Why I'm on the side of the Quakers
by Monica Furlong
In the past few days a group of Quakers, with all the courage for which the Friends are so famous, has created controversy by taking a look at personal relationships in our society and faithfully reporting what it saw.
Which is that, whether we like it or not, the citizens of this country do not, for the most part, live by the traditional Christian ethic of absolute virginity before marriage and absolute fidelity afterwards.
But, whereas at this point most Christian bodies in this country go off into pious tutting instead of serious thinking, the Quakers have taken the opportunity not only to ask whether the moral breakdown may mean t hat our morals are unrealistic, but also to ask what our morality is for.
Is it merely there to keep up a comfortable and respectable facade, or is it (and this is the point where it touches Christianity) to give men lives more abundantly full of happiness and love?
Is there not a frightful danger of making morals ends in themselves when we should be realising that they are merely guiding lines, lines to remind us of the degrees of love we owe to our married partners, our children, our fellow men and women, and our neighbours?
The Quakers are, of course, going to be accused of naivety as well as of far worse things, so this is the time to recognise the true value of what they have been saying.
They are asking us to reject traditional Christian morality not because it sets us too high a standard but because its standard is not high enough.
Looking around them, the writers see homosexuals obliged to lead furtive and frightened lives: they see married couples who relationship has become a bitter, sterile thing.
They see young people who, when they obey conventional Christian morals, do so more from fear--fear of pregnancy, disease or of sex itself--than out of love for their fellows.
The Quakers are not suggesting we should sweep traditions away in order to indulge in orgy and promiscuity. On the contrary, they are demanding a standard infinitely higher than the orthodox view demands.
They are begging us to forget about what is "done," and instead to train ourselves and our children to behave with love and responsibility in every sort of personal relationship.
Such an attitude might mean that young people sometimes had affairs, but it would discourage the flippant and callous kind of promiscuity which is the real enemy of joyful living.
It might mean that husbands and wives sometimes admitted to one another that they were "in love" with someone outside the marriage, but it would also mean that they made much more resolute attempts to resolve their marital problems.
It would certainly be an end of the kind of squalid intrigue or the heartless "going off with someone else" which is he real enemy of marriage.
These recommendations might mean that homosexuals began to live as openly together as heterosexuals do.
It would be a merciful release from the pitiful half-life of the public lavatory, the court, and the prison which is one of the ugliest indictments of our community.
Those who complain, as many are already doing, that the Quakers are wanting to do away with all "restraints" can know nothing of the true nature of love. Where a legalistic morality asks us to one mile, a genuine love or those around us makes us go two.
It takes real courage and energy for a marriage couple to resolve their difficulties as they go along instead of sinking into apathetic indifference.
It takes real restraint for young men and women to behave lovingly towards one another when, as always, there is a strong bias towards selfishness and lust.
But then it is this kind of courage and love that Christianity is about. If we deny that it is possible for men and women to live good, happy lives when controlled by love rather than by fear and regulations, then we are denying Christianity itself.
When questioned on television about their report, two of the Quakers were asked whether they did not make the mistake of assuming that everyone come from a good, loving home where responsible relationships are taken for granted. Their reply cut to the heart of the matter.
They pointed out that me and women who have not been brought up in a loving atmosphere fall below moral standards in any case.
Having been so badly damaged in childhood, they can make little sense of conventional morals, and will spread pain and lovelessness around.
The people who do make sense of morals are precisely those who have been brought up with love: and it is these people anyway who keep the moral laws not from a blind sense of legality or respectability but because good morals are for them the proper expression of love.
It would seem, therefore, that what we must emphasise if we want people to live with goodness is not their need for morals but their need for love.
Or, as Professor Carstairs would say, not chastity but charity.