Outward Forms, Human reasoning, and Idolatry

I tend to over-simplify things even though I do not live in a simple manner outwardly.  My outward life is somewhat complex for a number of reasons that I have accepted as a tool that I am called to use for spiritual reasons.  I did not reason my way to where I am; rather, I have found myself mindfully here at a place where it seems the Spirit has placed me.  And the Spirit has ministered and comforted me in this place because it is not where I would choose to be if I were left to my own reasoning.  This circumstance I find myself in outwardly for many years, has driven me spiritually to focus inwardly ever more intently.  Had I used my reasoning and planning abilities, I would be in a different outward place than I find myself.  I would have driven my being to a more simple outward manifestation.  But the outward form of simplicity has not been mine to be experienced.  Instead I have been driven to inward simplicity.  Quaker form would have dictated that my outward life be simple.  But I have chosen to listen to an inward Voice; and not the voice of Quaker advices and queries, nor passages written in any so-called Holy Book. I have known which was the True Voice by discerning which voice spurs me to experience and provide more Love and Light in my and others' being.  That has been my True Guide.

I'm not sure if the prior paragraph makes any sense to you, my reader.  But I offer it as background for the reality I've been shown regarding the place of outward forms. And I include "reasoning and planning" in those outward forms.

I have come to understand that they are all merely tools to be embraced or discarded without attachment.  Used properly they are tools placed in our hands by our 'Source and Life' for the sole purpose of Loving more fully and for Lighting our being with the fullness of the Spirit.  They are for God's purposes to bring others to that same state.  "Others" may be just one person or they could be many.  It is not for me to worry about it, plan it out, or monitor its outcome.  I trust I will be guided at the right time what to do next. 

I will attest to all that the more forms we attach to in our spiritual walk, the more 'lost' we are in danger of becoming.  By "lost", I mean sidetracked from the direct absorption of Light manifested as a fullness in Love.  I have found a 'sign' that sidetracking is occurring; and it is when my ego gets into gear.  The ego is merely an absence of Love and Light at a given moment.  If I am getting angry, anxious, or fearful it is of the ego and it is a moment of not operating from the Presence of Light.  If I get prideful or enthralled with a compliment, again it is a moment of not operating from the Presence of Light.  It is then time to take a deep breath, enter into silence, and pray for the 'Spirit of Truth' to enter my being to show me the way back to Love and Light.

During every moment of attaching onto a form, whether it be Quaker tradition, human reasoning and planning, Christianity, Quakerism, an obsession with Jesus, a label for God, whatever - I have ceased using that form as a temporary tool and have crossed into idolatry. Idolatry keeps us from seeing and seeking 'that of God' in others if they don't also bow down to our same idol.  And I find myself in that idolatrous state many times in a single day.  Idolatry is nothing more than an ego-attachment to an outward form instead of our spirit's attachment to our true Source.  I think this is what the earliest Friends were speaking about when they were suspicious of "reasoning", because they knew how insidious our ego thoughts are as they seduce us into idolatry, and therefore away from 'Light and Love'.

Views: 530

Comment by Howard Brod on 11th mo. 2, 2015 at 10:42am

Bill (and others),

I highly recommend Doug Bennett's post within QuakerQuaker.org. 

Comment by James C Schultz on 11th mo. 2, 2015 at 10:42am

I must admit I have problems understanding the use of the term "outward forms".  It seems contrived and "elitist" in the sense that it is not a common term most people would agree on if asked to define.  However, that is my personal opinion and more a lack of Quaker background than anything else as I understand there is a separate Quaker culture I was not raised in and have chosen not to immerse myself in for better or for worse.  The practical effect is when I read the term I have to decipher it to my own religious/spiritual background before I can understand it.  This creates misunderstandings.  Bill and I don't perceive Jesus of Nazareth as an outward form and He is more than a model for us.  What I am now going to say is not meant to be an attack on you but an attempt to clarify who Jesus is for me and I believe for Bill as well but let's just consider it my own belief at this point.  Jesus is God.  I am not God.  God is other than me.  Is God within me?  Yes, but God preexisted me and I can never be greater than God.  The only way I can ever be equal to God is to be one with God which is Jesus' prayer in John 17:21 That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.

In the same way the bible is not in and of itself an "outward form".  Theological interpretations of the bible might be considered an "outward form".  Dogma, creeds might come under your understanding of an "outward form".  I don't know how expansive the definition is so I can't agree or disagree with statements of worshipping "outward forms' as idolatry.  It's the old Tower of Babel thing.  Language is such an inaccurate form of communication if the goal is unity.  What's the old saying?  Love is a universal language? 

Comment by Kirby Urner on 11th mo. 2, 2015 at 10:44am

To take an example of how the Zeitgeist moves among us, where we may choose to partner with its will, the fascination philosophers had for symbolic logic, peculiar-looking language games around the beginning of the 1900s, seems in the rear view mirror to have paved the way for our successful computer languages of our day (used to animate websites such as QuakerQuaker). 

Yet the intent of these logicians and philosophers at the time was not fixed on that goal (though many, such as Leibniz did express dreams of some kind of mechanized logic) and we see their works as dead ends in many of the dimensions they deemed vital i.e. their works are no longer taken at face value, as accomplishing their original goals.

For example, Bertrand Russell and his colleagues were immersed in a project of supplying some rigorous logical basis for simple arithmetic, only to run up against enormous difficulties, and yet the side-effects of such projects paid off in the still evolving domain of computer science. 

Wittgenstein (a peer of Russell's) had Alan Turing as his student.  They were not on the same wavelength and yet there was much that "rubbed off" and so it goes.  These egos in their own time may have imagined they were doing X, but today we see them as doing Y and celebrate these achievements.  Columbus is another example:  he thought he was discovering a new route to a known world, whereas he was actually opening "new" continents to exploration and migration.

The rear view mirror (aka "hindsight") is always showing us as sleepwalkers in that we imagine we know what and why we're doing X, but in actuality we're laying the groundwork for Y. It's as if some Ouija Board is spelling out history and we're each along for the ride -- yet contributing in some mysterious way.  That's the Holy Spirit in action (or is "Holy" is redundant? -- one could just say Inner Ghost or Inner Light I suppose).

Perhaps there's also a trend towards a greater awareness of this process as we look back on humanity's lengthening history with its several exponential curves? 

We understand we're "being used" as individuals, as egos.  As Quakers, we choose to embrace that fact and listen attentively, as willing partners with a deeper Self. 

To me, it feels as though humanity's success might be a deeper goal of the Spirit as, looking back, we have come quite a distance in being able to provide for ourselves.  Yet we're sleepwalkers even still and inattentiveness to Spirit remains our freedom.  We're free to tarry, to lag, and thereby to postpone our advance in living standards.

Comment by Jim Wilson on 11th mo. 2, 2015 at 10:46am

Good Morning:

Howard, as you might guess, I take William's view on these things.  Quoting the Bible is not idolatry.  Neither is your modernist take on the sacrifices and spirituality in general.  

I know that this may be puzzling, but I think it is the great sin of many contemporary liberals that their view is 'The very essence of Jesus is the essence of us all.'  My experience is that God in Jesus is a complete otherness, utterly beyond my understanding or my capacities.

God is uncreated, I am created.  God is unlimited, I am limited.  My view is that human beings are essentially limited; that their real nature is small and lacking in the capacity for love and compassion.  The source of virtues in a human being is grace from an outside source that is freely given.  Or, to put it another way, the light within is the presence of eternity in the ephemeral individual that is given freely to us from that eternal source.

So what you say is the 'great sin' of Christendom I see as the great truth upon which spiritual growth and understanding is based.  Between your view and my view (between a modern liberal and a more traditional Christian view) there is a gulf.  To be honest, I do not know how to bridge that gulf.  I cannot prove that my view is correct; though I can refer to my own experience of what I think of as this ultimate otherness.  But then you would respond with your own experience.  These are difficult issues to articulate or even talk about.  But I would like to suggest that referring to other people's views as 'idolatry' isn't a very good start.  I don't think you are idolatrous, I just think you are mistaken regarding the nature of God, Jesus, and human nature as well.  I could be wrong about that, of course; you may be right.  On the other hand, I have the reports of countless people down through the centuries that would agree with the otherness of God and Jesus.

I hope that my post does not offend and that we can continue these discussions.

Comment by Howard Brod on 11th mo. 2, 2015 at 11:26am

No offense taken, Friend Jim.  And I appreciate you taking the time to share your experience with me and others.

Just to be clear, I include myself in the sin of idolatry; and view the tendency towards idolatry a human fallacy as so many other human fallacies.  I am not afraid  of or concerned that I am a "sinner". 

I think the gulf or divide you speak of between our views is how we view the Bible and its literalness.  I view it as just a collection of spiritual experiences written in ancient times by ancient peoples within their cultural context - like so many spiritual journals throughout the ages.  You view it as THE WAY to God and include in that the apostles' teaching (as recorded in the Bible) on the "specialness" of Jesus; a special relationship with God that others may never attain.  I am sorry if I speak my truth and see such authority given to the Bible as idolatry.

I speak this from my own past use and experience with the Bible - just as you use and experience it now.   So I understand your current mindset.  I'm not trying to be unkind or kind.  I am just dialoging.  I don't mean to offend you and I apologize that I have done so.

Comment by James C Schultz on 11th mo. 2, 2015 at 3:44pm

Kirby: Nicely put.

Comment by Forrest Curo on 11th mo. 2, 2015 at 6:08pm

A  theological opinion can not be a sin.

An opinion can certainly be mistaken, and might even lead to [otherwise] needless crimes against oneself and/or others; but that doesn't tell you anything about the person who holds it -- except that this is the present location of his mind in  the conceptional universe, so to speak.

God is available, with ample means to lead anybody elsewhere in that space, if-and-when it becomes necessary; and God doesn't seem to be in the sort of rush about such things that people typically fall into. Thousands of years of history to reach our current notions? -- I ask you, is that a sign of urgency at work? Hearts, minds, souls develop at whatever pace God sets; as much so as anything growing in our gardens.

The notion that God is "other" says more about the person believing it than it does about God -- but it does contain significant truth: that God does have an immensely different perspective on life than a human being, does not share our loyalties or illusions, humors our limited goals and wants in much the way we'd try, within reason, to get a child the kind of toy he likes...

What it misses is the fact that we live, experience awareness of anything whatsoever, only through God's presence animating us. That doesn't make us equal to God; it does mean that God's influence on our slowly-maturing souls is not alien to us, just extremely  challenging to our vulnerably-embodied minds, our mistaken fears, our sometimes-unwise desires.

Comment by Howard Brod on 11th mo. 2, 2015 at 6:31pm

Thanks Forrest.  I enjoyed your response. Very wise/

I chose to use the word 'sin' for those who put so much faith and devotion to the literalness of the Bible.  I thought it would have significant meaning to them.  Same with the word 'idolatry'.

Words are difficult.  Particular words bring up different emotions for different persons.  I view both of these words, 'sin' and 'idolatry', not as emotionally packed as someone would who puts their faith and devotion towards the Bible and takes these words very literally.  But they seem to fit the subject at hand.  I apologize to those I may have offended.  Upon first being introduced to liberal Quakerism, a kind elderly liberal Friend explained the liberal Quaker view of the Bible to me by using the word 'idolatrous'.  Having spent my whole life using the Bible as my only guide, his word choice helped me open my mind and heart for the first time.  It changed my life for the better as I dove fully into the power of Love and Light.

Comment by Kirby Urner on 11th mo. 5, 2015 at 9:25am

Jim, I do have a question regarding your comment:

I know that this may be puzzling, but I think it is the great sin of many contemporary liberals that their view is 'The very essence of Jesus is the essence of us all.'  My experience is that God in Jesus is a complete otherness, utterly beyond my understanding or my capacities.

How does this jibe with John 15:15 where Jesus calls his friends "friends"?  I'd think if he were really the one and only miracle boy that our only relationship with him could be that of a servant i.e. sycophantic, obsequious.  We would be offended by Quakers who claimed ordinary friendship with the man.  But what if he hungered for Friendship and really wanted his fellowship to rise to his level, as God-in-the-world (with avatar)?  What if he wanted for us what he already had for himself (eternal salvation as son of the Chief)?  In that sense, we would not project him as so awesomely "other" that "we could never be like him" as that would sound so counter to his wishes as to be anti-Jesus almost?


Comment by Jim Wilson on 11th mo. 5, 2015 at 5:28pm

Kirby, I'm not sure how to respond because I don't see a conflict with my view and the passage you reference.  Jesus as depicted in the Gospels is complex.  At times He is relaxed and accessible, eating lunch with ordinary people.  At other times He speaks with a sense of authority, like when he is in the synagogue commenting on scripture.  At still other times He displays a transcendent glory; the transfiguration is such an example.  And sometimes he is the purveyor of wisdom as in the Sermon on the Mount.  At still other times He is a healer and miracle worker (like when he multiplies the bread and fishes).  And in the Gospel of John, Jesus insists He is the servant who washes the feet of his disciples.

The thing is, He is all of these simultaneously.  Awesome!


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