May 06 2008

Bishop Spong on Christopher Hitchins’ “God is not Great”

Published by under Quotations

Let me begin with three declarative statements:

  1. Religion must always be questioned
  2. Theism can be abandoned without abandoning God
  3. Christopher Hitchens’ book is a real asset to the current debate.

Now just let me put some flesh on each of those statements.

Since human beings are creatures of both time and space, and since we know from the work of Albert Einstein that time and space are relative categories that expand and contract in relation to each other, then we must conclude that any statement made by anyone, who is bound by time and space, will never be absolute. There are no propositional statements, secular or religious, that are exempt from this principle. Words reduce all human experiences to relativity. That is why every religious formula must be questioned; that is why no word of any book is inerrant; that is why no proclamation of any ecclesiastical leader is infallible; and finally, that is why no religious system or institution can ever claim to possess the true faith. Religion is a journey into the mystery of God. It is not a system of beliefs and creeds and when it becomes that, it always becomes idolatrous and begins to die.
Theism is not God. It is a human definition of God that assumes that God is a being, perhaps the “Supreme Being,” supernatural in power, dwelling outside the world (usually thought of as above the sky), who periodically invades the world in miraculous ways to answer human prayers or to effect the divine will.
It is my sense that this definition of God has been mortally wounded by the successive blows of Copernicus, Galileo, Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein, just to name a few. I do not believe, however, that this means that God has been mortally wounded even if the theistic definition of God has been.
Suppose God is not defined as “a being,” but is simply experienced as a power, a presence. Then describing that experience is quite different from claiming to know who or what God is. Then the question is, “Are we delusional or is this experience real?” I think God is real and I believe we are in the process of defining our God experience in a new way that will replace the dying theistic definition of the past.
Finally, Christopher Hitchens’ book, God Is Not Great, is a description of the theistic God of the past who is dying. The theistic God certainly appears in the Bible and is guilty of many things that are genuinely immoral, like killing the firstborn male in every Egyptian household, stopping the sun in the sky to allow more time for Joshua to slaughter the Amorites and ordering genocide against the Amalekites through the prophet Samuel. Christians need to remember that it has been the theistic God who has been responsible for the development of such things as anti-Semitism, the Inquisition, and the oppression of people of color, women and homosexual persons. This deity has also been perceived as justifying war, fighting crusades and creating slavery. Let us agree with Christopher Hitchens that this God is not great. We need to challenge Christopher Hitchens’ assumption, however, that this is the only way we can think about or conceptualize God.
I think of the God experience as the power of life, love and being flowing through the universe and coming to consciousness in human self-awareness alone. I therefore feel that by living fully, loving wastefully and being all that I can be I can make the God experience visible. I also believe that it is my Christian vocation to build a world where all people have a better chance to live, love and to be. It is when I do these two things, I believe, that I am engaging in the essence of worship.
– John Shelby Spong (with thanks to David)

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Bishop Spong on Christopher Hitchins’ “God is not Great””

  1.   Markon 13 May 2016 at 1:55 pm


  2.   aprilia kinantion 15 Feb 2018 at 3:51 am

    is there any other reference?

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