Rather than add my profoundly off-topic response to Cat’s comment on a post called “scriptures and universalism” on a web site labeled “Primitive Christianity Revived, Again: A Convergent Friends Community,” I decided to post my response here.
Cat and all,
I very much appreciate your plain speech. It is good to get a sense of where our true disagreements might lie, though it takes time and effort and hard listening to get there. I am beginning to get a sense.
One thing that occurs to me is, what you have written reflects vigorous intellectual engagement, which I personally find delightful. I don’t think it can or should be everything we do, or something everyone will want to do, but I think the common fear of vigorous intellectual engagement among many Friends is deeply troubling, and much more apparent than any tendency to over-intellectualize. I couldn’t count the number of times I’ve heard a Friend bring unruly discussion to a halt because we’re “getting too much in our heads here.”
Intellectual vigor of the sort I care about is not dry in the least, but fully engaged with the juicy realities of being human in the world. It is up to its elbows in blood, sweat, flesh, bone, gristle, fire, ice. It is ideas, yes, but not ideas detached from reality and floating in the ether.
I don’t mean that everyone should engage in or care about this kind of intellectual wrestling, and I certainly don’t mean that our worship should become intellectual debate or performance–yuck. But the widespread fear of and distaste for intellect, as if the search for understanding could possibly be a bad thing, does not serve us well.
Regarding our disagreement, which I think is real: I see a meaningful distinction between biological life and non-living matter, and I don’t see the value of assuming some shared essence that is “in” these things. All these things exist and are in relationship–that is all I can be certain of. There is much movement within and throughout the 99.999999999999% of the universe that that is not alive, and life somehow emerged, at least once and probably many times, out of non-life. The mystery of this is breathtaking.
But our spirituality emerges from our sentience, from the mystery of our inner world, in relation with the mystery of the outer world. I recognize not only that there is something larger than my mind/our minds, but that almost everything is. If there’s one thing that my atheism is clear on, it is our smallness. Our lives are deeply, profoundly, intrinsically important to us, but I see no reason to believe they are more than a piddling exception to the rule in the vastness of reality. And the only place I see joy, compassion, love, peace beyond measure–is in the yearnings and mostly insufficient efforts of the living. Well, maybe peace is an exception. The dead have found peace beyond measure.
Of course, what I’ve just said is very much out of the mainstream of Quakerism. Some might think my words and beliefs augur the death of Quakerism. Somehow I doubt it. I’m just a person who sees things from a different angle. Like you. Like all of us. May we continue to learn by listening. I know I do.