still a viable candidate. On the …

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Q & A:

I have two Jewish daughters-in-law and four grandchildren being raised in

the Jewish tradition. In the delicate position of a grandparent, how can I

help integrate our Christian and Jewish traditions — especially with

the children?

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9 April 2008: The Origins of the Bible, Part IV The Story of the Yahwist Document

Thus far in this series on the origins of the Bible, my efforts have been directed toward how the Torah, which contains the oldest material found in the Bible, came into being. The Torah, also called “The Law” and “The Books of Moses,” is the Jewish name for the first five books of the Bible: …

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Q & A:

I saw your interview on "Compass" with Geraldine

Doogue on Australian Broadcasting Company TV in 2001. It's hard

to describe how good it felt to hear your words and how that

interview led me to an indescribably wonderful freedom that I

still don't even understand. Anyway, something I've been curious

about - does your wife, Christine, share your views on

Christianity? And if there are differences, do they ever create

any tension between you two? And, second question, I had been in

a relationship with a fundamentalist Christian girl, and my

rather agnostic stance ultimately meant we couldn't be together.

In your experience how much difference in religion can the

average relationship handle?

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2 April 2008: The Origin of the Bible, Part III Breaking Open the Books of Moses The Torah

The Bible began to be written, relatively speaking, only a short time ago. When one considers the fact that the universe is some 13.7 billion years old and the birth of the planet Earth can be reliably dated between four and a half and five billion years ago, the beginning of Bible writing near 1000 …

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Q & A:

Errata and Apology

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26 March 2008: The Jesus Seminar and the Future of Scholarship in ChristianChurches

Recently a meeting of the Jesus Seminar was convened in Santa Rosa, California. It attracted about 500 people including fellows, associates and visitors, who came from 42 states of this union and from six foreign countries. Major keynote lectures were presented by Karen Armstrong of London; Marcus Borg of Oregon; John Shelby Spong of New …

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Q & A:

Would you please comment on the controversy

between Pelagius and Augustine?

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19 March 2008: The Origins of the Bible, Part II Biblical Contradictions, Discredited Attitudes and Horror Stories

The aura of holiness, the defense shield that endows the Bible with an unchallengeable authority, can exist only so long as people do not bother to read its content very closely. That is, of course, what has happened during most of Christian history. Few people in medieval history other than the clergy could read and …

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Q & A:

I have been an excited student of yours since the first time

you came to our church in Austin, Texas. You affirmed the

beliefs I held from childhood while I "served" as a daughter of a

Baptist minister. I knew I didn't buy what was being sold, but I

had no way, short of blasphemy, to express my feelings.

I have a cousin in his mid 60's who has had a stroke, making

his life hell on Earth. He is a person whose beliefs consist of

seeing God in the beauty around him and has always expressed a

lot of gratitude for his simple, joy-filled life. He has made

the decision to take his life, because day by day it becomes more

unbearable. His life has little "quality" right now. He is

alone. Friends have scattered and I'm the only connection he has

with the outside world. Now that he has faced the fact that he

really does want to go on to whatever is next, his childhood

fundamentalism teachings of hell keep cropping up and he becomes

riddled with fear. While I want him to be in full control of his

decision to stay or go, and I do not share with him that I couldn't

live the life he's in, I would also like to assist him in getting

beyond this fear of hell and a punishing God. What do you say to

people who want to control the process of their death?

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12 March 2008: Sexism! Still a Force in American Politics

The quest for the Democratic nomination continues to ebb and flow as the two rivals struggle to gain an edge. Senator Clinton was presumed to be the front runner prior to the Iowa Caucuses, but Senator Obama won that state impressively. Then Senator Clinton came back to win the New Hampshire primary and looked poised …

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Q & A:

I subscribed to your essays a few weeks ago. I live in

Turkey, where most of the population is Muslim. I accepted

Christianity about three years ago and began to study the Bible

with some missionaries living near my university. I realize they

are very hostile to those who think or act differently. They see

people who have different beliefs as inferior creatures. Turkey

has always been the hub of different cultures, different

civilizations, and, of course, different religions. A person

living in this land could never believe that Christianity or any

other religion is the only way to experience God or, in Christian

terms, the only way to salvation. The Christianity to which I

converted is love. It is not magic. I am blind but I didn't

become a Christian because Jesus would open my eyes miraculously.

I am also against all dogmas that limit our minds. Questioning

the Bible or God or anything should not be an act of sinfulness

or shame. Whenever I challenged the missionaries, they said I was

absolutely wrong and I would definitely go to hell. So I left

that Christian church because it did not respect people equally

and did not love as Jesus commanded.

One day, I was listening to Internet radio and

heard an interview with you that inspired me a lot. I felt I was

not alone in the world. You were expressing my feelings very

well. Before I was hesitant to say out loud that I am a

Christian because I didn't think the literal stories in the Bible

reflect real Christianity. You have given me courage to say

openly that I am a Christian. I am happy to know you and to be a

new Christian of this new and ever-evolving world.

My question is, have you ever been to a Middle

Eastern or an Islamic country to deliver lectures or to give

conferences? If you have, what impressions do you have about

them? Unfortunately, war and destruction are almost everywhere

in the Middle East, and there the children need love, the

families need care, and, most importantly, people need to know

who God is. I think you would be much more welcome here than any

missionaries who are trying to convert people and bring them to

their own way of thinking.

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5 March 2008: The Origins of the Bible, Part 1: Examining the AuraCreated Around the Bible

Publisher’s Note: Last summer John Shelby Spong began a series of lectures at the Highlands Institute for American Religious and Philosophical Thought in Highlands, North Carolina, on how the Bible came to be written. Originally intended to be completed in four presentations, the material proved to be so complex that the series will be continued …

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Q & A:

First let me say how much I enjoyed reading Jesus for the

Non-Religious. It was extremely insightful, debunking the

myths surrounding Jesus to bring out the humanity of the man. I

particularly enjoyed your thesis that Jesus' crucifixion might

actually have occurred in the festival season of Sukkoth. You

explained that, for liturgical reasons, the crucifixion was moved

by Mark to the time of Passover and attached there so that the

commencement of the new faith story would align with the

commencement of the old faith story. This allows Mark to tie his

stories to the Jewish Holy Days and be read on every Sabbath from

Rosh Hashanah to Passover. Matthew then expands Mark's text to

fill in the balance of the Jewish calendar, beginning with Jesus'

genealogy and the birth story. My question is this: Since

Matthew's birth story would have been read sometime during late

April, how did the birth of Jesus come to be celebrated in

December rather than late April? Did it have to do with the

Emperor Constantine blending the birthdays of Mithras and Sol

Invictus (both supposedly occurring on December 25) with that of

Jesus in order to unify the people and various religions? Or is

there another reason, perhaps tied to Jewish rather than pagan


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27 February 2008: Holy Cross Lutheran Church: A Jewel in the Frozen North

The wind chill factor was minus 25 degrees. Snow showers fell regularly on the already icy white countryside. It was not the time one would normally visit Newmarket, Ontario, a town about fifty minutes due north of Toronto, but I had been invited by the Holy Cross Lutheran Church, a congregation of less than forty …

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Q & A:

I have been fortunate enough to be a recipient of your

newsletter for just a few months. I dropped in to your thesis on

the Third Fundamental, which sent little shivers through me as

you revealed something of which I had not been fully cognizant.

Your words resonate with truth when you illustrate the nexus

between God and evolution, in a way that I believe Pierre

Teilhard de Chardin always did. My questions are "Are we going

somewhere? Is there purpose driving evolution?" In other words,

it would seem that a theology of God and evolution demands human

responsibility to see that plan through to fruition. This

changes the status quo somewhat, from patiently waiting to

purposeful action. How say you? May God bless you and your

ability to make connections.

Read the Answer...

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