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.
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.”
Does Quaker spirituality subsist in our climbing a path to peak experience? Are we essentially seekers, our living the divine life deferred as we seek the summit? George Fox would answer those questions with an emphatic “No!”
That we may allow the pull of love to separate us from the patterns which a systemically unjust world has imposed upon our thinking and feeling, patterns that have defined who we are and how we live; that we may empty ourselves of that mind and submit to being, as it were, re-created ex nihilo in the image of God-who-is-love, so that we now “have the mind of Christ” and incarnate love in this world: this is Quaker worship.
Quakerism is a religion of the New Covenant, which means that it is religion of the heart — the broken heart. We enter the New Covenant when our heart is changed.
In my post of 4/24/10, I recalled Albert Schweitzer’s image of Jesus’ failed attempt to stop the turning wheel of history. In this post, I continue with reflections on the phrase “turning of the wheel,” comparing Buddhist uses of the phrase to an interesting use of it in an early Quaker essay in order to…
A revision, done in December of 2014, of the original 2009 essay.