Knowing Experimentally

In "Christ-Centeredness and Quaker Identity" (FJ July), R. Scot Miller writes that his "fear is that Quakerism will be swallowed by the universals of the modern world, and when the universals are practiced, there are no ‘heretics’ to express an alternative vision of what faith might look like." He urges us to keep our unique voice Christ-centered. He reserves particular concern about the presence of nontheist Friends among us potentially "devaluing the praxis of a worship community whose identity was profoundly centered in the person of Jesus of Nazareth."

Arriving yesterday from the Friends General Conference Gathering and finding this in the issue of Friends Journal that greeted my return home, I contrast it with my experience in a week-long workshop on "Quaker Identity and the Heart of Our Faith." I completely agree that it is important to stay grounded in the roots of our Quaker faith and our "practice of peculiarities." I understand and I agree that we must not "abandon our history" and the value of "its presence in our witness." Let me assure you that though I have met many, I have never met a nontheist Friend who believed otherwise.

I disagree deeply about what R. Scot Miller lays claim to as the essence of that faith and heritage. It is wrong to assert that this essence is a belief in the supernatural Christ Jesus. The heart of Quakerism as a religion, as a tradition, and as praxis, is instead, at its essence, a belief in the primacy of "knowing experimentally," of each person having the capacity for unmediated direct access to the experience of the sacred.

As evidence for his stance, Miller quotes from Fox’s Journal the passage in which, during his central religious transformative experience, Fox heard the words, "There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition." Read on, Friend. The paragraph ends, "And this I knew experimentally." Here is the soul of our religion, built up from the foundation of George Fox’s epiphany.

In Fox’s personal religious, historical, and social context, he had no possibility of interpreting his experience other than in terms of Jesus Christ. But he did know from this ineffable, self-validating experiential basis that it was the direct personal experience of that source that made the difference, and he went on to understand that every person had the capacity

David Britton

David Britton is a member of Morningside Meeting in New York, N.Y. After 20 years in the technology industry, he is pursuing a PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience at City University of New York.