A Place to Stand

I have been a member of North Carolina Yearly Meeting conservative for over twenty years. I am currently the clerk of our small Monthly Meeting. I am a recorded elder and presently serve as the Recording Clerk of our Yearly Meeting's Ministers, Elders and Overseers. My name has been put forward to be the next clerk of North Carolina Yearly Meeting Conservative. By trade I am a philosophy professor.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

A Vision Grown Old

When a person has a vision that truly inspires they are indeed fortunate. They can live actively and put forth full enthusiastic effort day after day because they believe in the value of what they are doing. They can run and not be weary; walk and not faint. Such “excellent activity” is precisely how Aristotle defined the happy life. Those of us who lived through the sixties can remember how it felt to help destroy American apartheid under the leadership of a black Baptist preacher inspired by the ideals of nonviolence. It felt great to participate even in a small ways in something so big and so right. We didn’t feel this way all the time of course and a lot of the visions we shared then seem pretty lame now, but a little inspiration goes a long way. Where can you get that feeling now?

The Enlightenment was born a full three centuries ago and has not grown old gracefully. The attack on aristocratic privilege was a main part of it in the early days. This battle was pretty much over in about a hundred years. Quakers started early: refusing to address aristocrats as “you” instead of the commoners “thou” and refusing to take off their hats to anyone but God. But success poses the inevitable challenge: “what’s next?” What was next was the expansion of the goal, what in our tradition is called the testimony of equality, to include women, people of color and all those who are denied power and respect. These battles are far from won. Yet where is the inspiration?

The problem lies in another side of the Enlightenment: its distrust of religion. The original religious target of the Enlightenment was the Catholic Church. Its close connection with and imitation of the aristocratic classes made it a natural enemy. Moreover, the Church itself sought to combat democracy, free inquiry and science. Nor was Rome the only problem. Protestant churches became closely tied to civil authorities and when they got in power they were no less repressive and authoritarian. Under relentless pressure from the Enlightenment the power of religious authorities to suppress free thought and free inquiry slowly drained away. As was the case with the attack on aristocratic privilege early success was followed by an expansion of the original idea. But in this case it has been a disaster. “If some is good, then more is better” doesn’t always work.

Right and proper resistance to the efforts of religious authorities to impose uniformity of thought on the people by force gradually morphed into the idea that religion itself, that is any genuine spiritual orientation, was the natural enemy of reason, equality and progress. Complete contempt for spirituality became seen, in some quarters, as essential to the progressive mind. This is the tragic mistake. Not only is the rejection of spiritual truth not essential to progress; it is antithetical to it. The false and bleak worldview of materialism sucks the life and hope and energy out of the human mind. This fact explains much about the state of the world today.

(Note to the reader. This is part three of a series of postings.)


Blogger Lorcan said...

Funny, the Synchronicity in this. I was just reading a similar passage in Bonhoffer's "Ethics". I think, there are deep relationships which are written in our souls. I am old enough to remember the wonderful feeling of being involved in the final struggle for freedom, the strength of walking together against dogs and guns and hatred.

Well, ... we also, somehow, blasted the most important relationship, that trust in eldership ... sure there was always a tension between the confidence of youth and the inexpressible aspect of eldership ... but. Well, I have become convinced that one thing we have lost, we Friends, as much as anyone else in this cowardly new world ... we have lost connection to our folklore. It is no mere coincidence that Martin King began his move forward at the Highlander School ... becoming enriched and in tune with a common respect for the voice of the elder tradition. Arthur Kenoy, who lived to be the last of the lawyers who defended the Rosenbergs, pulled me back from the brink in law school, reminding me of the role of my families music in people's struggles. He said, "The day the civil rights movement ended, was the day we stopped singing". A few months, or maybe weeks before he died, I had the great joy, inexpressible joy to spend an evening singing for him, songs I wrote in my families tradition.

"I walked with King in Selma, so I'm getting on in years,
but I still can feel the hope we had in spite of all our fear
We faced the southern sheriffs and the banal Ku Klux Klan
to carry the light of human right, to each corner of our land... "

And I would finish a song, and Arthur would say, "sing me another...:

So ... distrust of religion ... well... I think we need to rethink every institution in every moment, for an institution to live it must be truly reborn in each moment. And yet, the story, the history, the river we arrived on, must also be ... acknowledged and known, and this takes elders.

I've seen young bloggers rail at the elders in our community of faith. Frankly, I think that it is more important to engage one's elders, with real confidence, that open plainess, not anger and rejection. That is really to find power of youth in our Quaker community.

On a personal note, thy comments on my blog today were joyfully received.

Thank'ee fFriend.

3:27 PM  

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