by an Anonymous South Bend professor
The potential dangers of believing that we are carrying out the will of God: I think it should be said at this point that modern intellectuals are apt to comment almost immediately that believing that we are doing the will of God has lain behind the greatest religious atrocities of human history. They point out that the leaders of the Spanish Inquisition who tortured and burnt people at the stake insisted that they knew what the will of God was, and were simply carrying out the divine commands which they thought they had received. The Spanish torturers seemed to have had no awareness of the grotesque and blasphemous quality of the scenes which emerged, as poor men and women screamed in agony at the hands of cruel people in priestly robes who claimed to be the representatives of gentle Jesus, meek and mild, who taught of all-forgiving love. The claim that we human beings can know the will of God is the most dangerous thing to let loose in the world, or so these modern intellectuals often believed.
Against that criticism, it should be said that the leaders of the Spanish Inquisition were legalists who were following a rulebook, not prayerful people who were seeking the guidance of the “Inner Light.” The Quakers, who began using the principle of direct divine guidance over three and a half centuries ago, traditionally are complete pacifists, peace loving and gentle people.
One of the major goals of the Oxford Group, especially after it renamed itself as the Moral Rearmament movement, was to bring about peace between nations and to heal controversies within individual nations which threatened to bring violence and persecution. They prided themselves on the many historical controversies in which they had in fact brought peace and reconciliation to countries where warring groups were ready to start killing and brutalizing one another.
The two Oxford Group principles of Absolute Unselfishness and Absolute Love provided a strong defense against any temptations to start burning other people at the stake, and the kind of guidance which they sought was a highly individualistic guidance, directed towards being more loving and less selfish in our individual daily lives, and directed against our normal human tendencies to attack other people, particularly in the name of intellectualized social and religious theories. The Pietist strain in the Oxford Group (coming from Frank Buchman’s Lutheran Pietist background) made them strongly dislike bickering and argument. Like the Pietists in general, they sought to resolve differences by persistent prayer until the group could reach a consensus upon which everyone could cheerfully agree. People who genuinely act like that do not go around burning other people at the stake.
The later A.A. movement developed its own special safeguards against the misuse of the divine concept. Their 12 Traditions, as they are interpreted within the movement’s Historical Heritage, turned out to be excellent tools for guiding us away from deeds of intolerance and persecution and the well established guidelines from A.A.’s Historical Heritage cannot be changed. To be continued.
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