What Does the High School Generation Today Think About Politics in 2008?

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 4 June 2008 0 Comments
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You recently suggested that the split in Christianity today is
between those who assert yesterday's religious explanations and those
who find no meaning in yesterday's religious explanations and give up
on religion altogether. If that is so, is Christopher Hitchens' book,
God Is Not Great, a message from the religiously disillusioned?
If so how do those religious people who defend the past deal with that


If I understand your question correctly, let me begin
with three declarative statements:

1. Religion must always be questioned

2. Theism can be abandoned without abandoning God

3. Christopher Hitchens' book is a real asset to the current

Now just let me put some flesh on each of those statements.

Since human beings are creatures of both time and space, and since we
know from the work of Albert Einstein that time and space are relative
categories that expand and contract in relation to each other, then we
must conclude that any statement made by anyone, who is bound by time
and space, will never be absolute. There are no propositional
statements, secular or religious, that are exempt from this principle.
Words reduce all human experiences to relativity. That is why every
religious formula must be questioned; that is why no word of any book
is inerrant; that is why no proclamation of any ecclesiastical leader
is infallible; and finally, that is why no religious system or
institution can ever claim to possess the true faith. Religion is a
journey into the mystery of God. It is not a system of beliefs and
creeds and when it becomes that, it always becomes idolatrous and
begins to die.

Theism is not God. It is a human definition of God that assumes that
God is a being, perhaps the "Supreme Being," supernatural in power,
dwelling outside the world (usually thought of as above the sky), who
periodically invades the world in miraculous ways to answer human
prayers or to effect the divine will.

It is my sense that this definition of God has been mortally wounded
by the successive blows of Copernicus, Galileo, Isaac Newton, Charles
Darwin and Albert Einstein, just to name a few. I do not believe,
however, that this means that God has been mortally wounded even if
the theistic definition of God has been.

Suppose God is not defined as "a being," but is simply experienced as
a power, a presence. Then describing that experience is quite
different from claiming to know who or what God is. Then the question
is, "Are we delusional or is this experience real?" I think God is
real and I believe we are in the process of defining our God
experience in a new way that will replace the dying theistic
definition of the past.

Finally, Christopher Hitchens' book, God Is Not Great, is a
description of the theistic God of the past who is dying. The
theistic God certainly appears in the Bible and is guilty of many
things that are genuinely immoral, like killing the firstborn male in
every Egyptian household, stopping the sun in the sky to allow more
time for Joshua to slaughter the Amorites and ordering genocide
against the Amalekites through the prophet Samuel. Christians need to
remember that it has been the theistic God who has been responsible
for the development of such things as anti-Semitism, the Inquisition,
and the oppression of people of color, women and homosexual persons.
This deity has also been perceived as justifying war, fighting
crusades and creating slavery. Let us agree with Christopher Hitchens
that this God is not great. We need to challenge Christopher Hitchens'
assumption, however, that this is the only way we can think about or
conceptualize God.

I think of the God experience as the power of life, love and being
flowing through the universe and coming to consciousness in human
self-awareness alone. I therefore feel that by living fully, loving
wastefully and being all that I can be I can make the God experience
visible. I also believe that it is my Christian vocation to build a
world where all people have a better chance to live, love and to be.
It is when I do these two things, I believe, that I am engaging in the
essence of worship.

John Shelby Spong




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