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.
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.
Our thesis is that, in psychological terms, the biblically-shaped experience of the first Friends implies, first, that the characteristic of commonsense, “normal” self-centeredness constitutes a pervasive schematic bias in the psyches of most human beings, and, second, that Quaker conversion/salvation is a process of detaching from that self-centered bias and adopting a new, love-centered orientation.
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.”
“Ecumenism and Universalism” and “James Nayler’s Statement”: Parts 15 and 16 of “The Life of the Spirit” in Quaker Faith & Practice for the 21st Century
A 2014 revision of my 1996 essay on James Nayler and Robert Rich. “Nayler was engaging in a bit of ‘street theater’ to demonstrate … that the same Spirit which was in Jesus and his disciples is available to us today — that, in other words, ‘sacred history’ is not so much the story of a golden age in the past but what we do here and now.”