Monday, February 28, 2022

Walk In The Light

This is "The Fox Song" or "The George Fox Song," still popular among Quakers, at least up until a generation ago. It is an excellent example of my Yes, but attitude to the theology of the Society of Friends. That in itself is hard to pin down, as it has undergone changes in emphasis since its beginnings in the 1600s. The Puritans persecuted Quakers, yes, but those were also Quakers who sometimes broke into your Sunday worship and threw blood on the altar.

The belief in an inner light, accessible to all, has remained central, though that has moved from an original base that it was a product of the Holy Spirit, meant to accentuate the non-hierarchical priesthood of all believers, who could study the Bible for themselves and go about teaching others. That quickly became more of a belief that all humans were born with access to this light, something akin to the natural law understanding of Paul's Letter to the Romans. 

Quakerism was originally strongest in Wales and the West Midlands of England, farther from the centers of power, with an economy of herding that led to many isolated households in the hills. They were therefore suspicious of church hierarchies in London and used to thinking for themselves, conditions that would make an Inner Light doctrine congenial.  Of course, this is exactly what I am most suspicious of.  I just mentioned in a recent post the commonness of prosperity gospel in Houston, with its boom mentality and focus on getting ahead. People gravitate to the varieties of faith that support their political or cultural values, though best practice would be that this works in the opposite direction.  We usually pretend that it does. If I am not convinced that this is true for myself and those I love best I don't see why you should expect I would take your word for it.

A few of the phrases are technically true: steeples will indeed fall eventually and we will not be reading Bibles in heaven.  But while the Society of Friends long held to the idea that the light transcended the valuable Scriptures, it was inevitable that many would come to regard the book as somewhat, then mostly, and then entirely beside the point, as is true of some today, replaced by a belief much closer to the syncretism of the UU's. 

That is true in Northern New England, anyway.  Perhaps it is different in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.


Douglas2 said...

A song ©1964 by the English songwriter Sydney Carter:

My impression from when I lived in England was that the evangelicals there consider Fox to be one of their own, but the modern meetings of the big Friends organization there (groups meeting Sundays with unprogrammed worship and tending-to-universalist theology) not. When one starts reading biography of Fox, it seems that the modern Society of Friends groupings illustrate rather well Robert Conquest's reported observation: that organisations which survive long enough, will end up being run in such a way as to contradict their founding purpose.

Wikipedia tells me that the 'Evangelical Friends' splits now constitute 89% of worldwide Quakers, with the sort that we're thinking of being the 11%.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I looked at that, and saw that about half of all Friends are in Africa now. If they are following Anglican and Methodist trend, they are theologically quite conservative and biblical. Yet many other African traditions are very much concerned with personal revelation and less dogma.

Richard Foster was clearly among the evangelicals decades ago, but I understand he is not only social justice in action now - something to be praised - but accepting of modern justice theology that stresses validating the perspectives of the oppressed simply because they are oppressed and (supposedly) unheard by others.

G. Poulin said...

The problem with all Christian social justice thinking is that it blurs the distinction between the church and the world. It assumes that the rules given to the church for its well-being are intended as a template for the governance of the world. They are not so intended, and the attempt to impose Christian values on the world constitutes a kind of substitute gospel. The church is intended as an alternative to the world -- it is the only "just society" that we are instructed to create.