‘Religion is Always in the Control Business’ – Bishop John Shelby Spong (VIDEO)

Bishop John Shelby Spong

“Yeah, I grew up in that tradition. Every church I know claims that, ‘We are the true church’  – that they have some ultimate authority…” ~Bishop John Shelby Spong

His words are fearless, unabashed, honest, and rare. John Shelby Spong, in this video, speaks about religion from a place of attraction, rather than promotion.

It’s refreshing to hear anyone, much less a bishop, cut through religious rhetoric and still speak of God in a way that even an Atheist might listen. Sure, many of us have thought some of these things – but he said them. Take away guilt and control out of religion? He makes you want to go, sit down, and have a personal chat with him. I imagine many people are able to relate to his words. We are more alike than most would like to believe.

Here is the video transcript of John Shelby Spong, retired Episcopal bishop from Newark, N.J., interviewed by Keith Morrison:Spong: I don’t think Hell exists. I happen to believe in life after death, but I don’t think it’s got a thing to do with reward and punishment. Religion is always in the control business, and that’s something people don’t really understand. It’s in a guilt-producing control business. And if you have Heaven as a place where you’re rewarded for you goodness, and Hell is a place where you’re punished for your evil, then you sort of have control of the population. And so they create this fiery place which has quite literally scared the Hell out of a lot of people, throughout Christian history. And it’s part of a control tactic.

Morrison: But wait a minute. You’re saying that Hell, the idea of a place under the earth or somewhere you’re tormented for an eternity – is actually an invention of the church?

Spong: I think the church fired its furnaces hotter than anybody else. But I think there’s a sense in most religious life of reward and punishment in some form. The church doesn’t like for people to grow up, because you can’t control grown-ups. That’s why we talk about being born again. When you’re born again, you’re still a child. People don’t need to be born again. They need to grow up. They need to accept their responsibility for themselves and the world.

Morrison: What do you make of the theology which is pretty quite prominent these days in America, which is there is one guaranteed way not to go to hell; And that is to accept Jesus as your personal savior.

Spong: Yeah, I grew up in that tradition. Every church I know claims that ‘we are the true church’  – that they have some ultimate authority, ‘We have the infallible Pope,’ We have the Bible.’… The idea that the truth of God can be bound in any human system, by any human creed, by any human book, is almost beyond imagination for me.

I mean, God is not a Christian. God is not a Jew or a Muslim or a Hindi or Buddhist. All of those are human systems, which human beings have created to try to help us walk into the mystery of God. I honor my tradition. I walk through my tradition. But I don’t think my tradition defines God. It only points me to God.

Spong preaching from a church pulpit: You and I are emerging people, not fallen people. Our problem is not that we are born in sin, our problem is that we don’t know how to yet achieve being fully human.The function of The Christ is not to rescue the sinners, but to empower you and call you to be more deeply and fully human than you’ve ever realized there was the potential within you to be. Maybe salvation needs to be conveyed in terms of enhancing your humanity, rather than rescuing you from it.

Spong: Life is a startling and wondrous experience, and eventually I think we’re going to discover that God is unfolding through the life of our consciousness, in our self-consciousness. There’s not a parent figure up in the sky.


Leslie Leslie Salzillo is an activist, political commentator and visual artist. She began contributing to Liberals Unite in June of 2013.