The Fourth Fundamental: Miracles and the Resurrection, Part V

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 24 October 2007 0 Comments
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Thank you for being the light that you are,
shining forth with your truth as your heart guides you to do.
Thank you, too, for so eloquently and clearly stating so many of
the thoughts, feelings, and beliefs about Jesus and modern
Christianity that have been rolling inside me since I was first
old enough to understand what I was being taught in the Lutheran
churches. I fully believe that Jesus was the true embodiment of
God, or Spirit, or whatever name you choose to give to that
Universal Source, and that Jesus was the mirror that reflects
the "Christ nature" that is available to each one of us. I am
also of the belief that Mohammed, Buddha, and founders of other
religions expressed a similar God presence that spoke to people
whose traditions were different than those of the Jewish
background from which Jesus came. Because of this, I believe
that a true and dedicated follower of Islam or Buddhism or
Hinduism or any other religious tradition, though they are not
"born-again Christians," can express the same Christ nature that
Christians associate with a true connection with God or Spirit
or Universal Source; when they transition from this human life
to what they call paradise, nirvana, or enlightenment, they are
speaking about the same thing that Christians mean by "heaven."
I am interested in hearing your thoughts on other religious
traditions and their similarities to or difference with your
vision of a personal connection to God.


The first thing that all religious people need to
embrace is that no religious system can finally define God.
That is not within the human capacity. I wonder why we have
even thought it is. No one thinks that a horse, bound by the
limits of a horse's consciousness, can define what it means to
be human. Neither can human beings, bound by their human
consciousness, define what it means to be God. That is both
elementary and profoundly true.

Religious systems are also not just about
religion. They are inevitably deeply informed by the culture
out of which that religion system has grown. Christianity today
is the primary religion of the West and, through its missionary
efforts and colonial past, also finds expression in the Third

Islam is the primary religion of the Middle East.
Hinduism and Buddhism are the primary religions of the East.
Judaism, the mother of Christianity, is a minority presence in
both the Muslim Middle East and the traditionally Christian
West. It is difficult, perhaps even impossible, for one raised
in a different culture to embrace in a full way the religion of
a culture other than his or her own. I do not mean that a
Westerner cannot become a Buddhist or a Jew, or that a Middle
Easterner or a Chinese person cannot become a Christian - that
happens regularly, but it is never quite the same as it is for
one raised in the culture out of which that religious system
grew. That fact has led me to a new and different kind of
appreciation for religions other than my own. I am not
supportive of conversion activities. I have had significant
dialogues in my life with Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and Moslems.
I have been impressed by the fact that the religions of the
world all appear to be addressing the same universal questions
that my religion seeks to address. In our questions there is a
remarkable similarity. It is in the answers that we give to
these questions that we diverge and much of that divergence is
the product of acculturation.

I walk the Christian path. Christianity is my home.
This is the tradition in which I have been taught to seek God.
So I explore its depths and seek its truth. I do not doubt that
adherents of other faiths do the same inside their religious
traditions. I rejoice in that. I do not judge anyone. That is
God's role not mine.

John Shelby Spong




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