Early Friends drew their inspiration primarily from the Bible and interpreted their own religious experience primarily in Christian terms. Friends today however share a wider spectrum of beliefs, incorporating insights from other world religions as well as from seemingly “non-religious” sources, such as are found within modern science, psychological, feminist, socialist and other philosophical traditions.
It is impossible to summarise all the possible combinations of belief which may form a basis for the Peace Testimony today. There are as many bases for living out a Quaker Peace Testimony as there are Quakers. Yet we can identify a few strands which underlie most of these.
Sanctity of Life
“The truth in its full meaning lies in what was said thousands of years ago in four words: Thou Shalt Not Kill. The truth is that we may not and should not in any circumstances or under any pretence kill another. That truth is so evident, so binding, and so generally acknowledged that it is only necessary to put it clearly before us, for that evil called war to become quite impossible.” Tolstoy, 1899
For many Friends, the Bible merely echoes a fundamentally “humanist” belief that all (human) life is precious and somehow sacred; that whatever else we may do to each other, we simply do not have the right, under any circumstances, to take away the life of another (human) being. From this inevitably follows an opposition to all war and murder, whether sanctioned by governments or not.
“We need to remember that neither as individuals nor as a species have we created ourselves. We can kill all human beings and close down the source of all future human beings, but we cannot create even one human being…” Jonathan Schell, Fate of the Earth
That of God
“My own point of departure is ‘that of God in everyone’, the Inner Light, the Light of Christ within, and what I take to be more or less the equivalent in other faiths: the Buddha nature, Atman, Al-Haqq. If the divine dwells within all of us, that surely is the essence of our identity. From this vantage ground we gain a wider view of the Self.” Adam Curle, 1990
For most Quakers, whatever the basis of their beliefs, there is the conviction that there is “that of God” in everyone (or even in every living Being). Our purpose in Life is to listen and to respond to that of God within ourselves, and in our relationships with others to seek out and “speak to” that of God within them.
If we really believe there is that of God in every person we encounter, whatever their religious beliefs, however evil their deeds, what must be our relationship with them? The Peace Testimony is nothing less than our putting into practice that belief – recognising there is that of God in every Russian, in every Muslim, in every terrorist, in every Serb, in every neo-Nazi…
From this also follows logically an appreciation of the sanctity of life, so that it is impossible to conceive of one human being having a legitimate right to take the life of another human being.
Unity of All Life
“All living beings are members one of another, so that a person’s every act has a beneficial or harmful influence on the whole world. We cannot see this, near-sighted as we are. The influence of a single act of an individual on the world may be negligible. But that influence is there all the same, and an awareness of this truth should make us realise our responsibility.” Gandhi, Ashram Observances
There are many religious traditions which go one step further than to say there is that of God in all of us. They proclaim the essential unity of all life and claim that all separateness is an illusion. We are all drops of water drawn from the same river of live, and all our actions flow into the same sea. Whatever we do to another we do, quite literally, to ourselves. Hence to kill or to do violence to another is to inflict violence upon ourselves; to damage ourselves; to deny something basic about the nature of the universe in which we move.
Flowing with the Creative Force of the Universe
“Nonviolence is an inner Consonance with the evolutionary force…It is the law of Love that rules humanity. Had violence, i.e. hate ruled us, we should have become extinct long ago.” Gandhi, 1942
The theory of evolution teaches us that all existence on this planet – every plant, every animal, every mountain, every river – is the result of natural forces which are imperceptibly slow yet unstoppable in their effects. All of this unfolding of creation over many billions of years has been in contradiction to one of the fundamental laws of physics – the law of entropy, which states that all things must eventually dissipate and decay, rather than grow and increase in complexity.
Killing, and especially large-scale war, represents humanly-created entropy – a reversal of evolution. A nuclear holocaust, the ultimate result of the war mentality, could result in the undoing of billions of years of creation through wholescale destruction of all life on earth.
To flow with the evolutionary force; the creative force in the universe, means to build up, to cooperate, to invent solutions, to join together in solidarity with the whole world, harmonising all our activities with the Earth itself – the living, breathing organic whole that evolution has created on this planet – Gaia.
Being Fully Human
“I would suggest that what is needed, and needed by all of us, is the fullest possible development of our humanity, or potentialities as human beings. This means an escape from the mindless automatism that governs so much of our lives, from senseless worries and fears, from prejudice, from ego cherishing, from vanity and irritability, from illusions of guilt and badness, from belief in separate existence. These and all other negative emotions and deluded ideas are like a fist closed tightly around the heart…But for us to be fully human [the self] must expand, gradually embracing all others, including all non-human others with whom we share the planet. It means losing the lonely sense of separation. It means to be more than to do.” Adam Curle, 1992
What does it mean to be human? What is our calling on this earth? For some Friends, the peace testimony arises out of a deep conviction that being fully human means discovering what love can do; what compassion really means; unleashing what each of us has locked away within us that can so easily be forgotten. To be fully human is to be at one with oneself, with the rest of the world, with the earth itself. It is the very opposite of violence and all that goes along with violence and war and hatred. To be human is to be more than a member of a species of anthropoid apes. It is to realise the full potential within each of us to be “a little lower than the angels” – sons and daughters of God; sons and daughters of the universe…