No Second Glass for George
The passage in Fox's Journal in which he describes his spiritual call is not one that is frequently cited by Friends, but it has profound implications for his future life and message. At eighteen or nineteen, George and a relative and friend, being thirsty, went into a pub for a glass of beer. After they had satisfied their thirst, his cousin wanted to have another round, and asked George to pay. Fox was deeply disturbed at this insistence on having seconds when no one was thirsty. He walked out and continued for the rest of the day to be grieved about this scene. Sleepless that night, he heard a voice telling him "Thou seest how young people run together into vanity, and old people into the earth. Thou must forsake all . . . and be as a stranger to all." Not long afterwards Fox began the journeys of search and of ministry that were to be virtually lifelong.
At first blush it is hard to see why Fox should have been so exercised about a second glass of beer. Ale and beer were the common forms of refreshment in seventeenth-century England; neither Fox nor his guiding voice say anything about alcoholism in this case, and as sins go, this one seems mild. Then why does his inner guidance present this situation as the occasionor even the causefor breaking ties of attachment to home and family?
Valid and Invalid Cravings
From the perspective of Fox's later life and witness, and the traditions of mysticism, one can see that there really are important issues here. At their core is the universal fact of need or craving. Sentient creatures have basic needs for shelter, food, drink, and fellowship, including sexual expression and offspring. In the more evolved animals, especially people, desires also take symbolic and aesthetic formsan attractive mate, beautiful clothing and houses, savory food. Desire is not something bad in itself; stemming from the fact that we are finite, it makes us take care of our bodies. Also, it is a part of love as attachment: the focussing upon a particular person, animal companion, place, family, country, or cause. In attached love we want to be close to what we love; we want the best for the beloved, and may be willing to make sacrifices.
But at some point valid needs begin to express themselves in invalid ways: one craves a trophy spouse, a home that proclaims wealth and good taste, a large salary, prestige and power. (Unhealed psychological wounds may also be involved, especially in cravings for alcohol, drugs, and certain foods.) For the young Fox it was clear that the line between the valid and the invalid was crossed with the call for that second glass of beer. Later he spoke prophetically against actions that cross the line in other ways: the amassing and displaying of wealth, insistence on flattering titles. It is of course out of Fox's stance on this issue that we have the basic Quaker testimonies of Simplicity and Equality.
Invalid Cravings and Violence
Fox also found very soon that when he pressed these points, many peoplereligious authorities, civil authorities, mobsresponded with violence. He pinpointed violence as having its source in invalid cravings, frequently quoting the Biblical passage "From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not...from your lusts...?" For Fox lust is not sexual craving particularly, but desire for anything that exceeds one's essential needs. Because most of the things people crave are limited, tending toward a situation in which one person has too much and another not enough, the outcome is often violence. (Modern examples are the European and North American imperialism of the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries and the present-day War on Drugs in our own hemisphere.) The deeper spiritual needs that fuel these invalid cravings are to be met rather by turning to That of God within, where there is limitless abundance.
Invalid Cravings and Health
An important aspect of the issue of invalid cravings relates to health. George Fox is not usually seen as a health obsessive; he lived an ascetic life, sometimes doing without food or shelter even in winter. But none of the harsh treatment his body endured was (as with some other mystics) self-inflicted in order to "subdue the flesh." It came unsought as a result of following other guidance of the Spirit. In fact, he speaks more than once of eating and drinking "for health," and of living with respect for and unity with God's creation. The health issue was very important to him. This is apparent in that at the time of his conversion experience, when he found that the world had become paradise for him, he felt a deep unity with nature. He perceived the inner qualities of "the creatures," and even considered practicing "physic," which would have included herbal medicine, for the good of humanity.
Standards for Judging Desires
Much can be said about Simplicity, which involves many aspects of life. But to limit ourselves to the issue of nourishment, it is clear from these examples of Fox's leadership that the central standards by which Friends should judge whether our desires for food and drink are valid or invalid are our health and the welfare of creation.
It is becoming increasingly well known that health dangers from pesticides and antibiotics tend to concentrate in meat produced by agribusiness. Even when animals are raised in traditional ways, their products tend to be harmful to us, a crucial reason being the large amounts and the kinds of proteins and fat they contain. Several studies have shown that correlated with an increase of meat, dairy, and eggs in the diet is a rise in many degenerative diseases, especially coronary heart disease and certain common cancers. William Castelli, head of the Framingham Heart Study, T. Colin Campbell, co-head of the massive China Health Study, and others have concluded that a vegetarian diet is optimal for human health. (It is Castelli who said in effect that when you approach the Golden Arches, you are headed for the Pearly Gates.)
Their conclusion is supported by several of our bodily features. Following Plutarch, Carol Adams has pointed out that, unlike carnivores, we are ill designed to chase prey and rip it apart. Carnivorous animals not only have sharp teeth and claws, and acid saliva, they have very short intestines so that what they eat is processed quickly, for meat decays soon in the heat of the body. By contrast, humans need large amounts of fiber, available only from plants, and have a longer tract to process plant food. Although we can get nourishment from animal foods, there is much evidence that anatomically we are mostly or entirely vegetarian. (Unaware of these things, Fox did not really question the eating of meat.) These things may mean that not only in the depths of our spirit, but even in our bodies, human beings are essentially nonviolent.
Meat and the Second Glass
If this is trueand readers are encouraged to look into it for themselvesthen meat, especially from agribusiness, is like that second glass of beer that so troubled George Fox in the tavern incident in his youth. Meat is tasty, we may crave it, it has the support of habit and the prestige of affluence but the welfare of the environment and our bodies is better met when we eat low on the food chain. When feeling a craving for meat, as with other invalid cravings and dependencies, we do well to seek to understand the psychological and spiritual sources of our desire, and turn instead to the Divine Center. In Augustine's well-known line, "Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee."
- Carol Adams, The Sexual Politics of Meat
- Augustine, Confessions
- George Fox, Journal
- John Robbins, Diet for a New America