Turning the Tables and Righteous Anger

Column by Rev. Irene Monroe on 14 February 2019 0 Comments

I have chosen Matthew 21: 12-17 text about Jesus turning over the tables of the money changers” because I notice America is angry. And, with this anger I’ve noticed we have lost the ability and desire to “ agree to disagree,” to talk across our differences; thus, consequently, civil discourse has devolved. For so many, this story of Jesus turning the tables of the money changers becomes a non-apology for getting angry, for posting biting commentaries, and for online rants on divisive political issues, theological controversies and discussions on some polarizing social and cultural issues.

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My understanding from reading Bishop Spong is that the religions are created on primitive assumptions that are obsolete yet false. It’s clear that religion is humanities first and worst attempt at philosophy. Every point he makes, save for completely denouncing an existence of God, points to atheism. Wouldn’t it be more dignified to finally denounce these manacles and speak to the goodness of the hearts of man and the solidarity that seems innate in our species, as well in other species on this planet? In the final analysis, it’s as if he chooses religion over humanity.

If you don’t take the last consequential step out of these ill-fated institutions, as well-meaning as they might be, how will humanity be able to overcome the real challenges humanity faces, if humanity does not choose to take responsibility for itself instead of waiting to be saved?


Dear Toby,

Thank you for posing these giant and important questions as we too have struggled with them. Also, thank you for naming and trusting "the goodness of the hearts of man and the solidarity that seems innate in our species, as well as other species on this planet" as we have at times struggled to believe in even this, let alone God. We therefore can't answer your questions.

We agree that the institutions of religion are already falling apart and that this is a wakeup call for each of us to participate in taking responsibility for the real work of philosophy and spirituality: looking for our place within the vast mystery of life in order to participate wisely and live well. I was therefore not surprised when the Dalai Lama said "For all its benefits in offering moral guidance and meaning in life, religion is no longer adequate as a basis for ethics. Many people no longer follow any religion. In addition, in today’s secular and multicultural societies, any religion-based answer to the problem of our neglect of inner values could not be universal, and so would be inadequate. We need an approach to ethics that can be equally acceptable to those with religious faith and those without. We need a secular ethics."

Yet the question remains: "how do we create a culture of inner values and secular ethics?"

Perhaps Thomas Berry was right when he asserted that we will not protect nor love that which we do not experience as sacred. This is where we move from religion to mysticism as we fall in love again and again with the awe-inspiring mysteries that create us as well as inspire fresh perspectives on the monumental challenges we now face. We see Bishop Spong's work as falling more into this category of mysticism (rather than atheism or religious nostalgia). Of course, a healthy relationship with the mystery holds space for the fact that we don't know what the ultimate nature of reality is. And yet, when we lean into these mysteries together, with our hearts as well as the reflective muscles of our minds, to engage in experiences that invoke authentic reverence and togetherness, we enter back into the awe-inspiring experience of being alive, which is the root of both religion and secular ethics as well as kindness.

~ Jennifer Berit Listug and Skylar Wilson




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