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This is an excellent book for those who are prepared to think critically about their beliefs – and not just Christian beliefs either!  It is excellent not only for the conclusions that John Spong reaches (I think others have been there before him) but for his account of how he reached the intellectual and theological position he holds today. (For biographical information on John Spong see here.)

It is an autobiographical account of how John S grappled with death, notions of death, what (if anything) happens after death and what the Christian religion (and, by implication, other beliefs) would have followers believe.  He charts the development of his thinking from his earliest contact with death, (the goldfish going belly up and being flushed) through to the passing of acquaintances, wider family, his father, his officiating at numerous funerals and eventually the contemplation of his own approaching demise.  Intermingled with this, is his journey through Christianity, from naive young believer to fundamentalist, to critically questioning and finally discarding the overtly superstitious beliefs that Christianity was burdened with from its earlier days.  Beliefs such as the virgin birth, Jesus as literal son of God, Jesus as God-man, miracles, the resurrection and the like.  As the sub-title of the book suggests, he has moved beyond religion, beyond theism and beyond heaven and hell. 

He concludes that most of our notions of God have been invented by man and most of religion exists for the purpose… “to manipulate the external supernatural deity so that this deity will bring divine power to bear in the service of frightened human beings.”  Ouch!  No wonder John S has become a hated and reviled figure for much of traditional Christianity. 

He expounds a new (for Christianity anyway) vision of God (though he was not necessarily the originator of this view.)  I quote from p.156:  “God is not an external being apart from us, to which we must relate as powerless ones to the all-powerful one.  “God” is more a 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.  This universal consciousness was, however, hidden from us until we exhausted the possibilities of religion in which God was always perceived as other.”  If I am understanding him correctly here, he is talking of the evolution of human spirituality and suggesting that primitive and superstition notions were a necessary stage which we have now begun to outgrow. 

The above gives an indication of his final conclusions as to eternal life – the book’s title.  Escaping the barriers of time and space – eternity is within us.  I can’t do his conclusions justice in a few short sentences, you will need to read the book yourself for this, but my opinion is, it is well worth the effort. 

I am not a Christian.  Never will be.  But I have a fascination for how the dominant belief system of our culture came into being, consolidated it’s power, sustained it’s existence, how it is grappling with it’s decline and whether indeed it has a future.

For me, John S (and others – eg John Hick, Richard Holloway) represent a step forward in the evolutionary development of spirituality.  A step away from superstitious nonsense, a step towards universalism, a step into rational spirituality.  And, I think, it is the path that Christianity must take in order to survive long-term.  (I am struck by how some of the ideas presented in this book parallel those of (original) Buddhism in which the ultimate goal of liberation was a state of  nothingness.  Not the nothingness of annihilation, but rather no-thingness  the absence of any attachment to any thing – a state of pure being.)

I would like to own this book and will eventually hunt down a copy through Amazon or some-such.    For more books by John Spong, see here.

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