Saturday, 30 January 2016

The ways of God and the ways of the world

Stuart Masters has blogged that 'early Friends were very clear that there was a fundamental distinction to be made between the dominant ways of 'the world' and the ways of God's kingdom. Rachel Muers makes much the same point in her important Testimony: Quakerism and Theological Ethics (SCM Press,2015), in which she says that Quaker testimony tends to operate at the point of confrontation between the truth of God and the dominant untruths of a world-opposed-to-God (p.46). Historically, testimony has prompted Quaker to set themselves against any power structure or pattern of life that denies or obscures divine truth (p.118).  I would not disagree with this opinion if it is a purely theological position, and amounts to saying that Quaker testimony can be identified as such when it uses solemn God language, but is not testimony when it uses everday, secular language.  However, if it is an historical or sociological assertion then it is false.  As Stuart has acknowledged, the Quakers have always engaged with governments or 'domination systems' and indeed were actually governors in colonial Pennsylvania.  Similarly, the Foundations of a True Social Order, about which I have blogged separately, is an fine example of testimony which engages with the World and shows how its systems can be improved. To distinguish between the ways of God and the ways of the world is, like talk of structural violence, to depersonalise others with whom you disagree.  Rather, Quakers are counselled to 'walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone'.  In other words, equality of souls means equality of treatment and not succumbing to prideful assertions about Quaker ways as specially the ways of God.  Humility is a Christian virtue - and one I struggle to cultivate.

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