NOTE TO SELF, BASED ON QUAKER TESTIMONIES OF INTEGRITY, SIMPLICITY, PEACE, EQUALITY, AND COMMUNITY:

1. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul, and your neighbor as yourself.
2. Do what you say, say what you think, think what is true.
3. Subtract superfluities from your life, speech, desires and thoughts.
4. Don't initiate aggression against the persons or property of others, nor support people who do, including the people who "constitute" the government.
5. Respect life and natural law.
6. All people are endowed by their Creator with equal and inalienable rights to the earth and to the fruits of their own labor, and a "Citizen's Dividend" funded by a "Single Tax" on the unimproved value of land and other natural resources would be the fairest way to protect these rights.

For supporting materials, see the Archive and the Recommended Reading and Videos section at the bottom of this page.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Why be a Quaker?

It's almost a tautology that the most important part of a person's philosophy is his or her view of the meaning and purpose of human life and of his or her own life, whether that view be grounded in Quakerism, Catholicism, Deism, athiesm, agnosticism, etc.. Most of the discussions about politics and economics that are carried on on the web and elsewhere seem impoverished by the absence of this most essential and fundamental of considerations. Where the discussions are nevertheless carried on fruitfully, there is often an unspoken meeting of the minds about these underlying assumptions. Where the discussions seem to talk past each other, there is often an unspoken and usually unconscious disagreement about these underlying assumptions. My aim in titling this blog as I have is to make my premises explicit, and to accord to the spiritual dimension of life the prominence and priority that justice and truth demand.

One of the first corollaries of the spiritual life is that materialism is flat wrong. Yet for all practical purposes materialism is normally the level to which politics, concerning itself with worldy power, and economics, concerning itself with worldly wealth, stunt themselves and fall short of reality. But spiritual reality has enormous implications for both politics and economics: A man may be spiritually free though deprived of power even over his own body, but woe to the slavemaster; A woman may be spiritually rich though deprived even of the wealth to which nature entitles her, but woe to the oppressor who causes her impoverishment. Spiritual reality, awareness and judgment therefore determine the happiness and fate of the slave, the pauper, the slavemaster and the oppressor alike, in this life and the next.

But backing up, how do I justify my belief in a spiritual reality, as opposed to agnosticism or athiesm, and my adherence to Quakerism (also known as the Religious Society of Friends) specifically? Or more importantly, why should you believe in God, take to heart the Christian message, and/or visit a Quaker meeting to see if it might be right for you? Vast amounts have been written elsewhere on these subjects, and there are a number of good links to information about Quakerism in the sidebar of this blog (Barclay's Apology might be particularly relevant in this context). I can only here touch on some of the considerations that have appeared particularly important to me in my own spiritual journey.

I don't think there is any special merit in "believing" per se. Belief has merit when it is based on something else we know. For example, it is right and good to believe something that a person we know (usually by experience) to be trustworthy tells us, particularly if we also know that person loves us and has our well-being at heart. There is merit in knowledge, and more merit in knowledge of the highest things, for knowledge of what is true is the basis of wisdom. More precisely and fundamentally, there is merit in the love of wisdom, for it is what leads to wisdom, to following (courageously if necessary) what wisdom commands, and to worship of the highest and Truest Truth. The love of wisdom proceeds from God and has God for its object.

I know that God exists and is Good. I know this by experience, and not by any rational demonstrations or "proofs" of the existence of God. The Thomist philosopher Jacques Maritain put it well:

"When St. Paul affirmed that 'that which is known of God is manifest in them. For God hath manifested it unto them. For the invisible things of Him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; His eternal power also, and divinity . . .', he was thinking not only of scientifically elaborated or specifically philosophical ways of establishing the existence of God. He had in mind also and above all the natural knowledge of the existence of God to which the vision of created things leads the reason of every man, philosopher or not. It is this doubly natural knowledge of God I wish to take up here. It is natural not only in the sense that it belongs to the rational order rather than to the supernatural order of faith, but also in the sense that it is prephilosophic and proceeds by the natural or, so to speak, instinctive manner proper to the first apperceptions of the intellect prior to every philosophical or scientifically rationalized elaboration. . . . Here everything depends on the natural intuition of being -- on the intuition of that act of existing which is the act of every act and the perfection of every perfection, in which all the intelligible structures of reality have their definitive actuation, and which overflows in activity in every being and in the intercommunication of all beings. Let us rouse ourselves, let us stop living in dreams or in the magic of images and formulas, of words, of signs and practical symbols. Once a man has been awakened to the reality of existence and of his own existence, when he has really perceived that formidable, sometimes elating, sometimes sickening or maddening fact I exist, he is henceforth possessed by the intuition of being and the implications it bears with it."

I think with St. Thomas Aquinas that the discursive reasoning and syllogizing faculty of man grows out of man's experience and dealings with the multifarious sensible world of physical objects, that it is particularly adapted to that world, and that when it embarks on metaphysical or theological speculations, including attempts to prove or disprove God's existence, it is out of its natural element so to speak. That's not to say that we should or can refrain from moral reasoning, which partakes of the metaphysical, or that metaphysical thinking is useless or impossible. (St. Thomas certainly didn't think so.) It's just to say that such philosophizing is necessarily tenuous and uncertain, and reveals far less about God than is revealed by the "creation of the world." God, even according to the best metaphysical speculations, is One and Simple, and to be true our knowledge of Him must likewise be One and Simple. Philosophical attempts to prove that God exists or that He has certain attributes, like other experiences of the God-created world, just might in certain individuals foster the intellect's direct and instinctive apperception of God's existence, but reasoning about God is far from knowing God, and can sometimes even be an obstacle to such knowledge.

Such considerations as these led me to become very circumspect about pretending to know things about God that I didn't really know, including things like the Divinity of Christ, the Resurrection of Christ, and the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. To make a long story short, these considerations, as well as Quakers' venerable history of resisting slavery, war and other injustices, were what led me to the Religious Society of Friends, a Christian community which eschews credal formulations of what its members are required to believe. I'm not simply a Deist, because I do in fact believe that Jesus rose from the dead and is the Son of God. I believe it because I am persuaded by a preponderance of the historical evidence, by the beauty and truth of Jesus' life and teachings as depicted in the Gospels, and by the "answer" it provides to the mystery of why evil exists in a world created by a Good and Omnipotent God -- that whyever evil exists, our Creator is with us and shares in our sufferings, and has shown us by His Incarnation in the world how to overcome evil and death. I just don't know those beliefs to be true, and I resist the notion, which is essential to most mainstream Christian denominations, that salvation hangs upon both believing those things to be true and the truth of those beliefs. Instead, I put the emphasis where Jesus Himself seemed to put it, when He taught that the Greatest Commandment is to "Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself." I know the Wisdom and the Truth of that Commandment, and so in God alone my soul finds its security.