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.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Billionaire Warren Buffett wants to pay more tax

Actually, the main thrust of his complaint seems to be not that he is not paying enough taxes, but that everyone on his staff, including his receptionist, pays a higher rate of tax than he does. According to Buffett, the second-richest man in the U.S., "The taxation system has tilted towards the rich and away from the middle class in the last 10 years. It's dramatic; I don't think it's appreciated and I think it should be addressed."

Predictably, the robber class defends its interests: "Mr Buffett's remarks drew a robust response from the US Chamber of Commerce, which said the top 1% of US earners accounted for 39% of tax revenue - and the highest earning 25% of the population delivered 86% of the tax-take. The chamber's chief economist, Martin Regalia, said: 'Mr Buffett has made an awful lot of money and if he wants to pay more taxes, I think that's fine. But I think he should get his facts straight.'"

What this criminal gang, which operates at the behest of those with the wherewithal and willingness to pay for its election campaigns, refuses to admit is that taking $6k per year from somebody earning $30k per year impacts that person's very freedom, viability, security and independence a lot more than taking $60k per year from somebody making $300k per year (and a helluva lot more than taking $60k or more from somebody inheriting $300k), that our government-enforced property-rights regime denies to the unpropertied their natural birthright to an equal share of the earth and its natural resources, and that much of the income of those in the highest tax brackets comes from "unearned increment." Read this.

Why isn't this being shouted from the rooftops?

A mechanic in Wichita, Kansas with an eighth-grade education has been modifying Lincolns, Escalades and Hummers for years to run on vegetable oil and electricity, cutting emissions by 80%, DOUBLING horsepower, AND getting upwards of 100 mpg. One of his concoctions smoked a Lamborghini in a drag race televised on MTV. Clients include Arnold Schwarzenegger and Neil Young.

This is the kind of thing that Detroit, the oil companies, and the military-industrial complex don't want you to know. After all, how would Bush and Co. justify forcing Americans to pay for all those aircraft carriers and tanks if our "national interests" are no longer held hostage by oil tycoon sheiks in the Middle East?

Via Fark and Daily Kos.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Illinois Yearly Meeting's statement on abortion

Mirror of Justice, "a blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory," has several posts today on the immorality vs. the illegality of abortion. This discussion was in turn prompted by an earlier post, where contributor Eduardo Penalver stated the issue thusly: "[T]he Church normally distinguishes between a practice's morality and its legality, as it does in the case of, say, the just wage. But in the case of abortion, it has by and large skipped over that distinction, asserting that there is no room for prudential disagreement, not only as to abortion's morality, but also as to its legality."

I've stated previously
my dissent from the 1992 Minute concerning abortion of Illinois Yearly Meeting, of which my own monthly meeting is a member. (I've only been an attender at Quaker meeting for a few years, and only became aware of this Minute a couple months ago.) What exactly do I find objectionable about this Minute, in light of my basic agreement with the implications of Penalver's observation and the libertarian view on abortion expressed here?

The pertinent language in the Minute is as follows: "Neither abortion nor pregnancy should be compulsory nor illegal. A pregnant woman forced by legal or economic means to act against her own leadings is an abused woman. We hold that it is morally wrong for the federal or state governments to take upon themselves the power of compelling women to complete or terminate pregnancy, whether such coercion be done by legal or economic means."

Part of my objection has to do with the confusion and ambiguity caused by the use of the word "economic" in the phrase "legal or economic means." To the extent that it contemplates the situation of a pregnant woman who feels compelled by lack of financial resources to have an abortion, I agree that such a situation implies injustice (the injustice of our economic system, primarily, which denies to the poor what rightfully belongs to them) or at least a lack of charity in the wider society. But IYM's ambiguous statement just as clearly suggests that governments have used or may use economic means to "compel" women to complete pregnancy. What economic means could IYM be referring to here? The meaning that immediately occurred to me, an interpretation that will also naturally occur to other readers of this statement in the absence of any obvious alternatives, is that IYM is talking about the issue of government funding of abortions, and implying that not providing such funding for poor women who want abortions somehow coerces them into carry their pregnancy to term. That is, according to this interpretation, it is "morally wrong" for the government to not force its putative subjects to pay doctors to perform on other putative subjects a medical procedure that very many of the would-be payors consider immoral. I hope this interpretation of IYM's intent is incorrect, but the ambiguity of the language makes it impossible to know. Certainly IYM's statement comes across as a "pro-choice" document, and the issue of federal funding for abortions has historically been an important one for the pro-choice movement, so this interpretation is reasonable. What else could this allusion to economically -coercing-women-to-complete-their-pregnancies be referring to?
Informed consent requirements? I'm not aware of any proposals ever having been made to fine women for having abortions. If nothing else, the statement would benefit by plainer speech.

My most fundamental objection to the statement, however, is that while it goes so far as to say that it is "morally wrong" for the government to prevent a woman from having an abortion (without any qualifications, e.g., for late-term abortions) , it scrupulously avoids saying anything about the morality of violently preventing an unborn child from being born, a child who, except in cases of rape, was the natural fruit of consensual sex and has the status of an "invited guest." It doesn't say anything about the morality of engaging in sex in situations where an unplanned pregnancy is likely to end in abortion.

There are
real prudential reasons for not outlawing most abortions. These reasons do not make abortion moral, and it's an abuse of language to speak of it as a "right."

Far be it from me to judge anyone. I've acted immorally and taken the easy way out on too many occasions to presume or be tempted to do that. But if we have Light enough to declare coercive laws or proposed laws to be "morally wrong," we have Light enough to make moral judgments about other coercive human acts, including abortion. It's particularly important that we do so when our pronouncements about the morality of laws or proposed laws strongly imply a view about the morality of those human acts that would be subject to the law.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

"Master, to whom shall we go?"

In fiddling around with this blog I've endeavored, in the Recommended Reading section at the bottom of the main page and in the introductory "Note to Self" at the top, to cover all the important bases, to highlight and provide some justification for those ideas and ideals that appear to me of the highest importance. In doing so I've detected a relative absence of supporting material for the most important ideal of all, which is expressed in the commandment to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul."

To those who don't believe in God in the first place I can't offer any proof of His existence that I think would be compelling. I can only offer the testimony of my own perhaps incommunicable sense that we can directly know and experience the existence of God, and the argument of so-called Reformed Epistemology, that it is rational to believe in God independently of evidence or argument. But I would also hold up for consideration the first part of Peter's response to Jesus' asking the Twelve Apostles whether they wanted to join the many disciples who, because of His hard sayings, had stopped following Him (John 6:66-69). Peter's response was, "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God."

Of course, I don't have in mind a scriptural argument for those who don't believe in God, let alone believe in Scripture. Rather, what I have in mind is the insight, characteristic of Plato and the neoplatonists and the many others who have followed in their philosophical footsteps, into the relative unreality of all of the temporal, changeable, and corruptible things that make up the world. It seems to these philosophers that a beautiful or wise person, who is here today and gone tomorrow, has less of the characterisitics of reality than the idea of Beauty or Wisdom by which we recognize and appreciate instances of beauty or wisdom. Meister Eckhart put it thusly: "All creatures are a pure nothing. I don’t say they are insignificant or a something: they are absolute nothing. Whatever hasn’t essence does not exist. No creature has essence, because the essence of all is in the presence of God. If God withdrew from the creatures for just one moment, they would disappear to nothing." And: "God is not only a Father of all good things, as being their First Cause and Creator, but He is also their Mother, since He remains with the creatures which have from Him their being and existence, and maintains them continually in their being. If God did not abide with and in the creatures, they must necessarily have fallen back, so soon as they were created, into the nothingness out of which they were created."

So, again, "To Whom shall we go?" The deepest conclusion to which the above reflections lead is not the unreality of all creatures and things but our essential "identity" with, through our participation in, the unchangeable Be-ing of all beings, the Ground of our reality, in Whom "we live and move and have our being." The realization in time of this abiding Truth is our salvation, while apart from God we can do, and are, nothing.

Such truths by their metaphysical and mystical nature are better understood through insight and experience than through words. Nevertheless, to help complete the philosophy collection I've found myself assembling on this blogspot, I've linked, in the Recommended Reading section and in the "Note to Self," to Angelus Silesius' Cherubinic Wanderer, a 17th century collection of short mystical verses that I've long found congenial to my sense of reality. Here is one couplet that speaks to me:

Not first upon the Cross God let Himself be slain,
For see! He lieth dead there at the feet of Cain.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Passion of the Christ

"All we know of Love is that Love is all there is." I was reminded of this paraphrase of a line from an Emily Dickinson poem (which I first came across several years ago on the front of a greeting card), with all of its metaphysical, epistemological and moral significance, by this article on Strike-the-Root titled The Earthly Lesson of Jesus' Crucifixion. The author, Glen Allport, concludes his article with these thoughts:

The fundamental importance of love; the understanding that a loving world requires better treatment of children, and the flat assertion that "the kingdom of God is within you" are what I see as the most real and powerful of Jesus' teachings – or of anyone's teachings. These three teachings are the best short summary of human wisdom I have ever seen.

Jesus knowingly added a fourth teaching – of Power's hatred for all that is loving, decent, and real – by arranging for and allowing Roman soldiers to arrest, torture, and murder him. By the most vivid and courageous example possible, Jesus thus taught that the coercive State is an evil almost beyond imagining.

Allport also has some good things to say about Mel Gibson's artistic representation of The Passion of the Christ that ring true for me. Contrary to many of Mel's critics within not only secular and non-Christian but also liberal Christian circles, I have a lot of respect for the man, perhaps partly because before my convincement to Quakerism I was part of an (allegedly) schismatic Catholic society with views that appear similar to Gibson's, and I still see a logical consistency and merit in such traditionalist views. I think Allport captures a more fundamental basis for my continuing respect, despite my abandonment of Catholicism, for Gibson and The Passion of the Christ:
In "The Passion of the Christ," Mel Gibson focuses on the cruelty and violence directed at Jesus by those in power. Gibson was predictably attacked for doing so. “All that violence; how distasteful! How disgusting that a film director would sell a movie about Christ with blood and torture and murder!” And so on. Yet “Passion” is defined as “a. The sufferings of Jesus in the period following the Last Supper and including the Crucifixion. b. A narrative, musical setting, or pictorial representation of Jesus's sufferings.” (The American Heritage Dictionary, third edition).

The emotional damage of Jesus’ contemporaries, and their cruelty – especially as empowered by coercive government – formed the milieu that Jesus lived in, and this milieu was the reason for his ministry in the first place. The New Testament details some of the unhealthy, violent, coercive, and corrupt aspects of life that Jesus was working to change. Jesus was willing to die on the cross – he knew that he would, in all likelihood, be murdered in that exact fashion – because he felt and believed that every person needed and desired, with all their heart, a compassionate and healthy world, instead of the corrupt, violent, hate-drenched world of coercion and pain that every new child of his time was born into. That reality was clearly so painful to Jesus that even the threat of his own death could not keep him from starting a ministry aimed at changing the world for the better.

In fact, the violence, torture, and murder are essential elements of the Christ
story; without these elements, there IS no story. Without these elements, there
would have been no need for Jesus to champion love and compassion at the cost of
his own life. Without these elements, Jesus would have simply lived a healthy,
compassionate life among his family and friends, dying in bed at a ripe old age,
and two thousand years later we might never have heard of him.

Of Mel Gibson’s other films, "Braveheart" in particular parallels "The Passion" in that Braveheart’s hero, William Wallace, knowingly risks his life (eventually losing it, after being tortured in public) for the sake of a better world – in particular, for love and freedom.

This linking of love and freedom is another powerful insight on Gibson’s part. Love and freedom truly are linked; indeed, like Yin and Yang, love and freedom are two sides of a central duality in human life. To champion Love is to oppose coercive Power, which is to side with Freedom. Love and freedom must be kept in a reasonable balance, and at high levels, for a healthy society.

By spending $30 million of his own money on a film about Jesus that nearly everyone thought would fail, and which (to no one’s surprise) brought Gibson much criticism and even insults, Gibson showed hints of the same willingness to risk himself for what is right that made his protagonists interesting and positive figures. Because he does not live in China or some other country that murders or tortures or imprisons people for their religious beliefs, Mr. Gibson was probably never in physical danger for producing a film about Jesus’ last days, but Gibson was not treated kindly in much of the press, and this was surely something he knew would happen before starting the project.

Furthermore, despite complaints to the contrary, I do not believe that "The Passion of the Christ" shortchanges Jesus’ message. The brief scene in which the doomed Jesus tells his followers to love one another would be enough, by itself, to convey the essence of Jesus’ teachings. (“So love one another” reads the English subtitle). Keeping this scene short, poignant, and without distractions gives it all the more emphasis. Also, the official trailer for the film**, which includes that line, also includes a text panel reading: “His message was love.” The film makes that message clear in a variety of ways, mostly by the actions and demeanor of Jim Caviezel, the actor who plays Jesus.

According to Allport, "Supernatural elements are optional, in my view: an afterlife, a deity, reincarnation, or an eternal soul, for examples. I have no quarrel with those who believe in such elements; to each his own. But the core importance of love is, in my opinion, far more basic, more in the present, more real, and more important." This idea is similar to what I've tried to express in a couple of previous posts and what Robin M. has recently put very well:
Because that’s my main point of view about the history of Jesus: I don’t know. I don’t know enough to dispute with any of these authors about their historical analysis. On the simplest level, I wasn’t there, and I don’t believe any one really knows what really happened 2000 years ago. And that’s okay with me. Borg empowered me to admit that I don’t know the truth about the virgin birth or the physical resurrection of Jesus. And to accept that it doesn’t matter to me, at least not right now, because my faith doesn’t rest on these propositions being literally true. My faith is built on the truth of Jesus’s existence in my own life and the transformative value of what is written about Jesus. I’m not caught up in whether it’s all myth or history or a combination of both, although I tend towards the “some of each” position, if you really want to know.
Allport's essay also helped bring a couple other essential things home to me. First, it's helped me to rethink my agnosticism about the propriety of physically disciplining children. I cannot recall an occasion when I've felt called upon to spank or otherwise physically discipline a child in my life, but I haven't necessarily been opposed to it in principle. On the other hand, I do think children need some measure of "discipline," and am on occasion perturbed by parents who apparently let their kids run wild and have not instilled in them and (as necessary) "enforced" respect for other children and adults. Nevertheless, I think there are extremely few if any situations in which physical punishment is warranted. I think the solution to many disciplinary problems is more love and attention, and that this love and attention should occasionally be expressed with firm or even angry words. When firm words are called for, ideally they would be motivated by zeal for the rights and feelings of others, whom the child might be injuring, and this awareness and concern for others should be brought home to the child. I'm not ready to agree that spanking a child should be criminalized, but it would be a good thing if our society and culture continued in its direction of casting serious disapproval on such methods, and of making sure children subjected to such measures are okay and that their parents think twice about using unwarranted corporal punishment. Children need love and compassion, and if we want to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and to make our present and future society a better and happier place, one of our first concerns should be to make sure we give them what they need and have a right to expect.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Today is my wife's and the world's birthday

Worldnetdaily is marketing to homeschooling parents of hapless kids a modern English translation of the 17th century Annals of the World, by an Anglican bishop named James Ussher. According to this book's calculations, based on its interpretation of the Bible and secular sources, the universe is 6010 years old today, October 23rd!

I'm willing to believe that this book might be an interesting and historically-significant curiosity, and that a brief perusal of its contents could have a place in a well-rounded curriculum. Worldnetdaily's marketing, however, implies that the book is something more, and makes its appeal to those deluded souls inclined to believe that the book's conclusions are historically accurate and valid.

The intelligent design movement is to my mind a different animal altogether than such misguided creationist fundamentalism. I'm not saying that I dismiss the theory of evolution (especially the non-controversial parts of the theory which apparently really have been demonstrated) as untrue; just that I have not yet had the opportunity or impetus to really study the evidence pro and con for myself, so I'm not ready to just "believe" anything on the authority of some supposed consensus among scientists, especially because I know from personal experience with the scientific establishment that a lot of scientists can be collectively wrong and can support each other (even willfully and dishonestly) in their wrongness.

I'm willing to believe, though, that my wife Julie's date of birth is supported by satisfactory evidence. And come to think of it, today is as good a day as any to celebrate the Creation of the world, in whichever way God may be creating it!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Reforming law school

I first became acquainted a few years ago with the world of blogging by reading and commenting at Ann Althouse's blog. She is neither left, libertarian or Quaker, but was one of my professors at the University of Wisconsin Law School, and writes a very good and very popular blog. Today she writes: "Hey! I finally thought of an answer to TaxProf Paul Caron's question: 'What is the single best idea for reforming legal education you would offer to Erwin Chemerinsky as he builds the law school at UC-Irvine?' Set the whole thing up according to the principles of a video game."

She explains what she means at the link, but it seems like this idea would serve to only make law school even more competitive than it already is, to no good purpose. I offer the following counter-suggestion in the comments section of her post:

"I've got a less hip but better and more realistic idea: Set the whole thing up according to the principles of a law review. All students are on 'law review' and must produce a publishable article (i.e. comment or note), and help edit other student articles. Articles must be geared towards subjects of actual interest and value to the legal profession. Everybody gets published in a fully-searchable online edition of the law review. (See my own online Wisconsin law review article geared towards the med mal plaintiffs' bar by following the link from my profile or blog.) The best articles make it into the print edition. Faculty's main job is to guide student research and perhaps lead seminars on related law review topics. That's all the law school is. One intensive year or at the most two (rather than three) should do it. Students would thus feel that they're doing something productive while learning, rather than just jumping through hoops. Big firms will have to find another way, on their own dime, to sort their particular brand of wheat from the chaff."

Sunday, October 21, 2007

A personal note on the direction of this blog

Anyone who has visited this blog more than once over the last week or so will have noticed that, while I haven't posted anything new for a few days, I've been tinkering around with the blog's look and format, including a revamping of the intro message and the sidebar "about me." Any comments or suggestions would be most welcome.

My original thought on starting this blog was that I would try to post at least once a day. However, so far I've been mostly drawn to larger philosophical topics that have seemed to call for longer treatments than are do-able on a daily basis. Part of the impetus for these lengthy essays has been the felt need to explain what the heck I mean by a "left libertarian Quaker" and provide upfront something of an apologetic or justification for the peculiar combination of beliefs that are now summarized above in the welcome message. I've still got a couple such "big topics" in mind that I'd like at some point to get off my chest: e.g., my specific objections to my own Illinois Yearly Meeting's endorsement of abortion rights, and how that dissent squares with a libertarian perspective on abortion; and the attitudes toward Quakerism of my hero Thomas Paine (whose father raised him Quaker), Paine's positive and devout affirmation as a Deist of God's benevolence combined with his negativity towards the Old and New Testaments, and his claim in Part II, Chapter III of The Age of Reason that "The only sect that has not persecuted are the Quakers; and the only reason that can be given for it is, that they are rather Deists than Christians. They do not believe much about Jesus Christ, and they call the scriptures a dead letter. Had they called them by a worse name, they had been nearer the truth." (Maybe I've said enough just by offering these topics to the reader's consideration, so I may or may not feel the need to examine them more closely in a later post.)

I need over the next couple weeks to spend more time developing a commercial web site for my law practice to accompany a yellow pages ad that is coming out at the end of this month and references my domain name at (Yes, I am, at least so far, a duly licensed attorney in good standing, despite my willingness to freely express my views - which are unfortunately "unorthodox" - about the legal profession and the conditions of government legitimacy. I am of course not the only attorney who holds or has ever held such views, and the great Lysander Spooner is an inspiration in this regard.) Right now only has a law review article I wrote while a law student at the University of Wisconsin (addressing a controversial subject that was also the basis for litigation I was involved with for several years after law school), and I need to update the site to provide info about my current areas of legal practice -- primarily wills, trusts and criminal defense (though I will always be willing to bring new litigation along the lines outlined in my Wisconsin Law Review article, given the right case).

Many blogs, such as Glenn Reynolds' widely-read Instapundit, consist mainly of links, with very brief commentary, to other blogs and interesting news items. Instapundit typically has very many such links throughout the day, but I think a more do-able goal for me and this blog, at least at this point in time, is to try to post one brief comment per day. The comment might link to another blog or news item or it might just be some random observation. As time and inspiration allows I might post something longer at the end of the week. We'll see how things develop. I'm not committing to daily posts, but if you don't see anything here for more than a week, that just might mean that They have finally come to take me away;)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Quaker anarchists in Pennsylvania

Here's a fascinating and amusing short history by Murray Rothbard of the early years of William Penn's Holy Experiment, in which Penn and his co-religionists often seem to have rather different views about the prerogatives of government.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Libertarianism and the Quaker Peace Testimony

In an earlier post, titled John Woolman's Plea for the Poor, I promised in a subsequent post to try to make the case that "the political philosophy historically known as Georgism recommends itself to Quakers as the one most consistent with the Quaker social testimonies of Peace, Equality, Community, Simplicity and Integrity." That's a pretty tall order, a worthy subject for an entire book rather than a single blog post, and one I think upon reflection this blog can best address post by post from time to time, probably indirectly, as occasion suggests. Today I would just like to offer a simple idea that pithily suggests how Georgism / geoism / geolibertarianism (essentially equivalent terms) follows from our Quaker Peace Testimony against war. As stated in my earlier post on John Woolman's Plea for the Poor, the geoist principle is simply this: everyone owns what they create, but everything supplied by nature, most importantly land, belongs equally to all humanity. (The connection with the Testimony of Equality is therefore evident.)

Caroline Stephen explains the Quaker Peace Testimony and its relation to the Testimony of Simplicity in her classic Quaker Strongholds (1890) in a way that rings true for me (The excerpt that follows is rather long, because she says a lot of things that are very good and essentially interrelated, some of which also provides a corrective balance to my recent posts regarding "superfluities." If you're already familiar with the Quaker Peace Testimony and how it relates to the Testimony of Simplicity, you can skip ahead.): "The question upon which we Friends differ from other Christians is not the question whether peace be desirable -- whether it be not, in fact, the goal of all political effort -- but what are the means by which it is to be attained or maintained. Other Christians do not deny that quarreling is contrary to the spirit of Christ, and we do not deny that a holy warfare is to be continually maintained against evil in every form. But we regard the opposing of violence by violence as a suicidal and hopeless method of proceeding; we feel, as Christians, that the weapons of our warfare are not carnal. We cannot, by taking military service, place ourselves at the absolute disposal of a power which may at any time employ its soldiers for purposes so questionable and often so unhallowed. . . . It is commonly supposed that Friends have some special scruple about the use of physical force in any case. This is, I believe, by no means true of the Society at large, although the popular notion may very likely be founded upon fact as regards individuals. . . . It is not, as I understand it, the use of physical force, or even the suffering caused by the use of it, which really makes war hateful in Christian eyes; but the evil passions, the 'lusts' from which it springs, and to which, alas! it so hideously ministers. The dispassionate infliction of punishment by an impartial and a lawful authority surely stands upon a quite different footing from that 'biting and devouring one another' which, whether between nations or between individuals, it is the very aim and object of law to suppress. Suffering inflicted for the purpose of maintaining peace cannot, I think, be condemned by the advocates of peace unless it be on the ground of failure. I own that I personally cannot but recognize that upon this view certain wars appear to be not only inevitable but justifiable, as partaking of the nature of national police operations. I cannot, therefore, regard all war as wholly, and unmitigatedly blamable, although I can hardly imagine any war which does not both come from evil and lead to evil. . . . A protest against strife and selfishness; not only against strife, but against 'the greedy spirit which leads to strife.' If we are willing to go down to the root in this matter, if we truly desire to do what in us lies towards ridding the earth not only of wars and fightings, but of all forms of oppression and cruelty, must we not recognize that the very first step is to be ourselves freed from covetousness? For who can doubt that it is mainly about outward and material things that nations or individuals are led into quarrels? Who will venture to say that, if none of us desired either to get or to keep more than our share of this world's goods, there would be anything like the amount of fighting, or of preparation for it, which now devastates the earth? . . . It seems to me that in struggling to rise and to raise others more and more clearly above the greedy spirity which leads to war, is the best hope for many of us of contributing in any real sense to the cause of peace on earth. It was long ago recognized by Friends that (to use the words of John Woolman) 'in every degree of luxury are the seeds of war and oppression.' The connection between luxury and cruelty is, indeed, almost a truism, but it is one of those truisms of which is it unfortunately easy to lose sight; and I fear that even amongst Friends the familiar testimonies against all war and against superfluities are apt to be held without any vivid sense of their vital connection. No one, surely, will deny that the selfish desire of mere pleasure, when allowed to rule, will feed itself at the expense of suffering and privation to others; that it does cause that scramble for gain in which the weak are trampled upon, and every furious passion is stimulated. The difficulty in regard to bearing a practical testimony against superfluities is not that which some of us feel in the case of war -- that we do not know where to take hold, that our personal and daily conduct seems to have no immediate bearing upon questions of international policy, and that the whole problem eludes our grasp by its very vastness. It is, rather, that we do not like to put our shoulder to the wheel of simplifying life for ourselves and others; that we do not see the beauty of severity; that we love softness, or yield to it for want of any purifying fire of hope. . . . It is, indeed, not easy to define the precise kind or amount of luxury which is incompatible with Christian simplicity; or rather it must of necessity vary. But the principle is, I think, clear. In life, as in art, whatever does not help, hinders. . . . The higher our ideal of life, the greater, indeed, must be the sacrifices which it will require from us. As we rise from the lower to the higher objects of life, many things of necessity become superfluous to us -- in other words, we become independent of them, or outgrow them. This is a widely different idea from that of ascetic self-discipline or self-mortification; and it is surely a sounder and a worthier idea. . . . If we bear in mind the essentially relative meaning of the word 'superfluous,' it is obvious that such a testimony against 'superfluities' does not require any rigid or niggardly rule as to outward things. To my mind, indeed, this view of the matter seems to require at least as clearly the liberal use of whatever is truly helpful to 'our best life' as the abandonment of obstructing superfluities. No doubt a testimony against superfluities is very liable to degenerate into formality, and to be so misapplied as to cut off much that is in reality wholesome, innocent, and beautiful."

The "pithy" idea I referred to in the first paragraph of this post is simply the flip-side of the military theorist General Carl von Clausewitz's famous dictum: "War is the extension of politics by other means." It seems to me that not only is this dictum evidently true, but that the converse is just as true: "Politics is the extension of war by other means." (This inference from Clausewitz's dictum seemed to me so pithy and true that I guessed it must have occurred to others, and a quick Google search reveals that it indeed has, to a number of people.) Virtually all States have their origin in war and conquest, and politics are the means by which the spoils of that conquest are divided over time by the conquerors' successors in power. (See Albert Jay Nock's book Our Enemy, the State, which is linked in the Recommended Reading section below and discussed in my post "Why be a libertarian?".) Behind every government law is physical force and the threat of punishment for those who disobey. So long as this sword is simply used for the maintenance of peace -- i.e. for the prevention and if necessary the punishment of aggression -- there is no injustice (as recognized by Caroline Stephen), but the strife inherent in politics as we know it reveals that the sword of government is used for much more than that. People fight over politics because things have been made subject to it which are not naturally subject to it, and willingly or not are driven to engage in its war-like processes because there is much to win that does not belong to them, and also much to lose that does belong to them. The greed and covetousness that Caroline Stephen speaks of as the seeds of war are such not only in the field of international relations but also in the battlefield of domestic politics. A certain stripe of small-minded libertarian is prone to decry the covetousness and "envy" of the poor, with their petitions for government "hand-outs," but the far more dangerous and operative covetousness is the coveting of what does not belong to them by those who actually have political power, among whom the rich are disproportionately represented.

If the abuses perpetrated by the politically-powerful through the means of our present government were cataloged the list would extend at least as long as that list of grievances filed against the British Crown in the Declaration of Independence. The first thing the government does (which all governments have done before it) is to lay claim to ownership of all the land within its power and territorial jurisdiction, most of which it sells off to private individuals and corporations over time, thereby depriving successive generations of inhabitants of their equal right to the earth and leaving them with nowhere to live or work without paying somebody for the privilege. (See "Why be a left libertarian?" ) The government might also, at the behest of a politically-powerful guild, protect the vested financial interests of that guild by forbidding the practice of a certain honest livelihood unless the would-be practitioner spends a substantial number of years in higher education and indentures himself to pay for the privilege, even though most of that education has precious little relation to the actual practice of that livelihood. (See, e.g., the articles "The Lawyer Cartel" and "Why Law School Costs So Much," written by a lawyer, linked to in the Recommended Reading section below.) Finally (though this by no means exhausts the list of abuses that might be named), on top of the unjust rents and the unjust extortion of payments for the privilege of earning a living, the government confiscates between one-third and one-half (when all taxes are taken into account) of the labor of its already over-burdened "subjects," to pay for . . . what, exactly? War, and the dividends of those who profit by it? The salaries of politicians, and the pet projects of those who bought them into office? It's noteworthy that under our Constitution as amended there is no limit to the amount of taxation that the political class might levy upon the fruits of our labor under the color of "democracy," and that they have already succeeded in imposing on us, without significant protest, tax burdens that would make Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson roll in their graves and that are many times greater than the impositions that were cited by the Founding Fathers as justifications for the American Revolution. The fact that the government could, but chooses not to, finance itself in well-known ways that would be consistent with and contribute to justice (see, e.g., half the links in the Recommended Reading section below) is proof positive that the government as we have known it is grounded not in justice or in some kind of social contract, but rather in war and the "lusts" of war.

My response to this reality of the State, and the response I recommend to others, parallels Caroline Stephen's observation that, while the problem of war may seem too vast for us and disconnected from our daily lives, "in struggling to rise and to raise others more and more clearly above the greedy spirit which leads to war, is the best hope for many of us of contributing in any real sense to the cause of peace on earth." Similarly, while I see little prospect for a political or electoral solution to the entrenched and institutionalized greed which is the State, the best hope for us of contributing to peace on earth is, along with rising above the greedy spirit which leads to war, to disentangle any patriotic attachments we might have from the machinery of government and pledge our allegiance instead to the people who labor under its unjust burdens. We should withdraw from the State as we know it our moral support and sense of moral obligation, rendering to it only what justice and prudence demand. Hopefully, with God's grace, this might be done with a peaceful and confident heart and with less rancour than my language in this post might suggest. And in the meantime we can pray and work for a better society, through which one day by the grace of God might be formed governments worthy of our respect.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Conservative Quakers of America

In my last post I mentioned I'd found this site, Conservative Quakers of America, which seemed to be very well put together and to have a lot of good information and links about conservative Quakerism. On closer inspection the site seems to be part of a webring which, at least presently, does not represent any substantial organization of people but appears to be largely or entirely the brain-child of a rather youthful-looking 35 year-old man in Calgary, Canada by the name of Jim Heil. (On the Conservative Quakers of America site he seems to be working with a Friend who is a member of a meeting in Athens, Greece that is affiliated with Ohio Yearly Meeting.) The fellow's motivations and inspirations for going to all this work and expense seem quite laudable. A large part of his idea seems to be to create an online community of conservative-minded Quakers (but inclusive of Quakers in general). I found this explanation noteworthy on his/their Quakers Online page:

"Why Quakers Online? Quakers are a diverse and sometimes scattered lot. Our numbers are not significant and many of us go without fellowship. I am a Wilburite (Conservative) Quaker and only can say this because of the study I have done through the Internet. Many, like myself, will make the same realizations, become convinced, not by human contact, but by searching online… a restlessness inside of them may lead them here or to another Quaker site in search of answers… in search of inner peace. Quakers Online hopes to be a refuge for believers, unplugged or otherwise, or for those simply hoping to expand their network of Friends. This website Quakers Online is the first of many interactive Quaker websites we plan on creating in the next couple of years. I have mistakenly noted in the past that “we are not officially linked to the Religious Society of Friends”, but I was wrong in this statement. We are Friends and this website is a community (or society) of sorts. We are inclusive to all forms of Quakerism and sincerely hope that all will be represented here."

I applaud this work and wish it success. The writing and info on these sites seems to be quite good, comprehensive, and correct. It serves as a reminder that the Quaker tradition and spirituality, which gives to our present forms of organization their identity as Quaker, is prior to and can exist independently of the official organizations in their present forms. After all, over the centuries various Quaker organizations have been formed and divided and laid down, but Quakerism itself has remained and been conserved throughout.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

New-found treasures on the internet

Seems like I'm always finding great new stuff on the internet that I had somehow missed before. Just now I found the website for Conservative Friends of America, which for some strange reason did not turn up when I did a Google search for "Conservative Friends" a few days ago. It's really a good site with lots of good info about Conservative Quakerism. I found this site by following links from Bill Samuel's I was in turn drawn to by Bill Samuel's very good "seamless-garment" article linked to at the site Friends for a Pro-Life Peace Testimony (another very good site) and by his comment on my post about Convergent Friends, in which he provided a helpful explanation of the "Emergent Church." (I also found yesterday a very helpful blog post by Scot McKnight titled What is the Emerging Church?) In addition to a lot of good info about Quakerism in general at, I found especially noteworthy the Quaker News section on the main page, since I haven't run across or noticed on the internet a similar compendium of recent Quaker news stories.

I'm running a little short on time so I haven't linked to these sites from this post, but all the sites in italics above are linked to from the Recommended Reading section at the bottom of this page.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

A further reflection on convergence and a proposal for a double-standard

My previous post on convergent Friends implies something of a "double standard;" i.e., it's okay for a Friends meeting or organization to say that, e.g., pre-marital sex or having an abortion are wrong, while another Friends meeting or organization that believes that either of these things are not wrong, or are not wrong given certain circumstances, should refrain from declaring that belief, or at least think thrice before doing so.

It seems to me that there may actually be something to be said for such an apparent double standard, and not only because it would if followed obviously have a salutary tendency towards convergence and unity among Friends. (We're not seeking an artificial "unity for the sake of unity" that vainly asks Friends to dampen or deny the Light within.) It seems to me that the justification for this way of looking at things is not solely or primarily grounded in what the Scriptures may or may not expressly forbid, but in the First and Greatest Commandment, which may be known by an open mind and an open heart prior to familiarity with Scripture, to "Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of your mind, and with all of your soul." Our Quaker Testimony of Simplicity, and against all superfluities, follows naturally from this Greatest of Commandments. Conservative Friend Lloyd Lee Wilson likewise describes what he calls "the first great theme" of Quaker spirituality, the "path of spiritual subtraction," as follows: "The spirituality of subtraction makes room in our lives for the type of direct interaction with the Divine that George Fox reported and that we wait for, expectantly, in meeting for worship. As it is hard to hear one another in a noisy room, it is hard to hear God in a noisy life. As our heart-longing for God grows, it is only natural that we should be continually simplifying our life, subtracting whatever is not God or not of God so that our awareness is single-pointed and competition for our attention is minimized. A noisy life not only competes with the Divine message, it distorts what it can not drown out completely."

Why in the world might a liberal Friend go along with such a double standard? First, and most obviously, the declarations concerning sexual morality of Conservative and Evangelical Friends meetings are not binding on him or her, and it's not imagined that they would be in a more convergent Quakerism.

Second, a greater appreciation of the Greatest Commandment, the Testimony of Simplicity and against superfluities, and the spirituality of subtraction (all of which I think liberal Quakers already naturally appreciate) may lead the liberal Friend to become less scandalized by "prudish" conservative Quaker declarations concerning sexual morality. Isn't there a sense in which all sex is superfluous (particularly when closed to procreation), and don't we recognize its power to focus the mind away from God, not to mention its potential (often actualized) to hurt both ourselves and other people? Now, of course, there's another very important and beautiful side to sex, but the aspect I've just mentioned is nevertheless valid and real.

Third, the liberal Friend may come to see that, with regard to acts that are morally ambiguous or controversial, the chances and the consequences of error are less serious, spiritually and socially, when a community of Friends declares that such an act "appears distinguishable from perfect purity," than they are when another community of Friends declares or implies that the act is not wrong.

Note the reference in quotes above to the diplomatically-worded formula often used by John Woolman. While I think Friends and Friends meetings should be ready and willing, in love and brotherhood, to warn our members and the wider society against particular perceived spiritual perils more often than we now do, it seems we should in doing so express ourselves in words such as these, with modest recognition of our own fallibility and without the "judgment" Jesus enjoined us from. (With regard to things that are obviously and horribly wrong, like war, we should and do speak more forcefully. Some Friends also, according to the Light given them, may be be led to speak as forcefully against other things.)

By contrast, and keeping in mind the Testimony of Integrity, how sure can we be that we're right when we say or imply that some act is not wrong? It's hard to go seriously wrong when we simply say that something "appears distinguishable from perfect purity," which could reasonably (though perhaps over-scrupulously) be said of things like wasting time watching a TV show or other frivolous pastimes, as well as of more serious things, i.e., it could be said of anything which is not of God or leads to God. But how do we know that God agrees with us when we affirmatively declare or imply, e.g., that it's morally acceptable for an unmarried person to engage in sex or for a woman to have an abortion? Do we want to be responsible for any consequences to that person's soul and the social effects in the wider society if we're wrong? Much better to exhort our brothers and sisters towards perfect purity, to humbly and non-judgmentally tell them our thoughts if we think they're going seriously astray, and to leave to the Light within them the rest.

Convergent Friends

I'd heard offhand of convergent Friends sometime in the past but didn't know until researching it yesterday what it's all about. (Roughly, convergent is conservative Quakerism coupled with Emerging Church thought.) From what I've learned it appears that I am indeed a convergent Friend and have been since I first began studying Quakerism and attending Quaker meeting several years ago. I recall at some point in my reading about the factions that have historically arisen among Friends coming across a discussion of Conservative Friends and thinking "That really sounds like what I believe; too bad it appears that Conservative Friends appear to be a small minority of Friends and none are around here." (That was before I became attached to my own local unprogrammed FGC-affiliated Friends meeting, which I am quite happy with.) I'm less clear at present about the "Emergent Church" part of "Convergent," despite having read the lengthy Wikipedia article on the subject. One thing that did catch my eye and intrigued me, though, is the postmodern epistemology of the Emergent Church which according to the Wikipedia article rejects claims of certainty. In my post "Why be a Quaker?" I explained that one factor in my turning towards Quakerism was that while I think we can know that God exists by an immediate apperception of the intellect (independently of evidence or argument), I have to admit to myself that I will likely never in this life attain the same kind of certainty with regard to the propositions of Christian faith. I am strongly persuaded of and "believe" the central propositions of Christianity (by a preponderance of the historical evidence and the apparent beauty and truth of Jesus' life and teachings), but because I am not certain of those propositions I resist the notion that salvation depends upon believing those propositions or the truth of those propositions. Rather, I believe that salvation consists in loving God with all our heart, mind and soul and our neighbor as ourself, a commandment which was taught to us by Jesus as the Greatest Commandment but which I think we can also know the truth of in the same way we can know that God exists. (I wonder what Conservative Friends would say about that way of looking at Christian faith?)

From this perspective, my earlier post today suggesting that all Friends and all groups of Friends should respect more fully (if not in deed then in word, and if not in word then in refraining from words) the moral ideals (including those concerning sexual behavior, disagreement about which appears as a significant obstacle to unity among Friends) which Jesus enjoins in the Gospels strikes me as very much a "convergent" attitude, in that it suggests "moving closer together towards some common point on the horizon," and that this common point is to be found in the general direction of Conservative Quakerism with its measured reverence for the Gospels as the foundational standard for Quaker faith and practice. It's difficult to see in what other direction a common point that could provide a basis for Quaker identity and unity might be found. Such a movement towards unity would not seek to shut out the Light or liberty of individual Friends. A liberal meeting with a concern for greater unity among Friends might not be inclined to interfere with or elder a member actively working through secular channels to further pro-choice causes (indeed many of its members might be thus engaged), but why should the meeting itself take the affirmative step of putting the collective stamp of Friends on a public statement supporting the right to choose abortion (as my own Yearly Meeting does), which even pro-choice Friends should recognize is fraught with grave moral ambiguity? What need is there to implicate Friends (and therefore the name of Jesus Christ) in such a business, when many secular organizations are already working for the pro-choice cause? Conversely, of course, moving towards unity does not imply that such a meeting must make public statements supporting laws against abortion, either. And certainly a meeting will want to make available clearness committees or more private forms of counseling for individual members who might be struggling with difficult decisions relating to pregancy, and what I've suggested above would not preclude such a committee or such a counselor from supporting a woman in a decision to have an abortion (though the Light itself might).

The issue of same-sex marriages under the care of the meeting is less clear to me, and I appreciate the weight of the arguments that have been made to the effect that Scripture (and particularly the Gospel) does not clearly and unequivocally proscribe committed monogamous same-sex unions. It seems relevant to me that in Quaker marriages it's understood that it's the parties themselves, rather than the meeting, who effect their marriage to each other, though the marriage is "under the care of" the meeting. I know that for my own part I would not hesitate to attend and witness and share in the joy of a same-sex union approved and celebrated under the care of my own monthly meeting. That said, it seems unnecessary and very un-convergent to criticize other meetings or Quaker organizations which find in Scripture a prohibition of homosexual activity and decline to give sanction to same-sex unions, or to call for the recognition and sanction of same-same marriages by the State (though the latter clause must be qualified by the kinds of considerations discussed, e.g., in the article I've linked to below in the Recommended Reading section titled "'The' Libertarian View on Gay Marriage").

Monday, October 8, 2007

Blogging can be tougher than it has to be!

Yesterday I spent a significant chunk of time working on a post whose thesis was that respect, if nothing else in the form of lip-service, for the ideals of perfect purity (specifically, those dealing with sexual morality) enjoined by Jesus according to the Gospel is essential to Christian and Quaker (and indeed human) unity, even where we find it very difficult to live up to those ideals or indeed doubt that strict adherence to its injunctions are the better part of Godly wisdom, and that to the extent that the liberal faction of Quakerism depreciates those ideals by (sometimes subtle) cultural attitudes and unnecessary public positions and statements the dis-unity that we so deplore can be attributed to it.

Now that wasn't so hard, and I pretty much just now said what I was trying to say in yesterday's labored unpublished draft. Of course, in yesterday's effort I endeavored to expound and explain, to make necessary qualifications in order to avoid giving unnecessary offense, to point out examples of what I was talking about, to consider consider contrary "arguments:, etc. But it's occurred to me (with some outside help) that in writing blog posts and in many other situations where we're proposing an idea it's best to not try to say everything, and to leave much to the hearer's own Light. It's better to risk being misunderstood and trust in the hearer's forbearance and charity, and to thereby leave room for a response that may increase our own understanding.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

John Woolman's Plea for the Poor

In a subsequent post I will try to make the case that the political philosophy historically known as Georgism recommends itself to Quakers as the one most consistent with the Quaker social testimonies of Peace, Equality, Community, Simplicity and Integrity. Georgism takes its name from Henry George (1839-1897), who as the author of the eloquently-written and best-selling Progress and Poverty (1879) was and is the philosophy's most famous and influential proponent. But the principle behind the philosophy was not invented by George and predates him, and is more universal than the thoughts of any one man. The principle is simply this: everyone owns what they create, but everything supplied by nature, most importantly land, belongs equally to all humanity. (The "single-tax" on the unimproved value of land was the specific policy proposal George advocated as necessarily following from this principle.) Therefore, many modern day Georgists have taken to calling themselves geoists or geolibertarians instead, with "geo" still honoring George's historically-important contribution, but also referring to the earth, and thus more descriptively reflecting the philosophy's concern with ownership of land and other natural resources. [I have provided links to Progress and Poverty and information about geolibertarianism, Henry George, and the "single-tax" at the bottom of this page in the Recommended Reading section.]

By my lights, the geoist philosophy, in its simplicity, universality, and evident truth, is worthy of endorsement and advocacy by Friends (and other religious societies) in the same way we now collectively advocate and testify against war and other social injustices, because if the geoist principle is indeed true and a natural law, then the pervasive violation of that natural law in today's society is working a grave injustice, and is a likely cause of much of the poverty and gross inequalities we see around us. The geoist philosophy is not an obscure anachronism from a bygone era, but a timeless truth. Relative to geoism, the Catholic Social Teaching [also linked below], while espousing many good things, appears as a rather complex mix of exhortations and proposals, as evidently man-made, and as incomplete in crucial respects [see, e.g., Henry George's Open Letter to Pope Leo XIII, linked below]. Geoism should be our "Quaker Social Teaching," or rather a significant element of it, as a corollary of our Quaker Testimonies!

There is good and solid precedent for such a Quaker attitude towards geoism / Georgism. As I understand it, Georgism was disproportionately influential among Quakers during the late 1800s and early 1900s. In fact, the board game Monopoly (in an earlier version called The Landlord's Game) was invented and designed by a Quaker woman named Elizabeth Magie Phillips to teach the principles of Georgism, and originally was played and developed and became popular in Quaker Georgist social circles. I have come across a couple other references which suggest the widespread influence of Georgism among Quakers during that period of history, but I would be very grateful if any Friends might be aware of and able to point me in the direction of any information which further illuminates historical connections between Quakerism and Georgism.

As mentioned above, geoist principles predate Henry George. Thomas Paine in his essay Agrarian Justice [linked below] famously proposed a plan that would fund lump-sum payments to every person turning age 21 and an early version of social security through a system of inheritance taxes on land, which he explicitly and eloquently justified on geoist grounds. But even before Thomas Paine and before Henry George there was John Woolman. According to the Introduction to The Journal and Major Essays of John Woolman, edited by Phillips P. Moulton, "Woolman's economic views, expressed chiefly in A Plea for the Poor, have inspired many individuals to live simply and without luxury. Some of his ideas -- e.g., that each man has an inalienable right to land and other necessary material goods -- were expressed by Thomas Paine and (a century later) by Henry George, but no direct influence is evident." Woolman's A Plea for the Poor therefore itself constitutes an important historical linkage between Quakerism and geoism, as well as, by its salutary influence on the predispositions of Quakers, a likely contributing factor to the later historical connections alluded to above.

I have been unable to find on-line A Plea for the Poor, except for Chapter 10. Therefore, as a service to the internet, and to help make the case that geoism follows naturally from our Quaker Testimonies, the remainder of this post will be a transcription of Chapter 13 in its entirety, where Woolman expressed his geoist ideas:

While our minds are prepossessed in favour of customs distinguishable from perfect purity, we are in danger of not attending with singleness to that Light which opens to our view the nature of universal righteousness.

In the affairs of a thick-settled country are variety of useful employments besides tilling the earth: that for some men to have no more land than is necessary to build on and to answer the occasions relative to the family may consist with brotherhood; and from the various gifts which God hath bestowed on those employed in husbandry, for some to possess and occupy much more than others may likewise. But where any on the strength of their possessions demands such rent or interest as necessitates those who hire of them to a closer application to business than our merciful Father designed for us, this puts the wheels of perfect brotherhood out of order and leads to employments the promoting of which belongs not to the family of Christ, whose example in all parts being a pattern of wisdom, so the plainness and simplicity of his outward appearance may well make us ashamed to adorn our bodies in costly array or treasure up wealth by the least degree of oppression.

The soil yields us support and is profitable for man; and though some possessing a larger share of these profits than others may consist with the harmony of true brotherhood, yet that the poorest people who are honest, so long as they remain inhabitants of the earth, are entitled to a certain portion of these profits, in as clear and absolute a sense as those who inherit much, I believe will be agreed to by those whose hearts are enlarged with universal love.

The first people who inhabited the earth were the first who had possession of the soil. The gracious Creator, and owner of it, gave the fruits thereof for their use. And as one generation passed away, another came and took possession; and thus through many ages, innumerable multitudes of people have been supplied by the fruits of the earth. But our gracious Creator is as absolutely the owner of it as he was when he first formed it out of nothing, before man had possession of it. And though by claims grounded on prior possession great inequality appears amongst men, yet the instructions of the great proprietor of the earth is necessary to be attended to in all our proceedings as possessors or claimers of the profits of the soil.

"The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord" [Ps. 37:23], and those who are thus guided, whose hearts are enlarged in his love, give directions concerning their possessions agreeable thereto; and that claim which stands on universal righteousness is a good right, but the continuance of that right depends on properly applying the profits thereof.

The word right is commonly used relative to our possessions. We say a right of propriety to such a dividend of a province or a clear, indisputable right to the land within such certain bounds. Thus this word is continued as a remembrancer of the original intent of dividing the land by boundaries, and implies that it was designed to be equitably or rightly divided, to be divided according to righteousness. In this -- that is, in equity and righteousness -- consists the strength of our claims. If we trace an unrighteous claim and find gifts or grants to be proved by sufficient seals and witnesses, this gives not the claimant a right, for that which is opposite to righteousness is wrong, and the nature of it must be changed before it can be right.

Suppose twenty free men, professed followers of Christ, discovered an island unknown to all other people, and that they with their wives, independent of all others, took possession of it, and dividing it equitably, made improvements and multiplied. Suppose these first possessors, being generally influenced by true love, did with paternal regard look over the increasing condition of the inhabitants, and near the end of their lives gave such directions concerning their respective possessions as best suited the convenience of the whole and tended to preserve love and harmony, and that their successors in the continued increase of people generally followed their pious examples and pursued means the most effectual to keep oppression out of their island. But [suppose] that one of these first settlers, from a fond attachment to one of his numerous sons, no more deserving than the rest, gives the chief of his lands to him, and by an instrument sufficiently witnessed strongly expresses his mind and will. Suppose this son, being landlord to his brethren and nephews, demands such a portion of the fruits of the earth as may supply him and his family and some others; and that these others, thus supplied out of his store, are employed in adorning his building with curious engravings and paintings, preparing carriages to ride in, vessels for his house, delicious meats, fine-wrought apparel, and furniture, all suiting that distinction lately arisen between him and the other inhabitants; and that having this absolute disposal of these numerous improvements, his power so increaseth that in all conferences relative to the public affairs of the island, those plain, honest men who are zealous for equitable establishments find great difficulty in proceeding agreeable to their righteous inclinations while he stands in opposition to them. Suppose he, from a fondness for one of his sons, joined with a desire to continue this grandeur under his own name, confirms chief of his possessions to him, and thus for many ages, on near a twentieth part of this island there is one great landlord and the rest generally poor oppressed people; to some of whom from the manner of their education, joined with a notion of the greatness of their predecessors, labour is disagreeable; who therefore by artful applications to the weakness, unguardedness, and corruption of others, in striving to get a living out of them increase the difficulties amongst them; while the inhabitants of the other parts who guard against oppression and with one consent train up their children in plainness, frugality, and useful labour live more harmonious.

If we trace the claim of the ninth or tenth of these great landlords down to the first possessor and find the claim supported throughout by instruments strongly drawn and witnessed, after all we could not admit a belief into our hearts that he had a right to so great a portion of land, after such a numerous increase of inhabitants.

The first possessor of that twentieth part held no more we suppose than an equitable portion; but when the Lord, who first gave these twenty men possession of this island unknown to all others, gave being to numerous people who inhabited this twentieth part, whose natures required the fruits thereof for their sustenance, this great claimer of the soil could not have a right to the whole, to dispose of it in gratifying his irregular desires; but they, as creatures of the Most High God, possessor of heaven and earth, had a right to part of what this great claimer held, though they had no instruments to confirm their right.

Thus oppression in the extreme appears terrible, but oppression in more refined appearances remains to be oppression, and where the smallest degree of it is cherished it grows stronger and more extensive: that to labour for a perfect redemption from this spirit of oppression is the great business of the whole family of Christ Jesus in this world.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Of Friends and Angels

I received an e-mail today from a Quaker who wrote: "I have to admit I'm still scratching my head about the whole St. Michael imagery and references but hey, happy birthday!" This leads me to believe I may have underestimated how incongruent and even jarring such imagery and references on a blog billing itself as Quaker might appear to other Quakers. For the record, I did look for an image of St. Michael carrying only the scales of justice, without the sword, but couldn't seem to find one (though the imagery of the sword is not off-limits to the disciple of Christ, who according to the New Testament famously proclaimed "I have come not to bring peace but a sword").

As readers of earlier posts might have guessed, I'm a former Roman Catholic (of the traditionalist variety), having converted to that faith (from no faith at all) at the age of 18 after reading The Brothers Karamazov, the Book of Ecclesiastes, the Book of Job, and the Gospel of John (in that order). Everything that initially attracted me to the Roman Catholic Church hasn't necessarily disappeared since my convincement to Quakerism a few years ago, which was preceded by a period of several years during which I gradually had to admit to myself that I didn't believe many of the dogmas which are essential to Catholicism. But despite my apparent nostalgia for Catholicism and the respect I still accord it where respect is due (which is quite ecumenical of me, don't you think?), I am truly and unreservedly a Quaker!

A belief in the existence of angels is supported by Scripture, and so far as I know is not contrary to Quakerism. An angel is a pure spirit, and when I think of St. Michael I'm not thinking of the spirit of violence (unless it be violence against the dross in one's own soul), but of the confident and victorious spirit that overcomes evil through its fidelity and adherence to God alone, expressed in the name of Michael itself, which in Hebrew means "Who is like unto God." That said, in my spiritual life I don't pray to, or for the intercession of, angels, saints, or the Mother of God, which I think would be contrary to Quaker spirituality. On the other hand, thinking about Mary, or an angel, or Jesus, or other manifestations of God's Goodness, can be a spur that elevates the mind towards a pure contemplation and worship of God, just as a written word evokes for the intelligence the idea of which it is merely a symbol.

I also hope no one misconstrued my rather cryptic (because uncritical) reference to the legend about Pope Gregory seeing a vision of St. Michael sheathing his sword and taking it as a sign that God's wrath (manifested in the plague) had passed. Upon reflection I can see how it might have come across as perilously close to an endorsement of that twisted view, occasionally espoused by TV evangelists, which sees in things like 9/11 and AIDS God's punishment for those particular sins of society which most offend the TV evangelist. Far be that view from my meaning. When I was a philosophy undergraduate at the University of Dallas I did my senior thesis on "The Metaphysical Nature and Cause of Moral Evil." The conclusion to which these kinds of reflections (or simply reading the Bible) lead is that everything except our own sin comes from the hand of God, not only those things we perceive and experience as good but also those things we perceive and experience as evil, because "without Him was not any thing made that was made." It may be rather primitive to see in the natural and man-made evils that beset human life on all sides the "wrath of God," but if we believe in the Omnipotence and Goodness of God then such evils exist for a reason (and therefore from the highest point of view must somehow be Good). We find wrath in our own souls, and wrath in the natural and social world around us. Perhaps the latter is connected to the former, and perhaps this connection is the kernel of truth that the old controversial doctrine of Original Sin is trying to get at. What is undeniably true is that to the extent we extinguish our own wrath we lighten the wrathful countenance of the world.