Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
I have recently posted a review of Derek Guiton's book: "A Man that Looks on Glass: Standing up for God" on the New Foundation Fellowship web site
Derek's book charts the rise of non-theism in Britain Yearly Meeting, and predicts the possible terminal decline of it. His book will probably be the death knoll of British Quakerism.
Please feel free to respond to my review here on Quaker Quaker:
We have it from Jesus that an explicitly Christian belief system doesn't do the job; this was an important issue to early Friends in their objections to people who professed Christianity but weren't showing the results that ideally should have led to...
Can people have 'the possession' of faith without 'the profession'? (That is, can people actually know Christ under some other alias, in some unfamiliar form?) The possibility is implied by Fox's interpretation of John: that "Christ enlightened every [one] who came into the world", including people who lived their lives before Jesus or too far away to have heard of him.
Indeed, given that God does and intends good to all people, 'the Just' and 'the Unjust' as well... then God would have to provide means for non-Christians to 'Get It' -- strange as these might look to people more accustomed to conventional Christian perspectives.
I can't consider non-theist beliefs at all helpful to the Quaker movement... but on another hand, Quaker worship does serve as an opportunity for people of secular worldviews to meet God incognito.
Realizing that Quaker meetings are not ours to control, but God's (as with any church or religious tradition) -- we may find many things happening in them which wouldn't have normally occurred to us; but these will work to serve God's ends all the same.
Here is a link to a discussion I started on Reddit illiciting responses from other British Quakers concerning your review and assessment of British Quakerism.
I have ordered the book and look forward to reading it.
I am through Chapter Four of Guiton’s book. I had to walk away from it for a few minutes just to vent to you. There is much so far that I am in completely agreement with him. However, the fourth chapter is disappointing to me ... I might even say a bit sad. Well, actually, the word I really want to use is flawed, though I will not own it in a couple days I’m sure.
Allistair, he promotes the process of thinking about (theologising) religious experience, especially Quaker direct personal experience as valid and needful in regards communicating with secular and universalist trends that undermine the Religious Society of Friends. This mistaken approach is the flaw manifesting the weakness in the garment of the RSoF. Many early Friends even recognized this flaw in leadership of Fox, Fell, Penn, Barclays, etc. It is the flaw the secularists, rationalists, humanists (those whose consciousness and conscience are guided and informed by outward intellectual constructs) have grabbed onto and have pulled on for all these years ... weakening the garment as a whole!
Okay, enough venting. I just wanted to get this down for future reference.
"Many early Friends even recognized this flaw in leadership of Fox, Fell, Penn, Barclays, etc"
Can you site evidence of this? In saying that I don't think I really understand what you mean.
Thanks for posting this, Allistair. I will get the book. My feeling about liberal - non-theist Quakers is that they represent a process of convergence that began in earnest during W.W. I; at least here in the U.S. It was the Progressive Quakers who began the process of undermining the basics of Quaker Faith and Practice by supporting U.S. entry into W.W. I (Progressives have been consistently pro-war) and consciously shifting the idea of the light within as transcendental to equating the light within to an individual's conscience. Chuck Fager's two books on the Progressive Quakers detail these, and other, changes.
'Convergence' is a process whereby an organization is subverted to another purpose and agenda. This usually happens when new members join who do not know much about the group, but are attracted to it for some peripheral reason, and then seek to remold the group in their own image. I like to use funny, hypothetical, examples to illustrate this process. Say you have a Rose Society that focuses on all things pertaining to roses. Some new people join. They object to this focus, describing it as 'narrow'. They want to discuss tulips and violets. The older members say, but we are the Rose Society for a reason. The newer members insist that this is backwards and intolerant and 'what have you got against tulips?' The newer members encourage additional new people to join who hold their 'expansive' view. It doesn't take long; soon the Rose Society is no longer about roses. Those who wanted to focus on roses might leave, form a new association, or simply become solitary in their interest. The organization has now been converged to the agenda of the newcomers vision.
I hope to have more to say after reading the book. Thanks you for drawing our attention to it.
Thank you for your question Allistair. Yes I can site evidence. But first. As I wrote, my previous response was just some initial thoughts concerning chapter four. Your not understanding what I meant is a reflection the content of my writing.
In chapter four Guiton intimates that Quakers should take up theology as a way to better engage with secularists etc. and to better understand Quakerism itself. Early in the chapter he brings into question those Quakers who experience direct personal experience as sole and sufficient authority and find no validity in systematic thinking about religion on the basis that these same Friends are avid readers of whatever happens to be popular theology of the day, which means their thinking is influenced and shaped by external theologies which are seldom countered or modified by anything coming from the Society itself …
There is a glaring fallacy inherent in his reason for questioning direct personal experience as sufficient in itself without regard for systematic thinking about theology. That someone who reads theology (popular or otherwise) is by default influenced and shaped by these external theologies is simply not universally true. There are people, like myself, who are come out of a consciousness and conscience that is guided by external theological systematics and constructs and who are come into a consciousness and conscience guided and informed by direct experience itself in itself. The reading of theology, for me, does not influence or shape me, it further illuminates the essential nature of a consciousness and conscience informed and guided by external systematic forms. So, in a sense I agree with Guiton to the extent that reading theology in direct experience of immanent Presence helps me engage with those you are guided and informed by outward or external systematics. However, we part as he goes further to suggest that Quakers should be gathered and informed by systematic theology.
The assumed division between reason and spiritual experience is at the root of much of Quaker thinking around theology. I believe this is a weakness rather than a strength …
He also writes:
As soon as we start thinking about our religion experience and the beliefs that arise from it we are entering the realm of theological thinking.
Thinking about, idenitifying with, and participating in a particular set of systematics is the problem not the solution to secularism. In fact secularism is in itself thinking about theology rather than being theology. Secularism is a reflective consciousness so is theological thinking. To put it another way there is thinking about thinking and there is existing in the activity of thinking itself. To exist in the activity thinking itself is to know a life in both the manifest external finite theological or ideological constructs and in the space in between them, that is the activity itself. Through the appearance of the impulse of immanent Presence upon my consciousness and conscience I do not know or experience a distinction between thinking about and the activity of thinking itself in itself or direct personal experience. Again, if Guiton were professing that living in the activity of thinking itself in itself and being guided and informed by it even when confronted with external theological constructs we would be in agreement. However, Guiton seems to value (I say seems because I am still reading his book) external theologies and beliefs as valid to guide and inform. In fact, he does cannot even acknowledge to possibility of another way of existence wherein human beings and human relationships are guided and informed by direct experience itself in itself. Well, he sometimes acknowledges it but reflects upon it as a weakness in Quakerism.
He ends chapter four with this beautiful testimony that reads:
I still find a lack at the heart of present-day Quakerism in terms of a spiritual rigour and discipline. My research has brought me to recognize my personal requirement in this respect. My difficulty lies in the fact that, like most Quakers, I find the notion of an external human authority unacceptable, which leaves me with very few, if any, alternatives. So despite the lack of a shared religious enterprise and the nebulousness of present-day Quakerism which I find profoundly unsatisfactory, I continue to identify myself as a Friend.
The experience of coming out of the guidance and instruction of human authority is a powerful moment in the life of an individual or group of people. However, while in that coming out, it is yet to be discovered, through the appearance of the Spirit Of Christ itself in itself in the consciousness and conscience, the authority of the direct spiritual experience as sufficient in itself to rule and govern human interactions and relationships which supplies spiritual rigors and discipline. To teach those who are come out of a consciousness and conscience informed by external forms, beliefs, principles, ceremonies, traditions, etc. does not minister to their spiritual needs. It is the encouragement to wait upon the appearance of the Spirit of Christ upon the consciousness and conscience and their coming into the discovery of the sole and sufficient authority in the life of the individual and the group.
If my sense the Guiton is professing a turning back to a consciousness and conscience informed and guided by external beliefs, traditions, institutions, etc. is correct. Then he and I are not in agreement over the proper medicine or ministers for those who are come out of identification with external systematic forms. We will say as I move further into the book.
As to my statement:
Many early Friends even recognized this flaw in leadership of Fox, Fell, Penn, Barclays, etc
One of the examples I demonstrate the differences between those early Friends who found value in the establishment and guidance of external human and corporate authority and those early Quakers who, relatively speaking, would not follow the Foxonian group back into identification with and participation in external forms is the “discussion” between an anonymous Quaker and William Penn. As you know, in 1673 a pamphlet was published anonymously by a Quaker under the title The Spirit of the Hat or the Government of the Quakers, Among Themselves, as it has been Exercised of late years by George Fox, and other leading men in their Monday, or Second-dayes Meeting at Devonshire-house, brought to Light. A Bemoaning Letter of a certain ingenious Quaker to another his Friend; wherein their Tyrannical and Persecuting practices are detect and redargued. In the piece the writer shares his conviction, through the inshining impulse of the Light, that he would no longer remove his hat when in prayer at public Meeting because he was come out of adherence to ceremony. His following this conviction lead to conflict with those who where troubled by his not adhering to Quaker ceremony.
The anonymous writer wrote in The Spirit of the Hat that:
In the True Church, unity stands in diversities; but in the false unity will not stand without Uniformity. And it is greatly to be lamented how that very many will do nothing without the authority of the body, though it never be so clear in them; and this sets up the body above Christ.
The tension right from the very beginning of the Early Quaker gathering was between those who found value in the establishment of and identification with external to guide and inform the gathering relative to human relationships and interactions. There were also those who, relatively speaking, were come out of adherence to and participation in external ceremony, belief, theology, and institutions. The spoke out against those who would impose conformity to external beliefs, ceremonies, practices, etc. Many even refused to conform with Fox’s establishment of set times and places for Men’s Meeting through the “recommendation” of God. The anonymous writer gets at one element of the difference … the experience that unity is in diversity held together through the prerogative of Christ rather than through a uniformity established through adherence to external forms. It was not that those who did not remove their hats during prayer suggested that everyone should refrain from removing their hat, it was that those would not remove their hats were following the impulse of the Spirit and to remove their hat would be to commit sin against the the direction of the Spirit.
William Penn responded to this letter with a spirit of vehemence and wrote in his The Spirit Alexander the Copper-Smith Revived, and Rebuked: or, an answer a late Pamphlet, Intituled, The Spirit of the Hat, or the government of the Quakers. (1673):
Fox agreed with Penn. I do have a reference from Fox but I do not have it at hand right now. It is note worthy that Penn found the sight of some people with their hats of during prayer and others not unseemly. It is also noteworthy that that anonymous writer found such diversity as a mark of the true Church.
Back to my statement that Many early Friends even recognized this flaw in leadership of Fox, Fell, Penn, Barclays, etc I was trying to get my mind around my sense that Guiton’s value of external beliefs and theology as guides to inform a Quaker individual and the Quaker gathering represents those Early Quakers like Fox, Penn, and Fell, who led the gathering back into identification with and participation in external forms. However, there were also those early Friends who spoke out against the Foxonian imposition of those external forms of the whole Quaker gathering as trampling over the rule and prerogative of Christ in the conscience. Those who who did not follow Fox into his recommended external forms spoke of a different unity established in direct and immediate experience, authority, and diversity of the inshining Light itself in itself. They highlighted the inherent flaw in adherence to external systematics … the nurture of disunity.
It seems so far that Guiton is promoting an adherence to external form to establish Uniformity. We shall see.
The anonymous Quaker writer also wrote:
The Spirit of Antichrist in G. Fox, &c. Would wrest from me what I am not willing to part withal, to wit, my Conscience, under no les penalty than Excommunication; which is as far as in them lies
Well, I hope this give some sense of the nature of my concerns. There will be more further occasion to develop this and to revise and extend as i read further in Guiton. Thanks again for sharing this book. It is challenging and edifying even when I do not agree completely. Please forgive spelling and syntax errors I have gone way over alotted time in writing this. I want to give this response as careful attention as I possibly could.
Shared Impressions —-
Chapter 5, pg. 59,60
“... as the Society of Friends is steadily penetrated by those seeking a place to express their personal spirituality rather than follow a religion sustaining unity and a shared identity is becoming increasingly problematic.”
It is true that the their are people who, by there own admission, participate in the Quaker Way to express the personal external secular and religious ideological and theological constructs they idenitify with. However, Allistair, there are people who are come into the Quaker fold as a result of the inshining impulse of the Spirit of Christ in their consciousness and conscience which has brought them out of identification with a external religious unity and idenity based upon external theological constructs and who are come into the sufficiency of the inshining light of Christ itself in itself in their conscience and consciousness to guide and inform the gathering as a whole and its relationships and interactions. Their is an evolution of consciousness happening right before our eyes amongst the Quaker gathering which is come out of all external ideological, theological, and institutional forms and practices and Quakerism is uniquely positioned to help bridge individuals and groups out from identification with external forms, practices, and institutions, and into a consciousness that is anchored solely in the LIfe itself in itself which is sufficient in itself to guide and sustain human consciousness and unity in human relationships and interactions. To lament this impulse away from a unity based upon a consciousness and idenitity anchored in external religious forms and to promote leading people back into this form of consciousness is to lead them away from the very inshining Impulse working in the consciousness and conscience.