Do you know what is better than charity and fasting and prayer?

It is keeping peace and good relations between people,

as quarrels and bad feelings destroy mankind.

- Prophet Mohammed


Day 16

You want to know the real reason I feel a connection to Quakers?

I'm a sissy.

Not really, but I have managed to make it to twenty-seven without being in a physical fight or intentionally injuring another person. However, I can't claim to have always hated or been disgusted by the sight of violence.  For one reason or another, I liked watching Faces of Death when I was a teenager. Seeing an actual death or extreme violence was so rare for me in real life that I guess something about it aroused curiosity. Then again, all I really remember of Faces of Death at this point is these guys.

Elephantiasis of the balls tends to leave an last impression, no? Look at that shit! To quote Elaine from infamous "Shrinkage" episode, "I don't know how you guys walk around with those things."

I also recall a time in high school when two of my childhood friends were close to getting into a fight and I did nothing to stop it. In fact, I sort of egged it on. I wasn't alone in that effort as everyone sort of gathered around shouting "Fight!", but I probably could have been a voice of reason in all that chaos. I remember their names, too. It was Franz and Andrew. One of them I went to school with for nine years and the other I played basketball with for several seasons. There was nothing to gain from encouraging such a fight and, as it turned out, nothing was gained. They still continued disliking each other afterwards and now, almost fifteen years later, they probably hardly remember the incident. 

A couple years ago, I was in an old market district in Seoul looking for some cool straw sandals when a commotion erupted in front of one of the make-shift booths. I was automatically drawn to the action. My wife kept pulling me away, but I wanted to watch. I think I'm a little voyeuristic. By the time I got there, a sizable group had encircled the conflict. I pushed my way through and got a great spot only to discover it was two women clearly over eighty years of age arguing over a measely two-feet of sales space. 

They were barking at each other for a few moments before one of them struck the other's shoulder with a handbag she had grabbed from a nearby sales table.  Of course, the other women had to retaliate and she opted for a sturdy tug of the hair and a minor face slap. After a few moments, I wasn't sure if I was watching grannies going at it or a inner city high school girl fight. The audience was enthralled for an intense three minutes before anyone even considered stepping in to end the dispute and just as it looked like it was about to fizzle out, the hair-pulling granny pulled a Barry Sanders juke and went head-first into the other woman's chest. Both women went down and stayed there. About fifteen minutes later, an ambulance arrived and they were taken away on stretchers.

In both of those incidents, a clear message of futility was displayed. None of those directly involved gained anything except for injury, embarrassment and anger while those who observed or got caught in the cross-fire suffered from the sight alone. Like the Buddhists, the Quakers are staunchly non-violent. This commitment is totally unbending. No exceptions. The origins of it are unclear though. Some believe that their passivity came from their need to clearly state their intentions during the British Civil War and others think that it was always that way because they chose to live a Jesus Christ did and said and accept all forms of suffering (both physical, legal and financial) inflicted upon you.

In 1661, George Fox told Charles II this about Quakers:
We utterly deny all outward wars and strife and fightings with outward weapons, for any end or under any pretence whatsoever. And this is our testimony to the whole world. The Spirit of Christ, which leads us into all Truth, will never move us to fight and war against any man with outward weapons, neither for the kingdom of Christ, nor for the kingdoms of this world.
There are tons of examples about their stances on anti-violence and peace and to me their message rings true. I firmly believe that violence only occurs when people run out of ideas. Following that logic, Friends appear to have a lot of ideas as they have refused to fight in many wars ranging from the American Revolution and Civil War all the way up to the wars of the past century and beyond. That doesn't mean they can't stand up for what they believe. The Quakers won't fight in wars--the operative word being 'fight'. They have, however, joined the effort in a service capacity; volunteering to be medics and persuading the US government to relax immigration laws for war refugees. 

And while they might be peaceful, trouble has certainly followed them. After years of violent persecution in intolerant Puritan Massachusetts, they fled to the South where for years they built communities, started businesses, forged relationships with Native Americans and held (without taking an oath) public office. That relative peace came to an end as many colonists in Pennsylvania and North Carolina started to view them as freeloaders riding on sacrifices of their more militant neighbors and fellow countrymen. In North Carolina and Tennessee, they were the focus of severe distrust as Southern Friends freed all their slaves by the 1800s and rejected the inhumane institution. As a result, many Quakers and blacks made the long trek up through Ohio and into Indiana. I believe my great great grandfather, Enoch Beals, was one of these Friends and it would make sense since he lived on the other side of the Smokies in Greene County (which used to be much bigger), Tennessee and would have been caught up in the later years of that big migration.

Interestingly enough, Quaker passivity was also used as a tool for manipulation. The Quakers played an important role in Native American relations (before, during and after both the Revolutionary War and the Civil War). President Grant adopted a Quaker-submitted plan for dealing with the increasingly hostile conflicts between western settlers and natives. Grant originally wanted to restore the Department of Indian Affairs to the Department of War, but after hearing what the Quakers offered (which was essentially a loose conversion plan in-disguise), he said this:
"Gentlemen, your advice is good. I accept it. Now give me the names of same Friends for Indian agents and I will appoint them. If you can make Quakers out of the Indians it will take the fight out of them. Let us have peace."
Sadly, this plan ended up in cultural genocide --something that many Friends are not eager to admit. Personally, I despise such behavior and Grant's comments make the whole thing even more slippery to me. Using Quakerism (or any religion for that matter) as a way to defeat an enemy is disgusting and smacks of conquest, but it at least sounded like a more peaceful solution than violent confrontation. 

My brothers! I am happy to meet you. I have long desired this opportunity to talk with you, but my duty to other tribes has prevented my being with you till this day. I call you brothers because we have all one common father. The Great Creator of all made the white man, the red man and the black man equal. He gave to the white man no more natural rights than He gave the to red man; and I claim from you no rights and privileges but such as I extend to you, and you should claim from me no more than you extend to me. I have long waited to have a plain talk with you, and am glad to see so many here today.
—Enoch Hoag, 1869

I could go on and on about this, but I'd just like to say that such an historical and unfettering commitment to non-violence under any circumstances is amazing. And honestly, it's just as the Bible instructed.
“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceablegentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. What causes wars, and what causes fighting among you? It is not your passions that are at war in your members? You desire and do not have; so you kill. And you covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and wage war.” -James 3:17-4:1
Let me ask you a question: How many religions do you know that have won a Nobel Peace Prize?

To be continued tomorrow. By that way, if you want to read a good one on Quakerism and peace, try Walking in the Way of Peace


  1. Very interesting. I was not aware of the influence of the Friends in assistance to the government.

  2. Good writing and research. I was unaware that Greene County once was much larger. Enoch Beals and other family members lived in the part that is currently Greene County. I hope to take you to see the meeting house and cemetery when you return to the States. For me, it was a spiritual experience to stand where your Quaker ancestors were born, lived, and died.