Overcoming the real challenges humanity faces.


Question & Answer

Q: By Toby

My understanding from reading Bishop Spong is that the religions are created on primitive assumptions that are obsolete yet false. It’s clear that religion is humanities first and worst attempt at philosophy. Every point he makes, save for completely denouncing an existence of God, points to atheism. Wouldn’t it be more dignified to finally denounce these manacles and speak to the goodness of the hearts of man and the solidarity that seems innate in our species, as well in other species on this planet? In the final analysis, it’s as if he chooses religion over humanity.

If you don’t take the last consequential step out of these ill-fated institutions, as well-meaning as they might be, how will humanity be able to overcome the real challenges humanity faces, if humanity does not choose to take responsibility for itself instead of waiting to be saved?

A: By Jennifer Berit Listug and Skylar Wilson

Dear Toby,

Thank you for posing these giant and important questions as we too have struggled with them. Also, thank you for naming and trusting “the goodness of the hearts of man and the solidarity that seems innate in our species, as well as other species on this planet” as we have at times struggled to believe in even this, let alone God. We therefore can’t answer your questions.

We agree that the institutions of religion are already falling apart and that this is a wakeup call for each of us to participate in taking responsibility for the real work of philosophy and spirituality: looking for our place within the vast mystery of life in order to participate wisely and live well. I was therefore not surprised when the Dalai Lama said “For all its benefits in offering moral guidance and meaning in life, religion is no longer adequate as a basis for ethics. Many people no longer follow any religion. In addition, in today’s secular and multicultural societies, any religion-based answer to the problem of our neglect of inner values could not be universal, and so would be inadequate. We need an approach to ethics that can be equally acceptable to those with religious faith and those without. We need a secular ethics.”

Yet the question remains: “how do we create a culture of inner values and secular ethics?”

Perhaps Thomas Berry was right when he asserted that we will not protect nor love that which we do not experience as sacred. This is where we move from religion to mysticism as we fall in love again and again with the awe-inspiring mysteries that create us as well as inspire fresh perspectives on the monumental challenges we now face. We see Bishop Spong’s work as falling more into this category of mysticism (rather than atheism or religious nostalgia). Of course, a healthy relationship with the mystery holds space for the fact that we don’t know what the ultimate nature of reality is. And yet, when we lean into these mysteries together, with our hearts as well as the reflective muscles of our minds, to engage in experiences that invoke authentic reverence and togetherness, we enter back into the awe-inspiring experience of being alive, which is the root of both religion and secular ethics as well as kindness.

~ Jennifer Berit Listug and Skylar Wilson

This Q&A was originally published on Progressing Spirit – As a member of this online community, you’ll receive insightful weekly essays, access to all of the essay archives (including all of Bishop John Shelby Spong), and answers to your questions in our free weekly Q&A. Click here to see free sample essays.

About the Authors

Jennifer Berit Listug is the co-author of Order of the Sacred Earth: An Intergenerational Vision of Love and Action and works in book publishing as a private consultant for authors assisting with manuscript editing and book publicity. She is also the co-director of Wild Awakenings, an adult Rites of Passage organization dedicated to fostering the thriving of Earth, life, and humanity. Jennifer was on the Board of Trustees at the Unity in Marin Spiritual Community for three years, serving as the Board President for 18 months. Also at Unity in Marin, Jennifer was a guest speaker for Sunday mornings, she led Rites of Passage groups for teenagers, and founded a young adult interfaith group committed to conscious connection, community service, and social activism. She is a passionate hiker, reader, writer, and public speaker.

Skylar Wilson, MA is the founder of Wild Awakenings, a conscious community of change-makers dedicated to the thriving of Earth, life, and humanity. He has led wilderness rites of passage journeys as well as ecological restoration teams for 18 years, specializing in creating sacred wilderness immersion experiences and interfaith ceremonies.  Skylar is the cofounder and co-director of the Order of the Sacred Earth, a network of mystic warriors and activists dedicated to being the best lovers and defenders of the Earth that we can be. Skylar is the coauthor of the book by the same title as well as the co-host, with Jennifer Berit Listug, of the podcast: “Our Sacred Earth” on Unity online radio. Skylar works closely with schools and organizations including the Stepping Stones Project in Berkeley, CA over the last 8 years while guiding organization-wide retreats, mentoring youth, group leaders, parents and elders. He also produces transformational events for thousands of people around the country including the Cosmic Mass, an intercultural healing ritual that builds community through dancing and the arts. He lives in Sebastopol, CA with his wife, son, two affectionate cats and a white wolf named Luna.

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