The Death of Current Religion
August 15, 2013
John Shelby Spong has a useful explanation for why theology always fails, yet human spirituality remains a powerful force, even after Darwin, Freud, and Einstein:
Religion has adopted theological formulas based on two things: First, there is an experience of God, which people come to believe is both real and authentic, which makes them aware of transcendence. This experience is life changing, seemingly unrepeatable and certainly stretching to those having the experience. It leads to new dimensions of life and to new understandings. All religion, along with all theology, is born in such a primary experience.
The second thing involved in religion and theology is, however, the compelling need to explain that experience to another. That is the moment when the experience is inevitably put into human words. The experience and the wordy explanation are never the same. If the experience is true, it is timeless, external and transformative! The explanation, however, is always time bound, time warped and finite. Every explanation freezes the experience in the vocabulary of the explainer. The explanation reflects the world view of the explainer, the explainer’s level of knowledge and the explainer’s time in history. There is no such thing as an eternal explanation….
Truth is thus never served by static religious or theological explanations…..So religion as we now know and practice it is doomed.
This is probably overstated, but the general point seems valid. Experience is the foundation for theory, but theory only dimly captures the experience.
Adam Smith's moral imagination is similarly grounded in experience, and allows for evolution and change, not rigid ethical orthodoxy for all time.
What Spong does not address is why—if the literal view is so unsatisfactory—are evangelical churches on the rise?
[To read the rest of Spong's essay, click here.]
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