Orthodoxy As An Event and Questions About a Quaker Orthodoxy

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Tony Jones, recently discussed a paper he read at Wheaton.  In the paper he talks about the prospect of being an “anti-theologian,” (a designation I too find attractive) and orthodoxy as something that exists within particular events but not as an objective reality out there somewhere.  I found some troubling questions for Friends given the reality of Jones’ arguement. About his paper he says,

…The gist of it was that I said that orthodoxy doesn’t “exist.” Instead, orthodoxy is an event, in the Derridean/Caputoean sense. That is, orthodoxy happens when human beings get together and practice it (talk about God, worship God, pray to God, write books about God, etc.). There’s no orthodoxy somewhere out there that one can point to and say, “See that? That’s orthodoxy. That’s what we’re trying to get to.

We could ask, “Does this open the way to liberalism?” Jones says no because this explanation is based on a non-foundationlist critique of both liberalism and conservativism (two expressions of the same thing).  He responds,

I received some comments during the Q&A time, as well as a couple of emails, all suggesting the same thing: I’m opening the door to liberalism. One emailer has asked if I’ve not abdicated all realism to the infinite deferral of deconstruction. But, like he said in his email, liberalism and conservativism are two sides of the same coin. They both rest on foundationalist assumptions that I reject. So I see no fear of sliding into some kind of neo-liberalism.

His analogy of a baseball umpire helps to explain the point further,

I used the analogy of a baseball umpire who has to call balls and strikes during a game. While the rulebook declares what will constitute a strike, and the umpire can quote that definition verbatim, there is really no such thing as a strike until the ball is thrown and the umpire declares it. I asserted that, though the Major League strike zone does not accord exactly with the rule book, there will not come a time when batters will be required to swing at pitches over their heads. The community of baseball (umps, managers, batters, pitchers, catchers, fans, and MLB officials) all hold the strike zone in a dialectical tension.

Given these thoughts, he then invites all us, women and men, those marginalized by history and those of us who are people not, to work out our orthodoxy together.

While I haven’t read Jones’ paper, I agree with his assessment of orthodoxy, so far as I can tell.  There are however a few questions that confront the Friends tradition.  First, the problem we have in our tradition is that the even the meaning of our events and forms are so heavily under dispute.  Now, mind you I think forms are always open for change, but to have no telos for the forms is quite another problem.  Given this, what within the Quaker tradition could constitute as an orthodox event?  We may want to say silence, which is fine,  but silence to do what? For what? and towards what? On the other side, we may say read the Bible, preach from it, personally study it, which is also fine, but read it for what? Study it for what purpose?  Preach it to what cause?  Both silence and the Bible have in many ways been distorted and diluted by the modern agenda to privatize, personalize and commodify our tradition.  The very philosophical and theological assumptions upon which our linguistics, or the way we even talk about these things, have withered away under the pressures of the Enlightenment.

Second, what would it mean to have orthodoxy at all within the Friends church?  And in what ways can we can we regain some kind of ground within this question? Can we find a safe space to ask these hard questions and make suggestions without being attacked from all sides?  Are we willing to let go of our own sacred cows, and move beyond a faith defined almost solely by its forms?  There has been little room for a non-foundationalist, post-liberal, post-conservative Quakerism, though some of us are certainly trying.

Third, and the other side to the second point is of course whether we want any kind of orthodoxy at all.  If orthodoxy is situated within the Christian tradition, as it is for both Jones and for the whole of the Quaker narrative, then we must ask ourselves to what extent refusing orthodoxy, or fleeing from it is even more detrimental to the very epistemological claims of our tradition.  We’ve become famous for defining ourselves over against “the Other,” where the world is seen as having a destructive influence, but in the process of stressing so much otherness the world has caught of up with us (cf. Dandelion, 2004, 217).

Thus, Orthodoxy as an event reminds us that when we gather, we gather for some reason, toward something, within a larger story.  We gather on positive terms, not on negative ones defined by who we are against.  If this is so, the question remains for both the liberals and the fundamentalists, what is our relationship to this orthodox event?

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