Thursday, October 25, 2007

Quaker Universalism

Dan Seeger has been an advocate of universalism for more than a quarter of a century. He has written widely, not only for the Quaker Universalist Fellowship, but also in Friends Journal and other venues. Dan continues to 'speechify', giving voice to his heartfelt concern about the polarizing influence of dogmatically insular worldviews.

Perhaps his best known pamphlet is "The Place of Universalism in the Religious Society of Friends: Is Coexistence Possible?" (Nice to end with a query). This short address has been used in Quaker 101 classes for a good while and informs modern Friends about the universalist issues.

What Dan Seeger has written in 1984 continues to be relevant today.

[T]he problem is for us all to learn to live together with our different traditions and to live not only without bloodshed, but in genuine peace, which implies some sort of mutual trust and active sympathy. It is of no use to talk about loving our neighbor while at the same time dismissing as inferior or mistaken his most cherished possession, his religious faith. Indeed, it is the transforming power of religious faith which offers the only hope out of our present impasse, and so a significant aspect of the great task before us is to come increasingly to discover how the world’s faiths can nourish each other and how we can collaborate with all people of faith in the challenge we face together.
Dan's emphasis is not a relativistic position where all religions are equal and the choice is arbitrary. No, he sees Christianity as he understands it as central to contemporary Quakerism.
Contemporary Quakerism will not realize its true destiny if it retreats from its traditional reconciliation of Christianity and universalism and resorts to a narrow, Christian sectarianism; or if it fails to attract, to admit into membership and to cherish non-Christians. But neither will it survive, I think, if there develops within Quakerism a climate which permits only such theological discourse among ourselves as might be admissible in a public school classroom. Quakerism’s extraordinary vocation in the common human task of structuring the new age which is struggling to come to birth lies precisely in its traditional capacity to be both Christian and universalist, and not merely one or the other.

I feel uneasy about a tendency among some to gnaw away at the specifically Christian content of Quakerism, as if seeking gradually to reduce it to a form of ethical culture, as I do about Christocentric Friends who seem to seek to import into Quakerism the sort of dogmatism and chauvinism which has plagued so much of the rest of Christian history.
His view of universalism is centered not on dogma or creed, but on the fundamental capability of all persons to comprehend, in their own fashion, spiritual truth.
The unity which universalism sees in the various religious faiths is not one of doctrine, nor of manner of worship, even though many similarities in these areas can be identified; rather the essential point of convergence is in the quality of the human person, the quality of spirit, which the sincere and selfless devotion to any of these different spiritual paths can produce.

For spiritual wisdom is not something we know, but it is something we are, it is a quality of being. Our minds cannot contain or comprehend knowledge of God; for we cannot contain what contains us nor comprehend what comprehends us. We can embody spiritual truth, but we cannot adequately articulate it. Indeed, the longer the radius of our vision, the wider the circumference of mystery. Those who have a grasp of this never engage in debates about doctrine. They know that the Truth is to be lived, not merely to be pronounced by mouth and they know that by their so living, that which is unutterable will be rendered visible.
People everywhere, if they are at all on a spiritual journey, if they pay attention to the numinous, are on a common journey. Dan Seeger feels that the recognition of this commonality speaks specially to Friends.
People of faith everywhere are engaged in a common journey, a pilgrimage, to discover within themselves this Word and its revelation of the universal and eternal things upon which all right living and true peace is based. There are many
paths possible on this journey of search and one of them always opens up to those who selflessly seek after it. For it is one of the characteristics of Truth that those who thirst after it eventually come to partake of it and to express it, as if the price at which Truth is bought is the sincere and pure longing for It itself. This is why we are promised that those who seek will surely find.

Let us, as Friends, then, share with all other people of faith the confidence that, having already found something that is supremely good, there is something more of inexhaustible measure which, together with them, we have yet to achieve.

View the complete Quaker Universalist pamphlet:
The Place of Universalism in the Religious Society of Friends

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