«By CAROLE ANNE HAMBY A thesis submitted to the University of Birmingham for the degree of DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY Department of Theology and Religion ...»
Dewsbury writes ‘Therefore, dear Friends, wait in the Light, that the Word of the Lord may dwell plentifully in you’. [29.19] The passages quoted from this chapter of QFP demonstrate that twenty first century guidance for Quakers remains a) largely Christian yet b) open to a range of perspectives, with the recognition that liberal developments have affected attitudes. This edition of QFP contains texts that remain relevant for most Friends of the twenty-first century but are, arguably, felt to be less prescriptive than they were in their own period. Although 111 Note other reference to the ‘Cosmic Christ’, Parker-Rhodes, Swarthmore lecture, p. 34. The significance of confronting the need for an expanded understanding of God becomes increasingly important as the horizons of scientific knowledge grow. In view of the dominant scientific paradigm on the multiverse, it is no longer relevant to think in terms that constrain the view of God’s creation and are narrowly confining and excessively limiting. Note BBC Television Horizon 2/9/15, relating to different models of the multiverse.
5.5 ‘That of God within’ in terms of the ‘Inward’ versus the ‘Inner’ Light113 In the early days of Liberal Quakerism, understandings of Inwardness were expressed both in terms of the ‘Inward Light’ and the ‘Inner Light’. However, it seems unlikely that any distinction of interpretation was intended. As information from the sciences of the material world including, for example, physics and from the newly developing sciences of the psyche including, for example, psychology developed, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, changes in descriptive language began to be accepted. In terms of psychology references to ‘self’ and ‘consciousness’ resulted from new interpretation of ‘interior knowing.’ Increasingly a self-oriented interpretation of consciously experienced Inwardness has given rise to the possibility of a different understanding.
As Friends became, in fact rather than in aspiration, open to multiple influences the terms ‘Inner light’ and ‘Inward Light’ often changed places in popular usage. However,
‘Inward’ implies that the Light comes from beyond, as if through a keyhole. It is a dualistic concept and sets the Light up as separate from humanity. ‘Inner’ situates the Light inside the individual and can be used to accommodate more monistic interpretations of how God works with humanity. ‘That of God in every one’ changed its meaning from the ability of everyone to turn to the inward Light of Christ to a sense that a piece of the Divine resides in everybody (Dandelion, 1996, 268). The ‘inner Light’ is mainly a twentieth-century invention along with much of normative Liberal Quakerism and has been wrongly imputed to earlier generations by countless scholars.114 112 See discussion concerning the revision of the Book of Discipline in Friends Quarterly, p. 41, Issue 3, (2014).
113 For interesting discussion relating to Quaker emphasis on the inner light as relevant to a feminist theology see Jantzen, G. (Carrette, J. And Joy, M. eds.) A Place of Springs, pp. 6-9.
114 Dandelion, Introduction, 132. Note, however, that earlier reference is found in Jackson, J. A dissertation historical and critical on the Christian ministry (Philadelphia: Ellwood Chapman, 1855), p. 16.
Jackson, a Hicksite (Quaker) minister of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, in the mid-1850s, makes reference to the principle of the Inner Light. ‘We assert unequivocally, without concealment and without compromise adherence to the doctrine of the inner light. … We are not satisfied merely with the admission that God has immediately communicated light and knowledge to a few individuals in days that are past. We claim that 182 Dandelion thus distinguishes between the earlier Christian Quaker acceptance of original sin and the later acceptance of an apparently divine indwelling or ‘original blessing’. 115 Early in the twentieth century, Edward Grubb (1854-1939) identified ways in which reference was made to the s/Spirit as ‘the l/Light within’.116 He claimed that ‘[it] is always a thought of God present in the Spirit of the risen Jesus’.117 He maintained that, ‘The doctrine of the Spirit, as it is expressed by Paul and John, is a thought of God, present in the Spirit of the risen Jesus, and manifesting Himself in the renewed personalities of men.’ More specifically, Grubb maintained that knowledge of God is made possible by entering into the consciousness of God. 118 It is worthy of note that Grubb does not speak of ‘becoming aware of’ the consciousness of God but rather of ‘entering into’ the consciousness of God.119 There is, in Grubb, much that relates to new understandings of consciousness, and of philosophy that demonstrates interest in developments in psychology. He wrote of ‘the very long step from “universal consciousness” to the Christian idea of God’ but acknowledged a relationship between ‘a universal and eternal Consciousness, of which the Divine Grace is universal and that the Creator of the world of universal beings imparts light and knowledge to every soul, made answerable for its conduct in a state of probation, in a degree sufficient for its salvation’.
It is unclear whether Jackson is referring to himself as ‘we’ the reference could be to ‘Christian ministers’ mentioned in his previous paragraph. But, as a Quaker minister he may be speaking as a Quaker. See also
Bancroft, G A History of the United States (Vol. 2) concerning Inner light and the rule of conduct (London:
Kennett, 1837). pp344 -351.
115 Dandelion, Introduction, p. 197. Ever increasing scientific discovery enables deeper and finer understanding of physical reality and continues to provide areas of new thinking about the relationship between science and theology. New ways of conceiving the depths of reality i.e. in its innermost nature also contribute to modern interpretations and requires new ways of thinking about the ‘inner’ and the ‘inward’.
See also Clayton, P. and Peacocke, A., (eds) In whom we Live and Move and Have our Being (Cambridge, U.K.: Eerdmans, 2004).
116 Grubb, E, Authority p. 124.
119 Issues of activity/passivity, effort/ grace are pertinent here, to the questions of what we do and what we facilitate i.e. in ‘creating the Conditions’ to experience God. See also end of chapter 6.
183 consciousness of each of us is (so to say) but a fragment’.120 Grubb was persuaded that the developing knowledge of his period (early twentieth century) was useful to altered understanding and description of spiritual experience. The new thinking and changed apprehensions of the realities of the created universe enabled Grubb to say, 'God is that Eternal and Universal Consciousness which is necessary for the existence of the world’.121 In turn, he intimates that this Light is necessary for knowing that God ‘is immanent in, and not external to, our experience’.122 Grubb continued to use the term ‘inward’ rather than ‘inner’ yet at the same time he wrote of both the transcendent God and of the work of God immanently in creation. That which is immanent is not as a ‘light’ shining in from without but rather as a light existing within life itself and all living beings; it is the light which reveals knowledge and experience to human beings and is, thus, the means to revelation. Grubb claims that ‘the knowledge of God must come to us [all people in general and Quakers in particular] by revelation, or by an Inward Light’ i.e. by illuminated experience within the person. Grubb implies that the balance between individual effort as active and personal experience as passively received (or given) is a delicate one.
For Grubb the ‘within-ness’ of the source of illumination termed universal consciousness [g] is consistent with Quaker emphasis to ‘turn within to the Light’ throughout the history of Friends’ faith and practice. Yet differences do arise in relation to understandings of the ‘transcendence’, the ‘immanence’ of the Light and the manner in which there is, or can be, porosity between the two and then union in Oneness – when human beings are described as ‘entering into’ the consciousness of God.123 The notion of 120 Grubb, E. The Religion of Experience (London: Headley Brothers, undated but probably 1918), p. 40.
121 Grubb, ibid, p. 40.
122 Grubb, ibid, p. 40.
123 See Kelly, Appendix below, on the transcendental experience of Inwardness. Thomas Kelly’s account of his experience results in a contribution to Quaker theology that is, arguably, without parallel in its completeness of description of spiritual development. It is analysed as a case study that discloses new thinking within the developing liberalism of Quakerism. Discussion is not intended to present Kelly as representative of all Quakers of the period but rather to indicate that the range of experiential knowledge, opened to new thinking in the period, allowed for the development of new insights and thus interpretation.
184 becoming acquainted directly with God by ‘entering into’, and being entered by, the very consciousness of the deity is discussed further below.124 It is this participation with God, in the Light, that results in acceptance that the Inward teacher is the operational guide to the spiritual knowing that develops in and through spiritual practice.
A significant parallel exists between the Quaker understanding of the Inward Teacher and Mark McIntosh’s explanation of how ‘God makes theologians’.125 According to McIntosh, writing about the ‘the impact the subject matter [God]’ has on the student, this is ‘studying by a special kind of apprenticeship, with your subject as your true teacher’ and it is this that results in the ‘transformation’ of the student. In writing of ‘study’ McIntosh draws on the reading of primary biblical texts, but he is also cognisant of the nature of spiritual practice as ‘a mysterious sharing in God’s way of life, God’s talk (theologia), God’s knowing and loving of Godself’..126 In principle, the transformation of the student or worshipper concerns the same process as that of Quakers; a new identity is discovered as the individual, who seeks after God, is increasingly drawn into God’s presence. McIntosh claims that: ‘For many Christians across the centuries, this has meant that theology is really a form of prayer or communion with God, in which, ultimately, the thinking of the theologian about God comes to life as God’s presence within the life of the theologian’.127 The transforming process experienced in communication with the Inward Teacher, as expressed by Friends, and discussed by McIntosh in terms of the full discipleship of the theologian, is not a matter of belief. Indeed, it is neither dependent on belief nor creed.
However, McIntosh suggests that Faith can offer ‘a provisional sharing’ insofar as it allows insights into the manner of God’s thinking. For Friends this is analogous to entrée 124 The notion of ‘deity’ may not be apt for all Quakers as the liberal position advances, also, even if accepted, a Christian interpretation is not the only one current among Friends in the later stages of the twentieth century.
125 McIntosh, M. Divine Teaching. Part 1, chapter 1.
126 McIntosh, M. ibid, p. 7.
127 McIntosh, M. ibid, p. 13: See also, Jantzen, G. Power, Gender and Christian Mysticism, (Cambridge, U.K.: University Press1995) on the aim of studying Scripture as ‘conversion’. ‘This is a means to an end, and that end is transformation into the love of God’, pp. 81.
5.6 The growth of non-theism A challenge to the specifically religious identity of the Religious Society of Friends has emerged in the rise of non-theism among attenders. Also, and more surprisingly, the acceptance into membership of self-proclaimed non-theists has created disturbance among Quakers in general. However, the latter fact has also given confidence to attenders, who have not previously declared themselves to be non-theist, but have expressed uncertainty about theist interpretations of what it is they explore in their inwardly turned spiritual practice.
In the present there is no clarity that what non-theist Quakers reject is in fact understood in the same manner as that which theist Quakers accept. Ambiguity in use of terms can lead to uncertainty as to meaning. The Nontheist Friends Network (NFN)
website statement of aims indicates the following:
The Nontheist Friends Network UK (NFN UK) is an informal group within the Quaker movement aiming to (i) provide a supportive framework for Friends with an agnostic, humanist, atheist or related world-view, and those who experience religion as a wholly human creation;
(ii) join with all Friends who are interested in exploring varieties of nontheism as a recognised strand within modern diverse liberal Quakerism; and (iii) strengthen and celebrate theological and spiritual diversity by promoting dialogue at all levels within the Religious Society of Friends.128 The statement is not helpful, regarding a non-theist view of ‘God’, in any way that is definitive. When theist Quakers claim that they are Christian, existing understandings are, to a large extent, shareable since the Christian teachings offer guidance. However, when
There are, thus, two main positions regarding the current debate. The first, is relatively clear cut, and is expressed by David Boulton and the membership of the Nontheist Friends Network. In this view, the notion of God as a construct, relating to a supernatural being, is virtually nonsensical. It has given rise to what is termed a form of radical religious humanism. It is questionable, however, why the term ‘religious’ is necessary to this definition, since the key element is humanism.130 The second, is rather more ‘frayed edged’. In this view, the Christian notion of God is clearly unacceptable especially when it is linked with outdated understandings, expressed colloquially as a humanly envisaged ‘old man in the sky.’ However, the notion that may replace this, as more cosmically, and less personally described, seems too