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Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The Inward Light - Samuel D. Caldwell

This was on the reading list for tonight, and I had some pretty strong reactions to parts of it.

He tries in this essay to tie together the Universalist and the Christian elements of Quakerism, claiming that they are both deeply embedded in the tradition of the Friends.

Here's what he lists as the important chacteristics of the light (same as one from class)

• divine or supernatural - not like your reason or conscience
• personal
• saving
• eternal
• resistable
• persistent
• pure
• ineffable
• universal

So what really ticked me off, was his insistence that the light being personal meant that it had to be a BEING, a god. No, a God. THE God. Okay, quote:
The Light is personal. It is no mindless, purposeless, undifferentiated force or power. It is the mind and will of God -- the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Sarah -- who indwells our souls. To claim, as we do, that we are led or taught by the Light is to accept by inference that the power by which we are led or taught is capable of actively leading or teaching us. This requires a personal or theistic conception of the Spirit, which Friends have traditionally held.
This blocks all agnostics and nontheists from the Religious Society of Friends!

I also have a problem with thinking that if we can be led by the Light, it must be the God of Abraham and Isaac. We can be led by any number of amorphous ineffeble things. Why does it necessarily follow that we must be taught by a theistic God?

He's very harsh on people he calls "pseudo-universalists" accusing them of "way-hopping" and never delving too deeply into any tradition. I agree that it is difficult to make much spiritual progress with a great deel of bredth and no depth. But he goes to far in stating that if you are not following a single religious tradition you are withoutu any benchmarks for what is right and good.

Because it is a view of religion and not a religion itself, and becasue it accepts no particular religious tradition as normative, pseudo-universalism has within it no principle whereby it can discriminate between what is true and what is false in any particular religious view. To what standard, for instance, would pseudo-universalism appeal reagarding a membership application from an avowed practitioner of the religion of satanism?
Clearly this is not someone who values secular humanism or understands that there are some normative values. In fact, though the terminology differs, the sentiments are much the same. Quakers see the Light in every human being. Humanists see the humanity in everyone. Both acknowledge that there is something essentially good at the core of people that they can choose to foster or to ignore.

That said, his description of a view of religion and not a religion itself is the primary reason that I left the Unitarian Universalist faith.



8 Comments:

Blogger Martin Kelley said...

Hi Kiara, I just stumbled across your blog. It's neat. As a traditionalist-leaning liberal Friend I'm on the other side of the Light/God question than you are, but I really appreciate you talking about the class and your reactions. It sounds like the Quakerism 101 is doing a good job if it's fostering this kind of commentary! I look forward to reading how the rest of the class goes!

7:32 AM  
Blogger Kiara said...

Martin Kelly,

If you are the Quaker Ranter from Pennsylvania, I happened across your blog by accident shortly before you posted this comment, which I find quite appropriate.

5:56 PM  
Blogger Martin Kelley said...

I am indeed that Quaker Ranter, sorry not to have ID'ed myself, I guess that's not included in the Blogger log-in. I love talking about Quakerism and I'm fascinated how people find it, approach it and acculturate and not acculturate to it. I liked the distinction you made in today's post between religious refugees & immigrants. Did you find your way to Kwakersaur's post this week on Differing Universalisms?, it's certainly on topic!

8:24 AM  
Blogger Kiara said...

I really liked what you said about the self-censorship that is so common among Quakers nowadays. People in my meeting brought up the fact that worship is so SAME. There isn't the variety of expression. We have the same safe code words.


I think inoffensive words do a grave disservice to real understanding and can cheapen our messages. The burden should be on the listener to translate and understand that we speak from the heart.

9:56 PM  
Blogger Liz Opp said...

Hi Kiara and Martin. I have a couple of questions, as always.

Martin, you have been part of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, from which Caldwell hails. I've looked on the 'net, seeking how long Caldwell has been around, not knowing he's a contemporary Friend. ...Do you have any personal experience with him?

Kiara, what can you say about your own experience with the Light? Have you experienced it, however it is that you would define it? ...I'm not asking these questions as a challenge. I'm asking because I want to understand more of your journey, and not necessarily your reactions to a Quaker who lives a thousand miles away and has pushed your buttons.

I'm also struck by your belief that "we can be led by any number of amorphous ineffable things." Can you say more about that? I don't know if you are talking about being led by our greed, for example, or if you are talking about being led by, say, our whimsy.

Anyway, what I pick up throughout your writing is that you are wrestling with some very important concepts among Friends. Welcome to the club!

Blessings,
Liz, The Good Raised Up

7:45 AM  
Blogger Kiara said...

Liz: It's been a while since I wrote this and I had to go back and think about what I meant.

When I spoke of being led by ineffable things, I wasn't speaking of greed or whimsy. I meant that being led does not require God as an entity to do the leading.

I mean that in order to access the Light Within I have not found that a being is speaking to me.

I feel that I have experienced communally some of that Light Within at Quaker Worship as well as at key moments in my life.

It is what draws me to sit in silence each week-- as a discipline that might lead to greater ability to access that Light.

But I usually don't think of it as Light or as The Divine. I don't know what I think of it as. A Connectedness. A Rightness. What Is.

9:17 PM  
Blogger Liz Opp said...

Kiara, you write:

It is what draws me to sit in silence each week-- as a discipline that might lead to greater ability to access that Light.

But I usually don't think of it as Light or as The Divine. I don't know what I think of it as. A Connectedness. A Rightness. What Is.


Cool. Sounds like you're a seeker to me, alright. smile

(I hope my questions weren't off-putting. That's the challenge of the internet: I'm not able to convey my vocal intonation through what I type...)

Blessings,
Liz, The Good Raised Up

12:11 PM  
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9:02 AM  

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