Essay Archives View as a list
30 August 2006: Did Jesus Really Perform Miracles?
For many people the title of this column represents a silly question. The pages of the gospels are filled with stories of supernatural happenings associated with Jesus. Most people, however, have very little sense of the actual content or meaning of these miracle accounts or how differently they are portrayed in each gospel. Some of …
Thank you for this thorough treatment of such an
important topic in your column, "Born Gay." I was in
conversation with my United Methodist pastor recently about this
very issue and the comments of a preacher who had been invited to
speak to our church, comments upholding his outdated and
prejudiced views. My pastor said that his own position was that
although some say homosexuality was somehow biological/genetic,
it was the same as saying that alcoholism was genetically caused.
In other words, one may have the genetic predisposition for the
condition but one chooses how they respond to it. I realized
that we are on different planets. My predicament is whether to
stay with this church I have been a member of for 30 years, and
among people I love and continue to do the work I do with a Grief
Support Group, stay with my son and grandchildren or leave. More
and more I am part of the church alumni and even though I have
stayed I have lost a lot of joy in my experience there.
22 August 2006: Understanding Religious Anger
One of the things that always surprises me is the level of anger, often expressed in acts of overt rudeness, which seems to mark religious people. It appears so often that I have almost come to expect it, or at the very least not to be surprised by it. A recent episode simply made the …
I've wondered for a while about the definition of
theism and its implications. There seem to be three central
points you use most often. The God of theism is 1) external, 2)
supernatural, 3) intervenes in human lives. Does this statement
imply that God is the opposite of these three things?
Much of what you write suggests that this is clearly
true of point 3. You present God as not intervening and not
capable of intervening. The opposite of point 2 would seem to be
that God is natural. Is this a correct assumption and, if so,
how do you see God as manifest in the natural world? The
opposite of point 1 would seem to be that God is internal.
I'm very aware that I might be reading too much into
your words but the sense I get is that you suggest that God is
internal to human experience. This seems to fit with some modern
brain research that suggests that human beings are "hard-wired"
to believe in some higher power and to worship it. This research
suggests that belief in God is a natural part of being human
rather than a social construct imposed from without.
Is this the non-theistic understanding of God? Internal, natural
(thought not manifest outside of human consciousness) and unable
to intervene in the world (except perhaps through God's effects
on the consciousness of each believer?
16 August 2006: Questions and Answers
A note to my readers: Dear Friends: Your letters come in such numbers that if I responded to each one I would need a full time staff. I can assure you that every one of them is read and I try to pick the most interesting ones for publication. Using only one each week, however, …
9 August 2006: The Ambivalent Church
There is something fundamentally flawed about institutional Christianity today. I see it in two distinct places. It was clearly present when I listened to ecclesiastical figures talk about the election of a female bishop to be primate of the Episcopal Church in the USA. The other is found both in the tone and content of …
Recognizing that the Bible consists of many books by
many authors over a 1,000 year period of time, and assuming that
no major additions to the Bible have been attempted since the
King James Version was published 400 years ago or so, and further
noting that a stupendous amount of information about changes in
the secular world, which seem to be accelerating, are now before
us do you think a major addition, such as another "testament" or
"New Testament No. 2" or an authorized supplement to the Bible
(other than modern era re-translations that have been printed
even in the 20th century, and which appear to be entirely
self-serving) is in order? If so, might such an addition help
theologians reduce the irrelevance of their teachings and answer
many of the questions raised by your latest book, "The Sins of
If so, who could write it, who could publish it, and
who could be induced to read it? Who, of all our religious
leaders now in positions of power would be in support of such a
development and could be induced to accept it inasmuch as,
surely, they would see it as a threat to their power? It might
be the only way to make religion relevant again as it once was in
ancient times, in my opinion. What do you think?
2 August 2006: Cowboy Diplomacy in a Frightening World
In one of its regular features The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS recently showed the pictures of 16 more American military personnel who had recently lost their lives in Iraq. I watched with wrenching emotions. Each photograph represented the broken dreams of a now shattered family. These photographs were not just of a soldier …
In your answer of May 10, 2006, you wrote, "I see Christianity at
its heart as deeply humanistic. The core doctrines of the
Christian faith suggest that God is revealed through a human
life...so I see secular humanism as the residual remains of
Christianity once the supernatural elements have been removed."
In the next paragraph, you say you do not think "the
supernatural understanding of God is essential to Christianity."
In your answer of May 3, 2006, you reject "the interpretation of
Jesus' death as a sacrifice required by God to overcome the sins
of the world" as making God "barbaric" and "Jesus the victim of a
sadistic deity." This "deeply violates the essential note of the
Gospel, which is that God is love calling us to love" and is not
"found in the pious but destructive phrase, 'Jesus died for my
My question is: If Jesus did not die on the cross to atone for
humanity's sins, why did he have to die to bring us the message
that "God is love, calling us to love"?
26 July 2006: Emily Jane Failla: A Special Life
The community of St. Peter’s Church in Morristown, New Jersey, where my wife and I worship, gathered this week to celebrate the life of Emily Jane Failla and to bid her farewell. Most of my readers will not know Emily but she illustrates so many of the realities that plague both our humanity and our …
Why not refer readers both Christian/Church alumni/and
non-Christian readers to the recent publication of James Robinson's
"The Gospel of Jesus." It is a very well written account of how
the New Testament came to be but is most effective in isolating
the meat of the coco, his account of Jesus' own gospel as opposed
to that of Paul and Rome. He paints a picture of what I truly
believe the man Jesus was about that can only be described as
"awesome!" But mostly he points me, a retired minister, to the
tremendously exciting truth I could have been preaching...but
sadly, I just didn't know.
Recently, while on a lecture tour of England, I was the keynote speaker at a national conference of the United Reformed Church of England. This body, the result of a merger within Protestantism during the last century between English Presbyterians and English Congregationalists, serves as leaven in the lump of English religious life. It has …
I first encountered your religious philosophy and/or beliefs
watching your lecture on University of California Television
about one year ago. I have read several of your books and find
your thoughts to be the best and most sensible in understanding
the Christian faith. However, about three to four years ago I
made the decision to become an atheist based on reading two books
by John A. Henderson, "God.com" and "Fear, Faith, Fact and
I kept this secret from my wife and even told her that your views
made the most sense to me and your religious philosophy gave me
hope that there might even be a Higher Power. However, about
three months ago, I read Sam Harris - "The End of Faith" and
since that time have felt very comfortable with being an atheist.
Moreover, I have taken several college level audio CD courses in
religion and philosophy, read several books by Elaine Pagels,
studied the findings of the Jesus Seminar, studied several essays
and books by Thomas Sheehan, Rudolph Bultmann and Robert Funk.
None of which has changed my mind.
The point I am trying to get to is: My wife has
always been a Born Again Christian and early in our marriage of
25 years, we attended the churches of her faith and those of my
original faith - Lutheran. Both of my parents are Lutheran. The
other night after a very pleasant evening out, we got into a
discussion about going to church again and I told her I was an
atheist. She almost made me stop the car and let her get out
because she would not be yoked to a non-believer. We are still
together and have tried to talk through this but she is having
great difficulty in accepting my decision. We are scheduled to
see a marriage counselor that we both liked when we had some
problems in our marriage about 10-15 years ago at her suggestion
and my total agreement.
Is there any insight or advice you might provide to
help us work through this situation? I do not want to be
divorced much less separated. Fortunately, we do not have any
children. But I am deeply alarmed that she might consider
separation because I am not a Christian. I did ask her what if I
had chosen Islam, Jewish or even a Taoist belief what would she
have done. She said, "Well, at least you would believe in
12 July 2006: On Dating the New Testament
A letter from one of my Internet readers, Max Rippeto, asked how New Testament scholars went about the task of dating the books of the New Testament. It was such a good question and touched so many issues that others among my readers raise, that I decided to base my entire column this week on …
I receive your weekly newsletter and look forward to
it very much. I have read several of your books also and agree
with most of your insights and concepts. I also watched your
interview with Geraldine Doogue on the Australian Broadcasting
Corporation Television Station when you were out several years
The question is this: You say that you still spend a
lot of time praying but to whom do you pray? "The Ground of
Being" as you refer to God seems very impersonal and I find it
difficult to let go of the "father" image I was raised with in an
evangelical church in the 60's. How does a "Ground of Being"
actually care about me and my family? Intellectually I know that
God really couldn't care less about insignificant me here on
planet Earth (example Tsunami victims, hurricane victims,
famines, fires, etc.) yet I WANT to believe that SOMETHING or
SOMEONE does - or else what is the point of being born,
struggling through a crappy life and then dying and going to
nothing? I find I struggle with "what is the point of it all" on
a daily basis. I know that you say living life to the fullest is
what it's all about - but if there's no point to it all then why
bother caring about anything and living life to the fullest when
it is all for nothing in the end? I know life is for living in
the now - but I can't enjoy it if I know there's nothing at the
end of it and all my relatives that I love so much are going
nowhere and I will never see them again. It is all too sad. The
childish part of me still wants "someone" in authority to care
about me and my family. I guess that I really do still want my
God to care about me and "watch out" for me but I know wanting
God to care is childish rubbish and all the concepts that go
along with traditional Christianity.
Can you help me with some of these questions -
especially to whom do you pray and do you ask for help and love
Dear Friends, The English newspapers made it a front page story. English ecclesiastical figures from the Archbishop of Canterbury down to a bigoted pressure group called Forward in Faith, spoke ominously and critically of the problem this event would create and the insensitivity of the American Church in not taking their concerns and prejudices into …
I have just read your column entitled, "Jesus for the
Non-Religious." I guess I am left wondering why if one can strip
away most if not all the gospel details of his life, he can
continue to exist in history. Why not take the view that
Canadian humanist historian Early Doherty takes that Christianity
grew in part out of the Greco-Roman world being impressed by the
Hebrew scriptures and later the movement demanded a leader and
midrash provided by the Hebrew cultish groups in Palestine
provided this. (I hope I am doing justice to Professor Doherty).
28 June 2006: A Living Watershed
Dear Friends, This week I want to share with you a rare account of a Protestant church wrestling concretely with whether or not to call an openly gay man to be their minister. The account was written by a friend of mine named Chris Avis, a member of the United Reformed Church of England, who …
Your recent e-mail
article, "Jesus for the Non-Religious, Part I," was very
interesting. I have always maintained doubts about the
historicity of Jesus, in particular, how the stories that
comprise the New Testament evolved into the texts as we know them
today in the Bible. In your very fine article, you commented that
the followers most likely used the synagogue to transmit the
story of Jesus. You said in your column that the synagogue
"became the setting in which his followers told stories about
Jesus, recalled the sayings and parables of Jesus and remembered
and shared the developing Jesus tradition. In this fashion, over
the years, the Hebrew Scriptures were wrapped around Jesus and
through them Jesus was interpreted. The content of the memory of
Jesus was thus organized by the liturgy of the synagogue. To
recognize this connection becomes a major breakthrough into the
oral period of Christian history."
Here is my question: wouldn't the Jews, during the time following
the death of Jesus (30 C.E. - 70 C.E.) have rejected his status
as "the messiah," thus discounting Jesus as a messenger from God?
It would seem to me that rather than use the synagogue to
discuss, and possibly embellish his life; the Jews would not
attribute any divine nature to Jesus, thus rejecting him
entirely. I say this because it is my understanding that during
the time of Jesus; the Jews were anticipating a messiah. Prior
to Jesus' death, he was interrogated by Caiaphas, the elder of
the Sanhedrin (John 18:12-33). Caiaphas determined that Jesus
was not the messiah. Wouldn't that suffice to dismiss Jesus and
all accounts of his life as worthy of further discussion in the
synagogues? It is my opinion that the Jews would not have
revered him as the one whom the Old Testament prophesied.
Therefore, I surmise that stories about Jesus would more likely
have originated as folklore among the gentiles.
In Need of a Good Word?
We encourage you to show your support for positive and progressive Christian views by becoming a part of Bishop Spong's growing online community. You'll receive a new column each week on topics in social justice and spirituality that matter most.
Free Q&A Email
Sign up for Bishop Spong's FREE weekly Q&A email.
Looking for something special? Search here:
Browse by Date
Browse our monthly archives: