Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Quakerism and Christianity

A responder to yesterday's blog remembered encountering Quakers who seemed ashamed of Quakerism's Christian roots. I've seen this reaction to Christianity too and a related desire to remake early Quakers into universalists, even though they were unequivocally Christ-centered people.

Elite scorn for Christianity goes back to the time of Paul. When he said he was a fool for Christ, he signaled, in part, that he knew he looked like an idiot for his beliefs. A well-educated Roman citizen, he realized how naive and country-bumpkinish his faith appeared to his sophisticated peers. He was the white plastic shoe televangelist with the really bad tie and embarrassing pronouncements. But he clung heart and soul to his belief not only in a Christ who came back from the dead, but in the power of love to conquer violence and fear. To those ruling at the height of the Roman empire Paul must have seemed simpleminded. Physical domination and terror were seemingly working beautifully. Love, mercy, peace and kindness would have looked like sheer weakness and sentimentality. For Paul to insist as well that the founder of his movement rose from the dead would be equally laughable.

Most modern-day Quakers believe in love, mercy, peace and kindness, all of which are foundational to Christianity and all of which have subsequently been demonstrated to be powerful in changing the course of world events.

Often, those modern-day Quakers who reject Christianity seem to equate all of it with its worst stereotypes. It's similar to people who are convinced that all blacks or Jews or Muslims fit the worst stereotypes of those groups. In any of these cases, if you do believe members of a certain group are all defined by the worst of the worst, such as that all Muslims are terrorists, of course you will want to distance your group from them.

I believe, however, it would have been the wrong reaction after 9/11 for all non-fundamentalist Muslims to flee the faith, insist they were not Muslims and declare that their mosques had nothing to do with Islam. Moderate Muslims have instead opted to model the peace and reason inherent in their faith to provide a counterweight to the extremist image.

Christianity will always be in the Quaker DNA, permeating every aspect of it. It's important to note that early Quakers' embrace of love, peace and mercy came out of a study of the Bible, not from rationalism, the yet-to-come Enlightenment or Buddhist philosophy. Can more liberal Quakers embrace that this is their heritage (even if it might make them look foolish or feel odd) and see the good in it? I understand this is difficult for people from other faith backgrounds, especially if their faith has been persecuted by so-called Christians. But could it be possible to see that Quakers got Christianity right and proceed from there?

What do you think?

1 comment:

kevin roberts said...

"But could it be possible to see that Quakers got Christianity right and proceed from there?"


I would hope it would be, but some people have spent so much time in bad company in their lives (bad Christian company), that they can't conceive of it.

If you mention that Christianity actually can work very well if you do it right, they cry, "But what about the Spanish Inquisition..." or "The Crusades..." and so on.

I work with people one conversation at a time, sometimes over years.