Revisting Elias Hicks
Thanks to the kindness of the librarians at Swarthmore, I had occasion to visit the image of Elias Hicks, his death mask,and make this photograph. It made me think of who we are after the healing.
There is a movement to place Jesus at the center of what it is to be a Friend. Well, perhaps I am in agreement with Hicks, that it is God at the center of what it is to be a Friend. I was asked if I was a Christian, by a Friend and very dear friend, who associates plain dress with a more Christ centered group of us. Frankly, I find it harder and harder to say I am a Christian in light of what that means, and find much of what that has come to mean is in direct conflict, for me, with all that it is to be a Friend, or even one inspired by Yeshua's words, as we can know them. This is not to say one can't believe any manner of myth and be a Quaker, I am just not led in that way and I am certainly mainstream Quaker. There are Friends who tell fortunes by making charts of the stars, I can't see the truth in that, but I accept they are Friends, and I also say, I cannot believe that astrology is at the core of what it is to be a Friend. Rather, I am open to them, listening, not pushing them away, I just don't by that particular myth.
Bart D. Ehrman, in his wonderful book, "Misquoting Jesus", points out that when texts do not agree, the more simple text is seldom the original, the more difficult to explain, the contradictory is often the older text. Scribes and editors, simplify, bending the tale to their point or their understanding. Now, those who argue that Jesus was more than man, and rely on the bible for proof, are on rather thin ice. In fact, it is one of the only such examples where, if say one were to go into court on their evidence, rational people would dismiss their point wholesale as silly. It is like basing life decisions on a Zombie Movie. And yet, it is only the pervasiveness of the belief that such a contention is not laughed out of court. Otherwise rational people would overlook the myriad textual flaws in the bible, and the silly contention that on the day he rose from the dead, numerous things happened, unrecorded in any secondary accounts. It might have good theological value, but truth?
So, we find that where early text disagree, the interpretation which makes Yeshua into Jesus the Greco Roman God, are chosen, not remarkably because it is a Greco Roman institution that spreads the philosophy and the history, working hard to remove all Jewish rationalism from the story.
So, we see for example given in Ehrman's book, Yeshua, in Luke dies a very human death on the cross, saying nothing but, "My lord why have you forsaken me?" In Hebrews it is said, "He died separated from God" in the earliest Greek texts, but then latter scribes mistake XARIYI for XWRIS, so apart from God, becomes, in God's grace. Other changes, Jesus proclaims the universe, becomes Jesus manifests the universe, the one describing becomes the one creating. Mary is an unmarried woman, becomes Mary is a virgin. Truth is a very import part of being a Quaker, because in the search for truth we build unity beyond tribe. In promoting hurtful and damaging myths, we divide our tribe from all others, and as members of our tribe begin to see through the myth, and that myth is defended as being core, being fundamental, we become the institutions that Fox rebelled against.
Then why was Fox not part of this questioning? Well, the first comparative studies of early Greek texts of the bible did not happen until 1720. And then, the process of learning how to understand the historical generation of text was a science in its infancy.
So, what did we get from Fox's start? We received a dedication to truth and an openness to process. I don't find it odd, that the same Friends who proclaim a convergence on older notions in Quakerism which deny modern theological studies and history, also often do not allow free comment on their blogs, they rebel against the very openness that defined us in Fox's day. They do not take part in clearness when in conflict, but entrench themselves in the past as a shield against their fear of the world of change around us. They would have us set aside centuries of progress in meetings, where we weighed and remained open to new light, to enshrine beliefs of the past, as being a foundation to a wall against the outside, and yet, with these walls against the outside, how can we grow towards peace.
Hicks was not anti Christian. I am not anti Christian. But Hicks and I are pro inclusion. Because, without being in process with others of differing belief we cannot move towards truth or peace. When Friends speak of placing any notion, any individual, including Fox, at the foundation of our society, in seeking definition, they loose the definition of what it is to be Quaker, to stand before God, and God in others, not to follow popes or kings or idols.
The division intended in making belief in Christ a Quaker fundamental ideal is both retrograde and harmful to the peace intended by our societies beliefs. It is also a recipe for further falling out among fundamentalists, because it is in the nature of fundamentalism to disagree.