Friday, March 27, 2015

Is the Future Open?

For thousands of years, most of the leaders of our human species have said, “No. The future isn’t open; everything is determined.” As recently as the devastating tsunami that killed almost 250,000 humans in Indonesia and other countries in 2004, world religious leaders claimed that the tragic event was necessary, was ordained, must take place, had to happen.

Al-Fawzan, member of the Senior Council of Clerics,
Saudi Arabia's highest religious body, and professor
at the Al-Imam University:

"These great tragedies and collective punishments that are wiping out villages, towns, cities and even entire countries, are Allah's punishments..."

Amazingly, now many secular leaders are also claiming the same thing—that every event is necessary and must happen, that there are no human choices and no accidents in nature (though instead of a god doing the determining it is the cosmos or the Big Bang). Everything is determined and therefore must happen. Every rape, every murder, every cancer victim…it all must be so.

In the last several months some leading scientists have especially emphasized this in their writing. (I guess they didn’t think they had a choice;-) Sam Harris has called this “tumors all the way down.” Jerry Coyne has written that not only does no one have a choice when it comes whether to murder; we don’t even have a choice of “whether to have a sandwich or salad at lunch” and “…we’re not morally responsible, for that means that we could have freely chosen a better way.”

So this ISIS leader doesn't have a choice each time he beheads an innocent victim?


I'm not a scientist so I can't marshal hard evidence to contradict such a nihilistic, hopeless claim, but it surely is the worst of the worst if Coyne and Harris and Al-Fawzan, etc. are correct.

According to such thinkers, even supposed accidents and chance events in nature, such as the gigantic meteor that probably eliminated the dinosaurs millions of years ago weren't actually accidental happenings. They had to happen.

Thankfully some modern scientists such as evolutionary biologist Stephen J. Gould think differently. Gould wrote before his death that the meteor which devastated earth millions of years ago was a chance event. Further, if time were re-run, humankind might not even show up.

Determinist thinkers disagree. According to them, the earth-changing meteor was fated to hit the earth from the moment of the Big Bang over 14 billion years ago.

And all of that, if true, means that I am typing this article, not by choice. Nature, existence, the Big Bang, whatever, is doing it. My consciousness is but a passive observer.

Well it’s worse than that. Scientist Sam Harris states that even our sense of self, the “I” of our consciousness is an illusion, that we humans are “tumors all the way down”—meaning no human has any more choice than a mass murderer who can’t stop killing because of a brain tumor making him slaughter.

Is this true? Is the Future Closed? Was the Past always closed?

Was it necessary for the Black Death to devastate Europe, the 30 Years War to slaughter nearly a third of Germany’s people, the Nazis to gas and execute 10 million humans including 6 million Jewish individuals?

Is this very present moment only a lockstep instant long ago determined by the cosmos’ beginning?

Is our future as a species so determined as this, that we a conscious species who thinks it makes decisions, thinks there are ethical choices, seeks to achieve goals, and dreams and hopes
is actually no more
than chaff on the cosmic wind?

That every action, every instant, moment by moment, was unalterably fixed, necessitated, determined at the moment of the Big Bang over 14 billion years ago? Everything including the mirage of us conscious beings is nothing but outward expanding debris?

Of course not all leaders or secular scientists think the Present and the Future are so totally Closed. As mentioned earlier the famous evolutionary biologist Stephen J. Gould disagreed, as do others.

Our existence and every action is not a lockstep result of the Big Bang; one needs to factor in Chance and Creativity and conscious human choice for good or ill.

What about the evidence? Philosophers, scientists, and thinkers come down on opposing sides, though at the present, it appears many leading thinkers in the United States are complete determinists. According to them it is obvious that the Future Isn't Open.

What do you think?

In the Light,

Daniel Wilcox

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Wonderment of the Moment

Are you goal oriented? Focused on your plans and dreams?

Seeking to become all that you can be? Hoping for a better tomorrow?

Given to what ought to be?

I sure am, and have been all of my life,
especially in my 30’s and 40’s…But once and a while I step back,
and remember to experience the wonderment of this present moment.

As I wrote once in these lines of presence:

Marathon gunner in the fast lane
Hastening faster and faster,
You that break the home barrier but
Hang in the void of the morning's dash

Held back by the hog of the rush,
Fidgeting the taillights'
Gating hurry to the sixth power
While your family's lives asteroid by;

Slow up by the lush garden side
And smell the satined moments;

Pleasing is the scented bask
In the warm temporariness
Of fleeting ephemeral's harvest;

Shelter under Life's tree,
Tasting the clustered presence
And the fruitage of your offspring.

Lay down the bulging semi of yet to be driven
That Sisyphean hauling up never's pass,

Up the mountain of perpetual regress
And stroll in the rainbowed 'midst'
Of the infinite trees of brief

Up the lightly leaved path
Welled in the soft shading of Now,
Oh needful son.

First published in La Fenetre International
Literary Magazine

In the Light,

Daniel Wilcox

Friday, March 6, 2015

Will the True Quaker Please Put on His Hat?

Just when I was about to write up another article, Mark Daniel Russ, way the heaven over in Britain, penned a powerful insightful whale of a truth:

(Please give his article a 3-time listen and reflect.)

Reflections on the 2014 Swarthmore Lecture. Part 2 – Being honest about the stories we tell
Posted on March 4, 2015 by markdanielruss

Here’s part two of a series of posts reflecting on the book of Ben Pink Dandelion’s Swarthmore Lecture – ‘Open for transformation: being Quaker’. You can find part one here.

A sentiment I have often heard is that Quakers don’t do, or need, theology. It’s true that you don’t need a degree in theology to be a Quaker, and academic learning doesn't make you a better Quaker, but we are wrong if we think theology redundant. We need good theology, because there’s a lot of bad theology out there. I believe that theology in its simplest form is the story we tell as a religious community, about our beginnings, how we got here and where we’re going.

Here are three stories that all claim the name Quaker:

The apocalyptic story

Once there was a man called George Fox who believed that ‘Christ has come to teach his people himself’. For the early Friends, the light they discovered was the same as the Jesus they read about in the Scriptures. They were experiencing the parousia – the Second Coming of Christ. They found the events of the Book of Revelation (apocalypse) occurring amongst them in the here and now. Because Christ had returned, they didn't need paid priests, sermons and outward sacraments like water baptism, as these were only interim measures anyway.

The Protestant story

Once there was a man called George Fox who believed that ‘Christ has come to teach his people himself’. His Quaker descendants wondered what this meant, as the world had not been transformed in to the Kingdom of God. Had the Second Coming really happened? If not, it made sense to once again adopt interim practices such as programmed worship and paid pastors. Quakerism became one Christian denomination among many, waiting for the Second Coming.

The mystical story

Once there was a man called George Fox who believed that ‘Christ has come to teach his people himself’. George spoke as he did because of the culture he was born into. The word ‘Christ’ refers to a mystical experience that transcends the historical person of Jesus, who himself only spoke as he did because of his Jewish culture. The light that enlightens the world is human reason. Because of this, Quakerism can be a community made up of many stories, as no one story can fully capture the mystical experience George Fox spoke about.

The mystical story is associated with the American Quaker Rufus Jones and is the story that dominates British Quakerism today. The Protestant story is the dominant story amongst Quakers worldwide. The apocalyptic story is the one generally recognised by Quaker scholars as the original story told by early Friends.

So what’s the problem? The multi-story character of mystical/Liberal Quakerism is very attractive – it is why I initially started attending Quaker meetings. Isn't unity in our diversity something to be celebrated?

Loss of a shared story

Firstly, many stories create a Quakerism with an identity problem. According to Ben, we inhabit a Quakerism where ‘belief is both plural and marginal, and many Friends have been alarmed by the prospect of doctrinal and organisational fragmentation’. We have lost a sense of a shared Quaker story (hence having to ask the question ‘What does it mean to be a Quaker?’) and not everyone is happy about it. We find ourselves in a position where the only thing we can be sure about is that we’re not sure about anything, what Ben calls the ‘absolute perhaps’.

We know how we should behave within Quaker processes but can’t collectively agree on why we do what we do. With no shared story, our identity is held within our behavioural creed – to question it is to threaten the only thing that unifies us. I have experienced negative reactions at the suggestion of having singing at the beginning of meeting for worship. Ben gives an example of a Friend was asked to tone down the physical aspects of his ministry. Your theology won’t make you a Quaker heretic, but your behaviour in meeting certainly could! What would happen if someone started praying in tongues?!

We have a problem with ‘finders’

Secondly, many stories prohibit any one story from being the right one. Ben writes that ‘our Meetings are not havens of like-theology. They are not even necessarily centres of tolerance.’ What happens when a ‘seeker’ becomes a ‘finder’? What happens when someone stumbles on Truth that they’re convinced isn't just true for them, but true for everyone and everything? What happens when someone embraces the apocalyptic story of the early Friends?

In my own experience, finding leads to isolation. Ben writes that ‘for all those who feel they have been marginalised for their Christian ministry or for their non-theism, it may not be the content of the message that has proved problematic, but the certainty of it. Those who are clear and resolute on any particular doctrinal position may find themselves in tension with the wider group.’

Does our story have integrity?

Thirdly, how do we connect our contemporary Quaker story with the original one? We need George Fox – he’s a central character in our Quaker story. So we quote George Fox, but we do so selectively, and often inaccurately. Do we ‘proof-text’ Fox and early Friends, reading into their words our contemporary Quaker story when it isn't really there? The a-historical, mystical story misrepresents Fox in many ways.

Our forms, such as silent worship, are based on an early Quaker understanding of the Second Coming. We've collectively lost that understanding, so how do we make sense of the forms?

Am I worrying too much?

A reader of my previous post asked:

‘I am wondering, Mark, as someone who, unlike you, is entirely Jesus-less but apart from that agrees with every word you write above, whether you worry about the future of our religious society (or wonder about your place in it) too much? It is possible to relate to god/spirit, waiting for divine guidance, living our corporate insights, together, in the world…without necessarily subscribing (exclusively, or wholly, or at all) to the Christian narrative. It strikes me that this is the ‘renewal’ that many of us seek.

Not throwing out all the established ways of being Quaker, but honestly and imaginatively engaging with the fact that not that many among us (and very very few in wider society – potential Quakers, a lot of them) base our faith any longer on what was the accepted theological understanding when Quakerism first arose. I have no problem with your position. Do you think ‘straightforward Christians’ like you will eventually feel alienated and leave? I think that would be a great loss. Unity in diversity seems very much the way forward to me.’

I don’t worry about the future of the Religious Society. Ben sums it up nicely: ‘Our faithfulness in the end is not dependent on the security of Quakerism as a denomination. We are not here to save Quakerism, but to nurture our spiritual life as Quakers’. Neither do I believe that God can only be related to solely within the Christian church. Early friends were adamant that the spirit had been pored out on all flesh, which meant non-Christians too. I do however think that everyone is a potential Quaker – a Quakerism that isn't for everyone isn't for anyone as far as I can see.

Quakers need to understand that there are Friends on the margins of the Society who don’t subscribe to the dominant story, and that it’s a painful place to be. Saying ‘can’t we all just get along?’ isn't a solution. Let’s be honest that (behavioural) unity in (theological) diversity only appeals to those who like theological diversity. In waiting worship, I’m waiting to hear the voice of the Risen Christ. To say that Jesus rising from the dead is a relative truth – that it’s only true for me – is tantamount to saying that it doesn't matter whether he rose from the dead or not.

I’m not going to leave the Society, although I did leave a local meeting after being told that if I believed Jesus rose from the dead I shouldn't be a Quaker. Anyway, there’s too much to do! I’m not sure I’m a ‘straightforward Christian’, as my understanding of Christianity is specifically Quaker. I’m not asking everyone to agree with me, I’m just asking for honest discussion about our current predicament. We need to be honest about the stories we’re telling, that some are better than others, and that they have consequences. We need to get better at telling the story we've inherited.

I’ll leave the last words to Ben –
‘The challenge is that for too long we have presented Quakerism, not in terms of “This is who we are, you are welcome to come along”,
but rather as
“Hallo, who are you and what would you like Quakerism to be for you?”’


Does the Society of Friends have a story to tell to the nations? To every single human being?

Or will we eat our hats?

In the Light,

Daniel Wilcox

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Write to Help Free Saudi Prisoner of Conscience Raif Badawi.

From Amnesty International:

“Saudi blogger Raif Badawi was publicly flogged in front of al-Jafali mosque after Friday prayers. I call on you to immediately quash Raif Badawi’s flogging sentence, as it is a flagrant violation of the prohibition on torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment under international law. Please ensure that he is not flogged again in the coming months.

I believe that Raif Badawi is a Prisoner of Conscience, held solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression. Please drop all charges against Badawi and ensure that he is unconditionally released without further delay."

"I am also deeply concerned about the number of activists in Saudi Arabia who, like Raif Badawi, are persecuted for openly expressing their views online. I call on you to stop arresting, charging, prosecuting and sentencing activists for simply exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly.
Raif Badawi continues to serve his sentence of 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes in Saudi Arabia.”

In solidarity,

Jasmine Heiss
Senior Campaigner
Amnesty International USA


Please take time TODAY to write the Saudi Arabian government on this urgent action for human rights and peace.
Go to their website action page:

In the Light,

Daniel Wilcox