Goodbye Original Sin

Bishop John Shelby Spong is a Progressive Christian.  He willingly proclaims that much of the Bible is Myth and should not be taken literally.  So why is he still a Christian ?  That is a discussion for a different day.  Today, I want to share his thoughts on Original Sin and why this concept should no longer exist in light of Evolution.  Evolution proves that life is ever changing.  If life is ever changing then there was never a time when it was perfect (not changing)  Bingo !

Spong says, “Nothing, however, in this long evolutionary process pointed to an original perfection. No form of life is what it was originally, nor is it what it will always be. No part of life was born in a state of unchanging perfection, as the Bible suggests, and no form of life ever fell from perfection into what we came to call “sin.” Physical reality knows only an evolving world of trial and error. There was no original perfection; there was only an ever-changing evolutionary process. The theological ramifications from that insight alone are stunning for Christianity. If there was no “original perfection,” there could have been no fall from perfection into “original sin.” If there was no fall into sin, there was no need for a “savior” to rescue us. One cannot be rescued from a fall that never happened, nor can one ever be restored to a status that one has never possessed. The idea that Jesus on the cross paid the price of our fall in order to save us from sin, thus becomes an idea that no longer translates into a concept that makes any sense. This ancient form of telling the Christ story has thus collapsed before our eyes.”

Spong goes on to say, “We human beings were not made in a special act of creation, nor were we created in the image of God. Like every other form of life, we have journeyed over billions of years from a single cell into our various levels of complexity, consciousness and self-consciousness. As recently as the 1960’s we learned of our DNA relatedness to all living things. We now know that not only do we share a 99.9% identical DNA with the great apes, but we also share a DNA connection with the clams, the cabbages and even the plankton of the sea. Life is all one evolving whole. There was no original perfection followed by a fall into “original sin.” There was only the slow and gradual unfolding of life in an evolutionary process. There were howls of protest in religious circles as these realities began to be processed and established as truth. Darwin became, and in conservative religious circles, remains the primary enemy and threat to traditional Christianity, but no credible challenges to Darwin’s explanation of our origins have yet been found. Darwin was correct. The primary way we told the Christ story was not!”

In conclusion Spong says, “Human beings share the gift of life with every living thing, both plant and animal. Is there something common to all forms of life? I think there is. Studies reveal that every living thing, including human beings, is survival-oriented. Illustrations that support this premise are not difficult to find. Survival drives the evolutionary process.

Biology dictates that self-conscious human beings have installed survival as our highest value. That inevitably means that we are self-centered. We do not respond well to people who are different – those who look different, speak a different language or worship a different God- because we have judged them as a threat to our survival. So to be human is to be prejudiced, tribal and sectarian. Self-centeredness is rooted, not in our morality, as we once thought, but in our biology. It is a given, not a consequence! That is the universal human experience that our ancestors once called “original sin.” The experience was real, the interpretation was false. We are not “fallen sinners,” we are rather incomplete human beings. Atonement theology is dead. The door begins to open a new way to tell the old, old story.”

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25 thoughts on “Goodbye Original Sin

  1. Good on Spong.

    “Bishop John Shelby Spong is a Progressive Christian. He willingly proclaims that much of the Bible is Myth and should not be taken literally. So why is he still a Christian ? That is a discussion for a different day.”

    Rabbi Wolpe is much the same. He publicly admits the Pentateuch is myth from beginning to end, but justifies remaining a believing theist because “the Jews are still around.” That is his rationale.

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    • I do understand Spong’s desire to remain a Christian in the sense that he still enjoys some of the stories and what they mean to him. I still enjoy hearing the Christmas Story read at my family Christmas gatherings each year. I’m sure Rabbi Wolpe probably enjoys many of the Jewish Stories for what they mean to him. Unfortunately there remains an uninformed majority of Christians who believe much of the Bible is to be understood literally. 😦

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    • John, I don’t know if you’ve read any articles that Rabbi Wolpe has written on Beliefnet.com, but in another article I read (not this one) he said that while the Exodus may have not happened, he still believes, by faith, that it did. Here’s an excerpt from another article by him. This is on page three if his post:

      The Torah is not a book we turn to for historical accuracy, but rather for truth. The story of the Exodus lives in us. Standing at the Passover Seder, I see in my mind’s eye the Israelites marching out of Egypt, the miracles at the sea, and the pillar of fire leading them through the fearful night. I feel an enormous gratitude to God. For although we cannot know exactly how God has saved our people, we have been saved. Despite unimaginable odds and opposition, the Jewish people have seen nation after nation buried under the debris of history while our nation lives. Here is where archeology, history, scholarship and scripture meet: Am Yisrael Chai, the nation of Israel remains alive.

      He also stated on page 2 “Truth should not frighten one whose faith is firm.”

      http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/Judaism/2004/12/Did-The-Exodus-Really-Happen.aspx?p=3

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      • He’s an odd chap. I’ve spoken with him a few times and he’s quite candid in saying XYZ clearly didn’t happen, “but we’re here [the Jews], so, God.” Rabbi Falick loathes him for this very reason.

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      • @ Neuro
        “he said that while the Exodus may have not happened, he still believes, by faith, that it did”

        That’s not really what he said though. He is saying historically Exodus never happened, but the myth contains THEMES that we can relate to and reflects the larger Jewish historical experience of seeing ancient nation after ancient nation disappear throughout history, but the Jews remain. In other words, he is implying the themes of the story can still function as an “allegory” (using the term loosely here) for actual Jewish experience in history. He’s not saying Exodus was a real event.

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        • CR, he said in another post I read about a year or so ago (as noted in my comment) that he had faith that the exodus did happened (for real) even though there was no evidence. He wasn’t speaking allegorically.

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          • So you did. So do you have a link to the actual post where he said what you’re claiming so we can check for ourselves?

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            • As anyone who knows me, knows, if I had a link, I would have posted it at the time I made my comment. I did, however, look for that very article earlier, and after your first comment, I started to search for it again. I may or may not find it. However, if you read the article I posted in its entirety, he writes:

              “while it is improbable that 600,000 men crossed the desert 2,500 years ago without leaving a shard of pottery or a Hebrew carving, it is not impossible.”

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              • If you re-read the paragraph right before it in your linked article and the one immediately following it, you’ll see that he is describing the best possible argument that others who insist Exodus could still have happened (not his own views necessarily). The paragraph that immediately follows shows why the “lack of evidence is not the evidence of absence” argument, which he is paraphrasing, has problems.

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                • CR, I am still looking for that article. It was a very personal post, like he was having a “dark night of the soul”, where he was fully aware that there lacked evidence, but he believed that eventually evidence was going to be found — therefore he had faith that the exodus did happen.

                  It was a post that seemed desperate to me, as though he might be having a crisis of faith. I’m looking through my files as we speak. I ran across it after I first found John Zande’s earlier posts about the Pentateuch. I was going through the links he posted and Googling the names of rabbis, archeologists and scholars he mentioned, reading more of their background and tracking the original sources.

                  The reason that particular article stood out was because I remember having that same “dark night of the soul” feeling when I was a believer, but had started questioning, then cognitive dissonance would kick in gear, and it was a roller coaster experience of faith and doubt.

                  I don’t expect you to take my word for it. Should I find it, I will post it.

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          • V, I’m not too sure about that, unless of course he’s changed his position on it since 2014. He’s been quite forthright in saying it definitely didn’t happen, not as described in the bible. He points to the absence of any “arrival” evidence as thoroughly damning to the story, which it is. I think he thinks, though, that there might be some obscure kernel of truth in the story, minus the supernatural special effects.

            This is a good article from him on the Exodus narrative

            http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/Judaism/2004/12/Did-The-Exodus-Really-Happen.aspx

            That said, this is what Rabbi Jeffrey Falick (The Birmingham Temple) wrote to me in an email regarding Wolpe:

            “I am highly critical of Wolpe’s and his colleagues’ efforts to simultaneously declare that the Torah is a work of fiction and that it somehow reflects deeper truths. It does not. The Torah reflects the attitudes of the people who wrote it and their attitudes are a reflection of the times in which they lived, no more and no less.”

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            • Sounds like a classic literary theory debate: Do literary works reflect deeper truths or are they just reflections of the attitudes of the times and the people who wrote it?

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          • Oooooop! Linked to the same article 🙂

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  2. Wow — that’s awesome. Christianity needs progressives like him. I tried to get involved with Progressive Christianity, or more in line with liberal Christianity (on my way out of Christianity) but I didn’t last long. At the time, I was so disappointed (pissed may be a better word), for being mislead (duped), that hearing any scriptures quoted from the bible, even though they may have been prosocial in nature, was worse than hearing nails on a chalkboard.

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    • Nice to see you Victoria ! I’m encouraged that Spong uses science to dispel things long held by the church . I hear the nails on the chalkboard every time I am told I am a sinner and that I am not good because man is not good.

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      • Nice to see you, too, Ken. I must tell you that when I started delving into the science research, especially biology and neurology, I think I embraced my humanity for the first time. It was so liberating, and gave me a peace that I’d never experienced before.

        One thing he said about humans not responding well to people who are different has been captured on fMRI scans. But experiments (such as the one done by Dr. Susan Fiske, of Princeton University) showed that when you subtly bias the subject beforehand to think of people as individuals rather than as members of a group or race, the amygdala doesn’t light up. That’s very encouraging.

        As Dr. Robert Salpolsky said “We may be hardwired to get edgy around the Other, but our views on who falls into that category are decidedly malleable.”

        Btw, love the image in your header. No doubt you are enjoying your new home in Florida.

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  3. CR, I dropped out after my first year . I did everything backwards . I got married first then tried to go to college. Smart decision making was not part of my life during this time. Fortunately I got involved in electronics (in the 70’s) and was able to carve out a nice living in the satellite industry and later computers. I was the exception to the rule. This is why I made sure both of my daughters graduated from college with degrees. :-}

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