The Second Fundamental: The Literal Accuracy of the Virgin Birth, Part Two

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 25 April 2007 0 Comments
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I was introduced to your Internet essays only a few months ago and was so impressed with your ideas that I purchased and read your book A New Christianity for a New World. I heartily agree with your arguments against the existence of a theistic God and with your discussion of the implications to which such arguments lead. However, there is one fundamental implication that was not discussed in this book: the issue of immortality. As a scientist trained in physiology and biochemistry, I find it impossible to believe in the existence of life after death. I would be greatly interested in your comments on immortality, a topic intimately associated with all religious belief.


Thanks for your letter. I wrestle with that question

constantly. If I write another book it will be on that subject. I have

worked on it for years. I find myself torn between my understanding of God

that involves an unending relationship and the various religious concepts of

life after death, which have little meaning for me. The very use of the

word 'after' involves a dimension of time that is simply not appropriate to

what we are seeking to describe, since time itself is a category that makes

sense only inside the time/space universe that we human beings inhabit. I

think the use of the idea of life after death as a method of behavior

control is not worthy of further consideration. It is obvious that the deep

survival instinct born of our evolutionary past drives most of our life

after death concepts. Despite these concerns I am still not able to dismiss

the possibility that we are and will be invited into the eternity which God


It is still hard to know even where to begin to address this

subject. I have become convinced that one essential first step is to learn

to embrace death as a friend not an enemy, because that introduces us to a

new dimension of what it means to be human. Whatever heaven means it is my

conviction that it was not designed to define a quantity but a quality of


I have a profound sense of what it means to be a

self-conscious human being. The gift of self-consciousness makes us capable

of communing with the source of life itself, however that source is defined.

Whatever conclusions I finally work out on this subject will be speculative

at best for they are little more than a human attempt to describe that which

is beyond every human capability to describe. I will, however, work from

the human to the divine since there is no other way that any human being can

work. The acceptance of death as a fact of life is a doorway into a new,

rich understanding of what life is all about. Heaven, if it is real, and I

think it is, can only be another dimension of life itself.

I have written twice about this subject. One was the last

chapter of my book, "Resurrection: Myth or Reality?" The other was in the

next to the last chapter of "Why Christianity Must Change or Die." Those

two places represent all I can now say with integrity on this subject. I

will write this next book, only if I can find a way to say more.

My best.

John Shelby Spong




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