A year and a half ago I wrote an essay titled “The Only Antidote,” in which I argued for the need to think critically: to use natural powers of reason and conscience to honor, discern, and communicate the truth. Referring to Hannah Arendt’s understanding of the cause behind the rise of Fascism and also referring to a Bible story of John the Baptist’s execution by Herod, I pointed to the crucial and perennial role of critical thought in containing the spread of evil.

Although critical thought can check evil, I contended that ultimately it is no match. Nonetheless, the exercise of thinking critically benefits the soul immeasurably. In subjecting oneself to reason and conscience, we prepare the way of the Lord; decent, honest effort precedes the gift of faith that comes only from God. It is only through the power of God that evil can and will be overcome and destroyed, both within and without. “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand,” say those who have known what is necessary and possible.

At the time I wrote that essay,  our country was not in imminent danger of electing to its highest political office a man who sports an Orwellian disregard for truth. Now, however, that threat looms: we the people of the United States might, in fact, elect to the presidency a man who represents, enables, and lauds speech and behavior that is beyond the pale of reason and conscience.

Stated at our country’s founding was the claim that we are endowed by our Creator with “certain unalienable rights.” We have, in fact, been endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable responsibilities, that among them are right use of reason and conscience. Let’s use them well.

If we assume that pervasive, severe moral catastrophe is not possible in our own country, we do well to heed those who have lived through complete breakdown in their own regions. In the following paragraph, Swiss theologian Emil Brunner, who witnessed firsthand Europe’s descent into Fascism, traces the progression from idealistic humanist philosophy to tyrannical totalitarianism, inevitably occurring, says Brunner, when unchecked by a Christian tradition within that society:

That is to say that idealistic humanism leads to an individualistic conception of society, which in the end must have anarchical consequences. That is why modern society in so far as it has relinquished its Christian basis appears to be in a state of latent anarchy or dissolution. With the middle of the 19th century, there begins a fierce reaction against this individualism, and this collectivist reaction in its turn is worked out logically from a naturalist philosophy. The alternative to idealistic individualism is not free communion but primitive tribal not to say animal collectivism. It is the de-personalised mass-man,  the man forming a mere particle of a social structure and the centralised automatic mechanical totalitarian state, which inherits the decaying liberal democracy. Only where a strong Christian tradition had prevailed was it possible to avoid this fatal alternative of individualism and collectivism to preserve a federal non-centralised, pluralistic organic structure of the State, and therefore to avoid that sudden transition from a half anarchic individualism into a tyrannical totalitarianism. But the societies of the West, which abhor the way taken by totalitarian Russia, Italy, and Germany, do not yet seem to have grasped that if the process of de-Christianisation goes on within their society, they too will inevitably go the same way. (The Gifford Lectures, Emil Brunner’s “Christianity and Civilization”http://www.giffordlectures.org/lectures/christianity-and-civilization)

By the 1940s the philosophy of idealism, against which Brunner warns, had begun in Quaker circles to displace the original prophetic, apostolic Christian faith of earlier centuries. This trend was recognized and revealed by Lewis Benson.  In an excerpt from his essay “Prophetic Quakerism,” Benson describes the difference between the two doctrines of the Inner Light: prophetic and philosophical (italics mine):

First, the philosophical interpretation understands the Inner Light to be that innate capacity of human beings to comprehend rational and ethical truth….This view tends to make the concept of ‘spirit’ in man identical with the concept of ‘mind.’ The ‘mind’ or ‘soul’ of man is the seat of the divine element in man and the essentially divine reality is not external to the soul.…This view affirms the inherent spirituality of the human psyche due to the presence of a native rational and ethical principle which is divine.

Secondly, the prophetic doctrine of the Inner Light understands that man may become completely spiritualized, that is to say, brought into perfect harmony with the will of the Creator God who is spirit. But the agency for this spiritualization is not to be found by an inventory of man’s native capacities. Man is made spiritual and godly by a power which operates in man but which is nevertheless not of man. It is always the working of a sovereign will distinct from one’s own. Thus there is accessible to man a light which illuminates his moral life, but this life is not present in man as his own psychological possession. It is imparted to man and man has received the promise that it will never be withheld. The condition of the operation of this light within man is his willingness to submit both conscience and reason to this objective and superhuman light. The conception of the Inner Light does not displace human reason, but says Joseph Phipps, it does caution ‘against…the setting up human reason above its due place in religion, making it the leader instead of the follower, the teacher instead of the learner, and esteeming it vested with a kind of self-sufficiency, independent of the direction and help of God’s Holy Spirit.’ Likewise conscience or the ‘sense of ought’ is a quality of human life but it should not be regarded as autonomous and it cannot lead to the ultimate principles of righteousness unless informed by a higher authority. (The Truth is Christ, “Prophetic Quakerism,” pp. 14-15)

The doctrines of “that of God in every one” and “the power of love and good will to overcome war and hate” are derived from the idealism that originates with the philosophical interpretation of the Inner Light. This doctrine is a tribute to human capacity and thus differs from the prophetic doctrine, which places  man in total dependency on the power of God to inform his understanding of right and wrong, and to gather, govern, and preserve a people who have Christ as their head: “whose dominion and strength is over all, against whom,” says Penington, “the gates of hell cannot prevail.”

Benson’s piece, written in the middle of the Second World War, when civilization hung precariously in the balance, recognizes the limits of human ability and power to order and preserve the world and the necessity of coming into the knowledge of and obedience to the Will of God, as did the first Friends.

The essay “The Only Antidote” can be read at my website Abiding Quaker under the heading of September 2016. https://patradallmann.wordpress.com/2016/09/24/the-only-antidote/

Views: 393

Comment by Forrest Curo on 10th mo. 2, 2016 at 10:49am

When people imagine we have an important choice to make: between a man who talks like a nihilist and a woman who only behaves as one -- we have indeed come down pretty far.

The experiential fact that God -- while hardly contained-in each or any human soul -- is present and active within them all -- is not the same as anybody's doctrine about what is or is not 'innate' in human beings, or about what God might require to prepare the way for effective divine intervention. Our efforts & God's are not separate; if someone 'repents' this is not something he's decided by himself but the ripening of what was planted there to make his very being and consciousness possible.

Comment by Keith Saylor on 10th mo. 3, 2016 at 4:56am
Are you labeling the topic of this post as nihilist? Is that your intent? I hope it is not so. If so, I must be of a different conscious and my conscience is guided from a different source. In the presence of God say it is not so.
Comment by Forrest Curo on 10th mo. 3, 2016 at 9:03am

Is the topic of this post whether we should have a nominal political leader who is an 'out' nihilist or one who is merely a covert nihilist?

Or whether the choice matters as much as many Americans imagine?

I thought the topic was whether people would tolerate even one nihilist candidate if we hadn't collectively been corrupted -- corrupted due to believing human beings are created with  God intrinsically present at the core of each human being.

Where I disagree:

1) The policies to expect of either candidate are utterly nihilistic2) The decision between them is ultimately inconsequential, as we seem doomed to have our next president as corrupt & nihilist as they generally have been (Carter having been possibly the one exception since the introduction of nuclear weaponry.)

3) If being willing to accept such a choice is an indication of corruption, the alleged corruption is not due to anyone's acceptance of the doctrine of human beings innately being created with God inside.

4) That doctrine is actually a mystically-observable implication of the presence of God within any observer (though like any observation, subject to differences in interpretation of its meaning.)

------------

Awareness of the presence of God should certainly make for better understanding of what another person is saying... but it should also help to read what they say, rather than instead taking offence at an accurate use of unpleasant words.

Comment by Kirby Urner on 10th mo. 4, 2016 at 3:41pm

Doing Our Part sounds quite a lot like Being the Quakers the World Needs, the title of a keynote at North Pacific Yearly Meeting last year.

I missed the keynotes this year, though I did show for the Interest Group, co-organized with Western Friend, about Monthly Meetings and their IT concerns (Beyond the Yellow Pages we called it, i.e. 2016 is not 1967).

If we accept as a premise, a given, no proof required, that Quakers have a role to play in healing the world, helping save it from sin (error) and so on, then the next question is:  what is that role? We should feel at liberty to use reason and logic when addressing this open-ended query.  No "one right answer" is presumed.  Queries are open-ended for a reason.

I saw on the news the other night that polls are showing more fear and distrust, on the part of the American people, of their would-be leadership, than usual.  The people are terrified by this electoral cycle, which looks "off a cliff" almost no matter how we steer it.  That was CBS News, my favorite.  Let me go Google... gad, so many polls about fear, who's got the time?  Anyway, I'd say the thread here helps bring these sentiments to the foreground.

In my lexicon (namespace) what Quakers have been good at over the years, among other things, is "citizen diplomacy" -- long history of that, some great stories.  In that vein, I'm not afraid to pick up the phone and call Putin, shoot the breeze a bit, have a friendly conversation.  Not literally of course, as I don't have his phone number.  More, I'll allude to the many positive Russian-American interactions that already occur, all over the place, such as we find out through this blog post (a Quaker's journal entry):

http://controlroom.blogspot.com/2016/10/stem-for-all-seasons.html

(click on through if you like, through the embedded top tweet, to the article archived @ Math Forum, not by me, about a woman US Army lady who, after learning Russian, hung out on Russian trawlers in the Baltic, getting drunk and translating for a living, living the life of a Russian sailor, why not? -- she's an engineering professor today, and her article is about neuro-plasticity in adulthood i.e. how does a Russian-fluent Army vet turn herself into a STEM guru?).

Speaking of neuro-plasticity, I think that's another area in which Quakers have excelled:  education, K-16 and beyond.  Also record-keeping.  Those two together spell "computer science" and as a former IT clerk for my Yearly Meeting, I entertain high hopes that future branches of Quakerism will be known for their IT-prowess.  Makes sense, given the history.

Kirby

Comment by Kirby Urner on 10th mo. 7, 2016 at 7:05pm

Sorry, Bering Sea not Baltic, that's been nagging me: "After leaving the service, I became a translator for the Russians on Soviet trawlers on the Bering Sea".  Just wanting to get my facts straight without re-posting that whole post (not always possible to do such things anyway, as many texts are immutable (in computer classes I put emphasis on mutable vs. immutable data structures)).

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