QUF: This is Cherie.
PATTON: Hi, Cherie; this is Gary; we rhyme this morning.
QUF: Yes, thank you for joining. This is Cherie Roberts of the Quaker Universalist Fellowship or QUF, as it is known. Today is January 16, 2015. I am here today with Gary Patton from Santa Cruz, California.
Thank you for being with us, Gary.
PATTON: Well, I am very pleased to be here. Thank you so much for inviting me to this conversation.
QUF: We will be discussing Quaker faith and practice and universalism. But first, I would like to tell you about Gary before the interview.
Gary is married to Marilyn Dilworth Patton and they have two children, Sonya Patton Drottar, born in 1972, and Philips Dilworth Patton, born in 1976. Both Sonya and Philips live close to Gary and Marilyn, in Santa Cruz, California. Sonya is a Social Work Supervisor at Dominican Santa Cruz Hospital, and Philips is in training to become an acupuncturist. Sonya has two children (and thus Gary and Marilyn have two greatly beloved grandchildren), Dylan Drottar, born in 2005, and Delaney Drottar, born in 2007. Though officially “retired,” Marilyn is still teaching English literature and composition at De Anza College in Cupertino, California, where she was honored as a “distinguished educator.” Marilyn is a member of the Santa Cruz Friends Meeting, and Gary is an Attender (though not as regular an Attender as he once was). Gary and Marilyn were married under the care of the Palo Alto Friends Meeting in 1969.
Gary Patton currently practices environmental law as a sole practitioner in Santa Cruz, California. He is a graduate of Stanford University with honors in Social Thought and Institutions and also with a JD from its Law School. He has other educational experience from Union Theological Seminary, as well as Universidad Pontifica (Salamanca Spain), Cabrillo Community College and Center for Bilingual Multicultural Studies (of Mexico) in Spanish.
He has served in numerous capacities (and I will name only a few of these):
• He served as an elected member of the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors, and was Chairperson for six years; as a bit of context, Santa Cruz County has a population of 270,000 people.
• He teaches Legal Studies in the Political Science Department at University of California, Santa Cruz, and has been a lecturer in Environmental Law at De Anza College, Cupertino, CA.
• He served as General Counsel and on the Board of Directors of the Planning and Conservation League (PCL).
• He has been the Executive Director of LandWatch Monterey County;
He has been Member of a number of Statewide Groups
• As Executive Director of PCL, and PCL Foundation.
• As well as With Californians Against Waste Foundation Inc.. as President of the Board of Directors.
• With California Futures Network, also as President, Vice-President, and on the Board of Directors.
In 2009, California Lawyer Magazine named him “Attorney of the Year”.
Gary Patton was named one of the two “most influential persons” in Santa Cruz County during the twentieth century by the Santa Cruz County Sentinel, December 31. 1999.
Gary maintains a blog entitled TWO WORLDS that, as of today, has 1,845 postings. The postings for January have wide range of subjects…. and all very interesting and stimulating.
Since July 2001, Gary has presented regular “Land Use Reports” on KUSP Central Coast Public Radio, 88.9 FM that air each weekday morning. It is also accompanied by the Land Use Report Blog with written transcripts and backup material of the broadcasts.
And I have selected only a small number of his accomplishments. Gary is a very energetic individual.
His training and his practice of environmental law have resulted in many positive accomplishments for his community and state, and I am sure to even a broader extent.
I am sure that you will find Gary Patton to be an extraordinary person as we discuss Quakerism, universalism and, I’m sure, environmentalism today.
Gary, thank you for agreeing to this interview with QUF.
PATTON: Well, again, thank you for having this interview with me. Thinking about your own life and thoughts, and having an opportunity to do that, is always something worth doing, and without this discussion with you today, I wouldn’t have been thinking about some of the things we’re going to talk about.
QUF: Your resume is fascinating. You have devoted a great deal of your life to public service. Your intense studies in Spanish are impressive. We would like to open the discussion about your story. We would like to hear about your life’s journey.
PATTON: Well, for anyone who listens to this conversation later, or who reads a transcript of this conversation (which I think is one the plans), he or she will probably want to know that you told me, in advance, that we were going to have this discussion, and you told me you were going to ask me about my life’s journey. Because of that advance notice, I have had an opportunity to think about how I would respond when you asked me that question. It struck me that a life story, anyone’s life story, involves the “work” that he or she does in the world, and that is where I immediately go. The work I have done or am doing in the world; that is how I most immediately think about the significance or importance of my life. But there is another part of our lives that revolves around our family – the family we came from and the family that we may well create during our lives. We will need to talk about that, and we will certainly also want to tell how we are related to a greater community, a local community, of course, and probably a broader community, and ultimately a community of all humans everywhere. And then there is the very personal and inward, spiritual life of every individual. The artistic, intellectual and other aspects of our lives are all part of our life story, all of the things about us that are, if not private, at least personal.
So, all of those things are involved in anyone’s life story, and I tend to be a person who moves quickly to the abstract. You mentioned the “Two Worlds” blog that I am publishing on a daily basis. It tends to be a sort of abstract and philosophical discussion, most of the time. But a “story” is very specific. With some apologies for talking about my personal details, I am going to tell you about some of my biography, and then, in connection with that, I will try to talk about these family, community, spiritual and deeply personal things as much as I possibly can, and then I may need to ask you to follow up with some questions.
I am not only an “environmental attorney,” which is what I would say is my official job assignment right now, the work I do in the world. I am also teaching courses at the Santa Cruz campus of the University of California. Just yesterday I was teaching a capstone thesis class, comprised of seniors who are majoring in UCSC’s Legal Studies program. In order to graduate with a degree in Legal Studies, all students in that major have to complete an honors thesis during their senior year. I am supervising that process for students graduating this year, and I have presented the class with a theme to which their theses must relate. This is a theme I selected myself, and for this particular class the theme is “Privacy, Technology, And Freedom.” And so yesterday, I just happened to talk to the class about one of the observations I have made, during my life, about “who am I?” or “who are we?” I wanted to help them all understand how I see myself, and how I see everyone else, and how students in the class might approach this “Who am I? / Who are we?” question.
What I did was to hold up my hand with five fingers, and then I wiggled them around, saying, “this is who you are.” You are one of the fingers. You are an individual. We are all individuals. We have different characteristics, different abilities, shapes, sizes and colors. We all have the ability to move independently and to initiate things independently. We are all individuals, but we are not only individuals. We are also, actually, part of a greater whole. We are part of this hand. And we are inevitably connected to others. You can’t be just a stand-alone individual. If we cut off the fingers, they fail to function. They are useless, and the hand itself then fails to be a meaningful entity.
So when I look back on my life, and want to think about it, I always think in terms of the individual part of my journey, and also the way that my life has been bound into a greater whole. So, let me start with the more fingerlike details, the individual details, and then maybe reflect as I go along on the overall connections between my life and a greater community and spiritual life.
I was born in San Francisco in 1943. My mother and dad had both grown up during the Depression, which profoundly affected them. They did not go much beyond high school. My father had grown up in Idaho, actually, and his mother had died when he was about 15, and so he moved to San Francisco to live with my aunt, his sister, who was taking care of him. He came to San Francisco when he was about fifteen or sixteen years old, and went into high school, and he fell in love with my mother who was quite a jazzy person, I gather. He wooed her and ultimately (I think it took about 5-6 years) convinced her to marry him. In rather short order they had me, and then, after a relatively brief move to Washington, DC, my father went into the Navy and into the war.
There is a wonderful story to be told in terms of that excursion to Washington, DC. During his high school years, my father was a Western Union messenger boy, and when he graduated from high school he continued to work for Western Union. He worked in a little office on Market Street, in San Francisco, and after the war started, he realized that Western Union facilities were not being used as effectively as they could be for the war effort. So, my father wrote a personal letter to President Roosevelt, and gave the President his advice on how to use Western Union facilities more effectively in the war effort. The President referred the letter to the Federal Communications Commission, in Washington, DC, and they contacted my father and said, “why don’t you come back and work for us?” He was, of course, delighted. My parents sold everything they had and bought a car. We drove across country, just the three of us, since I was the only kid at the time, and when we got to Washington, my dad went to the FCC. They had him fill out some papers, and when they found out that he only had a high school education, they refused to hire him because he didn’t have the proper qualifications. He needed to be a college graduate. My father was stranded with me and my mother in this terrible place in Washington, DC, but he persisted, and he ultimately did get a job at the FCC, and that was actually very important in his life because he got experience at the FCC that made it possible for him to get a job with an electronics company after the war. That job led him (and our family) to Indiana, but we didn’t stay there long, since my mother was not keen on Indiana. She wanted to come back to the San Francisco Bay Area, where she grew up, and so while my sister was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, we got out of Indiana pretty quickly, and our family came back to the West Coast.
First, we lived in Redwood City, and then we moved to Palo Alto, now one of the wealthiest communities in the United States. Palo Alto was the home of Stanford University, and it was a much nicer place than Redwood City. My parents moved there because I was becoming a kind of juvenile delinquent, and they thought that Palo Alto would be a better place for me. And indeed, my delinquent behavior was stopped in its tracks, and I turned out to be one of those “good” kids. I never did anything wrong, except steal a few things, but since I got caught, and punished, that cured me of stealing. In Palo Alto, I went to Walter Hays elementary school. Later, when they started rating elementary schools, which they are now doing in California, this school was the number one school in the entire state of California, and it probably was the number one school when I went to it. It was an excellent school, and I was a shining star. The only problem was that I was very active kid, who could never sit still. At one point, my fifth grade teacher actually had to tie me in my seat with a rope.
In the fifth grade I was the captain and quarterback of our flag football team. We went all over the city playing flag football. We won the league championship, and I got my name and my picture in the Palo Alto Times. I was on cloud nine, very great and prominent. Then, in sixth grade, I couldn’t even make the team! I was very slow growing, and didn’t really get fully physically developed until I was in college. So, by my sixth grade year, I entered a new phase, the “left behind” phase. That actually served me well, because it turned me into a very introspective, individual kind of person.
I went through junior high, and then Palo Alto High School, feeling pretty unconnected to my classmates. At least, that’s the way I remember it. When I recently went to my 50th high school reunion, everyone seemed to remember me, but I certainly can’t think of why they should have. Near the end of my high school years, where I basically did OK, I had a fundamental derailment of my plan for my life, because I wanted to be like my Dad, who worked for an electronics company, and I thought I’d become an electronics engineer. But by the time I hit my senior year in high school, I realized I couldn’t do it because I just couldn’t do math; I couldn’t do physics. And when my parents told me I should be a lawyer, I believed them, and so I just decided I would be a lawyer because they told me so. I was good with words, logical, and wrote well. With my new plan clear, I graduated and went across the street from Palo Alto High School to Stanford, which is where all the best students from Palo Alto High School went.
I should say something, here, with respect to my religious life. During my high school years, I was extremely active and committed to the church. I went to the Episcopal Church, in downtown Palo Alto. I was baptized and confirmed as an Episcopalian, and the rector at my church suggested to my parents that I really ought to become a cleric and move into the religious life. Bishop Pike, who was very famous at that time, so some might remember his name, was the one who confirmed me. I felt a great religious calling.
But when I went to Stanford, right across the street from Palo Alto, the intellectual life of the university completely swept away all my ideas of religion. The spiritual dimension, and all the things that I had been so focused on during high school through the Episcopal Church, did not seem very meaningful. What became important were my studies in Western civilization, U.S. history, politics, all the things I was studying in my classes. I remember a moment during my freshman year when I was standing on a balcony of my freshman dorm. I suddenly became aware that I was an actor in history. I was an individual and kind of formed myself right there, and had a little revelation. What I realized was that I was now a person, and independent, and that I was able to do things myself, and that this was what was of most significance in my life. As I say, “religious” issues kind of faded away for me.
I had a great time, intellectually, at Stanford. My sophomore year, I went to Stanford in France. I learned French in high school and took French in college, and so I went to Stanford in France, which was an overseas campus that Stanford owned and operated in Tours. This was very meaningful. I travelled through Algeria, which is where I really learned French, because the French were actually not too nice about it if you didn’t understand their language well, and I was always too bashful really to try, given the non-receptivity of the French. But French is the Algerians’ second language. They had just liberated themselves from France, and they thought that Americans believed in revolution, which was great, and so I was welcomed there with incredible hospitality, and my halting use of French improved with this encouragement.
I came back to Stanford after my time in France and got into a program that was transformative for me, an honors program I fell into by chance. I didn’t know anything about it when I signed up for it, but as Robert Frost might have said, getting into that honors program “made all the difference!” It was called the Honors Program in Social Thought and Institutions. It was structured so that during your junior year, every quarter, for five units of academic credit per quarter, which is one-third of your load, students met with a seminar group of about twenty students, and you studied one single word. Leading the seminar were the greatest professors from the humanities and social sciences. So it was an interdisciplinary honors seminar. I went through that program in my junior year studying the word UTOPIA, which was our word for the year. In your senior year, you again had three quarters of five units per quarter, and your assignment was to write an honors thesis. Because the thesis was such a significant part of your academic commitment, if you didn’t write the thesis and finish, you didn’t graduate. Out of the twenty or so people in my seminar group, only one person graduated, and it was not me. None of us could write that required thesis because we each felt that this thesis should be a kind of definition of what our life’s purpose should be, and since we were only seniors in college, we really weren’t capable of doing that!
Luckily for me, Stanford Law School took me in even though I hadn’t graduated. I did ultimately do my thesis. I didn’t think it was very well done, but I did turn it in. It was called “ The Future of Change in America,” and a preoccupation with that topic, in fact, did turn out to be a kind of life definition for me, a project that I’ve worked on ever since.
After my undergraduate years, I ended up in law school because my parents had told me I that I should be a lawyer. But I found out in my senior year that I didn’t really want to be a lawyer; I wanted to be a teacher. That’s what I really I wanted to do. But what I could do? I was programmed for law school. So I went to law school. I hated law school. So after my first year, finding out that I didn’t really like it, I decided that I would either have to quit law school, and do something that was meaningful to me, or I would have to buckle down and really do a good job as a law student. So, I buckled down, because I’m the kind of guy who does that. And after my second year, when I actually failed a course, I realized I was not cut out for law school; furthermore, I was also confronting the military draft and the War in Vietnam.
I was not only opposed to participation the Vietnam war, I was opposed to participation in war in any form, by reason of my religious training and belief. This qualified me to be a Conscientious Objector, and to obtain a deferment from the military draft. But I was opposed to the whole idea of conscription itself. I wanted to resist the military draft en toto, and that meant I had to quit law school, if I really wanted to put my beliefs to the test. I was in a cohort of students who were able to avoid the draft simply by proceeding forward in school, and as long as I was in school, I would have no real opportunity to challenge conscription.
I decided to take on the draft board. I quit school and went into the Merchant Marine, which was an interesting story in itself. I wrote a letter to the draft board in Santa Cruz and said, “I am opposed to participation in war in any form by reason of my religious training and belief,” which is the key phrase that qualifies one to be classified as a conscientious objector. I substantiated that claim in my letter. I was going to Quaker meeting in Palo Alto. I was deeply engaged in Quaker thought, doing all sorts of readings, from George Fox, to John Woolman, to Rufus Jones. I think I was already signed up for the Pendle Hill series. About every month or two I would get one of those pamphlets, and I still do. I have read them ever since that time.
I feel pretty certain that I would have been classified as a conscientious objector had I applied and really tried to obtain the 1-O classification, even though the Santa Cruz draft board wasn’t too big on conscientious objectors. But I wanted to confront the draft in and of itself. So, I told the Selective Service System, in this letter I wrote (after I told them all those things that would have classified me as a CO), that I did not believe that the draft was proper, and that I was going to have nothing further to do with it.
My father had gone to law school and was one year ahead of me. He had just graduated from law school, and I was his first client. I told the Selective Service System in my letter that my father was my attorney, and that he would speak for me. The reason I did this, and I had worked with my father on this, was that I was then acting as an anti war counselor, and I knew that it would have been a great help to the anti-war movement to establish the right of young draft-age men to have legal representation.
One of things that the Selective Service System said was that you couldn’t have a lawyer represent you before this particular federal agency. The anti-draft movement would have loved to have had young eighteen year-old men have an opportunity to have legal counseling and advice as they went through the process, and that would have been very significant. But the courts always avoided making a decision on that issue. The issue had been raised many times in litigation, but the courts had never ruled on it. They just avoided it. They didn’t say “yes;” they didn’t say “no.” They just dodged the question.
So, my father and I tried to formulate a case where the courts couldn’t dodge that question, because that would be the only question before the court. After I went into the Merchant Marine, my father, who was now my official attorney, wrote the Selective Service System a letter and said, “I am Philips Patton. I am an attorney, and I am representing my son, Gary Patton. As you know from his communication to you, I am his legally authorized representative, and if you look at his file you will see that he should be classified as 1-O, as a Conscientious Objector. Therefore, on behalf of Gary Patton, this is my request that you classify him as a Conscientious Objector.”
The Selective Service System wrote a letter back to my father, as expected, saying that they were sorry but that I couldn’t have attorney act for me. If your son wants to be a Conscientious Objector, they said, he must write a letter and say so himself. That set up the legal case. My father then went to court, aided by a panel of really great lawyers, who were working in the anti-draft movement. My father and the lawyers argued the case, and the only issue was whether or not the Selective Service System could deny a Selective Service registrant the right to be represented by counsel. There was no other issue, so the court had to address that question. After the argument, the case was submitted to the judge. I was on a ship heading towards Manila, but I found out that my father was quite confident that we would get a good ruling. He had a pretty sympathetic federal judge.
However, before the Judge could decide the case, the Selective Service System, out of the blue, sent my father a letter saying, “your son has now been classified 1-O, as a conscientious objector.” The government then went immediately into court and asked that the judge rule that the case was moot, and to dismiss it, since I had received the 1-O classification that my father had asked for. In fact, the case really wasn’t moot, speaking technically, but the judge dismissed the case. Then, a week after that, with nothing having changed, (first they said I was 1-A; then they said I was a Conscientious Objector), the Selective Service System then sent another letter that claimed that they had looked into the matter further. They told my father, “we have looked into the case and your son is not qualified to be a conscientious objector. He is 1-A.”
I came back from my Merchant Marine trip at about that time, and I decided to go back to law school and to buckle down, and I did ultimately graduate, about a half year behind the rest of my law school classmates. But before I graduated, since I was now classified 1-A, eligible for service, the Selective Service System drafted me to go into the Army as a regular soldier. I went up to Oakland, to the induction center, and refused induction. An FBI agent was on the scene, and immediately arrested me and put me in jail. Marilyn, my wife-to-be, was there, and was flabbergasted as I was taken away. This was definitely not the normal procedure. I spent a night in jail, in Oakland, and my father came up the next day to a bail hearing and arraignment. I was released on my own recognizance, and I was never actually prosecuted. What the Selective Service System had done in my case was so obviously unfair that even the U.S. Attorney would not prosecute my refusal to go into the army. It’s too bad for the Selective Service System that they didn’t just leave me as a 1-O, because I would have refused induction for alternative service as a I-O, and would probably have gone to jail for five years. There really wasn’t any legal excuse for refusing induction into alternative service, and I would probably have served five years in federal prison and would have had quite a different life.
Let me tell you about an incident in the Quaker meeting that was very important to me, and that led to me getting married, which has been one of the most wonderful and significant parts of my life. During my time in law school, I was an Attender at the Palo Alto Quaker meeting, and one of the other Attenders was a person named Dwight Clark, who had been the Dean of Freshman Men at Stanford when I was a Stanford freshman in 1961. Dwight had started a program called Volunteers in Asia, which took Stanford students as volunteers into various countries in Asia; to Japan and Hong Kong, for instance, but not to Vietnam, which was in a war-like situation at that time. VIA, as it was known, placed participating student as volunteers, quite often as teachers. A number of my friends had participated in the program, and it was a very powerful experience. We were really just starting to learn about Asia at that time, and were really just beginning to understand that we needed to have the world connected. It wasn’t just white, English speaking people who were going to be important in the future, if humans were going to survive and prosper.
So, I was sitting there in the Meeting, sometime during the Spring of 1968, waiting for Meeting to begin, and had already entered into the silence. I didn’t like chitchat before the Meeting. It always irritated me a little bit, but Dwight Clark sat down beside me. And because the meeting hadn’t officially started, he leaned over and said that somebody had dropped out at the last minute for the upcoming summer Volunteers in Asia program, and asked me “why don’t you go this summer to Macau, a Portuguese colony that is part of the Chinese mainland, right near to Hong Kong, to teach English. Would you like to do that?” The meeting was just starting, and I told Dwight, “No, but thanks.” I was interested in getting into the silence, not discussing summer plans, but as I sat in that Meeting I had an absolutely clear message that said, “you have to do that.” So at the rise of Meeting, I turned to Dwight and said, “I’m going.”
And that is where I met my wife, Marilyn, who was an undergraduate at Stanford. She went to teach in Hong Kong. I went to Macau. That’s where we forged our partnership, which has had a profound impact on my life. And here, where I am going to summarize the remainder of my life, Marilyn, who knows I am going to have this interview, on the way to the grocery store as I was sitting here waiting to call in, said, “You know, it’s such a paternalistic approach that QUF is using here, because you know who the person who is really committed to Quakerism? ME. And who is getting interviewed? YOU.” And there is something to that. In fact, a lot more than something!
At any rate, what happened to me, because I met Marilyn, is not only that I have had two wonderful kids, and two lovely grandkids, and a whole life together that has been extremely meaningful, but also that I became connected to Marilyn’s family, which has deep religious roots. Marilyn’s father was a Presbyterian minister, and the entire Dilworth family was a family of Christian missionaries. Marilyn’s parents did missionary work in China, which is where Marilyn and her sister Marjy were born. One of Marilyn’s father’s brothers did missionary work in Africa, and another brother was a missionary in South America. And so, during the Christmas vacation after the Volunteers of Asia summer program, I went to meet Marilyn’s family for the first time in Spokane, Washington, which is where they lived. It was the Christmas holiday. At that time, Marilyn’s father was not a pastor, but was teaching at a Presbyterian college in Spokane called Whitworth College. Going around with her family to various holiday visitations with friends, I met a bunch of people who were either pastors, or who were involved in various ways with theology and religion, all of them friends of Marilyn’s parents.
I came back to Stanford law school. Marilyn was in Stanford as an undergraduate.
And suddenly, out of the blue, sometime in 1969, I got a letter from the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation, which asked me whether or not I would like to be a Rockefeller Brothers Fellow. I had been nominated by one of the family friends I had met during the Christmas visit to Spokane, who sent in this nomination without any inquiry to me. The letter I received was a total surprise. This was a program in which the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation offered a full year of theological education, a totally paid-for scholarship, including living expanses, at any theological seminary that the nominee might select. The idea was that this first free year might entice into the ministry people who were not thinking of going into the ministry. That was one of the criteria; you could not be planning to go into the ministry (though you had to be willing to consider going into the ministry). The hope was that the one-year of theological education that the Fellowship provided would either (1) attract promising candidates to the ministry, or (2), in a win/win approach, result in a number of theologically-educated persons who had experienced the one year of theological seminary, and who would then go back go back into the laity and be theologically informed.
This nomination had come from some friend of the Dilworths whom I had met, and who was impressed by me, as we had talked about religious topics during one of these Christmas visits. And so I applied for the Fellowship and was accepted. Marilyn and I went off to New York City for my year at Union Theological Seminary, September 1970 to June 1971, where I did not do well in Greek, but had wonderful experiences in both my Old and New Testament classes, and in other ways. For instance, I got to meet Dorothy Day, who some may remember was an incredible and inspiring person. She set up the Catholic Worker Movement, and was still alive in 1970-71 when I was at Union. I set up a class, which I was allowed to teach myself, on peace and nonviolence. Dorothy Day came to the class, as did David Dellinger, another leader in the non-violence movement.
Theological seminary was a profoundly impactful experience. I was at this point a Quaker Attender, and deeply committed to Quaker faith and practice. I had not gone back to the Episcopalians, though Union was sort of Episcopalian in fact, though officially nondenominational. I was very interested in religion and spiritual issues, and I would have loved to have been able to continue on in seminary. But my father, who had just started out in Santa Cruz as a lawyer, was under incredible stress. When I saw him at Christmas in 1970, he was pale white, and he said, “I need help. Please come to Santa Cruz.” I have always been a good kid, so I went to Santa Cruz and joined my father in his law practice (just as an associate, not as a partner). But by the time I got there, in June of 1971, he didn’t need my help. He had hired another associate. I had this wife who I was worried about supporting. Why had I done this? Nonetheless, I did act as an attorney and got some jobs.
One of the jobs I got was representing a group of people who wanted to stop a proposed development a beautiful area in the city of Santa Cruz called Lighthouse Field. The Field is located right at Lighthouse Point, which is the biggest surfing spot in Santa Cruz, and there is a little museum there now, built inside the lighthouse. There was a huge development planned for this area, but I hadn’t paid much attention, and when first approached by the group, I really didn’t know anything about the issues.
My family had moved to Santa Cruz right after I got out of high school, in 1961, and so that was my official residence from then on, but I really moved back to town in 1971, after I’d been to Union Theological Seminary. Between 1961 and 1971 I hadn’t had much contact with Santa Cruz, so I wasn’t too “up” on what was going on in the community. Here was this group that wanted to save Lighthouse Field, and they came to me and said we want you to be our attorney. I wrote up a brief about what they could do. I got hired. They quickly ran out of money, so I just became a part of the group. We did a million different things, it seemed. There were public meetings with 1,500 people involved. I wrote an initiative that went on the ballot, and passed, in 1974. And we saved Lighthouse Field.
While that was happening, I became a public figure in the community, which I never planned to do. And because I had played such a prominent role in a community environmental battle, in which the “community” beat back the “developers,” I was asked to run for the County of Board of Supervisors, which is a big deal. There are five people on the Board of Supervisors, and they are in charge of the entire county. I initially said no, but then I thought about it. I didn’t like being an attorney. So I ran, and I was elected. Suddenly, at age 29, I was the youngest elected Supervisor in the entire state of California. I had essentially zero experience with government, and I wasn’t even that familiar with the local community.
As a member of the County Board of Supervisors, I immediately became involved in this incredibly tumultuous part of political history, locally. We were, at that time, the fastest-growing county in the state of California and the fifth-fastest growing county in the United States of America. Huge development pressures were coming over the hill from the Silicon Valley. We had all this beautiful farmland and coastal land that, if developed, would provide housing that would offer practically as quick a commute into the Silicon Valley as from places within Santa Clara County itself. Santa Clara County, where Palo Alto is located, and which is where I grew up, was rapidly being transformed into the high-technology metropolis it is today. The question for Santa Cruz County was whether it would be subsumed in that development, or whether it could remain different from the Silicon Valley. I ended up becoming a leader on growth management issues. I wrote a referendum measure, Measure J, that the voters adopted in 1978. Measure J said, among other things, that if you happened to own farmland, your farmland could only be used for farming. That’s all that it can be used for. You can’t develop it; you can’t transform it into anything else. That was a dramatic policy directive. Because Measure J was enacted by the voters, Santa Cruz County has not had the same fate as Santa Clara County, which was also predominantly an agricultural county until about the mid-sixties.
I became a very controversial and leading figure in the county and then served for twenty years on the Board of Supervisors, mainly working on land use, growth management, coastal protection and other environmental issues, but also working on human service and community-based program issues and just running government in a democratic way. That’s really how I have defined myself when I think of myself as a person: I am basically a politician. I am an attorney, but I am sort of a politician that uses the law to make politics work. That’s how I think of myself.
As I was telling my class at UCSC yesterday, I ultimately came up with an understanding of how politics actually does work to create our human world. This understanding, an approach that I call the “two-world hypothesis,” comes out of the experiences I have had after being involved in public life for so many years. It is an understanding of the world that I believe is founded on a profound religious or spiritual insight, which is that we live, ultimately, in a world created by God. God has created a natural world, subject to natural laws, and we are privileged to live in this world; it is such a wonderful and beautiful place. We have now been able to see our world from space, and to understand how precious our lives are in this world that we had nothing to do with creating. That is ultimately where we are. We are creatures living within the World of Nature, and subject to Nature’s laws.
But, we are only living “ultimately” in the World of Nature. Most “immediately,” we live not in the World of Nature, which surrounds everything and is the condition of everything and all life, but in a world that we create ourselves. We live most immediately, in other words, in a human world. In that human world, we have a set of laws, which are different from the “laws” of the World of Nature. The same word is used, but our laws are totally different from the laws in the World that God has established. We know that the law of gravity, and all of the other laws that govern the physical universe, cannot be broken. Once we discover what they are, they are perfectly descriptive of what happens; what must happen; what will happen. They are commandants. They are definitive and descriptive.
But in our world, the laws are not like that. Our laws don’t say what will or must happen; they are our statement of what should happen. Human laws are prescriptive, like a doctor’s prescription; they are not descriptive like the laws that govern the natural world.
So often, we fail to grasp this essential difference. We fail to understand it all the time. We can’t violate the laws of nature without supreme penalties. Global warming indicates that we haven’t learned that lesson. And yet in our world, we can change any law we want to and we can create any kind of world we want to. There is nothing inevitable in the political world that we create. We do create our world, in the end, by a process that I call “politics,” which begins with a debate, and discussion, and controversy and conflict about what should we do. There are many good ideas of what we might want to do. We have to decide what we want to do, collectively, and then we (most often, at least) do what we have decided. The process of debate about what we should do is politics, and when we make a decision, we write ourselves a prescription for our future action, by passing laws. Our human laws are the prescriptions we provide ourselves, telling ourselves how we want to conduct ourselves in this world that we create.
This is, in effect, what I have ended up thinking that my life has mainly been about. “Politics” is the process that helps us, within a community, develop the rules and laws, the prescriptions that tell us how we should live together. Whether we fully appreciate it or not, we all have an opportunity to be engaged in the creation of a human world, and if we act correctly, we can create a human world that respects and reflects the world of God, the natural world, and the spiritual realities over which we have no dominion whatsoever.
Everything within our “human” or “political” world is the product of our human decisions and our human choices, collectively arrived at. It is not, of course, easy to change the realities of our world, but at least it is possible. My particular view of the spiritual life of any person, including myself, is that we each have the ability to connect with and converse with God, and with the power of the ultimate reality in which we find ourselves, and to use the resources available to us in that larger world to work with every other person with whom we are in contact to create our own human reality, and to create that human reality, for which we are responsible, in a way that will make our world into something that is good, something that we think is genuinely good and that will make our world into a place that will bring us joy, and peace.
This is what I think that life is ultimately all about. I am trying to live it out in that context. And I think that is the end of my story.
QUF: Very comprehensive and very thoughtful, Gary. Thank you. Some of the questions that we will follow on, you have touched on. Perhaps you can reflect back on your story as we go through questions.
QUF: What changes have you observed in your view of the scope of your concern beyond ourselves during your life?
PATTON: I think I have grown in my appreciation and learned during my life that, what began with me as an empowering realization that I am an individual, with the power to act individually, can lead to all the fallacies that go along with individualism, with pride and hubris definitely being among them. I have an ever growing understanding, particularly as I am getting older, and am coming around to the last lap, looking toward the finish line, that I am most importantly connected not simply to the world of my own making, but to the world itself, to the world of the entire Creation. The greatest blessing that I have received is simply the blessing of being alive at all, and being conscious of and grateful for the wonderful gift of life itself. This has been a life’s lesson that has come to me through various things, and reading of course being one of them, but really through my experience in the world, and oddly it has come to me through politics more than anything else.
QUF: What changes have you observed in your view of human relationships to animals, plants and objects?
PATTON: I can tell this little story to show where I was a while ago. My family moved to the mountains in Santa Cruz County right after I graduated from high school. We had lived in the city of Palo Alto, and so now we were living in the country, which was a big change. My parents had purchased about forty-acres in the mountains, a place called Wildwood (my brother is now living there). Wildwood was wonderful. It had an orchard and redwood trees, and was an isolated place, a lovely place. My mother particularly loved Wildwood. My parents lived there, not until they died, but for many, many years. And so, after we moved to Wildwood, I had gotten a gun for the first time. It was not a real gun; it was a pellet gun. It shot pellets that were equivalent to a .22 bullet, and I actually set out to kill animals, particularly birds.
We had a beautiful cherry tree; it was huge, but we never got any cherries because blue jays would descend and eat the cherries before we could eat them, and there was nothing left for us. And I had, which I think is a sort of common thing, no appreciation for any direct connection between me and other animals. I knew they were there, but I didn’t sense any commonality or that we were together in this life. I rather thought I was king of the castle here with my gun, and I was going to protect my cherry tree.
So, I went down under the cherry tree, with my gun and actually my brother, who is younger than I, and we waited for the blue jays to come. And one came, and I shot it. It fell right at my feet, but it hadn’t died. And it looked up to me, as it lay at my feet, and I’ll never forget that blue jay. Wow, how could I have killed it? It looked at me, right into my eyes, and went AWWWK, and then it died. I won’t say from that moment everything was changed in a twinkling, but that moment has always been with me. And I have learned the same lesson as an environmentalist. I have worked for environmental organizations and in the state legislature, lobbying for the environment, and I have studied the Endangered Species Act, which is one of these prescriptive statements, one of those laws by which we tell ourselves what we think we should do, and the lesson I have learned, and that I now recognize, is how sacred life is in every manifestation of life. In every manifestation. And so, I would have to say that during my life I have been transformed in my understanding of my human role and our human role in the world. We are together, not only with other humans, but also with all other living things. We have no dominion over other living things. We, too, are creatures.
QUF: How has your reflection changed regarding the scope of human duties or obligations toward past or future generations of humans?
PATTON: Well, I often remember what George Fox said about time, which is “you have no time but this present, so therefore value this time for your soul’s sake.” In fact, I believe that one of the problems we have as human beings is that we do assume that we possess a kind of dominion over our own lives, and that we are writing the history of our life as though we were completely in charge. While we are definitely in charge of what we do, in the world we create, in the larger world, in which we ultimately live, we are just passing through. In fact, the precondition of life is death, and that’s how it works.
We do not like to submit ourselves to that, because it really does say, ultimately, that we are not in charge; ultimately, we are a part of something that goes on, that is greater than we are, that is ultimately the reality that counts. And the key to that ultimate reality is death. I do feel a connection to this greater reality, extending past my life. I think our obligation towards past and future generations of humans must be an obligation we discharge in the moment in which we live. We must seek to live in good faith and relationship with the natural world, and with all humans, and with other living things, and with our own world in this present moment – always in this present time, and not presume we are going to determine the future as a project of human action. And that to me is a very important point, and it is very consistent with the Quaker realization of the immediate presence of the Spirit with us at all times. We do need to concentrate on that “now,” in the time we have, for our soul’s sake.
QUF: How has mysticism been a factor in your affiliation or connection with Quaker universalism?
PATTON: Well, I have read a great deal about mysticism. I’ve done a lot reading over my life, but I never really experienced it other than in Quaker meetings. Many times you experience what could well be called mystical, the real presence of God, with you and with us. I have had that experience many times through Quaker meetings and also sometimes, extremely powerfully, more times as an attenuated-like fog or mist present in the atmosphere.
But the most significant individual mystical experience I have had personally was an experience I had when I was an undergrad at Stanford, walking along with some friends. I don’t really remember what I was doing, exactly, why my friends and I were walking, and where we were going, but I will never forget that suddenly it seemed as if my surroundings became totally infused with a golden light, and I felt like I was in the presence of the divine, like the burning bush that Moses beheld. It was just an incredibly powerful experience, and fairly brief. I became convinced that there are realities beyond the commonly observed reality of our daily life. One little instance can convince you there is a reality beyond the “normal,” one that you may never see again, but that is indisputably there.
I have not had ongoing mystical experiences. And while I’ve read about them, and believe in them, I have never taken kind of psychedelic drugs, even including marijuana, as a way to try to seek them out. So, I have never had any assistance in reaching altered states, and personally, mysticism has not been something that has been prominent in my life, but I think of it as one of the things that can jar us, and that has obviously, throughout time, jarred us into understanding who we are and where we really are.
QUF: What changes have you observed in the practice of silence in your experience?
PATTON: To me, the most satisfying Quaker meetings are ones, in which the silence is and becomes ever more profound and then, is punctuated by what could be called the mystical presence of the word and the word is with God and the word was God. The great Quaker meetings, particularly the gathered meetings, that happen once in a while, come out of silence. Meetings that are chatty and other human interactions that are chatty are not profoundly connecting us with the the spiritual reality that is around all of us, in my opinion, nearly as much as when we come to something out of silence.
So, I have learned the value that silence has as a way to prepare the meeting, the group and myself, for a revelation of something that would speak to us out of the silence. A meeting that is nothing but silence, and those are not infrequent, may also be satisfying when the silence is really pregnant. You’ve heard of a pregnant silence, where the silence results in a birth, in something that appears. Experiencing such a silence is in and of itself fulfilling. The most important thing, always, is to prepare in silence. And so I’m always appreciative when Friends truly understand that to be silent is in itself a way to provide a gift to the meeting, and that it is not necessary to give other Friends their thoughts, which could be, very good thoughts, about what they read in the newspaper that morning. I deeply appreciate silence particularly in the Friends meeting context.
QUF: What changes have you observed in your view of religions, or other religious traditions than the Quaker tradition?
PATTON: I guess I could call my son a practicing Buddhist. He has gone deeply into Buddhism, and mindfulness, and non-attachment. I have come to appreciate that tradition, that religious way of relating to our position in the world. Through my son, very much so, and of course many Friends feel particularly comfortable with Buddhism. When my wife and I went to Egypt, which we did several years before the revolution in Egypt (maybe just a year before; no more than two years before), we had a chance to learn about Islam from our guides. We were on a tour in which there was nobody signed up except us. So it was a very small tour. Our guides were very devoted followers, devoted to Mohammed, and one in particular, whom I came deeply to respect, was able to show me an Islam that was worthy, and that was respectful of the divine.
I have never forgotten my time as an Episcopalian, and on my wife’s side, I have had a great deal of contact with the Presbyterian Church, and to have contact with her much more traditional protestant Christian roots. My wife’s brother is a Presbyterian minister, following in the steps of their father, so we frequently have a chance to talk about that with him.
I would have to say that, while the Quaker tradition speaks to me as the best way to put our individual relationship to God together with our inevitable and necessary relationship with others in the world, I also think that all of the religions with which I have had contact have convinced me of the universality of the spiritual dimension to our lives which is the reality in which we live. The formalities and the doctrines tend to disappear as you have experience with people who are profoundly living and experiencing all the religious traditions that I have been exposed to. Interestingly here, I have quite a bit of connection with the Unitarians in Santa Cruz County because they‘ve been quite politically active, and so I have been at many meetings with the Unitarian Church and, of course, they are very much in that same kind of spirit.
QUF: What is the role in your life of particular persons as models, heroes or saints (e.g. Jesus, Mohammed, Siddhartha, Saints, Buddhivistas, etc.) in your life understanding?
PATTON: I remember reading the lives of the saints a long time ago. I have never felt a spiritual connection with saints. And I think as you perceive modern efforts to create saints, it seems all very “human” to me. Of course, the story of Jesus is profoundly affecting. I really do think of Jesus as both human and as a representative of God’s divinity in our human environment, and someone who speaks to me directly. Without saying that I have a “what would Jesus do” sort of approach, which popular saying I think trivializes the experience, I really do believe that reflecting on Jesus and his life is of paramount importance.
QUF: How have you come to understand the reality of our human nature (both positive or negative elements)?
PATTON: Sin is a very real thing to me. I believe that there is something in us that can glory in doing wrong, and that certainly seeks to excuse the wrongs we do, and to justify them. And particularly as I am getting old, I think that it is so wonderful that we can appreciate a reality that washes it out, that forgives us for everything. The power of the forgiveness of God, which I have come to feel personally, in a very profound way, is something we should be searching for.
We should be searching for how forgiveness is made available to us because our wrongs are not, in some cases, mistakes we make inadvertently. We may do something knowing that it’s not the right thing to do, and then how can we ever forgive ourselves, particularly if what we do has consequences? Sometimes we can see that our mistakes do have consequences, and we must then rely on the forgiveness of God.
Our discovery of the fact of God’s forgiveness, which allows us to forgive ourselves, probably comes to different people in different ways. For me, I have found forgiveness in the process of admitting that I have sinned. That is what leads me to my discovery of forgiveness. I have done wrong, and knowing that that I have done so, acknowledging that, precipitates a realization that despite all my errors and despite even the intentional wrongs I have done, it is still “OK.” After acknowledgement, I virtually hear the pronouncement: “You are forgiven.” I am not a believer in Hell and eternal damnation. I don’t think of it that way. That is a mechanism of human control, but sin is real. It’s not true that there isn’t such a thing as sin. There is, and it is deliberate, and I am guilty.
QUF: How are the bad or harmful thoughts and acts, and failures to act, of humans remedied (redemption) in your understanding?
PATTON: This is an interesting issue for me. I have really come to appreciate traditional Christian doctrine, in the most conservative phraseology of being “born again,” which is not a terminology Quakers would normally use. The meaning of that phrase, to me (and I have come to think I understand what it means), is that this status of being “born again” is at the heart of redemption. And the way I see it, this is process of being born again is a kind of “trick” that gives us access to life, and to life more abundantly.
As Jesus was basically saying, and as Christian tradition teaches, and as one’s life experience can lead one to understand, we have in a very real way, each one of us, already died. We are already dead. And yet we are still alive. We are “born again” because once we profoundly accept that we have already died, and that the worst thing that can ever happen to us – dying – has already happened to us, and that despite that fact we are still living, then everything else pales in significance; all the “dangers” and “fears” of life fade away. We have life, and life more abundantly, once we know, in truth, that we have died with Christ, and been reborn with him. So, you can get fired from your job; you can make a mistake in front of a big crowd; you can experience all the adversities of Job, but even if you feel like dying in these or in any situation, you can remember that death is the worst that can happen, and by being born, we have already died and, yet, we are living.
To me, that understanding is redemptive. It is redemptive and permits me and, I think, permits those who can access that power of redemption, to appreciate our true position. We are alive and yet already been essentially committed to death. And that allows us to do what George Fox said which says “live in this present moment.”
QUF: What changes have you observed in adult spiritual guidance for Quaker youth regarding these Quaker universalist themes?
PATTON: I don’t know that I have too much to say about that particular question. I do ever more appreciate, as I get older, how it is difficult for elders to be able to communicate their insights to younger people. My wife, Marilyn, has been deeply engaged in our meeting with First Day School and with teaching young people. I have not been really engaged with that to any degree at all. But I can say that I am ever more appreciative of the potential wisdom and insights that we can get from our elders, and that eldering in meeting is a profoundly important practice. But this is not one that is easy. I think it is hard for younger Friends to appreciate the insights that older Friends may have. I know the project that we are engaged in right, with this interview, now is probably partly intended to help open some opportunities for that transmission insight from older to the younger.
QUF: How do your Quaker universalism views affect your understanding of your citizenship in the nation of the United States?
PATTON: As you have heard from my story, I have been deeply engaged in the political life, which could be called good citizenship at the local, state, and federal level, for most of my adult life. Other than through support for AFSC, and for other Friends organizations working in this political realm, I have never explicitly conducted things, or been engaged in citizenship-related activities because of, or in direct relationship with, my religious understandings or views, Quaker or otherwise.
But I would say that the understandings that I have come to about politics, and that I have been talking about with you, are at root deeply spiritual insights. We are profoundly connected with others, and we have an opportunity, with others, to create our own world, our own civilization, to conform to what we think of as the best thing for us and our children, and I am convinced that our religious, our spiritual, insights, the kind of perspective we can gain through active faith and practice in Quaker universalism, should inform, can inform, and does inform our lives as citizens.
QUF: How has your Quaker universalism understanding changed your understanding of political involvement of Quakers and others?
PATTON: I really love the phrase, the Quaker phrase, “speak truth to power.” I really believe that this is very important because people are fearful, very often, of speaking out, and are afraid to think, and critique, and complain about what they see.
As a example, the United States Government, the President, and Leon Panetta (who used to be my Congressman, and then became the head of the CIA and the Defense Department, and who is much revered in Santa Cruz County) all take the position that the President of United States should be able to draw up a list of people the President believes should be killed, and that the President can then use our money and our military operational abilities to go around the world to kill these people, killing others who just happen to be in the near vicinity as collateral damage. This is our “drone” program. We need to speak out that that is unacceptable. We need to speak out. Quakers are doing that. Quakers, more than most, are doing that. I am proud to be associated with those who “speak truth to power.”
QUF: What changes have you observed in your view of the universe surrounding us?
PATTON: I am sort of fascinated by physics, though I am no good at physics, and if I look at a math equation I go blank. The changes that we have been developing in our understanding of the universe, to me, the quantum nature of reality, the remote entanglements of everything, are metaphors for the immense truth that we are part of this world and that this world – the universe in its entirety – is ultimately in some way associated with God the Creator. It is fascinating to learn little things about physics that reveal the profound truth of where we are. Biological science, on the other hand, is where I am most worried, because in that field humans are asserting their right to take immediate dominion over the creation of life, as though they can properly substitute in for God. It’s worrisome!
Physics, all of the new scientific discoveries, open to us our appreciation of our true position within the world, and of the presence of God. Biology on the other hand, is terribly scary. Genetic engineering and the idea that that we will now decide and design life according to our human specifications, which we are moving ahead to do with ever greater alacrity, this is exactly what is wrong. We are not in charge of the world of nature. We are in charge in our world. We are trying to assert human control over life itself as though we give life; we decide what life will be. I am profoundly worried about what’s happening in biology. At the same time, I am awed by the vision physics seems to be revealing.
QUF: How have your reflections evolved regarding the nature of God or that part of reality at the border of words and images?
PATTON: I’ve been talking about that in all sorts of ways in this discussion. I did not start off having an understanding of God as the all-encompassing truth and reality of everything that exists. Now, that is the view I have of God and God’s immediate presence everywhere, and of God’s accessibility at all times. That insight started coming to me when I moved into Quakerism. I started much more traditionally reading the Bible, going to Sunday School, being an Episcopalian, and while the God is more personal in that concept, the gray bearded guy on the cloud, there is a way that this traditional view of God is very abstract. Whereas, my understanding now is of the immanence and the presence of God everywhere at all times, and of God’s accessibility, but in a personal way, not an abstract way, in a personal way, in which you have access to the power of God. And power is an important positive thing for me. Power is the ability to act, to do something. The idea that that power is just there for you to utilize. Sin is where you utilize it for bad. You can utilize it for good.
I think I have changed quite a bit. However, I will say this, because you asked in the question about the “border of words and images,” the most meaningful statement in the gospels for me, in John, was always “In the beginning was the word. And the word was with God and the word was God.” I am a writer; I am a talker. The idea of word as an image of God to me is still is one of the most powerful images I have, that we are in essence written into existence and we are able to write the creation ourselves. And that the idea of articulating the truth is really a profound image for me of what, and how God exists, and what God is.
QUF: What changes have you observed in your view of the Light Within (the Inner Light, the Spirit within, the Christ within and, the Seed, the spirit of God) in your journey with Quaker universalism?
PATTON: I have a Quaker understanding of the presence of God within. The authority of the scriptures, the authority of holy works, the authority of the ministry, etc., comes from that source, and that is not a source that is dispensed only to some, or is available only in one book or another. God’s presence is something that is manifested in all these various different ways. But, God is immanent and available everywhere at all times, to all of us.
QUF: How has your reflection changed regarding the important sources of authority (e.g. tradition, scripture, experience, reason, revelation) to which you refer in decisions about linking faith and practice in daily life?
PATTON: I actually think I was just answering that question. I believe that while various written documents are repositories of insight, authority comes from God. Kierkegaard used to say, “God is the author;” God is writing what gets written. The Quaker understanding is my understanding, which is that God is present and available to all people, and that God’s presence is particularly accessible when you gather together with others to help build a mutual understating of the presence of God among us. God is participating in the midst of our human reality by providing us with an immediate access to the presence of God.
QUF: What have you observed in Quaker views of continuing revelation?
PATTON: I believe, in fact, there is a continuing revelation. The world is revealing itself and is revealed always in this moment. Again, I come out of a more traditional Christian tradition, the Episcopalian Church that is the next best thing to the Catholic Church in the sense of its formalism.
I have moved to the Quaker side which tells us not to focus on the past, but to focus on the present, as George Fox advised, because that is when the power of the living God comes to us, and that is where we can appreciate all things, including the past revelations in light of our immediate access to God right now.
QUF: What have you observed in the understanding and practice of prayer in the Quaker tradition?
PATTON: I wish I were a better person in my ability to pray. I pray daily; I pray in gratitude mostly. My sense is that what we call prayer is, in fact, the word we give to what we do when we open ourselves and access the power of God and God’s presence wherever we are and in whatever situation we find ourselves. So, prayer is simply a doorway though which we enter into that presence and have the conversation and relationship with the power of the spirit that is always with us and always available. In the Quaker tradition, we then appreciate that presence clearly most when we come together in a meeting and so together we can bring some validity to what we might start thinking as hallucinatory if we didn’t have others to be there with us.
QUF: What changes have you observed in the attraction, understanding and use of scriptures in discernment of sound practice in the Quaker community?
PATTON: I don’t know if my experience is a typical experience, but it seems to me that the Quaker community with which I have been involved has come to rely less and less on the Bible and scriptures as a source to discern what to do, and as a source of guidance, and as a way to provide answers, and provide sustenance and support. It is a lot less likely in a Friends’ meetings today, than when I started going in 1962, that a Friend would rise in meeting and quote from the Bible. That is not nearly as much a factor now as fifty years ago.
QUF: What is your thinking about the effect of the use of new electronic media (the internet) for the exploration of universalism themes in the Quaker tradition in the future?
PATTON: Well, I obviously think it has got to be a good thing because that is what we are doing right now. We are hoping that a conversation between us will be informative or helpful to others whom I have never met or never will, but who might perhaps have some real insight into something of importance because of something I have said, and that is available to others online.
It does seem to me that the essentially worldwide Internet connectivity we now have opens up great opportunities for connections and for people beginning to trust the reality of connections beyond the people they immediately contact. However, having said that, the concern people have, that is usually expressed around Facebook, because Facebook is such prominent part of social media today, and the fear is that our current connectivity will lead to a sort of Gresham’s law of communication. Gresham was an economist who articulated the idea that “bad money drives out good.” In other words, if you have a dollar in gold and you have a paper dollar, you will keep the gold dollar and use the paper dollar in commerce, so that the “good” currency is taken out of circulation. The gold, the good stuff, doesn’t circulate. There is a factor like that in these modern technologies of communication, which diminish the significance of things because there is so much of it, and the quality is sometimes so questionable.
I think it’s very important never to decide that we could rely on Internet connectivity as a substitute for real, direct human interaction – in politics and in other human endeavors, like education. It is so easy to push that little button, and to send your letter to your Congress member, or to the President, saying what your position on gun control, or on the death penalty, or on immigration, or on whatever other issue you are concerned about. That isn’t what is going to change political realities, in my opinion.
What will really change our reality are personal relationships. Other kinds of contacts and communications can be helpful, but they must always be subordinate to a genuine personal connection, if they are to be truly helpful. Internet connectivity can never be a substitute for talking to people, writing letters to people, or personally meeting with people. We need to watch out for that.
QUF: What questions have I failed to ask regarding Quaker universalism in contemporary life in your life experience?
PATTON: I can’t think of any. I’m sure there are some. They don’t immediately come to mind, and we have been talking for quite a period. I hope I haven’t been too verbose or too extensive in what I have said. I have enjoyed this greatly. I really think that what you are doing is very useful, using modern media as a way to increase the possibility that people can make genuine human connections around issues that are of ultimate significance to all of us, issues like who are we? Who are we in relation to our brothers and sisters? To all people? To the world of nature? To the animal kingdom? To the science and understanding of the universe and the earth and our position in it? Just being able to talk for an hour and half about such subjects is really a joy.
QUF: Gary, it has been an absolute pleasure to talk with you. I know that your ideas and your views are going to resonant with many, many people and surely motivate them. We really appreciate your precious time. Thank you again.
PATTON: Thank you.