Plain in the city

A plain Quaker folk singer with a Juris Doctorate in his back pocket, salt in his blood, and a set of currach oars in the closet, Ulleann Pipes under his arm, guitar on his back, Anglo Irish baggage, wandering through New York City ... in constant amaze. Statement of Faithfulness. As a member of the Quaker Bloggers Ad Hoc Committee I affirm that I will be faithful to the Book of Discipline of my Meeting 15th Street Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Is there anything salvageable in Christianity for me?

In contemplating our nation (our nation of faith not the political nation, the USA) as Christian, our tribe as Quaker... I have to ask if there is anything salvageable for me in Christianity ( not in Jesus who is remarkably important to me... ) and if there is, why bother. From at least the time of Constantine to the mid eighteenth century mainstream Christianity was a totalitarian political entity, which evolved into several feudal institutions and a few utopian attempts at limited democracy.

Let's face it, to show any ambiguity in the dark ages on the proscribed view of Jesus meant death. By the time of Fox and Penn limited questioning was tolerated until it challenged the state and so Fox is concerned to free the mind from the bondage of state terror centered on the idols of state sponsored Christianity. After over a thousand years of violent indoctrination, how could early Quakers appreciate that the objectification of a human was a violent act, and in itself idolatry? As religious freedom grew, more and more of us searched the historical record to reclaim Jesus' movement, release it from state sponsored totalitarianism and many of us discovered a rabbi - a teacher rather than an idol injected between our souls and God.

I hold a dear spot in my heart for such salvation of light in corrupted systems. As I grow older, and more of my old fellow travelers refer to me as a sell out, because I continue to serve the social good, but speak out more about the philosophical errors of Marx, not because Marx was not well intentioned, or many revolutionaries were not well intentioned, but because the statement of perfect truth assigned to my dear old Karl made the Soviet totalitarian state an inescapable end product. Could there have been anything else that would come out of Marx? Sure. There is Scandinavian Socialism. But, in those states Marx is not taught as a working class savior and infallible genius, ambiguity is taught and sought. One can formulate and grow beyond Marx without being jailed or killed. It is the idol worship of Marx that led to the Soviet State in the same way the idol worship of Jesus leads to crusades from the past to present, even the gentle crusades which are unaware of the violence in the theft of humanity of this brilliant, but humanly flawed dear Jesus.

Some Friends say we must cling to Jesus as savior, because our Quaker forefathers and mothers did. However, those early Friends lived in the dominant totalitarian state and did not realize yet, could not have ... that totalitarianism was the problem. They set out to create a state in Pennsylvania which was free of totalitarianism, yet retained the cult of the perfect man, and by that sewed the seeds of a gentle totalitarianism.

Well, that is a start, some day I will take on the totalitarianism of the perfect absence of God... atheism.


At 3:36 PM, Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

I'm not sure I fully understand this post.
No, let me say that differently: I'm quite sure I don't fully understand this post.

One part I do understand is that you seem to think of the "nation of faith" that is the USA as "Christian" and you wonder whether there is anything salvageable in that kind of Christianity.

Whatever else the American "nation of faith" may be, it is definitely not faithful to Jesus Christ, whether you see him only as an historical figure or you recognize in him the eternal Christ. Nor is any other human society so far as I know. Neither peoples nor people are really ready to follow a man who asks them to put the Kingdom of Heaven before their material desires, to love their enemies, to return good for evil, etc.

Nevertheless, the option is always open to us to become Christians in this sense: by following His teachings insofar as they are opened to us, either via the Scriptures or via direct inspiration. To the extent that we can do that, then nothing that anyone else may do "in the name of" Jesus can affect our relationship with Him.

I'm interested in your saying that "Some Friends say we must cling to Jesus as savior, because our Quaker forefathers and mothers did." I can't say that I've ever met a Quaker who said anything like this. It seems rather foreign to the Quaker way of looking at things, and especially to the Christian way of looking at things. Can you give an example of a Quaker who says this?
- - Rich

At 2:30 AM, Blogger Lorcan said...

Ah Richard... thy literalness... I thought I quite plainly said NOT THE USA... the nation of Christians, who are a somewhat diverse community in a number of political nations, a non territorial nation... Christianity as a political entity.... ?

As to the question of who said that we accept Jesus as Quakers because our fore parents did... for example, here is a quote from our anonymous Wilberite friend...

"Other paths are valid, certainly. But it is the Christian path that gives my life meaning. In my Meeting, given the fact that our historic roots are as followers of the Light and that Light being Jesus in our tradition, I don't expect to be challenged when I spread Truth to power in a Christian context.

Do I welcome others into the Meeting including non-theists? Yes indeed! But these brothers and sisters must respect the we are a community gathered around the teachings of Jesus. This seems exclusive, but I don't go into a Hindu temple (which I love to visit) and expect the attenders not to mention Krishna or the teachings of the Bhagvad Gita."

The point of my point is that the creation of the notion of a perfect being is the core error of all systems which lead to Fascism. In order to have a world without ambiguity one needs a perfected man ( Haven't seen one around the perfected woman yet, but it is not impossible ) So... Marx becomes a man without intellectual flaw who has created the perfect system, in his best workings it leads to Scandinavian Socialism, but the Soviet State proclaims him perfect, then Lenin perfect, then Stalin perfect and it is all fun and games until someone gets hurt. Then... The nazi party declares Hitler perfect... Chairman Mao... perfect... It is not WHO is perfected, but the act of objectification. The myth of Jesus' perfect nature makes all ambiguity heresy and though his teachings may inspire Fox and Merton, that they continue to myth of perfection can empower the Catholic church to turn its back on the murder of Jesus' own nation by other fascists as they are not of the perfected nation of Christianity.
The wrong of slavery begins with the objectification of the African. I used to hear, in the days of apartheid in the US, southern's say, yes some slave owners were bad, but most of us took care of our Blacks ( they'd use another word...) Look at all we gave them! We brought them Christianity, and took 'em out of the jungle... The literal harm begins with the casting of another human in a mold that thee has designed, sub human or perfect, no man is an object for scorn or veneration... we are all mere flesh equal in spirit and God.
Any absolutist statement invites evil, it is one of the absences which define evil. If we were to declare that Quaker decision made in unity we perfect in the sight of God, as infallible as the pope's decisions are claimed to be, that would be an evil. Wether the outcome of that evil rises to the harm of Auschwitz is not the question. In our best intentions we Quakers invented the penitentiary. In our wisdom and humility we did not stand on the perfection of our past and we apologized for the error. A system based on the myth of the perfect being cannot. More, the harm done to Jesus' place in his nation by the objectification of the man, is in its self a harm and a terrible wrong. I am not saying that thee must accept this to be a Quaker... I pose this in light of the apparent problem Friends on either extreme have in tempering their ministry to seek unity. Again, I repeat that as a Friend those people who offend me the most, don't offend me at all, and I listen beyond their words and hurts to hear that of God within them... but that does not mean I feel constrained in speaking out for those voices who are not able to do this because they can't find words to express what they feel is wrong, and say angry things after meeting.
Again, this kind of laboring together is different, wholly different than the forum of meeting, where some must absorb their hurt in silence.
Frankly... I would likely give deep thought and consideration to a Friend who ran around the meeting painted blue and screaming about God in oak trees... I'm easy.

At 2:31 AM, Blogger Lorcan said...

Dear Richard...

Sometimes I overlook thy literalness and my quick to jokedness... just to put thy mind at ease, I would stand by thee as thee eldered our blue Friend.


At 12:18 PM, Blogger Rich in Brooklyn said...

Well, I was right about at least one thing, Lor: I DIDN't understand your original post - at least not the only part I had thought I did understand - the part about what you meant by the "nation of faith". I still don't actually, but at least now I get that you didn't mean the predominant faith of the U.S.A. I misunderstood your original sentence about this. As you have said to me before, some communication works better face-to-face than in writing.

I'm glad you provided the quote you did to back up your statement that "Some Friends say we must cling to Jesus as savior, because our Quaker forefathers and mothers did." because it illustrates how easily misunderstandings arise when we try to paraphrase the positions of people we don't agree with. In this case, a Friend you don't identify (though I doubt he/she would mind being identified, especially if they already said this online) said
"Other paths are valid, certainly. But it is the Christian path that gives my life meaning. In my Meeting, given the fact that our historic roots are as followers of the Light and that Light being Jesus in our tradition, I don't expect to be challenged when I speak Truth to power in a Christian context.

Do I welcome others into the Meeting including non-theists? Yes indeed! But these brothers and sisters must respect the we are a community gathered around the teachings of Jesus. This seems exclusive, but I don't go into a Hindu temple (which I love to visit) and expect the attenders not to mention Krishna or the teachings of the Bhagvad Gita."

(Note: I have changed "spread truth to power" to "speak truth to power" in the above quotation since that is the more common Quakerly phrase and I assume it was the original intention.)

I'm afraid you're going to think I'm being "literal" again, but I feel that your paraphrase has completely twisted the meaning of what the Friend was saying. I feel bound to point out that
(1) the quoted statement does not say anything about Jesus as a savior. The quoted Friend may also see Jesus as a savior but here he or she is speaking about Jesus as a teacher and as the Light. A significant difference between classical Quakerism and other Christian traditions is that Quakers stress "inward teacher" over "savior" - or, rather, Quakrs say that the way Christ saves is to teach us with His Spirit how we can live righteously and justly in this world. This, incidentally, is one of the reasons that I don't feel I could personally express my Christian faith in an authentic way in most non-Quaker churches.

(2) The quoted statement does not say we must cling to anything, much less to Jesus as savior, "because our Quaker forefathers and foremothers did." The Friend is quite plain that his or her reason for following the Christian path is that "it is the Christian path that gives my life meaning."

(3) There is something that the Friend does ask for because (among other reasons) our Quaker forbears were Christian: the right to speak as a Christian in Quaker Meeting and not be criticized for doing so. Here I might take slight issue with our Friend, because I think we should always expect and be ready to deal constructively with criticism. But the basic point is well-taken.

I attend a Catholic Mass as a visitor. In my own heart I do not believe that the bread and wine of the mass become Christ's body and blood and I do not participate in that central part of their ceremony (not that they would want me to anyway). But if the elevation of the host and the distribution of the elements upset me in some way I just wouldn't go. I wouldn't expect people to stop expressing their own faith in their own church because of my sensibilities. By the same token, I hope that if I were a non-theist or a non-Christian I would not take offense or offer objection if ministry in the historically theist and historically Christian Religious Society of Friends was Christian and theist.

I understand that there are now a variety of different kinds of Quakers. I think we should be willing to listen to each other's ministry. I have heard ministry in our Meeting from time to time about "the Goddess". I have heard ministry about the Gospel of Thomas. I have heard it said in ministry that "Everything is God". I have heard it said in ministry that "We each have our own Inner Light." When I hear this ministry I feel it is my task to listen for the spirit behind it and to quiet my critical and theological mind as it tries to scream "WRONG WRONG WRONG". And often there is truth behind such messages. The pantheist and sometimes the mother-goddess Friends, for example, express a love of and reverence for nature that I can share as a worshipper of the transcendent God who I believe created Nature. I do not ask these Friends to abandon their beliefs in order to worship with us and I do not ask them to censor themselves when giving ministry. In this sense I am willing to be more open-minded than I would ask other Churches to be toward me. I would not ask, to use the earlier example, that I be allowed to stand up in a Roman Catholic worship service and expound on the lack of need for sacraments.

In fact, I think that the great majority of Friends in our Meeting today - and an increasing number of Friends throughout liberal Quakerdom - are quite open to hearing Christian ministry and quite conscious that this is a central part of Friends' tradition. Many of these same Friends will express their own faith in different terms and no one is stopping them from doing so. But Christo-phobia and intolerance are on the wane and I think we should all - including less Christo-centric Friends such as I take you to be - should be glad of that.

There are other points in your critique that I have not responded to. You are saying something about "objectification", something about "creation of a pefect man", something about "absolutism". You seem to be equating all of these with a certain kind of belief (my belief? other Christian Friends' belief? I guess so, but I'm not sure) in Jesus, and you seem to be tying the whole ball of wax (to coin an awkard metaphor) to fascism and naziism and maybe Marxism also. I really can't respond because I really don't understand. Probably another category of communication that would work better face-to-face.

- - Rich

At 2:35 AM, Blogger david said...


I really hope you've read Tolstoy because I think you might like him. The Law of Love and the law of Violence is the one that showed me a Jesus I could cope with, and a Christianity I could live with. The fact I've since drifted back into something like Triunitiarianism is moot. Tolstoy seems real close to where you're struggling right now.

One point in favour of a more traditional flavour of Christianity: while its true that totalitarianism messes with our minds, this doesn't mean that EVERYTHING oppressed people belive is false -- only suspect. After all, regimes fall, because in part the oppressed learn to see they're oppressed. And a more or less orthodox Christainity was there as mid-wife in some of those cases.

At 8:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really really don't understand
the post. Even with the ensuing
comments. I can't tell if Lorcan
is railing against the notion of
the perfected man or against
what organized religion hath
wrought in Jesus' name.

So, I am forced to look ironically
toward the Bible for answers.
In my estimation, the tension in
the Bible that is most similar to
tension in the original post is
the same one as the question of
Who the $#^% really IS this Jesus
guy anyway? You get a different
answer if you look at MML versus
a reading of John, and you also
get a different view from other
ways of reading the Bible and/or
the apcrophya which might include
Thomas, for some people. I won't
sit down and argue which reading
is the definitive one that Quakers
of various branches should/do
swear by (oh, can you imagine?).
Instead, I'll just point out that
the idea of a perfected Jesus,
as described more directly in John
(and in Barclay for that matter)
than really anywhere else, is
indeed a source of tension. And
indeed, as Lorcan indirectly points
out, this tension is made difficult
really only because of *organized*
religion, not because of
religiousity or Jesus-following
generally. Fox sought to square
that circle by cutting out the
middleman, and providing a religion
without reference to the need
for intermediaries of any sort.
We all have access to Spirit
directly. The corpus of the
corporateness, the organizedness,
of religion centered around
a John-ian interpretation (but
really, if you dig deep enough,
also present in at least
the Matthew and Mark versions too)
seens to present this vexation,
leading to the "Is there anything
salaveable..." sort of question.
I think that if our faith community
is operating the way that Fox
hoped it would, we are most of
the way past having to worry about
the kinds of vexation we are
talking about, whereby *organized*
religion requires the exaltation
of Perfected Man to a status that
makes true communion with our
bretheren more difficult. (Oh the
irony, again.)

David Myers
Westbury Monthly Meeting
Long Island, NY


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