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.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Totalitarianism and Quakers

Sin and Separation


Sit down before fact as a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly wherever and to whatever abyss nature leads, or you shall learn nothing - Thomas Henry Huxley:

Recently I was profoundly effected by a question… Just as Penn noted that most Christians (other than himself and other Quakers ) were Pagan, can it be that most Christians, including Quakers and my former self, are sewing the seeds of totalitarianism.

Some Friends sent me messages, that the questions raised were valuable to their being at peace with their meetings, others sent what I can only describe as hate mail saying that I was attacking the core beliefs of other religions. However, I don’t believe in taboo subjects, subjects that Quakers can’t discuss. If Christian Friends wish some authority on the setting of questions before each other, I offer thee that Yeshua ben Joseph the rabbi from Nazareth set more than questions before his co-religionists. He referred to some as being sons of their father the devil who they worship. John 8:44 I would not make a statement in such strong words, rather I would pose a question, but than again, I’m not perfect.

There are several schools of thought on Yeshua, or possibly Paul’s “bee in his bonnet” ( as a Friend said of me the other day ) towards Jews or other Jews. Some, and I think this is part of it, express a belief that it is the conflict between the Bet Hill el and Bet Shammai, very different schools of Jewish thought, being reflected in the writings of later non-Jews. I think this simplification of intensely interesting and complex history is a good simple model, as well as a lesson to us, that division is inevitable in human society, but before being be dismissive of the other, one should look long and hard at the core “truths” we hold to be self evident. Think of Galileo, is it time to remember the words of the anthropolgist, Louis Agassiz? " Every great scientific truth goes through three stages. First, people say it conflicts with the Bible. Next they say it had been discovered before. Lastly, they say they always believed it."

What did Yeshua mean by his attack on some other Jews, or did he even make that attack? Damned if I know! The Christian movement, which Friends as me not to question, so destroyed his place in the history of his own people, that we don’t know. They took the man and made him theirs, and destroyed his message to his own people. So what?

To begin, let us find some definitions, first of “totalitarianism“, of “sin” objectification, and hopefully of redemption and righteousness.

Aba Eban, if my memory is accurate, in his commentary on the history of Judaism, introduced the naxi period, as a time when questioning was outlawed, and there was an attempt to create a world without ambiguity. For him, this was the definition of totalitarianism a world without unanswered questions. The source of the answer was the perfect party and the perfect leader.

Let’s break this down. Totalitarianism is a form of utopianism where the system claims a degree of perfection that negates any opposing thought. It is self proving. You are wrong, because I am right. How do I know I am right, let us look to the source, the arbiter of perfection. At the top of the hierarchy of each totalitarian system one finds an arbiter of perfection, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Caesar, the will of the arbiter becomes law. . Each comes to the moment of expulsion of heretical ideas, and the irradiation of dissenters. You are wrong, and dangerous because you simply are too shallow or stupid to accept the perfection of our arbiter of all right thought. Mythical beings are created by objectifying humans as idols of perfection. Stories about the early wisdom of leaders are circulated and memorized by the faithful. Those who question core concepts are banished, incarcerated or killed.

What do I mean when I speak of the objectification of the leader as a symbol of perfection, and where is the harm in that? Well, to begin with, truth. Human beings exist as complex and diverse beings, with virtue and flaw. An American political movement assigned to Black Americans a status of 4/5th of humanity that they might no longer being humans, but objects to buy and sell and force to labor. Long after the restoration of full humanity by law, the effect of dehumanization and objectification persists in the view of Black Americans held by many White Americans, either consciously or sub consciously. The effect of the objectification of another profoundly effected the White world outlook and sense of self, as well as effected the humans who were the object of that objectification. We all hear older White Americans makes statements like, “he was a Black man, but very nice…” the speaker unaware of the exposure of their internalized objectified view of their brother. There is the objectification as ideal, the ideal of the exceptional Asian student… for more views of the day to day objectification as superior or inferior through racism, there is the classic example of American racism, the book the Bell Curve, wherein the authors and researchers “cook” the evidence to “prove” intellect is tied to the mythical concept of race. I can tell you, that I have yet to meet the Asian student who appreciates the casting of them as more intelligent than average, by that book. Today it is getting harder to find American women who would want to be placed on the pillar upon which was there lot to stand, in the 1950s.

In every case those who objectify others have two responses when challenged, first, that it is right to do so, and two, what is the harm in it?

This brings us to the issue and definition of sin. When I was very young, in First Day school, Sin, I was told, was that which separated us, from God, from God in others, from God in ourselves and from that which we are meant to do.

When we commit the sin of the objectification of racialism we separate from our definition of norm other humans. In the Bell Curve, Asians were superior to the norm, and Blacks inferior to the norm. That separation from the norm, made the believers able to separate the defined “ other” from full presence to God in either. That sense of separation grows and without addressing the central issue of the continued separation of objectification, atonement and healing does not happen. One can’t deny the sin and atone at the same time… one can’t say, “I’m sorry I feel you to be inferior, I just do, so let’s be friends.” One must listen and learn and grow towards atonement. To atone begins with acknowledgment and then making good, as one can.

Righteousness is not to be in a state without sin, but is to acknowledge sin and seek a path of atonement and seeking an open way to remake the unity destroyed by the separation of sin.

Christianity and its symbols.

What happens, what difference does it make if the arbiter of perfection is a mythical person, rather than an actual person? Unlike the modern totalitarian state, what if the arbiter of perfection is proclaimed after his death, and like Marx or Mao, passes into a place in the state, as the ghost arbiter, his words being unquestionable, due to his perfection, his image being perfect, his will enforced with violence or banishment?

The virulent way many Christians defend the central image, the central symbol of their faith leads me to the question of totalitarianism and sin. I commit the crime of raising doubt in the eyes of many if I ask, what makes thy actions, in the objectification of Yeshua different than the objectification of say, Lenin? I commit the sin of raising doubt if I raise the question, how is it that thee does not trace the slaughter of others to the central concept of the cult of the myth of the perfect arbiter and yet thee seems to lay at the feet of other systems the crimes which flowed from the same effect? I commit the crime of doubt when I ask, has thee no feelings for those thee separates from thee in the act of taking from them, one of there own, and making him a symbol and object of thine?

The only answer I get is, it is our faith and it is wrong for you to question my faith. Well, fair play. Whose faith is it wrong to question? Certainly, it is not wrong to question the underling principals of other totalitarian faiths, and formulate the question bracketed by the oppression that flowed from the totalitarian nature of the system and faith. Some of thee will say, well, we are not the same Christians who place their faith in THEIR belief in Jesus in the cockpit with them as they slaughter innocents. Well, easy to say, that harm is as vivid as can be… it is right out there in the open. But the sin of separation can be more subtle. The sin of separation can be a “them and us” growing in Quaker meetings, when some feel that they are preached to in the name of a symbol, not God, and a symbol that for some, was taken from their own home, their own tribe, one of them/us objectified. But thee tells us, do not be offended dear Friend and I am not listening, nor do I need to atone or even understand, the sin is thine for thy assault on my faith.

Am I wrong to see this process like a game of Russian roulette? I have done all that others who create totalitarian systems have done, in my case there was an empty chamber, ( at best ) I did not kill when I went through the process of creating the arbiter of perfection. But, I have I really avoided all the harms that flow from my actions?

This brings us to the concept of White empowerment. We can watch others call thee Yid, Nigger, Kike, Spic, and all the other dirty names of separation, we can cleanse our soul by not using those filthy names, and yet, if thy questions come to close to bringing me into view as part of the problem… I will place you on the outside, and feel righteous doing so. This is the foundation of White empowerment. In these conversations, recently, it was driven home to me, that, in my Jewish heritage, I am not White. I can be raised Quaker, believe myself to be fully Quaker, at home in my identity as a Quaker, run to that home when as a child I am called Jew Boy, but some day, when I least expect it… I will discover that I can never be fully a part in that home… members the self confident White Quaker establishment defines my people to me, with mouth wide open and eyes and ears fully shut.

I find myself joining my alienated Black Quaker sisters and brothers, patiently waiting in the process for a light to shine and wondering if it ever will and sending out notes from a former White man.

We will always come to different conclusions and differences, this is the story of the tower of Babel. But, when Friends call the process of doubt and questioning shallow, when Friends turn away from the pain of others born in thousands of years of slaughter of the innocents in the name of their symbols and alive in the filthiness of racism, we are not present to each other. This is the danger of symbols. This is why Moses broke the tablets when he saw his people worshiping a golden idol, that idol could offer nothing but absolute truth in the deadness of its silence, and only deafen its followers to new light. Call me intolerant, and I will look inside, as I do each day, and I will listen to thee. But, I am yet to be shown how an idol speaks to my heart in silence, for me only God speaks to me in silence, and when thee places an idol between thee and me, often thee hides that still small voice of God in thee from me.

Do I think that knocking over an idol does any good? No, it is like weeding a garden, ten more idols pop up in the place of the idol we cast out of the garden. But, weeding is part of life, and I recommend it to every human mind, once and awhile. This was some weeding of my own mind, thy mind sn thy own garden - weed or not, frankly I find there are some weeds I love.

People from my country believe -- and rightly so -- that the only thing separating man from the animals is mindless superstition and pointless ritual. - Latka Gravis


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