I ran across a blogger (who does not allow comments in his blog) who criticizes John Shelby Spong from the perspective of a former Christian who left the faith a long time ago and "never looked back". Spong is a difficult person for me to write about because I have mixed feelings about him, as I've described elsewhere. Overall, despite my misgivings, he does get my qualified support for what I think he is trying to accomplish, which among other things is to try to show those people who are spiritually inclined but otherwise alienated from Christian orthodoxy that it might not be necessary for them to live in exile from Christianity. Since I feel mostly in exile myself, I'm not sure that I feel confident in the ultimate success of that project, but I still think it is a project that is worth the effort.
The blogger who criticized Spong is an example of one of those people who made the transition from what Marcus Borg calls "pre-critical naivete" to "critical thinking" but who never made it to the next step of "post-critical naivete", and as a result maintains a rather simplistic definition of what Christianity entails. He doesn't see Spong's theology as fitting into his own stereotype of what he thinks Christianity necessarily must be. Like a lot of people in that category, he goes further than that, arguing essentially that all intelligent people should view religion the same way that he does. In that sense, he certainly shares Spong's own unfortunate dogmatic tendencies. In fact, in critiquing a paradigm that doesn't fit into his own, he ultimately criticizes Spong's own intellectual honesty, accusing Spong of having to resolve the sort of cognitive dissonance that as a former bishop he somehow must be experiencing--that is to say, as one who sees the Bible as having flaws but whose lifetime of service to the church requires him to desperately cling to a Christian identity that he can't possibly really agree with at same deeper level of his being.
The blogger, thus, exemplifies what I have talked about before--the former Christian who changes teams without changing their basic assumptions about what Christianity necessarily means. More importantly, we see the assumption that this narrow definition of what Christianity entails must also be imposed on progressive Christians as well. Somehow all these progressive Christians don't actually know what it is they really believe, apparently. The blogger writes,
Consider Spong’s predicament: he is now a retired bishop, who spent his entire career in the service of the Episcopal Church. Like many of us, he is too intelligent to believe that the Bible is literally true. But, because of his position in life, he feels obligated to not reject the Bible outright, so he ends up wrapping himself around the axle of his own justifications.The blogger also assumes that all Christians must necessarily believe in the exclusive nature of their own faith--that their faith is the only legitimate way. If there are other ways of being spiritual or of loving or of focusing on an ultimate higher purpose, then (the assumption goes), there is no point in being a Christian. The blogger writes,
But one need not be a Christian to do this. The Christian filter is strictly optional. There are a multitude of ways to approach spirituality, and Christianity is but one. Once a person admits the possibility that Christianity isn’t the “One True” religion, and that the Bible isn’t the inerrant “Word of God,” the whole edifice starts to crumble. And as millions of ex-Christians have found, once we’re free from the confines of Christian Faith, we don’t miss it at all.My guess is that Spong would agree that there are a "multitude of ways to approach spirituality, and Christianity is but one." Certainly Marcus Borg agrees with that, as do many other progressive Christians, theologians and lay people alike. So of course by asserting that there are many paths to spiritual fulfillment, the blogger is not saying anything we don't already know. The fact that one chooses a means of mediating the sacred may be nothing more than that particular means speaks to one's own inner self in ways that others do not. And I think this is the key point here. When the blogger says that "we don't miss [Christianity] at all", the blogger is speaking for himself but then generalizing on behalf of others. This is the "I know what's best for everyone else" response. I would agree that not everyone is cut out to be religious, or a Christian. But the blogger cannot speak for everyone. And it is certainly not true that "the whole edifice starts to crumble" if you reject exclusivist claims for a particular faith. On the contrary, once we move beyond exclusivist claims, a religion is not defining limiting "confines" but instead celebrates the liberation of the human spirit through a spiritual journey--and that is a much stronger foundation upon which to build a Christian faith, in my opinion.