Splashing around in theology.

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Location: Ottawa, Canada

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Sunday, November 05, 2006

Be Fruitful and Overpopulate.

John Shelby Spong.
This retired Bishop of Newark (Episcopal Church) once claimed that he was finished with the writing of books. I am so glad that here in what he calls his “third half of life” he has given us yet another insightful look into the relevant theological issues of our day and age.
His most recent book [2005] is called The Sins Of Scripture: Exposing The Bible’s Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love.
Scorcher of a title huh?
Spong, on the face of it, can appear to some to be almost “anti-Christian” but when you really examine his work and read of his personal convictions, you find that a much better summation of his ideas would be “anti-ignorance”.
He is all about asking the needful questions, and doing what he can to dispel the ignorance of invalid answers.
As a “believer in exile” myself, I find in my own life that I am increasingly identifying with Spongism.

Anyhoo... the specific issue that I wanted to point out from this new book is neither all that controversial nor potentially divisive nor heretical enough to burn anyone at the stake over.
It is just.... interesting.
It comes from Section 2 of the book, in which Spong is discussing The Bible And The Environment, and for his “terrible text” he is looking at Genesis 1:28, which says “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it.”

Spong’s argument is that at one time (namely, the time at which this Scripture was written, and several millennia thereafter), the injunction had a certain validity and purpose which our current environmental situation can no longer support in an ad infinitum sort of way.
In ancient times, it is understandable that population growth was a necessary part of human survival. There just weren’t that many people around. Not only this, but they died a lot earlier (younger) than people tend to die today in most parts of the world. Nowadays worldwide population is growing so exponentially, that if the earth were a bus, someone ought to put the brakes on!
In a nutshell, the age-old enemies of human survival have been largely defeated, one after another.
He says:
The proof of this is recognized when one looks at the statistics of human population. Human life emerged on this planet, according to the best estimates of anthropologists, between one and two million years ago. [This is me here, not Spong... cutting in to say that I am fully aware that biblical literalists reading that statement would already be giving birth to a sacred cow over it, but I would remind them that it is ignorance we are trying to expel here, not cattle! Back to Spong now...] Yet it took from that point of origin until 1750 CE [Common Era, same as saying, AD, except more religiously correct to say CE] for the number of human beings to top one billion. It then took only about one hundred and eighty years for the human population to reach the two billion number plateau, which demographers believe was achieved around the year 1930 CE. It then took only forty years until 1970 to add the third billion. Since then, in the thirty-plus years between 1970 and the present, the world’s population has doubled to approximately six billion people. Even now, when the rate of growth has finally begun to slow, the actual expansion of human beings has not.
Current estimates are that before the twenty-first century fades into history, the human population will reach a figure somewhere between nine and ten billion people. There are still some who do not see this as an impending disaster.
-- from page 36-37. The Sins of Scripture, John Shelby Spong, 2005 –

Spong is not telling people here that there is something wrong with their desire to have children, nor is he implying that people ought to quit having children, or feel guilty that they are contributing to the end of the world because they are impregnated or are impregnating. He is merely pointing out that at one time, the biblical injunction presented in Genesis was necessary to enable the human race to survive.
Those days are over. How long are we going to continue being fruitful?
Till there is standing room only?
Millions of people around the world are still interpreting this particular scripture as though it were a present-day command to avoid methods of contraception, and I believe that this is very much a distortion of its original context and intention.
I agree with Spong when he says:
Now it [Gen.1:28] must be seen as as nothing less than a prescription for human genocide. Once it was accepted as the “Word of God.” Now it must be viewed as a terrible and life-threatening text.

If followed literally and applied worldwide this biblical verse would guarantee our annihilation. Therefore we need to be careful of what we mean when we declare that it is the “Word of the Lord.”



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