Retired bishop ponders afterlife

There is no God, there is no heaven and there is no afterlife. At least, not in the way we have traditionally thought of such things. These days, such statements might not seem all that contentious. But when a retired bishop says it, it’s worth noting.

TORONTO — There is no God, there is no heaven and there is no afterlife. At least, not in the way we have traditionally thought of such things.

These days, such statements might not seem all that contentious. But when a retired bishop says it, it’s worth noting.

“My audience is not the people who go to church on Sunday morning,” John Shelby Spong, the retired Episcopal bishop of Newark, N.J., said on a recent visit to Toronto. “It’s the people who have given up on going to church.”

In Eternal Life: A New Vision, his 22nd book, the 78-year-old Spong turns to a topic that haunted him since childhood, drove him to theology and, he concludes, gave rise to organized religion and thwarted its development: death, and what comes next.

What separates humans from the rest of living things, Spong writes, is that we know we are going to die — and that changes everything. Only humans are self-aware enough to realize that our lives are counting down toward some unknown end.

And it scares us, so we invented religion to give us solace, says Spong, who retired nine years ago.

Instead of the traditional concepts of heaven and hell, he takes a fresh reading of the Christian gospels — particularly John — and concludes our demise makes it more important to think about this life than the next.

“The goal of religion is not to prepare us for the next life,” he writes. “It is a call to live now, to love now, to be now and in a way to taste what it means to be part of a life that is eternal. … It is the presence of death that actually makes my life precious.”

Spong was born and raised an evangelical in the American South. His parents were strong in their creationist views, and raised him to be the same.

He clung to as much of it as he could for as long as he could as he became a priest, and then a bishop, eventually taking his place as a liberal theologian.

It’s a journey from Biblical literalism to a less-religious form of Christianity that Spong hopes to help all believers make.

“What we need to do in church is a lot more adult education and a lot less sermonizing.”

Just Posted

Red Deer woman lives 102 years with humour, ‘gentle strength’ — and porridge

Minnie Deibert was surrounded by family and friends at her birthday party Sunday

Boy escapes serious injury after falling from third-storey window

SURREY, B.C. — A little boy is very lucky to have escaped… Continue reading

Harmonic singing for young women will be taught at a fall workshop in Red Deer

The Hearts of Harmony Chorus is presenting the Nov. 16 session

‘Crying out for help:’ Calgary radicalization program evolves to help others

CALGARY — The soft-spoken young man wasn’t being recruited by neo-Nazis or… Continue reading

Victoria pledges to plant 5,000 trees as part of United Nations challenge

Victoria is promising to plant 5,000 trees on public and private land… Continue reading

Your community calendar

Tuesday Bower Place Community Association Seniors Card and Coffee party at 1:30… Continue reading

Liberals pitch middle-class savings as second full week of campaign beckons

OTTAWA — The Liberals tried to turn the page on Justin Trudeau’s… Continue reading

Democrats blast latest Trump crisis. But what will they do?

WASHINGTON — A whistleblower’s complaint over President Donald Trump’s interactions with a… Continue reading

Face transplant recipient’s donor face now failing

MANCHESTER, N.H. — A woman who was severely burned in a domestic… Continue reading

Charity boat with 182 migrants waits to dock in Europe

A non-profit-run ship carrying 182 migrants rescued on the Mediterranean Sea sailed… Continue reading

Singh-Trudeau meeting will be private, say Liberals, but no time set yet

OTTAWA — The Liberal Party pledged Saturday to keep private the details… Continue reading

Glen Assoun calls for reform in how Ottawa considers cases of wrongful conviction

HALIFAX — Tethered to an ankle monitor and alone in a British… Continue reading

No winning ticket for Saturday nights $9 million Lotto 649 jackpot

TORONTO — There was no winning ticket for the $9 million jackpot… Continue reading

Most Read