Quaker Universalist Conversations

Finding the Truth that transforms us

Responding to the question, “Is there a Truth that is universal and absolute?” Stephen Davison writes:

Doesn’t it come down to how we define “absolute”? My Webster’s 7th Collegiate includes “perfect, unrestricted, unquestionable, independent, fundamental, perfect embodiment, and self-sufficient without external reference” as possible meanings. Accordingly, I am happy to call truth that comes directly from the Light of Christ (or however a nonChristian universalist might understand this essential experience of Friends) “absolute”  in the sense of its being fundamental and self-sufficient. But we usually think of Absolute Truth as universal—as truth that would be true for anyone and everyone, regardless of time, place, or whatever. I think we usually consider Absolute Truth to be not just self-sufficient but also self-evident.

That is how direct revelation feels, in my experience. It comes with a power to confirm its own verity. Still, even direct revelation remains essentially subjective, it remains my experience of Truth. Sometimes the group, in the gathered meeting, experiences truth as transcendent in some way, too. So Truth can also be a corporate experience. But even then, it remains subjective to the two or three who are gathered. It may not be self-evident to anyone else, or to any other meeting of worshippers.

That’s just an empirical observation. Some meetings have approved same sex marriage; others condemn homosexuality. I have a Friend who was disowned by her meeting for being an atheist, in a meeting that I do not doubt was truly gathered when it made that decision, as I trust the testimony of those Friends; I cannot doubt their integrity and spiritual depth. Another meeting has since taken her into membership. It’s not self-evident to them that you have to believe in God to be a Friend.

Early Friends seemed to believe, for a while, at least, that their Truth would naturally, virtually automatically convince those with ears to hear and eyes to see. I think this is one of the reasons they sometimes condemned their opponents so vehemently: the darkness (of John’s gospel) resisted the light that was coming into the world, and this was Satan’s work. Nevertheless, their Truth did not convince the world and they were forced by the reality of history to abandon the apocalyptic faith in the second coming of Christ.

So I am led to pull my feet out of the mire of semantics regarding “absolute truth” and follow the path of direct experience of the Truth as far as it will take me.This is not at all the same as the “absolute perhaps”, a phrase coined by Ben Pink Dandelion to describe the liberal Quaker commitment to seeking itself as the Truth and the relegation of all truth to the realm of the relative. Individual Friends and meetings DO find the Truth and it transforms them. This does not end their seeking for deeper understanding or more and new truths. But neither does the subjective nature of their Truth diminish the fundamental power and the transcending joy of what they have found. As Fox testified, nothing beats having found what your are looking for.

Stephen also has a blog at throughtheflamingsword.wordpress..com

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