Evil, the Collective, and the New Lamb’s War

May 15, 2022 § 3 Comments

Evil becomes fully transcendental when it manifests as sin by the collective. It is in the psycho-social dynamics of the mob that evil becomes a spirit, a Power, a force that transcends the personal to animate individuals into acting as organs of the collective. In its transcendental state, evil is capable of attracting and infecting new members to the collective, sometimes just on contact, and of transforming even those who otherwise would resist evil into at least silent enablers. 

This spirit’s weapons are fear, which leads to hate, and the lie. Hence what I call ideological evil, the willingness to do evil in the name of what you believe—burning witches, mass murder of Jews, invading Iraq or Ukraine, storming the Capitol.

That’s the psycho-social face of collective evil. There’s also a structural and systemic face—slavery and Jim Crow and the new Jim Crow, wage slavery and the other oppressive structures of capitalism, personal and collective dependence on fossil fuels, campaign finance law and partisan gerrymandering.

How do you turn the mob around? How do you transform the dominion of a system? The traditional Quaker answer is the Lamb’s War, individual and collective witness to the Truth through the word/Word, through the good news of a viable alternative exercised in the hands of love.

But you need an alternative. Where there is no vision, the people perish (Proverbs 19:18); or, as my NRSV puts it, where there is no prophecy, the people cast off restraint.

Thus, the Quaker answer today, I believe, begins with the nurture of prophecy. It begins with efforts by meetings to foster mature spirituality in its members and in its collective worship, expecting that God will raise up servants in good time; to recognize and support the prophets that the Spirit raises up among us; and to surrender our own attachments to ideas and structures in favor of true revelation.

We have to go deeper than the facile turn to the ideas of “that of God in everyone” and of the “testimonies” as ready and settled outward guides for action. A sublime idea about human nature (“that of God in everyone”) or minutes of conscience unpacking the SPICES will not save us. Only the Holy Spirit can do that.

Presumably, the Holy Spirit is trying. Are we?

If Spirit-led prophecy is the vehicle for Quaker contributions to the struggle against collective evil, then every Quaker meeting should be proactively preparing the soil, teaching its members the Quaker traditions around Spirit-led openings, leadings, and ministry. Every meeting should be equipped to provide Friends who feel they may have divine leadings with discernment (clearness committees for discernment) and to provide support for those whom God has in fact called. 

This means meaningful religious education programs on Quaker ministry and an active and Spirit-led worship and ministry committee proactively building up the spiritual maturity of the meeting and its members. The obvious place to start with the nurture of Spirit-led ministry is with vocal ministry. 

Vocal ministry is the signature form of ministry in our tradition. It is the laboratory in which emerging ministers find their feet and in which the meeting learns to listen, discern, and support. And it sometimes is the launching pad for a Friend’s leading, the moment when they first hear the call. And in this regard, we should expand our view of vocal ministry to include programs outside the meeting for worship and any other speech addressed to the meeting. My own path into Quaker ministry came while I was preparing for an earthcare program for a meeting.

Finally, I believe we need to become much more open to what Friends in the elder days called public ministry: speaking Truth to the Powers where they are in their positions of power. I believe this means going beyond the writing of minutes of conscience and publishing them or sending them as letters to the powerful; it means sending people to speak in person.

But of course we can only send those who have been called. Do our members know to listen for the call? Are our meetings prepared to help them discern their call and give them the support they need, no matter what their calling?

Presumably, the Holy Spirit is doing its part. Are we?

§ 3 Responses to Evil, the Collective, and the New Lamb’s War

  • John Cowan says:

    You nailed it. Some of us at m are beginning to become restless at they meeting dearth of sound ministry, or any ministry, and at the churning of administrative details and pedestrian political activity. As I say, “God offered us the Garden of Eden, and we created an apple factory.” Your list of what to does is helpful, but how to execute the list remains a problem. Nobody is trying to screw this up.

  • One thing that could help prepare us Friends for a new Lamb’s War is first to welcome the Lamb’s War into our own hearts and let the Lamb begin the battle there.
    James Nayler’s definitive “The Lamb’s War against the Man of Sin” (1657, online at http://qhpress.org/texts/nayler/lambswar.html) makes it clear that the Lamb’s War is not about outward acts of “speaking truth to power” with nonviolent acts of protest, confrontation and resistance in the secular world (though it may come to involve these), but, first and foremost, a dethroning of the “man of sin” (see 2 Thes 2:3-4 for the definition) within each of our own souls. This means what Islam calls (“the greater”) jihad. And, as any rightly educated Muslim can tell you, it’s meaningless to speak of carrying on this jihad, this holy war against our own unruliness, without first having made the submission to God that is the very essence of al-Islam.
    Early Quakers had more Christian-sounding names for this surrender of self-will: living under the Cross of Christ; putting off the old man with his deeds (Col 3:9), “mortifying” the old, fallen (because disobedient) Adam, and letting oneself be born again as a child of God. If and when we have acknowledged God/Christ as our rightful Owner, and lived into the struggle against our own besetting sins (taking pleasure in the failings of others; masturbating, physically or even just mentally, to adulterous fantasies; using sarcasm or hurtful speech; knowingly holding employment or stock in predatory enterprises, just to name a few) — only then are we fit to be soldiers in the Lamb’s War, with (as Nayler put it) “the Lamb in them, and they in him.”
    I’m afraid that “the nurture of Spirit-led prophecy” among today’s Friends could be just a vain attempt to kindle fire in wet wood, without strenuous efforts beforehand to loosen the grip of the devil’s own acquisitive, ego-exalting, self-satisfied, excitement-addicted consumer culture on our hearts. I fear individualistic vainglory driving would-be Spirit-led prophets to fill the hour of waiting worship with so much well-meant but essentially bogus vocal ministry that Friends who recognize the genuine article flee the established Religious Society of Friends, and regroup, if at all, in the catacombs of independent worship groups. It would sadden me to see this happen.

  • treegestalt says:

    In “willingness to do evil in the name of what you believe”, do you include tacit support of the US government’s ongoing efforts to keep the Ukrainian and Russian governments at war with each other, evidently (I would say) intended to bring them both under American control?

    Where does willing acceptance of propaganda generated and circulated by “our side” become a prime example of what you’re talking about? — right here in a location where it directly infects our thought, feelings, and behavior — and might be more directly addressable?

    Is critical thinking about “what everybody knows” an essential element in what we’re called to do?

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