«By CAROLE ANNE HAMBY A thesis submitted to the University of Birmingham for the degree of DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY Department of Theology and Religion ...»
for some Quakers to grasp. Terms such as ‘Eternal Being’, despite its usage by George Fox, fail to create an adequate vision of the deity that Friends’ faith and practice seeks to find ‘within’, as ‘that of God’ who is the inner guide and teacher.
Since the age of questioning, which embraces the modern era, invites Quakers, and others, to engage in general suspicion and doubt of most religious dogma and doctrine, an atmosphere of uncertainty, rather than faith, prevails among many non F-Q Friends. Yet,
according to Boulton, even so:
... the language of faith–its symbols, metaphors and mythologies–is written on our bodies, wired into our souls, embedded in our poetry, painting and music. That’s the trouble with God. We are not at all sure that we believe in him any more, or that we know what believing in him means, but he haunts us … 131
130 Boulton, D. The Trouble with God, p. 208, ‘radical spiritual humanism’ might be a more suitable term. See also Boulton, ‘Theism and Nontheism: tension created and tension overcome?’ in Quaker Voices, Vol.5 No.4 (2014) pp.2-6.
131 Boulton, The Trouble with God. p. xiii.
The Dalai Lama,132 Alain de Botton,133 and Diarmuid O’ Murchu each raise searching questions that unsettle what has been accepted in general terms as a long standing status quo. O’ Murchu frames his challenge in terms of the rise of spirituality over religion. He suggests that the current journey is ‘about an experience: of a world awakening to its own inner meaning and mystery…’134 He maintains that this is a
spiritual search but not necessarily a religious one and claims that:
The mystics seem to have been the most successful, the ones who realized that their pilgrimage was not to a holy place without, but to a sacred place within. And that interior search is personal, interpersonal, planetary and cosmic all at once. Mystics are quite adept at discerning the underlying unity that maintains and nurtures the tremendous diversity we experience in everyday life.135
In the present, the interior journeys of humankind are both objective and subjective:
objectively the search penetrates the deepest places of outwardly known reality and subjectively it fathoms the most intimate places of inwardly known reality. Each of these journeys to the interior reveals understanding that is awesome, yet increasingly comprehensible and, perhaps surprisingly, congruent. As the horizons of new knowledge expand, correlations between the inward-inside and the inward-outside are found to be 132 The Dalai Lama, Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World (London: Rider, 2012).
133 De Botton, A. Religion for Atheists, (London: Penguin Group for Hamish Hamilton, 2012).
134 O’ Murchu, D. Quantum Theology, p. 6; O’ Murchu is not an academic theologian comparable to, for example, John Polkinghorne. Rather O’ Murchu’s concern is to examine a relational framework within which to consider what he terms ‘quantum theology’. He uses this approach to build insights that reveal new and increasingly extensive ways of discussing theological issues. By contrast, Polkinghorne, (Polkinghorne, J., Quantum Physics and Theology: An Unexpected Kinship, (London: SPCK, 2007) undertakes an intensive examination of the methodological approaches of physics and theology and claims that there is a ‘cousinly relationship’ not previously appreciated. In one of his examples, he highlights the paradoxical relationship between ‘wave’ and ‘particle’ understandings in physics, and draws a parallel with the paradoxical relationship between, the second person of the Christian Trinity, seen as ‘Jesus’ and ‘Christ’.
The contributions of Polkinghorne and O’ Murchu to current theological debates provide opportunities to step outside the ‘excessive strictures’ (Williams, R. On Christian Theology, p. xiv) of theological language, in such a way as to allow questioning not previously undertaken.
135 O’ Murchu, ibid, p. 7 188 contiguous with each other and coherent. Finkelstein writes, quoting Maharishi Mahesh
Yogi’s Commentary on the Bhagavad-Gita:
Maharishi (1990136) explains: The faculty of experience becomes extinct when the mind loses its individuality. The state of Being knows no knowing; it is a state that transcends all knowing or experiencing...It should be noted that the Lord uses the word “upaiti”, which means “comes to”; the word experience is not used. However, even if the word “experiences” were used, it could be regarded as valid. The mind does have the ability to experience when it is on the verge of transcending, at the junction point of relativity and the Absolute. Experience of Reality by the mind is always at the junction-point: while it is about to transcend at the end of the inward stroke of meditation, and while coming out of transcendence at the start of the outward stroke of meditation.
[thus]... the above commentary from Maharishi, clarifies that an individual can experience God but only at the junction point between the unmanifest transcendent and the finest relative level of existence. It is the finest or subtlest relative level of life that is at the junction point between relativity and the absolute because it is that level that is the first manifestation from the unmanifest.137 It is here that “... supreme happiness comes to the yogi whose mind is deep in
Fox was unlikely to have referred to ‘supreme happiness’ but his concern for a fulfilled state of individual and corporate spiritual life may well equate with this expression as deriving from a different theological perspective. The foregoing statement is an explanation of how the inward-inside and the inward-outside are found to be contiguous with each other in such a way that consistency between the two can be fathomed, yet may be described in different terms. The scientific explanation may seem to offer understanding of a quite different reality from that described by the theologian, yet 136 Finkelstein, E ‘Universal Principles of life expressed in Maharishi Vedic Science and in the Scriptures and writings of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, (unpublished Ph.D. thesis: Submitted to the Graduate School of Maharishi University of Management, 2005). Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi on the Bhagavad-Gita: A Translation and Commentary, Chapters 1-6 (London: Penguin, 1969, original publication 1967), pp. 437-438.
137 My emphasis, ‘yogi’ may here be seen to apply to worshippers who are dedicated and consistent in their spiritual practice and familiar with transcendental (silent) consciousness.
Vernon Katz, in turn, quoting from conversations with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, explains that: ‘the Vedanta view [is] that the world is just a superimposition upon the reality of Brahman and that, in truth, all this is Brahman’. The implication here is that there is but one reality–relative creation, the outwardly known world, is amenable to experience ‘out of’ or within The Absolute, the Unmanifest, inwardly known world that is more than the created order.139 Maharishi Mahesh Yogi140 refers to the linked study as the Science of Creative Intelligence, O’ Murchu refers to an apparently related area of study in terms of Quantum Theology.141 The Vedic and the Christian perspectives offer alternative but compatible descriptions of existence. These indicate the growing recognition that there are ways of understanding Eternal Being, the ground of Existence, which may enable theists and nontheists to find some agreement.
Quakers are in a unique position to facilitate dialogue of this kind as a result of the creedless nature of their religion. Open minded, creative explorations of understanding, 138 See O’ Murchu, D Quantum Theology and Polkinghorne, J. An Unexpected Kinship each consider the relationship between theology and Science. O’ Murchu uses the relational approach to build insights that reveal new and extensive ways of discussing theological concerns. Polkinghorne, however, engages in an intensive investigation of the different means of truth-seeking undertaken by science and theology. He concludes that there are many similarities, and methodological comparisons. He writes: ‘Our discussion of the truth-seeking strategies employed in science and theology has revealed significant underlying similarities between these two superficially different forms of rational enquiry’. p. 105.
Furthermore, Polkinghorne suggests, referring to Galileo and Newton, that the ‘two books, the Book of Scripture and the Book of Nature’ having the same Author, may provide two ways of knowing the same reality. See also Melvin Keiser ‘Answering That of God: Authority and Tradition in doing Quaker Theology’ pp 18-46 in QTS Proceedings 1996/7.
139 Katz, V., Conversations with Maharishi (Fairfield, Iowa: MUM Press, 2011), 140 Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was the founder of Maharishi University of Management in Iowa, USA and initiator of twenty first century Vedic Studies, with its related practice of Transcendental Meditation.
He encouraged millions of people around the world to engage in the interior journey of contemplative practice. His work continues both in academic studies of consciousness and in courses that teach the practice of Transcendental Meditation. I am indebted to the late Maharishi Mahesh Yogi for the ideas developed in Table 6, chapter 6, with amendments as necessary for discussion in terms of the potential for spiritual development through Quaker worship and spiritual growth in Quaker living.
141 See O’ Murchu, D. Quantum Theology.
190 based firmly in experiential practice, should enable Friends to meet the present challenge as well as, and better than, most other religious groups. The rigid understanding of theism, as O’ Murchu indicates, is open to re-thinking that may accommodate a valid review of seemingly conflicting positions, and provide a notion of ‘God for the modern
world’.142 ‘O’ Murchu maintains:
In today’s world, we often confuse religion and spirituality, giving the impression that one can be spiritual only by adopting and practicing a formal, official faith system. Around our world, however, are millions of people who do not belong to any specific church or religion, but still grapple with spiritual questions and strive to live out of a spiritual value system. This fact, combined with the diminishing influence and impact of formal religions–especially in the Western world–would seem to indicate that the religions are in decline, while the revitalization and rediscovery of spirituality engages the human heart and imagination in a range of new and exciting ways.143 It is the suggestion of this thesis that the ‘challenge’ that non-theism has seemed to present to Friends will become less of a concern and more a matter of exciting and fruitful comprehension and redefinition of terms in the near future. As Jung has intimated, ‘Sooner or later, nuclear physics and the psychology of the unconscious will draw closer together, as both of them independently of one another and from opposite directions, push forward into transcendental territory’. 144 It is the transposition of insights from different sources and the creative re-interpretation of existing understanding that may have the potential to push forward these boundaries of knowledge.
This chapter has indicated how Quakerism has developed in the twentieth and twentyfirst centuries, advancing altered concerns and emphases in line with the modern era.
Understandings of Inwardness have gained new interpretations and been subjected to academic considerations that reveal searching questions and tentative answers. These exist alongside the continuing power of mystical, experiential expressions, which fathom
The two sections, above, on discursive records v mystical description, demonstrate differences of priority, each characteristic of Quakerism in the modern period. The first, largely intellectual, provides examples, urged by J W Rowntree at the Manchester Conference of 1895 and developed, most notably within academic research into Quaker issues and concerns. The second, largely experiential and, in some cases, devotional, gives examples, which feature spiritual practice and its outcomes within the many witness statements of Friends. In the first case, academic expression is about Inwardness and its attendant issues; in the second case, experiential expression, deriving from Inwardness, is rather a description of personal acquaintance. The difference in these two modes of expression is that one seeks to clarify and systematise understanding, whereas the other seeks to embrace and share experience. These different descriptions of Inwardness are complementary rather than contradictory.
Consideration of the non-theist incursion into Quakerism has questioned the nature of the challenge presented. It has outlined a new perspective on radical spiritual humanism that may challenge the perceived difficulties and reveal some consistency between two previously irreconcilable positions. Notions of Quantum theology have provided a range of insights into new ways of addressing relevant questions, and shown that there is the possibility of fresh thinking that offers tentative answers, (O’ Murchu145). Quotations from modern day Friends, and the current edition of QFP, and also from the Quaker essay competition of 2010, have provided recognition that the Conditions and Elements outlined in previous tables remain consistent within contemporary Quaker thinking. These are identified below in Table 5a. Additionally, however, the turn of the century embraces a changing and perhaps developing view of Testimony. It is now commonplace to see reference as ‘relating our testimonies to the realities of [the period]...’146 As Jonathan Dale indicates: ‘My understanding is that the core of the testimony is to do with the 145 See also Polkinghorne, Quantum Physics.
146 Dale, J. et al. Faith in Action: Quaker Social Testimony, p. 6.