Saturday, 7 July 2007

So which Quaker writers are Prophets without honour in their own land?

I came across Paul's blog on He was wondering after seeing Marcus Borg speak
Perhaps there is something about a prophet being without honour in his own land that makes an outsider look more attractive, but we do have thinkers and writers and dare I say theologians within our own family that have something to say to us.
I read many of the liberal protestant thinkers and those on the edges of faiths such as Marcus and many others of the Weststar institute, Karen Armstrong, John Shelby Spong, Don Cupitt, Bart D. Ehrman, Richard Holloway and many of the Sea of Faith writers such as Don Cupitt.

Like you Paul I am struck how many of these writers articulate and expand themes that Quakers are or have explored in our history. The common thread is that many of these writers and explores are trying to share a faith/practice lived by experience which plays to Quakers core practice.

However, this has cost them and they are by no means welcome in main stream Christian circles. Witness the fallout in the Anglican community of John's legacy of an inclusive church, or Karen's relationship with the Catholic church. Or the perhaps the most extreme was Lloyd Geering. In 1967 the Presbyterian Church charged him with heresy for his radical beliefs.

I do read various Quaker writers such as David Boulton, John Punshon and Ben Pink Dandelion and will be reading Consider The Blackbird Reflections On Spirituality And Language BY HARVEY GILLMAN and want to read Light To Live By:An Exploration In Quaker Spirituality BY REX AMBLER and Truth Of The Heart An Anthology Of George Fox EDITED BY REX AMBLER.

However, I am struck that the non Quaker writers are grappling with big issues of what God, the church, Jesus, morality etc means if we want to embrace the modern world

Yet this list of 2oth Century Quaker writings
explores inspirational individuals dealing with many issues of extreme injustice or devotional insights but would a non-Quaker be drawn to them?

So who are our writers and thinkers that challenge us and explain to the world the spiritual riches that could be a beacon for so many who reject a empty formula Christianity and a lets be nice to the neighbours secularism?

Sunday, 1 July 2007

Gambling , Quakers and me

In our Meeting today at the monthly business meeting, a concern arose for us to endorse. This was about gambling. The meeting was unable to endorse it with strong opinions on both sides of the issue emerging. It was left to seek more context from the proposer before it was discussed again.

Gambling is a live issue in the UK because of the Lottery. A national body in England, called Quaker Social Action has decided that they will seek Lottery funds much to the consternation of many Friends. British Quakers have to grapple with most funds that deal with creative, social and heritage measures are funded by the Lottery. To say no is to be marginalized. Hence stand by the principle of no gains from gambling and our buildings crumble, our social programs dwindle and imaginative outreach work flickers.

At the time when Friends where inching towards this decision, I was responsible in drawing down nearly three million pounds from the Lottery as start-up funds for over 100 childcare businesses in areas of disadvantage and so had a powerful impact on reducing child poverty. The childcare enables women to access or remand in work and the levels of women income is one of the key factors on being in or out of poverty

Anyway back to the business meeting…incidentally, this was the first Quaker Business Meeting that I have attended for some 3 years and the first at this Meeting. I did so because of the importance of attending business meeting was raised in Robin’s Blog… What Canst Thou Say? And it reminded me why it was important to do so. We can often escape in the silence of the Meeting but in business meeting, we have to deal that we have different views and work these through. It also means accepting responsibility for each other and for the life of the meeting. I am minded that early Quakers didn’t get rid of the priest, they got rid of the congregation!

But back to gambling, this is where I stand:

Firstly, I think on the scale of problems that we need to tackle such as global poverty, stewardship of the environment, Middle East justice, etc, mean that gambling and drinking are way down at the bottom for me. They feel like part of our Puritanical past, not our spirit lead future.

Secondly for me, like many issues a balance has to be struck between the harmless enjoyments of the many with the detrimental effects on the few. I think it a perfectly valid moral position to be a non-gambler in the same way of being teetotal, or vegan. But once in the sphere of social and political policy rather then as an individual moral stance it’s the language of regulation rather then bans or sin for me.

To explore this further, let’s try and define gambling. A useful starting point is

a wager or bet in which each player agrees to risk losing some material possession to other players in exchange for the chance to win the possessions of other players without compensation to the loser, the winner(s) and loser(s) being determined by the outcome of a game.
The first problem for me is that it’s both too broad and too narrow. It’s too broad because it conflates what I would call organised gambling that I would want regulated with social gambling which I would not.

Charity and church-sponsored bingo, raffles, etc.

Bazaar and fair booths where you pay to spin a wheel and try to win a prize, etc.

Amateur gambling including poker games for money, office pools, matching quarters for cokes or coffee, playing marbles for keeps. Also included are some athletic leagues where winners are not just awarded a trophy or plaque, but players put money into a "kitty" then play to try to win some of the money.
Casino gambling: slot machines, roulette wheels, dice and card games, numbers games, etc., played for stakes.



And it’s too narrow as this definition wants to exclude stock market speculation and the operation of the market in general from the “sin” of gambling. Do it as an individual, “bad”, do it as a corporation “good”. Yet what is the difference between putting in a 100 and making it 1000 by taking the risk that prices will rise before you sell, and putting a 100 on at 10-1 and risk the horse not coming first?

This blind spot to institutional gambling and making profits without working for it was not always so. For many centuries, making profits on money was seen as sinful. Around 1620, according to the theologian Ruston, 'usury passed from being an offence against public morality, which a Christian government was expected to suppress, to being a matter of private conscience, and a new generation of Christian moralists redefined usury as excessive interest'. One of the major problems facing many developing countries is crippling loan debt. Is this less important then being pure about gambling?

This mention of having to work for it is one of the roots of the opposition to gambling. The Protestant work ethic argues that gambling encourages feckless behaviour and expecting something for nothing. Yet behind this work ethic was a desire to prove that one was chosen by what you had in the world. And as a consequence the poor and needy were punished with the poor house and working class attempts to improve their lots with Trade Unions and access to Democracy was bitterly resisted.

Another line of argument is that that it distracts from Sabbath observation which and so with singing and dancing they were banned by Puritans in the 17th. This was part of the rejection of music, theatre, and enjoyment of nature that Quakers have gradually moved way from other the centuries. Do we put respect the Sabbath and its narrowness above these creative activities? Is a game of family cards with prizes so sinful?

A third line was that any game of chance "prostituted divine providence to unworthy ends. But why would Quakers have religious practices based on a Transcended, all powerful God?

A fourth line is that gambling is based on greed and covetousness. For example it is easy for a camel to pass through the eye of a needed then for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Or Ephesians 5:5-7; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 - Those who covet will not receive the kingdom of God, but God's wrath abides on them. Yet isn’t greed and covetousness the basis of capitalism? So for me I read these and other passages (such as the love of money is the root of evil) to argue for economic and social justice rather then individual condemnation. Likewise the argument that we are stewards of the world, which should be used for God’s glory this leads me to a concern with environmental justice rather then a condemnation of gambling.

In short, I would be happy to relegate institutional gambling and make it responsible for funding support for gambling addiction. I would support any campaign to make it less “sexy” but for me it not a priority as many of the Scriptural sources for anti-gambling is for me about justice and compassion and not sin. Do we have Quakers have a passion for Social Justice or do we act as Anglicans’ in the early to mid 20th century

‘Christianity and Social Order’, by William Temple:

“The claim of the Christian church to make its voice heard in matters of politics
and economics is very widely resented, even by those who are Christian in personal belief and devotional practice. It is commonly assumed that religion is one department of life, like art or science, and that it is playing the part of the busy-body when it lays down principles for the guidance of other departments, whether art and science or business and politics. …… few people read much history. In an age when it is tacitly assumed that the church is concerned with another world than this, and in this with nothing but individual conduct as bearing on prospects in that other world, hardly anyone ever reads the history of the church in its exercise of political influence. It is assumed the church exercises little influence and aught to exercise none; it is further assumed that this assumption is self evident andhas always been made by reasonable men. { I might add women}. As a matter of fact it is entirely modern and extremely questionable.”