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.

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.