Revolutionary Faithfulness


by R.W. Tucker

This article was first published in Quaker Religious Thought, Vol. IX, No. 2, Winter 1967-68, pp 3-29.

An adapted version of the article appeared in the collection New Theology #6, edited by Martin E. Marty (series editor Dean Peerman), published by Macmillan in 1969.

The Quaker Theological Discussion Group, publishers of Quaker Religious Thought, have made their journal available on this searchable site. (Rob Tucker's article is available for download at this page.) I'm grateful for their continued permission to provide access to a text version of Tucker's important article on my site as well. They bear no responsibility for my comments in the remainder of this introduction.

At least two important features of this article reflect its datedness and should be acknowledged openly: First, the Cold War--at least in terms of the "Communist bloc" vs the "Free World"--has ended, and with it the Soviet-era efforts to recruit international allies (both state and non-state) on the basis of Marxist mythology. However, the end of the Cold War has not weakened Tucker's arguments about the relevance of Marxism for analyzing Friends and our ability to understand our sociology and our revolutionary potential.

Second, Tucker's English usage predates today's strong concern for inclusive language. I did not edit his text at all (except to remove typos that may actually have originated in the scanning process), but I want to acknowledge the awkwardness of this incongruity in an essay that in other ways is so prophetic and even timeless. A concern for inclusiveness is not just another case of middle-class cultishness; it's part of the radical hospitality that marks (or should mark) a truly revolutionary faith.

Johan



Revolution has become the world's most important social fact. In the advanced nations, revolutionary change is imposed upon us by technology, and we are profoundly unsettled. In the backward nations, the Marxists have taught millions to think of revolution as their only hope for material gain within their lifetimes. In Vietnam as in our city slums, dissent hardens into resistance, apocalypse is in the air. This is the environment in which official Quaker thinkers are so busily asking themselves if our faith can be made "relevant." What they really ask is whether Quakerism can be relevant to revolution.

We Quakers were born during an earlier revolution, and we were born relevant to it. That is, we were part of it.

Every great religious awakening works by revolutionizing men's hearts. But Quakerism, along with its Puritan antecedents, belonged to a more select category. Theology and exterior events were such as to turn inward energies outward and apply them to the social fabric.

The first Friends were changed men who were ardently concerned to change their world in fundamental ways. The social and doctrinal causes they thought up were extraordinarily advanced; many of them are still far from victory. Because we are loyal to one and another inherited cause, we rank today as first-rate reformers. The founders of our faith were not reformers. They were revolutionists in the sense in which that term is commonly used today. Like today's political revolutionists, they possessed revolutionary vision, revolutionary program, revolutionary discipline, and revolutionary organization.

Yet, unlike today's political revolutionists, they were not primarily political people. Their fervor was not for social change, but for faithfulness. What was revolutionary about them was their understanding of the obligations of faithfulness.

That is, it is clear what early Quaker social radicalism was [p4]not. It was not an admixture of Christian belief and radical ideology. This makes it sharply different from most current forms of Christian social radicalism.

Earlier in this century, the socialist movement in America produced revolutionists who tried to rethink their native Protestantism in the light of their Marxism. On one level this produced a rather engaging cult of "Comrade Jesus." On another level it produced the social gospel movement, which has attracted many modem Friends. Social gospel theology occupied itself in adapting Christian tradition to humanist social goals; it is being revived today within many Christian groups as they, too, look for relevance. They are right in seeing that Christians must come to terms with contemporary revolutionary ideologies. But Friends can approach this task with an enormous initial advantage, because we can start from an authentic revolutionary dynamic of our own.

This assumes, of course, that we thoroughly understand what our own tradition is. Happily, original Quaker viewpoints are again available to us through the work of Lewis Benson and other reconstructionist Quaker scholars. These men have proclaimed that early Quakerism was "prophetic, catholic, and revolutionary." They have spelled out in detail just how it was prophetic and catholic. Now let us ask just how it was revolutionary, and whether it can be revolutionary again in any way derived from the original.

It is not easy to focus upon the revolutionary aspects of early Quakerism. Because George Fox was relatively successful in his ecclesiastical and theological aims, and unsuccessful in his social aims, we naturally tend to see his program in the former terms. Lewis Benson is kept so busy defending his theological position that he has never had time to give adequate attention to his social position. History more largely is clouded for us, too: Friends represented, historically, a new quickening of revolutionary life, within the Puritan revolution, and "Puritanism" to most of us is merely a bad word describing attitudes which were, at most, a minor element in authentic Puritanism.

Let us begin, then, by reminding ourselves that the Puritans were the bolsheviks of their time. They fought and won [p 5] a long and bloody civil war. They cut off the head of a king, after holding what C. V. Wedgewood calls "history's first great show trial." They established a viable regime. They instituted new social and political and economic patterns. They worked hard to export their revolution and subvert neighboring governments. The religious historians produce long studies that barely mention these facts; likewise the political historians pay little attention to Puritan theology. But to the Puritans, politics and religion were one.

They had, like all revolutionists, an opposition on the left--people who felt they had not gone far enough in either social or ecclesiastical change; people who dissented from their subordination of means to ends. The Society of Friends arose among these opponents.

The first revolutionizing element in Puritanism was its understanding of the Christian's function in history. In those pre-Wesleyan times, Christians laid less stress on the notion that "Christ came to save sinners"; they did emphasize that Christ came "because God so loved the world." That meant what it said--the world as a social entity; institutions as well as individuals. Like medieval Catholics, and unlike modern American Protestants, they assumed that government should reflect religion and serve its purposes.

The great theological discovery of Puritanism, "the marrow of Puritan divinity" (as Perry Miller has labelled it), was covenant theology. God is concerned to save the world. He elects to do this by gathering a people to Himself through which to do His work of salvation. The Old Testament records his covenant with the Jews, in which He promised to be their God and they agreed to be His people, According to His grand design for human history, the old covenant with the Jews paved the way for, and was a model for, the new covenant through Christ, which superseded it. The Puritans thought of themselves as the exclusive people of God, expressly gathered for the purpose of doing His work in history.

The Puritans came out of the first generation of Englishmen to be biblically literate. They discovered covenant theology by reading Scripture in the light of Calvin's Institutes; it was, they insisted, plainly the theology of the writers of the [p 6] New Testament, the one viewpoint that makes the entire Bible into an understandable whole. They discovered in the Bible a total blueprint for organizing church and state. They also discovered, or thought they discovered, a directive to themselves to go forth and rearrange church and state in accordance with that blueprint.

For early Friends, the revolutionary break with Puritanism came in their rejection of Calvinism. But it did not involve a rejection of covenant theology, certainly not of its political applications. If they rarely wrote about it, this is because they didn't have to; it was in the air they breathed; anyway, they were too busy writing about the things they did reject. One way of explaining Quakerism is to say that in the context of Puritan covenantism, the first Friends were teaching a radically new and deeper understanding of the nature of the new covenant. Christ had come to lead His people Himself. The new covenant was a living "dialogic" relationship.

The people of God were to be gathered into communities of discipleship; the model for any Christian community was the twelve original disciples. Like the original disciples, the community of discipleship engaged itself continually in hearing and obeying its divine leader; Christ sat at the head of Meeting. Leadership in the new covenant was prophetic, as it had been in the old covenant.

Exactly how did this set of beliefs produce revolutionary social purpose? It is instructive to make a list of specific revolutionary ingredients in original Quakerism:

  1. Early Friends knew that what they were doing really mattered in world history. God does not gather a people to Himself just to have a people; history is God-in-history. To early Friends, they were the whole point of history. A belief in the importance of one's role in history is a key part of any revolutionist's make-up; it is a major ingredient in Marxism.

  2. They possessed a revolutionary vision. For any revolutionary movement, the revolutionary vision is its explicit and detailed understanding of how the world could and should work. It continually produces criticisms of the existing social order. People who take up these criticisms for their own sake, however militantly they do it, are merely reformers; the revolutionist sees immediate social reform as a step toward a new order. We must take care not to see the first Friends as reformers. They started with the general Puritan vision of a new world, and drastically improved upon it; they envisioned a Christian world radically different from the actual world; this was the source of their social creativity. Early American socialism was socially creative for a similar reason; it compares closely with early Quakerism, as a minority movement whose revolutionary vision evolved into other people's reforms.

  3. Early Friends were not class-bound. They were not comfortable in their environment; they felt alienated from their society; they were outsiders. Revolutions are always made by people who at least inwardly are outsiders. After Friends became prosperous and comfortable, through some left-over revolutionary impulse, for generations we artificially maintained our sense of outsideness by practices of deliberate peculiarity. Have we abandoned plainness for the positive reasons we like to cite, or because we no longer have a sense of ourselves as creatively different?

  4. Early Friends understood that revolutionists need the support of revolutionary communities. When today we read the accounts of men like James Naylor or Marmaduke Stevenson, we are struck first by their total faithfulness, second by their readiness to abandon family duties in the cause of faithfulness. These were people over 30 who yet could be trusted, because they had behind them Meetings which, in endorsing their concerns, automatically took over their private responsibilities for them.

    We still produce our Stevensons, but nowadays they are highly unusual and cause controversy among us. In the beginning it was their Meetings that made them what they were. The original Friends Meeting was a community of revolutionary faithfulness, revolutionary in a collective sense even more than in its individuals. The intense corporateness of early Quakerism is its most alien characteristic to us today, yet the one perhaps most needed by Friends, because it offers so much to a world afflicted by the dissipation of community.

  5. Early Friends had a revolutionary discipline, summarized in the word "faithfulness." They had a divine Leader; [p 8] the whole work of their lives was to be faithful to Him; members helped one another in the task of learning and doing the things faithfulness required; corporate faithfulness made private faithfulness easier. Discipline, that is, was understood dynamically in terms of loyalty to a leader, rather than statically in terms of obeying rules. The indiscipline so rampant among modem Friends, painful though it often is, in part represents an effort to smash outdated norms and clear the way to get back to the original sense of discipline.

  6. Finally, early Friends built a revolutionary apparatus through which to do the work of overturning the old and instituting the new. Of this, more later. But it is worth noting that Quaker organization even to this day succeeds, surprisingly often, in producing and following prophetic leadership; the community is wiser and holier than the sum of its parts. Revisionist versions of Quakerism have inherited a revolutionary organizational structure that tends to push them toward stances more radical than most members want.

A sense of historical role; revolutionary vision; estrangement from the status quo; revolutionary corporateness; revolutionary apparatus and discipline--these are the ingredients that make any revolutionary movement work, whether Gandhi's in India or Castro's in Cuba. Revolutionary ideologies--violent or nonviolent, religious or secular--produce much the same sociology. This list shows that early Quakerism had a great deal in common with every other revolutionary movement. We should not fail to see it that way.

For all that, there is a fundamental difference between religiously motivated revolution, and revolution in terms of a secular ideology. This, too, we must not fail to see. The difference is eschatological. In the final analysis, Christians understand that the Kingdom comes as a gift from God, not at the end of a human struggle.

This insight has been misapplied by many Christian groups in a way that removes them from social struggle. Not so with Friends; our doctrine has always been, "the Kingdom of God is within." We are to practice "realized eschatology"--living now as though the Kingdom were already realized, because for us it is. [p 9]

Among early Friends that meant a provocative innocency which was the lifestyle not only of individuals, but of Christian communities, Meetings. This was the immediate cause of their tension with the world around them. It also defines the methodological differences between early Friends and other revolutionists: They didn't just envision an ideal social order; so far as the world let them, they lived it. This was their mode of social confrontation. Marxists, like all politicians, are eternally calculating the effects of their actions. Early Friends were deeply interested in effects, but they sought first the Kingdom.

As we examine contemporary revolutionary ideologies, we must hold clearly in mind both the many points they have in common with early Quakerism, and this key point of difference.


THE LESSONS OF MARXISM

With contrite hearts we must acknowledge that Marxist successes are a measure of Christian failure. If the churches of Europe had been less committed, a century ago, to property and the status quo, they might have responded to the urgent need for distributive justice, and Marxism might never have arisen.

On this particular point Friends threw away their chance for relevance. "The trimmings of the vain world would clothe the naked one," said William Penn; and for generations, long before Thorstein Veblen, Friends wore plain dress first of all as a testimony against conspicuous consumption. We saw early that social and economic inequities are the wellspring of vanity. This is to our credit. But we applied this insight only in terms of private witness, when what was also needed was political organizing.

For Friends, of course, insights so advanced did not flow from rigorous development of ideological presuppositions, but from lives lived obediently, in the Power that brings the world under judgment. The fact remains that our insights were badly heeded by the world, and after our first generation we treated them as private property. We retained our revolutionary vision, but we lost heart for the actual work of revolution.

There are many other Marxist insights that parallel Quaker thinking and condemn Quaker behavior. As a conspicuous current example, it is the Marxist intellectuals who worry them- [p 10] selves sick about mass culture and what it's doing to people. This corresponds to the traditional Friendly concern about worldliness. Revolutionary Quakerism should be busy updating its tradition on worldliness to a meaningful testimony on mass culture. Instead we are quietly abandoning our ancient witness to an inner-directed cultural life. We become indistinguishable from the world's people not only in our dress and speech, which hardly matters--but also in our television-watching and in our politics, which matters a lot.

This parallelism of social insight suggests a fascinating vision of what might have been. Rufus Jones and his successors "modernized" the Quaker social vision by making it coterminous with ideological pacifism, which was then in very primitive form. A generation or so earlier, they might just as readily, and just as legitimately, have turned instead to early Marxism. Had they done so, it would be the job of this essay to debunk Marxism, and to urge the lessons of pacifism, instead of vice versa.

Coming to terms with Marxism means coming to terms with humanism, since Marxism is humanism in revolutionary guise. "Man is the measure of all things" is a phrase the Marxists have borrowed from Protagoras. They interpret it to mean that the purpose of revolution is to put man in control of his own fate. It is impossible to overstate how basic this concept is to Marxist thinking.

An example may help. Marxism's labor theory of value starts as a moral assertion: The very economy can and should be organized around the belief that human ingenuity and human labor are the most valuable things there are; the value of every commodity is to be reckoned in terms of the human effort that went into its designing, its manufacture, its marketing. Thus man is to be the measure of all things in the most literal sense.

Christians must say "Yes, and no" to this sort of humanist concern. Man is not the measure of all things. Sanctified man is the measure of all things. That is, Christ is the measure. And it is Christ whom we seek to put in control of our fate.

[p 11]

But Christ said, "So far as ye have done it unto the least of these, ye have done it unto me." The second great commandment, to love one another, is, He said, "like unto" the first, to love God. Loving God entails loving people; inwardly it is the same process. So the Christian fully shares the humanist's concern for the condition of man. Indeed, his concern is more radical and his vision brighter, because it is Christ who defines his hope for all men.

In practice, Christianity has responded to humanism either with blind hostility, or, among Christian "liberals," by swallowing it whole. Social gospel Christianity, for instance, agrees with humanism in treating the human social struggle as an end in itself. Revolutionary Quakerism must respond instead with extensive agreement coupled with friendly criticism from the left. Our attitude must be, "You're right as far as you go, but you don't go far enough."

The real problem facing us all is not to oppose the humanist vision, in which man is the measure of all things, with the vision of a nobler world in which Christ is the measure of all things--but the prior difficulty of undoing a world in which things are the measure of man. Focussing on this, we are set free to put the so-called humanist challenge to Christianity in proper perspective, as a quarrel over theory among people who are allies in practice. It is an important quarrel, but in many ways it need not be a divisive one.

Few revolutionary movements have been as self-analytical as Marxism. What it has learned about itself may be applied broadly to Christianity viewed as a revolutionary movement. Historically, Marxists have perverted their own principles in three different ways, which they label "utopianism," "reformism," and "bolshevism." The utopian goes apart from the world to build his own revolutionary community. The reformist lowers his sights in the interest of immediate minor reform in his own lifetime, and lapses into liberalism. The bolshevik accepts any means to achieve his revolutionary end, so of course ends up with something quite different from the ideal social order originally envisioned. All three suffer from the same disease--impatience.

[p 12]

All three patterns may readily be found in Christian history. In fact, most Christians, like most Marxists, have ended up on one or another of these three sidetracks.

The problem is that people cannot readily reconcile themselves to a role of eternal struggle for goals eternally unreached. Yet this is precisely what is required. Even for the Marxist, a mature understanding must teach that perfection recedes infinitely--if you create the society you thought you wanted, by then you will see a need for still further change. For Christians the theoretical social goal is nothing less than universal sainthood and a social order that reflects, serves, and nurtures it. This goal is so lofty that it may never exist except in the Christian imagination as a standard by which to measure reality. It imposes upon Christianity a doctrine of permanent revolution.

The Christian, then, must reconcile himself to a revolutionary role that may bear no visible fruit at all in his lifetime. He must understand the need for constant revision of proximate goals. Somehow he must also maintain his revolutionary fervor. It is an extremely difficult balance to maintain.

Yet here is where the Christian revolutionist has an enormous advantage over the Marxist. He has already learned to live with receding perfection in his inward life; it is our common experience that the nearer we get to holiness, the more acute our awareness of how far we yet must go. And on the social plane, Christians are concerned for revolution as an aspect of their concern for inward spiritual revolution. Their inward satisfaction comes from being faithful, only secondarily from success in the outward goals that faithfulness directs them to labor for. The Marxist has only his outward successes to sustain him; frustration in worldly goals is far more painful to him than to the Christian. No doubt revolutionary movements are inherently unstable, but the Christian revolution is markedly less so than the Marxist.

Most people do not think of history as something they need to have an attitude toward. Marxists do. They see history as process. Changes are taking place; they can be analyzed. The method of the revolutionist is to work in terms of historic trends, and bend them to his purpose.

[p 13]

Thus early Marxists saw labor unions as an instrument of the new class of industrial workers that history was bringing into being. The function of unions was to express the aspirations of the dispossessed. Therefore Marxists were active from the start in organizing unions and in bending them to explicit revolutionary purpose. Today the civil rights movement is seen as another potential vehicle for revolution, for the same reason. The Marxist, in short, studies history to find the motors that may get revolution moving.

Marxism is commonly misunderstood as seeking to collectivize mankind. It does not. Rather, Marxist analysis of economic history leads to the conclusion that collectivization is taking place willy-nilly, as a byproduct of an integrating economy. The Marxists then tackle the question of how to rationalize the process into community and brotherhood. Again, Marxism does not think of itself as favoring the bureaucratization of mankind. Rather, it concludes that huge bureaucracies are necessary for modern government and modern corporations and, indeed, for modern living standards. Then it tackles the question of how to return to people some measure of control over the decisions that affect our lives. Pacifists, Friends, and other well-intentioned people resist the assumption that collectivism and bureaucracy are inevitable, since both of these are rather unpleasant things; and therefore we are not equipped to influence their evolution, which is a principal reason why they are unpleasant things. The moral here is that relevance begins with the capacity to see reality as it is, even when we don't like it.

Reconstructionist Quaker thinkers stress the need for Friends to see history as drama, the eternal drama of God's way with man. God works constantly in history; He raises up prophets; He gathers a people to Himself.

What is hard to understand is the belief of some of these Friends that this view of history and the Marxist view are incompatible. Cannot the divine drama take place within a human history that is in process? The Marxist view of history is not necessarily a dogma; it is an analytical tool, a guide to action; anyone can use it. Granted, prophetic witness is motivated by inward urgency, not by analysis of social process. [p 14] Granted, the Lord may use His prophets to produce changes that the Marxists can prove are not yet possible. Yet at the same time, an awareness of social process may help the witnessing Christian apply his witness more effectively. It may help him see the need for witness in the first place. We are not so rich in our understanding of the world we would be relevant to, as to be able to throw away any tool that may increase our understanding.

Finally, Friends need to understand something of the Marxist view of class. A few years back, a Quaker committee rejected a manuscript on the dilemmas of middle-class pacifism, on grounds that 'class' is an un-Friendly concept. One is obliged to reply (echoing Galileo):-- Nevertheless, class exists. It's even mentioned in the Seventh (Philadelphia) Query. High-minded religious people cannot wish it out of existence. The very desire to do so is itself a class phenomenon, as any Marxist can easily explain. People who are dispossessed do not need to be taught about class; only the comfortable and self-satisfied can ignore it.

Marxists define class economically; it is a function of one's relationship to the means of production. They have discovered that people who own a part of the economy, or have economic reason for identifying with the owning class, are inclined to see the world in a different way from those who are alienated from ownership. They see the world as manipulable, themselves as capable of individual influence. Non-owners see their world as hostile and themselves as impotent, except when they can be educated and led (by Marxists) to act collectively as a class.

Moreover, to justify their position, the upper classes are obliged to think of the lower classes as less than fully human. They end by making themselves unable to identify with the viewpoint of the dispossessed.

Christians, of course, have always understood hard-heartedness. They have always striven to open their hearts to the condition of all other men. This is the basic radicalizing element in Christianity.

But opening one's heart to the condition of others is not easy. Here is where the Marxist insights about class are helpful. [p 15] They show us how our attitudes are hard-hearted, rooted in selfinterest, where we may not be aware of it. Middle-class people grow up class-blind, but class-blindness is one of the few traits people can surmount by thinking about it. Marxism itself proves this; its leadership has come mainly from the upper classes.

Surmounting class-blindness is Quakerism's most urgent need today. Especially in Britain and the eastern United States, the Society of Friends is almost exclusively a middle-class organization, with disastrous effects upon its inner life and social potential.

Anarchic individualism, the characteristic that most separates us from our forefathers, is a class trait by Marxist analysis. The first Friends developed a tightly disciplined collective radicalism, but as we became more prosperous, we developed bourgeois beliefs in individual significance, until finally discipline collapsed and we started going off in all directions at once in both theological and social witness.

Working-class people just don't feel comfortable in most Friends Meetings, because of the kind of people we are. We export service to the slums, but, virtually alone among Christian bodies in America today, we offer no ministry there at all. Our Meetings there are declining Meetings, peopled by nonresidents. Other Christian bodies have found new congregations when their neighborhoods ran down, deepening their vision and broadening their horizons along the way. We, to our shame, instead have developed subterranean elitist theories about ourselves.

Thus there is a widespread view that Quakerism is a "special" faith for "spiritual aristocrats," and not for the ordinary run of people. Yet original Quakerism was emphatically a movement of farmers, workingmen, and artisans. We honor the memory of martyrs who were employed as menial servants, whom we would not know how to welcome in our Meetings today.

Thus there is a general opinion that Quaker worship is too sophisticated for children, who should instead go to Firstday schools. Yet children went to Meeting for 250 years; this was how they grew up to know about their faith. In one early [p 16] Meeting, when all the adults were jailed, the children maintained public worship. In the unlikely event that any modern Meeting should be that faithful, could it possibly rely upon its children to keep things going? Children tend to be what we expect them to be--and we expect them to be something that makes us feel our worship is superior, something that excuses us from the need to widen our class basis.


THE CULT OF NONVIOLENCE

The class character of Quakerism explains the peculiar nature of our pacifism these days. Our revolutionary inheritance, our truer instinct, leads us to seek out a revolutionary viewpoint. Yet we are estranged from our own revolutionary origin, even as we are influenced by it. Rampant individualism has reduced our sense of corporateness, leaving us free to look outside our own inheritance. So we discover a secular ideological system, pacifism, and make it one of our norms. Pacifism can be radical and sometimes revolutionary--but to a large extent we are capable of using it only in its non-revolutionary and middle-class variant. That is, we use it cultishly.

Cultishness is the first and most conspicuous face of Quaker pacifism today. A prospective new Friend is likely to meet Quaker pacifism first in the shape of the dear old lady who rises in Meeting for Worship to speak to the children about why they ought to be pacifists. She tells homely little stories about pacifists who won through to victory in some worldly dilemma. Such cult pacifism is pretty easy to debunk. It is false doctrine in obvious ways. It discounts the Cross, and the whole bloody history of martyrdom. Pacifist behavior may lead to great suffering and total worldly failure. Even when it does work as a tactic, religious people are not pacifists for that reason. Sophisticated pacifists are, of course, often the first to point this out. Still, there is a sense in which any ideology can be seen most clearly in caricature. Our old lady is interesting because her cultism is so evident.

The word 'cult," when used pejoratively as it is here, is meant to suggest such grouplets as the Rosicrucians in religion, or the Trotskyists in politics--cliques of initiates, adhering to [p 17] an esoteric doctrine which they are forever narrowing and defining, which they think gives them a special POWER. Just as the Rosicrucians claim they have special mental powers, so many pacifists believe they have special spiritual powers; pacifism makes them permanently one-up. Like the Trotskyists they think they are a vanguard, the experts to whom the world must someday turn.

There is a germ of truth behind these attitudes. The methodology of nonviolence often works by one-upping those who think more conventionally. And in a world in which violence has become impossibly dangerous, nonviolence may yet become the last resort of aggressors, as Nehru foreshadowed when he nonviolently invaded Goa. What makes a cultist is not the truth underlying his position, but his vulgarizing of truth.

The so-called Philosophy of Nonviolence is first of all a vulgarization of Christian truth. It begins by assuming that love can replace violence as a practical social force. This is a Christian notion, with which Friends have had long experience. But Quaker commitment to this principle has always been a matter of faith--faith held onto sometimes desperately, in the face of overwhelming evidence that the world does not work that way.

A Christian, as Friends have understood the word, is someone who elects now to live as though the world were Christian. He will remain a committed person though the heavens fall, because his inward condition demands it of him. He ardently hopes to end war--a political change--but he would continue a pacifist though certain his efforts would never bear any fruit at all. The purely secular pacifist, if such a creature exist, starts by being concerned with consequences. He is a pacifist because he wants to end war. His motivation is pragmatic, teleological, and political.

What happens when an act of faith is turned into a political creed? Secular pacifist ideology, so far as it is secular, cannot demand that its adherents remain faithful regardless of whether it works. So the ideologues of pacifism are obliged to figure out a methodology which they can say will probably work, or at least work better in the long run than any other method of social change. Where violence seems to work-- [p 18] when race riots get anti-poverty funds for urban Negro ghettoes--pacifists have to assert that their way would have worked better. Possibly they are right. But along the way, they have to make certain assumptions about human nature and human motivation--and presto! a new theology.

When Friends begin to be pacifists not out of direct faithfulness to the Lord, but out of faithfulness to an ideological system, one effect is scrupulosity, the sin of the Pharisees. Scrupulosity consists in making up a code, an "ism," and living by it instead of living in the Life. Corporately, the effect is to take our most difficult social testimony, divorce it from our other beliefs, and make it a detailed system complete in itself, with its own burden of doctrinal assumptions. We give varying degrees of allegiance to it, while still thinking we give whole-hearted allegiance to our several kinds of Quakerism.

What are some of the narrower pacifist notions which are now so often taught as part of Quaker belief? Let us start with these two: Nonviolent principles apply equally in personal and international relationships. Cultists of nonviolence do not simply oppose war and other forms of socially organized violence. They also eschew violence on a personal level. They teach that we ought not to spank our children, or permit schoolboy fights, or give a neighbor a piece of our mind, or ever admit to ourselves that we may not like someone. They assume that valid conscientious objection to war presupposes these attitudes.

And: There is no significant moral difference between the violence of policy and the violence of passion. There is the case of the man who cold-bloodedly, as an act of will, commits himself to a course of violence, for instance by going to war. Then there is the case of someone who loses his temper for a moment, in spite of his general desire to avoid violence and to treat lovingly with the world. By any standard of reason the first (moral error) is incomparably worse than the second (moral lapse). But in practice it is the second that shocks and upsets the cultists, because it happens in front of them and because it violates middle-class behavior norms. In almost any Friends Meeting, the mild-mannered nonpacifist is likely to be [p 19] weightier than the impatient, short-tempered Friend who tries and tries to be a pacifist.

Most people believe that "It's human nature to succumb to violence now and then." Pacifists could reply, "So what? We're talking about ending war. That's a social problem, not a problem of personal ethics." Instead, they urge that human nature should not be violent. This does profound disservice to their cause. Pacifism's failure as a popular movement in America, more than anything else, is because most people just do not believe that men are good enough to be pacifists.

Granted, a Christian hopes to respond lovingly to all who come his way. He has discovered that this has something to do with his ability to worship, with his capacity to love God. He knows that hatred stultifies inward growth, so he is determined not to let it take root in him. Granted, if we never got angry, if all men were tender at all times toward others, many evils would vanish. But, assuming everybody is not that good, we can still oppose social evils.

Quakerism is an "optimistic" faith, in that Friends have always insisted that man can be good. This was the great cry of early Friends against the Calvinists. But this is not to say that men are good. Early Friends knew, with Fox, that there is an ocean of darkness as well as an ocean of light. To come out of the darkness into the light is a work of total regeneration. It can occur in anyone, but few will it.

To the degree that we become regenerate, we see that we cannot take part in war, and that the ending of war is a political change we favor. But if we tie this political demand to the insistence that all who accept it become regenerate, we subvert the political aspect of our own cause. If on the other hand our real interest is in regeneration, why not foster it in terms of all the truth we know about the inward life, and let pacifism take care of itself? "Seek first the Kingdom."

And whether teaching politics or regeneration, let us beware of embodying our teaching within a specific view of human nature. The pacifist cultist's view of human nature is probably not true, but in any event, it excludes those who cannot accept it. By committing ourselves to it, we depart [p 20] from the catholicity that ought to characterize any Christian body, and condemn ourselves to sectarianism.

A related cultist dogma is this: Communication is a warm puppy. Pacifists are hung up on communication, to the point of often resisting verbal confrontation. All problems can be solved, they tend to insist, if only people will communicate; and we can establish communication unilaterally if we are just pacifist enough. Offensive people with obnoxious doctrines will be our friends if only we will "understand" them. Behind this attitude is an assumption produced by class-blindness: Anglo-American middle-class nice-guyism is a universal principle of behavior.

George Fox was not a "nice guy." He could never have been hired as a Y.M.C.A. secretary. He said to a critic, "Thou art a dog," because that was what the man needed to have said to him. Gandhi, in the same spirit, said, "You are a fool," not to a heckler, but to an admirer. There was nothing genteel in "speaking to the condition" of others, and not much that was polite. Frequently the purpose of communicating was to disturb. As for "understanding" the people they were disturbing, "that of God" in early Friends really did respond to "that of God" in others, and so they understood all too well.

In the real world, some people are offensive and some doctrines are obnoxious, and the more one understands them, the more evident this becomes. Seeing such people as sick rather than evil, or as evil because they are sick, or because they had an unfortunate childhood environment, may help us not to hate them. It may also help us see how to shake them up. It is not much use in countering their influence, except as a debater's ploy. Some pacifists are like the girl in the New Yorker cartoon, tied to a railroad track by a mustachioed villain and saying to him earnestly, "You're sick, Murgatroyd, and I feel sorry for you," while the train approaches around a bend.

In the real world, some people who are not offensive, and whose doctrines are not obnoxious, may have good reasons for reacting to pacifists in hostile ways. The cultists who are so dismayed by verbal confrontation also seem able to conceal [p 21] from themselves how extremely provocative of violence their tactics sometimes are. A few years ago, some pacifists organized a sit-down in front of trucks at a missile construction site. After a while, an exasperated truck driver drove over one of them and all but killed him. A cry of protest went up from pacifists in all corners of the land, which was politically the thing to do--but the burden of their cry was "unfair!" How shocked they were! Yet surely the one thing they could not legitimately say was "unfair." Their sit-down was right and good--but they did ask for what they got.

Pacifist Friends are inclined to understand nonviolence as a gimmick for making the world respond to us in a genteel way. Our shock, when the world does not respond that way, is a measure of how sheltered our lives are.

American pacifists are not numbered among that segment of the population which has learned to expect to be pushed around. Yet we have the arrogance to go to American Negroes, for instance, and instruct them in nonviolence. How we grieve when they decide, after bitter experience, that it no longer fits their needs.

American pacifists were shocked by teen-age gang violence in New York City. With the rest of the middle classes, we applauded when the gangs were broken up. It was then, and consequently, that teen-age drug addiction in the slums reached epidemic proportions. In an environment that was sick from past violence done to those who dwell in it, the gangs had provided an instrument for social cohesion that was desperately needed. In such an environment, perhaps no response is worse than a violent response.

At any rate, we don't know, because it is not our environment. Have we the right to assume that violence can never be chosen as a course of action by a person of conscience and intelligence? To weigh our personal commitment to refuse to accept a lesser evil, against someone's belief that involvement and participation is for him a more important value? Our tolerance is curiously one-sided--we easily tolerate nonpacifism among other Friends, who are our own kind and whose back-[p 22]sliding is in the direction of standard middle-class patriotism, while we condemn nonpacifism in the desperate poor.

If we are going to ask the world to accept pacifism as more than an occasional tactic, then we had better find a form of pacifism that is not tied to middle-class values. When we assume that humans are good, that evil is unreal, that with love we can get our adversaries to be nice, we cannot expect to be taken seriously by those whose whole life has taught them that men are always self-serving and often cruel, and that the haves will do anything to keep down the have-nots. A class-limited pacifism is incapable, by definition, of relevance in a time of revolution.

There are, of course, pacifists who understand all these things. Some of them have combined their pacifism with Marxist or anarchist insights. Some have made heroic efforts to get inside the life of the poor; the Catholic Worker movement, for example. The ideology of pacifism does offer useful insights from which Quakerism has benefitted; individuals among us have adopted it in its revolutionary variant in ways that usefully force all of us to confront ourselves. But even if a secular ideology does hold the key to revolutionary relevance for the Society of Friends, it will not be this ideology, so long as its comfortable variant is so ready to hand.


THE LAMB'S WAR

According to the cultists of nonviolence, the secret of revolutionary relevance for the first Friends was pacifism. They teach, for instance, that the Quaker struggle for tolerance in Stuart England is a glowing early example of nonviolent tactics.

Like so many pacifist notions, this just isn't so. It assigns to early Friends an understanding of what they were doing that would not be invented for another 250 years. It puts them in a light that makes them seem attractive to twentieth-century middle-class American liberals. In fact, the first Friends were not engaged in a struggle for tolerance. They were engaged in what they called the "Lamb's War." When they filled the jails in London for openly violating the Conventicle Act, what they hoped for was the Quakerization of England. The live-and-[p 23]let-live compromise of toleration was an accident, their acceptance of it a retreat.

According to Marxists, the Puritan revolution (including Quakerism) was a struggle between late feudalism and early capitalism. It succeeded because it was in tune, as its opponents were not, with the needs of its time. This may well be true as far as it goes, and it is suggestive to us in our present situation. But, equally with the pacifist view, it doesn't begin to touch the internal dynamic of early Quakerism.

The power to which the Bible and George Fox bear witness is not the power of a technique for getting people to do what we want them to do, nor is it the power of historical necessity. What they bear witness to is the power of the Cross. In very practical ways, the Cross is the most revolutionary fact in history. Relevance to it is relevance to revolution; this is the great lesson our forebears can teach us.

The lesson is almost inaccessible to us because we have let the Bible-thumpers spoil evangelical language for us. They use it individualistically, by teaching that the church is a byproduct of personal faith. When early Friends spoke of Christ's saving grace and the need to respond to it, they meant not only that individuals should be reborn, but that Christian community should be reborn to perform a revolutionary function in history, through day-to-day immediate corporate faithfulness to its divine Leader. We cannot readily grasp this even when we try, some of us because we have adopted Protestant piety, others because we are rebelling against it. Our problem is complicated by the fact that early Quaker thinking about community was aborted. It was not until our second generation, when ideas had already started changing, that Friends were free to come to Pennsylvania and build a social order from scratch. Even at this late date, and in spite of harassments, there were episodes that can be instructive. In the Welsh tract, for a time the Meeting organizational structure also performed judicial and governmental functions. The early Quaker vision of an ideal social order is, measurably, encysted within our organizational inheritance.

Today, with urbanization, mass culture, collectivization, bureaucratization, men become strangers to one another. The [p 24] whole world longs for community. This is one of the great problems Marxism proposes to answer. Friends could make a contribution. A Meeting in the full spirit of authentic Quakerism would fully satisfy its members' need for community. It would also satisfy their need for an ideology that copes with change, and for an instrument to mold it.

Only, many of our Meetings are too large to be communities, if only for the mechanical reason that members are strangers to one another. Instead of subdividing, they turn into institutions and grow on that basis. Their unity is shallow, organizational rather than organic, founded at best on "love" in its more amorphous sense, at worst on burial-ground housekeeping. Even in smaller Meetings, where community is mechanically possible and often seems to exist, it is not overtly grounded in discipleship.

The Meeting structure was designed to be a flexible instrument in the hands of Christian revolutionists, and a new generation of revolutionary Friends can be expected to use it in exciting new ways. Can't a Meeting function as a housing co-op? Or a workers' co-op? A repertory theatre, perhaps? Job and neighborhood are the two areas where community is most natural, where its dissipation is most acutely felt. There is a gap here that could be filled by Meetings that are also semivoluntary communities performing an economic role. A few of our school Meetings already approximate this function. Then there are Meetings that function as communities of concern. Jan de Hartog, in The Hospital, tells how the Houston Meeting for a while was organized totally around its corporate concern for a hospital, even holding its Meetings for Worship there. He also tells how this revived the Meeting and informed it with a new level of spirituality.

The number of possible concerns to serve as a focus for a Meeting js limitless. I can even envision a Meeting that is also a political club. Like a local in a radical political party, it would dispatch its members into neighborhood organizations, hold public meetings, arrange educational seminars, hire organizers, plan agitational activity. Bizarre? The original Meetings did all these things and more.

[p 25]

How do we get from here to there? The Marxist method is to look for tendencies toward the desired goal, and, finding them, to exacerbate them and inform them with revolutionary purpose. Are there trends within Quakerism today that potentially will free us to recover our revolutionary heritage?

Fortunately, there are. The Society of Friends is going through a period when many of its non-basic beliefs are being shaken to their roots.

One cherished Quaker belief has been that we can bring holiness into our lives in the business world. Our prosperity and respectability as a people have been founded upon our discovery that it's good business to be a Christian businessman. Yet each year sees fewer and fewer young Friends seeking careers in the business world. There seems to be an unarticulated but growing conviction that in more and more areas of business life, it's no longer possible to be both a good Christian and a good businessman.

We have taught that the retailer must sell in a spirit of concern for his customer. But in a time of mass merchandising, the good salesman is the man who can move customers "up the line" from the advertised price leader to the higher-priced, more profitable merchandise. In many fields the retailer who scruples at victimizing the poor may shortly go out of business. We have maintained that the Christian businessman is "prompt in the payment of debts." But today in America the sharp businessman pays his debts as late as he can, so he can have the use of the money. Businessmen who refuse to play this game suffer competitively for their refusal. We have proclaimed the virtues of thrift and frugality, but most businessmen find it is bad business to practice either, and worse business if one's customers practice these ancient Protestant virtues. The small businessman, in short, must more and more weigh principle against competitive advantage. And of course, more and more of our commerce and manufacture is in the hands not of small businessmen, but of giant corporations; the Friend who works for them finds his ethical decisions have been made for him.

It is time we started generalizing from this situation. In the United States today, “affluence” depends on the manipulation of consent, the consent of human beings to pink telephones [p 26] and electric manicures and other things commercially profitable, rather than to what is socially needed. We have created a new category of poor, people impoverished by lack of sales resistance; this is the proper significance of Cadillacs in Harlem. All these things the Marxists have been saying for some time. Can't the Quaker businessman say them with equal fervor?

It is leftists who have insisted that men are not things to be used by the hucksters, and have tried to organize consumer resistance. It is Marxists who have understood that advertising, as it is now generally practiced, is of itself an evil. And what have the Christians done? They have used huckster methods themselves, with ads about putting Christ back in Christmas, about how the family that prays together stays together. Friends, to our credit, instinctively avoid sloganistic religion (though partly for snob reasons). We believe "that of God" in one man can speak to "that of God" in another --can we adapt this principle to modern tasks of commercial and political persuasion? Have we really tried? We have a strong consumer testimony on funerals, but we have not expanded it into an understanding that one function of the Christian community is to act generally as an organizing center for consumer rebellion.

Here are major areas of life in which Friends have strong traditional positions, which events are asking us to reexamine. By doing so we may take a large step toward revolutionary relevance.

Another cherished Quaker belief is that the dissenter is the best citizen of all. This notion, too, is quietly fading. Quaker bodies recently have not felt it necessary to proclaim their patriotism in the process of declaring their dissent. We are not as sanctimonious these days in our conscientious objection as we used to be. Many of us have reached the point of advocating draft-dodging. That is, we maintain our ancient witness against war, but we also acknowledge that opposition to the Vietnam war in any form is preferable to non-opposition, and deserves our encouragement.

A number of Yearly Meetings are sending money through Canada illegally to help both sides in the Vietnam war. This is in our full tradition; we have always tried to act as neutrals and reconcilers. What is not at all traditional is the readiness [p 27] of many Friends to admit that their attitudes are treasonable. We are so alienated from our government that increasingly we feel "treason" is an honorable word. We seem to have concluded that we can no longer realistically hope to influence government by love and by Friendly persuasion. So in all types of dissent, many Friends turn more and more to civil disobedience. The theory here is that if social dislocation through protest can make the power structure uncomfortable enough, the power structure may make changes in order to regain its comfort. This is an outrightly revolutionary theory.

In short, events are more and more forcing us to think of ourselves as outsiders. Our social posture becomes steadily more radical. We lose members who are not ready to go along with this, but find a new constituency among concerned radical young people who feel a need for faith and religious fellowship. This change in membership makes it easier for us to assume a yet more radical posture, and so forth around again. The favorable response to the "Back Benchers" is symptomatic. These young Friends issued their pamphlet in some trepidation. They carefully avoided all basic questions; they say nothing of theology or politics. They still ask very unsettling questions: Is it really appropriate for Friends to be in the business of running college prep schools for the upper classes? Isn't property-holding an albatross around the neck of most Meetings? Why not discipline? Their pamphlet uncovered an underground of discontent which few had imagined existed.

There is a real possibility that we will in fact become once more revolutionary, not of our own accord but because we are forced to. This raises a question: When most of our members are conscious revolutionists, will they be revolutionists in their capacity as Friends? Or will they be revolutionists in terms of secular ideologies, who just happen to be Friends? Will we find an organic corporate relevance to revolution, or will we just be swept along? The attitudes that gave our forebears corporate relevance are avaIlable to us today if we want to use them. We can try to direct our own future, or we can let it happen to us. It is [p 28] certain to happen anyway. Those of us who believe revolutionary faithfulness can make a contribution to it had better get busy contributing.

Our annals abound with tales of blind obedience and its surprising consequences, and we still have a few ministering Friends who will sit down in midsentence if they feel the Spirit leave them. We still have a few Meetings that are communities of concem, rather than umbrellas over private concerns. We still have a few nominating committees that may say to a reluctant Friend, "We've considered this prayerfully, and we believe it is the Lord's will that thee should accept this appointment." But for most of us this sort of unity is unthinkable. So the faithfulness for which we strive is faithfulness to an alien cult. This is not what we were first called apart to be faithful to.

Some of us have decided we are "Protestants"--whatever that means. Some of us have decided we are "mystics"--whatever that means. Some of us put a troika at the head of Meeting: Jesus and Gandhi and Buddha. Some of us are reduced to sensationalism. Thus, we are fond of a saccharine painting, "The Presence in the Midst," in which an effeminate and Aryan Christ in a nightgown appears in Meeting. Significantly, His portrayed function is not to lead Friends, but to bless them and make them feel good.

Once we offered the world a revolutionary vision. Now we offer it a tactic for solving one of its problems, a tactic that often doesn't work. Once we thought of ourselves as a people of God. Now, in Lewis Benson's phrase, "the rich suburban Friends Meeting has become merely a form of do-it-yourself Protestantism." Once we yearned to serve the Lord. Now we conform ourselves to a Philosophy of Nonviolence. Once our purpose was to be the sort of people who love other people. Now we aim to apply creative nonviolence to conflict situations.

The first Friends stormed the Kingdom as though it were the Bastille. New Christian behavioral patterns, new social and political and economic insights were spun off as a byproduct. A new Quaker movement in the same spirit would of course be pacifist, but pacifism would not be the highest principle to which everything else had to be subordinated, any [p 29] more than it was to our forebears. The central principle was and should be faithfulness, private and corporate, and its corollary, an openness to the unexpected.

The central social principle would be the principle of revolution: that is, a radical apprehension of how minimally Christian the present social order is, and how urgently it needs to be revised. Such an apprehension is fully available to us now, through many routes. We can learn that revolution is the most important social reality in the world today, and ponder the need for Quaker relevance. We can acknowledge that the original Quaker revolution has never been finished. We can perceive the glaring contrast between the world around us and the the world a Christian vision makes imaginable.

All this will come readily to us as we learn that true discipleship means following Christ all the way to the Cross. It means inwardly shouldering all ills and all oppressions, as He did; getting under the weight of them, learning their agony--and acting accordingly. This is the only way of sensitizing ourselves to joy. Christ's Cross is Christ's path, and ours, to Christ's crown.

Under the revolutionary burden of the Cross, we may once again declare the Lamb's War, and set forth to wage it with all we are.

 


Back to Can You Believe?