Sunday, November 1, 2009

Guest post: Tom Stoffregen

Tom's a fellow Friend at Twin Cities Friends Meeting, and he emailed me separately about something I said in meeting that pretty closely corresponds to a post I made here last month. He said it was OK for me to post that email here, so here it is:


from your blog:
In any case, we don't have kings except in church, if we go to the sort of church that still emphasizes "Lordship." Liberal Friends don't, and I'm beginning to wonder if we aren't missing something big here. Like the central point of most of the variants (Islamic, Jewish, Christian, Mormon, etc) of the Abrahamic tradition.

My question is, how to bring in this sense of submission—which historically could be described as an analogue to the liege-t0-king relationship—into a truly egalitarian world-view.
This is (as best I can recall) what got my attention in Meeting for Worship. As political animals, we now reject the authority hierarchies that kingship exemplifies. But as religious animals we continue to embrace (or aim to embrace) these same authority hierarchies.

Friends rely on the "light within", which might suggest Quakerism is compatible with an egalitarian model. Yet most Friends theologians (i.e., the few I've read) emphasize that the light within shines from a source that is not the self, the ego. So, is Friends' theology egalitarian, or is it ain't?

My main concern, however, is with some implications of your spoken comments for how we view our relationship with any/everything that is alleged to be "other". If God is outside us, then we are in an authority hierarchy in which God is above and we are below; the classical Abrahamic view of the situation.

I'm increasingly dissatisfied with this view, and I no longer regard it as the only view. I'm not an animist, but I am increasingly interested in some ideas from animism, to wit, the idea that there is not a simple, in-vs-out dichotomy between "self" and "other", whether it be "self vs. God", "self vs. other people", or "self vs physical world".

There are other types of hierarchies, ones in which a given "unit" can operate (simultaneously) at multiple levels in the hierarchy. Example: I act as an individual, call it level 1. But I also act as part of a marital unit (level 2), which does (can do) things that can never be done at level 1 (e.g., reproduce). Level 2 consists of interactions among people; the interactions are things-in-themselves that differ qualitatively from the individuals that engage in the interactions. I also act at levels 3, 4, etc., where I act as part of larger and larger social units. Baseball is a nice example; the team does things that individual team members cannot do (e.g., turn a double play, or simply play a regular game). The actions of higher level units are irreducible.

My point is that we exist and operate (simultaneously) at multiple levels of a really big hierarchy; this is a fact of life. Most religious traditions simply ignore this fact. Animism is, more or less, an exeption, in that it refers to causal interactions (rather than isolated causation).

Quakers offer a really good example of this idea as it pertains to religion. Friends believe that Jesus shows up "whenever two or more are gathered together in His name". In other words, Jesus keys into Level 2 (or higher), and disdains Level 1.

I see the up-down hierarchy of Abrahamic religion as being deeply related to western concepts of reductionism (e.g., pre-Christian Greeks); the idea that the Whole is equal to the sum of the Parts. This idea, as a description of the world and our living in it, is wrong. If we toss the reductionist tradition and look into non-reductionist views of how the world works, we may get a very different view of religion.

Its not so much "god is king, or else I am king". Rather, it may be "I participate in God without myself being God". This view seems to be pretty compatible with Quakerism.




Anonymous said...

Хочу высказать своё мнение: статья интересная, надеюсь комментаторы присоединятся ко мне

natcase said...

Which, translated, means, "I want to express your opinion: an interesting article, I hope commentators join me."