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.
“[F]or the least measure of God’s righteousness is perfect, and all are in perfection who become servants to it, and thereby become free from sin.” One might have flaws, but one’s basic orientation had changed; one’s heart had been set free from the self-centered orientation that is sin.
Life presents us at times with experiences that get through the filters and challenge the validity of our basic worldview. Such experiences create in us a dissonance, a tension between our beliefs and new information. Cognitive dissonance is particularly strong when the conflict involves our self-concept. There are two principal methods of reducing such dissonance.
To be saved is to be one whose basic bias is toward universal love, which is the opposite of “the world’s” orientation to self. To begin to turn to that new orientation is to enter the process of metanoia.
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.”
“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.
The memoir concludes with an adaptation of a piece published twenty years ago in the inaugural issue of the journal Quaker Theology.
“Love your neighbor as yourself” doesn’t mean that I must learn to love myself before I can love others: it recognizes that, even if I despise or hate myself, I already do love myself.
It took a very long time for me to recognize and begin to accept that the primary law of the spiritual life is simply this: “it’s not about me.”
In 1 John, the apostle makes the explicit identification of God and agapē — universal love — that can serve as the primary interpretive principle for post-theistic Friends in our reading of both scripture and the Quaker tradition.