Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
Separations and views of atonement.
If I could frame a question on this topic, it would be "what needs to be addressed in order for a single Quaker meeting to have differing views of the atonement?" The second question would be "what goals for a meeting are implicit in each view of the atonement."
It would be simpler to say why can’t we all just get along. But the answer to that would probably not help us understand our differences or the solutions that addresses these differences. It is easy to see why an unexamined solution would not have much success.
The initial Quaker view of the atonement, and the current Christian Quaker view, is one that says Jesus was divine in a way no other person could be divine and that Jesus in his resurrected body is alive in a way no one else is yet alive. This new life in Christ belongs to all who are willing and allow themselves to be changed by this new Spirit of Christ into the new creation where Jesus is Lord.
Another view of atonement which has ancient roots says, God is the larger spiritual life of the universe; and whenever we see ourselves a part of this spirit, we will move up the ladder of existence and be helping humankind move toward that evolutionary perfection that comes as we get better and better. Jesus was one of those a step up on the ladder of existence, and we can be too if we are more like Jesus.
Please forgive my crude descriptions of these two views of the atonement, I hope the descriptions are accurate enough to make some generalizations. The Christian Quaker view has a focus on the work of Jesus in the past, in the present and in the future. It is through Him that the Christian Quaker receives the understanding of what is good, the empowerment to do what is good and the body that brings people into a relationship with each other and with God. Part of the work a Quaker is to do, is to keep Jesus their lord, counselor, comforter, guide and friend.
We are aware that there are other people who follow completely different philosophies and therefore would not place themselves within the Christian view of atonement. On the other hand, those with different philosophies would fit into meetings that have a more generic view of the spirit and see Jesus as one more example of an improved life. Therefore one who has been listening to both positions knows that the way a meeting understands itself in relation to other philosophies comes from the very core of their belief about Jesus. Those who believe Jesus is essential do not have a goal of teaching that Jesus is only a good example but not the Lord, counselor, comforter, judge, and savior. Those teaching Jesus is a good example would technically also be able to see Jesus as savior and lord. To say that the example theory and the redemption by Jesus into a new creation in Christ are really the same or lead to the same meeting objectives is to affirm the example theory and oppose the Jesus as Lord theory.
There are liberal Quaker meetings who say that it is hateful, unloving and harmful to communicate to someone that they believe their position is true and yours is not. These meetings say that anyone who says this is a destructive, evil, abhorrent creature who is beyond the pale of protection provided by normal civility and Quaker process. This, of course, would make it difficult to have these two different views of atonement coexisting in the same meeting.
My understanding of the solution presented from the liberal side is to have Christian Quakers update their views to the liberal position or to enjoy the hospitality of the liberal meeting that believes in accepting all philosophical views as long as they don’t mention their views in the meeting.
As a Christian Quaker I look again at the word tolerance. The web site tolerance.org has some interesting comments.
"On this site we define it as allowing followers of other religions to follow their spiritual beliefs without oppression or discrimination. Religious tolerance is a fundamental right in a democracy. Most people believe that religious tolerance, using this definition, is a noble goal, and is vitally necessary for world peace.
Of course, no right is absolute. Tolerance may not necessarily extend beyond religious beliefs to include some religious actions -- particularly those that harm or harrass others.
Others, particularly conservatives in many religions, describe "religious tolerance" differently. Many define it as accepting all religious faiths as being equally true. This is one meaning of the phrase "religious pluralism." Since religions teach different beliefs, this definition of tolerance implies that absolute truth doesn't exist. Most religious conservatives reject these beliefs, and regard their own faith as the only absolutely true belief system. Thus, many conservatives believe that religious tolerance -- using their definition of the term -- is evil.
"We are continually amazed at the differences in definitions of religious terms as used by different faith groups. It makes religious debates and dialogue very difficult. It also makes our work in trying to objectively describe religious beliefs and practices quite challenging. ....
Paul Copan: "Contrary to popular definitions, true tolerance means ‘putting up with error’ - not ‘being accepting of all views’... It is because real differences exist between people that tolerance becomes necessary and virtuous."
As I understand the definition expressed above, it is a mistake when one thinks tolerance is equated with accepting all faiths as equally true because tolerance in the helpful sense is likely to be rejected. This makes sense to me; and surprisingly, I see this happening in liberal meetings when a person identifies differences in the positions held by people in meeting. That person is then harassed as a divisive, dangerous and harmful person. The difference between necessary tolerance and optional acceptance of multiple beliefs leads to confusion and lack of meaningful dialogue in meetings.
As mentioned in Beyond Reason by Fisher and Shapiro, unity in meetings comes when each party knows their autonomy is respected, their status is acknowledged, their role is meaningful, their presence is appreciated and their efforts are seen to be an important contribution toward a common goal. If there is no common goal, one essential piece is missing on which the other relationship qualities depend. I think this common goal has not been identified by all parties in the liberal vs Christian meetings.
Friends, I doubt if any of this is new to you or others, but I do think it is helpful to review these topics when discussing the evils of separations caused by different views of the atonement.