The Origins of the Bible, Part II Biblical Contradictions, Discredited Attitudes and Horror Stories

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 19 March 2008 0 Comments
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I have been an excited student of yours since the first time
you came to our church in Austin, Texas. You affirmed the
beliefs I held from childhood while I "served" as a daughter of a
Baptist minister. I knew I didn't buy what was being sold, but I
had no way, short of blasphemy, to express my feelings.

I have a cousin in his mid 60's who has had a stroke, making
his life hell on Earth. He is a person whose beliefs consist of
seeing God in the beauty around him and has always expressed a
lot of gratitude for his simple, joy-filled life. He has made
the decision to take his life, because day by day it becomes more
unbearable. His life has little "quality" right now. He is
alone. Friends have scattered and I'm the only connection he has
with the outside world. Now that he has faced the fact that he
really does want to go on to whatever is next, his childhood
fundamentalism teachings of hell keep cropping up and he becomes
riddled with fear. While I want him to be in full control of his
decision to stay or go, and I do not share with him that I couldn't
live the life he's in, I would also like to assist him in getting
beyond this fear of hell and a punishing God. What do you say to
people who want to control the process of their death?


I am on the board of "Compassion in Dying" in
Oregon and believe very strongly in a person's right to determine
how and when he or she dies when the quality of life disappears.
I believe it is a life-affirming decision for people facing
situations like that of your cousin, to say "what I am now living
is not life and I do not choose to participate in this charade
any further."

Had modern medicine not advanced as rapidly as it has
over the last century, the probability is that we would not have
to make this decision. A century ago your cousin would have
already died as a result of the stroke. Those who argue that
suicide violates God's power over life and death do not seem to
realize that so does all modern medicine. If left to "God's
Plan" most of us would be dead by age 40.

The issue about the fear of a punishing deity is quite
another situation. It is little more than bad theology, clung to
in ignorance and based on medieval practices of behavior control.
Those ideas should be dismissed out of hand for being the
superstitious things they are. If your cousin is still under the
control of that kind of mentality, it will be hard to help him
into a new understanding at this point in his life. That needed
to be done while he was healthy of mind and body. It is probably
too late now. My advice since you live in Austin, Texas, would
be to consult someone at the Austin Pastoral Counseling Center,
which is affiliated with the Episcopal Theological
Seminary of the Southwest
there in Austin. I don't know the
people who are there now but I knew the founder of that
counseling center and I don't think that institutions wander too
far from their own history, so I would tend to trust its

I wish you well.

John Shelby Spong




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