Is the Religious Society of Friends Called to Be an Active Part in the Process of Human Evolution?

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On a recent morning, I kept repeatedly smacking at the alarm on my clock, resisting getting up. As I did so, I saw the parallel between my own resistant behavior and the larger one of humans. We are wired to deal with immediate threats, like a tornado aftermath, while minimizing future events, like the chain reactions of climate feedback loops.

Unless we humans can see ourselves as a part of the natural world, not separate from it; change our behavior; and begin to align with that fact, humankind is not likely to be able to step back from the fast-approaching cliff before us. United Nations secretary-general António Guterres, presenting the report “Making Peace with Nature,” so clearly stated the following: 

Without nature’s help, we will not thrive or even survive. For too long, we have been waging a senseless and suicidal war on nature. The result is three interlinked environmental crises. 

Some will say this message is too pessimistic, that we have more time even as the edge of the cliff gets closer and closer. But I say that the Inner Light, as we Quakers understand and experience it, is a factor in the process of human evolution. As Friends, we have experience and knowledge of the Inner Light, and I believe it is the responsibility of our community to face the hard truths of our time and rise up! That is what George Fox and the Valiant Sixty group of early Quaker preachers did in the 1650s.

Is the Religious Society of Friends called to be an active part in the process of human evolution? If so, are we therefore charged with bringing forth a new kind of human being, one that can live in better harmony with nature? I say that we are. Clearly humans and the earth as we know it came into being together; we are one.

In 1964, Kenneth E. Boulding spoke to Australian Friends about the evolutionary potential of Quakerism (published later that year by Pendle Hill), putting forth the premise

that the Society of Friends has a vital role to play in the future development of mankind. . . . The task in question is spiritual as well as intellectual, in the sense that it involves not merely . . . knowledge, but love and community. . . . It is only as knowledge is “sanctified” by love that it works without question for man’s good.

Today’s world calls for a more sophisticated form of human being, one that lives the truth that we are one with the earth. In a recent Pendle Hill pamphlet, The Atheist’s Guide to Quaker Process, Selden W. Smith reminds us that “the slow-moving Quakers have managed to be ahead of the larger society—by at least a generation—on the great social issues of their times.”

Could the transformative legal concept of the rights of nature become a manifestation of our oneness with earth? 

Are Friends today willing to be faithful to the truth that our behaviors, like the use of fossil fuels and single-use plastic items, are destroying the earth on which we depend? Are we willing to question our automatic “business as usual” behaviors? 

This is the place where our faith comes in. As the Religious Society of Friends, are we listening deeply and asking the Inner Light to show us how to live in better harmony with nature? Are we asking what it means to be a part of evolution now and for the future? Are we willing to become a different kind of human being? I hope so.

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