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15 February 2006: Jesus for the Non-Religious, Part I

Most Christians seem to assume that the details of their faith system dropped out of heaven in a fully developed form. Nothing could be further from the truth. The creeds began as baptismal formulas in the 3rd century and did not receive the shape we now recognize until the 4th century. Doctrines like the Trinity …

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Q & A:

Overcoming the widespread Christian belief that "Jesus

died for my sins" seems an insurmountable challenge!

Preachers, liturgical rites, hymns and religious

education curricula continue to reinforce "atonement

theology/theories." Would you do a series on

"atonement theology/theories" - their origins,

rationale, continued justification, etc.? Personally

and pastorally, "atonement" thinking creates a mire of

destructive results and I, for one, would well

appreciate your cogent analysis of how we might best

approach this.

Read the Answer...

8 February 2006: The Church and the Flu

Dear Friends, This week I introduce you to the first guest columnist of this year 2006. Each year I try to identify four unique voices of those who labor in the same area of life that I find myself working. They are people who either have thought about things in a new way or even …

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Q & A:

Just read your latest mailing with great delight but

sadly must comment that there are too many educated

people who are still ignorant about the origins of

homosexuality including - sadly - many members of my

medical community. I recently went to a church in New

Mexico where the pastor was a physician as were

several "high rolling" members, who made it quickly

clear to me that they were a branch of the (Episcopal)

church that separated from those who let homosexuals

in. I was both disgusted and amused because, in

looking round me, there were numerous homosexuals in

the church group. As a psychiatrist, I am probably

more aware of this than the "ordinary" member. Had I

been more than visiting, I probably would have made a

loud noise about the whole thing as I have in other

churches. I applaud you for your continuing efforts

to bring reason to society about this issue as many

others of us also do in our own ways.

Read the Answer...

1 February 2006: Facing the Abortion Issue as Mature Religious People

There were many issues raised at the confirmation hearings on the nomination of Samuel Alito to serve on the Supreme Court. Yet only one of them, the issue of abortion, exerted so much power that it seemed like the proverbial “elephant in the room.” It was present from two different perspectives as senators from both …

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Q & A:

I'm 56 years old. My mother and I are at opposite

political poles. The only thing I can say in her

favor is that she is not a fundamentalist "Christian"

but she espouses nearly all the hate rhetoric of

neo-con/neo fascists. When she told me that her

favorite Fox "newscaster" was Bill O'Reilly, I told

her that that was more than I ever wanted to know

about her. I am ashamed of her, I don't like her, and

I don't like talking with her. We have nothing in

common by way of beliefs or even taste. In short, I

don't know how I could be related to her and, in fact,

wish I weren't! On the other hand, I'm sure that

somewhere inside I must have some love for her since

this whole thing bothers me so. My godfather, a

wonderful retired Episcopal priest, keeps saying, "She

is your mother," and that resonates but honestly, I

just can't bring myself to talk to her. She lives in

Kansas, I'm in Texas and the most I can do is to send

a card on Mother's Day and on her birthday. I even

find the cards difficult to sign, "Love, Doug." Do

you have any suggestions? I love my godfather and my

godmother but I have my obvious limitations. Can you


Read the Answer...

25 January 2006: To Hell with Limbo / The Newest Act of an Irrelevant Christianity

Perhaps the second silliest thing that religious institutions and its leaders can do is to pretend that they know what will happen after one dies and then to be delusional enough to think that they can actually describe it. This ranks as number two on the silliness list only because the one thing sillier than …

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Q & A:

Why are Americans so preoccupied with the abortion

issue when other ways of protecting human life are

ignored? For instance, the infant mortality rate is

more than twice as high in the US compared to my

country (Sweden). It's even higher than Cuba's. How

embarrassing that should be for one of the wealthiest

countries in the world! (I guess it must be related to

poverty and the social model that the U.S. has

embarked upon). Secondly, when you point this out to

Americans, they just won't believe it; they think it's

some kind of propaganda. Where does all this

misdirected patriotism come from? Is it Christian to

believe that God has a special relation to the United


Read the Answer...

18 January 2006: A Post Christmas Look Back at the Stories of Jesus” Birth

The Senate of the United States has recently engaged in a protracted process before voting on the President’s nomination of one to sit on the nation’s highest court. It was a highly politicized, televised spectacle designed to influence public opinion for or against Appeals Court Judge Samuel Alito. Lobbying groups joined the battle, spending millions …

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Q & A:

Dear Friends:

The Supreme Court's decision in the case of

Gonzales vs. the State of Oregon was announced

yesterday in favor of the State of Oregon's 'right to

die with dignity' laws and physician assisted suicide

under some carefully articulated guidelines. It was a

case in which I filed with the Supreme Court an amicus

brief in support of the State of Oregon. I had

previously written a column on this case that was

published on August 23, 2005, entitled "On Death with

Dignity." Subscribers may look it up and reread it if

they desire. When the decision was handed down I

issued the following statement to the press and

enclose it here in place of the Question and Answer

feature for this week. I think this is a decision of

great import and it received the lead position in the

New York Times' first page on January 18th. The Bush

Administration announced that it was "disappointed in

the decision" because, they said, Mr. Bush wants to

encourage "a culture of life." With over 2200

fatalities among American service personnel in the

Iraq War, over 16,000 wounded, over 30,000 Iraqi

deaths and more people executed in Texas than in all

the other 49 states put together while he was

Governor, I must say I wonder what he means by "a

culture of life." This is an issue I would love to see

debated publicly and in this column. I welcome your


John Shelby Spong

Read the Answer...

17 January 2006: Did Jesus Really Raise the Dead? Part II – The Widow’s Son in the Village of Nain

Last week we began a series on the gospel narratives that purport to show that Jesus had the power to raise the dead. There are only three accounts in the Bible that appear to make that claim. We opened this series by examining the first of these three episodes, the story of Jesus raising the …

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Q & A:

We are studying "A New Christianity for a New World" at our church study

group. One question raised last night was the implication of continuing

with the words, "This is the Word of God" following our bible readings in

church on Sundays. What alternative words could better reflect the role of

the Bible in post-modern Christianity?

Read the Answer...

17 January 2006: A Conversation in Grebenstein, Germany

This week, I begin a series of columns on the claims made in the New Testament that Jesus of Nazareth had the power to raise the dead back to life. For most people that claim is both vague and firm. I will try to clarify its vagueness and in the process destabilize its firmness. First, …

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Q & A:

Belief Net is currently offering a self-administered theological inventory.

You answer a series of theological questions and end with a score that

places you in one of five categories along a spectrum ranging from atheism

to fundamentalism. Each of the five categories is characterized by typical

beliefs, plus the name of a prominent American churchman whose teaching and

preaching are examples of that style of belief. You will be relieved to

learn that you are the poster boy for the most liberal category, next to

atheism at the end of the spectrum.

Read the Answer...

11 January 2006: A Post Christmas Look Back at the Stories of Jesus” Birth

The Christian Church has just completed the celebration of the Twelve Days of Christmas. It may come as a big surprise for most people to be told that Christmas is a twelve-day celebration for the holiday seems quickly to wear out after its long anticipated welcome. Following the celebration of the day itself, Christmas carols …

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Q & A:

I am a lay preacher in the Methodist Church. I find

the hymns and prayers used in my church to be based on

images that are no longer meaningful to me. I

perceive you are also trying to update them. Are

there any books available that represent these new

liturgical understandings?

Read the Answer...

4 January 2006: The United Church of Canada Strikes Again

I have long admired the United Church of Canada. Born in the prairies of our northern neighbor in the 1920s by a merger primarily of the Presbyterian and Methodist Churches, consistently it has been willing to try new things that defy typical ecclesiastical expectations. The original decision to bring together two ethnically diverse traditions, one …

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Q & A:

Like you, I've long been skeptical of the supposed

"benefits" of circumcision and feel it is nothing more than

religion-endorsed genital mutilation performed on

unconsenting infants. Because of this, I continue to have

sharp pangs of remorse and regret over allowing my two sons

to be circumcised at birth.

This week, much to my surprise, a landmark study,

published in the journal Plos Medicine by the French national

agency for AIDS research, confirms that circumcision reduces

the risk of HIV infection dramatically, by as much as 60%.

If similar studies now underway in Kenya and Uganda

corroborate the results, circumcision could become a powerful

weapon-with condom use and other measures-in the fight

against AIDS. If valid, would such research change your

position on circumcision?

Read the Answer...

28 December 2005: A Meditation at the End of 2005

We human beings live consciously inside a medium called time. We experience everything in life as having a beginning and an ending. We count our age with annual birthdays, and our marriages with annual anniversaries. We evaluate history in units of time: years, decades and centuries. Because that is so it is inevitable that when …

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Q & A:

I go to a Presbyterian Church that is fairly progressive.

Sermons have included arguments for environmental

stewardship, non-literal interpretation of the Bible and a

general respect for science. Prayers don't generally ask God

to intervene physically. I like all those things. However,

there are still many traditional values embedded in the

music, language and customs of the church. Sometimes, when a

passage from the Bible is read aloud by a church member,

"this is the Word of the Lord" follows. The belief in

redemption through the death of Jesus is central. Theism is

of course deeply entrenched. What are your thoughts on this

situation? I would not be surprised if many others wrestle

with the same issue.

Read the Answer...

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