John Shelby Spong helps expose and dispel religious ignorance and fundamentalism. He is a truly visionary Christian. He was recently interviewed for The Weekly and shared some invaluable insights.
In the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus said, “The Kingdom of the Father is spread out upon the earth, and men do not see it.”
“If those who lead you say to you, ‘See, the Kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will precede you. Rather, the Kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you.”
In this excerpt from his book, Son of Man: The Mystical Path to Christ, Andrew Harvey describes Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom of God which is not about the afterlife, but a new form of society here on earth.
[The radical message and vision of Jesus] menaces both of the predominant modern visions of political organization — the “socialist” and the “capitalist” theories of society.
The socialist vision is “undermined” because the center of Jesus’ ideal society remains God, Kingdom-consciousness, and the living experience of love through communion — and not the State or some vague feeling of “fraternity.”
Capitalism, both in its historical and contemporary “globalist” and “nationalist” forms, is questioned because its frank advocacy of competition and blatant celebration of power and wealth betray all of Jesus’ beliefs about how human beings should live.
Any political vision, in fact, that is not primarily a mystical vision of transformation betrays the fullness and majesty of what Jesus had in mind; any mystical vision of transformation which does not also attempt forcefully to be a political one also betrays his vision.
He urged those who followed him to give generously to beggars, to lend money without expecting any repayment, and to give without anticipating any reward. The Jerusalem church after his death practiced a form of ownership-in-common, which may well reflect Jesus’ own beliefs. A kind of mystical “communalism” may be the best analogy we have of what Jesus intended for a society that reflected the egalitarian compassion of the Kingdom.
If everyone was equally welcome at the table of love, and love’s healing resources were to be shared equally with everyone, why shouldn’t wealth and land also be similarly equally distributed, so that no one need be poor and that everyone could have the chance at a decent life, and not at the expense of others but in admitted interdependence with them?
It is at least probable, even likely, that Jesus’ practical picture of the Kingdom on earth would have at its heart a vision of as equal as possible a distribution of wealth and property and access to, and control of, the sources of power.
As the mystic realist he was, Jesus would have known that mystical inner-communion had to be reflected, as exhaustively as possible, in the actual day-to-day relations of society at every level, and that the holy equality of beings to the all-loving eye of God could not simply be “experienced” but had also to be implemented in the life of the world.
To someone who has not seen the Kingdom, the games of power can seem sad but unavoidable rituals in a mostly evil world that needs hierarchy and power elites not to crumble into chaos. But to someone to whom the Kingdom and its glory has been revealed — and to whom the glory of the human spirit and soul have also been revealed — no arrangement deserves to be fostered that does not constantly encourage and inspire the transformation of the human into the divine human and does not constantly invoke the potential splendor of the new world, one in which the glory of God and of the Spirit and of the love between them would not only be honored but actively reflected in every law, every transaction between beings, every concerted “social,” “religious,” and “political” action.
When Jesus said “my Kingdom is not of this world,” he did not mean that it belonged to some purely ethereal realm: he was in not any way an escapist. What Jesus meant was that the Kingdom had nothing to do with this world, the banal, violent world created by human greed, ignorance, and folly; the Kingdom was the hidden soul’s reflection in reality and not the reflection of that blind false self that had — goaded on and inspired by evil forces — largely made human history. To make the hidden reflection of the soul “real” was the task of the life that Jesus came to “give more abundantly,” of the new being he was trying to inspire into action, and of the living and very heteroclite (“deviating from common rules or forms”) community that sprang up around him.
In the Gospel of John, when the Pharisees (religious elite) ask Jesus if he is the son of God, he replies, “It is written in your own scriptures that God said, “You are gods.”
We are all the divine children of the Spirit. We must bring the Kingdom of the Spirit into reality. “It will not come by expectation.”
In this very straight-forward lecture by Joseph Campbell, he explains the Eastern (Hindu, Buddhist) spiritual perception of “mythic identification” (seeing yourself, the world, and all beings as divine) in comparison to the Western (Jewish, Christian, Muslim) spiritual perception of “mythic dissociation” (seeing the divine as separate from yourself, life, and the world). He also points out that the Western religions each have a unique “fetish” as their focal point…
Gods and Buddhas in the Orient are not final terms — like Yahweh, the Trinity, or Allah, in the West — but point beyond themselves to that ineffable being, consciousness, and rapture that is the All in all of us. And in their worship, the ultimate aim is to effect in the devotee a psychological transfiguration through a shift of his plane of vision from the passing to the enduring, through which he may come finally to realize in experience (not simply as an article of faith) that he is identical with that before which he bows. Their mythologies and associated rites, philosophies, sciences, and arts, are addressed, in the end, not to the honor of any god “out there” but to the recognition of divinity within.
But now, in irreconcilable contrast to this ancient, practically universal mode of experience of the world’s and one’s own dimension of divinity, which I have termed “mythic identification,” there is the order of beliefs derived from the biblical tradition, where Yahweh, as we know (arriving very late on the scene), cursed the serpent of the Garden, and with it the whole earth, which he seems to have thought he had created. Here God created the World and the two are not the same: Creator and Creature, ontologically distinct, and not to be identified with each other in any way.
In contrast to the Oriental (Buddhist and Vedantic) ways of interpreting the symbolism of the guarded gate and passage to the Tree of Life — as referring, namely, to an inward, psychological, barrier and crisis of transcendence — the authorized Christian reading has been of an actual, concrete, historic event of atonement with an angry god, who for centuries had withheld his boon of paradise from mankind, until strangely reconciled by this curious self-giving of his only son to a criminal’s death on the Cross. The fact of the crucifixion was read as the central fact of all history, and along with it certain other associated “facts” were accepted, such as in other mythological traditions would be interpreted psychologically (or, as theologians say, “spiritually”) as symbols; such as (1) the Virgin Birth, (2) the Resurrection, (3) the Ascension, (4) the existence of a heaven to which a physical body might ascend, and, of course, (5) the Fall in the garden of Eden, c. 4004 B.C., from the guilt of which the Crucifixion has redeemed us.
God in this system is a kind of fact somewhere, an actual personality to whom prayers can be addressed with expectation of a result. He is apart from and different from the world: in no sense identical with it, but related, as cause to effect. I call this kind of religious thinking “mythic dissociation,” The sense of an experience of the sacred is dissociated from life, from nature, from the world, and transferred or projected somewhere else — an imagined somewhere else — while man, mere man, is accursed.
The sacred is now not secular, of this world of mere dead dust, but canonical, supernaturally revealed and authoritatively preserved; that is to say: God, from “out there,” has condescended graciously to accord special revelations: (1) to the Hebrews, historically, on Sinai, via Moses; (2) to mankind, historically, via Jesus; but then also, apparently, (3) to mankind, once again, historically, in a cave near Mecca, via Mohammad. All, it will be noted, Semites! No other revelations of this desert god are admitted to exist, and Extra ecclesiam nulla salus (“outside the church there is no salvation”).
To the formula of mythic dissociation, there must now be added that of “social identification”: identification with Israel, with the Church as the Living Body of Christ, or with the Sunna of Islam — each body over-interpreted by its membership as the one and only holy thing in this world. And the focal center and source of all this holiness is concentrated in each case in a completely unique and special fetish — not a symbol, but a fetish: (1) the Ark of the Covenant in the Temple; (2) the Torah in the Synagogue; (3) the Bible of the Reformation; (5) the Koran, as well as (6) the Ka’aba, of Islam.
In India and the Far East such revered supports of the religious life would be known, finally, to point beyond themselves and their anthropomorphic god: beyond names, forms and all scriptural personification, to that immanent transcendent mystery of being which defies though, feeling, and figuration. For, whereas the attitide of focused piety is there recognized as appropriate for those not yet able to live in the realization of their own identity with “That” (tat tvam asi, “thou art that”), for anyone ready for an actual religious experience of his own, such canonized props are impediments. “Where is Self-knowledge for him whose knowledge depends on the object?” we read in a Vedantic text. “The wise do not see a this and a that, but the Self (atman) Immutable.” “You have your own treasure house,” said the eighth-century Chinese safe Ma-tsu; “why do you search outside?”
For the lover of that jealous god in the Bible, there is no allowance for the following of one’s own light: the leadership and guidance of one’s own expanding, deepening, enriched experience of the nature of the world and oneself. All life, all thought, all meditation, is to be governed by the authority of the shepherds of the group [the Church]; and there can be no doubt, from what we know of the history of this tradition, that this authority was imposed and maintained by force.
But any religious symbol, so interpreted that it refers not to a thought-transcending mystery but to a thought-enveloping social order, misappropriates to the lower principle the values of the higher and so (to use a theological turn of phrase) sets Satan in the seat of God.
“Karen Armstrong is considered one of the world’s most thought-provoking and original public thinkers on the role of religion in historical and contemporary life. Her poignant writing and captivating talks have sparked worldwide debate and respectful dialogue.”
Karen Armstrong hopes for compassion in religion
Karen Armstrong’s TED Prize Talk – Charter for Compassion
Vancouver Peace Summit – Karen’s Charter for Compassion
Karen Armstrong at The Cathedral of St. John the Divine
An Evening with Karen Armstrong at UC Santa Barbara
Karen Armstrong on InnerVIEWS with Ernie Manouse
Karen Armstrong CIRS Distinguished Lecture
Compassion: Nice idea or Urgent Global Imperative
One on One with Karen Armstrong
Karen Armstrong in Vancouver – Jack P. Blaney Award
Karen Armstrong in Vancouver – What is Religion
Karen Armstrong in Vancouver – Compassion in Action
Karen Armstrong – Big Think interview
Karen Armstrong at St. Paul’s Cathedral
Bishop John Shelby Spong presented a week of lectures for The Chautauquan Daily’s Interfaith Lecture Series in June 2012. The series was named after his book, Re-Claiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World, and you can watch all 5 lectures here, or download them in .mp4 format for your archive.
“I study the Bible every day of my life, I’ve read that book from cover to cover more than 25 times, some parts of it many more times than that, but I am one priest and bishop in the church who is no longer willing to read that book through stained glass lenses.”
“I was amazed by how many educated people actually thought the Bible dropped from heaven fully written, divided into chapters and verses and in the King James version. Paul only wrote seven of the Epistles that are attributed to him. And Solomon did not write the Proverbs.”
“Did you know that in the book of Deuteronomy we are told that if a child is willfully disobedient and talks back to his or her parents, that child is to be taken to the elders of the city and stoned until dead at the gates of the city?”
“Someone said the church likes to treat laypeople like mushrooms. You keep them in the dark and you cover them over with — shall we say — manure.”
“Everything we have in the New Testament about Jesus floated through some kind of oral transmission for 40 to 70 years before anybody wrote it down. How literal can such a process be? And there is no evidence that we can find anywhere that miracles understood as supernatural acts were ever associated with the memory of Jesus of Nazareth before the eighth decade of this Common Era.”
“The division between Christianity and Judaism is a very late division. The Christian inability to place its story into a Jewish context is the primary source, I believe, of the way the Christian story has been distorted with literalism.”
The Judeo-Christian Faith Story: How Much is History? [mp4]
The Prophets: Not Predictors of the Future but Change Agents [mp4]
The New Testament: An Evolving Story [mp4]
The Story of Judas Iscariot [mp4]
Re-Casting the Christ Story: Not a Rescue Mission but the Birth of a New Consciousness [mp4]
This is the complete 2009 film series by pastor/author Rob Bell. Excellent stuff.
Description: “Filmed live in 2009, Poets/Prophets/Preachers is a five part film series devoted to reclaiming the ancient, beautiful, provocative, healing, inspired art form known as the sermon. Over the five talks Rob explores the theological, conceptual, practical and personal dimensions involved in giving a talk, sermon, message, or teaching.”
Part 1: The Original Guerilla Theatre
Part 2: Beginning in the Beginning
Part 3: The Science of Homiletical Architecture
Part 4: Radar Buckets Chunks and the Marinade
Part 5: Death by Paper Cuts
This is an excellent public talk by Swami Kriyananda in Los Angeles at the July 21, 2007, book launch of Revelations of Christ: Proclaimed by Paramhansa Yogananda, Presented by his disciple, Swami Kriyananda.