Monday, December 21, 2009

tolerance as a reason in this and every season

People and individuals keep on searching for meaning to life and circumstance in this cold, materialistic, godless, secular global culture.

Some people are writing columns to say that the movie Avatar is a vehicle to sell nature and pantheism. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar and not a penis. Sometimes a computer enhanced cartoon or Hollywood fantasy is just a computer enhanced cartoon or just a Hollywood fantasy.

This 24/7/365 knit picking over everything that does not conform to the traditional exceptional American concept of God is not a call to arms to preserve the traditional religionist culture. It is more a shouting in a warehouse, taking inventory, of obsolete aspects of the old Christian belief system before they are carted off onto the trash heap of history.

In my own personal search for a new meaning of the concept of God, I end this year listening to some Christmas Carols like the Brit atheist dilettante Richard Dawkins.

I am more convinced than ever that the current phase of belief in non-belief is wall paper glue filling in the voids of a yet to be printed or determined pastel belief pattern on that wallpaper that will be the norm for decades or centuries to come. Old paper comes down. New paper goes up. The practical and the mundane non-belief is a stop gap glue of many for the moment.

Many years ago as a native tourist investigating every nook and cranny of Independence National Historical Park, I came upon a gem of a colonial building. Back then the only entrance way was down an alley way and into a courtyard. The courtyard with gray paving stones and surrounding brick buildings and simple paned glass windows reminded me of something very plain but European. The RC church of St. Joseph’s was behind a very plain entrance way. Thus I found out that in History, this very pagan Jesuit church was allowed in Quaker Tolerant Pennsylvania in colonial times and still stands in present day downtown Philadelphia. Back then it was probably the only RC church for a hundred miles. It is also a gem inside architecturally in a very subtle kind of Baroque mixed with colonial style interior design.

This story leads me to the Quakers or Society of Friends, or I should say leads me back to Quakers because no matter what your beliefs or ethnic origins, if you grow up in Philly the subtle imprint of a Quaker sub-cultural essence lives on to this day.

This is not an endorsement of the Friends but in reading again in full detail their habits and beliefs I seem to be drawn back to the concept of simplistic beliefs in my personal search for God.

Indeed, the persistent agitator of George Fox against the established COE types is what no doubt got Charles II to settle his debts to the Quaker William Penn’s father’s estate with a land grant to his son a whole ocean away. Best to ship the pesky little religious varmints off to the New World than build more prisons. The Brits had yet to find and settle Australia.

One has to wonder in the recognizable shape of the Quakers that evolved in England, that someone like George Fox was not unaware of the various simplistic aspects of Islam. Perhaps there was a hidden mosque down some London alleyway in days of yore for a native tourist to discover and wonder at. Many books back then about Islam and the Gnostic thing but no hard manuscript evidence, only rumors, on the latter at that time.

I perceive some possible similarities between the two belief systems.

Quakers - the Religious Society of Friends
Among key Quaker beliefs are:

• God is love

• the light of God is in every single person

• a person who lets their life be guided by that light will achieve a full relationship with God

• everyone can have a direct, personal relationship with God without involving a priest or minister

• redemption and the Kingdom of Heaven are to be experienced now, in this world
It is in the inner light thing, this almost Gnostic thing that is a hallmark of Quaker belief.

The Quakers are also not very evangelical, preaching and recruiting to their belief system like some screaming Christian Constantine army press-gang thing.

The inner light of the creative force within endures. You must come to it. It does not necessarily come to you. Indeed, many people raised as a Quaker are not shining examples of this belief system like Richard Nixon as one example. But who is to judge really?

Putting beliefs aside I have to say that for a quiet bunch of unnoticed people in the woodwork so to speak they have founded and maintain many schools, universities – as well as maintain the ground work for doing what some would label as Christian but they themselves do not cling to any faith describing labels or agenda.

The most powerful thing I saw in my youth was a single force, behind the scenes in the widespread opposition to the Vietnam War, in the American Service Friends Committee and its lobbying efforts. At the height of the anger and discord in America around 1972, I remember how the city wanted to widen the road in front of a bunch of nineteenth century brick buildings. The buildings had to come down to make way for the widened street. One of the buildings I believe housed the local AFSC. When vacated I remember a home made sign of about a foot square made of shirt box cardboard and embellished with three simple words in laundry marker or dark crayon – it was tacked over the door of one of these abandoned buildings.

Those words were “Rendered unto Caesar”. Powerful words to make a statement about the then current injustice and unfairness of it all. Those words have lasted in my memory to this day and remind me of the power of simple actions to move governments from the wrong column of history and in to the correct wave energy of human history.

Enough of Philly tales. As this year ends I have two religious belief systems in mind that the world of Christianity, perhaps a dying and or going through a dramatic metamorphosis belief system, might consider in the future shaping of anything to be labelled Christian or Christ-like.

I am mindful of the Quakers and their beliefs and also of the dissident St. Mary’s in Exile Congregation in Brisbane Australia – two places I think I could visit in a service or meeting and where my eccentric at present and eclectic agnostic search for a new meaning or definition of God would be tolerated.

Have a happy and safe new year.


Dave said...

Deep down..I am a Quaker. It fits like a glove and makes so much sense. Celebrate the birth of the worlds greatest prophet. What joy and peace he has brought to all of us. Thanks Mike and enjoy HIS day.

Dave said...

My hope for the New Year is to move beyond tolerance and move towards respect and acceptance of all God's children and their belief's and cultural upbringing. Interfaith universalism is not is a of the few.