Why Did You Write JESUS FOR THE NON-RELIGIOUS? The Perennial Question

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 28 February 2007 0 Comments
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When you were talking about secular humanism, you said

nothing awaits a secular humanist. Were you referring to non-realism (God

is not real) and the belief that this life is all the life we have? I

suddenly thought of Don Cupitt. I like a lot of what he writes but

absolutely cannot agree that God is not real or that we have no future in



I do not think you have quoted me correctly. In the lectures

in Mississippi, to which you are referring, I was saying that as

Christianity becomes more traditional and fundamentalist, it becomes less

and less appealing to thinking people who then see human secularism as their

only option. My point was that both biblical literalism and secular

humanism are, in my mind, dead end streets in the sense that neither offers

a way into a meaningful religious future. I am certain that I will line up

far closer to the secular humanists than I would to the religious

traditionalists. That is because the secular humanists and I live in the

same world, face the same issues and raise the same questions, while the

fundamentalists occupy some long passed century in most of their

presuppositions. The secular humanists and I, however, still differ

dramatically and completely in the content of our final commitment. I

believe that once we break open both our ideas about God and our

understandings of who Christ is and free them from the religious molds that

have captured them in Christian history; we can still present both God and

Christ in such a way as to attract the secular humanists into a realistic

Christian future. I sought to do that in my book entitled, "A New

Christianity for New World."

Don Cupitt has been a close friend and even a mentor to me for many years

now. You will find more of his titles in the bibliography of my books than

any other author. We have even debated our differences publicly at a

gathering of the Jesus Seminar in Times Square, New York. I think his

analysis of the crises facing contemporary Christianity is the most

brilliant and incisive I have ever read. That analysis first appeared as a

series of BBC TV documentaries, not unlike the Bill Moyer's series with

Joseph Campbell. These Cupitt presentations were later turned into a book

called, The Sea of Faith, published by the BBC Publishing Company, I

think in the year 1984.

Don has written many books since The Sea of Faith, but

all of them assume the analysis developed in this monumental and

groundbreaking work. Over the course of these successive books he developed

his concept of "Non-Realism." He says that all God talk is conducted in a

language that human beings have created and therefore all God talk is a

human creation. With that I am in full agreement. He then concludes that

God is, therefore, only the creation of human language and that there is no

reality to which that language points. With that conclusion I totally

disagree. While I am certain that the word "God" is a human attempt, in

admittedly human language, to describe a human experience, I affirm that the

experience is real. We call the God experience "otherness,"

"transcendence," or even "the holy." We recognize that this reality is not

capable of being defined, but that inability does not make this experience

unreal. I will not claim for my language or the language of the Bible,

creeds or doctrines any sense of ultimacy, inerrancy or infallibility. I do

believe, however, those words point to a reality that is transforming and

consciousness-raising and that this reality invites me into having the

courage to be more than I have been before. So I stand before this

undefined presence that I call God, in awe and wonder. God is real to me.

I create my definitions of God, but I do not create the God experience. So

I am theologically a "Realist" not a "non-Realist." I still admire and

profit from Don Cupitt's work and I still claim him as a special friend.

Thanks for your letter.

John Shelby Spong




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