Wednesday, February 22, 2012

from Expanding the Bankruptcy of Theism

by John Shelby Spong

“We are today increasingly living in a post-Christian world and more and more people become convinced almost daily that they can no longer sing the theistic God’s song in the 21st century that all of us now inhabit. If people cannot accept this exploding knowledge that has served to call all theistic presuppositions into question, they become defensive and hide behind the irrational and easily dismissed authority claims like being the possessors of either an infallible Pope or an inerrant Bible. If people do embrace the world of new knowledge, they find no room in their lives for the theistic God ideas of the past. They are today leaving the unthinking religious institutions in droves, abandoning the faith of their fathers and mothers to the dustbins of history.

“It was into that world that Paul Tillich began to seek a new definition of God.  Perhaps God is not a being. Perhaps we have created the theistic God in our image, not the other way around. Perhaps we can discover a transcendent dimension in life by looking at being itself. Perhaps it is life that is holy, flowing as it does through every living creature, as it has journeyed from single cells, which first defined life about 3.8 billion years ago, to the self-conscious complexity that human beings now illustrate. Among these self-conscious ones there has always been a yearning to transcend all limits, to engage the meaning of life, to probe the potential of love and to seek oneness with something that is beyond our grasp.  Is this ‘God’ not still present hiding behind the theistic categories that are now dying? Can we not let theism die without destroying the human yearning for the divine? It is only the death of theism not the death of God that fuels our current religious despair. Suppose, however, that we look again and see that there is something beyond our separateness that calls us into oneness, that there is something beyond our self-consciousness that invites us into a universal consciousness, and that there is something beyond our limits that encourages us to step beyond all human limitations. Can we not then begin to define this God non-theistically? Instead of searching for God as a being who dwells beyond the sky, Tillich suggested that we turn inward and search for the God who is the Ground of being, the Source of life and the Source of love. Is my life then part of the life that is God? Is my love a manifestation of a love that emanates from God? Is my being related to and grounded in the being of God? Is our mystical yearning a delusion or a pointer toward a new reality?

“A new door is surely opening for our exploration. We tremble at the door. If we dare to walk through it, we must leave behind almost all of the religious symbols by which we have been nurtured in the past. We will, we fear, become “secular humanists.” If on the other hand, we refuse to walk through that door, we must spend our time defending our dying religious past with increasing hysteria. We become fundamentalists, traditionalists or pre-Vatican II Catholics.

“If the only alternative to theism is atheism, that will be the result. I propose something quite different. My expectations are that we will find a new understanding of what it means to be human and in that process discover a mystical oneness that can and will relate us to that which is eternal. It is that goal which beckons me to begin this journey that will inevitably take us out of the immaturity of our religious past and into the wonder of our religious future. In that journey inevitably creeds will change, old institutional forms will die and new ones will be born, and all present liturgies will be transformed, but the eternal search for God will go on. That is the challenge facing Christianity today. I am willing to begin the journey now. I hope I am not alone.”

1 comment:

  1. John Shelby Spong's essay is a reminder of Solomon's wisdom.
    Solomon put it this way "There is nothing new under the sun" This essay is so full of words there is no place to insert a God of Love.
    The journey Mr. Spong wants to start has been done countless times in the past! The results are always the same and come with the description of "separation from God" Sort of like looking for love in all the wrong places.
    I do agree with Mr. Spong in one area regarding the trend to a post Christian era. However that trend does not look nearly as prolific if we are to look at Christianity as it is represented by many that are devoted to finding the God of love as they read their Bible.