Eternal Life: A New Vision: Beyond Religion, Beyond Theism, Beyond Heaven and Hell (Anglais) Broché – 5 octobre 2010
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“Fear of death is the most fundamental fear of human existence. The only way it can be conquered is through knowledge and experience of your eternal being. Eternal Life: A New Vision is elegant invitation to find this part of yourself and be liberated.” (Deepak Chopra, author of The Third Jesus)
“His courage, candor and intense awareness are unique gifts to people both inside and outside Christianity at this critical time in human and planetary history.” (Matthew Fox, author of Original Blessing)
“This work, bound to be influential, offers new insights into religion’s big questions about life and death, making an invaluable contribution to both religious scholarship and faithful exploration.” (Publishers Weekly)
“Spong has spent his life and work making sense of this most fundamental human issue . . . His fans will find this spiritual autobiography fascinating, but so, too, should anyone interested in the still uncomfortable topics of death and mortality.” (Booklist)
“With subtlety and complexity, Spong promotes an idea of an ongoing existence beyond our physicality, one that entirely supercedes “religious” notions of Heaven or Hell and even conventional notions of God . . . Spong’s writing here as elsewhere is intelligent, engaged, comforting, and uplifting. ” (Library Journal)
“Spong once again puts his intellectual money on common sense . . . Religion’s purpose, he claims, is “security, not Truth” - a key insight that demands, in turn, a set of wholly new visions. . . . Spong . . . [is] a unique visionary.” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
“John Shelby Spong, the reinterpreter of Christianity for the doubtful, retired as the Episcopal bishop of New Jersey in 2001 but not from his religious provocations. . . . People have to get beyond the idea of God as a heavenly judge who hands out rewards and punishment,.” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
“Eternal Life: A New Vision doesn’t actually give us a clear vision of eternal life at all. Spong would never do that.... Instead he frees us to dream a dream of what life, eternal or otherwise, might be.” (Central Coast Express)
“Spong invites us to engage the questions, to revel in the mystery, and finally to find our place within God’s place, our time within God’s time, and our life within God’s life.” (Anglican and Episcopal History)
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avec ce Dieu improbable et imprononçable qui est le garant de notre sécurité dans ce monde et dans les autres imaginables.
L'ancien évêque de Newark nous donne ici son dernier ouvrage, et reprend les thèmes qui lui sont chers, la rédaction des textes "Révélés" et
composés avec talent par des rédacteurs inspirés certes, mais par la profondeur de l'humanité et la radicalité de ses questions, entre l'origine de la vie et l'aboutissement de la mort, inéluctable, des dinosaures comme des humains et le soleil.
Il est question de foi, de conviction, mais la "vérité" est ailleurs, c'est avant tout "la sécurité" devant l'inéluctabilité du parcours entre la naissance et la mort qui est à la source de la religion, et de tous ses "sides effects" que sont le pouvoir, le jugement, et ... le profit qu'on peut en tirer.
Spong remet en place quelques idées qui ne sont plus à recevoir, au 21e siècle, en particulier lors de services funèbres, lorsque les mots
traditionnels ne font que couvrir d'un masque conventionnel, surtout rassurant pour les performateurs de cérémonies, mais ineptes pour les auditeurs qui ne peuvent plus "faire semblant" de croire que "Dieu et Bon" quand il prive un enfant se son père, une femme de son époux, des parents de leur enfant. Il y a autre chose à dire, et JS Spong fait des propositions... à lire si vous êtes croyant, et si vous ne l'êtes pas, vous comprendrez peut-être dans quelle mesure vous aviez raison ...
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The very cool thing about Spong's books is that they track his own personal growth in knowledge and, dare I say, enlightenment (for lack of a better term). This gives his books a personal touch which, for me, allows me to see the depth dimension of his being - something which many authors keep well hidden. Recent books by folks like Elaine Pagels (Beyond Belief) and Bart Ehrman (Misquoting Jesus) reveal the personal spiritual sides of the authors and I appreciate that greatly. It's not like you're reading some dispassionate objective dissertation - it makes the material live and breathe.
With that as background, if you're still reading, here's the review:
In his latest book, Eternal Life: A New Vision, Jack Spong's life work dedicated to finding meaning in the Christian tradition blossoms fully and completely by transcending it (but not abandoning it). In some of his early books, he shows the flaws apparent (should I say "obvious") in human-made Christian institutions and doctrine, yet, offers little to give us hope or meaning in their absence. Eventually, in other books, Spong leads us into the understanding that to be fully human (live fully, love wastefully, be all that you can be) is to catch a glimpse of what it means to be divine. In ETERNAL LIFE, he finally (as if the universe was waiting for him to figure it out - wink) pulls it all together and offers a vision which transcends religion itself and encourages us to enter into a new way of being - in relationship with each other and the universe - thereby experiencing eternity NOW.
You'll have to read the book to get the details, but I was VERY impressed with the way he tied together all his previous thinking and made this leap to, what I consider, a new level of consciousness and awareness. Don't let this talk about transcendence, consciousness and awareness make you think that Spong has gone "NEW AGE". LOL. Far from it. It's a personal, well-reasoned and easy to understand story of his own emerging thought and how we might do something similar in our lives.
One thing which surprised me about the book is that he ends up in a place that Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme are at as well, WITHOUT referring to them at all. I have great respect for all three authors and am glad that they are reaching a sort of conjunction in their thinking.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for anyone interested in Spong, progressive Christianity and the emerging universal consciousness.
I confess that I have been puzzled by Spong's repeated definition of God as "the source of life, the source of love, and 'the ground of all being,' which he adopted from his spiritual guide, Paul Tillich. I had hoped that this book would shed further light on this definition. Here, Spong finally reveals that he is a mystic, and that this hallowed tradition of mysticism has seen God through inner experience, not external revelation. He asserts that God is not the theistic, creative, all-controlling deity of the Bible, but rather a divine aspect of our own nature as human beings. Jesus, he says, was fully human, and did not come down to earth as an incarnate God to "save" humankind from original sin (which does not exist, because of evolution). Spong disavows all the miraculous and supernatural explanations of God and Jesus, and believes that the Gospel writers were not trying to be literal in their descriptions of the life of
Jesus. Instead, they were explaining in their limited vocabulary the God-experience like-minded people saw in Jesus.
Spong's main thesis is that human self-consciousness, superseding the consciousness of other animals, left us with fear and anxiety when it was experienced by early man. Because of the knowledge of his frailty and impending mortality, man invented religion to allay these fears. Spong recounts the steps through which religion has grown, starting with animism, going through goddess worship for fertility, ascending to multiple gods of both sexes, and finally resulting in the one patriarchal God of Judaism, Chrisitanity, and Islam. Spong goes "beyond religion," asserting that this form of worship was suitable for the childhood of the human species. Now, the contributions of Galileo, Newton, Darwin, and Einstein have rendered the theistic God obsolete.
Bishop Spong's description of the evolution of religion, interspersed with his own life experiences, make up the most informative part of the book. But when he starts to describe his own view that he and other human beings will live eternally "beyond heaven and hell," he loses me. I think it is just another delusion manufactured by Spong, through his relentless study of the important aspects of science and human nature, and his boundless love of spirituality. He says that there is no present, only the current moment becoming an endless future. Because we can imagine things outside time and space, both the past and the future, we are really timeless beings. Our consciousness will become the consciousness of all the universe, just as Jesus modeled for us.
Spong tells us that the love he has given and received from his family, friends, and acquaintances is the most cherished aspect of his personal "divinity." Most of all, the love of both his wives was the greatest gift he has received. Since God is "the source of love," he is assured that his consciousness will live forever, and he welcomes death when it must come. In his last chapter, Spong says that we human beings are entitled to choose euthanasia when death becomes inevitable, because of the medical prolongation of life not available to previous generations.
The book is eloquent and beautiful, if not wholly rational,and is typical of Spong and his enormous life achievements.
This latest--and last--book by Bishop John Shelby Spong is difficult to review in some ways; it is not easily characterized by simple technical questions about scripture or Biblical interpretation. Rather, "Eternal Life" covers the biggest and toughest of questions.
A few relevant disclaimers: 1) This reviewer is a non-theist, and no longer believes in god. 2) Many skeptics and non-believers break ranks with Spong insofar as he persists in using "God language" like "salvation," "eternal," and "redemption". Such breaks are evidenced by the Bishop's participation in some formal debates with atheists. Still, it seems that if we discard our symbols and metaphors we might arguably just as well discard all attempts at articulating the human experience--including art, myth, literature, and all of language. As Spong frequently points out, language is but symbol. It is therefore worth pointing out that the naturalist, skeptical, and materialist reader may want to be patient with Spong's use of loaded symbolic terms. If we open our minds to alternative definitions that do not insult our modern advances in thinking, we just may find some beautiful ideas to which we can assent. 3) Finally, this reviewer is an admitted fan of John Spong, as evidenced by the inclusion and fictionalization of an extensive discussion with him--with kind permission--in the reviewer's novel that illustrates how uncritical acceptance of any belief can divide, diminish, and literally endanger our humanity ("A Secret of the Universe: A Story of Love, Loss, and the Discovery of an Eternal Truth").
Disclaimers notwithstanding, it is worth clarifying that Bishop Spong's "Eternal Life" is indeed a new vision that boldly chastises and discards traditional religion, yet somehow illuminates what the great mythologist and comparative religion scholar Joseph Campbell called "the power of myth" to facilitate our understanding of our experiences--in ways even strict materialists can access.
Einstein said "the only source of knowledge is experience," and it is experiencing the realm of human emotion and the interconnectedness of living things into which Spong calls us, using this symbolic language of old. Herein lies the beauty of "Eternal Life: A New Vision"; its wisdom is accessible to the progressive Christian and the skeptic alike. If some of us who consider ourselves atheists wish to move beyond that simple statement about what we don't believe, and focus on the affirmative, there is much that can be learned from Bishop Spong's views of what it means to be alive, what it means to be human, and how even ancient mythologies can inform our experience of love, loss, mystery, wonder, and awe.
Readers who can accept new interpretations and definitions of old symbols and allegories will glean much from Spong's shared journey of experiences--concepts that are consistent with science and modern understandings of how the real world works, consistent with the mythological truth of sacred texts, and that still call us to be more fully human and to "live fully, to love wastefully, to be all that you can be and to dedicate yourselves to building a world in which everyone has a better opportunity to do the same" (p212). If we do that, Spong argues, we can experience the connectedness he associates with "god"--which lies within us! He says, "The divine we have always sought turns out to be a dimension of the human." We can experience the "eternal" through this life--touch it, if you will. While the book embraces death and darkness as our call to meaning and light in this life, Spong is staunchly insistent that it is through this life that we experience this new, almost scientific or quantum view of "divinity," connectedness, and interrelatedness. (Thankfully, he makes no attempt to co-opt quantum physics into yet another new-age, woo-woo religion, as do many who seek simply to provide the next opiate to the people---or to sell get-rich-quick books on Oprah.)
While Spong's answer to the unanswerable question of life after death is an assertive "yes, it exists," that "yes" comes carefully nuanced in modern arguments for a somewhat mystical interconnectivity. As Carl Sagan would remind us we are all made of "star stuff." That alone is evidence of connection. But memories literally transcend time, and we recall and still live in the love of those who are dead--which makes them live on in a real way. Still, Spong is unwilling to make the seemingly distasteful assertions of years past, that we'll actually physically be reunited with loved ones in some anthropomorphic post-life experience. Indeed Spong's are a new set of definitions for old ideas, and a new way of looking at life after death, so any reader expecting affirmation of traditional afterlife fantasies of milk and honey will be disappointed.
Clearly we can't expect that Spong has discovered heretofore unknown secret knowledge of the afterlife, and revealed it in this book; but what Spong gives us is far more than just an accounting of his own spiritual and intellectual journey through life, and it's inevitable suffering and discarded theodicy-plagued solutions. It is also more than metaphor for his spiritual journey, which he sees as parallel to that of the evolution of humanity's search for answers on a macro scale.
Bishop Spong argues that if we are willing to listen, we can find that through death life is illuminated, transformed, inter-connected, and indeed, transcendent beyond what we seemingly see. This is a mental stretch for many of us, but one can argue it need not conflict with even a purely materialistic view of the world, where memories are but electrical impulses stored in neurons, and matter is all there is. So for skeptics and believers alike, it is worth our effort to look beyond what could be a false dichotomy of either supernatural nonsense or blindness to our full human experience, and stand wrapped in awe at what is. Reading "Eternal Life" will help any curious mind to do just that--celebrate what is, and embrace life more fully in the process.
The first stage involved trying to save my Dad because he was obviously going to Hell as a non-believer.
The second stage was going to Spong lectures with my Dad.
It turned out I was the one who needed saving.
My father passed away this year, making death a theme, a book such as this beyond appropriate, and all those memories of celebrating Spong lectures with my Dad so precious that the debt I own to John Spong haunts me. My only solace is in knowing I share that debt with legions.
As always, what Spong does is the hard work and the research to bring all humanity has to offer to glean the best understanding of an issue possible and then make it accessible to us.
This may well be the fine last book, but Spong has always seemed to be, from God, the gift that keeps on giving.
It is a deeply personal book as it had to be. Spong talks about his own mortality as he must.
I don't want to let him go.
As I reflected on clinging to him it became a meditation on the Bible verse after Jesus death where he tells Mary, "Don't cling to me."
Perhaps I understand that verse for the first time. It was a new vision.
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