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.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Christian Bibles Are Prize Goods

I raise this issue, not because I believe there should be no place in the SOF for Christian Scripture, but because there is a trend of late to return to a time when some Friends are describing this work as fundamental to the definition of Quaker.

The final argument against Quakers owning slaves, was made by Elias Hicks, a few years before the Hicksite/Orthodox schism. He argued that, even if one did not accept that Africans were fully human as he did, that they were prize goods, taken in war, and forced at sword and gun point onto the ships. I would point out to those who argue that this ideal or that ideal was not spoken of by George Fox. This was CERTAINLY a different stand from Fox, who wrote in a letter to the governor of Barbados, in 1671:
Another slander they have cast upon us, is, 'that we teach the negroes to rebel'; a thing we utterly abhor and detest in our hearts, the Lord knows it, who is the searcher of all hearts, and knows all things, and can testify for us, that this is a most abominable untruth. For that which we have spoken to them, is to exhort and admonish them to be sober, to fear God, to love their masters and mistresses, and to be faithful and diligent in their service and business, and then their masters and overseers would love them, and deal kindly and gently with them ...

This change, to say that our Black Sisters and Brothers should not diligently serve slave masters is a profound answer to those who wish to retreat into a mythical Quaker idyllic past. This statement that products of war, products of slavery are as evil as the process that produced them was not an easy row to hoe, but Friends stuck by it. Hicks, in the last moments of his life, was covered by a cotton sheet, as it was mid summer and very hot in the house. He touched the sheet, and frowned and tried to throw it off. It was quickly replaced by a light woolen sheet. Hicks felt it and smiled, and shortly there after died content.

The Christian bible did not come about by a process of convincement. It came about because hundreds of other points of view and books describing the life of Jesus were destroyed and often the people holding those points of view were murdered and died horrific deaths. Christianity was not only spread by the sword, the orthodoxy was created by the sword, the heretic's fire, the rack and the noose. It was not a matter that the most convincing won out, it was simply that the strongest, most violent won to promote this story of peace.

Today, most civilized nations will not use the medical findings of nazi researchers who used concentration camp inmates as test subjects. No mater how good the research the end was tainted by the process. And that process does taint. I wonder if it is the fear of truth, that makes so many of the new orthodoxy afraid of dialogue. They don't allow free comment on their blogs, they don't meet for clearness with those they accuse and liable. They lock the intellectual door of their meetinghouses and retreat into a past before we dealt with the racism and ignorances of our Quaker past.

I am not judging Fox. He was a product of his day. He began a process that resulted in the like of Elias Hicks, Rufus Jones, a process that resulted in the doors of our meetings being wide open and welcoming.

I am not saying we should bar the door to the Christian Bible, as we did to other prize goods. However, perhaps those who use the bible as a beam to bar the door to other Quakers might show a little Christian humility.


At 1:45 PM, Blogger earthfreak said...


as "thee, hannah!" has recently alluded to, I also rarely comment on thy blog because I find so little that I can add, and yet I find thy writings very moving, and true in a way that I have often missed without thy help.



At 4:03 PM, Blogger Plain Foolish said...

This has a lot of hard/interesting stuff in it. One of the hard things for me about Christianity is the violence - both the violence of the imagery of the cross and the history of violence in spreading the religion. While I recognize that lots of people find a very peaceful message in established Christianity (close friends of mine and some much-beloved relatives among them), I cannot.

In the end, however, what bothers me more than whatever language they may use to describe a closeness with God, whether it be the Light Within, Allah, God, Jehovah, Yahweh, HaShem, Christ, or even Edna (a name my brother and I chose when young because we didn't know anyone named Edna, and the word "god" had too much baggage, so we wanted to be clear on what we meant), is what they mean by it. In _The Last Battle_, C.S. Lewis gives his version of the End Of Days, portraying the choice as one between Aslan (the good lion with European followers) and Tash (the bad guy - looks vaguely ancient Egyptian, with rather stereotyped Arab followers). At some point, a follower of Tash sees what's happening and is frightened, but certain he will have to follow Tash, because that's the name he's known all his life, but Aslan assures him that he's okay and can come with Aslan's company.

Now, as you can probably guess from my tone above, I have plenty of problems with this book, but it always seemed to me that what Aslan says right then about what names you give things makes sense. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Peace and love and all that kind of thing can be promoted under a lot of different languages, and so can hatred.

What worries me right now is more than the RSOF - it's the whole world seems to be clinging to names, and ignoring the substance behind the name. The Prince of Peace is used to justify war. Allah's name is invoked to justify war. The God who said to deal justly with the stranger, for you were a stranger in Eretz Mitzraim is used to justify treating people wretchedly, bringing war to the innocent, destroying the fruit of the land.

Can we all clarify what we mean by the name of God we are using?

At 4:18 PM, Blogger Lorcan said...

I think the deep worry over the name of God in the RSOF is a minority issue, most Friends are not bothered by it. For me, it is that this, among a few, causes disunity. For example the meeting came to unity on the minute from Tom Fox's meeting, mentioned on Richard's Blog, (Brooklyn Quaker)- but a few voices place the name and nature of God over dedication to a justice issue. This is why I get a little sad over all this.
For me, God is not the word God, or any human expression, but the totality of creation and the created. Beyond that, all is mystery, and I am satified with that.

At 6:29 PM, Blogger Plain Foolish said...

I am sorry. I spoke badly. I do not mean can we sit down and get into an involved discussion of theology. Been there, done that. What I meant was closer to what you said. Why are we allowing names to get in the way of the spirit of peace? Why are we killing each over whether God should be called one thing or another and ignoring hunger, disease, poverty, fear, and the rest?

At 8:06 PM, Blogger Lorcan said...

Ah no PF! I think we are saying the same thing! I think thee put it well, I was just adding, I thought some clearity, and wanting to let folks know that this is not ...well all Quakers at odds over this!
As some player in some sport or another... no harm, no foul.

At 9:07 PM, Blogger Thee, Hannah! said...

Ah, the Pernkopf Atlas dilemma.

I want to say I see a lot of present-day parallels here, but then I see a lot of parallels over and over again throughout history. I suppose we are all products of our time. I hope we get better at it with practice and insight.

At 9:33 PM, Blogger Lorcan said...

Oh yes... I can't take Beyer asprin for the same reason. It is in the blood, this memory... I can't describe it... the word in Romaness... ando ratt... in the blood... how can I eat the corpse of my family...

At 11:42 AM, Blogger Contemplative Activist said...

Thank you for this post Lorcan.

As a new-comer to Quakerism, a refugee if you like from churches were the Bible is used in ways that are oppressive, if I had been clobbered with a Bible, or told I had to be a Christian to be a Quaker, or told I had to believe in Jesus or whatever, I'd have been very quickly at the door going home again.

I value the openess that I have found in Quakerism, so that I can find light in all faiths, even in Christianity.


At 1:50 PM, Blogger Mark Wutka said...

I feel some contradictory messages from you. You refer to Quakers who talk about George Fox as "backward-looking", yet you have frequently brought up Elias Hicks. Is it only okay to look back at certain people? You say you are not anti-Christian, but you seem in many of your posts to be discrediting Christianity as a corruption and misunderstanding of a Jewish Rabbi. You say that "we should not bar the door to the Christian Bible", just after you mention violence in early Christianity followed immediately by the fact that people refuse to use nazi research. What kind of a conclusion are we supposed to draw from that?
Perhaps you are only trying to argue against requiring Quakers to be Christian, but your result is that you are belittling the entire tradition in the process.

At 9:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The Christian bible did not come about by a process of convincement. It came about because hundreds of other points of view and books describing the life of Jesus were destroyed and often the people holding those points of view were murdered and died horrific deaths. Christianity was not only spread by the sword, the orthodoxy was created by the sword, the heretic's fire, the rack and the noose. It was not a matter that the most convincing won out, it was simply that the strongest, most violent won to promote this story of peace."

When you are parroting unsourced, historically laughable received notions, don't forget to include the "nine million witches burned at the stake!"

At 6:10 AM, Blogger Lorcan said...

Dear Anonymous:
I don't edit out anonymous comments, however, this is a safe environment where anyone can talk without being insulted, or lampooned... even the comments such as thine, that do the same. I don't believe nine million witches were burned. However, many thousands, at least of marginalized people were. Not only those scape goated by various inquisitions from Germany, to Holland, France, small numbers in the early colonies here... there were major "heretical" Christian expressions which the Catholic Church made war upon. I would urge thee to read Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie's "Montaillou" about a gentle inquisition at the end of the violent purge of various Manician faiths, such as the Cathars. He has a number of other wonderful books, not based on speculation, but on the records of the Catholic church, the transcripts of their inquisitions. The Roman Catholic church was not the only branch of Christianity which used horrific violence to create orthodoxy, this history of mass murder by British Protestants of Catholics ( and vice versa... ) is only one chapter in a terribly bloody history.
I appreciate that thee might not believe that orthodoxy was created by mass killings, just as many don't believe the stories of their nations mass killings, from those who deny the mass murder of Africans and Indians, or those who deny the killing of Jews in the nazi era.

Do feel free to use thy name. One's name is a mark of pride in thy point of view, and thy point of view is very welcome here, as are supporting facts, which I gratefully await.
Thine in the light


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