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.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Mono culturalism and Multiculturalism in The Religious Society of Friends

Where are we today in regards the healing of the great schism in the Religious Society of Friends? I don’t think we have done a great job in understanding the parameters of thought within our society, so we struggle towards compromise rather than unity, many afraid of hurting each other, some wanting purity, others, well a thousand agenda’s besides God. Some may detect some hardness in my recent writing, and for that I am sorry. I am trying to peal away parts of my soul, while at the same time dealing with personal conflict among Friends who not only think differently about this, but personalize that struggle for clarity without regard for personal clearness. In such an environment anger, pain, hurt and greater misunderstanding must result. Without communication there can’t be trust, and without trust no love and without love, no unity.

I believe we begin by understanding the issues, by giving them names, layer by layer, naming and describing that we can know.

Let us start with one. Tradition. Tradition within a cultural isolate is unconscious. Much of Quaker original tradition was unconscious. It evolved out of the needs of a community led into a new pattern of organization based in our emergent religious thought. As we become less isolated new traditions are introduced, and then there is a predictable time when a conscious movement to name and reclaim traditions of the past happens as a conscious act.

Next let us define two more concepts. Mono-cultural and multi-cultural. As we grew in England, we began with a single people, for the most part, English and a few others, French or Anglo-Irish. We came in our first period to the New World where prejudice and opportunity created a community apart from others, a community with boundaries of dress, language, as well as faith. Even with the liberality built into a community without creed, we were more mono-cultural than we can imagine today, and yet there were the seeds of multi-culturalism sown in our tradition of individualism. Traditional monocultralism came from the unconscious event of our similar background, all coming from Christian societies, where Christianity was legally enforceable, and, not unimportantly, all were of the same racialized distinction, “White“. Our multiculturalism asserted itself from the start in the recognition of the individual, so Fox found himself in heated debate and schism over, for example, the issue of removing or not removing, one’s hat when a non-Quaker prayed. Small things like this were seen as vital questions of his day, and we divided over them. Oh, what was to come!

The great schism. After the events surrounding the preaching of American Quaker, Hannah Bernard in
England and Ireland, we split. The Hicksite tradition was, by its definition, multicultural while the Orthodox tradition was by definition mono-cultural and in that set the parameters for a religious discussion which has troubled us since the late 1820s.

So, now let us make a few more definitions. Hicksite, Wilberite, Gurnnite, Liberal, and New Age and perhaps a few others like neo-Christian. Some may set the boundaries for these differently, and I welcome correction and comment. Some of these definitions are classical, some are my attempts at naming for clearness.

Hicksite, in its original meaning was unconsciously Christian, in that the ministry of Jesus ( Yeshua plus Paul and a good deal of commentary thereafter ) set the religious framework almost exclusively. But, there was an acceptance that the personal definition of history and nature of persons in the Bibles and religious patrimony were one’s own, within reason, to define. One could, by being too far beyond the pale sever oneself from membership in this community. It was definitely not a theological anything goes. Original Hicksite communities, by many standards of today’s Quakerism would be described as Christcentered, as it generally was when I was a child. But, in the multiplicity of personal interpretations, it was more multi than mono cultural. For the most part, in its early years, Jesus was seen by virtually all, at least publicly as perfect or without sin. Proclaiming Jesus as a sinner would likely cause great concern if not, I’d imagine, get one read out of most early Hicksite meetings.

Wilberites were generally mono-cultural on the nature of Jesus as perfect, without sin, and a personal savior, though there was an element of multi-culturalism injected in the acceptance that the Bible, though the word of God, in translation contained the potential for flaw.

Gurnnites believed the bible to be as perfect as the nature of Jesus and therefore were the extreme of mono-cultural Quakerism.

Liberal Quakerism. As Urban Quakerism attracted more folks, during times of war often, within the Hicksite tradition, especially after the attempts at conscious reunification, conscious multi-culturalism but starting earlier, there began to emerge truly liberal Quakerism. In this all tradition was challengeable and the role of the individual interpretation became pronounced. Universalism began to hold that as there was that of God in all, there was truth in all faiths. Quaker universalism for some liberals became nearly an absolute.

New Age Quakerism. Some writers before me, have described New Ageism as the religion of the modern consumer culture. That one can go and get an element here or there, the ultimate tradition by choice rather than by unconscious expression. One can spend from five minutes to five decades learning about or from another culture and take elements into ones life or religious practices. Some critics have held that often there is a surface quality to this, for example the relevance of bear teeth hung around the neck of an artic hunter can never have the same degree of meaning to someone for whom they are a religious commodity, purchased and incorporated as a fetish into their religious ritual life. Others find the richness of multi- cultural acceptance in it broadening.

Minimalist Friends, attempt to avoid division between Friends by not using any words to define that commonality we seek in each other and in waiting in meeting, avoiding all abstractions if possible, including the word God.

Non-theist Friends. Don’t believe that there is a God. I think this might be more extreme than what I refer to as “Minimalist” Friends, but I can’t get past all the protective gates on their web page to speak with authority on this.

Neo Christianity. Today, there is a political, theological, and even fashion trend back to Christ. In these time of complex worries, some seek direct and simple answers. Others seek to restore purity through definition, and that might even have been part of the original Jesus movement arising as the Temple fell in 66 AD. These Friends find commonality in the theologically recent emergence of expression of common Christianity, such as the focus on being “Born Again” and Jesus as a personal Lord and Savior.

Anti Christianity. There are Friend who are openly hostile towards all mention of Jesus, and in answer to messages which even mention Jesus, will walk out, or make angry comments.

Now, another definition. Fundamentalism. The word emerged as the description of a new Protestant conservatism in the United States over a hundred years ago, to describe a specific list of fundamentals which defined the boundaries of mono-culturealism in that protestant expression, in short, you are us if you believe this. As the term began to be used to describe that foundation of “us” which makes them, them, its meaning has broadened, so that it is any us defined by an unchallengeable fundamental or fundamentals. In that in order to say us, there is a fundamental statement, we are all fundamentalists of some sort.

Sin. Sin is that which divides us, from each other or and God.

I am a fundamentalist, and like all it is one of my many sins. Humanity cannot live without sin. We sin in our diversity, and in our taking to live. Sin is not right or wrong, it is the failure to atone, to mitigate which makes sin wrong and deprives us of righteousness.

I pointed out, early in our unconscious traditions, Quakerism began as a White movement. This was one of our communities many sins. How we address that sin defines us as righteous or not. Our best works drew Black Americans into the American Quaker community. Our mono-cultural tradition at the time excluded them, segregating them to “Black” benches, and denying to them full membership in our Society. This becomes part of the sense of separateness of some Black Friends today, who seek our understanding that removal of the segregation and restricted membership does not completely atone. We also have to welcome the many cultures of the Black Friends into our Society to make it truly multi cultural. We must atone and Black Friends must forgive for us to be present to God in each other.

And here we begin to approach my fundamental and my sin. My fundamentalism is defined by “there is that of God in everyone, and I must seek to be present to that of God in all others.” For me, that is what it is to be a member of the Religious Society of Friends. Division and disunity strike at the core of my soul. When a fFriend turns away from me, it is at least mildly disturbing, if it is someone I interact with, I loose sleep, if it is a fFriend I love as family, it crushes me and grinds me as if between mill stones, exposing every nerve, splitting every bone in my being into glass like shards, and that separates me, even from God. I seek, I atone, I forgive, and yet, I cannot free myself from the damage which can flow as sin from my fundamental belief. I find it hard to see as “us” those who don’t seek unity. Like neo Christians who point to the writings of early Friends to “prove” that acceptance of Jesus is fundamental to being Quaker, I often point to advices and testimonies as “proof” that seeking clearness is fundamental to being a Quaker.

Why do I point out the fashionable element of Neo Christianity and where is there a potential sin in that? Peer pressure and fashion are hard to separate out from each other. Today, the aggressive spread of “Born Again” Christian faith is a hard sell in even my own community. Folks I am fond of, beg me, call me, write to me with great concern, that I am not saved. I want to be gentle with them and find commonality in God with them, but one of their foundation beliefs is that Jesus saves, and frankly what I find is that Jesus, as a fetish of God, divides as often as saves. But, I bend and seek unity, and in the end, I find I am presented with a test of faith, which many “Born Again” Friends tell me I fail and for that I am damned. For young Friends, that is a pretty hard sell when the “Born Again” community presents itself as under threat and oppressed by a Godless world of evil, and is cloaked in the glamour of sweet stories and a veneer of love, while divorcing itself from the bombs, the poison gas, the hopeless prisons and torture carried out in its name. It denies that a natural outcome of its mono-cultural goal is the closing of the mind, so that many people are led by its glamour and thrall into evil. There is a reason that the more multi cultural the attempt of the vision the less likely its proponents will bomb a women’s clinic, bomb a foreign land or jail someone for thought crimes. What the exact violence or evil will flow from the mono-culturalism of one’s own fundamentalism hardly matters, the environment will lead many into temptation to act for their God, and will not deliver us from evil.

So, why all this. In order to mitigate our sins together, in order to atone and forgive and heal, we have to become aware of what separates us. Perhaps it is my fundamental sin which leads me to hope we can someday have a large and diverse conference to find a way to be a truly multi cultural Society of Friends. One of my beliefs is that we cannot return genuinely to a mono-culture past, because diversity is a fact of our nature, and part of our growth. Even unconsciously traditional societies had to work hard to suppress diversity to attempt mono culutrlism. In the past and today, cultures which aim at monoculturalism banish, jail and kill to defend the belief that they can define themselves by a single set of fundamentals and achieve that degree of monoculturalism. Quakers seek to do the same with, generally less bloody tactics, though I have seen cases in history where suicide may have been the result of attempts at fundamental definition in Quaker meetings. That seems to me to be a shared violence on the part of the community and the banished member who strikes back by self destruction.

So, we come to the question is all religion irrational? Hmmm… Well, science cannot allow itself fundamentals. All must be questionable. So, for example if Science were faith, there would be a faith called Einsteinism. My brother’s doctoral thesis would have been heresy for the element of Einstein’s theoretical conjecture that was in part disproved by the mathematical proofs of his thesis.

Well, if God is, than all bets have to be off, for us to be rational in our religion. Religions that accept mystery, by the expression of faith and the wonderful statement, “I don’t know” are rational in that new light does not find itself heretical. Faith that is weighed against a fundamental may also suffer the sin of idolatry, in that, if new light can bring a greater understanding of God, but is declared heretical as it offends the central fundamental, then that image hides the reality as well as the experience of God. The more mono cultural the objective of the faith, the less likely that new light can be achieved by reason of the closing of the system of thought by fundamentalism.


At 11:12 AM, Blogger Allison said...

I don't like Separatism. I am a newbie to Quakerism. I am already advocating for convergence and universalism.


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