In a Quaker reading of the Fall myth, Adam and Woman have fallen into the spiritual death of the “way of self-wisdom and knowledge,” attempting to usurp God’s role as the Light which shows us what is good and what is evil. Each person will now define good and evil in terms of his or her self-interest, often unaware of doing so.
To frame our religious experience in psychological terms is not to deny a place to those who believe in God, but to return to the very early Quaker insight that, as contemporary thinker John D. Caputo put it, “[T]he event that stirs within the name of God can take place under other names, which complicates the distinction between theism and atheism.”
In their preaching, George Fox and other first Friends sought to direct people, not to belief in or experience of an inner metaphysical essence, but to the dynamic activity of divine revelation in their minds and hearts. Their message remains important today.
“What canst thou say?” is sometimes taken to be a call to “speak your truth.” But that’s an idea that George Fox could not have endorsed; more likely, he would have taken issue with it in forceful terms. His challenge was, and is, much more radical.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor and theologian, was in some ways close to the early Quakers in his views on morality and violence. Yet he accepted the need to lie and perhaps even to kill in resistance to Hitler and the Nazi government, not rationalizing those acts as intrinsically good but taking on the responsibility before God for committing them. I am moved by his sincerity and courage.
Christmastime reflections on fallibility and infallibility, discernment and non-judgmentalism, and Quaker spirituality.
The memoir concludes with an adaptation of a piece published twenty years ago in the inaugural issue of the journal Quaker Theology.
An escape hatch is opened. Can I, in good conscience, climb through it?
The draft board holds a hearing but doesn’t listen, lays a snare that fails, and then goes silent while the FBI investigates me. While marking time, I embark on psychedelic adventures.
My letter to a priest from whom I’d requested a reference for the draft board, in which I explain that I must refuse, as Tolstoy put it, “to be ready on another’s command (for this is what a soldier’s duty actually consists of) to kill all those one is ordered to kill.”
I notify the draft board of my conscientious objection to war; the board refuses to recognize it. I quit school, leave home, and wait for the government’s ax to fall.