Thursday, September 07, 2006

Spong is Splendiferous

The right reverend Episcopalian Bishop John Shelby Spong is just a barrel of laughs. Sure, the effect upon many Christians when encountering his theology for the first time is Mad Magazine style projectile vomiting (let the reader understand.) But after you are inured to his blasphemies you acquire a sense of admiration for their comic purity. I get his newsletter by email, and I always look forward to each new issue. The format used is the Bishop Spong Q&A, in which admiring acolytes ask questions and Bishop Spong, in his tireless effort to save Christianity from its insane practice of worshipping Christ, shares his insights.

The latest was a real gem. A loyal Spongian writes:
First of all, let me say that, if I can still consider myself a Christian, it is thanks to you and your work. As a former Catholic, I can only contrast your message of the God of Love with the God of Judgment that we find in virtually all the modern popes... But I sometimes find myself wondering: why not just do as I have done and identify oneself primarily as a Buddhist? The Buddha isn't God, he's just another human being who, like Jesus, pointed the way for his fellow humans to find peace and liberation from suffering. Scholars like Marcus Borg have indicated the similarities between Jesus and the Buddha; and indeed, great and inspiring people like Thich Nhat Hahn have indicated this in their work as well…

But for some of us, it is precisely the distortion of these cultural aspects of the Christian message that makes it so hard to see Jesus without what I call "spiritual interference." For Catholics such as myself, it might be the spectre of the church cover-ups of the abuse of so many children by its shepherds, or the appalling cost wrought by Paul VI with his encyclical on birth control... Maybe some members of the Church Alumni Club have been so worn out trying to see Jesus past the figures of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell that they have forgotten how God's power shines through such contemporary figures as Martin Luther King, William Sloane Coffin, John Dear, Daniel Berrigan, Joan Chittester and yourself...Basically my question is, since the Church is so in need of reform, and since conservative power is so entrenched, why not become a Buddhist?
The humble Bishop Spong responds

You raise a fascinating issue. I have read Thich Nhat Hahn with great pleasure and admire the Buddhism that I know. I have a friend in England who, though still an Anglican priest, describes himself as a Christian Buddhist Atheist...

I have had the privilege of engaging in an afternoon long dialogue with a Buddhist monk in China and with a group of three Hindu scholars... Out of these two experiences, I came to an awareness that there is great similarity in the religions of the world in the questions that they all seek to answer. They are, after all, profound human questions. The differences appeared in the ways the various traditions sought to answer these human questions. Answers come out of culture, environment, and circumstances and reflect the worldview of the area in which those religious systems arose...

I do not believe that God is a Christian or a Buddhist. Yet both Christianity and Buddhism have pointed hundreds of millions of people toward the mystery of God.

I am glad that Reverend Spong did not admonish his admirer for including him in his Hall of Fame of men and women through whom God's power shines. False modesty in the truly great is so unseemly.

I would like to meet Bishop Spong's friend who is a Christian Buddhist Atheist. I once heard a radio interview with someone who described himself as a "lesbian trapped in a man's body." Although quite impressive, I don't think it reaches the standard set by a Anglican Priest who is also a Christian, a Buddhist and an atheist. That must takes years of graduate level study at the Seminary of the Spong.

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