Monday, October 03, 2005

The Knee Tremblers.


The Quakers are an odd bunch. Of all the protestant sects that thrived during the nineteenth century, they have proved the most resilient; holding true to their core values to this day. The likes of the ‘Shakers’ have disappeared into oblivion, the only remnants of their culture the simple homespun furniture that is so fashionable today. The Mennonites are still thriving in the United States, but are a closed culture which has had no influence on mainstream society.

More properly known as The Society of Friends, the Quakers were founded by George Fox in England during the seventeenth century. They rejected all forms of religious hierarchy, insisting that all were equal. They did not hold religious services in the accepted sense, but met in groups at Friends Meeting Houses. Any one attending was free to speak as ‘the spirit moved them’.

They were much persecuted during the early years of their movement, but were gradually accepted by mainstream culture. Their reverence for education, hard work, and charity, soon became apparent. They were enormously successful in business; espousing a doctrine of welfare towards their employees which was in stark contrast to the prevailing capitalist ethos of the day. The names of the chocolate manufacturers Fry and Cadbury were synonymous with good working conditions and educational opportunity.

Today they are mostly associated with pacifism. They can seem slightly eccentric, affecting a plain mode of dress and lifestyle. A hand knitted cardigan and sandals, and a penchant for eating beans, are not uncommon.

Friends Meeting Houses are still to be found all over Britain and Ireland, and in the United States and Canada. There are also many independent Quaker schools, one of which I attended, although I am not personally from a Quaker background.

They are definitely odd, but odd in a good way. We need someone to remind us that there is more to life than shallow consumerism.

12 comments:

Rowan said...

I totally agree with you Garfer, as you may or may not know, my upbringing has been mistaken for being a Quaker. I am in fact a Salvationist, but it is extremely similar to the menonnite tradition, exception being, we do not live in a community together.

garfer said...

A lot of these sects thrived in North America because of the prevailing religious tolerance.

suburban wonder said...

I attended a Quaker school, too (Wilmington Friends 1975-1988) and attended meeting for Worship every Wednesday (we had a 45 minute Meeting every Weds.). Since my family was almost totally without religion, I quite liked Quakerism. It was far less obnoxious than my grandparents' church (Methodists). As I lived 2 minutes walking distance from the Wilmington Meeting House, I attended "services" there on Sundays for a few years.

What a coincidence!

garfer said...

Small world.
I don't attend, but am glad to know that if I wanted to I would be welcome.

S.I.D. said...

Very true garfer. The quakers always struck me as a lucky, quiet community,bothering no one and just getting on with life.Nice

Oh and they make great porridge oats too!

Piggy and Tazzy said...

Porridge. Yum! With salt though, not sugar.

I've always heard good things about the Quakers, which is odd really. There's usually always SOMETHING bad to come out of any organised group, but not that one.

MHN for short said...

When I was living in my hometown, we had some minnonites that lived just on the outskirts of town. It must have been a weird day for the folks at the local HEB grocery store because the minnonite family came in to get their canned goods, dressed in the traditional garb & the local high school drama troop came in dressed in their play attire.

We were doing "I Never Saw Another Butterfly" about kids in Auschwitz concentration camp, with our yellow Stars of David attached to our arms.

The minnonites looked us over and we looked them over, each group never saying a word.

garfer said...

The film 'Witness' was good. It took you into the Mennonite world without making them look like freaks.
Kelly Magillis looked quite cute in a lace bonnet as well.

Sniffy said...

As far as I understand it, the Shaker movement started just up the road from here in Bury.

Hrrrm, hard work, pacifism, education - not much you can argue with there. I'm sure a lot of villages and towns that sprung up during and after the industrial revolution were built by Quaker-type factory owners for their workers. There's Saltaire near Bradford, Lord Leverhulme did one too. I'm not sure that they were quakers, but the idea of looking after your workforce and their families is quite a good one.

Tangent, off on one.

garfer said...

Leverhulme was a bit of a nutter. His bedroom had no roof as he thought it was 'healthy' to sleep in the open air.
The paternalism was a good thing, but it often extended to banning alcohol, and enforcing church attendance.

Rowan said...

hmmm interesting all of you seem to like this lifestyle, I've often been the bud of jokes due to the faith I was raised on. Since it IS a fundamentalist, evangelical "calling". heh. Anyway, bad things about it? Not supposed to drink, dance, own luxuries, smoke, admit to ever having had sex, until the 70's having a car was forbidden and having more than one of of necessity is frowned upon (my aunt was a menonnite but left)oh & even my church still recommends car pooling in the Sally Ann van. What else? Ummm, basically, if it is fun it is immoral and you therefore are not allowed to associate yourself with it. Does anyone REALLy listen? Few. But followers of the faith would certainly say they those are first in line to Heaven. My grandmother (who raised me) was the #1 most religious patron there. Worst part of being Salvationist, or any other small denominational church: you are not supposed to know anyone really! Everyone swears, everyone drinks, everyone is lewd, everyone has done something illegal in life. You are not to associate on a social level whatsoever with these people, yes YOU, but you ARE able to offer them a hand up. Which is the greatest good these sects have. Don't you agree? I guess clearly, I am not going to make it to Heaven however.

Faltanus said...

rowan, i understand a lot of where you are coming from. i was raised as one of jehovah's witnesses. there was never the same rejection of technology, but most of the "morality" teachings were the same. and talk about "anything fun is bad", remember, jehovah's witnesses are the ones who don't celebrate holidays. no christmas, no easter, no halloween or thanksgiving, no birthdays. anyone want to know more about the jw's? . . . . yeah, i thought not.