Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Search: 30 yr old conclusion
The following is the conclusion to a paper exploring my “Search for Truth and Reality” in a course at ESR 30 years ago. Although I would probably compose this with examples in a very different way now, I still identify with what I wrote back then. It requires some understanding of the context of Britain and the Colonies 300 years ago, but the acceptance of universal truth and the reality of the unity of all people still “speaks my mind.”
It is clear that the earliest Friends utilized a question and answer format for discussing Quaker issues, for example Barclay’s Apology and Penington’s “Some questions and answers, showing mankind his duty.” One of the more expert practitioners of the dialogue format was William Penn. One of the reasons for this is that Penn had been trained at Oxford and truly seemed to enjoy the Socratic method with the give and take of hard questions and thoughtful responses. In many of his writings there is a strong sense of seeking which was evident among early Friends. “Truth never lost ground by inquiry, because she most of all is reasonable.”
In Penn’s “Holy Experiment” the balance between individual liberty and egalitarian government was explored. The creative tension between the two seemed to lead to the use of Queries in developing Quaker structure, even though “there was not, indeed, to human appearance, anything systematic in its formation.” A number of early Friends took a strong interest in Penn’s government and offered advice, if not corrections, to the plan. Penn’s recognition of the tension between individual liberty and corporate government is evidenced in the statement. “Liberty without obedience is confusion, and obedience without liberty is slavery.” Religious tolerance and individual freedom extended even to the point of not demanding others to join them but once having made the choice, a member was expected to submit to discipline. “They compel none to them, but oblige those that are of them to walk suitable, or they are denied.” While control and obedience were expected within the circle of Friends, the toleration other religions extended even to encouraging the establishment of other houses of worship in “Quaker territory.” The first American Roman Catholic Church was built in Philadelphia as well as one of the earliest Jewish synagogues.
Penn’s defense of individual freedom did not stop with religions but was an inclusive perception that extended even to philosophers and Gentiles. “The Gentiles believed that there was one God, that He enlightened all men with a saving light, that all men ought to live piously, that the soul is immortal, that there is an eternal recompense.” The individual freedom within subjection is addressed by Penn:
“Question: Ought I not to be left to the grace of God in my own heart?
Answer: That is of all things most desirable, since they are well left who are left there;
For there is no fear of want of unity, where all are left with the one Spirit of Truth.”
However, it is clear to Penn that there is a Unity of the Spirit of God. “It is only God, the only Lord of conscience, Father of Lights and Spirits who can enlighten the mind and persuade and convince the understanding of people.”