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21 December 2005: The Virgin in the New Testament — Part 2
Last week we looked at the New Testament’s portrait of the mother of Jesus and the Virgin Birth. It is scant, late developing material filled with mythological details. That quick analysis served to make us aware that most of the images we hold of the mother of Jesus are not biblical at all. They are …
The subject is Children's Sunday school. The hypothesis is that Sunday
school is counter productive and marginally threatens the
collective/progressive understanding of the Christian faith. Sunday School
teaching is necessarily taught at a level that is understandable by
children. Even in the more liberal churches, Old Testament scripture
lessons include stories about Abraham and Sarah, Noah, Moses, King David,
etc. My son at age 6 or 7 asked where Noah put dinosaurs on his boat.
Regardless the dimensions of the boat, whether the animals were in pairs or
sevens, or whether or not dinosaurs existed before "creation" - the simple
fact is that the metaphorical message, or truth is abandoned in favor of a
good tale. The same is true of the New Testament scripture, particularly
with regard to miracles and Jesus - absent the cultural and historical
context. The concept that the Bible is a divinely inspired search for the
human condition in relation to each other and to God is simply not a concept
that is teachable to young children. Statistics and psychology tell us that
teens abandon the Church as an act of independence and, if they return, it
is typically with their own children. They return more often than not with
a children's Sunday school understanding of their faith. Conservatives,
fundamentalists, make them comfortable at this level. Christianity becomes
stuck. Would you please comment?
14 December 2005: The Virgin in the New Testament
As the Christmas season arrives, the icon of the Virgin Mary enters the consciousness of the Christian world in a significant way. She is universally recognized with her eyes lowered, the infant Jesus in her arms, and located in a stable. Joseph normally stands guard behind the manger. Sheep and cattle fill in the humble …
I am a man without a face. All I see in this world is unfairness and I feel that my life has been filled with sadness, loneliness and depression. I've been driven to the point of suicide. I ask you: how can I accept that life is unfair and still find a reason to believe in God?
7 December 2005: Was Jesus a Feminist in a Patriarchal World?
If, as I have argued, organized religion is almost universally anti-female and even misogynistic, was Jesus different? Did he stand outside that pattern? Certainly, the religion developed by his disciples has historically made major contributions to the denigration of women. One only has to look at the church debates that have resulted in the exclusion …
After watching a Tom Brokaw special on the growth of
Evangelicals and their huge churches, I am rather appalled
that their "love" for humanity does not include homosexuals,
people that get abortions or gay and lesbian couples who want
to marry! How can people believe in such a narrow minded,
limited God? Are they really growing as powerful as they
30 November 2005: How Religion defined Women as the Source of Evil
We began this series of columns by searching for the source of the almost universally negative definition of women that is held in religious circles. Somehow it has been imperative for men to portray women as weak, dependent wards, wrapping that portrayal in the garments of patriarchal religion. This definition used what they called God-given …
Much is in the news of late about the AIDS epidemic in
Africa. In the past, the focus has been on condom
distribution that has helped Uganda in particular to reduce
AIDS infection. But now, with the influence of Pope
Benedict, the Bush administration and ultra conservative
religious groups, the BBC and MSNBC and other news agencies
report that abstinence is now being promoted as the only
workable solution. This had resulted in a shortage of
condoms and an increase in HIV infection.
BBC reported that Stephen Lewis, U.N. Secretary General's
special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa has said that
fundamental Christian ideology is driving Washington's AIDS
assistance program known as PEPFAR with disastrous results,
including condom shortages in Uganda. Uganda has previously
cut HIV infection rates to about 6% from 30% in the early
1990s. Now U.S. legislation requires 1/3 of AIDS prevention
funding be spent to promote abstinence.
I see the promotion of abstinence as an unrealistic
solution in countries where literacy and knowledge of modern
science is often very limited. Do the Pope, President Bush
and the ultra conservatives have their heads in the sand on
this? I would be interested in your opinion on this.
23 November 2005: The Bias Against Women in the Judeo-Christian Tradition
Last week I began an exploration of the origins of that incessant religious negativity toward women. I located its deepest root in the evolutionary process where survival becomes the ultimate self-conscious value that dominates the human psyche. I suggested that part of this survival process involved the definition of the stronger and faster male as …
When the lights go out and doors are closing, where does
one find the courage to look for the way? I know this will
sound like a bizarre question but I just finished your
autobiography HERE I STAND: MY STRUGGLE FOR A CHRISTIANITY OF
INTEGRITY, LOVE AND EQUALITY, and am sincerely impressed by
the apparent fact that you found a reason to continue despite
an unrelenting opposition. To what do you attribute this
courage, drive, resolve, or stubbornness?
15 November 2005: Women: Religion’s Traditional Victims
Have you ever noticed that organized religion has historically been a major force in the oppression of women? Have you ever wondered why? The battle over abortion being waged in America today, with the support of both the Vatican and the religious right is simply the latest chapter in this perennial war. Since ‘religion’ is …
9 November 2005: Troy D. Perry – One of God’s Original Saints
It all began on October 6, 1968. On that day, twelve people gathered in a house in Los Angeles in response to an advertisement in a four-page magazine for homosexuals called “The Advocate.” This ad was addressed to gay men and lesbians who might want to be a part of a Christian Church in which …
The one area where I would welcome more thought and
discussion concerns the too rapid "doing away" with all the
old forms, rituals, hymns, etc. which reflect a theological
perspective to which we cannot subscribe. We accomplish
little if we drive people away rather than get them to move.
And some of the old forms can, I think, be used in new ways
while being respected as part of our history - a part that is
no longer logical or relevant but is part of our transition.
It's like the singing of hymns such as "In the Garden" - the
theology is lousy but the tune evokes positive feelings.
Perhaps such "dinosaurs" can be utilized as tools, by which
to share new directions and interpretations that make more
2 November 2005: 2000 Deaths Later, the Time Has Come to Render to Caesar His Due!
A well-known and oft-quoted verse in Matthew’s Gospel portrays Jesus, responding to a question designed to trap him between competing loyalties. Where does the line fall between what one owes to God and what one owes to the State? To this question Jesus responded, “You render to Caesar that which belongs to Caesar and to …
19 October 2005: Surveying Fifty Years with the Class of 1955
Nothing forces an awareness of the passing of time into one’s consciousness quite like a school reunion. Recently my classmates from our seminary days gathered to recognize the 50th anniversary of our graduation. We began our life together as sixty men (no women were then allowed), all seeking ordination to the priesthood of the Episcopal …
My question for you concerns prayer that is directed to
those other than the ultimate God. People pray to humans who
have moved on to whatever happens after death - to Jesus of
Nazareth, to Mary his mother, and to the vast litany of
saints, many of whom have been declared patrons of causes,
events and professions. All of these are, or were, human
beings who have passed over the threshold of death. Does not
this type of prayer assume the immortality of the individual
human spirit or soul? What are your thoughts on the
existence, activity and power of the individual soul/spirit
after death? For example, I admire the writings of Thomas
Jefferson but I don't try to contact him in his "other world"
for enlightenment. Why should I pray to St. Cecelia to help
me play the right notes or to St. Jude for some lost cause,
or to St. Mary to intercede for me with her son? Do these
individual souls still exist and do they have any power or
inclination to relate to us? Why should I pray to Jesus of
Nazareth if he has returned to the Divine? If God is indeed
Being, Life and Love, do not all human souls melt back into
this Absolute after death? In a larger sense if the
individual spirits of the saints remain intact, does not the
soul of every human endure eternally as a unique spirit?
This has become a major stumbling block on my path to the
Divine. Can you help?
12 October 2005: Is History Repeating Itself?
“Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” These words of philosopher George Santayana are terrifyingly true. Recently, I have looked again at what happened to the Jews in Christian Europe in the 1930s and 1940s and compared that to what I believe is happening today to homosexual people in the United …
On July 13, 2005, this column ran a story entitled
"Phyllis' Garden." In that column I asked my readers to send
Phyllis Welder a letter or card to thank her for her part in
beautifying her surroundings by turning a tiny piece of
ground 18 inches by 36 inches underneath a street sign in
front of her house into a lovely garden for all to enjoy. It
was the major contribution of this 85 year old widow to the
community where she had spent all of her life. At last count
224 of you did that. The mail created quite a bit of
conversation in the village of Stoneleigh, where suddenly
this simple and unprepossessing woman received more mail each
day than anyone else in the village and sometimes more than
everyone else put together! I want to thank you for doing
that and these letters will reveal that your response brought
great joy to this lady and offered an opportunity for her
community to see greatness in the ordinary which was the
subject of the article. For those who might have missed this
column or for new subscribers who did not receive it you may
read it by going online to http://www.bishopspong.com. If you
do that it is not too late to send Phyllis a letter from you.
I would love to see the tally reach 300 letters. My thanks
to all of you for taking the time to do this little act of
John Shelby Spong
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