Quakers, Religion and War

    Religion and War -1

    George Fox and the Quakers

    Kees Boukema

    Religions can call for, or support war – whether or not under ‘certain conditions’ -, but can also speak out against certain forms of warfare. For example: The German Reformierte Bund recognized on June 12, 1982 that the use of force by the State is sometimes unavoidable, but also stated that the development, installation and use of weapons of mass destruction, especially nuclear weapons that can exterminate man and destroy creation is completely incompatible with the Christian faith.

    There are also religions that take the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” literally and speak out against any violent struggle. In 1661, George Fox [1624-1691] and his followers, in opposing King Charles of England, declared: “We strongly reject all war and strife against others, and all combat, other than with the weapons of the spirit […] This is our testimony to all the world. The Spirit of Christ is immutable, so it cannot keep us from something one moment and at other times urge us to do it.” [M. van Willigen, “Churches You Rarely Hear About”; The Quakers. Trouw, 12-8- 2002 and G.H. Gorman, Introducing Quakers, London 1978 p. 58].

    George Fox and his followers, ‘The Society of Friends’ (known as ‘Quakers’), were as determined against any form of war as the Crusaders six centuries earlier (heeding the call of Pope Urban II at the Council of Clermont in 1095) in their intention to recapture Jerusalem, God’s chosen city, by force if necessary, from the ‘infidels’ [Georges Tate, The Crusades, p. 32.]

    1945 Quiapo Church, also known as the Church of the Black … | Flickr

    Fox wrote in a letter: “All that pretend to fight for Christ are deceived; for his kingdom is not of this world.” (See John 18:36 and Charles M. Woodman, Quakers find a way, pp. 233 ff.). For Fox and his followers, religion was not a matter of “believing in dogmas and rituals,” but “living in accordance with inwardly experienced spiritual values.” They conformed not to doctrines and precepts, but to the overwhelming sense of God’s nearness. They were convinced that they could be connected to God, their ‘Inner Light’, without the intervention of the church or priests.

    According to the authorities, they qualified themselves by that as ‘renegades’ [G. H. Gorman, p. 9 et seq.]. Fox was charged with blasphemy and, after an eight-hour interrogation by a judge and a senior military officer, sentenced to six months in prison and – when Fox did not agree to the terms of his release – for six months more.

    By 1660, the number of Quakers had grown to 50,000. More than 1,000 of them had been imprisoned for holding illegal gatherings or for refusing to swear oath in a court case. Three of them were hanged.

    In the 1970s Fox traveled to Ireland, Holland, Germany, the West Indies and America to deliver his message. At his death in 1691, the number of “Friends” had doubled [Woodman, p. 25].

    The first Englishmen to settle in Amerika, “New England” had come there under the impression that this land had been given to them by their king. They were provided with weapons to expel the original inhabitants by force if necessary. The Quakers, who settled in Rhode Island in 1657, befriended the natives and paid those who were willing to sell land “a just price” [Woodman, p. 239/240 and Tawney, Religion and the rise of capitalism, p. 270 and note 142].

    During the American Civil War (1861-1865), President Abraham Lincoln exempted the Quakers from military service on the grounds of conscientious objection [Global Vedanta, Summer 2013, p. 8.] With this, for the first time in history, it was recognized by a state that a citizen can be released from certain duties towards the state on the basis of conscientious objection. In accordance with resolution 36/18 of the Human Rights Council: “Conscientious objection of military service” – the right to conscientious objection on religious or moral grounds has now been laid down in legislation in many countries.

    In 1947, the Quakers of England and those of the United States were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to aid war victims during W.W. II. (Wikipedia and Trouw, t.a.p. 12-8-2002).

    Mr Kees Boukema is a scholar in Vedanta and Comparative philosophy. His brilliant and thorough-going articles on various philosophical and spiritual subjects  are being published since the first issue of the magazine. His latest work is De Beoefening van Meditatie.