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At 82, Spong considers himself ‘an old-fashioned religion man’

At 82, Spong considers himself ‘an old-fashioned religion man’

From Religion News Service:

At 82, retired and enjoying life, Bishop John Shelby Spong doesn’t have to be the liberal enfant terrible whose pronouncements for gay rights and against traditional dogmas once scandalized Christendom.

Indeed, many of the views that once turned the former Episcopal bishop of Newark into a lightning rod are now regarded as so matter-of-fact that they barely occasion much notice: ordaining gay clergy and blessing same-sex marriages, for example, or having a female presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, the first woman elected to lead a national church in the Anglican Communion. …

Despite the labels that have stuck to him — maverick, reformer, revolutionary and, of course, heretic — Spong thinks of himself “as an old-fashioned religion man.”

“It always surprises my critics. Plenty of people out there think of me as the Antichrist or the devil incarnate because I do not affirm the literal patterns of the Bible. But the fact is I can no more abandon the literal patterns than I could fly to the moon. I just go beyond them.”

Read full story here.


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Harriet Baber

Gosh, with Spong it ain’t the ethics: it’s the the metaphysics that are offensive–in particular his First Thesis according to which theism is “dead” and “meaningless.” Is this atheology what we’re paying our bishops for?

But you can’t object to Spong, because if you do it’s “ah-ha! you’re a reactionary homophobic bigot”: the assumption is that what you really object to are his moral and political views. Ouch! Moreover, he conflates theism with Biblical literalism.

“Old-fashioned” is right: he speaks to a dying breed who live in worlds where religious affiliation is the norm and atheism is not nice, to people who are sheepish because they can’t quite believe the stuff in a crude, naive form. To them being told that they don’t have to believe in an anthropomorphic sky-daddy, and don’t have to believe that the Bible is historically accurate, and can still count themselves as good people is liberating.

But please consider the rest of us, the growing number of us who live in worlds where religion is simply not done: academics like me, of course, but a growing segment of the general population. People I know debate whether they should “come out” as theists–and face the resulting surprise, discomfort and disapproval. We don’t need bishops telling us it’s ok not to believe. We need support: we need the Church to stand behind us, to tell us that religious belief isn’t just stupid or unsuitable for educated people–as most of our peers assume.

We OF COURSE reject sex roles, support gay rights, and reject the traditional code of sexual conduct. We OF COURSE take Darwinean evolution as a plain matter of fact. We OF COURSE know that the Bible is unreliable, that the gospels were written long after Jesus’ death and are largely inaccurate. But it doesn’t follow from any of this that theism is either “dead” or “meaningless.” 20% of Americans, and about 1/3 of Americans between 18 and 30 are not “Nones”–individuals who say they “have no religion.” Spong does not speak to them or to those of us who live amongst them.

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