Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
The discussion below, of Quakerism and Heterotopia, is not an idea that is by any means unique to me. Other Friends have written on this topic before, and a quick google of the two terms together should produce results. The thoughts below are simply my own attempt to construct some sort of theological background for some constructs that are often in the background of much of what I right.
In sending out the essay below, I received some good feedback. An important piece was that heterotopia is not defined. The other piece of feedback that I took seriously was that the tone of the essay is far too academic, and makes for tedious reading. I am slowly working on another essay that improves upon the readability and reduces the reliance upon academic discourse that may exclude some reader from what I am trying to say. It has not escaped me that I might often use academic language to win arguments by “default” as opposed to creating an safe place for the exchange of ideas. Plain speaking has often been a problem in my communication.
Understandings of Michael Foucault’s themes of space and sacred or separate space are as follows:
Heterotopias of deviation’ are institutions where we place individuals whose behavior is outside the norm.
An Heterotopia can be a single real place that juxtaposes several spaces. A garden is a heterotopia because it is a real space meant to be a microcosm of different environments with plants from around the world.
Heterotopias of ritual or purification' are spaces that are isolated and penetrable yet not freely accessible like a public place. To get in one must have permission and make certain gestures such as in a sauna or a hammin.
Heterotopias has a function in relation to all of the remaining spaces. The two functions are: heterotopia of illusion creates a space of illusion that exposes every real space, and the heterotopia of compensation is to create a real space--a space that is other.
Paraphrased from various sources
George Fox met a priest with “garden” issues. While he was wandering the countryside in hopes a finding faithful folks among the “professors” – or those who professed to be Christians. Fox visits quite a few priests during this time of seeking, but one visit stands out as humorous. While visiting “one called Doctor Cradock” Fox had accidentally stepped on the side of the priest’s garden bed. In this story, the priest “was in such a rage as if his house had been on fire…thus all our discourse was lost.” a rage” because the “first” Friend happened to step onto the corner of the priest’s garden.
Fox’s journal describes this seeking sojourn as a hopeless failure that led to instances of deep depression that often seemed to stalk, and sometimes overtake him. Fox’s experience of spiritual reconciliation occurred, not from his seeking answers from within the boundaries of the church and trained clergy, but through an experience of inward answers that enabled Fox to find a sense of wholeness.
In Fox’s England, sacred space was an accepted indicator of social and religious boundaries. Not only were priests trained in separate spaces of academia (“being bred at Oxford or Cambridge”), but churches (“steeple houses”) had sacred space set apart from separate spaces meant for worship. Not all special spaces were religious. Boundaries were especially important to landowners, and hedgerows set apart private land from land that was common to peasantry. The military can be identified as separate space, but in 17th-century England, it was boundaried according to social class. Because landowners and Lords had more invested in the outcomes of war, they automatically received commissions in the army.
In terms of sacred spaces, I am intrigued by the garden stories. Quakers may easily identify gardens as particularly meaningful “set apart” spaces because, qualitatively at least, Friends have a love for natural beauty, creation and creativity, and nature as a simple, perhaps whole, reflection of the divine. Gardens as “set apart” or “sacred” space are what Michael Foucault called heterotopias. While utopia may be a “future perfected place,” or the building of perfected place, those on the outside only observe unrealistic expectations and often, exclusion but are often excluded unless one is willing to accept the normal behaviors and boundaries of utopian groups.
Foucault considers utopian places as separate, but unrealistic in their goals of harmony or perfect space. In fact, they serve as heterotopias, or separate places that serve as voluntary spaces that affirm identity or ideas about the sacred. They are also involuntary, spaces like prisons and mental health facilities. The main point of heterotopia, or separate space, is that they are defined by difference, or, peculiarity according to those who enter the space. Prisons act as a space that separate a people who have not found the means to operate within the norms of their community. Mental health facilities serve the same purpose. Yet, separate spaces also have more positive purposes, and I think that Quakers can not only identify with certain aspects of separate and sacred spaces, but might carry “otherness” as a corporate identity that adds meaning to worship, sacramental living, the way we speak about ourselves and the culture, and how we contribute to the world around us.
Let’s imagine differing garden spaces, and carry the example through to different ways of expressing liberal Quakerism. I’ll begin with Fox’s experience of Cradock’s garden, and how Fox and early Friends viewed sacred or set-apart spaces and places. Think of George Fox as believing that Christians ought to live according to their beliefs, because those who professed faith should be identified as representatives of the sacred. As Fox wandered, he began to see sacred spaces as representative of exclusion. In fact – heterotopian space is often identified as a place of exclusion, whether the space be an ethnic neighborhood, suburban neighborhoods, private schools or colleges, and some churches. In the experience of George Fox, he was unraveled by the type of space that religion had apparently become – a space that monitored and limited the sacred to buildings, altars, a priesthood, and a hierarchy that stood between an individual and their experience of the divine.
As for Cradock’s garden, could George Fox have found the episode to be representative of separate spaces in 17th-century England, and in the church? Places that not only separated the good from the perceived bad, the pure from the impure, or in the case of gardens, a private utopia that cannot be disturbed because one internalizes perceived perfection as indicative of how one view’s themselves. Sort of like a mirror, as Foucault wrote, which allows for real separation, a real image of our difference instead of a utopia that can never be realized.
If Cradock viewed his space as a place of identity that is characterized by exclusion, can we understand the experiences of George Fox and “normal” English Christianity as being a similarly exclusive place what prioritized separate space, separate learning, and separate authority as an unproductive separate place. Fox viewed the Church of England as a space that was in fact a separate space that was excluding the very sacred intentions that Jesus had for the church. As such, church buildings and altars, education, tithes, sacraments, and even holidays created an unholy separate space that excluded both divinity and faith.
So, Fox set about to reform the nature of English Christianity on the coattails of the Puritan Reformation and the English Civil War. Just as separate spaces like the church become institutionalized, the Puritans began to plow under an unfruitful garden and deconstruct a sacred place that become monolithic, an all-encompassing space that was no longer a place of respite and faithfulness, but the captain of culture.
Yet, there is the topic of Utopias that might best lead into my concern for the question of Quaker heterotopia. Though it will certainly invite opposition, there is a certain aspect among liberal Friends that I find interesting. One would be hard pressed to find many Friends that subscribe to that aspect of Christian story concerned with a “second coming” event in which Jesus of Nazareth will return to earth to judge humanity and establish dominion over kings and culture. I believe it an interesting question as to whether Quakers (and others) felt that the English Civil War, believed to be an event preceding the establishment of the Kingdom of God (Christ come to rule his people himself) at utopian possibility. Early Friends certainly speak to utopian possibilities. The washing away of sin, the potential for even those without education or social status to minister with the prompting of “Christ their inward teacher”, the equalization of men and women in ministry, and, (according to Rosemary Moore) even marriage, and the refusing of social distinctions certainly describe an apocalyptic interpretation of the events of the Civil War. I suggest that apocalyptic behavior is utopian behavior, and that both are necessary to prophetic witness in the name of Christ – or – in the interests of humanity and justice.
Returning to the subject of parousia, however, is a sort of replacement utopian value that I find to be present among Friends, and I find it present in two particular way, though I would not be inclined to limit potential Quaker utopian thinking to just two. I have heard it said, not only in discussions of peace and justice, but shared in ministry, that an individual’s faith is held in the hope that there will be a realization of a world that is without war. Many Friends will witness to the hope of “world peace” – a cliché if there ever was one – and even mimic Christians with the caveat that “it will not happen in my lifetime, but maybe during the lives of my grandchildren.” Such thinking may invite criticisms of misdirected goals, but that is hardly reason to reject the goal. The question I will raise is whether such an aim, or aims that are similar, should be recognized as overarching themes of Quaker community.
A second question of utopian thinking, one that I anticipate will draw more criticism than the first concern is the Quaker commitment to liberal democracy and the electoral process as a means of furthering generalized or homogenous “Quaker” values. Western, and more specifically, American culture, is dedicated to electoral, representative, and rights-driven concepts of social stability. As such, contemporary Quakers regardless of programed, unprogramed, or scriptural status will gladly participate, and in many cases invest deeply, in electoral politics as a duty, obligation, or mere opportunity in the struggle to create a fair and just space. One votes their values or self-interests in hopes of working with a majority to control outcomes. I am not convinced that Friends find liberal democracy to be a utopian endeavor that has not yet recognized its potential for ideological supremacy – it would be unlike Friends to state such things in my experience. However, the question in my mind remains, are Friends so committed to electoral participation and the legislating of values or goals that we neglect, as a larger community, the need to witness in a very specific and corporate manner to the nature of our testimonies?
At this point – I am thinking there may be a conundrum in my thinking, but I will attempt to work through that. The questions that I identify may be too limited in scope – but point to the premise I want to open for discussion. Can unprogramed Friends, who have learned to thrive within the heterotopic space of waiting worship, further develop heterotopic space into heterotopic praxis. Ito clarify, can Friends better emphasize and make credible our testimonies by first, deprioritizing an anti-war and anti-war legislative lobbying and create a space within a space that emphasizes a sanctifying of state-legitimized and secularly sanctioned means of achieving credible outcomes. The conundrum that I identify is this – in the attempt to create a heterotopic space in the midst of an observably idolatrous space of liberal democracy and market economics – would Friends still be relevant, and more importantly, would we abscond from obligations to be good neighbors in an attempt to exhibit alternative means of providing a space of peace, justice, and integrity. But there is, in my mind, a begged question. Why is it that Friends need to be relevant as a corporate entity, to anyone other than those who voluntarily choose to join our community?
In a utopian space – certain values will be adopted as ideals, and a community will be committed to achieving or living out such ideals. Many times, such communities will be rigid, discriminatory, and resent or refuse any potential to change. As indicated by the stories of early Friends, this may have been a preferred outcome in many Quaker minds. Indeed, in regard to the Naylor controversies and the Welsh hat-controversies, it appears as though George Fox was inclined toward rigidness. Utopian visions often bear fruit within the context of radical crisis, or as a response to marginalization. Because utopian visions necessarily launch attacks of some sort against the socially accepted conduct of the vast majority, I believe that such communities also practice a form of self-marginalization. In order to make such marginalization acceptable, rigidity in the corporate discourse and behavior is necessary.
As indicated in the Judeo-Christian text, this self-marginalization is an integral part of identifying as “God’s People.” Of course, those who identify as “God’s People”, those who identify as privileged to truth, and those who identify as “defenders of the faith” will not only welcome certain types of marginalization, but will often defy change within the community on the basis of becoming too much like the world in order to legitimize continuing adherence to the ever-present evidence that the salvific event is not occurring a anticipated. Islamic fundamentalism is easily a reflection of ancient Israelite and Jewish reaction to the Hellenization of Palestinian communities. The ongoing purifications of sacred space that is exhibited in texts such as Ezra and the Maccabees are only a few examples. Such utopian or apocalyptic behaviors can never be sustained – such energy needed to maintain them is simply exhausting.
However, such apocalyptic activity – or better yet – unquestioned intensity of election is integral to maintaining a sense of ongoing identity, the perseverance of a people. Whether the onslaught against apocalyptic community values, or marks of utopian truths, is carried out by Babylonians, Seleucids, Romans, Saxons, the English or Spanish, the Catholics or Protestants, Israelis or Arabs, or perceived medieval Muslims reacting against KFC and Baywatch reruns – it is all about identity maintenance. Such creeping assimilation into economies of the empire will generate the worst kind of backlash from those who can anticipate further marginalization, and certain colonization that will leave populations without identity, and no means with which to purchase one, as is often done with the context of western individualism.
Quakers had their apocalyptic moments, and have necessarily lost the characteristic. To self-marginalize is to die before one’s time, and martyrdom can only make sense in the worst of unjust circumstances, or specific responses by individuals as an act of self-sacrifice for a greater perceived good. Yet, apocalyptic or utopian thinking is still an important aspect of human participation in changing the scope of history. Without apocalyptic action, change might not occur, but more importantly, it might not be remembered. Suddenly, history and justice become void of genesis and viewed more or less as nothing but the onward thrust of history that is driven by the unique capacity to reason.
However, Friends can no longer justify apocalyptic thinking as the marker of our communities. Friends serve as valuable components of our communities in a variety of capacities. Yet, Friends have little to say about the ways in which Quakerism(s) are meaningful outside of individual interpretations of testimonies (not representative of heterotopia due to individualistic nature of authority) and our fact of worship (heterotopic in that we are an alternative space of sacredness due to the communion, and not the building or otherwise). Outside of worship, and likely a few other practices that are increasingly viewed as archaic or unimportant, Friends have nothing to offer as a faith community other than our “faithful participation” in liberal democracy, electoral contexts, and participation in ecumenical strategies that focus on unity, indeed, at the expense of diversity. Utopias, as I perceive them, are intentional in eliminating diversity by seducing others into a coerced vision of justice of all regardless of differences. Yet, in utopias and apocalyptic communities, the first action of self-marginalizing ‘heretics” is often to weed out subsequent heresies.
Heterotopic communities, however, have an ability to continuously avoid the loss of meaning and identity, continue a critique of culture, violence, and degradation, contribute to their community at large with a attention to meeting the obligation to love one’s neighbor, and, plant and water future apocalyptic or utopian movements that bring about a sense of urgency that is necessary to achieving justice and self-determination. I believe that Quaker heterotopia can achieve such a balance, but the balance can only be achieved when Friends become willing to serve our communities according to our testimonies, but refuse to attempt to control outcomes. Our separate space, set aside for worship and the living out of testimonies, can only be maintained over time if we reassess our role and participation in liberal democracy, and how such participation serves as a barrier to our youth maintaining a role in among Friends, attracting new participants by offering an true alternative, and watering the hedges of faith by giving rise to apocalyptic interpretations of the faith that will promote change, with our support, until those utopians grow exhausted and return to the heterotopic existence of identity maintenance within a context that can never really be made just, or even whole, but can continuously serve as a voluntary alternative space that refuses to hold a stake in political or economic outcomes.
A community can never, or should never, force an ethic onto the rest of the world. I believe Quakers will agree with such statement as it presents. However, in order to achieve preferred outcomes, Friends will often find themselves engaging in actions that tend to make testimonies unintelligible. Two examples readily come to mind. Vote exchanges in the Bush-Gore election, and the recent support offered by Friends to the LGBT community concerning the right to serve openly in the United States Armed Forces. I perceive the above actions as fully representative of the manner in which Friends failed to preserve identity and “otherness” – or a valuable critique of war and power – in order to accommodate the pressures of controlling political outcomes that favor the ever-present myth that there is a “lesser of two evils.”
A commitment to expression of Friends values, not only within the heterotopia of worship, but within the context of corporate expressions of testimonies, is not only a means of identifying ourselves as a peculiar people, but indeed, as identifying ourselves a people who need not control outcomes, but provide an example of possibilities – possibilities that can only occur when we step outside of the perceive as real, but truly chaotic world of management, power and control, coercive behaviors that even extend to voting, and perhaps most of all, disengaging from confronting political opposition through ballot box or debate, and instead working on developing that separate space. We can work for our communities and be a valuable part of those communities – and show our commitment to healing and non-violence by being a presence, and not a force.