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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.

ntodd

May 31, 2014 in Conscience | Permalink

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