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 15, 2009


I said good-bye to Jim this week. We had lunch and he helped me with a project I am working on and then we talked about his leaving. Jim moved to North Carolina a couple of years ago when he got laid off from his New York law firm. It’s tough to start over when you are in your late fifties and Jim was not able to make an adequate income here in North Carolina because there is simply less need for his specialty here than in New York. So he is going back to take a position with another firm. He is ambivalent about this for a number of reasons. I think he genuinely likes our little meeting and the slower pace of life is also appealing. So he asked me what I really thought of his going back. I told him I understood that he was at a difficult phase—too young to retire and too old to be really attractive to a lot of potential employers. I wished he could stay and still hoped that maybe he would find something appropriate locally, but I know he’s got to find work. Of course going back to New York is not sure thing. With the economy still headed down there are going to be a lot lawyers looking for new jobs in the near future. Then I brought up something I thought was bothering Jim. Didn’t he still feel betrayed by his former employer—the one that fired him in his fifties? I knew beforehand that this was how he felt but I thought it might do Jim some good to talk about it and to have me express my agreement with those feelings.

Betrayal hurts and I think this culture doesn’t generally acknowledge just how deeply it hurts.

Later on the same day I was with another group of people. Someone we hadn’t seen for a few years had dropped in unexpectedly and there was some jovial chatting. Somehow the conversation turned to honesty and one man there bragged that he had nothing to hide or be ashamed of. There must have been at least one raised eyebrow and a short pause until he added a further little joke to the effect of “except for my adulteries but nobody takes that seriously.” This isn’t an exact quote but it was the intended sense. I very briefly considered commenting that perhaps his wife took them seriously and in fact perhaps she even feels betrayed. I didn’t feel as though I should offer such a comment to someone who is not a Quaker and probably wouldn’t think that I should be offering my opinion on such matters. So, I just said good-bye to the group and went home largely because I felt that doing so was expressing my disapproval in an appropriately understated way. It was the second time in one day that I felt called upon to offer a little witness that betrayal is just plain wrong.


Anonymous Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

It has long seemed to me that betrayal is, in spiritual terms, the ultimate violation of the second great commandment ("your neighbor as yourself"). When I betray someone, not only do I make myself a winner and him a loser, which in-and-of-itself violates the commandment, but I refuse to do him good where it means the most, and so underscore the difference between my win and his loss.

I couldn't agree with you more when you write, "this culture doesn't generally acknowledge how deeply it hurts." Betrayal was Iscariot's sin, but it is the free market's virtue.

In fact, a refusal to betray is incompatible with the free market ethic. According to that ethic, you're supposed to go where the profit is, regardless of any previous unwritten understandings with your neighbor, and thus allow the Invisible Hand of the Market to provide the greatest good for the greatest number. So wherever such understandings conflict with profit, you're supposed to betray your neighbor For the Good of All.

The God of free markets is the God of Betrayal.

8:51 AM  
Blogger RichardM said...


I would agree that the ethic of the invisible hand is not only incompatible with Christian love but also with common decency. The culture celebrates the winners of this amoral doctrine and tells its victims that they deserve to lose.

5:54 PM  

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