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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Quakers Fighting Slavery

Violence is any day preferable to impotence.

 - MK Gandhi

I read in Friends Journal:

In John Brown, Abolitionist, Reynolds writes of two of Brown’s volunteers: “the brothers Barclay and Edwin Coppoc were examples of that oxymoronic type, the fighting Quaker.” He explains further: “Quakers had a long history of opposition to slavery and an even longer one of pacifism. . . . The Coppoc brothers . . . had no qualms about taking up arms against slavery.”

Yeah, Quakers ain't monolithic, and plenty carried a musket in war, including that unpleasantness over sacred states' rights.  We all make our own theological, moral and political calculations when deciding to act.  One thing you can't say is that Quakers just sit around, wringing their hands...


October 16, 2014 in Conscience | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Live Your Life As Light

One hopes this is done many places:

October 2, 2014 marks the 145th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s birth. Schools over the United States will be reading the Grandfather Gandhi “Live Your Life as Light” Pledge over morning announcements to celebrate his contributions to the world.

Educator tools and whatnot at the link.


September 27, 2014 in Conscience | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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Friday, September 26, 2014

"Without justice, what kind of God are we worshipping?"

Rabbis and others struggle with Rosh Hashanah After Gaza.


September 26, 2014 in Conscience | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Fit for Freedom, not for Friendship

I've blogged about Quaker abolitionism and military service quite a bit.  One must always be reminded that Friends tend to be privileged, and not at all monolithic:

As a person with privilege, I often mis-calculate how hard real change will be and overestimate the power I have to make change...It’s my sense that the killing of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Palestinian children and families or the inclination to turn refugee children away would be far harder if not for the dehumanization and lies of racism. What will it take to undo this spiritual deformation that stands in the way of just and lasting peace?

I had the honor of working closely with the co-authors, Vanessa Julye and Donna McDaniel, of Fit for Freedom, not for Friendship: Quakers, African Americans and the Myth of Racial Justice toward the conclusion of its publication. The book breaks apart the myth that all Quakers were abolitionists or active in working for Civil Rights and demonstrates that most Quakers were not that involved, had hesitations about the Friends that were involved in these efforts, and often resisted change.
Though we like to believe we were counter-cultural and exceptional, throughout our history most American Quakers, in the end, weren’t all that different from the dominant Euro-centric and racist culture we have inhabited and inhabit today. 
There were, though, a courageous few among us, both white and Friends of color: Lucretia Mott, John Woolman, William Boen, Benjamin Lay, Thomas Garrett, Anthony Benezet, Sarah Mapps Douglass, the Grimke sisters, Paul Cuffee, Barrington Dunbar, Rufus Jones, Prudence Crandall, Bayard Rustin, Rachel Davis DuBois, George Sawyer, Kathie O’Hara and quite a number of others who struggled with Friends and the wider society for racial justice.
Donna and Vanessa wondered about publishing a companion book about these courageous few, these spiritual ancestors willing to stand in the gap between who we say we are and who we are and try to help us cross the chasm.

Unfortunate that the book is not available in electronic format, since that's the only kind I have the luxury to read these days...


August 31, 2014 in Conscience | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Speaking Of Nixon

He was no Al Gore.  And no Friend (certainly not the type who would run an underground railroad to rescue LGBT Ugandans).


July 20, 2014 in Conscience | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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Thursday, July 03, 2014

Conscientious Objector +1

Remember when Sotomayor threw women under the bus?  Well go over the LGM and see how she's clearly redeemed herself.  Expect no other context from me.

I will, however, highlight this:

“Suppose it is wartime, there is a draft, and a Quaker is called up. Many Quakers are pacifists, and their pacifism is a tenet of their religion. Suppose the Quaker who’s been called up tells the selective service system that he’s a conscientious objector. The selective service officer to whom he makes this pitch accepts the sincerity of his refusal to bear arms and excuses him. But as the Quaker leaves the selective service office, he’s told: ‘you know this means we’ll have to draft someone in place of you’—and the Quaker replies indignantly that if the government does that, it will be violating his religious beliefs. Because his religion teaches that no one should bear arms, drafting another person in his place would make him responsible for the military activities of his replacement, and by doing so would substantially burden his own sincere religious beliefs. Would this mean that by exempting him the government had forced him to ‘trigger’ the drafting of a replacement who was not a conscientious objector, and that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act would require a draft exemption for both the Quaker and his non‐Quaker replacement?”

This is so great.  Wish I'd thought of it.


July 3, 2014 in Conscience | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Marvelous Sugar Baby

Denise Oliver Velez writes over at Orange Satan:

When we describe and think of sugar, it is a white crystal sweet, ubiquitous in our daily diets. "Refined" is a word we associate with behavior and social class, and we forget that white sugar starts out a dark brown, with a molasses as a byproduct of a process called "refining" of sugarcane, "the world's largest crop by production quantity." It is hard to imagine a world, not so very long ago, when only elites could afford refined sugar, or eat the subtleties crafted for their dining pleasure. Nor when we buy confections or liberally dump spoonfuls of sugar into our coffee or tea do we think of slavery, death and blood.  

It is this history, so intimately entwined with the peculiar institution that was slavery and the slave trade, that artist Kara Walker has evoked in her towering and disturbing art exhibit in the old Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn, New York.  

Thanks to the likes of John Woolman and others, I do thinking of slavery, death and blood on a regular basis when using sugar, in contrast to editors at Slate and other folks.  I'm weird that way.

Regardless, Walker's art installation looks really amazing.


June 29, 2014 in Conscience | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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Saturday, June 14, 2014

Struggling For Any Justice Somewhere Is Struggling For Justice Everywhere

I have long advocated for fighting against bad stuff, though there's no requirement for loincloth and goats' milk.  So I wholly endorse what Loomis says here about activist snobbery.

I admonish people to get engaged.  Don't have to do what I do, or for the reasons I do it, just fucking do something.  Even frisbee revolutions have value.


Contribute to the Eleventh Blegiversary *

June 14, 2014 in Conscience, Pax Americana | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Kokesh Advocates Pre-emptive Cop Killing

Wow, stay classy:

On his Wednesday Internet show, Adam Kokesh blasted the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) for noting that Jerad and Amanda Miller had been inspired by his gun activism.

“You’re not going to get away with it this time USA Today and SPLC,” Kokesh insisted, arguing that the shooters had acted because “authority has become a homicidal institution against freedom.”

Kokesh asserted that the slaying of the two officers was not “murder” because police are likely to kill people.

“Let’s say someone is going around stabbing people, like just stabbing people,” he opined. “It’s not murder to kill someone in that situation. And has been pointed out about the Vegas shooting, when you have police officers that are going around and doing violent things all day long, and then they take a break for lunch, well, it doesn’t mean all of the sudden they’re innocent or they’re being peaceful because they’re taking a break from all of their other anti-freedom, rights-violating violence.”

“Think of how many lives might have been saved by this incident. How many people would these cops have killed had they not been killed?” he asked

But hey, Washington crossed the Delaware to attack lunching Hessians, so it's all good.  Although I guess Adam's no longer claiming that his little revolution is non-violent and Gandhian.


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June 12, 2014 in Conscience | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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Saturday, June 07, 2014

The Start Of Gandhi's Life Of Crime

That half-naked fakir's first act of civil disobedience took place on this date in 1893:

A first class seat was booked for me. It was usual there to pay five shillings extra, if one needed a bedding. Abdulla Sheth insisted that I should book one bedding but, out of obstinacy and pride and with a view to saving five shillings, I declined. Abdulla Sheth warned me. 'Look, now,' said he, 'this is a different country from India. Thank God, we have enough and to spare. Please do not stint yourself in anything that you may need.'

I thanked him and asked him not to be anxious. The train reached Maritzburg, the capital of Natal, at about 9 p.m. Beddings used to be provided at this station. A railway servant came and asked me if I wanted one. 'No,' said I, 'I have one with me.' He went away. But a passenger came next, and looked me up and down. He saw that I was a 'coloured' man. This disturbed him. Out he went and came in again with one or two officials. They all kept quiet, when another official came to me and said, 'Come along, you must go to the van compartment.'

'But I have a first class ticket,' said I.

'That doesn't matter,' rejoined the other. 'I tell you, you must go to the van compartment.'

'I tell you, I was permitted to travel in this compartment at Durban, and I insist on going on in it.'

'No, you won't,' said the official. 'You must leave this compartment, or else I shall have to call a police constable to push you out.'

'Yes, you may. I refuse to get out voluntarily.'

The constable came. He took me by the hand and pushed me out. My luggage was also taken out. I refused to go to the other compartment and the train steamed away. I went and sat in the waiting room, keeping my hand-bag with me, and leaving the other luggage where it was. The railway authorities had taken charge of it.

And that's where Attenborough began his story...


June 7, 2014 in Conscience, Pax Americana | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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Sunday, June 01, 2014

Quakers In Reality

[C]oncerning these quakers (so caled)...we have no law among us whereby to punish any for only declaring by words, &c, their mindes and understandings concerning the things and ways of God, as to salvation and an eternal condition.

 - Letter from the government of Rhode Island to the government of Massachusetts (October 17, 1657)

Speaking of Friends, we've been executed and otherwise persecuted--in America, no less--for not worshipping properly.  One of the most famous examples is Mary Dyer:

On June 1, 1660, at nine o'clock, Mary Dyer again set out from the jail for the gallows on Boston Common, surrounded by a strong military guard. As she stood upon the fatal ladder, she was told if she would return home, she might come down and save her life. " Nay," she replied, " I cannot ; for in obedience to the will of the Lord God I came, and in his will I abide faithful to the death."

Captain John Webb, the commander of the military, said to her that she had been there before, and had the sentence of banishment on pain of death, and had broken the law in coming again now, as well as formerly, and therefore she was guilty of rer own blood. " Nay," she replied, " I came to keep blood-guiltiness from you, desiring you to repeal the unrighteous and unjust law of banishment upon pain of death, made against the innocent servants of the Lord, therefore my blood will be required at your hands who wilfully do it ; but for those that do it in the simplicity of their hearts, I do desire the Lord to forgive them. I came to do the will of my Father, and in obedience to his will I stand even to the death."

Then her old Puritan pastor, the Rev. Mr. Wilson, bade her repent, and be not so deluded and carried away by the deceit of the devil. To which she replied, "Nay, man, I am not now to repent."
And more she spake of the eternal happiness into which she was about to enter; and then, without tremor or trepidation, she was swung off, and the crown of martyrdom descended upon her head. Thus died brave Mary Dyer. Her remains were buried on Boston Common, and there they now rest in an unknown grave.

Which, you know, is exactly like Obamacare's contraception mandate.


June 1, 2014 in Conscience | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Quakers in the Movies

QuakerSpeak looks at Friends in film.  I take particular note of #13 and #11, in reverse order.

I've noted before:

Richard Nixon, whilst a President who appeared to do little to end his country's involvement in a number of wars, also pioneered new approaches to Russia and China during the Cold War period, moves that his obituarists linked to his Quaker upbringing.  Nixon himself describes a strong Quaker upbringing in a tight-knit Quaker community...He called himself a Quaker but also claimed that he felt the peace testimony could only work if facing a 'civilised compassionate enemy'.  'In the face of Hitler and Tojo, pacifism not only failed to stop violence - it actually played into the hands of a barbarous foe and weakened home-front morale'.

I continue to think that Nixon misunderstood nonviolence and conflated it with pacifism, but at least he realized that inaction and impotence are useless and not really in line with Quaker, let alone Gandhian, ideals.  Sadly, this is why the whole "Nixon was a Friend" thing leads to more misunderstanding and mischaracterization:

His favored two-word phrase connecting him to Quakers was “Quaker heritage,” usually referring to his mother, as though Quakerism somehow resided in his genes. Eastern Quakers had a sterling historical reputation, for consistent stances against slavery, support for women’s rights, and testimony against war. This legacy is the one he used as a kind of whitewash when the political going got tough.

Despite four years of service with the Navy during World War II, the commander-in-chief of the army and navy told an interviewer for the New York Times in 1971, “I rate myself a deeply committed pacifist, perhaps because of my Quaker heritage from my mother.”

Where, then, was the “real” Nixon’s religious identity? I would argue that its noisy evangelical roots and character were well hidden, a cover-up carefully engineered by mother and son.

The examples above came well before the Watergate affair, by which Nixon is today best known and remembered. But Watergate, no matter how broadly defined, involved only the latest cover-up. The original one from which the others flowed dealt with the contours of Nixon’s deepest convictions—his religious faith.

No wonder he told his favored English biographer Jonathan Aitken that other authors had “underestimated” his Quaker heritage’s effect on his personality. Rather than merely undervaluing his religion, they had, he considered, underestimated its “Quaker” veneer, the very definition of a cover-up—his oldest, perhaps his most effective, certainly setting the pattern for his handling of Watergate, not to mention historians.

He was a faker Quaker.  From where I sit, so was his mother as part of that weird Friends' Church, which was more akin to fundamentalists than we Eastern silent Meeting types.  But whatever, it takes all kinds.

Somebody more in line with my conception of Friends is John Dickinson, who was portrayed fairly well in John Adams.  We certainly have been eyed with suspicion from the Republic's very beginning.  For example, while debating what became the Second Amendment and Madison's original conscientious objection language:

[Mr Jackson] did not expect that all the people of the United States would turn Quakers or Moravians, consequently one part would have to defend the other, in case of invasion...

More charitably, Mr Sherman observed:

[T]here are men amongst the quakers who will turn out, notwithstanding the religious principles of this society, and defend the cause of their country.

Indeed, Quakers served in the Revolution, Civil War and both World Wars.  Because, again, it takes all kinds.


May 31, 2014 in Conscience | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Who Could Object?

In honor of International Conscientious Objectors Day, one of my favorite philosophers and professors, the late Bob Reuman:

Drafted following his junior year of college in 1943, Reuman refused military service as a conscientious objector. He served for the duration of the war at a Civilian Public Service camp fighting forest fires and at a mental hospital in Philadelphia. In 1948, in the midst of a teaching appointment at the University of Pennsylvania (where he earned his Ph.D. in 1949), Reuman was sentenced to a year in jail for refusing to register for the draft. He served four months in the federal penitentiary at Danbury, Conn., was paroled, and immediately set out for China to work for the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization that was building hospitals and establishing medical clinics. 

Fucking Quakers, never fighting, always ruining everything.


May 15, 2014 in Conscience | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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Monday, March 10, 2014


We pretend to believe that retaliation is the law of our being, whereas in every scripture we find that retaliation is nowhere obligatory but only permissible. It is restraint that is obligatory. Retaliation is indulgence requiring elaborate regulating. Restraint is the law of our being.

 - MK Gandhi, Young India, March 9, 1922


One way to refuse cooperation with a regime is to engage in Method 122. Literature and speeches advocating resistance:

In many situations, the making of speeches and the publication and distribution of literature which call on people to undertake some form of nonviolent noncooperation or nonviolent intervention themselves become acts of defiance and resistance.  This is especially so in those countries where any call for resistance, especially for illegals acts of resistance, is itself illegal or seditious.

Now sedition is a rather subjective thing, and often used too loosely to describe a variety of acts.  I think colloquially it is taken to mean "advocating stuff that upsets the status quo."  Sometimes it's criminal.

We in the US have had a long history, from the Alien and Sedition Acts passed in during John Adams' tenure in 1798 to the Sedition Act of 1918 under Woodrow Wilson to the Smith Act that was signed into law by Franklin Roosevelt (and remains on the books to this day).  Sadly, there are plenty of examples of trying to suppress dissent in the recent past, too.

You most likely know where I'm headed with this.  On the same date that Gandhi wrote in Young India about non-violence, he also instructed people what to do in case he was arrested:

The rumour has been revived that my arrest is imminent. It is said to be regarded as a mistake by some officials that I was not arrested when I was to be...It is said, too, that it is now no longer possible for the Government to withstand the ever-rising agitation in London for my arrest and deportation. I myself cannot see how the Government can avoid arresting me if they want a permanent abandonment of civil disobedience, whether individual or mass.

I advised the Working Committee to suspend mass civil disobedience...becauae that disobedience would not have been civil, and if I am now advising all provincial workers to suspend even individual civil disobedience, it is because I know that any disobedience at the present stage will be not civil but criminal. A tranquil atmosphere is an indispensable condition of civil disobedience. It is humiliating for me to discover that there is a spirit of violence abroad and that the Government of the United Provinces has been obliged to enlist additional police...

He also admonished his followers to not engage in any demonstrations or hartal upon his arrest, nor should they revive mass civil disobedience, and they should strictly adhere to the principles of non-violence.  

Gandhi was, in fact, arrested at Ahmedabad late at night on March 10, under Section 124, Indian Penal Code.  His parting words were that "all who bore patriotism and love for India should strain every nerve to propagate peace and goodwill all over India, among all communities."

The authorities charged Gandhi with sedition for writing three articles in Young India:

Fans of Attenborough's movie might remember a stirring court scene that encapsulated the "Great Trial" which ended with this statement (necessarily summarized in the film) on March 18:

I know that I was playing with fire. I ran the risk, and if I were set free I would still do the same. Nonviolence is the first article of my faith. It is also last article of my creed. I know that my people have sometimes gone mad. I am sorry for it. Their crime consisted in the love of their country.

I am here to submit not to a light penalty but to the highest Penalty. In my opinion, non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as is cooperation with good Nonviolence implies voluntary submission to the penalty for non-co-operation with evil. I am here to invite and submit cheerfully to the highest penalty that can be the inflected upon me for what in law is a deliberated crime and what appears to me be the highest duty of a citizen.

The only cause open to, judge, is either to resign post and thus dissociate yourself from evil if you feel that the law you are called upon to administer is evil and that I am innocent or to inflict on me the severest penalty, if you believe that the system and the law you are assisting to administer are good for the people of this country and that my activity is therefore injurious to the public weal.

He was sentenced to six years in prison, though he was released early because of illness (he was 53 at that point and had an appendectomy two years into his prison term).  Wonder if the CEO of Hobby Lobby would be willing to demand the harshest penalty of law to defend his principles and effect change...


March 10, 2014 in Conscience, Pax Americana | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

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Friday, February 28, 2014

Because God Knows We Don't Want Any New Nonviolent Citizens


A California resident applying for U.S. citizenship has had her application denied because immigration officials did not accept as valid a conscientious objector, declaration to “bear arms” in defense of the U.S. because it is secular in nature. The American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center is representing Adriana Ramirez in her appeal.

In a letter dated Feb. 27, 2014, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials in San Diego, CA were informed that their decision is not supported by the law and should immediately be reversed. “Given the Supreme Court’s unequivocal instruction that, to be consistent with the Constitution, the government must interpret a statute permitting conscientious objection on the basis of ‘religious’ belief to include comparable secular moral views,” the letter states, “denying Ms. Ramirez’s citizenship on the grounds that her secular moral beliefs are not ‘religious’ is unconstitutional.”

“There is no legal basis to deny a citizenship application because one’s ethical values are secular,” said Appignani Legal Center attorney Monica Miller. “The letter is meant to clarify the mistake being made by officials at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’s San Diego office so that the application process can move forward.”

In June 2013, the American Humanist Association was successful in a nearly identical case. On behalf of Margaret Doughty, a similar letter was sent by the Appignani Humanist Legal Center to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials in Texas outlining the Supreme Court rulings that require the government to treat secular and religious conscientious objectors alike. Shortly after the letter was received, Ms. Doughty’s citizenship application was approved.

During the citizenship process, applicants are allowed to express moral, ethical, or religious objections to warfare, making the promise to “bear arms” an optional part of the oath of loyalty taken by those approved for citizenship.

We want people to become citizens who will contribute to society, and yes, even defend it.  But there are myriad ways to contribute and defend, which includes stuff that is both secular and nonviolent.  One hopes AHA will be successful again in this pursuit.

As an aside, Madison's original proposal for what eventually became the Second Amendment included a clause regarding conscientious objection.  Worry not, even though Vermont's constitution (New Hampshire's, too!) still have such a provision, not everybody will turn into Quakers.  

I think we can afford to let a few fellow travellers become an American, if only because they could help us find tools other than violence to make our country and the world a better place.


February 28, 2014 in Conscience, PaxLives | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Timecop Takes Place In The Past...Or Did It?

Funny line in Timecop:

We need someone rich in the White House who doesn't have to listen to anybody...When I'm in office, it's gonna be like the 80s. Top 10% will get richer, the rest can emigrate to Mexico, live a better life.

It was way more prescient than it's given credit for.


February 25, 2014 in Conscience | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

No Taxpayer Funding For Killing!

Echidne looks at HR7 (The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act):

Why is it worth a closer look?  Because the Republicans, when elected, seldom run on the promise to spend most of their time on abortion but that's what happens once they are in office.  Because there is no real movement to have an act called No Taxpayer Funding For Killing Innocent People Abroad With Drones, say, and we don't even really question why that is the case. 

When Quakers get exemptions for war taxes, perhaps I'll take anti-choicers more seriously.  Then again, if that happened I suspect we'd be mourning our Republic...


January 29, 2014 in Conscience, Pax Americana | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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Monday, January 27, 2014

Fighting Quakers

One of the advantages of having a little-trafficked blog is that I can find interesting things in the stats.  Yesterday there was a referral from the following search termsquaker fuck new conscience exemption.  Naturally, a post of mine came up second, right after the Wikipedia entry for 'conscientious objector' (which presumably didn't have a lot of references to 'fuck' in it).

Third was an op-ed in the NYTimes on August 27, 1862:

The Evening Post raises a question as to the propriety of exempting Quakers from military duty. This is done in this State by law, and the law of Congress exempts all who are exempted by State laws. We concur with the Post in doubting the justice or wisdom of such exemption. The ground on which it is granted is that the Quakers have conscientious scruples against fighting. But a legal concession to such scruples is, in fact, an acknowledgment that the laws requiring military service are fairly open to objection on moral grounds, -- in other words, that it is or may be immoral to require a citizen to fight for his country; and such a concession as this, it is not right for any Government to make.

Quakers receive all the benefits of the Government in common with all other classes of citizens, and they should be held to the performance of the same duties. There is no reason why a Quaker should not be required to defend the Government which protects him in the enjoyment of life, liberty and prosperity, any more than any other citizen. If for any reason of conscience or constitution, he is unwilling to fight in person, let him hire a substitute.

Gee, wouldn't hiring a substitute merely be transferring the sin to another agent, thus violating our First Amendment rights?  But I digress.

Quakers certainly have fought throughout American history, right back to the Revolution itself.  In debating the Bill of Rights there was some discussion about exempting people with religious scruples from service in the Militia, but that was shot down in committee.  And, of course, Friends did heed the Union's call, and have served in other dark times.

Takes all kinds...


January 27, 2014 in Conscience, Constitution, Schmonstitution | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

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Sunday, December 15, 2013


Via Mustang Bobby, a good New Republic article:

This magnificent book [Countrymen] states its central argument in its title. Danish Jews survived Hitler’s rule in World War II, when other European Jews did not, because Danes regarded their Jewish neighbors as countrymen. There was no “us” and “them;” there was just us.
When, in October 1943, the Gestapo came to round up the 7,500 Jews of Copenhagen, the Danish police did not help them to smash down the doors. The churches read letters of protest to their congregations. Neighbors helped families to flee to villages on the Baltic coast, where local people gave them shelter in churches, basements, and holiday houses and local fishermen loaded up their boats and landed them safely in neutral Sweden. Bo Lidegaard, the editor of the leading Danish newspaper Politiken, has retold this story using astonishingly vivid unpublished material from families who escaped, and the testimony of contemporary eyewitnesses, senior Danish leaders (including the king himself), and even the Germans who ordered the roundups. The result is an intensely human account of one episode in the persecution of European Jews that ended in survival.

The story may have ended well, but it is a complex tale. The central ambiguity is that the Germans warned the Jews and let most of them escape. Lidegaard claims this was because the Danes refused to help the Germans, but the causation might also have worked in the other direction. It was when the Danes realized that the Germans were letting some Jews go that they found the courage to help the rest of their Jewish community escape. Countrymen is a fascinating study in the ambiguity of virtue.

The Danes knew long before the war that their army could not resist a German invasion. Instead of overtly criticizing Hitler, the Social Democratic governments of the 1930s sought to inoculate their populations against the racist ideology next door. It was in those ominous years that the shared identity of all Danes as democratic citizens was drummed into the political culture, just in time to render most Danes deeply resistant to the Nazi claim that there existed a “Jewish problem” in Denmark. Lidegaard’s central insight is that human solidarity in crisis depended on the prior consolidation of a decent politics, on the creation of a shared political imagination. Some Danes did harbor anti-Semitic feelings, but even they understood the Jews to be members of a political community, and so any attack on them was an attack on the Danish nation as such.

Brought to mind A Force More Powerful:

War contorts the history of the nations it touches, but it also exhibits the greatness of their peoples. The Danes, the Dutch, and even dissident Germans challenged the most barbaric regime of the modern period and did so not with troops or tanks but with singing, leafleting, going home to garden, and standing in public squares. Yet the power they brought to bear in resisting the Nazis did not come only from these things. It came first from the essential decision that tens of thousands of them made, to refuse the terms they were offered by their tormentors - and it came from the movements they built and the strategy they used, to fling that decision in the face of their enemy and constrict his ability to fight.

The Danes learned how to separate the Germans from the spoils of taking Denmark. The Dutch would not be taken meekly off to Germany. The Rosenstrasse wives kept coming back, until they got their husbands. The moment and the means of refusing to be overcome are never out of reach.

Having yet again become embroiled in a long discussion about non-violence and how it couldn't have worked against the Nazis, I hope more of these examples are taught so people can see we do have more choices than war and other forms of violence to "solve" problems.


December 15, 2013 in Conscience | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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Saturday, October 19, 2013

Is Truth Unchanging Law?

[T]he general disadvantage which these poor Africans lie under in an enlightened Christian country having often filled me with real sadness, and been like undigested matter on my mind, I now think it my duty, through divine aid, to offer some thoughts thereon to the consideration of others.

 - John Woolman,  Considerations on the keeping of Negroes (1754)


When John Woolman died just shy of his 52nd birthday in 1772, the Leeds Mercury wrote:

[He was] an eminent preacher among the people called Quakers. His life exhibited a very singular and striking example of humility and self-denial, adorned with an amiable sweetness of disposition, and affectionate good will toward mankind universally. His feelings for the bondage and oppression of the poor enslaved negroes were so exquisite, that he conscientiously refused every accommodation, both in diet and apparel, which was produced by their labor. He was upon a religious visit to his friends in this nation, and has left a wife and family in America.

It is true that he wore simple clothes--Gandhian in a way, if I might be anachronistic, possibly inspired by the Nicholites--and was one of the first abolitionists.  As John Whittier wrote in his "appreciation" a century later:

The annual assemblage of the Yearly Meeting in 1758 at Philadelphia must ever be regarded as one of the most important religious convocations in the history of the Christian Church. The labours of Woolman and his few but earnest associates had not been in vain.

A deep and tender interest had been awakened; and this meeting was looked forward to with varied feelings of solicitude by all parties. All felt that the time had come for some definite action; conservative and reformer stood face to face in the Valley of Decision. John Woolman, of course, was present, a man humble and poor in outward appearance, his simple dress of undyed homespun cloth contrasting strongly with the plain but rich apparel of the representatives of the commerce of the city and of the large slave-stocked plantations of the country. Bowed down by the weight of his concern for the poor slaves and for the well-being and purity of the Society, he sat silent during the whole meeting, while other matters were under discussion...

When the important subject came up for consideration, many faithful Friends spoke with weight and earnestness. No one openly justified slavery as a system, although some expressed a concern lest the meeting should go into measures calculated to cause uneasiness to many members of the Society. It was also urged that Friends should wait patiently until the Lord in His own time should open a way for the deliverance of the slave. This was replied to by John Woolman. "My mind," he said, "is led to consider the purity of the divine Being, and the justice of His judgments; and herein my soul is covered with awfulness."
This solemn and weighty appeal was responded to by many in the assembly, in a spirit of sympathy and unity...At length, the truth in a great measure triumphed over all opposition; and, without any public dissent, the meeting agreed that the injunction of our Lord and Saviour to do to others as we would that others should do to us, should induce Friends who held slaves "to set them at liberty, making a Christian provision for them..."

Indeed, in his Journal from 1761:

In visiting people of note in the Society who had slaves, and labouring with them in brotherly love on that account, I have seen, and the sight has affected me, that a conformity to some customs distinguishable from pure wisdom has entangled many, and that the desire of gain to support these customs has greatly opposed the work of truth...

I believe He hath provided that so much labour shall be necessary for men's support in this world as would, being rightly divided, be a suitable employment of their time; and that we cannot go into superfluities, or grasp after wealth in a way contrary to His wisdom, without having connection with some degree of oppression, and with that spirit which leads to self-exaltation and strife, and which frequently brings calamities on countries by parties contending about their claims.

Being thus fully convinced, and feeling an increasing desire to live in the spirit of peace, I have often been sorrowfully affected with thinking on the unquiet spirit in which wars are generally carried on, and with the miseries of many of my fellow-creatures engaged therein; some suddenly destroyed; some wounded, and after much pain remaining cripples; some deprived of all their outward substance and reduced to want; and some carried into captivity. Thinking often on these things, the use of hats and garments dyed with a dye hurtful to them, and wearing more clothes in summer than are useful, grew more uneasy to me, believing them to be customs which have not their foundation in pure wisdom.

And as an anonymous observer wrote in 1772:

[H]e said the cause why he appeared so, was that he beIieve[d] it to be his duty to bear a testimony not in words only, but to be a sign to the people, to testify against the pride and extravagancy of those days, which greatly abounded with superfluities.

So it's not entirely clear to me: was the Truth about Woolman that he did everything--wearing undyed cloth, foregoing sugar--with an eye toward abolishing slavery, or was that merely a component of his person and passion to be a better, more spiritual man as well as an example for others to follow him in Faith?  Did the Mercury and others view his abhorrence of slavery as more important than his concern over "superfluities" because that's what they valued most?

I guess it doesn't matter so much now.  He did live as a sign to the people, and he convinced a lot of Quakers and others about the evils of slavery through his Witness.  Something I always keep in the back of my head as I hear people misuse our history of slavery to justify their political agendas.


October 19, 2013 in Conscience | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack