Jesus for the Non-Religious

Today I listened to this podcast from National Radio’s Spiritual Outlook programme*. I listen to all the episodes of Spiritual Outlook as they come out, but it’s only rarely that one inspires me to blog about it.

This one was an interview with Bishop John Spong. He is a liberal theologian and has written many books, including recently Jesus for the Non-Religious. His views resonated very closely with mine.

Historically agreed facts he cites:

  1. Jesus lived between 4 BC and 30 AD
  2. The gospels were written between 70 and 100 AD
  3. The gospels were written in Greek, a language that neither Jesus nor his apostles spoke
  4. The gospels were written by people who had never met Jesus, and were going on two or three generations of stories passed down by word of mouth

Bishop Spong argues that the literalist interpretation of Jesus as a supernatural figure in the Bible, capable of performing miracles, leaves people today with only two alternatives (at least from the point of view of the Christian tradition) . To be hysterical irrational fundamentalists, or to give the whole thing up as a lost cause and be secular. He thinks it’d be nice if there was something in between that was possible. An interpretation of Jesus that sees him as a man who was so open, so fully human that he was able to be so utterly filled with the energy of the Universe, the ground of being, the divine spirit, what Quakers call the inner light.

This is the Jesus I want to believe in. I want to believe that it is possible for any human to be as filled with the spirit as Jesus. To me it is so much more impressive that he did this as a man, rather than as a supernatural being with special powers.

Bishop Spong also talks about prayer, critical of prayers that are ‘adult letters to a Santa Claus God’. Rather, he sees prayer as a way to become more human, more open to the spirit.

Again, this is very close to the way I see prayer and worship, a way inward, to walk on the journey toward being more fully human. To me the historical Jesus is a guide on this path, someone who walked it with integrity, insight and love.

* if the podcast is gone by the time you read this it’s because National Radio only keep their podcasts up there for 3 months or so. If you’d like a copy of it just email me.


One Response to “Jesus for the Non-Religious”

  1. Jim Bartow Says:

    Thank you for your wonderful blog. I was googling for “Quaker notions” and got something much, much better.

    Bishop John Spong talked at Friends General Conference a few years back and he was wonderful. (looks like the link is gone though.)

    I am delving deep these days because our Ministry and Worship Committee (of which I am a member) is trying to come up with a “Welcoming Pamphlet” for our meeting.

    Phrases such as: “As Friends we commit ourselves to a way of worship which allows God to teach and transform us. “, and “It is our experience that faith is based on direct experience of God”.

    Being human, and being filled with the spirit is alone just so wonderful all by itself. Can I see the “God” path as a wonderful way to get there? Absolutely. But what is it about that path that leads so readily to the desire for expansion, absolutism and control? Especially when we have the seeds of diversity, acceptance and love in the form of letting go so deeply imbedded in Quaker tradition.

    My “delving” has lead me back to George Fox’s Journals. While his language is filled with “God” language you can see clearly a person utterly filled with his humanity, with the energy of the Universe. Someone who also walked life with integrity, insight and love.

    Last Words

    Reminded me that my son’s first sentence was “I love you”.

    Journey’s end

    That we are always having trouble finding adults to help out with Southern Appalachian Young Friends (SAYF) absolutely astounds me. I find nothing more spiritual or wonderful than spending a weekend with young friends. (Though I haven’t fully recovered from the time I left one behind at the community swimming pool.)

    Learning to Fly

    At a SAYF retreat we were pairing up and answering the question “If you could do anything you wanted what would it be?” I thought about travel, more time for the hobbies I enjoy, etc. The young friend whom I was paired with said “I would fly”.

    I need to believe everyone has a spiritual resilience, but like with yoga one needs to practice. Was I born with an inclination to practice spiritual resilience? Perhaps, but with mindful “gentle with one’s self” practice anyone can get there.

    Sorry for rambling, Thanks again.

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