Over on One Quaker Take, Timothy has a post about whether Quakers have creeds. He delves a bit into a topic of my own concern, about the in-creeping of American individualism into our meetings and our practices.
This is as good a time as any to reflect on just what is or isn't a creed... which is a close cousin to the question, just what is or isn't a doctrine. I'm not ready to wrap my head or fingers around the question of doctrine, which seems to be a larger construct than a creed, but it seems there is something important about the nature of a creed that I want to explore.
Here is how the American Heritage Dictionary defines "creed":
creedWhen I myself consider what a creed is, I come up with a list of other elements. A creed is:
1. A formal statement of religious belief; a confession of faith.
2. A system of belief, principles, or opinions.
- Multi-generational; a statement of faith that is used by more than one generation or cohort of users and is shared across generations or cohorts.
- Taught rather than discovered organically; often acquired through rote learning, especially among newer generations.
- Often stripped of its original context or isolated from it. This characteristic, coupled with rote learning, creates a form of language known as "frozen." (A country's national anthem is often a good example of frozen language.)
- Given inappropriate weight, to the extent that members of the faith community may be prematurely "released" from being expected to learn more about their faith tradition if they can present elements of their faith in an articulate but "canned" manner.
- Can be seen as iconic: a creed itself seems often to be very short but points to a much larger concept or set of beliefs. Outsiders of the faith tradition, or newcomers to it, might mistake the pseudo-creed or creedal statement to be the be-all and end-all of the faith itself.
In short, a creed may be described as
an encapsulated articulated expression of a faith's stereotyped, frozen, or decontextualized foundational element(s).Examples of possible Quaker statements that come dangerously close to being creeds, even if unintended to be creedal, include:
- "There is that of God in everyone."
- "Christ has come to teach his people himself."
- "There is one, even Christ Jesus, who can speak to thy condition."
- "Quakers believe in the Peace Testimony" (or its corollary, "Quakers have and act according to a set of Testimonies").
The thing is, a creedal statement--whether intended as a creed or not--undermines the overall gestalt of the faith from which it emerges, by the very fact that a creed often stands alone, outside of the larger context of the faith's traditions and away from its "gestalt of origin."
The last thing I'll offer here for now is this:
If we disallowed ourselves from using any of the above statements, how would we answer the question, "What is Quakerism and what do Quakers believe?"Blessings,
Marshall has a comprehensive essay about doctrines, what they are, and how they present themselves within the various branches of Friends.
off-topic but with a section about creeds, by Gerald Rudolph in response to the January 2007 Friends Journal article, Misunderstanding Quaker Faith & Practice.
In response to some of the comments here, Pam reflects a bit more about the Center.