Friday, June 4, 2010

Quaker Universalist

I am reticent to voice views on religion because the true believers seldom listen and if they do it is for the gotcha moments. But here goes. I think that the bible and other tomes of faith are superb marketing manuals. They sell their products primarily to the choir and make their arguments to the skeptics as if there is but one path and the skeptics already know that but just need to be reminded. And the warranty is eternal life. No proof, no documentation, no buy back. And if you missed the first boarding you can be born again and get a free pass.

And none of this has anything to do with how you live your life, how you treat your fellow humans and even less how well you steward your corner of creation. And then, if you don’t subscribe to the sales pitch, your warranty is voided even if you are Ghandi, Buddha or Moses. So individuals who live exemplary lives, caring for others, for the earth are excluded not because they have not met all of the requirements but because they have not met the litmus test based on interpretations of a book that was written decades or centuries after the death of the prophet.

We tend to overlook the history of Christianity. The state religion of Rome, of the Spanish, the British, the Portuguese, the Dutch and the Flemish and their roles in conquering Indian and African peoples. In the US there is the legacy of slavery, segregation, genocide and now homophobia. The history of the bible justifying hatred continues and this from a church founded in the name of a man of great love, caring, concern and selflessness.

How have these sins of the past affected people who were colonized by these Christian nations? And has the church or the churches owned up to this horrid legacy and made amends?

When I hear or see evidence that current Christians are serious about righting their wrongs, then I will be interested in a dialogue. With this legacy, it is understandable why the true believers talk about Their faith but are closed to the messages of others.

The Religious Society of Friends has been enriched by other faiths and by the moral leadership of non-Christian leaders such as the Dalai Lama. How long has it been since there was a Christian of his stature? To restrict our faith to one path is counter intuitive and deepens the divides that we already share.

I am not a Christian but I am a Quaker.

"You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.” Book of James


Anonymous said...


John Stephens said...

It's nice to see divergent views being published on the WPH blog.

I appreciate the intellectual integrity of your position, and I share your desire for a universal, all-embracing Quaker movement.

On the other hand, I think your missing the inclusive idiom latent in Christianity and throughout the Bible. That's fine-- it often gets buried, and it is unknown to the majority of Christians.

The conversation that takes place between the biblical writings actively embraces and makes room for both unbelievers, other faiths, and those who challenge the cultural accretions of the faith; all of these have every bit as much right to the heritage and identity of the Christian movement as those who claim the Christian label.

Take Abraham, who rejected all the religions and abandoned all the gods of his culture to follow the One who spoke to him through personal experience; to everyone else he was an atheist and unbeliever. He even argued with God himself over the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Or take Job, who insisted that the Proverbs cited by his so-called friends were a mockery of both divine justice and human integrity.

Jacob was given the name Israel-- "God-wrestler" --because he had "striven with God and with humans” and survived.

Isaiah holds forth the destiny of all "nations" to be included among the faithful. In the ancient world, "nations" were more than just territories or sovereign identity groups-- they were peoples united by language and religion. Isaiah's assertion sounds similar to Krishna's claim in the Baghavad Gita: "Those who are devotees of other gods and who worship them with faith actually worship only me... I am the only enjoyer and master of all sacrifices."

I am a Quaker who takes seriously the roots of Quaker practice in the covenants of the Christian movement and the prophetic faith of the Bible. I also take seriously the horrific failures and abuses of the Christian movement. Although I reject the triumphalist evangelical theology that gives rise to and nourishes Christian imperialism, I think that base communities that sincerely seek and do torah-- divine revelation --are crucial to the authentic vocation of Quakers. That makes it a Christian movement in my view, and that makes me a Christian.

But it's also a community of divergent Friends, a people gathered from the full spectrum of belief and unbelief. The full inclusion and membershipof divergent Friends in the communion of Quakers doesn't make it less faithful to the fundamental prophetic task of seeking and practicing what God reveals to us. What it takes isn't a profession of Christian faith, but a willingness to be guided together.

Your quotation from the letter of James is apt, and related to a parable of the kingdom Jesus told in Matthew chapter 25: At the end, everyone will come to the Human One to be judged, and he will separate them into two groups, the sheep and the goats. The sheep aren't selected based on their religious identity or profession of Christianity, but based on their commitment to the vocation of Christ: loving, feeding, clothing, serving, and healing our neighbors.

Doug Sloan said...

What is not the Good News:
* Committing acts of war, violence, brutality, coercion, or intimidation in the name of faith or religion or scripture or Buddha or Jesus or Mohammed or Allah or God.

* Viewing a faithful life as being in a war or combat operation or viewing the faithful life as requiring a warrior mentality or viewing faith as a weapon or a shield.

* Claiming a faith as a national or cultural identity or as an act of patriotism or civic duty.

* Having to celebrate, observe, or respect religious holidays with either fundamentalist or populist specified behavior.

* Claiming a literal or singular or absolute or authoritative interpretation of scripture.

* Responding to theological differences with threats of death or violence or committing murder or physical assault or verbal abuse or using demeaning labels or ostracism or shunning.

* Standing on a city street corner or in the middle of a college campus and shouting at people about the errors of their sinful lives.

* Practicing exclusion or an “us/them” and “here/there” world view.

* Advocating a patriarchal, matriarchal, racial, ethnic, caste-based, tribal/family-based, or political/citizenship/empire-based social order as the will of God.

* Requiring belief in a torturous execution as an atoning sacrifice.

* Preaching salvation as a requirement or claiming salvation as an achievement.

* Preaching fear of eternal damnation and preaching that eternal damnation can be avoided only by conversion, the acceptance of a rigid pre-ordained belief system, or membership in a particular faith or sect or denomination or congregation.

* Viewing the ascension to free will or the acquisition of free will as a sinful act that eternally separates from God all people for all generations (instead of a story of success for both the people and God).

* Requiring belief in the convoluted theology of a divine trinity.

* Having to view Buddha or Jesus or Mohammed or any person as divine.

* Requiring belief in ascensions, post-death appearances, virgin births, divine interventions, or any such miracle.

* No matter how reassuring it is made to sound, proclaiming that a disaster or a death or an injury or a harmful loss is the will of God is not the Good News.