"Fearlessness is the first requirement of spirituality. Cowards can never be moral." -- Mahatma Gandhi

Thursday, April 7, 2011

John Shelby Spong: A Rejection of Fundamentalism

Bishop John Shelby Spong (Retired),
Episcopal Church Diocese of Newark, NJ
"We've reached a point in our society," remarks retired Episcopalian Bishop, John Shelby Spong, "where the message that comes out of the church doesn't make contact with the world where people are living. So religion, Christianity in its traditional form, is more and more a relic of yesterday. And I don't think you can revivify a corpse."

In the attached video, Spong, a very 'controversial' figure of what might be called "the religious left" in America, brings his wide and ecumenical knowledge of biblical history and interpretation to bear not only on the story of Jesus as recounted in the Gospels, but more so on the dominant refrains of fundamentalist Christianity that are emanating from America's "religious right," alienating whole generations in America and abroad who rarely, if ever, attend church services - even for weddings and funerals.

Born into a fundamentalist evangelical culture, Spong (who was raised and schooled in North Carolina) rejects the literalist interpretation of the Bible which seems, today, to be the dominant feature of Christian life in America, going so far as to say that traditional theism itself may have to be rejected.

"The two movements that I see - at least in America, today - in religion," Spong says, "are a rush back to a fundamentalistic, pre-modern mentality that reminds me of simply an hysterical response to the death of religion. . . . And the other response, which is even bigger but doesn't make the press, is the response of those who say 'if that's what religion is, this fundamentalistic, pre-modern thing, I don't want anything to do with it.'"

Spong criticizes both "the Church" in America for promoting a form of pre-modern theism which focuses primarily on sexual matters that it knows little about, as well as the political right in America which has embraced a fundamentalist and militaristic tradition that panders to the population which embraces such fundamentalist religious views.

"God is a mystery into which we walk," Spong observes, "and the more deeply you walk the more that mystery just surrounds you."

"I consider myself today a God-intoxicated person," Spong says, "almost a mystic; but, I have no idea of what human words I would use to articulate 'who' God is, or 'what' God is; I can articulate (however) what my experience of God is."

Spong's informed but inevitably controversial views should perhaps be "required viewing" for the spiritual but not religious who are sick of the debate between fundamentalists and scientific rationalists and are still in search of spiritual teachings which are relevant to their modern, post-rationalist lives.

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