Quakers: The Society of Friends
According to an old Quaker joke, the Holy Trinity consists of the fatherhood of God, the brotherhood of man, and the neighborhood of Philadelphia.
Right Angle Club: 2014
New topic 2013-11-19 20:22:11 description
Right Angle Club 2017
Dick Palmer and Bill Dorsey died this year. We will miss them.
|F. Scott Fitzgerald|
The roarin' Twenties, just after the First World War, were a time when we seemed to change conventional attitudes about Society. But in many ways, the convulsive changes of the Twenties were merely a process of facing up to what we already knew. In retrospect, many of the deeply emotional conflicts of that time, now seem entirely bearable. Scott Fitzgerald's most ponderous statement, the one that says "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function," reduces itself to the trivial agonies of loving two girls at a time, or choosing to stop smoking when you always knew you shouldn't start. Just about the only instance, I can think of, where two deeply loved Philadelphia institutions are in seriously troubling conflict, are the First City Troop, and Quakerism. The matter came to mind at the Right Angle Club, when a Philadelphia Trooper who simply radiated the honorable dedications of upper-class Philadelphia gentlemen, meekly described his dedication to restoring the crumbling monuments of bravely fallen comrades. The monuments he finds and restores at great personal expense are not merely warring heroes, although one suspects that is the root of it. The gravestones and monuments crumbling in the dust are markers of heroes of our civilization generally. But we do forget what we owe them and neglect their monuments.
|Fourth Street Meetinghouse|
Although the dominant Quakers of Philadelphia's early days are now reduced to a handful of practicing believers, almost every educated Philadelphian knows those beliefs pretty well. The early Friends did not even sympathize with carving their names on their tombstones. If you visit the Fourth Street Meetinghouse, you will be told that forty thousand bodies have been buried on the grounds, but only two graves have tombstones. The worship of grave markers, you will softly be told, is idolatry. The goal of a funeral should not be to mourn death but to celebrate a life well-lived. And although the custom of gravestones has reasserted itself, it does not take long to be gently reminded that keeping alive the memories of one war's atrocities, can eventually lead to more wars. We recently have seen wars in Bosnia and Kosovo being fought over Thirteenth Century grievances which might better be forgotten. Some of this comes from immigration over three thousand miles of ocean, but the effect is the same. I have no idea even what nationality my own 13th Century ancestors might have fought for, and I doubt if the world would be improved if I found out and sought to wreak vengeance for the inevitable atrocities.
|Philadelphia First City Troop|
But unless one is determined to denounce anything at all admirable about everything our society does to defend itself -- and there are some who go that far -- it is necessary to make a sad concession to force in successful governance. The 18th Century Quakers perhaps seldom acknowledged the need for occasional force as a condition for leadership, but they watched their children drift away from the religion, once they absorbed the lesson. Even those who choose conscientious objection for themselves must occasionally acknowledge the debt they owe to those who do answer the call of force and knowingly fail to survive it.
|Society of Friends|
There simply is no choice but to honor both sides of this issue, both permanently and side by side. There are some who can't, and in various ways fail to retain the ability to function. As in many of his more juvenile pronouncements, Fitzgerald does go much too far with assessing all the rest of Philadelphia as having less than first-rate intelligence. Philadelphians generally have at least a taste of the experience of holding these two opposing ideas-- the City Troop and the Society of Friends -- in mind at the same time, with approval for both. And generally seeming somewhat improved for having made the struggle.
Originally published: Friday, June 06, 2014; most-recently modified: Tuesday, May 21, 2019