Eternal Life: A New Vision: Beyond Religion, Beyond


Eternal Life: A New Vision: Beyond Religion, Beyond Theism, Beyond Heaven and Hell An imperfect book with some valuable insights.Two stars for the introductory chapters on death These are awesome perspective Life gets meaning because it s finite.One star for Spong s atheistic argument against religion One of priesthood makes the case that some of the things we do in the name of The Lord, are just plain silly when you get right down to it Worse, they cause harm Unlike some other fabulous books from the atheist perspective The God Delusion, Breaking the Spell, The End of F An imperfect book with some valuable insights.Two stars for the introductory chapters on death These are awesome perspective Life gets meaning because it s finite.One star for Spong s atheistic argument against religion One of priesthood makes the case that some of the things we do in the name of The Lord, are just plain silly when you get right down to it Worse, they cause harm Unlike some other fabulous books from the atheist perspective The God Delusion, Breaking the Spell, The End of Faith, Letter to a Christian Nation, etc , this one actually has a chance of being picked up by the religious and not thrown immediately down in a big huff.Spong loses two stars for the remaining 1 3rd of the book, where he goes right off the rails by coming back to religion while simultaneously rejecting ithe gets very confusing , only a clumsily bastardized form of it that s one shake spiritualism and one shake Gospel only, properly, as he interprets it He totally falls down here by failing to recognize or give up that you don t need religion for some of the underlying ideas in that last portion to be valid.By rejiggering religion and holding up the taped remains of the Bible he d previously shredded, he s only succeeding in giving the same kind of vapid indefensible backing to ideas that just might deserve some real, honest consideration By re invoking religion in support of his grand spiritualist vision, he leaves adherents vulnerable to the same types of coercion and defrauding to which they were just previously vulnerable before they tossed aside their Bibles I got the distinct sense here that Spong didn t have a coherent sense of where he was going or what he was doing with his ideas He was thinking about it fresh on paper maybe he wanted to write it out fast lest it not be written at all, he is a rather elderly man, after all.In the end, I don t buy his concepts Eternal Life TRUE eternal life experience of the unique one ness of the universal ground of all being which surrounds us and penetrates us and binds us to the tree, the rock, the land, the ship Use what you ve learned, save you it can Okay, I jest here, but what claptrap The required redefinition of life and eternity become almost a joke just to make the book s title work I get the sense Spong himself doesn t really even buy it completely or it d be easier for him to communicate.What I do buy is the notion that we are eternal in the sense that while we live, we produce impacts that affect others, no matter what our station in life We are affected, have the lives we have, in part do to the actions of long dead humanity, mostly nameless and faceless and totally unknown, some known to history, some select few personally close friends and relatives We in turn each create ripples through our lives that impact others, starting with the people who are close to us, and via strings of impacts one person to the next, our impact is felt directly or indirectly, large or infinitesimal, upon the rest of humanity.So our eternal life is the lasting impact we have by striving to live as best we are able It s not really a mystery You can think deeply and think about how our self conscious experience, emerging from the same basic matter that makes up the rest of the universe, might be one way for the universe to know about itself Yeah, that has a certain satisfaction, a certain aesthetic to it.We don t need a carefully rehashed version of Christian dogma to support it It s self evident, once you ve experienced enough life and gained enough knowledge.Kudos but no stars for the epilogue, where Spong deals with the question of euthanasia and the right to die In addition to being an atheist, I m also a libertarian I believe I own myself My consciousness lives here in this body It homesteads it, it s the only thing that can Therefore, my body is its rightful property I can choose to use my property any way I see fit, barring interference with the rights of others to use their property.I can sell it, I can lease it out, I can conserve it, I can remodel and fortify it I can choose to dispose of it as well, when it becomes obvious that it can no longer suit me, and nogood can come from its continued operation.If a government interferes with your ability to use your property as you desire, then it s really not yours, it s theirs, and they re just letting you have some conditional access Of all the things people choose to be offended by, for me, it s this notion that the Government is the real owner of things and even ourselves, that is truly offensive.On the right to choose to end one s life then, my characterization is stark Spong s is beautiful and proper.I feel like I have traveled beyond this book Even it s atheistic arguments are primitive compared to others I ve read or have just now started reading about.However, for anyone dealing right now with death, it s opening chapters lend very comforting perspective from someone who has seen and experienced so much death I highly recommend them.For others, principally religious individuals who have been trained or otherwise learned to reject anything atheistic, Spong s words may have gentle authority enough to get you to let your guard down a bit, without comedown or condescension, just long enough to let you do some serious thinking.You might be surprised at your reaction You might be further surprised to realize that casting aside some or all of that religion won t cause the world to end, or demons to enrapture you, or evil to enter your heart You might be surprised to realize your life become suddenly all thevaluable to you, once you know fully well how wonderful a gift you have, and what you can loose out on by squandering it Spong calls the format of this book a spiritual autobiography He infuses his own experience with non personal observations about life, reality, and the scriptures Some of his beliefs and conclusions will seem very surprising, given that he was a bishop in the Episcopal Church Three cheers for heresy Big Ideas The universe is mysterious and life seems to have arisen by accident i.e not with humans in mind Most species that ever existed are now extinct Humans have only been around for a Spong calls the format of this book a spiritual autobiography He infuses his own experience with non personal observations about life, reality, and the scriptures Some of his beliefs and conclusions will seem very surprising, given that he was a bishop in the Episcopal Church Three cheers for heresy Big Ideas The universe is mysterious and life seems to have arisen by accident i.e not with humans in mind Most species that ever existed are now extinct Humans have only been around for a fraction of universal time Humans unique self consciousness gives rise to awareness of and anxiety about death All human cultures developed religious ideas Religion was an effective way to understand reality and helped early humans deal with death Animism as a religion makes sense in hunter gatherer cultures that depend on a wide variety of forces for life Feminine deities make sense in early agricultural societies as food comes from the earth like children come from the womb Masculine deities make sense as we began to understand the man s role in reproduction and the role of other forces on agricultural production sun, rain, and seeds being like semen, creating life inside the womb of the earth Eventually religion became a way for human institutions to maintain power and control Religion in the past was a search for security, but security is something that I no longer recognize as a virtue I must seek to embrace insecurity as one of the essential marks of our humanity and strive to help people understand that it is no longer a vice, but a doorway into a new understanding of our humanity The religion of the past sought to locate meaning and purpose in an external deity That effort succeeded only in robbing life here and now of its own intrinsic worth, meaning and purpose The religion of the past sought an answer to the unique human awareness of death by postulating a realm in which death is overcome I seek to find a doorway into the eternal by going deeply into this life Modern science creates problems for our primitive understanding of God God was thought of as being in the sky the heavens , but where is God when you have traveled beyond the sky and understand the vastness and shape of the universe Religion is not a journey into an external deity, but a journey into the heart of our humanity, where we break out of our separation fears and enter the meaning of transcendence, oneness, timelessness and, finally, eternity Perhaps God is that presence in whom, to use another personal word, or in which, to stretch our language substantially, we live and move and have our being, as Paul is made to say in a sermon in the book of Acts 17 28 The power of love flows through all forms of life, but it ceases to be instinctual and comes to self consciousness only in human beings That power of love is also part of who God is for me This means that thedeeply I am able to love, theGod becomes part of me This is why no religion can in the last analysis ever really be about proper beliefs and proper practices Those are only the artifacts of religious power Religion has to be about the enhancement of life through love Religious rules are sacred only if they serve to enhance life That is the point Jesus was depicted as making when he declared that human life was not made to fit into the Sabbath day rules, but that the Sabbath day rules were created to enhance human life We will never achieve human maturity until we let go and take leave of this parent substitute Jesus is not to God what Clark Kent was to Superman Jesus was a human life so deeply lived, a human life through which love flowed without barrier or interception, a being so courageously present that he was open to the ultimate ground of all being He had stepped from self consciousness into a universal consciousness that brings us into a profound oneness with all there is He had become one with God God is not a being external to life that we must woo and flatter to gain divine protection and ultimate triumph over the demons that beset us as we seek meaning, purpose and a stake in eternity Running counter to this principle of our dying religious past is the mystical perception,experienced than believed,intuitive than doctrinal, that God is the ultimate being in which our being shares Humans participate in eternity through our ability to remember the past, conceptualize the start of time, and project into an imagined future We can also travel beyond physical space in our minds, so there is a very real way in which we are not limited like other beings The unique type of self consciousness we have seems to unite us to a whole that is bigger than our individual selves It can be hoped that we will participate in this whole in some way after our physical death I feel myself so much a part of everything living that I am not the least concerned with the beginning or ending of the concrete existence of any one person in this eternal flow Albert Einstein It appears increasingly clear that we are now awakening to a sense of oneness with all that is indeed, we areconnected than our minds can yet embrace Self consciousness begins to look like just onestage in our development that will finally bring us to an awareness of our essential oneness with the universe, a oneness that binds together the material and immaterial things, and even our bodies and our minds, perhaps as a universal consciousness How do we move beyond this separation that appears to have come with and be a mark of self consciousness Can we understand selfhood without the kind of separation that in self consciousness brought to us all of the anxieties that still plague human life Individuation is just another step in the creation of a wholeness that enables the individuated one to be unique and part of the whole simultaneously It is our recognition of the fact that only through the process of the individuation of the separated whole can that whole even be perceived God is not an external being apart from us, to which we must relate as powerless ones to the all powerful one God isa glimpse into the meaning of the totality of human experiences, where we recognize that we are part of an ultimate grasping after a universal consciousness with which we are one and in which we are whole John s mystical approach to Jesus shouts the reality that we share in the life of God, just as Jesus did We share in the being of God, just as Jesus did Does that mean that our consciousness shares in the consciousness of God I think it does, and as we becomedeeply and fully conscious, we move from the being of survival to the being of love and we participate in and reveal the reality of God The human quest for life after death is thus not based in any sense on the claim that my life or anyone else s is immortal it is based on a new awareness that self conscious human life shares in the eternity of God and that, to the degree that I am in communion with that ever expanding life force, that life enhancing power of love and that inexhaustible Ground of Being, I will live, love and be a part of who God is, bound not by my mortality but by God s eternity Potent Quotables People never think their way into new ways of acting, they always act their way into new ways of thinking Erich Fromm The church is like a swimming pool Most of the noise comes from the shallow end Often attributed to John Shelby Spong, but originally from William H Vanstone God is present whenever a person transcends human boundaries and sees the portrait of unity, not separation.The task of religion is not to turn us into proper believers it is to deepen the personal within us, to embrace the power of life, to expand our consciousness, in order that we might see things that eyes do not normally see It is to seek a humanity that is not governed by the need for security, but is expressed in the ability to give ourselves away It is to live not frightened by death, but rather called by the reality of death to go into our humanity so deeply and so passionately that even death is transcended That is the call of the fully human one, the Jesus of the transformed consciousness To walk the Christ path will take us beyond theism, but not beyond God beyond incarnation, but not beyond discovering the divine at the heart of the human beyond the death of every particular living thing, but not beyond meaning and purpose, because eternity has entered the particular in the self conscious ones.Ethics are always designed to assist in the expansion of life Every act, whether it be individual or corporate, must be judged as right or wrong based solely on whether it enhances or diminishes the life of another If my action diminishes another, it also diminishes me A diminished life is never the place where holiness will be found Diminished lives will never be loving lives For all you Spong fans who were beginning to grow frustrated at his vagueness, this book tackles an important subject head on What are liberal Christians at least those in the Spong mold supposed to make of the Bible s promise of eternal life We needn t depend upon the supernatural in order to grasp eternal life, for all life is deeply linked Spong quotes Einstein s provocative claim to explain I feel myself so much a part of everything living that I am not the least concerned with the beg For all you Spong fans who were beginning to grow frustrated at his vagueness, this book tackles an important subject head on What are liberal Christians at least those in the Spong mold supposed to make of the Bible s promise of eternal life We needn t depend upon the supernatural in order to grasp eternal life, for all life is deeply linked Spong quotes Einstein s provocative claim to explain I feel myself so much a part of everything living that I am not the least concerned with the beginning or ending of the concrete existence of any one person in this eternal flow Spong wants us to embrace infinity, to transcend time But he hopes for us to discover the eternal in a very practical way Eternity is within us, it is what it means to be human.Spong writes, The power of love flows through all forms of life, but it ceases to be instinctual and comes to self consciousness only in human beings That power of love is also part of who God is for me This means that thedeeply I am able to love, theGod becomes a part of me This is why no religion can in the last analysis ever really be about proper beliefs and proper practices Religion has to be about the enhancement of life through love You ve probably heard this before if you re a Spong fan, but it doesn t hurt to be reminded Love is, after all, the key to finding life eternal.But what about reward Spong is quite happy to rid religion of both heaven and hell, having never been a fan of either The fact is that if you and I live our lives motivated by our desire to gain paradise or to avoid eternal punishment, then we have not escaped the basic self centeredness of life that is so natural to survival oriented, self conscious creatures In other words, eternal reward only gets in the way of the true Christian message.Uplifting and timely, this is a book worth reading twice I have Full disclosure I have been a big Spong fan for years his intellectual integrity and courageous faith are an inspiration to me Often, when reading his stuff, I have the realization, Yes That really resonates with and well expresses my thoughts feelings The two occasions when I have heard him in person and his writings have been a big blessing in my life.That said, my initial reaction to this book was that somehow it does not seem as solidly supported and developed as his work that I had p Full disclosure I have been a big Spong fan for years his intellectual integrity and courageous faith are an inspiration to me Often, when reading his stuff, I have the realization, Yes That really resonates with and well expresses my thoughts feelings The two occasions when I have heard him in person and his writings have been a big blessing in my life.That said, my initial reaction to this book was that somehow it does not seem as solidly supported and developed as his work that I had previously read There are plenty of references to an impressively wide range of scientific, historical, literary, and religious material, as usual but somehow a significant amount of what he had to say seemed just rather subjective and perhaps unconvincing to those of different persuasions and at different places in their journey However, when he described this book as a spiritual autobiography, his approach and style made muchsense to me it is, perhaps one could say, a muchpersonal work It might also be subtitled Life and Death As I See It So Far It is notable that just as there were multiple times when he thought a given project would be his last book, again here he states his expectation that this will be his last book As he says, this is his 5th final book But, this time given his advanced years 79 when book came out , I could believe he feels iturgently, and at times it feels like he is trying get everything said Nevertheless, hope springs eternal in the human breast, so I would not be totally shocked to see yet another new Spong book at some point I hope so In this book, Spong critiques Christian fundamentalism and believes that instead of fundamentalism satisfying a desire for truth, it instead is geared toward satisfying a need for security and helping to quench the existential anxieties buried within us This is perhaps why hypocrisy, bigotry, and prejudice are hidden from the conscious minds of those who require dogmatic certainty Further, according to Spong, this cannot be the path to freedom, wholeness, and the participation of love He In this book, Spong critiques Christian fundamentalism and believes that instead of fundamentalism satisfying a desire for truth, it instead is geared toward satisfying a need for security and helping to quench the existential anxieties buried within us This is perhaps why hypocrisy, bigotry, and prejudice are hidden from the conscious minds of those who require dogmatic certainty Further, according to Spong, this cannot be the path to freedom, wholeness, and the participation of love He offers another alternative and that is the way of the mysticsa pathexperienced than believed,intuitive than doctrinal A process of becoming Spong views the Garden of Eden as a myth a description of some phenomenon of nature representing the birth of human consciousness With this birth comes existential anxiety and the creation of tribal type religions Within the collective consciousness of the tribe , it is very difficult to step outside and view the underlying characteristics of one s religion But if we want to become fully human, we must recognize the dark side of religion and not keep these realities hidden from the conscious mind Only then can we move beyond the ego to the transpersonalto love Most of religion is fueled by fear, not love the church is like a swimming pool Most of the noise comes from the shallow end Spong believes that most of religion is really a projection of our own psychopathology But there is good news After these elements are recognized, we can move beyond religion, which is the only place God can really be found I should really give ETERNAL LIFE A NEW VISION 2 stars, but because it majorly enlightens me at this moment in life, I give it 4.Now, this is the first of Bishop Spong s that I ve ever read and I can sense that it s definitely not his best and that he s probably expressed most of these ideas in his bajillion other works But ETERNAL LIFE is a great introduction to him because it s an easy to read, interesting synthesis, a spiritual autobiography combined with an interpretive spiritual biography I should really give ETERNAL LIFE A NEW VISION 2 stars, but because it majorly enlightens me at this moment in life, I give it 4.Now, this is the first of Bishop Spong s that I ve ever read and I can sense that it s definitely not his best and that he s probably expressed most of these ideas in his bajillion other works But ETERNAL LIFE is a great introduction to him because it s an easy to read, interesting synthesis, a spiritual autobiography combined with an interpretive spiritual biography of humanity Also, it is very brief though often repetitive , and he wrote it in retrospection at like age 78.So Spong is pretty pretentious Somehow this did not deter me from liking him He s articulate, earnest, and unafraid, he genuinely loves his readers, and he s very passionate aboutJesus.First he takes us on a highly personal tour of his own spiritual evolution I could totally identify with him even as someone who did not grow up with religion He put into words a lot of the things I ve been struggling with recently and pointed precisely to the reasons for them so that I was like OMG EXACTLY Now I can break free, srsly.Later Spong takes us through an overview of the history of the universe, our evolution, the development of religion, and into the post modern, post Christian Western world of the present Though oversimplified and probably not without errors and funky interpretations history science are areas of intense interest for him but certainly not areas of expertise , it s a fascinating picture to contemplate I especially enjoyed his insight into the blessing burden of our self consciousness as a species.His relationship to the Bible is complicated and loving and unapologetically postmodern Something that I most strongly disagreed with is his belief that all religious metaphors symbols of the past are officially unfulfilling and should be left behind Personally I don t mind referring to God or the earth as a paternal maternal figure because while it s a limited conception, it is at least one facet of things that we can relate to as human beings.Basically Spong thinks we need to move beyond traditional religion, which belongs to the childhood of our humanity Secularism is a necessary step, and the next is to embrace a new kind of religion that is about oneness He redefines worship, God, and other religious concepts for a humanity that is realizing the blessing of its self consciousness instead of fleeing from its mortality I found myself pretty convinced by his overall thesis Obviously each individual should move through these stages at their own pace, but society culture as a whole can prepare for a shift.Spong now believes that God is the Ground of All Being and the universal consciousness He sort of jumped into this very suddenly in the narrative by talking about the mystics And his belief seems to be based in an intuitive subjective knowing I wish he d explained it better, but it must be something that you have to experience for yourself, so my new goal in life is to be a mystic lol.Overall a small, thought provoking book that I would recommend with my whole heart to critical thinkers and religious seekers who are feeling a little stuck and alone While the book tends to bog down early on, and Spong recounts at some length the development of human life and consciousness from the big bang on perhaps my perception was colored by the fact that I have heard that story so many times before , the book definitely turns a corner at about the halfway point and still earns five stars from me He accurately describes what I believe is the essential evolutionary spiritual task of our day moving from an understanding of God as an external, interven While the book tends to bog down early on, and Spong recounts at some length the development of human life and consciousness from the big bang on perhaps my perception was colored by the fact that I have heard that story so many times before , the book definitely turns a corner at about the halfway point and still earns five stars from me He accurately describes what I believe is the essential evolutionary spiritual task of our day moving from an understanding of God as an external, interventionist God who never seems to intervene to understanding God was dwelling within everything that is while affording humanity personal responsibility and paints a picture of eternal life that is intellectually and spiritually satisfying His epilogue about the right to die is very well done, too This book will make you think, and unless your mind is hopelessly closed in which case you would probably never consider reading anything by Bishop Spong it will make you consider your own beliefs in a new light With this book, Spong returns to the form and quality of his early works which he had in my opinion lost in hisrecent, deconstructionist books Highly recommended Drawing on a lifetime of wisdom, New York Times bestselling author and controversial religious leader John Shelby Spong continues to challenge traditional Christian theology in Eternal Life A New Vision In this remarkable spiritual autobiography about his lifelong struggle with the questions of God and death, he reveals how he ultimately came to believe in eternal life If you are comfortable with your religious faith, this isn t the book for you If you have always been troubled by things the church told you to believe or ways your religion told you to behave, this is a thoughtful journey that explores looking at life by going through religion and coming out the other side There are enough parallels to my own life s path for it to speak to me If I ever still consider myself a Christian it is because of the writings of John Shelby Spong. for Adult Forum at church

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