Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
(The other big name on this subject is of course: Walter Wink)
"...Stringfellow's foremost contribution to theological thought is to see in "images, ideologies, and institutions" the primary contemporary manifestations of the demonic powers and principalities often mentioned in the Bible. This outlook made him categorically suspicious of activities of governments, corporations, and other organizations, including the institutional churches, a viewpoint that placed him at odds with the nearly-ubiquitous "progressive" sentiments of the mid-20th century..."
In a rather long rant of my own, I found these notions quite evocative of... something... happening in the human collective consciousness/unconsciousness.
Yeah, I think God is fond of atheists, who function as a sort of quality-control on religious apologetics.
'Thinking deeply about God and the universe' is not, unfortunately, a very good way to grok the actual "All This STUFF!" we find ourselves inhabiting.
Non-theistic faith to me is not "atheistic"....but "panentheistic"....God is not anthropromorphic....God is Wholly Other.....non-theistic faith calls us to Depth.....too often our "theistic" views of God become..."idols" made by human hands...God is More....God is Present in and with All Things....something a "theistic deity" to me doesn't convey.
"Panentheistic" formulations of Itall are just logical implications, workings out of "omnipresent, omniscient," etc.
"Wholly Other" may be a useful counteremphasis to balance notions of a domesticated God... but
since we are, by all accounts & our own deepest experience, "theomorphic"-- That phrase doesn't really cover the territory, just relegates God to a "can't talk about that" limbo.
If "theistic deity" means something small and nasty to some people-- Whence the assumption that this must be what other people mean by it?
Incomplete & mistaken images of God are as common as incomplete and mistaken images of human beings-- Yet we continue to use the term "human", even manage to share some valid descriptions & expectations through it.
If your particular Nonthee is truly as big as 'the Thou There Be', then we have a language difficulty. The language I know employs the word "God" for that referent; and whatever misunderstandings this entails seem easier to negotiate than the blurring of "pantheist" with "materialist."
Forrest, thank you for that link, I wasn't familiar with Stringfellow at all; a fascinating character.
I have to credit Walter Wink's writings for my use of "powers and principalities".
Stephen, I'm sorry, I still haven't gotten back to your blog, and only have a few minutes this morning, I think I have this evening free (I hope).
I have the greatest respect for my non-theist friends who are religious. It is not a contradiction in terms. Take Buddhism and Taoism, for instance; we call these religions for a reason. I have a strong leaning that way myself. The Tao Te Ching has been by my bedside for over 40 years, right alongside the Bhagavad Gita, the Lotus Sutra, and the Bible. Each of these four have different descriptions of the One. Like a beautiful tapestry, each contributes something to the overall richness. To think that we can encapsulate the Divine in any one point of view is idolatry, just as certainly as the worship of Mammon.
That being said, and as worthwhile as it is to appreciate the amazing richness with which the Divine has visited itself upon humanity, I am a Christian. ("Why I Call Myself a Christian") The Society of Friends is rooted in the Christian faith. For instance, we are not pacifists because it is nice or logical to be non-violent, we are pacifists because the Light within each of us bears testimony to the truth of Jesus' words, e.g., "resist not evil." The fact that Buddha and Lao-Tse also preached non-violence serves to confirm and broaden that testimony for me.
So let's be careful about how we speak. Non-theism is not the problem. It is a problem if we fail to assimilate new Friends in such a way that they respect the Christian basis of our Society, even if it is not their own faith. So long as they have a vibrant, living faith, this will not be a problem for them, nor will their faith be a problem for us.
Getting back to semantics, maybe instead of saying "the non-theists", we should be saying "the non-faithed." Boy, is that clunky. Forget I said it.
I'm not much a one for fighting against things anyway. There is something un-Friendly about that approach. I understand that many of the early Friends were real firebrands and contended against all kinds of things. Later generations found that approach to be unsupported by Friends' testimonies. It may be that we moved too far from the early rabble-rousing mode into Quietism. It's possible to be too extreme either way. Yet in the present instance, I believe we can accomplish much more by contending FOR love, FOR faith, FOR the view of Christ that gave our Society such dynamism, rather than against anything.
This is all an argument about misnomers!
"Buddhism and Taoism" are neither "theistic" nor "non-theistic." Taoism has nothing to say on the subject and Buddhism leaves it as something to be found-out-about. (Any conceivable conflict between Taoism & 'theism' would be on the level of "science vs religion", that is, a wrestling match between an eagle and a whale.) Neither posit a non-spiritual universe, which is the crux.
There's a difference between "I don't like the description of God that people have been throwing at me" and "The word 'God' means nothing good and I'm not having any!" What they're describing may be the same, but they reflect different attitudes and approaches to that situation. The latter may want to brag about how "Quaker" it is, but it ain't. Even though it's become the tacit norm of the people called "Quakers".
What needs to be overcome-- are not other human beings. (I notice that we've lost Stephen Petter in the fuss: "The Dial-up or Broadband service that this webspace was associated to has now been cancelled and the website is currently offline as a result." I gather I liked him better than he liked me...
I have to insist that "contentious" is okay, whereas "malicious" or "brittle" don't play well with others. I could be wrong, considering how many good people seem reluctant to play with me (sigh!)
We still have the basic problem that Petter was bringing up: Can we, should we, survive as (what a friend of mine calls) a religious society for people who don't want to be very religious?
Forrest, Buddhism and Taoism don't address the topic, and that is what makes them non-theistic. What they are not, is they are not atheistic. "Non-theistic" means "no opinion on Deity." "Atheistic" means "There is no Deity." I majored in comparative philosophy and religion back in the day, and these terms were part of the working tools we were given early on to understand these distinctions.
So, if what our Friend Petter is concerned about is atheism among Friends, then the term Non-theistic is not what he means.
Unless, of course, Friends want to ignore the academic study of these topics and popularize different ways of using these terms. There is nothing wrong with that. Words are fluid. They change meanings all the time, as culture develops in one direction or another.
However, to understand what I've said in my previous comment, you have to know that I am using those terms as they were taught to me in the academic discipline of comparative religion and philosophy.
As far as contention goes, think deeply about the peace testimony, and how whether that applies only to physical violence. I find it also means that how we talk to each other is important. That there will be disagreement goes without saying. But must we contend over that? Or can we not resolve it?
I am in full agreement that the Religious Society of Friends ought to remain religious. It would be a great loss in many ways if we do not. I would suggest that respecting and even emphasizing the Christian foundations of Quakerism does not mean the exclusion of all other authentic religious forms of expression.
Something I've read about traditional Chinese society was that most people would soak up a personal mixture of Taoism, Confucionism, and/or Buddhism. A person who most readily saw things in Taoist or Buddhist terms, say, wouldn't call himself a "non-Confucionist." He'd simply use what he could use.
"Quaker" should be able to include any true map of the world. One map for the gas stations, another for elevations, another for average temperature.... no problem!
There is nothing to prevent a person locating himself via Christian, Buddhist, Taoist maps of life, finding different landmarks on different maps-- but no necessary contradiction.
Atheism essentially denies the landscape of this metaphor. I was an atheist, like my father before me, and quite aside from whatever "respect" we might have deserved, we happened to be mistaken. There was a big blank space, right in the middle of the life people know-- and it didn't even read, "Dragons." Nothing. Atoms and the void.
So far as "non-theist" is euphemism for that, "atheist" is plain speech.
So far as it means: "I don't understand about the Christian Thing..." that's not something to be ashamed of, or proud of. But rather more important than having missed learning to add fractions.
I suppose that if we had "non-fractional" mathematicians we could just let them study Abstract Algebra the rest of their lives. But I'd think they could try wrapping their minds around fractions, and that would be more reasonable.
Forrest, yours (your friend's) language is unkind: a religion for people who don't want to be very religious? There are way easier ways to not be "religious" than to sit in silence on First Day.
Bruce, nontheist Friends can find their pacifism enriched through Christ's words without being Christian, as you find yours enriched through Buddha's. (Mo Tzu too, have you run across him in your reading? Same period as Lao Tzu.) All the more reason for Friends to learn Christ's words, of course!
My friend is happy to worship at my Meeting whenever she gets time off from choir at her Methodist church. I don't know how things be in your Meeting, but I felt she was stating a more accurate observation of us than I'd been able to.
I don't like it when things I say are heard unkindly, because it gets in the way-- almost as much as trying to avoid saying them would have.
"Waking up is hard to do," as the (reworded) song has it.
I wanted to speak to a couple comments made here by Rudy and Forrest:
1) Rudy, you said "Then an atheist sees the man, and says to himself "There is no God
to help this man; only I am here; I must help him myself". That is one answer anyway.
Our struggle is against the powers that threw that poor man down on the ground, not against
the views people have of the universe. God wants us to pick people up."
THANK YOU for sharing this. I find such grace in it. I love about God these occasional insights we have when we discover a new perspective -- suddenly aware that we are judging someone, really judging them, and that we were wrong not only to judge, but have the sudden awareness that WE were completely limited in our perception of them. We now see the grace in them, already in them, just as they are!
Then there's a big step onward from that when we learn to approach others that way in the first place -- not just after we've judged gthem. The greatest example I think of of this kind of submitting to the higher authority is about that beautiful small town in France in WWII who saved so many Jews. These were a bunch of Christians who literally put their lives on the line and not because they were going to straighten out those Jews and reform them to good Christian lives! They were so humble that they said "These are God's chosen people! NOBODY gets to pick on God's Chosen people on our watch. This is the least we can do!"
What mercy. And can you imagine how well that speaks of Christianity to any who are needing that Spirit? I don't know why we ever tried to evangelize. When we are coming from the right place, the evangelizing happens by itself.
Anyway, I digress I think. Thank you Rudy for this example of the kind of change of heart one can have toward treating others with unconditional grace.
Forrest, you wrote "We still have the basic problem that Petter was bringing up: Can we, should we, survive as (what a friend of mine calls) a religious society for people who don't want to be very religious?"
I say of course not! ....but we may need to rediscover for ourselves Fox's original spark because we do seem, as a society, to have sorely lost our clarity about what is the Divine....or the Ultimate or whatever you call it. What is our Source? We all have different sources now and it's questionable whether it's all the same Light and to what degree. There is a powerful lot of good Light being sought but I'm speaking here to what MAY have missed the mark.
For many this Light is called "Christianity" but is a faith that prides it's big fat ego on saying "Christian" because it's more comfortable, but is less interested in laying its own life on the line for others -- certainly not athiests! Or for many now, the Light is found in the safety and comfort of not having to suffer with the wounds received in the past from traditional Christianity, or as a means of being able to allow one's self to still be Religious without having to call it God or see a Source of some kind.
Some are interested in being a "real Quaker" all about the testimonies. Some are interested in being a "real Quaker" all about what George Fox was doing. Correct me if I'm wrong but I think these are actually two different forms of "real Quakers" right??
I think GF didn't work with the testimonies and that they came later. Personally I am inclined to see both, now, as real Quakers.
What to do? We have become a much more diverse society, haven't we? We are not in unison in which Light we are seeking or to what degree. I think that as we seek and to the degree that it is real Light we are seeking it will triumph....whatever that turns out to be is yet to be seen...but I bet it's an enlightening change of heart for the bulk of us, not further splintering.
I mostly resist the temptation to get involved in discussions on these kinds of issues, but I saw your posting and felt I needed to respond.
I hope you won't be offended, if I offer you the following advice. To be frank, I would advise that you give up Britain Yearly Meeting as a lost cause. It is too late to reverse the decline and the loss of the spiritual basis of that group of Friends.
The way was opened up to allow any kind of spiritual belief , (even 'stuff' that was diametrically opposed to the basic principles of the Quaker faith), at the last major revision of their book of discipline in the 1980's. I saw then, that any restraint in what people could be believe in to become a member had been removed, and that all manner of unbelief would follow. Time has vindicated my view. The Quaker Universalist Group is largely responsible for this state of affairs, but the 'establishment' in BYM allowed this. You are reaping what has been sown.
You don't have to be a prophet to see the writing on the wall. BYM will just descend even further down into self-contradictory confusion and moral relativism. Prophetic Quakerism in BYM has been effectively silenced. My advice to you, Stephen, would be to pursue your spiritual aims outside of Britain Yearly Meeting.