Our first step looked at the "ocean of darkness" of non-theism. Our second step will give an overview of the main religion that Friends rejected as evil and totally contrary to their own worshipful experience of God. (Then, hopefully, I will get to the detailed experience and faith of Friends themselves, since this series of blogs is an effort to share the nature of Reality according to Friends.)
The Society of Friends came out of the chaos of religious and social upheaval in the 17th century. In some ways human societies of the 1600's were like today: religious extremism was everywhere, and people thought it was God's will for them to kill other religious people over doctrine. However, the killing then was much worse than now. In the Thirty Years War, Catholic versus Calvinist/Lutheran armies slaughtered each other and often killed innocent civilians as well. Probably about 600,000 died in the military, but 7 1/2 million died because of the war! In the English Civil War and after (including Ireland) about 868,000 died!
Why would so many Christians kill each other? There are many factors, but the central one was disagreement over religious doctrine and theology!
No wonder that George Fox said, "I lived in the virtue and power that took away the occasion of all wars," and "We do utterly deny all outward wars and strife and fighting with outward weapons..." Instead, Quakers spoke of the Lamb's War--meaning what Jesus had said, that we are to love our enemies, are to be peacemakers.
In England, the Church of England was involved with an internal division between formalists and those who wanted to 'purify' the church. Also, various extremist sects came into being. And there was both avid hatred and secret support for Catholicism. In the English Civil War and after, Christians killed each other for Jesus. Hundreds of Quakers were imprisoned, some died. The Friend James Naylor was flogged, branded with a B on his forehead, and had his tongue pierced with a hot iron. In the New World, Puritans banished Quakers. They had a law that Quakers should have their ears cut off, and if they came back witnessing again they were to be executed. Massachusetts Bay Colony hanged Mary Dyer for the crime of being a Quaker.
Why was there such hostility by Puritans against the Friends especially? Quakers didn't even practice violence or war. So why such hatred against them? There are a number of reasons, and not all the blame is on the Puritans' side. Check out Larry Ingle's insightful biography of George Fox, First Among Friends, for a good understanding.
However, the key difference was how the two opposing religions saw and experienced God, the nature of ultimate reality. Puritans and their 'cousins' the Reformed on the European continent believed religious doctrine and theology were paramount and supreme. In contrast, Friends thought much abstract doctrine so many "notions" that had no real spiritual life in them. Puritans believed revelation came through Scripture and that revelation had ended 1500 hundred years before, but Quakers trusted God spoke to them now; that there is continuous revelation.
Yet those differences aren't the central crux. For the Puritans/Reformed, God is primarily sovereign power. There is an acronym T.U.L.I.P. which shows where their utter hatred of the Friendly persuasion comes from. Nearly all Puritan/Reformed held to this doctrinal outlook and still do today. According to statistics, Puritan/Reformed churches are some of the fastest growing and largest in the United States in the 21st century.
Total Depravity--Puritans/Reformed think all humans are born evil from birth and are so evil they cannot even seek the Good at all. Humans don't have any choice or any free will. We are like clay, dead to anything right or true or spiritual.
One of the most famous Puritan poems, "The Day of Doom" by Michael Wigglesworth, had a section dealing with why God predestines millions of babies to Hell to be tormented forever.
Such theology was reprehensible to the Friends. While the Quakers agreed we humans are bound up in the "ocean of darkness," that we often live in selfish and unloving ways, Quakers were more convinced God lightens every human who is born so every person does have a choice to turn to the light and leave the "ocean of darkness." Furthermore, no infants are predestined/condemned to Hell, nor are any babies born evil.
Unconditional Election--Puritans/Reformed think that before the creation of the Cosmos, in eternity past, God in his sovereign pleasure chose to love only some humans and save them for heaven. The rest of us--millions--were passed over, pre-damned to Hell. While God outwardly calls humans to be good, secretly in hidden decrees he wills most humans to do evil and go to hell, even secretly willed that Adam and Eve sin! It is God's will that these humans are born totally depraved, live lives of sin, and then are damned to hell for eternal torment, all for God's sovereign glory and pleasure.
As you can imagine, such thinking was totally abhorrent to Friends. D. Elton Trueblood the famous Quaker writer said in his book The People Called Quakers the central meaning of Friends was their rejection of such a terrible view of God.
In utter contrast, Friends experience God as unending eternal love.
Limited Atonement--Since God pre-selected some humans to be saved but most to be predestined to Hell, then Jesus didn't die for the sins of everyone but only for the pre-selected ones.
Besides totally rejecting such horrible theology, Friends emphasize that Christ is within us and loves all humankind. He is not a strange theological legal transaction that pays a sin debt for some humans, while ignoring others.
Irresistible Grace--Since, according to Puritans/Reformed humans are born evil and have no choice--are literally dead spiritually, then they conclude that God changes the will of some evil persons, the ones he pre-selected before time began. These individuals have no choice but are changed because of God's plan.
Again, Friends reject such awful "notions."
Perseverance of the Saints--Since God preselects some humans to become good, and changes these individuals against their evil will to become good, God is going to keep such humans from ever living for evil.
Well--very unwell--there is the second view of the nature of Reality. Definitely not the good news, not the "Ocean of Light and Love" of which George Fox experienced and trusted in.
To be continued