08/25/2005: Thoughtful Answers from Bishop Spong
I get some stuff from various mailing lists and this one is well written. Plus, Iím often struck by how well thought-out and thoughtful is Bishop Spong when he answers questions he gets on his website:
"Ron from the Internet writes:
"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."
You raise fascinating and challenging issues for which I am grateful. You articulate well basic questions that the Church's leadership tends so often to ignore. Let me respond.
Human beings are responsible for the creation of every doctrine of God, every creed and every religious system. Since that it true then we should expect to see our religious ideas be constantly corrupted by the human need to control and to build power. Truth is always perceived subjectively which means that truth is perceived differently in every generation. There may well be objective and eternal truth but no human being possesses it, no human being can perceive it and no human being can articulate it. The assumption that one can is the place where destructive religious arrogance and the sin of idolatry always begin. How one understands reality, the level of knowledge that one possesses, and the time in which one lives are always factors in processing what religious people mistakenly call "Revealed Truth." That is when we make claims such as "our Pope is infallible," or "our Bible is inerrant," or my religion possesses the only pathway to God. Most religious systems never escape this mentality since certainty, even a pretended certainty, seems to bring a much-desired security to its adherents. However, human history reveals that when a religious group claims certainty, it also becomes demonic and tries to kill anyone who disagrees, challenges or threatens their claim to truth. Your criticism of Christianity seems to be a criticism of what the Church has done to and with Christians and others over the centuries. I think that is a valid criticism and one that must be heard.
At the same time, however, we need to recognize that while human beings certainly create their explanations of God, they do not, I am persuaded, create the experience of transcendence, the holy, and the Other that we have come to call God. So while I am willing to challenge any human explanation of God, I do not think that I can challenge either effectively or ultimately the reality of the experience of God.
Religious systems grow out of that experience. I live within the Christian religious system. I walk the Christ path into the mystery and wonder of God. I make no claim that my path is the only path or that my truth is the only truth. I regard God alone as Truth and I know that I do not possess God. I only journey toward God.
When I look at the life of Jesus, I see one who is fully alive, one who is totally and wastefully loving, one who has the courage and the ability to be all that he can be. Because I define my experience of God as that reality in which I find the fullness of life, the totality of love and the Ground of Being, I have no difficulty saying that in the life of Jesus, I believe I confront the presence of God. That is why I am committed to walking the Christ path.
Finally, I take seriously the words that the author of the Fourth Gospel put into the mouth of Jesus. Attempting to describe his purpose, Jesus is made to say, "I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly." If that is a statement of the purpose of Christ then I believe that must also be the purpose of the Church. That is where I find Christianity's compelling vision. The task of the Church is to build a world in which every person has a better chance to live fully, to love wastefully and to be all that that person has the capability of being. So anything that diminishes life for anyone, whether on the basis of race, ethnic origin, gender, sexual orientation or even religion is evil and must be confronted. Anything that enhances life, increases love and calls others into being is good and must be encouraged.
It seems so simple to me. My work for justice for gay and lesbian people, that is the issue that prompted your letter, is not to me tangential to Christianity. It is rather the very heart of what it means to be a Christian. I hope this will help to clarify the issue. Thank you for forcing me to think this through again."
-- John Shelby Spong
If only some *supposed* preachers of the Gospels "thought" before they stick their *frustrated* Feet in their BIG mouths.
Karen on 08.25.05 @ 04:11 AM CST