Antiquaker: Further Reflections on the Dark Side of Liberal Quakerism

Liberal Quakerism increasingly identifies itself with a small subset of Quaker vocabulary and practices, all loosely defined if at all. The Quaker metanarrative context which gave our vocabulary and practice meaning is ignored or intentionally rejected rather than faithfully developed, as if our selected slogans (“spirit,” “light,” “continuing revelation,” etc.) and practices (silent “worship,” consensus decision-making, etc.) could have meaning in themselves, outside of any contextual framework. But in reality they can’t exist in autonomous isolation; nothing can. In reality, when removed from their matrix they are assimilated into a dominant cultural metanarrative.

For, as minds like Derrida — and vital religious traditions as well — remind us, context is everything. Words out of context would become meaningless, so when ripped from their web they quietly take on new, unexamined meanings. Practices out of context would become empty forms, so they tend to do the same. But we liberal Quakers turn a blind eye to that inevitable process. Consequently, we no longer know what we’re talking about or why we do what we do, and we no longer acknowledge or even see that darkness in our psyches which uses our willful ignorance (and misappropriation of phrases like “that of God”) as cover. And we’re fiercely proud and protective of that ignorance, which we have substituted for the faith in “faith and practice.” As a result, we are increasingly spiritually vitiated, morally compromised, intellectually impoverished, and outreach-impaired. We are a plant without roots, withering in the success of our determination to do without them.

Our root-text, the explicit Quaker religious worldview in which our practices had their identity and function, has effectively been cut off, but selected practices are continued, justified by a few ambiguous words and phrases pulled from the text, and made central and definitive. We have reached the low-water mark of defining ourselves not as people who share a beautiful and powerful metanarrative, a religious worldview finding expression in spiritually transformative disciplines and practices, but as people who perform together certain practices that have no real grounding in anything other than personal preference and liberal values. Consequently, the practices no longer function as disciplines of critical self-knowledge and self-transcendence; on the contrary, we use them as vehicles of self, for reinforcement, celebration, and expression of naively self-centered modernistic individuality. Liberal Quakerism, instead of functioning as a critically questioning corrective for self and society, has become an agent of the modern liberal identity and culture. We who refuse the name “church” have become in practice a tiny, ultra-liberal church, an organization based on forms and insupportable doctrines that furthers the aims of a powerful segment of society.

True, we differ somewhat in that we emphasize practices, keeping our doctrines to a minimum. But in doing so, we simply sever our practices from their intellectual foundations and make them available as vessels for the modernist liberal paradigm. Defecting from our beginnings as a people who rejected forms — which, again, are never really empty — we have become the community of forms par excellence. Abandoning the deeply transforming existential and spiritual, context-derived meaning that once gave life to our practices, we continue in the forms for comfort, companionship, and a feeling of being “spiritual.” Meanwhile, we continue also to despoil the planet, hoard resources, and enjoy all the benefits, including protection by a huge and aggressive military establishment, of the oppressor class to which we pretend not to belong — even as we affirm our “testimonies” of simplicity and peacefulness. We simply make ourselves feel better, and better than others, by spiritual pretense. But outside of our Quaker mini-culture, our pretense is increasingly transparent, and our testimonies are increasingly, and justifiably, seen as hypocrisy.

We assert, for example, that we want the military disbanded, as if we’re really desirous of living with no protection against the appalling violence and poverty in which much of the world lives now while we sip lattes behind the lines.* We project our guilt onto the powerful bodies, such as corporations and governments, our true selves writ large, that satisfy our cravings for security, comfort, pleasure, and power, and then we come together on Sundays to feel good about ourselves for our pretense of spirit-led protest — although we can’t say what “spirit” means, in part because we reject any “limiting” definitions. We are now moving into the position which apostate Christianity occupied for the first Quakers: we have the forms and (some of) the words, including the word “spirit,” but we do not actually know the spirit — or the spirit we know is not the spirit that created and animated the Quaker movement. We, along with some other Friends from whom we imagine we differ greatly, are becoming the present-day Antichrist, the Antiquaker.

Although Friends originally were united in a common metanarrative, and while other subsets of Quakerism continue to be so, ultimately we are held together not even by our common use of words and practices, which mean different things if anything to different liberal Friends, but by the reactive belief that to come together in such a manner, unmoored from a Quaker metanarrative that would question, challenge, and change first self and then society, is a salutary, even ideal, thing to do. Ignorant of the irony, we insist that the word “Quaker” stand for this vacuous, status-quo-perpetuating middle- and upper-class inversion of what was once a revolutionary faith and practice. And yet, although we reject the claims of historic Quakerism when they challenge our prejudices or lifestyles, we do not hesitate to appeal to any elements, apostate or not, of Quaker history that we might use as justification of what we are and do.

And that is today’s report, from one liberal Friend, on the dark side of liberal Quakerism.

At best, what I have described is only a transitional condition, a correctable misstep in our journey through the modern to the postmodern world. At worst, it is evidence of the impending death of liberal Quakerism as a Quaker movement — a death that some liberal Friends actively seek. Although hope is sometimes battered by sounds of victory celebrations coming from within as well as without our community, I continue to hope that it is the former. And I am encouraged by the hunger for a deeper and deeply-transforming spiritual life, and the desire to raise the treasure of our torpedoed tradition, that many liberal Friends and worship-attenders continue to express. The light, though beaten down and covered over, still shines in the darkness.

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*Driving to meeting one day around twenty years ago, I heard a news report about debate in Japan’s Parliament on Japan’s constitutional prohibition of a military establishment. (Japan has a self-defense force but lacks a military establishment and has constitutionally rejected war and war potential.) One member argued that Japan was not truly pacifist but simply a hypocritical freeloader that relies on others, such as the United States, to do the military dirty work that keeps it secure. “What are we,” he asked, “a bunch of nouveaux-riches Quakers?”
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[For related posts, see the “Liberal Quakerism” category.]

14 thoughts on “Antiquaker: Further Reflections on the Dark Side of Liberal Quakerism

  1. WOW. What a barn-burner! I’m here alternately applauding wildly, and mentally chewing, over a lot of what you’ve said George. A short post, but a lot, a LOT of thought-provoking material. I may need to read this one several more times. But you’ve nailed it on the head, what it is about Liberal Quakerism that I am increasingly finding myself disillusioned with.

    My thoughts on the metanarrative also vacillate; I am much more comfortable with the metanarrative of the Gnostic texts, but the Gnostic churches leave me cold (and completely miss the point IMO). As the gnostic metanarrative is, in Christian terms, “anti-Christian” (at least towards the literalized version of the myths), then maybe I don’t have a common ground with Quakerism at all, especially not coming from a metanarrative that requires a literalized christological figure, as the early Quakers clearly did.

    Or maybe the common ground is being obscured by duelling metanarratives? In my own head, at least, if not in the wider world of Quakerism.

    Do you, personally, see other metanarratives than the one propounded by early Friends, having any common ground with (post?)modern Quakerism? Or do you feel that modern (Liberal, especially) Quakerism needs to pick one metanarrative (the original metanarrative early Friends had access to), and stick with it?

    I’m just parsing through my own self and self-reflection right now, and wondering what I should do. Where to turn, etcetera.

    Thanks for this, it really does help.

    Norea

    • Norea,

      The post is an expression of sadness about elements in liberal Quakerism which I experience as negative. It does not describe the fullness of my experience as a liberal Quaker. I hope that readers will take the title to heart: in this post, I examined one side only.

      Regarding religious metanarratives: I think we find increasing theological diversity among Quakers from the beginning. That’s why, here and elsewhere, I try to distill a Quaker metanarrative that goes to the heart of the Quaker experience, that opens us to a particular way of experiencing our lives. I think that a faithful Quaker metanarrative includes at least the following:

      — the recognition of the injustice of survival by competition and natural selection (all of creation is “fallen”);
      — the awareness and acknowledgment of our unwitting complicity in that evil from the beginning of our lives (“original sin”);
      — the awareness and acknowledgment that we continue to miss the mark of justice (“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves”);
      — the decision for love as the source and hope of meaning and liberation from that sin (“faith,” “God is love”);
      — the acceptance of the power of love in our hearts to illuminate us and lead us from self-centeredness into truth and justice (the Light searches our hearts and gives us “openings” and “leadings”);
      — the practice of the discipline of silencing self and waiting upon love to do all of that (worship);
      — the resulting orthopraxis of love in all aspects of our lives.

      Surely, such a metanarrative can be expressed in a variety of narratives, Christian and non-Christian. Perhaps you see some gnostic possibilities in it as well. I can speak a variety of religious languages; I am troubled not when I need to translate to get to the heart of a narrative but when, although the words may sound right, the heart has been lost. When, in the struggle to surrender to love, whether that be in allowing love’s light to search my heart and then accepting what it shows me, or in walking a difficult path that it illuminates for me, I go in hope of support to the Quaker community and find not only that Friends cannot help but also that they seem threatened and even offended by the implications of my struggle, then I am most alone. I find myself in the situation in which George Fox found himself, with “nothing outwardly to help me”: a necessary opportunity, no doubt, but a dangerous one. For I have no “Christ Jesus” to assure me that this struggle even makes sense. I have only the call of the other — a call of which the prophetic text, which also engages me, is but an echo — and the “answer” of my heart to that call. Sometimes I need strength added to my strength. Sometimes I need the wisdom of someone who has walked this path ahead of me. Only some of those sometimes do I find that among Quakers.

  2. George,

    You write: “Surely, such a metanarrative can be expressed in a variety of narratives, Christian and non-Christian. Perhaps you see some gnostic possibilities in it as well.”

    I will certainly ponder those points as a part of my praxis, although I fear we may speak very different languages, “theologically” speaking, on the 2nd and 3rd points. There are parallels in the gnostic cosmogonies to all of your points listed, but the gnostic understanding (as I understand it; I have no pretense of being any kind of an authority) tends to flip the idea of “sin” and “the fall” on its head.

    The other points, as you say, are contained within many religious metanarratives the world over, and would fall loosely I would suggest, under the ethic of reciprocity.

    You write: “When, in the struggle to surrender to love, whether that be in allowing love’s light to search my heart and then accepting what it shows me, or in walking a difficult path that it illuminates for me, I go in hope of support to the Quaker community and find not only that Friends cannot help but also that they seem threatened and even offended by the implications of my struggle, then I am most alone.”

    If the blogosphere is any indication, you are anything but alone, in that particular struggle. Cold comfort I suppose, I’m sorry. I wish it were easier. I wish everything were easier!! But maybe that’s the point. If everything was easy, there would be no “victory so sweet”.

    You write: “For I have no “Christ Jesus” to assure me that this struggle even makes sense.”

    I’m sorry that saddens you, and I find it interesting that you should write this, given your discussion of metanarrative; reading Fox’s “The Antiquity of Our Cross”, I very much got a sense of “the cross of light” pictured in the extra-canonical Christian text, “The Acts of John from Ephesus to Laodicea”.

    “This cross of light is sometimes called the word by me for your sakes, sometimes mind, sometimes Jesus, sometimes Christ, sometimes door, sometimes a way, sometimes bread, sometimes seed, sometimes resurrection, sometimes Son, sometimes Father, sometimes Spirit, sometimes life, sometimes truth, sometimes faith, sometimes grace. And by these names it is called as toward men: but that which it is in truth, as conceived of in itself and as spoken of unto you, it is the marking-off of all things, and the firm uplifting of things fixed out of things unstable, and the harmony of wisdom, and indeed wisdom in harmony.” Source.

    As I’m fond of saying, reality of the myths or otherwise, is not a deal-breaker for me. Am I “saved” by believing that a man lived and died long ago at Jerusalem? Oh, hell, no! (LOL) I certainly lean more towards the inward Christos/Logos of gnosis, than I do any literalized, Christianized idea of same.

    The redemption of Wisdom is through the Word, in the Gnostic cosmogony (or the Valentinian cosmogony at least), and is very much about tempering ignorance and fear and “lost-ness” (bad word but it’s late and not the one I’m reaching for) with empathy and insight and knowledge, knowledge of one’s self that will lead to empathy and compassion for the selfhood of others.

    Which is way, way, WAY easier said, than done. Heh. But that’s the point of gnostic praxis, which I admit I have been sorely lacking in of late. (Gotta work on that.) Either personally, or in a corporate setting, although the latter is not accessible to me right now. (The Second Life environment unfortunately pretty much trashed my cheap-ass computer.)

    I hope some of this was helpful to you? I just want to thank you, as well, for linking me through to the Quaker Heritage Press; reading the original words “from the horse’s mouth”, so to speak, have gone a long way towards grounding me in what Quakerism actually is, for which I am grateful.

    It may end up that my insight in this regard will lead me away from Quakerism instead of further into it, but anything led by the Truth, can’t be bad. Or so I (perhaps) delude myself…..

  3. Thanks for your empathetic comments. I do find companionship in the blogosphere as well as in the Quaker communities to which I belong. If I ever write the complementary post to the current one, there will be plenty of positives to mention. But it seems that I’d been needing to state the critical insights and disappointment more fully: the negatives needed expression.

    I agree that it is interesting, and probably paradoxical, that I write as I do about Christ. I read religious metanarratives as narrative poetry; their metaphysical aspects function as metaphors in my reading, and I experience the narratives themselves as illuminating records of human experience in the struggle against the randomness, injustice, and brutality of life in this Darwinian world. Having the benefit of hindsight, I can see that every apocalyptic vision, including those of Jesus and Fox, has failed: on the level of what most of us would call “real life,” death does have the last word. But we go down fighting — the Lamb’s War.

    In connection with the cross of light, you might find the following transcription also interesting and paradoxical. It’s of a message I gave in worship about 17 years ago.

    In the pure silence beyond thinking and feeling, I am taken up into a field of light. It’s as if I were (to borrow a Buddhist image) in a three-dimensional web of diamonds, each reflecting all the others, each refracting the pure light into myriad dazzling colors. Although my eyes are blinded and made useless, I see more clearly than ever before, and I discern at the center the source of the pure light — a cruciform shape. Drawing near, I perceive on the cross a human form, and a still voice says, “This is the innocent one, eternally crucified in love.” And I see that the body of the crucified one comprises an infinity of living beings, ever changing — some familiar, many strange, but all beautiful. Drawing yet closer, I am pierced by overpowering emanations of joy and agony; the very cells of my body cry out in a silent scream, and I am slain. Yet I live. And, lifting up my head, I look upon the face of the crucified one and behold my own countenance — and yours. Then all is light.

    And yet ….

    • Norea,

      A section of the scripture you quoted has me curious: “it is the marking-off of all things, and the firm uplifting of things fixed out of things unstable, and the harmony of wisdom, and indeed wisdom in harmony.” Do you know what might be meant by “the marking-off of all things,” and what the “things fixed” are? I’m guessing that it means that the cross of light shows us what is unreal and what is real — but I’m guessing.

      I’m also guessing that my experience is different, in that everything appears to me to be real but unstable. Perhaps that’s considered the unwise view in gnosticism, the view of one trapped in unreality? Most likely, I lack the “harmony of wisdom and … wisdom in harmony.” Certainly, I am never completely at peace; something in me is always crying in empathy and protest.

      *****
      Yet another thought: in the piece by Fox that you mentioned, he repeatedly asserts that the cross is the power of God. As I often point out here, the tradition teaches that God is love; therefore, the cross is the power of love. But, and this I know experientially, it is also true that the power of love is the cross: love is suffering. And, again, at least as I am now, I need the strength and support of others in that suffering.

      You’ve inspired me to introspection and increased self-understanding, for which I thank you. I expect to write more of that in my next post.

      • “A section of the scripture you quoted has me curious: “it is the marking-off of all things, and the firm uplifting of things fixed out of things unstable, and the harmony of wisdom, and indeed wisdom in harmony.” Do you know what might be meant by “the marking-off of all things,” and what the “things fixed” are?”

        Bear in mind that’s Stephan Hoeller’s translation of the original text; a copy I downloaded for a gnostic scriptures software program has the translation with a few more question marks than that.

        Personally, how I see that passage as a gnostic, ties in with the Wisdom/Word/Mind mythos, or putting it into mythological terms, the Sophia/Christos/Pleroma. The “things unstable” refer to the “prison-house of the world”, the dominion of ignorance and chaos that was the result of Sophia’s Fall (see, that’s what I mean about the Gnostic ideologies flipping the metanarrative; in gnostic terms, the gods fell, not men), and it is only through “the divine spark” sent from the Eternal Aeon (the panentheism, if you prefer a postmodern terminology for it), that “redeems” Wisdom; through the Christos shining the light on the world to “show” Sophia the Divine Spark in all humanity, Wisdom is “redeemed” and once again, Sophia ascends to the Ultimate, Ineffable, Divine Source, etcetera, from which Wisdom was separated, through ignorance, arrogance, and fear.

        That’s my own take on it, though; the Catholics would probably burn me at the stake for “translating” their metanarrative in such a way, and even the religious Gnostics might say I’ve missed the boat. So take the above as only my own musings, born out of solitary gnostic praxis over the course of about a year.

        “I’m guessing that it means that the cross of light shows us what is unreal and what is real — but I’m guessing.”

        You guess correctly. Gnostics are often accused of being dualists (and some Gnostics thrive on that dualism — not my cuppa), but I’ve always seen that as more of an allegory, than an actual fact; that, if “the whole world is under Satan’s dominion” (to borrow my former fundie group’s terminology), it is so, only if we perceive it thus. Which is where gnosis (knowing one’s self) comes in handy; it doesn’t always, but sometimes it can help, to give a wider perspective, to make me take a step back and say —- “Is it so? Or am I making it thus?” Is this reality, or merely a comfortable illusion I am making up in my head?

        But as I’ve said before, reality is not a deal-breaker for me. 🙂

        “I’m also guessing that my experience is different, in that everything appears to me to be real but unstable. Perhaps that’s considered the unwise view in gnosticism, the view of one trapped in unreality?”

        That’s actually the beginning of gnosis, in gnostic terms, believe it or not. As the 2nd logion of the Gospel of Thomas asserts, “When they ask you, ‘What is the evidence of [the Light/Pleroma/Ineffable] in you’, say to them, ‘It is motion and rest.'” In Buddhist terms, it’s the idea of suffering to know joy. (Although that’s always been a bit too black-and-white thinking, for my taste.)

        “Most likely, I lack the “harmony of wisdom and … wisdom in harmony.” Certainly, I am never completely at peace; something in me is always crying in empathy and protest.”

        That’s the whole sum of it though, isn’t it? That’s what makes us human, what keeps us striving and trying, and moving forward; every time we are “at rest”, something happens, to spur us on, or set us once again in motion.

        It certainly isn’t about “a lack” of wisdom/harmony or Sophia/Christos; but I lean towards a panentheistic worldview, so for me, the Pleroma/Sophia/Christos, is everything, and everything is Word/Wisdom/All. Seeing yourself as “broken” or “missing” something is what the Demiurge/archons (in a metanarrative sense here) use to keep the divine spark of self-awareness entrapped; rather, it is about finding the divine spark in one’s self and within others, that reveals one’s “broken” nature for what it is…..Only an illusion, used (subconsciously at least) to remain inattentive and sleeping.

        Or that’s my take on it, at least. And I’m not even halfway towards actually putting any of that gnosis into good, usable praxis, in social interactions with others, yet.

        “But, and this I know experientially, it is also true that the power of love is the cross: love is suffering. And, again, at least as I am now, I need the strength and support of others in that suffering.”

        Whether you have verbal support or not, that suffering of which you speak, is endemic to the human condition. Most of us tend to self-medicate, either by plugging into The Matrix (only the first movie in the trilogy is *really* gnostic BTW, IMO), or through any of the myriad of ways that humanity turns off, tunes out, and keeps dreaming.

        I don’t know if this is cold comfort to you or not, but I certainly don’t feel like I live out the insights my praxis gives me! Not most of the time, anyway. But I’m working on it. Maybe, in the end, it really is about the journey and not the destination? You’re definitely not alone, and if it makes you feel any better, one of the tenets of the Gnostic’s Vow (I know, not very Quakerly, right?) is, “I will ask limitless questions.”

        I guess what I’m trying to say is, you’re definitely not alone. I’m always looking back and trying to gain further insight into why and how and where and when I (re)act as I do, and trying to temper that with the insights I have realized. It’s not an easy road to travel, but it at least seems to pay out some dividends. (Some better than others, LOL.)

        “You’ve inspired me to introspection and increased self-understanding, for which I thank you. I expect to write more of that in my next post.”

        I’m glad you found it useful! I feel more a pull towards the Quaker forms of discernment and corporate rituals, but the Gnostic metanarrative is what continues to draw me in most closely, which I realized from my long comments your posts have provoked from me. So, thank you, for letting me clarify some stuff for myself as well.

        I’m still reading through George’s pamphlets and papers. It’s tough going, and will ultimately influence my decision as to whether Quakerism is a good fit for me.

        As a nontheist, I thought the NTF would be a good fit for me, but under the umbrella of Liberal Quakerism, I’m still not sure. As a nontheist, I’m definitely branded by the religious Gnostics as unacceptable, even though they pay lip service to the idea that nontheism is OK.

    • A powerful message, and intriguingly narrative-spanning. I can see the parts Christians can latch onto, I know the parts I, as a somewhat-wannabe-kinda-gnostic, immediately recognize, and is that a little bit of Buddha thrown in, just for spice? 😉

      Please don’t take my comments above as flip sarcasm, it’s all in gentle jest. Seriously, the message above puts me very much in mind of the mirrored bridal chamber, that place I can get to, sometimes, where everything is reflected back, and I can see clearly, if for however brief a moment. Not a place for the faint of spirit, as I’m sure your journey above, was as well.

      As the Gnostics are fond of saying, “You’ll know Gnosis when you see it…and we’ll know if you’ve seen it too.” I guess in Quaker terms, that would be recognizing the Inner Light illuminating one who has been bathed (baptized?) by/in it. A bit judgmental perhaps, but it serves the purpose, for me.

      I, too, got the “You can’t really be a Gnostic because you’re a nontheist!” rap too — I think it’s a peculiarity of the religious mindset. Regardless, I know that indefinable, ineffable “it”, when I read people writing about, or trying to write about, their interior landscapes and mental interactions with the Pleroma/Ineffable/Source/Light.

      I’ve tried to write about it too, and I often sound as though I’m babbling and cannot put across what I know. But I’ve been “there” too, where there’s no “there” there, for however briefly a time. I haven’t gotten back “there” in a while recently, but one cannot become an existentialist point of nihilistic light all the time, can one? 😉

      • True to your name, then: “There will be days when she will behold the Pleroma, and she will not be in deficiency ….”

        Thanks for all of the above. I’m interested in what happens when Quaker and gnostic thought come together, and, knowing very little about the latter, I’m not in a position to bring them together, so, as you continue to read Fox et al., continuing reports from the frontier will be appreciated.

        I’m not fond of the image of the world as under Satan’s dominion (why invent a devil, when “sufficient to the day is the evil thereof”? — and certainly there is almost infinite beauty in this world along with the horror), but I did make the conscious decision many years ago, during my initial immersion in Zen, to refuse to allow any religious experience or philosophy to dull my experience of the world’s suffering. In fact, I decided that my spiritual practice would be to open myself up to that suffering as best I can. In practice, my ideal seems most similar to that of the bodhisattva, who is simultaneously detached and attached and therefore able to walk the way of compassion. I also like the idea of never quite making it to nirvana — like always being at the beginning of gnosis. 😉

        That reminds me of the story in which Zen master Gasan, on hearing some sayings of Jesus like “consider the lilies,” pronounced, “Whoever said that is not far from Buddhahood.”

        • “True to your name, then: “There will be days when she will behold the Pleroma, and she will not be in deficiency ….”

          🙂 Yep, although I confess my favourite part from that text is when my namesake breathes fire (literally) on the Old Testament Flood mythos, and vapourizes it! 🙂

          “I’m interested in what happens when Quaker and gnostic thought come together, and, knowing very little about the latter, I’m not in a position to bring them together, so, as you continue to read Fox et al., continuing reports from the frontier will be appreciated.”

          Definitely, and I’m still working through it myself. I’ll confess right now, it’s tough going, and I’m still not entirely sure IF they intersect; but every now and again (like with the “Antiquity of Our Cross” passage), things will line up just so, and I’ll think, yep, he’s got a mainline to the Universal, right there.

          “I also like the idea of never quite making it to nirvana — like always being at the beginning of gnosis”

          As the kid says in the Matrix, “There is no spoon.” 😉 There is really no beginning, middle, or “end” with gnosis; “In Truth, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, unto the Aeons of Aeons.”

          Definitely no eschatology in gnosticism either. At least not an externalized, prophesied one. I confess, I have been avoiding the Armageddon and “prophecy” texts of Fox et al; I fear my disillusionment may become complete at that point, having grown up in thrall to false prophecy to begin with.

          Just wondering if you are going to tackle the false prophecies of the early Quakers at some point? Or is that outside of the scope of your project here?

          • I’ve been much more interested in the first Friends’ inner and “realising” (Pink Dandelion) eschatology, which apparently led at least some of them to an outward expectation: given that the signs of the eschaton were fulfilled within the Quakers, then it would have seemed that the full outward manifestation of the Kingdom would not be far ahead. The topic may come up as I continue to write here; for example, the outward expectation may be an unacknowledged factor in the peace testimony (see, e.g., my little post-911 piece on Isaac Penington’s pacifism), and so I may deal with it in that context.

            But whatever form the expectation took or didn’t take in the first generation, I don’t see it as at all invalidating for the Quaker metanarrative, which is about the biblically-mediated inward experience that led to such biblically-mediated expectation and that carried the movement beyond any disappointed outward hopes.

  4. Dear George:

    If I may be blunt, honest with a fellow Friend, I found your post lacking in empathy. Life is complicated, difficult for most people. There are children to raise, relatives and friends to take care of, money to earn, bills to pay, etc. At the end of the week how many people have time to enter into the kinds of study and practice that you seem to be demanding? I am gratified that Friends take the time to come to Meeting and if that is all that someone can do at this point in their life, then that is enough. In other words, I suspect that it is not so much that people are offended by your suggestions; I think, rather, that it would be perceived as yet one more demand on their limited time and resources. Where you see hypocrisy I see a life lived to the best that those individuals can do at this time. In other words, cut them some slack!

    Best wishes,

    Jim

    • Hi, Jim.

      I didn’t intend to demand special study and practice, or increased use of time and resources, so I’d be helped to write more clearly in the future by being told where I gave that impression.

      The post is about quality, not quantity. It’s about our corporate understanding: how we, as a community, understand ourselves, our faith, our practice, and our moral praxis.

      Where I see hypocrisy is in our tendency to be self-congratulatory and self-righteous about (what we believe are) moral stances that make demands not on ourselves but on others. For example, what began as a firm avowal that Friends themselves would not take up weapons no matter what the personal cost — an avowal that did not attack the biblical idea that the state has an obligation to use the sword to defend the weak — has devolved into a “pacifism” that condemns others (e.g., Republicans, members of the military, weapons suppliers) while costing us nothing, despite our continued enjoyment of the fruits of war. That I trace to our loss/rejection of our earlier self-critical faith-understanding (which I often refer to as the Quaker metanarrative).

      The taking of offense to which I referred above has not been about any demands I’ve made for increased activity, or about any demands at all, but about the implication that we all — yes, even liberal Quakers — are essentially oriented to self and are therefore, usually unconsciously, oppressors. Reminders that the first function of the Light is to search the heart and, as Paul and Friends like Barclay said, “[make] manifest all things that are reprovable” (Eph. 5:13) are met with gratitude by some Friends but with denial and offense by others, especially by liberal Quaker “old-timers.” Sometimes one gets the message that classic Quaker psychology and moral vision are unwelcome, harmful remnants of the Christianity that we’ve finally gotten over. Those of us who seek a way in which to be faithful to that vision in the contemporary world sometimes feel as unwelcome as an apostate Christian.

      Does that ease your concern at all?

      • Good Friend George:

        Yes, that is helpful. I guess I’m reluctant to label a view a hypocritical just because it has some contradictions in it due to historical contingencies. For example, many abolitionists benefited from slavery, even if they did not keep slaves. They benefitted in terms of how the entire economy was run. But I don’t think that was their fault, nor do I think it undermined their anti-slavery commitments. Modern environmentalists benefit from an economic structure that causes environmental damage; but I would not consider that a case of hypocrisy nor do I think it weakens their environmental case.

        In the specific case of the commitment to peace testimonies, we are embedded in a culture that is strongly addicted to war. Basically the U.S. has been engaged in war almost continuously for a number of decades if one includes covert operations. As an individual I benefit from these activities; there is no way around that truth. But I don’t think that means my commitment to a peace testimony (which goes back to the Vietnam War) is therefore hypocritical.

        But I understand the point you are making and agree that it is worth discussing.

        Peace,

        Jim

        • Jim,

          I think that John Woolman’s example is instructive here. He renounced luxury because it was propped up by slavery and because it is an injustice that nurtures the seeds of war. He wore undyed cloth in testimony against both luxury and slavery. Woolman’s testimony was effective. He lived the countercultural ethic of the spirit of love, at a significant cost to himself, and as a result he was able to call many other Friends to faithfulness.

          Would you agree that environmentalists who live in huge houses and fly around the world for pleasure are hypocritical? Are we Friends not hypocritical, then, when we are vociferously “nonviolent” and yet contribute daily to the causes of violence and war — living in luxury and even hoarding wealth while others suffer poverty? When we complain about government violence but do little or nothing to help reduce the violence in our cities — not even funding programs to help? (At present, AFSC, which has been providing programs addressing reduction of gang violence, nonviolent conflict resolution, etc., is laying off large numbers of staff members because donations have dropped off significantly.)

          As you said, it’s worth discussing.

          George

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