Monday, May 30, 2016

The Quakers Are the most "Enlightened" of the "Christian" Sects

Riffing off my last post, where I argued anti-creedalism is an American Founding ideal, the sect most associated with such are the Quakers. Creeds are creatures that enforce "orthodoxy." It not necessarily that the political theology of the American Founding was anti-orthodox. But it was one that didn't care too much for "orthodoxy" enforcement.

That, and other attributes, made the Quakers a good faith candidate for "pet religion" of that era. The Quakers were Protestants who just preceded the Enlightenment. But during the period of that era, the leading thinkers sympathized with the Quaker thought and theology they discovered.

The Quakers stressed "the light." The age about which we speak was "the Enlightenment." Perhaps the words took on a slightly different meaning, but the terms "fit." (Sources for Quakers and "the light" abound online if one wants to learn more on their understanding.)

One might wonder why more men who appreciated Quaker theology didn't convert. An interesting social dynamic of that era was America's Founders tended to remain formally and nominally affiliated with the sects in which they were raised for social purposes. But often didn't believe in the official doctrines or creeds of those churches.

The Quakers' stance on pacifism meant they couldn't support the Whigs' war against the Tories. This was an obvious roadblock to American Whigs' full endorsement of Quakerism. Hence, John Dickinson and William Livingston would arguably qualify as "half-Quakers" a term Livingston used to describe himself.

Here is an article published by a George Fox University's Quaker Studies which documents the history of Voltaire's thoughts on the Quakers which terminated in "outright admiration."

Here is from the legendary Alan Charles Kors writing in The American Interest on "Voltaire's England."A taste:
Voltaire opened his Lettres with a survey of English religion, beginning with the Quakers, which, for his French audience, would have been the rough equivalent today of beginning a survey of the United States with the Reverend Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church or the Hare Krishna movement. He lavished praise upon the Quakers’ commitment to religious tolerance, both in England and, more dramatically, in Pennsylvania, where they had political power. Foremost among the “wise laws” promulgated by William Penn had been “to harm no one for his religion.” Voltaire concluded his discussion of English religion with an account of the tolerant Unitarians, equally mysterious and heretical for his French readers.

Between the letters on the Quakers and Unitarians, Voltaire described the Anglican and Presbyterian establishments. For Voltaire, the Church of England itself, though an established church beset by corruptions that looked large in England (but very small indeed in France), had abandoned its efforts to coerce religious belief. In Voltaire’s view, “An Englishman, as a free man, goes to heaven by whatever path he chooses.” True, the Presbyterian Church, heir to the Calvinism that, Voltaire believed, had prevailed in the darkest times of the 17th century, possessed a clergy that detested all dissent. It was true, also, that the Episcopalian and Presbyterian clergies loathed each other, but in England the people themselves were weary of religious hatreds and persecutions, which mattered more.
Finally, here is from a presentation given by  Marie-Jeanne Rossignol, Professor of American Civilization, Dean for Education and Programs, University Paris 7 on "The Atlantic Enlightenment, in France and the United States, at the time of the War of Independence and the Peace of Paris."

A taste:
Yet American society came gradually to be seen as some kind of enlightened utopia before, during, and immediately after the War of Independence. As I suggested earlier, Quaker Pennsylvania had long appeared as a heaven of simplicity and democratic manners, as opposed to aristocratic France. Voltaire spread this idea, which gained more currency at the time of the War of Independence: in the 1780s a large body of literature was devoted to the New World, and the new nation in particular. Many French travelers to the United States contributed to this literature. In France but also in the rest of Europe, Britain gave way to the United States as a modern political model. Now the French no longer wanted to flee to London to avoid censorship: they dreamt of moving to the United States. A case in point is Jacques-Pierre Brissot, a future revolutionary leader in 1792-1793. He had been fascinated by Britain in the 1780s and repaired to London to avoid political problems in France: there he met with radicals but also with enlightened mainstream political figures such as Lord Mansfield, the Chief Justice. He also met with Quakers, then at the forefront of the antislavery fight, and under the influence of famous American Quakers such as Anthony Bénézet.
By 1786, Brissot had been converted to the cause of America, like many French philosophers and journalists. To be enlightened was to be free ( the words light, enlightened and enlightened are to be found obsessively under his pen, as well as free and freedom) and to be free was to be in the United States. Beyond enjoying the kind of liberal institutions enlightened thinkers were hoping for, the United States also made it possible to consider economic prosperity for such lower-middle class publicists as Brissot through its cheap access to land. ...


Tom Van Dyke said...

As for the actual theology of those early Quakers, the historical record may have been scrubbed clean. The Quakers were not just a vacuous precursor to Barney.

So it should come as no surprise that recent info has been uncovered, exposing George Fox as even more heretical/occultic than previously thought. I have provided the most pertinent excerpt below. Click here for the original source of this excerpt – a blog by Steven Davison. (Ironically, this shocking info has been revealed by Davison, a liberal Quaker, not an Evangelical Friend.) I have emphasized certain points by bolding, and inserted comments in [brackets]:

“… I had always believed that Fox would never have countenanced the vaguely neo-Gnostic meaning for ‘that of God’ that is so common among us nowadays—namely, that there is some aspect of the divine in the human, a divine spark, as the neo-Platonists put it. Now it seems that George Fox was some kind of ‘Gnostic’, after all. That he did believe—or rather, that he had experienced in his visions of 1647 (“There is one, even Christ Jesus, who can speak to thy condition”) and 1648 (“I was brought up in the spirit through the flaming sword into the paradise of God”)—that he had experienced his own nature to be the “flesh and blood” of Christ, not separate or distinct from the substance of God, that “the light”, the “seed”, which all humans possessed, was “of God”, that is, the very substance of Christ’s heavenly body. That “the light” was not just a teacher or revealer or convincer/convictor, but that it was ‘metaphysical’ in its effect, raising up “the first body”, the paradisiacal body that was before the fall. That this was the nature of salvation in Christ: to shed the inner, ‘carnal’ body that could sin, and to be inhabited instead, body and spirit, by the immaterial, heavenly body of Christ himself, so as to partake of his power and authority and even perfection. That this indeed was the original foundation for Quaker ‘perfectionism’, the belief that one could live without sin. The authors and the works that make these assertions (Glen D. Reynolds, Richard Bailey, Rosemary Moore) are listed at the end of this post.

I could feel a little better about my ignorance of Fox’s understanding of the light because these authors and a couple of others [I wish this writer had named the additional authors] seem to have uncovered a deliberate effort on the part of early Friends to excise this aspect of Fox’s and early Friends’ theology from public record. They name, especially, Thomas Ellwood, the first editor of Fox’s journal, and William Penn, but even including Fox himself, to some degree. Soon after the Naylor affair in 1656, but especially after the Restoration, these editors did what they could to hide, deny, recast or otherwise explain away this Gnostic bent in order to avoid charges of blasphemy and tone down Quaker rhetoric in the face of the persecutions.”

JMS said...

Jon – good post. For confirmation that PA was the darling of many Enlightenment thinkers, below is a brief section from Chapter 1 of Marietta and Rowe’s book, Troubled Experiment: Crime and Justice in Pennsylvania, 1682-1800. But the thesis of this intriguing book refutes at least part of their over-optimistic assessment.
Pennsylvania was the first liberal society and one of the most admired places in history. Voltaire wrote that Pennsylvania was “the golden age of which we have all heard so much, and which has apparently never existed except in Pennsylvania." “This republic, without wars, without conquests, without effort . . . became a spectacle for the whole universe,” wrote the Abbe Raynal. “Behold and see peace and happiness reigning with justice and liberty among his people of brothers.” Pennsylvania was the “Utopie de Penn.” “Happy Pennsylvania, thou Queen of Provinces,” Hector St. Jean de Crèvecoeur exclaimed. Evangelist George Whitefield recorded that in Pennsylvania, “[T]here is a greater equality between the poor and rich than perhaps can be found in any other place of the known world.” It was the “best poor man’s country on earth,” according to yet other admirers.
Especially among the philosophes of the Enlightenment--Voltaire, Montesquieu, Abbe Raynal, Chevalier de Jaucourt, the Encyclopedists--Pennsylvania became a byword; it proved the wisdom of their liberal critique of the ancient regime and of their prescriptions to change it or replace it. It became an article in the liberal credo, a secular gospel: “People could be happy without masters and without priests.” In the Encyclopedie and Raynal's History of the Indies they broadcast the success of Pennsylvania until it became general knowledge among literate, hopeful men and women.
While some of these enthusiasts, like Voltaire, had never been to Pennsylvania and others, like Crèvecoeur, had, neither were deluded or grossly mistaken about it. In varying degrees, Pennsylvania’s laws and government, religious freedoms, social structure, and economy were what they asserted. Historians soberly affirm what the European savants declared: Pennsylvania was “a worldly success,” “an ideal colony,” “a hopeful torch in a world of semidarkness.”

Tom Van Dyke said...

Once again the secular Enlightenment myth tries to grab the credit for the accomplishments of Christianity.

Of course, when the "Enlightenmentists" themselves tried to counterfeit "liberal" Christian Pennsylvania in France without Christianity, the result was monstrous.

see also

Beyond the Persecuting Society
Religious Toleration Before the Enlightenment
Edited by John Christian Laursen and Cary J. Nederman
296 pages | 6 x 9
Paper 1997 | ISBN 978-0-8122-1567-0 | $24.95s | £16.50 | Add to cart
Ebook 2011 | ISBN 978-0-8122-0586-2 | $24.95s | £16.50 | About | Add to cart

"Beyond the Persecuting Society confronts the myth that there was no general conception or practice of religious toleration before the Enlightenment...

It is the great strength of this collection that the diversity and richness of the often tentative allowance for confessional pluralism can be documented at times when unity of faith was seen as no less necessary than unity of obedience."—Albion

There is a myth—easily shattered—that Western societies since the Enlightenment have been dedicated to the ideal of protecting the differences between individuals and groups, and another—too readily accepted—that before the rise of secularism in the modern period, intolerance and persecution held sway throughout Europe. In Beyond the Persecuting Society John Christian Laursen, Cary J. Nederman, and nine other scholars dismantle this second generalization.

If intolerance and religious persecution have been at the root of some of the greatest suffering in human history, it is nevertheless the case that toleration was practiced and theorized in medieval and early modern Europe on a scale few have realized: Christians and Jews, the English, French, Germans, Dutch, Swiss, Italians, and Spanish had their proponents of and experiments with tolerance well before John Locke penned his famous Letter Concerning Toleration. Moving from Abelard to Aphra Behn, from the apology for the gentiles of the fourteenth-century Talmudic scholar, Menahem ben Solomon Ha-MeIiri, to the rejection of intolerance in the "New Israel" of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Beyond the Persecuting Society offers a detailed and decisive correction to a vision of the past as any less complex in its embrace and abhorrence of diversity than the present.

JMS said...

TVD – as you know, one cannot categorize d “the Enlightenment” as wholly secular. The Enlightenment thinkers cited in the article/chapter sample I quoted over-generalized and inflated their admiration of what William Penn and the Quakers wrought in PA and West NJ. An example of this would be Jefferson’s letter to John Adams advising that, “we should all then, like the Quakers, live without an order of priests, moralize for ourselves, follow the oracle of conscience, and say nothing about what no man can understand, nor therefore believe.” Sounds good, but by the time he died, Penn had become exasperated with his “ungovernable” colony.

But the crux of their praise was that PA rejected the increasingly discredited “divine right of kings” paradigm in favor of religious tolerance – or “liberty of conscience” – because they believed it would create stronger governments with freer and wealthier societies. And most importantly, Penn and his fellow Quakers conceived of liberty as a universal entitlement (not just a privilege for a chosen few). That’s why Jefferson referred to William Penn as “the greatest lawgiver the world has produced; the first, either in ancient or modern times, who has laid the foundation of government in the pure and unadulterated principles of peace, of reason and right.”

Obviously Penn and the Quakers were Christians, but one cannot reduce this paradigm shift to some unitary “Christianity.” Penn’s PA (like Williams’ RI) was a rather unique dissenting or radical exception to the old cuius regio, eius relgio Western European Christendom “pattern” applied to both Catholic & Protestant countries and kingdoms (with some exceptions), and still alive and well in Congregational New England and the Anglican South.

But, along with PA’s unprecedented liberty, justice and equality, the point of the article/chapter I quoted is that it also had a huge downside, i.e., the highest violent crime rate in colonies (and England, even London). “The sobering conclusion must be that where liberty prospered, so too did crime." So, how do you square that with the alleged ameliorative effects of Christianity?

Tom Van Dyke said...

“The sobering conclusion must be that where liberty prospered, so too did crime." So, how do you square that with the alleged ameliorative effects of Christianity?

Secular revisionists are fond of pointing out that not everyone in America was particularly religious. True. Many came for material reasons. I'd say you'd find the crime among and between them, not the family and church-building type.

Obviously Penn and the Quakers were Christians, but one cannot reduce this paradigm shift to some unitary “Christianity.” Penn’s PA (like Williams’ RI) was a rather unique dissenting or radical exception to the old cuius regio, eius relgio Western European Christendom “pattern” applied to both Catholic & Protestant countries and kingdoms (with some exceptions), and still alive and well in Congregational New England and the Anglican South.

Aye: it's indisputable that the Quakers in particular were for religious freedom [as were Baptists] out of necessity because they were at the bottom of the Protestant totem pole. This is why Puritans and "dissenters" were particularly motivated to start their own colonies. I don't deny that the fractiousness of the Reformation made religious tolerance a practical necessity and not just an abstract matter.

But the crux of their praise was that PA rejected the increasingly discredited “divine right of kings”

Which of course was discredited by Jesuits Francisco Suarez and Cardinal Robert Bellarmine.

Again returning to my contention that religio-political progress up until the French Revolution can be accounted for within Christianity without crediting it to the Enlightenment--whatever that is, you yourself admit.

The French Revolution is all yours, as it attempted to achieve without Christianity what I maintain was only possible with it.