R.I.P. Michael Douglas Goulder 1927-2010

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 18 March 2010 0 Comments
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Andrew Corish from New South Wales, Australia, writes:

I have read everything I have come across from you since the late 80's and am grateful for your insights. I remain a faithful member of the Uniting Church in Sydney. I was speaking with a friend the other day who has left the Uniting Church to join a church that specializes in communicating with dead people. I know his wife lost a son (from a previous marriage) to a drug overdose and it seems to give her comfort. But really so sad. Others seem to base their faith on convincing themselves that they are speaking a special language. I remember a visiting evangelist when I was living in Finland saying that his "tongue" had been translated as being an Ethiopian priestly dialect. Strange that God would choose that rather than, say, French — or, if God really wanted a challenge, Finnish. Am I being too cynical? I have not read anything I can recall by you about such "holy gifts" as communing with the dead and speaking in tongues. Do you have a comment?


Dear Andrew,

No doctor should diagnose without seeing the patient and no columnist should pontificate on a personal situation about which he or she has no firsthand knowledge. So let me speak not to your example, but to the issues you raise in general.

First, there is a fine line sometimes between religious expressions and mental illness. Sometimes religion provides the setting that makes symptoms of mental illness seem acceptable.

Second, religion does not escape the activity that we call manipulation. The claim that one is actually speaking in an "Ethiopian priestly dialect" sounds really screwy to me. Is there a source to which anyone could go to check out that claim? I doubt it. So I think you call it what it is — a manipulative lie.

Third, there is a deep human need, experienced acutely in severe grief situations, that comfort is found in convincing yourself that the object of your grief is not really deceased, but available for you for continual conversations. Psychiatrists deal with this frequently.

As a pastor one seeks to walk with a bereaved person, but when the grief turns into a severe mental psychosis, it is time to seek professional help.

I am not saying that this is true in the case of your friend. I am saying that the symptoms you describe are filled with psycho-pathology.

– John Shelby Spong



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