Monday, December 17, 2007
What a Difference Sensible Doctrines Make
This past weekend I attended a Quaker meeting and found it much to my liking. I noticed some similarities between its philosophy and the Unitarianism I practiced for eight years, but also recognized some crucial differences. By differences, I mean adherence to sensible doctrines that had Unitarian Universalism taken more strides towards adopting I'm very sure I would not have left it behind. Yet, upon further contemplation, I recall that I do know enough of change and the inevitable human tendency to resist it to have come to this conclusion--namely, that the needed reforms may not be forthcoming for quite some time to come, if they arrive at all, and I for one am not willing to sit around and play the game of wait-and-see.
Returning to Quakerism---upon my visit, I was handed the obligatory newcomer's packet, full of introductory materials. These I read through with no small degree of interest. One passage in particular caught my eye.
Quakerism is here described in terms of its ideals, not necessarily its attainments. In avoiding one form, Friends sometimes slip into another. Forms and creeds are inevitable. They have important uses, especially in education, where forms are used to show what ought to be their real content, and even, sometimes, to create the content. Our Christian religion would be weak and vague without the doctrines which undergird it. Quakerism does not aim at formlessness and undiluted mysticism (emphasis mine).
Unitarianism in its current incarnation purports to be a creedless faith which openly shuns dogma and doctrinal requirements. In reality, such a position often leaves it rudderless. The church adopted the Seven Principles as a means of addressing this lack. However, as the UU blog The Socinian recently pointed out, "[The Seven Principles] may be sound rules to live by, but they aren’t our creed or a statement of our highest truths. They are no more than a transitory statement of broad propositions that all of us in our wide theological diversity were at one time willing to support, a lowest common denominator."
I am not uncomfortable with doctrines when they serve a purpose, for I have observed for myself the sort of formless nihilism which results when they do not exist at all. The wording of the passage above takes into account several important precepts.
a) Human imperfection has a ways of reducing ideals to rougher, imperfect reality
b) Attempts to avoid creedal statements often inevitably become creedal statements in spite of themselves
c) Without some degree of underpinning, religion suffers from a lack of substance and strength
My other concern regards the unfortunate tendency that often Unitarians take in looking first, foremost, and sometimes only within their own ranks for the source of ultimate truth; this implies strongly that only we can understand us. Doing so produces a myopic, short-sighted tunnel vision which often discounts the usefulness of other faiths traditions. It's a circle-the-wagons, insular, bubble mentality that reminds me a little of a Soviet Propaganda film. This defensive posture couches all events, identities, policies, and daily minutia in cloying, self-referential terms of purpose and esoteric phrasing.
By contrast, I refer to the above passage one final time and note that that Quakerism makes a point to refer to itself as a Christian faith, even citing passages in The Bible to emphasize its roots. I do understand that some Friends do not self-identify as Christian but I daresay they are probably not as squeamish with scriptural references as UUs. When Unitarianism jettisoned itself from Christianity, the results rendered it closer to a cult of wounded souls in a state of suspended uncertainty. I am pleased to know that Quakers have not acted in kind.