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21 September 2005: Jewish Fundamentalism

Religious fundamentalism is built on the assumption that the truth of God has been captured for all time. It comes in many forms including inerrancy for the words of scripture, ex cathedra utterances of a religious leader and the conviction that the ultimate truth of God has been captured in one’s developed creeds. Fundamentalism is …

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Q & A:

I attended all of your lectures when you were here in

Birmingham back in March of 2004. I've also read all of your

books. In your lectures and your books, you state how

important daily Bible study is to you. In one of your

lectures you stated that you begin the day with Bible

readings/study and have set "course" to read the entire Bible

with the Apocrypha over a fixed period of time, somewhere in

the 12-18 month range, if I remember correctly. What I

wonder is have you ever considered writing a Bible study book

for liberal/progressive Christians so we could accomplish the

same? I'm thinking of something much deeper than a daily

outline. Something that would include notes and musings from

you on the history behind the day's passages, translation

issues, questions to ponder/answer, etc. The goal here is

for you to provide a format that liberal/progressive

Christians could read the entire Bible with the Apocrypha in

a fixed period and really study what we're reading along the

way. This would be quite a daunting task but many would

welcome such a volume.

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14 September 2005: Robert Walter Funk 1926-2005

By the force of his will and personality, this man brought biblical scholarship out of the ivy covered walls of academia and placed it on the front pages of the newspapers of America. He forced those articulators of yesterday’s biblical ignorance to recognize that the empires they were erecting on foundations of sand would not …

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Q & A:

"Several years ago, I was interviewed at a pro-choice event

for Republicans. Being well past any likelihood of

pregnancy, I linked my concern about my right to die with my

right to decide about my fertility. Both ends of life are

clearly the prime battlegrounds of the "Right to Life"

groups, yet they assert that an embryo or a fetus and a

person who cannot survive without heroic, indefinite

intervention are fully alive and must be saved. I said then

that I was as appalled at the notion that the government

might decide if I should live or die, just as they might

decide if my daughters could have an abortion within the

reasonable parameters set by Roe v. Wade. People at that

event thought I was "stretching it."

"Since then I have been proven tragically correct. Attorney

General John Ashcroft has challenged Oregon on its right to

death with dignity law. Abortion conditions continue to be

eroded by the radical conservatives who seem to know better

than the family in question what is best. People in nursing

homes often have to be resuscitated at hospitals because,

even with written directives otherwise, the nursing home is

required to send the patient to the hospital to be "saved."

Can you explain how it is that the Republican Party that has

historically stood for limited government is now inserting

itself into the most personal of issues?"

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7 September 2005: Hurricane Katrina and American Priorities

I hesitated at first to write about Hurricane Katrina and the devastation that has been visited on the city of New Orleans and the people of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Television stations have been giving 24-hour-a-day coverage to this almost unimaginable disaster. American citizens have been both numbed by the tragedy and overwhelmed by frustration …

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Q & A:

"How can Christians believe that of Jesus' 46 chromosomes, 23

were contributed by a human and 23 by a non-human? If this

was true and Jesus was unique wouldn't that make all other

religions irrelevant? But "virgin births" are not unique to

Christianity. They are present in many mythologies. Isn't

the Council of Nicea's pronouncement on Jesus' divinity just

a pre-emption to provide security and control? I don't

believe there has been a single human being in the history of

the world that didn't have two human parents, including


Carlyle thought Jesus' father might have been a Roman

soldier. If Jesus were illegitimate, that would go a long

way to explaining his antipathy to his mother (see Mark

3:31-35, Mark 6:1-6, and John 2:1-11). Of course, you never

hear the Catholic Church quoting the passage in Mark in any

of its liturgies where Jesus replies to a question with, "Why

do you call me good? Only God is good (Mark 10:18)."

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31 August 2005: The Dark Side of Evangelical Religion

I often wonder what Bible it is that people read in America’s Bible Belt. I wonder what the religion is that is practiced by the Religious Right. It certainly does not connect with my understanding of Christianity. Perhaps I am the one who is blind to the things they perceive, but seeing their enthusiasm for …

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Q & A:

"When you research Biblical views, what Internet or written

sources are good starting points for persons who want to hear

a liberal viewpoint besides your own. I am looking for

commentaries and Bible software that is worth the investment

of money or time. I do not want Matthew Henry or Strog's

Concordance anymore. Help!"

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23 August 2005: On Death With Dignity

Late last month I joined with other religious leaders, Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish, to file an amicus curiae brief with the Supreme Court of the United States on behalf of the State of Oregon in the case of Alberto Gonzales, Attorney General v. the State of Oregon. Specifically, our brief asked the Supreme Court to …

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Q & A:

"I wonder if fiddling around on the periphery on the issues

of gay and lesbian rights can ever yield what the Church

lacks: a compelling vision which, if received and fulfilled,

would improve humanity as a whole. Christianity has no

unique truth and its claims, like those of all various

religions, is that it must rest upon a "Thus saith the Lord."

My own view, an ever-changing one I admit, is that the

Church has no transcendent truth to offer and knows it full

well. If nothing you offer has self-evident merit and you

can't admit the truth and survive as an organization, then

you resort to either intimidating everyone within into an

orthodoxy no one sees the sense or benefit in obeying any

longer or you wander aimlessly about preaching inoffensive

feel-good messages that everyone agrees with anyway without

getting out of bed early on a Sunday AM. Both directions

lead to irrelevance and that is the crux of the matter. The

Church is irrelevant because truth is irrelevant to the

Church and it has nothing to offer that I can't get elsewhere

without having to abandon my common sense or individual

autonomy. It either demands orthodoxy in matters even school

children should know are primitivistic and silly or it

demands orthodoxy toward a nameless Care Bear worldview that

scarcely needs a Church to propose it. Primitive tribal

codes or anomie. Not much to choose between and not much to

justify buildings, clergy, tax exemptions, satellite

channels, etc. Jesus was either a deity or a lay preacher.

Either there is a Christian God whose moral judgment is

somehow clearer than our own and should be accepted, assuming

it will provide a better result than a life of our own

devising, or the religion is simply one of many religious

delusions and a childish self-indulgence that intelligent

modern humanity should leave behind. I don't see a middle

ground that withstands rational examination. Even ER

physicians know there is a time to stop trying to resuscitate

a corpse."

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17 August 2005: The Emerging Church

Time after time I am asked by people to describe what the church of the future will look like. It seems to these questioners that one who has written a book entitled A New Christianity for a New World should be able to address that question. That is especially an expectation since one chapter in …

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Q & A:

I first heard of you when driving back to Melbourne from

Adelaide when you were interviewed by the Australian

Broadcasting Company. I subsequently purchased some of your

books and the theories you put forward opened up a completely

new way to appreciate Christianity. The only disappointing

thing to me seemed that you didn't stress in sufficient

detail your thoughts on the likelihood of an after life and

what form you believe it would take.

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10 August 2005: Theology and Baseball

Last month an anonymous member of my class at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, left this unsigned question on my lectern: “How can you be so right about religion and so wrong about baseball?” I did not have the opportunity to address this profound theological concern in the class, so I have decided …

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Q & A:

Dear Friends,

I really do enjoy your responses to our occasional guest

columnists. The response to The Rev. Gretta Vosper's column

"POISED" was by volume the largest we have ever received. I

am happy to run, in place of the Question and Answer feature

of this column today, a small sampling of your mail. I have

identified the writers with the names that they used and the

places they live if they noted that. All I had in some cases

was an e-mail name or a state. If you want your full name

and place of residence used when your letters are printed you

need to enclose that information. I am happy to identify you

whatever way you identify yourself.

New subscribers who may not have seen Gretta's column, which

ran on July 6, 2005, or those subscribers who would like to

read it again in the light of these responses may access her

column by going to www.bishopspong.com.

Your mail each week is gratifying even when you write to

express a contrary point of view or to point out a mistake

that my usually infallible editor (my wife Christine) has

missed. I read them all. I respond to many of them through

the column. I wish I could respond to each one individually

but the volume would require every minute of the day and a

staff that I do not have.

I send you all my best wishes.

— John Shelby Spong

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3 August 2005: Pre-Modern Theology in Public Life

When the hurricane named ‘Dennis’ placed weary Floridians under water in the first major Caribbean disaster of 2005, their Governor Jeb Bush, reflecting on the recent pounding his state has taken, made an interesting, an almost stream of consciousness, observation. “I think there is a legitimate feeling,” he said, “Why me? What did I do …

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Q & A:

How do I communicate with someone who only responds with biblical quotations?

Robert from Denver, Colorado, writes:

How do I keep my head in a place of peace when people try to push their religious views on me?

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27 July 2005: A New Dark Age Begins

Several years ago, in a column about the harassment, removal and silencing of Roman Catholic scholars like Hans Kung, Leonardo Boff, Charles Curran and Edward Schillebeeckx by that church, I referred to the leader of this “Inquisitional” mentality, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, as “the pit bull of the Vatican.” Little did I realize that this church’s …

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Q & A:

To my readers:

This week, in place of the Question and Answer feature of this column, I am pleased to turn this space over to some of you by printing excerpts from the incredible volume of mail I received in response to guest columnist Dr. James Hecht's piece on the struggle in the Middle East to find peace, entitled "Brokering the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict". That column ran on May 18th, 2005, and if you missed it or want to read it again, subscribers may do so by visiting http://www.bishopspong.com and clicking the "Log In" tab. Peace in the Middle East is still elusive, but until it is found peace in the world will remain an unfulfilled dream. Your comments were worth sharing broadly.

John Shelby Spong


Daryl Peter writes:

"I think there is one thing lacking in Dr. Hecht's argument. Did the Palestinians aid and abet those who attempted to drive the Jews into the sea? I think the answer is yes. What then should be their reward for such treachery? The Arab world could easily have assimilated the displaced Palestinians and refused. Why? It seems to me there are quite a few nations in the Middle East who come to the table with unclean hands not just Jews and Americans. Until the entire Arab world and especially the U.N. agree this is a real mess and no one is guiltless can the problem begin to be resolved."

Martin Crim writes:

"The only element Dr. Hecht left out of the equation is that evangelical Christians form a strong pro-Israel lobby that is actually more extreme than AIPAC. Because they see the creation of the modern nation of Israel as fulfillment of Biblical prophecy, they are opposed to any steps toward peace with the Palestinians if that would require giving up "Judea and Samaria" as they call it."

Sheldon Kronfeld of San Diego writes:

"Without hesitation I agree with Dr. Hecht that the plight of the Palestinians is one of misery, suffering, subjugation and humiliation. I have a concern about his conclusion about where the responsibility for this unfortunate situation lies. Nowhere does Dr. Hecht indicate that he conferred with Israelis at all. Permit me to make mention a few of the hopes that Israel has had with respect to its Arab Palestinian neighbors.

"We appeal

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20 July 2005: Political Fundamentalism

I listen to the rhetoric. It makes rational sense at first glance but the argument is circular and the feelings are hostile. Yet it has a familiar ring. I have heard it somewhere before. “The president wants to appoint a justice to the Supreme Court who will “interpret the constitution not amend it.” ” We …

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Q & A:

"Our diocese has a linked relationship with one of the dioceses in southern Sudan. Terrible conditions. Our bishop and his wife visited the area (Kajo Keji) for three weeks several months ago. Our diocese has responded generously to pleas for food and other assistance. As it often happens, once caring people become personally exposed to conditions of millions upon millions in the developing world and have an opportunity to compare and contrast, the result - certainly by most Christians I have known - is a strong motivation to respond. In Swaziland in January, I guided our rector through a nine-day tour of conditions and the AIDS situation in Swaziland - same response. My bias as a Christian has been for many years that many faith groups place a significant emphasis and focus on the importance of belief as compared with the importance of behavior.

I recall a number of passages in the New Testament that cite Christ's focus on loving God and our neighbors. From my personal perspective, love of a neighbor and all of its critical interpretations receives much less focus and emphasis in the Church than love of God. What usually occurs after a meaningful experience with poverty, loss of hope and inequity, there is a brief flash of sympathy, often action of some sort - some of which is indeed useful. But sooner or later there seems to be a return for our church leaders to fall back on what appears to me to be some fuzzy interpretations that occurred many centuries ago and would never stand active interpretation.

So, as I challenge church leaders, clergy and congregations, my question relates to how I can encourage them to review one of the essential mandates from Christ - his clear and emphatic emphasis on our responsibilities toward our fellow human beings."

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