Essay Archives View as a list
18 October 2006: Dallas, Texas: A New Vision
Dallas, Texas, has never been one of my favorite cities. Its image was firmly set for me during the course of a single month in 1963, when two events occurred that rocked this country. First, the American Ambassador to the United Nations, Adlai E. Stevenson Jr., was booed, abused and spat upon by a Dallas …
Several weeks ago I solicited reader comments on a letter from
Graeme Moore on torture. I promised to print the responses in place of the
regular question and answer feature to my column. The letters below are a
fulfillment of that promise. Thanks to all of you for your participation in
John Shelby Spong
11 October 2006: Questions and Answers
To My Readers: The correspondence that this column engenders is both appreciated and amazing. I feel the need to make sure that my readers know that all of your letters are read, even though the sheer volume makes even acknowledging them impossible without a full-time secretarial staff. The ones that we print represent only the …
4 October 2006: The Study of New Testament Miracles, Part III
In the opening column in this series on miracles in the Bible, I noted two things. First, the accounts of miracles in the Bible are generally limited to three cycles of stories within the biblical narrative. They are part of the Moses-Joshua cycle of stories, the Elijah-Elisha cycle of stories and the Jesus-Disciples of Jesus …
Why are so many of today's Christians so easily drawn away from Jesus'
message of LOVE and into the hateful, judgmental, xenophobic version of
Christianity that targets people who are gays/lesbians, Muslims, ACLU
supporters and others who want to embrace love as a basis for life? What
happened to the Golden Rule Christianity given that in the 1930's, Nazi
Germany engaged more than 400 fundamentalist organizations to fan the flames
for nationalism to help usher in fascism. What can progressives do to fight
the propaganda juggernaut of the Religious Right's adoption of
fundamentalist Christianity to move America into a modern fascism?
The Religious Right's fundamentalists attack on gays today as a "first
target" is reminiscent of what the Nazis did in the 1930's to desensitize
the public and prepare the way for other groups to be targeted.
27 September 2006: Small Leaders in A New Dark Age
At the end of the first of the two debates that most recently captured the attention of world opinion, a compromise was reached, but many people voiced their belief that the President of the United States would pay no more than lip service to this settlement. At the end of the second debate there was …
American response to American torture is perplexing. There can be no doubt
that American government officials, military and civilian, torture. They
may call it by other names but just as "a rose is a rose," so torture is
Setting aside for the moment the fact that the considerable evidence that
most "information" obtained through torture is unreliable, or worse, there
is a fundamental conflict between present day American Christian
Christianity and torture.
"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Christ's commandment
cannot be clearer. It is fundamental to Christian belief. It is the
bedrock of the Christian way. Torture cannot be reconciled with Christ's
commandment. One cannot be both a Christian and a torturer. America's
current President proudly and readily announces he is a "born again"
Christian. He is surrounded by persons of similar convictions. Many
Christian "leaders" support him. The President, however, has authorized
torture; he encourages its use even to the point of finding various dubious
and devious ways and means to avoid any attempts to curtail torture by
Americans or their proxies.
Why do American Christians and certain American Christian "leaders" support
torture? (Those people who torture and those people who order, advocate or
tolerate torture are equally culpable.) Many Americans contend that America
is a Christian nation. It would appear so based upon utterances and
statements of America's political elite and on the number of Americans who
profess to be Christians and belong to a congregation whose services they
attend on a regular and frequent basis. Can America be a Christian nation
when it tortures?
Why do American Christians not rise up to strike down those Americans who
torture? When will American Christians demand an end to torture? When will
Christian "leaders" take a public position, such as open letters against
torture? When will Christian preachers condemn torture from their pulpits?
When will Christian say loudly that torture is unchristian and un- American?
When will Christians demonstrate and protest torture in a manner similar to
their actions against choice? If Christians can stir up a storm in Florida
over the "right to die," when will they unleash a tempest in Washington
against torture? The current silence of American Christian is eerily
reminiscent of the silence of earlier generations against the evils of
racism. Perhaps it is to be expected that a people who lynched their fellow
citizens because of their race would torture their enemies.
20 September 2006: Why Did They Do It? Crosswalk America Revisited
In early September, I looked out from the pulpit of the historic Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C., preparing to address a group of foot-weary people who had just completed a twenty-five hundred mile, five million-step walk across America. I admired their energy and their dedication. I was in awe of their willingness to …
13 September 2006: Crosswalk America Arrives in Washington, DC
It began on April 16, 2006, following a sunrise service in Phoenix, Arizona. It ended on September 3, 2006, at a celebration in the Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, DC. Between those two dates, more than five million steps were taken, at least three pairs of shoes per person were worn out, over 2,500 …
Dr. Cato in his excellent essay several months ago, suggested
that Christians should take a position on the morally appropriate
allocation of medical resources in the event of a flu pandemic.
I believe that the likely allocation pattern can be easily
deduced from current public policy on health care: most resources
will go to the elderly through the Medicare program and the
children will be left out. This is misguided and immoral:
children and the parents who provided for them should receive the
highest priority. Medicare recipients like myself (age 69) are
grateful for the Medicare benefit, but the future of our society
does not depend much on 69 year-olds. It depends very much on
those who are now children. Even in the "best of times" (i.e. no
flu pandemic) millions of children go without routine
immunizations because their parents are poor, but too "rich" for
Medicaid. I propose that the children, rich and poor alike, have
what Dr. Cato calls ".the most value to (society)." I am a member
of a small Episcopal parish in Kansas and I have already written
my Congressional delegation about my views. You seem to suggest
that we should do more to influence (i.e. change) public policy.
6 September 2006: Miracles in the Bible, Part II
There is a great desire among religious people for quick answers to complex issues. “What is the meaning of prayer? What do you believe about life after death? Do you believe in Miracles?” These are questions that I am often asked when giving lectures, where I am limited to only a few minutes for each …
First of all, let me say that, if I can still consider myself a
Christian, it is thanks to you and your work. As a former
Catholic, I can only contrast your message of the God of Love
with the God of Judgment that we find in virtually all the modern
popes with the (miraculous?) exception of John XXIII. But I
sometimes find myself wondering: why not just do as I have done
and identify oneself primarily as a Buddhist? The Buddha isn't
God, he's just another human being who, like Jesus, pointed the
way for his fellow humans to find peace and liberation from
suffering. Scholars like Marcus Borg have indicated the
similarities between Jesus and the Buddha; and indeed, great and
inspiring people like Thich Nhat Hahn have indicated this in
their work as well.
Both Jesus and the Buddha point to the transforming power of
love/compassion that there is to be found in all of us. I think
that the traditional teachings on what has happened to Jesus
(sitting at the right hand of God) and the Buddha (becoming one
with the universe) are basically the same myths trying to capture
something that, so far, lies beyond the experience of most of us.
(Similarly, on a recent trip to Vietnam, I was struck by the
function that the bodhissatva of compassion Quan Am plays in
Vietnamese Buddhism - much the role of the Virgin Mary has in
Catholicism.) Part of me suspects that the reason why such
writers as you and Thich Nhat Hahn do NOT advocate Westerners
becoming Buddhists is because we have been raised in a culture
that, if it supports any spirituality, does so from a Christian
But for some of us, it is precisely the distortion of these
cultural aspects of the Christian message that makes it so hard
to see Jesus without what I call "spiritual interference." For
Catholics such as myself, it might be the spectre of the church
cover-ups of the abuse of so many children by its shepherds, or
the appalling cost wrought by Paul VI with his encyclical on
birth control. Maybe it is the reluctance of bishops to permit
women to even serve as altar girls, let alone priests and
bishops. Maybe some members of the Church Alumni Club have been
so worn out trying to see Jesus past the figures of Pat Robertson
and Jerry Falwell that they have forgotten how God's power shines
through such contemporary figures as Martin Luther King, William
Sloane Coffin, John Dear, Daniel Berrigan, Joan Chittester and
yourself. Am I on to something here? Basically my question is,
since the Church is so in need of reform, and since conservative
power is so entrenched, why not become a Buddhist? Or is there
really a difference I am missing?
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, …
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