What Spong had to say
Bishop John Shelby Spong recently completed a speaking tour of the UK organised by PCN Britain. His subject was the title of his latest book, Eternal Life. Here is a selection of quotes from his talks selected by PCN’s Admin Assistant, Andy Vivian
Spong took a Darwinian approach to his subject. The evolution of a self-conscious mind brought with it the fear of death and of our vulnerability. This shaped the way religion developed:
“Human beings are chronically anxious people… The human image of God is created by man’s anxiety.”
“Flattery of God and reverse flattery (denigrating ourselves) for the purpose of manipulating God is what we’ve done in worship.”
Denigrating ourselves, says Spong, makes us more likely to oppress others – Jews, coloureds, women, homosexuals have all been targeted by Christianity.
He is particularly scornful of the image of God which lies behind this.
“God becomes a child abuser and punishes his own son and as a result you and I become a guilt laden people. Guilt is the currency that keeps the church going… Guilt based gratitude never produces wholeness”.
Spong denies being an atheist:
“I am not saying that God does not exist”
So what does Spong believe about God? His vision is mystical, using non-human allegories:
“The Ground of Life coming into our consciousness”.
“Maybe God is the experience in all things… the life that flows through the universe…
“Maybe God is that quality of love that calls us to go beyond our survival mentality, freeing us to love wastefully”.
And what does Spong believe about Jesus:
“In Jesus we see a freedom from fear about people who are different, a freedom from the survival mentality… Jesus loved beyond the boundaries of self-survival.”
“God - the source of love, the source of life – becomes a new way of seeing Jesus: as portraying a human so whole and full that all of God could be expressed through him.”
This leads Spong to a new vision of humanity:
“We are not fallen sinners, we are incomplete human beings”
“You don’t need to be born again, you need to grow up.”
“The Holy Spirit didn’t make us religious, it made us human.”
“If we see God as the source of love, the source of life, then we have a new way of seeing Jesus – as portraying a human so whole and full that all of God could be expressed through him.”
Returning to the theme of evolution, Spong says that Jesus shows us what humanity can achieve:
“Unity with God – to let God live in us and through us.”
“Our mission is not to convert people but to transform people; to be all that they can be, to love wastefully and to live fully.”
“You can be part of who God is and he becomes part of what you are… You come into being”