Bishop John Shelby Spong: heretic or visionary?

God creates an intelligent species, man, and endows him with a spiritual nature which enables him to have a unique fellowship with God. God then gives this creation the choice to walk in harmony with the Creator, or not. Man chooses not. This failure, which results in a break in the relationship, must then be, a) judged, b) punished, and c) rectified. God quickly disposes of (a) and (b), leaving © for a set future date. In the meantime, God allows His creation to spend some untold thousands of years (minimum) learning that this initial failure on his part has lasting consequences. Despite man’s attempt to correct, to follow the straight and narrow as it were, he is simply unable on his own to return the relationship to its previous, desirable state. A valuable lesson to learn, but the real question is, has he? (Side issue, but almost always discarded in the heat of debate). God does follow through on His plan to rectify, redeem man from his failures, but again gives man a crucial choice: choose to return to God, or not. This sums up what I’d characterize as a barebones traditional Christian theology, which I feel confident most Christians of all denominations will find agreeable.

Now. I submit that there is a logical thought process that must be followed for one to accept the summation presented above. One must reach an understanding that there is only one God, He is the Creator, involved with His creation, and desiring of a lasting relationship with that creation. (Should you choose to reject any of these prerequisites, you’d likely find yourself in pursuit of another religious or non-religious direction, I’d think). But, humor me for the moment, if you would. Having reached this point, it seems eminently reasonable that this God, as described, would communicate with His creation in some manner. Directly, person to person, written language, something. Again, it seems only reasonable that this same God would want man to have a history of this relationship, simple for simple notions, more complex for multifaceted concepts. This material would be of no use if man, at any period in his progressing maturity, were unable to have full faith and credit in its intrinsic accuracy. The average person of any time period, even today, simply does not have the luxury of time to read and digest all the written works regarding the nature of God. It simply cannot make sense that God would cause His creation to forswear all else to search for Him, in some humorless cosmic version of hide and seek. This version of God matches neither the traditional Christian perspective nor the more modern, liberal interpretation favored by Spong.

And so, at last, we reach Bishop Spong. He has chosen to pick out those pieces of Christianity he finds acceptable, discarding those he finds inconvenient or undesirable or uncomfortable. And this he has based on…what, exactly? His definition of God is incompatible with God as described in the Bible. God either is as presented in the Bible, or He is not. He cannot be both. One would be an error, hence a lie. The Bible cannot be both truthful and full of lies. If the Bible is not the inspired word of God, if Jesus is not the Son of God, then Jesus is a liar or a lunatic, and God must be found elsewhere. God either set in motion inspired writings to reflect His glory or men were merely making it up as they went along. If God could not, or did not inspire the dozens of biblical authors, then one can have no faith in either the writing or the God.

Ultimately, it comes down to this: who defines God? Him? Or you?

Curiously, I find myself less vehemently in agreement with Spong’s drive at nontheistic formulation than I originally did.

I’ve a lot of sympathy for it, mind; panentheistic divinity as an immanent ground of being is very much how this particular bit of consciousness that’s happy to call itself “I” most easily experiences the view of it. And it’s definitely mildly irritating that many theists seem unable to separate the concepts of “atheism” from “non-theism.”

But…somewhere or other, optical illusions came to mind, and I took another deeper view at my attitudes, my experiences, and the narrative filters it’s so very easy to choke off future experience with. And I can understand better now how many most naturally see God through a theistic frame. Some people see two vases; some people see faces in profile. Some see the wireframe cube as a perspective away, others as a perspective towards.

I’m thinking nowadays that maybe, just maybe, the view that can alternate easily between the two (if not simultaneously) and recognize the validity and limitations inherent in each, is the one to be strived for.

As I’m assuming that your statements are accurate summaries of Bishop Spong’s philosophy, I’ll address them as quoted. If I appear to be responding to an inaccurate reading of your words, please correct me.

Spong has disavowed the nature of God as revealed in the Bible. Either God was wrong, or apparently He needed Bishop Spong’s assistance.

Disavowed the divine nature of Jesus.

Disavowed God’s explanation for man’s creation, and in favor of evolution, if I read this right? And God was wrong, again?

As he already disavowed the divinity of Jesus, I suppose this is just icing on the cake.

Disavows the supernatural nature of God, outside and apart from our existence.

Disavows God’s and Jesus’ stated reasons for His redemptive crucifixion.

Again, disavows the supernatural ability and reality of God.

Disavows God’s use of distinctive terms for the three heavens.

Disavows God’s Commandments in one fell swoop.

Disavows the pattern of personal spiritual communion with God and its value.

Disavows God’s stated dictates for man’s acceptable behavior.

Disavows God’s clear enunciation of righteous and sinful behaviors, and the consequences of the latter

So, let’s sum up, shall we:

God can’t be described or understood by the names He selected.
God didn’t mean it when he said that Jesus was His only begotten son.
God didn’t really create man in the manner He stated.
God didn’t perform a miracle resulting in a virgin birth.
God can’t perform miracles.
God didn’t send Jesus to die for our sins.
God didn’t resurrect Jesus physically.
God didn’t perform a physical ascension of Jesus.
God didn’t really mean us to take seriously the Ten Commandments.
God doesn’t answer prayer.
God didn’t mean it when He warned of punishment for sin.
God didn’t mean it when he gave man standards of behavior.

Now, tell me again, which God exactly does Bishop Spong believe in?

NaSultainne, maybe in your circle of friends your rough paraphrases of Spong’s points make them look ridiculous but I can assure that the feeling is not universal. With the simple assumption that the bible is not the direct work of God, all the other points are well within reason.

“Now, tell me again, which God exactly does Bishop Spong believe in?”
Clearly not the same one you believe in but it could still be a God of brotherhood and love following the examples of Christ. Would Jesus be angry about that?

Of course I’m just an atheist who coincidently agrees with most of Jesus’ tenets so who am I to say.

Why can’t the Bible contain both truth and error? It was written by humans after all. It is fallacious to say that Jesus is a “liar” if the Bible is not the word of God, because the Bible is your only source for what Jesus said and didn’t say. If the Bible is an inaccurate record of the words and deeds of Jesus, then how does that make Jesus a liar. If I make the following staement:
“NaSultaiine says that he is an avatar of Vishnu,” does that make you a liar?

They’re Spong’s words not mine. I pasted them out of the link that I posted.

You’re assuming that God is “revealed” in the Bible. If the Bible is wrong, that doesn’t make God wrong.

Correction, he disavows an ancient Mesopotamian creation myth as it is reflected in Genesis. It’s not “God’s” explanation, it’s a primative human explanation. Saying that Genesis is wrong is not the same as saying that God is wrong.

Not exactly. He disavows the notion that God interacts in a supernatural way within the physical universe.

No, he disavows the interpretation of the crucifixion found in the New Testament. There is no reason suppose that God or Jesus ever stated any explanation at all for the crucifixion.

Disavowing a physical resurrection != to disavowing the ability and reality of God.

No, he’s disavowing the ancient cosmology which envisions Heaven in the sky.

No, he’s asserting that the commandments were written by humans not God.

No, he is asserting that prayers of petition are selfish and pointless.

No, he says that a hope of Heaven and the fear of Hell are illegitimate motives for behavior.

Huh? He says we can’t judge people based on physical characteristics like race, gender, ethnicity and sexual orienation. Thes are all qualities which are inborn and can’t be controlled. What do they have to do with behavior?

You’re still putting words in God’s mouth. Spong has disavowed many of the human motives and descriptions attributed to God, which is quite different than disavowing God, himself.

BTW, if you think Jesus literally rose up into the sky, where do you think he was going? Even if he was travelling at the speed of light, he still wouldn’t be out of the Milky way yet.


To note Polycarp’s mostly Spong-friendly post, Spong is against a lot but what is he for? Heretics endorse eccentric or unbalanaced doctrines; Apostates deny essential doctrines.

Quoting Polycarp-
“The first thing I need to say is that if the Evangelical definition of Christian as one who
has accepted Christ as Savior and Lord is to be our working definition, he is firmly
within the Christian camp. He himself is a devout man of prayer for whom God and
Christ are living realities.”

Yeah, if one redefines ‘God’, ‘Christ’, ‘Savior’ and ‘Lord’ beyond all Biblical recognition. I almost find the Mormon view of ‘Father God’ as an immortal male polygamist on the planet ‘Kolob’ to be closer to Biblical Christianity than is Spong’s Leftimentalism.

Did Jesus rise into the sky? Why not? Once He was obscured by a cloud, did He keep rising in three-dimensional space? I don’t know but I doubt it- I imagine He just stepped through into the Heavenly dimension. His ascent into the clouds was important for two reasons-
to show the disciples that He had left this terrestrial realm and to fulfill the Daniel 7 vision of “one like the son of man” who “comes with the clouds” to “the Ancient of Days” to receive His Kingdom.

First, disclaimer: I am a rational Humanist who disavows the supernatural. My familiarity with Spong is limited to attending one talk, reading 2 books, and discussing him over a course of years with several friends of various beliefs.

IMO, he presents one of the most rational approaches to belief that I have encountered - should belief be appropriate for you. As a non-believer, I consider the certainty and specificity of certain faiths with respect to the unknown especially troublesome. I personally do not accept his premises, but they do allow me to conceive of what might be a rational and responsible approach for one who finds themselves on that route.

As might be expected, I find his questioning of traditional dogma persuasive. Yet I do not quite understand why after he is done rejecting and questioning what he rejects and questions, he considers what he is left with necessarily consistent with the belief in any god, let alone a modified interpretation of the Christian God.

His writings are very popular among UUs - especially those coming from a christian background. If I might generalize from my discussions with christians of my acquaintance:
-among those that I consider “serious” believers - those who are very familiar with the specifics of their particular faith, and who do more introspection concerning the source and extent of their beliefs, they pretty unanimously consider Spong disparagingly, either as a potentially harmful influence, simply misguided, or confused.
-among my acquaintance who are more “social” christians, they are largely unaware of the man or his positions.

I apologize for any imperfect characterizations above,which were not done in an attempt to insult anyone. And I freely acknowledge that my input is primarily if not entirely based upon my personal interpretation of an extremely limited and nonrepresentational sample.

Moreover, more and more lately I have read of tremendous growth in the most lurid branches of the various denominations, especially in Africa and Asia. Or the growth of conservative catholicism in South America, or muslim extremists. I’m not sure christianity NEEDS to be rationalized or otherwise “saved” from fundamentalism. Europeans and Americans in the northern hemisphere may become ever more insignificant with respect to the directions various religious movements take.

In any event, I certainly fear that increased nonsectarianism - my personal preference, is not likely any time soon.

First, I’d like to suggest that we have two agendas running side by side in this discussion: (1) What exactly is it that Spong is saying? That would sound obvious by quoting his words – but I can find material in his writings that would contradict anyone’s assessment of what he “obviously” meant, since he is, and intentionally so, writing polemically in setting forth those theses. (If this discussion sounds at all familiar, you’re not alone! ;)) Then we have (2) What truth value do Spong’s words have with relation to the traditional values of the Christian faith? I suggest that both questions are important, and worth looking at.

Na Sultainne, you make an excellent case for the traditional evangelical understanding of salvation, and I’m not going to nitpick it. But I think it’s important to look at the issues raised here with a bit broader lens than them. For example, no evangelical ever pays the slightest attention to imago dei theology, except to give it passing mention that it may have applied to Adam, but is no longer extant since the Fall. Prominent theologians East and West throughout the span of Christian thought would differ with that dismissal. Second, can we possibly get away from what “the Bible obviously says”? The fact that we have these debates in the first place is prima facie evidence that it doesn’t “obviously say” that to everybody.

A third point, aimed first at Friar Ted but generalizable to everybody. I would be highly offended, and consider it the next thing to trollery, to have this thread hijacked into anybody-bashing, whether the “anybody” be Catholics, Fundamentalists, Mormons, or UUs. You’re entitled to your opinion of what Mormons believe, despite the fact that it doesn’t correspond to what dougie_monty, emarkp, Snark, and Monty, all devout LDS members, have had to say about what it is that they do believe. But for purposes of this thread, keep it to yourself. Argue for or against Spong’s views, either the polemic anti-theist ones contained in the theses or the less argumentative, more clearly stated ones that will come out in quotes such as the ones I put in my first post to this thread. But don’t hijack it. I personally disagree with the Evangelical perspective on Christianity in a number of profound ways. For that reason, I’m somewhat sympathetic to Spong’s stances. I think he’s wrong on some critical issues, and will say so. But to turn this into an Evangelical-bashing thread where, say, Na Sultainne and I trade jabs would be antithetical to what Diogenes set out to do. Does that seem fair to everyone?

You durned rabble-rousers make me sick! :wink:

I look forward to lurking on an interesting discussion (or 2. Do I hear 3?)

It sounds to me like one of the main objections to Spong is that once we have excised that from Christianity that which he finds problematic, there doesn’t seem to be any Christianity left. We are left with two key questions:

If not a theistic God, then what kind of God?

Even if we posit, for instance, a pantheistic view, how would that relate to a Christian specific?

One of his more radical and controversial assertions is number 6 on the list, i.e. the effective disavowment of Christian soteriology. Christianity without a sacrifice/salvation paradigm doesn’t seem like it could be Christianity. Would it be possible, however, to devise a Christian paradigm which is based soley on the ethical teachings of Jesus combined with a God-as-Love metaphysic? This would be a different kind of Christianity, certainly, but i still think it would be fair to call it Christianity since it would still be rooted in the life and ministry of Jesus. I don’t expect you more traditional Christians to overthrow the notion of salvation yourselves, but would you accept the paradigm that I’ve outlined as a legitimate reimagining of Christianity, or are the supernatural aspects of conventional Christianity so integral to the whole that you feel removing them would, ipso facto, render Spong’s new vision non-Christian?

Well, while without research I’m not attributing this position to Spong, consider the following as an alternative to the sin-must-be-paid-for-in-blood scenario:

Human willfulness has taken them far away from God – so far that they find it impossible to find their way back to Him. Christ’s teachings show one the effective way to return to a relationship with God. His life as God and man in one and above all, his self-sacrifice in being willing to give even his life for what He stood for, act as a means of bringing God and man back into unity – the At-one-ment.

This is taught as a valid alternative for the salvationist credo by sincere Christians whom I have read and whom I know personally.

I don’t see Spong rejecting the principles of Christianity so much as the mindset that clothes them in a Judaeo-Greco-Roman-Germanic framework. It may be necessary to buy off the wrath of Zeus or the god of Jonathan Edwards, but what about the loving Father of whom Jesus speaks? Jewish law didn’t distinguish between civil and criminal law; the importunate widow was begging the unjust judge to render judgment for her. The idea of a criminal trial before the Supreme Court of the Universe in which all evidence is valid and the only acceptable grounds for acquittal is an impossible perfection, is foreign to Jewish thought – and it must be remembered that Jesus was a Jew. He would be much more comfortable with Zev’s Talmudic comments than with Aquinas or Tillich or the Grahams.

It is rare in all writers who wish to have a point. But I find it rather disappointing for the same reason. While I do take no small satisfaction from deconstructionism in a general sense, it is about as useful as imploding a skyscraper.

He has a good idea of the problems he sees, it seems he must have some kind of solution in mind. I respect his modesty in his ability constructing such a thing single-handedly, but nevertheless I feel pretty let-down with the whole thing.

I think I will make sure to read it, and I still disagree with your last sentence. An answer to everything, sure, but even if I can’t tell you how many steps it is to San Fransisco from Boston, I can point you in the right direction and tell you what shoes you should wear :wink:

Thanks for this discussion. I’ve heard the name mentioned more than a few times on the boards but never knew enough to even know what questions to ask, and definitely not the interest to read what I might not like. Now I know otherwise. :slight_smile:

I don’t know anything about Spong or Christian theology. But I think that someone casting about for something to believe that could fit various predetermined criteria is being intellectually dishonest to an extent. In this case, the fact that he is going about with the specific intention of preserving some aspect of Christianity seems to fit the bill. Why try to find a new (non-theistic) way to speak of God? First decide what you believe.

One larger - and related - issue is how to define a religion, and who gets to define it. It has often been asserted on this board (mostly in relation to Mormons) that anyone gets to decide what religion they are a part of. I would disagree with this. There have to be certain fundamental principles that define a religion, and one person’s definition is as good as another. So suppose a person decided that the entire Bible and every traditional Christian doctrine is complete nonsense and that JC was an absolute jerk, but considered himself a Christian because “I’m basically a good guy and that’s what Christianity is really all about”, anyone (Christian or not) who understood Christianity might justly reject the guy’s claim. That is an extreme example, but it does bring out the point that there are some fundamental principles that define a religion, and that no one has complete freedom to redefine it for himself.

The immediate application to Spong is of course in whether whatever new theology he comes up with should be categorized as Christianity. But another issue is in his motivation in insisting that what he is doing is indeed a part of Christianity. The question being whether he truly believes that what he is doing - and it sounds like he is not even sure just what he is doing - is connected to Christianity, or he is merely trying to capitalize on a captive audience. Because if he comes out and announces that he is founding a new religion he will lose much of his soapbox and audience. By trying to insist that he is merely reforming Christianity he has a built in platform. Which leads back to the honesty issues, as above.

What does this mean? It sounds like another error, but I’m unsure if I’m understanding you correctly.

checks thread

sees Friar Ted’s post


sees Polycarp’s response

rereads Proverbs 15:1 over and over


I have to say, whenever I read something by Spong, he comes off as a crackpot to me–perhaps because I only read short essays which are intended to have shock value AFAICT. But it seems he’s tossing out pretty much everything about Christianity for no particular reason.

If he can’t make up his mind what this means, then there’s little point in discussing it (or part 2 which is an extension of it.

To quote part of his explanation of this idea:

Truthfully, I find this interpretation somewhat juvenile. That theists do not point to God as the proximate cause of all airplane crashes or diseases is not, to me, testament that God cannot or does not do these things. Rather it is testament to a maturing religion–that we recognize that most disasters happen as a result of living in a fallen world, and not as a result of God hurling lightning at us.

Indeed, I see part of God’s actions as providing us with the scientific understanding that we have (indeed, I recall the moment that General Relativity “clicked” for me as being very similar to religious epiphanies). Instead of providing supernatural events for the faithful few, He has provided many of His wonders to the masses. This IMO shows to some degree the compassion God has for us.

If in making this first assertion, Spong is casting off some of the baggage of the Ecumenical Councils I say more power to him–I’m not exactly fond of much of them myself. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be where he’s going.

This is the kind of statement which gives me pause. If there was no fall, then there is no need for Atonement, and no need for Christ, and hence no Christianity. While I accept much of the creation myth of Genesis to be allegorical, I do not discount the whole of it.

I find this to be simply arrogant. Of course, we Mormons believe that God has a physical body, and that He was Jesus’ father. Give that we can even today bring about a virgin birth (artificial insemination anyone?) it seems folly to state that it could not happen.

What does Newton (or his laws, or the resulting scientific work) have to do with “supernatural events”? I believe that God is indeed the author of the laws that Newton discovered. I also believe that while we use scientific efforts to understand those laws, and bash atoms around in attempts to coerce them to our will, that does not preclude the Creator from having the elements obey His command–to calm the storm, to heal the sick, etc.–even if we cannot reproduce it in a laboratory.

I agree with this if he’s talking about quid pro quo sacrifice. The idea of “so much suffering” in exchange for “so much sin” is appalling, and yet it is often how Christians attempt to describe what Jesus did. Anything less than an infinite sacrifice would not have accomplished what He did.

This just doesn’t make sense. What does the second sentence even mean? Why does it preclude an action happening inside human history? On what basis does Spong discount this fundamentally central issue in Christianity and the testimonies of the Apostles?

It sounds more like he’s criticizing the confession of belief rather than the actual scriptural account. And, indeed, just because Jesus’ ascension is described as rising into heaven doesn’t mean that He did it as we’re imagining it. Joseph Smith referred to Moroni’s departure from visiting him in his room as “a conduit open right up into heaven, and he ascended till he entirely disappeared”. This from an enclosed room. Now, I know that other Christians won’t accept this account, but I see it as modern confirmation of a description of a heavenly messenger. (If you must object to Mormonism at this point, please start a different thread.)

He’s correct on this one I think. That is, the tablets establish boundaries of behavior, but Jesus clearly indicated that the most important commandments are inherently subjective, not objective.

This is folly, but it is a necessary conclusion to his earlier statements–that is that God apparently does not act at all WRT human history, etc. That said, the primary purpose of prayer (IMO) is communion with God. Prayer should be as much (if not more so) about simply communicating with God and getting to know Him better as it is about asking him for divine intervention.

Someone needs to read a bit more C. S. Lewis (whose opinions I respect a lot more). The stick is a useful motivator until the individual grows beyond it, and is sufficiently motivated by the carrot alone. Furhtermore, guilt is a necessary part of repentence. Repentence is a process we must continue with for our entire lives. No, we should not be overwhelmed with guilt, but ignoring it is just as dangerous.

My objection to this is probably not applicable to most other Christians (except perhaps Catholics). The priesthood authority has only been given to righteous men, and for it to be extended to women, I would expect a revelation specifically changing that (that is not to say I believe one way or another).

Basically, I believe that we have received modern revelation to confirm many of the things about God that Spong seems to object to (althought non-LDS will likely take little comfort in that :)). It appears that most of his objections arise from scientific progress or uncertainty about biblical text, and not from any new spiritual guidance or information.

I think Spong, whatever you think about his claims or conclusions, is at the very least fascinating and impassioned. He’s a deeply humane and empathetic guy who wants to stretch philosophy and theology way beyond their conventional coundaries. And he’s most certainly an excellent addition to Tillich in the pantheon of theologians who are trying to think radically new thoughts. When he says: “So when one is confronted with the question, “Can one be a Christian without being a theist?” it opens vast doors for further thought and theological speculation” he’s right: no matter what the ultimate conclusion of that question is.

To speak personally, my father would answer “yes” to that question. My father does not believe in a god per se, a necessary afterlife, the litteral death and ressurection of a Christ, or anything like that. But he is an avid churchgoer that finds real, incontestable meaning in not just the rote practices of church, but the community of religious faith, and the words used expressing something deep and ultimate about existence (not always perfectly, not always litterally, but at least a searching for the words).

I also think people are oversimplifying Spong’s number 8 point a bit.

—I guess I agree on number 8 too. I’m not sure why Spong does not concede the possiblity of intepreting the ascension metaphorically.—

I think Spong’s point here is that people shouldn’t just reflexively translate Biblical things directly into new metaphors for no reason other than to preserve the structural or symbolic meaning of the Bible.

He definately seems to be of the mind that we need to understand that the people writing the Bible are expressing their own understandings of God by thinking up whatever “incredible” concepts occured to them, and trying to use them to fulfill their spiritual passions.
They may be totally wrong on the facts: but Spong still thinks that their misunderstandings represent at least an attempt at translating things into concepts that they understand. And this is often the problem (God not fitting the limit contemporary concepts) with not just Biblical metaphor/literal truth, but with the very ideas that are part of theology.

So, in terms of the Ascension, I think what Spong is saying is not “can we make up a metaphor to save the idea of the Ascension?” and then answering “no, we can’t.” Which is what people seem to be calling him on.

I think he is actually saying something much more radical: something like: “people in that day only came up with a doctrine like a literal Ascension BECAUSE they had that three-tiered world view. Without that worldview in place to structure thier ideas of existence, it might not even have occured to anyone, even metaphorically, that this was a good way to describe these aspects of God/Christ in the first place. And it may well NOT BE a good way to describe it, especially today. What some people are doing is trying to save an aspect of that doctrine by translating it into some current speculations that seem to mirror it in gross form. What I am suggesting is that the content of the idea itself is misguided: we need to understand not how we can necessarily save some grain of approximated, analogus truth from the doctrine, but rather understand why the doctrine was important to those people in the first place, and maybe how our own experiences might take us in an entirely different direction.”

Now, maybe I’m wrong, and that’s not what he was saying. It’s just the impression I got. I’m going to have to break out my copies of his books too, I guess.

—Someone needs to read a bit more C. S. Lewis (whose opinions I respect a lot more).—

Just so you know, I am a big detractor of Lewis.

—The stick is a useful motivator until the individual grows beyond it, and is sufficiently motivated by the carrot alone.—

The carrot is just as bad as the stick. Both are inferior and amoral forms of “doing right”: and maybe even counter-productive to boot (they might get someone doing the right things in form, but the wrong things entirely when a situation changes, because they have no basis to understand WHY certain things are right or wrong on anything other than the level of superficial appearance).

—Furhtermore, guilt is a necessary part of repentence.—

Again, I don’t agree. The proper search for repentence is righting a wrong, whether it be in your own head or in the external world. Percieving a wrong, and coming to understand why it is wrong, is the important part, and guilt needn’t play a part (in fact, again, it can often be very counter-productive).

—No, we should not be overwhelmed with guilt, but ignoring it is just as dangerous.—

I think regret is the thing that is healthy in moderation, but dangerous in obsession. Guilt, however, is an internalized punishment. Punishment is always inferior to change, always a necessary evil, and always risks being counter-productive. An in the human conscience, I think it is rarely if ever necessary, and very often counter-productive.

“Are you saying I won’t have character until I do something I regret?”
“No Bob. I’m saying you’ve already done plenty of things to regret, you just don’t know what they are. It’s when you discover them, when you see the folly in something you’ve done, and you wish that you had it do over, but you know you can’t, because it’s too late. So you pick that thing up, and carry it with you to remind you that life goes on, the world will spin without you, you really don’t matter in the end. Then you will gain character, because honesty will reach out from inside and tattoo itself across your face.”
-The Big Kahuna

Before we jump all over Spong’s point #1 any further, can I stress again that what he is denying is not the everyday (well, “everyday” for this board ;)) definition of theism, but the specialized usage of Paul Tillich, whose theological shoes he wears, of “theism = belief in transcendent, distant god” as opposed to immanent god, panentheistic or otherwise. If you fail to recognize that, you’re accusing him of doing something he isn’t – and God knows there’s enough to argue about in what he does do.

Apos: clearly, the devil (or the Christian :)) is in the details. Since I don’t see a clear definition by Spong what “theist” or “guilt” means, it is possible that my interpretation doesn’t match his meaning.

[On preview, I notice that Polycarp has expanded on the definition of “theism”–and like I cautiously said in my first response, I agree with him if he’s saying the view of a “transcendent, distant god” has to go (or at least the “distant” part)–but then I don’t have that view in the first place ]

You define guilt as “internalized punishment”. I see it as analogous to physical injury. If you physically damage yourself, you suffer. If you spiritually damage yourself, you suffer. Both to a greater or lesser degree. Interestingly, lists the definition as:

1 : the fact of having committed a breach of conduct especially violating law and involving a penalty; broadly : guilty conduct
2 a : the state of one who has committed an offense especially consciously b : feelings of culpability especially for imagined offenses or from a sense of inadequacy : SELF-REPROACH
3 : a feeling of culpability for offenses

You seem to be describing guilt as 2b, whereas I’m describing it as 3.

Sounds like an interesting thread topic. Would you like to start one?

I simply don’t agree with this. If you are so focused on the goal that you don’t live in the moment, that can be counter-productive. But it’s not the goal that is the problem. It’s the person. And I contend that whether it’s the obvious one or something more subtle, we’re all motivated by one carrot or another. Understanding why certain things are right does not remove the carrot.

And my question is upon what basis is he reaching that conclusion? It sounds like hand-waving. Is it another Aquarian Gospel?

The problem with Spong and why his views are blanche to other more conservative Christians and many other Christians, is his total capitulation and his discarding of his Christian beliefs to science, rather than using science to reinforce and challenge and reinterpret and improve his faith. People like him are exactly what I was warning about time and time again: those who use science as a blunt weapon against religious beliefs, as if science is of itself has a higher moral absolution, and its existence serve as proof that religious beliefs in general is to be dismissed out of hand and be declared irrelevant to our lives. My view on such matters and people was dismissed by some on this board. I see his presence as vindication.

—I see it as analogous to physical injury. If you physically damage yourself, you suffer. If you spiritually damage yourself, you suffer.—

I don’t see that connection (it certainly isn’t analogus in the same way), but even if it were there my point stands exactly the same. It’s not at all laudable for something simply to suffer. Suffering can help motivate, but it is hardly the only or the best way to motivate.

—You seem to be describing guilt as 2b, whereas I’m describing it as 3.—

Okay, if that’s all you mean by it… but if that’s all you meant, then your comments about Spong are completely off-topic since he obviously doesn’t mean “The Church must abandon, therefore, its reliance on [a feeling of culpability for offenses] as a motivator of behavior.”

—Sounds like an interesting thread topic. Would you like to start one?—

Be my guest, it’s not exactly the most interesting topic to me. Just letting you know that I don’t gasp in awe at the profundity of his views, and you’re gonna have to make the case, not just reference his wisdom.

—And I contend that whether it’s the obvious one or something more subtle, we’re all motivated by one carrot or another.—

You’ve slipped from the proscriptive sense to a merely descriptive sense. Which was it you wanted to talk about again?

Regardless, that’s still purely amoral, not any sort of honest basis for moral concern or love.

—And my question is upon what basis is he reaching that conclusion?—

This is a far bigger subject than just this thread: this is an issue of literalism.

But, for the confines of this thread, he’s making this on no less basis than any other theologian, really. He’s saying that the idea is very obviously premised on a literal ascension in the mode of their conventional cosmology (and no one even questioned that interpretation until people like Copernicus), and that nowadays, that makes no sense.

If one seriously wants to claim that Biblical writers meant something different than what everyone in that era, including themselves for all intents and purposes, would have understood, you’d have to explain how they could have written about something so new and unheard of in their time without feeling the need to comment on it or further distinguising it from more conventional understandings.

As Spong points out, if the theory of evolution were somehow disproved, we’d hope that scientists would have the honesty to not reflexively start assuming that the theory was “true in a metaphorical sense.” They’d re-examine the STRUCTURAL FORM ITSELF, not just the particular application.