By Barbara Falconer Newhall
Former Episcopal Bishop of Newark John Shelby Spong says it’s time to ditch the two principle beliefs of Western religion. The first one, he says, is that God is other, “a supernatural being who can do for me that which I cannot do for myself,” a situation that requires getting and staying on God’s good side.
The second outmoded belief is that human beings are alienated from the sacred and that our alienation requires some kind of atonement — which is another way of saying that we are all guilty as hell.
On these two premises, says Spong, have Western believers placed their dearest hopes for eternal life.
And it’s bunk.
Modernity, science, knowledge and reason have demonstrated once and for all that these premises are flawed, Spong argues in his latest book, Eternal Life: A New Vision — Beyond Religion, Beyond Theism, Beyond Heaven and Hell.
To continue to believe in this sort of religion is to be naively, hopelessly and pathetically stuck in denial, he says. But Spong doesn’t accept the obvious alternative either — that we live meaningless lives in a meaningless Universe.
Spong proffers a third way, one that involves being “fully human.” We are not really separated from God, he asserts. Rather “we are part of what God is and we are at one with all that God is.” We are finite, but we share in infinity. We are mortal, but we share in immortality.
Spong, who turned 78 this year, says that “when I die I will rest my case in the ‘being’ of which I am a part . . . I step beyond words at this point into the wonder of a wordless reality.”
Eternal Life: A New Vision, by John Shelby Spong, HarperOne, 2009, hardcover $24.99.