Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
William. I appreciate your response. You and I are not of the same conscience in matters of faith. The appearance of the inshining Light in my Conscience has led me out of the faith you profess and prompts to to give testimony to a different Witness. That I share this witness is not to suggest that you should see as I see.
Also, I want to use the occasion of this discussion to tell that I found your article in Quaker History fascinating. I only read it a couple times, however, I intend to revisit it often. One of the many things you wrote that captured me was you discussion of Max Weber in section eight. In particular:
"[Max Weber] Saw the prophet as a solitary figure, validated by personal charisma. Later scholars have contested Weber's conception of the prophet as one who stood outside of society's matrix of religious institutions. Weber's models of "prophet" or "priest" were "ideal types." They were abstract theoretical constructs, not descriptions of people in the real world. Real-life prophets typically exercised some priestly functions, and they were not isolated agents of social protest. They were part of the social structure of their religious communities, even when they made their coreligionists squirm!"
I have meditated much on these words. Human Being is moving into a place were there will be more and more people speaking from an experience that is outside any and all outward social matrices including religious. Far from being abstract construct ... being outside social matrices is part of the nature of human being coming into fruition.
Well, the original (Hebrew) Bible was assembled by a monarchist government-in-exile & subsequently edited by the Persians' client-rulers in Jerusalem; and such hierarchical fingerprints are clearly there, mixed with all the legendary material they drew on... The Bible is also part of the Creation intended to give human beings a helpful framework for understanding our relation to our Creator --and shouldn't be as heedlessly relegated to the attic as it is today --
but a significant part of its message is that God can and does communicate with human beings in other ways -- often needs to do so outside of official channels to introduce any significant correction and/or innovation and/or supplementary development. People didn't entirely understand what God was telling them then, and people, even if inspired, can still mistake a first approximation for a perfect solution of the human condition.
When the Bible says "It's not good for a man [Adam, in this case] to be alone", that does strongly suggest that God wants us to also interact with and learn from each other.
Some of us may recognize our connection to God more clearly than others of us, and may helpfully serve as teachers -- but will also benefit from other human input, not as a test of their insights but as another way to see God at work, teaching everyone involved in such interactions.
But Friends are still struggling with older conceptions of the Bible and its role in human life, having necessarily rejected it in those traditional interpretations that used it as an instrument of oppression, rather than in its rightful place as an introduction to God and to Divine/human relations.
I have found this discussion between Bill, Keith, and Forrest very interesting and respectful. A true joy to read.
I have the interesting experience to be part of a meeting where many (if not most) of the Friends have rejected outward forms: political parties, religious ideology, even traditional Quaker forms that are held dear by other liberal Quaker meetings. This has been a slow evolution within the meeting over many years. Rather than a slide into relativism, it is a conscious realization of the power of the inshining Light and the constant Presence among us without dependence on forms. Yet, we still have quite a few within the meeting who are beholden to forms such as Quaker traditions and political affiliations. And these two approaches have gotten along well within the meeting and benefitted from our association with each other, buoyed by a unity that only divine Love can provide.
Most Friends in the meeting seem to feel confident (as does Keith) that the Spirit (God) would provide them that inshining awareness and experience even if the meeting was no longer there. In our gatherings and discussions, I have often heard this spoken. Others, without our meeting's existence any longer, would feel a draw to the meeting 20 minutes down the road because they would likely feel quite comfortable there with its use of forms to practice Quaker faith and practice. I for one would be fine without the existence of our meeting - still, I am grateful for the deep spiritual atmosphere it provides as it continues to draw in new ones and other long-time Quakers who have felt stifled by more traditional liberal Quaker meetings. The meeting is growing, attracting both Christians and non-Christians who are seeking something deeper.
The meeting continues over the years to shed outward forms that stifle the free-flow of the Spirit, rather than provide a point of departure for deepened spirituality. Just one example is (recorded) "membership". I became a member many years ago when I was more beholdened to outward forms. I now often consider relinguishing my (recorded) membership because that designation feels hollow to me. And in fact, the vast majority of Friends in my meeting are not "members", by choice; and the meeting ceased making any distinction between members and non-members at all many years ago. Nearly no one requests membership any longer. And truly, I identify spiritually with these more often than the long-time members of yesteryear. Our clerk of meeting and assistant clerk of meeting are not (recorded) members. Out of love for those who need this residual form, the meeting continues to offer membership if a Friend feels it necessary for their spiritual journey. But, to me it is just a name on a piece of paper that carries no significance except what is perceived by the Friends so designated.
Contrary to "articles", this meeting's spiritual state has never been deeper, more satisfying, or so cherished. And this is due to a purposeful letting go of control, of forms, and of uniformity of belief - so the Spirit can do its work upon us.
Hello, Keith! When you signed up for QQ and began posting, you allowed yourself to be pulled into the Quaker web. You are no longer an outsider!! You've stepped into the matrix, buddy!
Forrest, don't get hung up on ancient details about how the Bible became the Bible. Instead, allow its central message to confront and challenge you and your life in the here and now! Jesus Christ wants you to give your life to Him!!
As I understand the Bible's "central message", it would be something like:
"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your mind and all your strength, and your neighbor as yourself."
This guy Jesus has said a lot to to help me know what sort of a being God is and how 'He' operates.
But the part about necessarily employing "all your mind" requires I keep mindful of the ucky human fingerprints on anything in the Bible or in subsequent human efforts to oversimplify it into anybody's "central message."
Jesus' words incline me to take him very seriously, along with all the differences in culture and language between his meaning and later human interpretations of it.
Theological confusions between God and Jesus (or any other guru) are perfectly natural features of the function a good guru is supposed to serve; and I doubt that Jesus objects to people using him in that role, but as I understand him he is no more (0r less) "God" than is any human being. (So far I've been led to what a teacher at Pendle Hill described as "a low Christology with a high anthropology.")
The man has no need for my life; while God has always held that life in 'His' hand, even when I was an atheist, a situation entirely in accord with what Jesus says about God's mercy.
"Love", of course, in ancient Biblical usage, is a very operational concept. "Spontaneous natural affection" is a desirable element so far as one can manage, & I do the best I can; but I'm not much for warm fuzzies or dutifulness, either. Gratitude (when my ass has been hauled out of sheer flaming disaster now & then) & the occasional return favor, when I'm shown a way God can do anything with such a critter, that's how it looks so far.
Well-stated Forrest. Thank you.
I have been reading T. Vail Palmer, *Face to Face: Early Quaker Encounters with the Bible*, for about the last week. It is the first of at least two volumes he expects to publish on the history of Friends and the Bible.
I asked myself about the relationship between Forrest's point of view and the general approach of the first Friends toward Christ and the Bible. I experienced acute cognitive dissonance (a concept introduced into social psychology by Leon Festinger when I was a grad student). The first Friends' outlook was suffused with Christian/Biblical language and symbolism, often in a different key than that of the established churches. Forrest seems to find both Christian/Biblical language and symbolism objectionable; one example is his use of the word (or non-word) "ucky" to describe the Bible.
I will not attempt to otherwise evaluate Forrest's approach to Christ and the Bible. What I want to point out is the radical discontinuity between his theological orientation and the thought of the early Friends. I see Forrest as a philosophically-oriented deist. The first time I read his statement, I thought to myself "at least he doesn't deny that Jesus ever existed," which seems to be a common belief among "minimalists"!
I then wondered what would happen in a meeting for worship populated by people of Forrest's belief! What would be the content and style of their vocal offerings?? What kind of cummunity would they have, and what would be the emotional geist, or spirit, of their fellowship and worship? (We have already head many times Howard Brod's glowing description of what his meeting is like.)
That's all for now, folks!
My attempt to correct "cummunity" was too late to make the cut! And "head" should be "heard".
I'm often bemused, William, by your efforts to categorize what you imagine I think, or whatever it is you believe to be my 'belief'.
I'm clearly a Later Friend rather than the Early sort -- and would be surprised if (after 360 years of being taught by God, plus much human scholarship) Friends had learned nothing since them.
I'm not saying that LiberalFriendism is a great advance; it strikes me as often being a bit thin in fact. But we're going to have to know God now, not God in the 1st Century or the 17th.
Deism was a widespread influence of the 17th and 18th Centuries (George Fox in his Journal reports a brush with Deist ideas, which he quickly enough threw off) -- but it's hardly an option for an aging refugee from "hippie" life; how could our years of interaction with actively-immanent God possibly fit a Deist framework?
This malinterpretation aspect of the conversation reminds me of those enemies of Early Friends who'd sometimes label them 'Catholic' -- or that minority of commuters early this century, who used to drive by demonstrators opposing the US war against the Middle East, and yell: "Go back to Russia!"
When you simply don't understand me, it won't help to keep comparing what you think I said to those other ideas you do recognize; that's like the man searching under the lamp-post because it's the only place he's able to see.
For a liberal Quaker, I find nothing unusual about Forrest's explanation of his views on the Bible and Jesus. It is pretty much mainstream for that faith tradition. His deep spirituality, faith in the divine Presence, and endearing respect for Jesus and his teachings - are all exemplary. Plus, his wit that shines through in his responses is refreshing.
People of faith who have experienced a direct mystical and personal relationship with the divine energy have always functioned within the culture they are living. Jesus, one of the great mystics of all time, placed his message and experience in the context of the people of his day and the Jewish culture he was part of. Otherwise, who would have listened to him? In this, I feel, he set the example for all who might listen to his live-giving teachings and take those teachings of Love and Light to others.
Later, George Fox and early Quakers did likewise. They framed their message of Light and Love in the context of the culture and material they had at hand - the religious struggles of the day and the Bible. Again, had they not, who would have listened to them?
I feel that liberal Friends today are simply following this same model with varying degrees of success. Like the very earliest Friends, they are beholden to that same inshining Light as they live their lives. And they frame their message in the culture, knowledge, and experience of seekers in this 21st century. These modern Friends have been exposed to the Light that is emanating from many sources (rather than exclusively Jesus or the Bible) - something previous generations in the western world were not exposed to.
To embrace the inshining Light from all its sources, would make Jesus smile with happiness, I am sure. He set the example of seeing and experiencing the Light from the most unlikely places. This was his universal message.
Forrest Curo wrote: "I'm often bemused, William, by your efforts to categorize what you imagine I think, or whatever it is you believe to be my 'belief'." Earlier, he wrote: "The prevalence of atheism in the world ...the TraditionalTraditionalist Support-Our-Authoritarianism form you seem to favor -- is indeed regrettable."
Forrest, I am chagrined that you appear to think projecting your ideas about what I believe and my cognitive style is acceptable and doesn't distort my outlook, but my speculation that you are a deist is quite out of line.
Where is Keith Saylor? I hope that I haven't offended him. If so, I will apologize!