The Vanishing Quaker

Monday, October 02, 2006


Last weekend I attended a 3 day seminar on alternatives to violence and such run by the Fellowship of Reconciliation. Since then I've been thinking about two things. One is that the group has no adhesion, and few of us have bothered to keep in contact. That is a common, and often fatal, problem when we have these shindigs and will have to be addressed. At another time, though.

The other thing that bothered me was the almost total lack of religion all weekend. We did all sorts of New Agey chanting and mumbling, but few of us addressed our common religious background and how this would help us apply what we may have learned in our daily lives.

This in a seminar held in a church and with two ministers attending.

Granted that our affiliations ranged from Quakers and UUs to Methodists and at least one Jew, with a few others of no known affiliation, leaving us with what seems like little common ground. Bringing up Christian witness might be considered opening a can of worms best left alone in such a group.

But, I don’t quite agree. Witnessing is not going from door to door with a stack of Watchtowers or getting in your face demanding you find Jesus– that’s evangelizing. Witnessing is openly living a life of principle lead from your faith. The details of our faith are our own business, but our outward actions must reflect it, or it is no faith at all. And, it’s not necessarily entirely a question of faith. Even atheists and agnostics must somehow develop an ethical system and live by it. Atheist witness– what a thought! But, I digress...

Witnessing and leadings are fundamental to Quaker life and thought. Our testimonies have not been rules, but statements of where we have arrived in our spiritual journeys. We have always witnessed, not by preaching, but by acting or refusing to act in accordance with our leadings. There is no reason why other religions or sects cannot be as openly witnessing in their lives as we have been.

It is a sad state we’re in that the fundamentalists among us are the ones doing the real witnessing. They truly believe that abortion and homosexuality are wrong, war is OK, and that we should be more of a Christian nation, among other things. Muslim and Jewish archconservatives think much the same way in their own worlds, and none of them are shy about speaking out and acting on their beliefs.

But, we sit back and watch, sometimes shaking our heads, sometimes mildly complaining about their influence, but ultimately not doing a damn thing about it. And damned we will be if we don’t. (That’s assuming there’s any actual damning going on in the hereafter– a question still open.)

We have a problem in that we can’t look at the world in black and white like they do. We see the shades of gray and find it difficult to agree on much and let the details get in the way of the big picture. We argue amongst ourselves and lose momentum. We find more important things to do.

We are the (gasp!) Humanists we keep hearing about. We apply Locke’s test of rationality to our religious beliefs. We don’t trust our faith enough to lead us.

Or, maybe we’re just chicken about it. We don’t want to start trouble or be embarrassed by mentioning that we’re against war or the death penalty or something else because it’s our religion. Or that our religion insists we feed the poor and hungry and demand housing and health care for all. Fanatics talk about religion all the time, and we’re reasonable, nice people.

But, we have to change or we will see the “fanatics” take over. They are organized, they see their big picture, and, ahem, they vote as a block. The half of the US population that doesn’t bother to vote even in a Presidential election is not them– it is us.

Quaker witness has always been just speaking truth to power. We simply say what we cannot do, or what we must do. And we act accordingly.

Every religion I know of speaks of this sort of witness. Why is it so difficult for so many of us to follow our own teachings?


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