Saturday, November 06, 2004

That's Me in The Corner

So, this whole election thing. Sheesh. Where to start.

I'm going to pretend for a moment that the people who read this blog aren't just a small assortment of old college friends and family members, and take a moment to declare my little (still forming) system of beliefs.

Religion was a big factor in this election, and "moral values" were named as a key issue for voters in the exit polls. Well, I'm religious. and I struggle with 'what's right' every day. When your favorite author is Dante, you tend to think about the cosmic stuff.

But my religion is not George W. Bush's religion.

Now, I'm a little leery of trying to say what, exactly, George W.'s religion entails. I only know what I read in the papers, after all. But G.W.B. seems to believe in an unbending and punitive God -- one that divides the world into 'evil doers' and 'chosen.' One who doles out punishment and reward. If my God were at all like G.W.'s, well, ol' G Dub'd be a big ol' smite hole in the ground by now.

So what do I believe in? Uncertainty. Mystery. Perplexity. Like Will Durant, "I believe in God not as a God of vengeance in the skies, but as the creative will and power of life in the world." I believe that we are, each of us, called to live our lives in a way that moves the whole word forward. I believe that God is the force that calls us.

And yes, I have doubts. I hear that voice that tells me that organized religion is nothing but a source of strife in the world, that religion is a chemical fluke in our haphazardly evolving limbic brains. And I listen to that voice, from time to time. But I find comfort in my own little version of Pascal's wager: if I'm wrong, I might still better myself a little. I might even leave the world a little better than I found it.

I was raised by two very religious people. My mother is an Episcopalian, my father a Quaker, and both actively live their religion, so that through their lives they might create a better world. Growing up, I was given the choice of attending either service on Sundays, and as I got older, I tended towards Quaker meetings more and more. The branch of Quakerism that I grew up in is distinct from most Christian sects in that there is no priest, no preacher – no hierarchy within the church. Worshippers come to meeting on equal footing. More than that, meeting for worship is a communal experience, a Divine Comedy in which every participant is both poet and pilgrim, both Beatrice and Virgil.

The 'Religious Society of Friends,' as Quakers are properly called, took their name from a passage in the Book of John:

You are my friends, if you do what I command you. I call you servants no longer; a servant does not know what his master is about. I have called you friends, because I have disclosed to you everything that I heard from my Father. . This is my commandment to you: love one another. (John 15: 14-17)

Thus we see the first cause of Quakerism: simultaneously giving power to the faithful (“I call you servants no longer”) and binding them to a community (“love one another”). Liberation is contingent upon regard for others.

The Quaker emphasis on community lies in the central doctrine of Quaker theology: the belief that a divine light is in us all but that, as Quaker historian John Punshon describes it,

It would be a mistake to regard it as a part of human nature, a personal possession, a fragment of divinity, our bit of God. The light is in all. . .but it is the same light that is in all. . . There are not many lights, but only one. . . Because it is common to all of us, the light calls us into unity with one another, into the community. . . So you could not practice the sort of religion George Fox preached in isolation” (Punshon, Portrait in Grey, p.50, 1986).

This faith does not have a category of 'Evil Doers'. This faith cannot tolerate the abuse and torture of prisoners anywhere. This faith does not contibute to the destruction of the environment. This faith has room for questioning, and nuance.

Eh. What do I know?

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