Blog Banner

If Humans Are Basically Good, How Did We End Up with Trump?

When I first became a Quaker, I assumed that the Friends tradition endorsed my existing liberal, secular worldview. I believed that all human beings were basically good. All of us want to do the right thing, after all. We just need resources, love, and support to grow in a healthy direction.

The more I learned about the theological underpinnings of the original Quaker movement, however, the more uncomfortable I became. It seems that, when George Fox spoke of “that of God in everyone,” he wasn’t referring to a divine spark innate to each person. He was speaking of the imprisoned presence of God within the heart of a depraved humanity.

Depravity. It turns out that the early Quaker movement had a lot more in common with Calvinist Puritanism than it did with modern theological liberalism. Rather than viewing humanity as basically good, but in need of a little bit of TLC, the early Quakers taught that humanity is fundamentally selfish, broken, and in active rebellion against God’s love.

The place where Quakers parted ways with the Puritan doctrine of “total depravity” wasn’t the “depravity” part. Quakers took issue with the idea of “total.” For George Fox and the fiery preachers of the early movement, it was axiomatic that humanity is lost in darkness and separated from God. It’s obvious that human beings often choose our own selfish desires over love for others. Anyone who is paying attention knows there is something terribly wrong with us.

What set Quaker teaching apart was its emphasis on the inward Light of Christ. Quakers preached the saving power of God, present in/with the Creation. This loving presence can redeem even the most wicked and hateful person. Calvinists argued that God sovereignly redeems only some people, and predestines the rest to damnation. Quakers insisted that all people receive an actionable offer of salvation through the indwelling presence of Jesus in their lives.

Why does all this matter? Why am I dredging up centuries-old theological debates, using language that is, at best, opaque to many readers?

Strange as it may seem, I believe that the concept of depravity is vital to the experience of the church in the West today. Much of the progressive Christian community – along with our liberal secular counterparts – has held to teachings about human beings that are just plain wrong.

Just as I once believed that human beings were “basically good” and that we just needed a little extra support to reach our potential, much of the western church has imagined that human thriving was just a matter of technique. With enough education, technology, and economic justice, we could achieve the kingdom of God. The moral arc of the universe would bend its way towards justice.

This faith must now be irrevocably shattered. Many of us closed our eyes to the violent injustice of the United States under the Obama administration. Almost all of us fought less urgently for justice than we feel compelled to now, in the wake of the 2016 election. With the rise of a proto-fascist, white supremacist regime, it’s harder than ever to maintain the fiction of a “basically good” humanity that just needs a little bit of encouragement.

It’s time to reclaim a recognition of human brokenness, sin, and separation from God. We can’t ignore it any longer. It is manifestly evident that we are not what we ought to be. Neither technological prowess nor economic gains seem likely to alter that equation any time soon. Something is wrong here, and we must look deeper than ever before if we are to come to terms with it.

Self-examination is in order. It would be easy to take the idea of human sin and selfishness and merely apply it to others. There is a temptation to take all of our fear, fury, and disappointment and project it onto those who supported Donald Trump in his bid for the presidency. It would be all too easy to scapegoat them, allowing them to absorb all of our culpability.

But a recognition of human depravity is no cheap trick we can use to absolve ourselves of guilt. Any attempt to turn ourselves into heroes and others into villains would be a lie. If we are to live in the truth, we must begin with the devastating realization: You and I are ourselves depraved. We are liars, self-seeking, potential murderers. We are dishonest with ourselves and others.

None of us is exempt from the reality of human depravity. You and I engage in the very same kind of tribalism that we recognize in others. Most of us were quite willing to overlook the sins of the Obama administration. We have been complicit in the war machine and surveillance state that Mr. Obama helped to perpetuate. In the same way, most of Trump’s supporters are prepared to ignore the dishonesty, violence, and outright narcissism of their chosen leader.

I am not better than Trump’s supporters. It may be that the policies and philosophies that I advocate would have a better effect on the world if enacted. But my fundamental motivations for advocating them are not so different from the motivations of my enemies.

Please don’t misunderstand me. This is in no way an excuse or apology for the truly evil regime that is now in power in the United States. God judges wickedness, and this is almost certainly the most wicked administration in living memory.

But just because Trump and his supporters are wicked does not mean that you and I are righteous. The will to power is strong, and we’re all seeking our own ways to be on top. Even under the guise of being meek, caring, pious, and Christ-like – we’re wolves in sheep’s clothing. All of us.

So where do we go from here? How do we emerge from this pit of depravity and engage with the world as it is, not as we wish it were?

When I first became a Quaker, I thought we were an optimistic faith tradition. But I’ve come to realize that there’s a big difference between optimism and hope. We can no longer indulge in the cheap optimism that tells us that we’re good people and everything is going to be alright. Our need for hope has never been greater. As friends of Jesus, we are called to live in the hope of redemption. As lost and depraved as we are, there is a life, power, and presence among us that can restore us. Heal us. Bring peace where now there is only struggle.

This peaceable kingdom is real. We are called to it, and with divine assistance we can inhabit it together. But we can only enter this kingdom once we have shed the illusion of our own goodness, piety, and self-sufficiency. There will be no “good people” in this kingdom – only repentant sons and daughters who have come home once again, having squandered our inheritance. The kingdom of God is gentle, a place of thanksgiving and joyful tears.

I want to join you there. To do that, I need to recognize my own brokenness. I need to acknowledge all the ways I’ve prioritized myself over others, all the ways I have been dishonest in pursuit of my own desires and objectives. I want to meet you in the kingdom where the last is first, and the first last. Even if that means that I end up being at the end of the line.

Related Posts:

Is the Church Strong Enough to Resist Trump?

We’re All in the Wilderness Now. What Comes Next?

  • Wolf Boyle

    Micah, your blog on the depravity of humankind was (maybe surprisingly) like a light going off in my head. It was quite a dazzling light so I’ll have to wait until I adjust to it. I came from a Catholic and then Pentecostal background. Like any Quaker I believe in the Light within; I could not any longer ascribe to the idea of ‘accepting’ a Christ who was somewhere outside of me – it made no sense when we have an omnipresent God. I stumbled willingly into the same trap of making the unwarranted assumption that the Light Within meant that we were all basically ‘good’ and that we merely had to have the right circumstances and willingness to make us more full of that Light.
    But I worked as a psychotherapist with sexually abused young people for over 30 years and I did not know what to make of the perpetrators who seemed oblivious and unrepentant concerning the horror of their abominable crimes.
    I know that we are all One, that means that we all carry something of God. How did I miss that this could mean not that the Light was shining away, perhaps buried by our depravity and misdeeds, but instead that it was ‘trapped’ within our depravity and fallen nature?
    Now I see I must let that Light continually illuminate where and when I fall short of the Glory of God and rely on that and that alone to save me from myself. This is good for me because it marries up my previous evangelical ideas (which I gave up but with a certain reluctance as they had seemed perfectly sensible when I first embraced them) with the understanding that came to me over the Light Within.
    Now I can see Jesus’ death, in some way that we may not understand, broke the spiritual barrier that prevented us from being able live the life of repentance and forgiveness that we must if we are to become Holy, i.e. ‘Whole’, beings in the image that God has of us.
    I will never go back to the ludicrous doctrine held by so many ‘born again’ people who believe that you only have to say a prayer of repentance and acceptance of Christ to live forever in Heaven (no more how you live your life after that) and if you do not to face eternal torment. But I do see us a seed. We must, by the power of the Light and Life within, slough off the husk of our wickedness and grow and grow, if possible, to the ‘stature and fullness of Christ’ which is our true destiny. When we pass into the spiritual Kingdom of God (which we call Heaven or Paradise) our joy will depend on to what extent we have grown. If we have grown little or not at all then we will face the blinding Light and fierce Love of God (whom we have not known) in its full Glory and be strangers in a strange land; it will be, most likely, extremely uncomfortable for us until we grow to bask in that Light and Love.
    With apologies for this overlong comment. I will now go off and contemplate all that I have suddenly learned through simply reading your blog!

    • Thank you so much for your comment, Wolf! I’m glad this essay connected!

      • Wolf Boyle

        It sure did. Now I’m going to have to work through all the implications of this rather sudden understanding!
        Thanks once again.

  • Val Liveoak

    Thanks, Micah. I also find this essay (sermon? Preach on Brother!) useful, having had an Evangelical background. Now I’m pretty much non-theistic in my outlook, so I wonder how the truth of this essay can be expressed in more secular ways–because I believe that the message must somehow be translated in order to reach most liberals and dare I say it, Liberal Friends. Any ideas would be appreciated.

    • Thanks, Val.

      To be honest, I’m not sure how to translate this message into a non-theistic idiom. Fundamentally, my source of hope is the experience that while we humans are so lost, there is an intentional guiding presence who isn’t lost, and who can transform us. I recognize this presence as Jesus, and the more time that passes, the more central he becomes in my understanding of what truth (and hope) is.

      • Val Liveoak

        That’s fair Micah. It’s good that you are preaching to the choir, which surely needs to hear it. Maybe my call is to find ways to speak to those who don’t attend church or choir practice. I am heartsick that Dominion Christians (I think that’s the term) have made the Good News, uh, not so good, IMO. That’s what started me on my walk to non-theistic views. And the not so good part is not for me the part about human failing to meet the mark, or human evil, it’s about using religion as a source of domination, as, so very sadly, some do.

      • Val and Micah, somethings will always get lost in translation, and not everything can be communicated in every idiom. However, I do believe it is worth the while to reflect on this. On one hand what is being said above if reduced is to say that there is something greater than individual humans and our atomized actions good or bad. In isolation and without recognizing something beyond ourselves we are stuck in our self centered understanding of the world and others- stuck in a cycle of “one says and the other says”, each believing in their own rectitude. Philosophically from a non-theistic POV I feel the later work of Jacques Derrida gets at much of this especially Derrida’s thought on Justice, hospitality and the messianic. Of course what Derrida admits is that even he a secularist can’t entirely escape the religious and messianic language of Judaism and Christianity in getting at this. As an example, Derrida concludes from his deconstructive analysis of our language around “Justice”, that justice always remains un-achieved, always a goal. Such that to be just in time then (If I understood him) is to always already recognize one’s own lack of justice, and its lack in any and all human text(iles) and systems.

        • That’s pretty deep, Larry. I wonder how non-Western/non-Abrahamic thinkers have grappled with this question.

          • That would be interesting, Ya, Derrida originally from Algiers and an French Arab Jew, has an interesting western/middle eastern bridging going on that he also makes explicit in his latter thought, but it’s still within the Abrahamic religions. And certainly Buddhism and Hinduism have an analogous but radically different account of all this.


      No translation necessary for this liberal Friend.

  • This post reminds me of a realization I recently had in a conversation with Jeremy about my commitment to collective and cooperative enterprises. Many people when I mention living in an intentional community or in seeking to nurture cooperative’s, they say, “Oh I could never do that, people are so untrustworthy..” or “I don’t know if I could trust other people enough…” I don’t trust people! It isn’t because of peoples goodness or trustworthiness that I seek to create and be involved in collectives. I can be involved in collectives and cooperatives because I believe in a God, whose Spirit draws and binds human beings together, and that collectives through trusting in the Spirit and a God who is love, train us such that we can become what we are not. I Trust God, the God of Jesus Christ and the work of the Spirit, not people, who yes certainly are untrustworthy, shoot, I’m untrustworthy. I’ve been at this for 13 years and I still come up short in fully living in community. It occurred to me that, this is one source of peoples disillusionment with cooperative and collective enterprises: a belief that people are trustworthy without qualification and no sense of something greater then the individual persons coming together, no sense that it is what is greater than us that is deserving of our trust not the other persons in the collective. In any case thanks and keep preaching!

  • Diane Benton

    Micah, I share your understanding of what “that of God in everyone,” meant to the early Quakers. It’s also clear, to me, that that revelation came to them from the Light. What’s needed, now, is for us to stand in the Light long enough for it to convict us of our separation from God, our Source.

  • I often am renewed, uplifted, encouraged by your blog posts, Micah.

    BUT not this time! No way.

    I can’t believe you actually said that–all humans are basically “depraved.”

    True, there is no way getting around the very real potential for evil in every human ‘heart.’ As the famous Russian writer stated, “…the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. … And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained.”
    the noted atheist psychologist, and founder of Transactional Analysis, emphasized that within every human along side the good, exists a “little fascist” that we need to resist.

    Granted. Just a quick look at history, even Quaker history shows this. Why did so many transformed Quakers slaughter in war? Why did the vast majority of Quakers, despite their witness to equality, actually own, transport, and defend slavery for hundreds of years?!

    BUT those facts are entirely different from Calvinism, from its (and Roman Catholicism’s, etc.) that infants at conception are “depraved.”

    It isn’t true what you wrote, “You and I are ourselves depraved. We are liars, self-seeking, potential murderers. We are dishonest with ourselves and others.”

    I spent 55 years battling against this Calvinistic horrific distortion, and am now devastated to find it making inroads into Quakerism:-(
    Heck, at least one Friends meeting now is promoting Matt Chandler, the famous Calvinist who claims infants are on the way to hell, etc.

    One of the central reasons I became a Quaker was my understanding that Friends completely rejected Calvinism.

    On the other hand, I do agree with you that we need to realize that we are all capable of very bad behavior. And that we need to extend the “truth in love” to political and religious opponents.

    All humans are “basically” good. HOWEVER, we do have conflicting temptations which seek to destroy, to take us down wrong paths.

    That is why it is so important to seek God.

    Notice, that many of the central Christian leaders supporting Trump are Calvinists, do think that all humans are “depraved,” do think that God’s loves saves us.

    YET their being convinced that everyone is “depraved” didn’t help them realize that Trump was totally contrary to all that is true.

    Instead, famous Calvinist leaders such as Wayne Gruden, strongly supported Trump, wrote long articles explaining why Trump ought to be president.

    So on this, Micah, we very strongly disagree.

    It is because “basically” humans are made in the image of the Light, that there is hope.

    We are given free will to seek God, or not.

    That has nothing to do with original “depravity” that makes everyone incapable of seeking God.

    • Wolf Boyle

      Daniel Wilcox I believe your knowledge of Calvinism lacks a little. I also think you missed Micah’s fundamental point. Calvinism dictates that only the ‘elect’ (those chosen by God before time) can be saved; if you are not of the elect, no matter how hard you try, you cannot be saved. Prof. Tawney, the Quaker historian, describes how the Calvinist middle classes, lacking any solid way of determining if they were indeed ‘saved’ and desperate to find some way of proving that they were, hit upon the idea that if they prospered, it was a sign of God’s blessing and therefore they must be saved. It gave rise to the beginnings of Capitalism.
      Nor do I see any sense in Micah’s essay that our ‘depravity’ makes us incapable of seeking God. What he is trying to say, IMHO, is that if we believe that we are all ‘basically good’ then we would naturally have an instinct to seek God and our minds would be full of positive, kind, loving thoughts although we would occasionally succumb to less than the best thoughts or behaviour. There are some obvious exceptions (although I admit I have no right to judge) but generally God is pleased with us because he loves us (more on that below). However, if we examine our actual deeds and true thoughts and compare them, let’s just say for argument’s sake, to Jesus then we begin to see the holes in this idea. We ‘sin’ (that is, to use it’s correct Biblical interpretation, we fall short of what we know we are supposed to be). God loves us, but that doesn’t mean he has to approve of what we are doing (any parent can relate to this). Fortunately, we do have inside us ‘that of God’, but it is of GOD and not ourselves. I get the impression that the unspoken, unexamined attitude we generally have is, in truth, that it is OUR bit of God. That cannot be, for if we could claim as our own any part of that which is Omniscient, Immanent, Ascendant, Holy, Perfect then we would not and could not think and act the way we do. What we think and do demonstrates paradoxically our separation from this very thing that we have within us. But that of God within us has the power to transform, forgive and ‘save’ us from ourselves. And by its power and none other (for there is no other) we are able to seek, acknowledge and permit it to transform us and move forward in (a much out-of-fashion word) holiness.

      • Thanks, Wolf. I’m in unity with your response.

        • Wolf Boyle

          Thank you, Micah, I am truly glad seeing as how I was interpreting your words!

      • Wolf, This is the difficulty of brief comments.

        Actually, my background knowledge of Calvinism, early Quakerism, the English Civil War, the Reformation, Puritanism is fairly extensive. I studied American Intellectual History under a professor who earned his PhD on Puritanism-Calvinism. Plus, I taught that as part of American literature/history for many years. Furthermore, I’ve read and studied and talked with Calvinist leaders for 55 years, have read most of the leaders from John Owen to Charles Hodge, R. L. Dabney, etc.

        As a reader in Christian theology, I understand what the term “depravity” means according to most theologians, including all of the variations down through Christian history (my wife thinks its funny that while most husbands are watching the Superbowl, I am usually reading a history on the Reformation or theology or philosophy, or about the early Quakers, etc.:-)

        Maybe I misunderstood what Micah meant by the word “depravity,” but based on his statements in his short article, it doesn’t seem like it.

        I don’t think I “missed Micah’s fundamental point.” On the contrary, he seems to be moving like some other modern Quakers toward the creedal doctrine of “Original Sin.”
        (A word to Micah, If not, maybe you can clarify what you mean by the term “depravity.”

        Here’s the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary definition, the one we used in teaching students about the Christian doctrine of O.S.:
        “2: the quality or state of being corrupt, evil, or perverted : the quality or state of being depraved…”

        I am convinced by life, study, experience, etc. that no infant is “corrupt, evil, or perverted”! No infant is basically depraved.

        Nor is any adult human, innately.

        We humans exist in a finite world, are influenced by many factors including our evolutionary background, our humanness which includes tendencies toward good and toward evil, our temperament, our culture, our family worldview, our nation, our own selfish and unselfish patterns, and so forth.

        As I emphasized in my first comment: what is incredibly strange is that many of the Christian leaders who claim that all humans are “depraved” are the very leaders who support, promote, and voted for Donald Trump!

        Why is that?

        As a person well-read in history, especially Christian history, I have an educated guess why this happened. (But, of course, that would take many pages of explanation, so obviously I won’t go into that in a brief comment. When I start getting historical, my wife quickly says, give her the “short” version;-).

        But all of this is why I am so troubled by Micah bringing up the creedal doctrine of “depravity.”

        And that it appears so many Friends are moving in this direction in NCYM, and elsewhere

        Then you wrote, “…if we believe that we are all ‘basically good’ then we would naturally have an instinct to seek God…”

        I wouldn’t use the term “instinct,” but I would state that I do think that all humans when born and growing up do have within them an openness to seeking God.

        But we also, are conscious, rational, ethical beings, one branch of primates, who have the ability to choose good or wrong in the midst of our finite existence.

        Then you stated,
        “…we fall short of what we know we are supposed to be.”

        I completely agree!

        But “missing the mark,” “falling short of what we know we are supposed to be” isn’t “depravity”!

        And you wrote, “…we do have inside us ‘that of God’, but it is of GOD and not ourselves. I get the impression that the unspoken, unexamined attitude we generally have is, in truth, that it is OUR bit of God.”

        Again, I agree. I am well aware of the confusion of some Quaker meetings where they think they are part divine. (Though I am much more worried about the many Quakers who either claim there is no God (the nontheist Friends
        and the many Quakers who now are claiming that all we humans are born “depraved.”

        • Wolf Boyle

          OK. Depravity is a big word. But, if Micah doesn’t mind, I’ll defend his use of it by saying that a bit of well-used hyperbole can make a better point as in “If you love God you will hate your father and mother” (paraphrase). But, I do not recall Micah entering into any opinion or discussion as where the depravity is based in the human or when it starts, that is another discussion, I presume. So I believe it would be making an assumption to think that Micah is stating that we are born ‘depraved’ and therefore children are depraved. He didn’t go that far, he is merely observing human ‘depravity’. Personally, I still need to think long and hard before I can come up with any theory or idea as the root of human wickedness (another big word, but I use it because of its etymological roots in the notion of being bent or crooked).

  • forrestcuro

    What I learned from Gabor Mate’s talk on the brain chemistry of physical/emotional addiction — was that what was going on in the minds of these almost-universally despised human beings was exactly what goes on in the minds of the rest of us — the effort to go on living without it hurting too much.

    The pains people suffer are sometimes physical — but we score our physical pains in brain networks exactly the same as we score the emotional pains of being unloved, ashamed, and so on.

    This is not a matter of being bad or good (though there are clearly ways of rendering life tolerable for a person which lead him to good deeds and work towards good outcomes for all, vs ways that harm everyone including anyone living by them.) Rather, this is about being our own brothers, sisters, friends, enemies etc. — including even those brothers we’d hate to find in a deserted place, much less in the White House.

    Jesus didn’t hesitate to denounce harmful practices directly to the people guilty of them. But when and where he was able to heal and reform, I think that came down to him being able to recognize who and how people were, yet continuing to love them.

    In myself, I find myself neither “good” nor “depraved” but able to imagine circumstances in which I might do things ‘impossibly’ saintly or utterly horrible — none of that able to alter who I “am” in the slightest. God continues to create me and live me from inside, making me want to do good and not do harm — yet leaving me still a work-in-progress.

    As a localized, limited, sometimes-fearful embodiment, I can’t altogether avoid fussing about whether I am (or look) good, bad, wise, stupid etc etc. But it’s clearly a distraction from relying on the One who is able to be good and wise.

  • Tim Gapinski

    Well if you don’t mind , when we are told to love our neighbor as ourselves. We need to realize these are utterly different experiences. And loving God is yet another thing altogether And I won’t talk on that one now. Because God is an other, but his knowledge of us makes him very different thanour neighbor. Anyway, others are a relm knowledge which the best we could ever hope for is some kind of half way point. A compromise , an agreement to give their side a try. The knowledge of ourselves is a different thing. We should only and always acknowledge and endure as much hard truth as possible. Here is only where we have any chance of Uncompromising Truth. But it gets trickier we are all different combinations of two ideas. Some are bent to truth on the inside and truth on the outside. Some the opposite. Some are bent toward compromise on the inside and truth on the outside and others the flip flop of that. We need all of it. There must be some truth on the outside, in politics and government. A civilized justice of law and fairness and protection of the weak and suppressed. And ther must be a compromise of other religions to be treated with respect and other moralities to be respected first as human beings and not as moralities themselves. And we have a responsibility to furousiously acknowledge what things are true of us that we are barely or not aware of at all. Both our depravity to despise others and ourselves and our dignity as image bearers of God To have purpose and bring about a better life for others and therefore for ourselves.

    With all that said, ping pong ball comes over the net with a lot of spin And it’s moving quite slow, you can’t pound it back like you are giving the ball a mean spanking. If the ball is fast, you better start swinging before it gets there or you will be to late. And if you don’t watch your angle ant the trajectory and the spin and the speed it’s coming at you, you won’t respect the ball. You won’t give it the love it needs. Each ball is different. Certain principles of truth do apply each time. respect being the core ingredient. concentration, attentiveness adjustment, preparation, calm yet great speed when necessary. Yet each ball also requires compromise, they are like snowflakes, you must forget the last one and give your all to the person at hand. Whether or not Trump is a soft spinny short drop over the net or he is a power smash on the white line at you belly button. He deserves to be hit with respect. Now for a word about God, he is what kind of ball? Well the most imortant ink about him we need today is that he is transcendant. We don’t really know how to handle that one. But yet we do, by his example. Rob what’s his name said in his great book, love wins, something like…. if I know one thing about God, it’s that he gives human beings what they want. Yeah. We cant read why someone game style is always spinny or why they like to play the game, Are they into perfection, are they into being the best, do they just want to have fun or are they just want to be a friend to their husband or child. Their motive is not the kind of knowledge we have about others. Or why do they refuse to never take a back swing Even though they know it’s better when they do. What fear is blocking them? Dont they realize they could have better control by letting go of their tight muscles. now they stop the game and say hey, I want to follow you, you are a good teacher, well then In that case, sure we can address those motives
    and offer our help in a unique and pleasurable and kind way, but generally speaking, we just play the ball we are given. if its a slow a medium high bounce right to your position, then go ahead and kill it, but don’t rush it and don’t take your eye off of it. My point in all of this is this. Loving others is a gift. It makes the whole game of our responsibility to face our depravity and balance that with the dignity others deserve, not to meantion the depravity of others. so much easieR to deal with. The love that God is more likely to give that is. Love that’s gives the other player something to challenge them to do their best. Just open your Eyes, pay attention and trust your instincts without over thinking it. Now there are alway exceptions To all of this. Trump, Perhaps He’s a cracked ball. So not much concentration is needed. Throw him out of the game. Just Stomp on that bad ball, crush its head so it doesn’t get mixed up with the normal air filled heads.

  • Patricia Dallmann

    Micah, you’ve boldly presented the valid, original Quaker testimony of the natural sinful state of man, and you have also accurately exposed the Liberals in their refusal to acknowledge this most crucial, elementary fact. Furthermore, you’ve differentiated the Calvinists’ claim that election is only available to some from the Quaker doctrine that election is to be received through the divine Seed in all, the witness of God in the conscience. It was the Quakers’ leading discovery that the light of Christ is available to reorder our souls so that we can be as we were intended to be: in an immediate hearing/obeying relationship to our Creator, after our having been moved from initial, darkened alienation. Here are some ideas from Penington that show it to be the light of Christ to be the agent of change from darkness to light (not anything in our creaturely nature):

    Consider whether the light of Christ’s Spirit, or the grace and truth which is come by Jesus Christ, hath not this property of discovering, convincing, and reproving for sin….Consider…whether any thing can convince of sin but the light of God’s Holy Spirit shining in the heart? There may be an outward declaration of sin by the law outward; but it never reacheth the heart and conscience but by the shining of the light inward….And what wickedness is so great which the hardened man will not plead for, and be defending and justifying himself in! Yea, if God do open men’s understandings in some measure, so that they cannot but confess such and such things to be evil in general…yet they are not able to see the evil and danger of these things in and to themselves, but have covers and excuses to hide them, unless the inward light and Spirit of the Lord search their hearts, and make them manifest to them….Oh that men could die to themselves, even to their own wisdom and prudence, and not lean to their own understandings, nor idolize their own apprehensions and conceivings, but wait to receive understanding from God, who giveth liberally of the true wisdom to those that ask and wait aright! (The Light Within and Selected Writings, pp. 64, 65, 69)

    • Thanks, Patricia. God’s power becomes so much more important when we see the depth of the problem with ourselves.

    • Wolf Boyle

      Thank you, Patricia. I realise that revelation must progress, but I do believe that in many ways we have rather ‘thrown the baby out with the bathwater’ and lost much of the truth as stated by our Quaker forebears. I think it wise for us not to depart from that first revelation and understanding. Micah’s essay and this discussion has opened up or maybe a better phrase has freed up much of my understanding concerning the role of the Light Within. I believe that I now have something solid and positive to give to those who are seeking whereas before all I had was glorious doubt and inconclusive notions.

      • Patricia Dallmann

        Your words are greatly encouraging, Wolf, both in this comment and in your previous responses. I am delighted to hear of this breakthrough in your understanding! It’s not often that one sees such an advance in insight. I hope that you go ahead with your intent to reach others.

        You may be interested in reading Lewis Benson, a Quaker who made the study of Fox his life’s work, and throughout the middle of the last century tried to interest his contemporaries in the original Friends message.

        I’ve been reading some of Penington lately, and this passage shows the change from strength in one’s own power to reliance upon the Gospel, the power of God: “I feel daily, that I keep not alive my own soul, but am weaker before men, yea weaker in my spirit, as in myself, than ever I have been. But I cannot but utter to the praise of my God, and I feel his arm stretched out for me; and my weakness,which I feel in myself, is not my loss, but advantage before him” (7).

        How different this attitude is from the world’s! It was the Quaker mission to model a society that boldly challenged the sin-blinded world through both individual and corporate dependency upon the power of the Lord.

  • Susan Chast

    WOW! This is preaching that is brave and honest and therefore welcome. I will share it. My shock at the election results ended in a crashing blow with the confirmation of deVoss. In the wake of that, words and prayer crisscrossed in my atmosphere. Much has happened, including new poems. If you read poems, I invite you here: first to The Blind Lead the Blinded ( which embeds admission of my fault in living with lies, and second to Lost and Found (, which finds a space to breathe. May Jesus guide our steps as we humbly re-examine the opportunities opening before us. Thank you.

  • David William McKay

    Depravity as the first Quakes understand it does NOT require infant depravity. Read yer Barclay folks:

    All Adam’s posterity (or mankind), both Jews and Gentiles, as to the first Adam (or earthly man), is fallen, degenerated, and dead; deprived of the sensation (or feeling) of this inward testimony or seed of God; a and is subject unto the power, nature, power, nature, and seed of the serpent, which he soweth in men’s hearts, while they abide in this natural and corrupted estate: from whence it comes that not only their words and deeds but all their imaginations are evil perpetually in the sight of God, as proceeding from this depraved and wicked seed. Man therefore, as he is in this state, can know nothing aright; yea his thoughts and conceptions concerning God and things spiritual, until he be disjoined from this evil seed and united to the Divine Light, are unprofitable both to himself and others. Hence are rejected the Socinian and Pelagian errors in exalting a natural light, as also of the Papists and most of Protestants, who affirm that man without the true grace of God may be a true minister of the Gospel. Nevertheless this seed is not imputed to infants until by transgression they actually join themselves therewith: for they are by nature “the children of wrath” who walk according to the “power of the prince of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience,” having their conversation in the lusts of the flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind (Eph. 2).

  • broschultz

    Nothing personal, Micah. I still love you and appreciate your heart. But this article is personally offensive.

    • I’m sorry it hit you that way, Jim. Nothing personal on my part, either. I love you, too.

      • broschultz


  • Ellis Hein

    Depravity is not a word I have found in the eight volumes of Fox’s Works. However, Fox did have a lot to say regarding sin and it does not all line up with theological positions on “Original Sin” and “The Total Depravity of Man”. I have collected a fair sampling of what Fox said on this subject including statements on original sin as well as statements on some children are born clean. These all come from the eight volumes and I make no pretense that that collection is exhaustive. Below is an example of what I have found. I realize I am a Johnny-come-lately to this topic, but I hope the following may be of some use.

    In the fresh openings whereof I was moved to declare of three estates and three teachers, viz. ‘God was the first teacher of man and woman in paradise ; and as long as they kept to and under his teaching, they kept in the image of God, in his likeness, in righteousness and holiness, and in dominion over all that God had made; in the blessed state, in the paradise of God. But when they hearkened to the serpent’s false teaching, (who was out of truth,) disobeyed God, and obeyed the serpent, in feeding upon that which God forbade; they lost the image of God, the righteousness and holiness, came under the power of satan, and were turned out of paradise, out of the blessed into the cursed state. Then the promise of God was, “That the seed of the woman should bruise the serpents head,” break his power that man and woman were under, and destroy his works. So here were three states and three teachers. God was the first teacher in paradise ; and whilst man kept under his teaching, he was happy. The serpent was the second teacher; and when man followed his teaching he fell into misery, into the fall from the image of God, righteousness, and holiness, and from the power that he had over all that God had made; and came under the serpent whom he had power over before. Christ Jesus was the third teacher; of whom God saith, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, hear ye him:” and who himself saith, “Learn of me.” This is the true gospel-teacher, who bruises the head of the serpent the false teacher, and the head of all false teachers and false religions, false ways, false worships, and false churches. Christ, who said, ” Learn of me,” and of whom the Father said, ” Hear ye him,” said, ” I am the way to God, I am the truth, I am the life, and the true light.” So as man and woman come to God, and are renewed up into his image, righteousness, and holiness by Christ, thereby they come into the paradise of God, the state which man was in before he fell; and into a higher state than that, to sit down in Christ who never fell. Therefore, the Son of God is to be heard in all things, who is the Saviour and the Redeemer; who hath laid down his life, and bought his sheep with his precious blood. We can challenge all the world. Who hath any thing to say against our way? our Saviour? our Redeemer? our prophet, whom God hath raised up that we may hear, and whom we must hear in all things? who hath any thing against our shepherd Christ Jesus, who leads and feeds us, and we know his heavenly voice? who hath any thing against our bishop, in whose mouth was never guile found, who doth oversee us in his pasture of life, that we do not go astray out of his fold? who hath any thing against our priest, Christ Jesus, made higher than the heavens, who gives us freely, and commands us to give freely? who hath any thing to say against our leader and counsellor, Christ Jesus, who never sinned, but is holy, harmless, and separate from sinners? God hath commanded us to hear him, and he saith, ” Learn of me ;” and if we should disobey God’s and Christ’s command, we should be like our father Adam and mother Eve, who disobeyed God’s command, and hearkened to the serpent’s teaching. Man commands, and would force us to hear the hirelings, who plead for sin and the body of death to the grave; which doctrine savours of the devil’s teaching, not of Christ’s ; but we resolve to hear the Son, as both the Father and he command ; and in hearing the Son, we hear the Father also, as the scripture testifies. (Works, Vol. 2, pp. 144-145)