Articles & Links

Article Jan Arriens (QTIG Assistant Clerk) in The Times of 17 June 2023: 

Truth is not just fact but how we lead our lives

Truth has been at the heart of Quakerism for 350 years, indeed an early name for Quakers was Friends of the Truth. Quakers try to lead lives faithful to the deepest truth we know, and silent meetings for worship are where we connect most deeply to this truth. This deep belief in a truthful life means choosing to follow the leadings of the Spirit even when it is difficult. 

Since 1695 Quakers have refused to swear oaths in a court of law, as that would imply that we tell lies at other times. Some historic British brands – Cadbury, Rowntree, Barclays, Clarks – owe their existence in part to the truth testimony. These Quaker businesses rose to prominence in the 1800s on the basis of fair dealing and honesty, of paying fair wages and taking responsibility for one’s actions.

But times change, and we stand at a perilous moment. Truth and integrity are being undermined to the extent that democracy itself is under threat, exactly when we need to work together. Many of those in power seem to act with impunity, disregarding facts and scientific findings. Respect for the judiciary is being undermined and trust in our institutions threatened.  

This week we have heard that former Prime Minister Boris Johnson deliberately misled parliament over parties held at Downing Street in contravention of coronavirus restrictions. Lying to parliament means lying to the people it represents. Governing with integrity is essential for generating trust; when that trust breaks down people become disillusioned, and leaders lose their mandate. 

How can we counter this? How can we nurture the seeds of truth in all of us? Truth is an elusive and difficult subject. Philosophically, truth has become viewed as contingent on its context, rather than being absolute. This is recognised in the Gospels, when Pilate asks Jesus, “What is truth?” to be met with a pregnant silence. Pilate, the representative of power, authority and empire, finds himself confronted by a deeper truth in the person before him.

Quakers in Britain today regard truth as indissolubly bound up with integrity. “Truth” is not – or not only – about accuracy and verifiability, but about how we lead our lives. It is the kind of truth alluded to by Jesus in his enigmatic statement “I am the way, and the truth, and the life”; it is an inner truth, a guide, putting us in touch with our higher selves.

At the core of Quakerism we experience a sense of oneness, wonder and mystery. That universal sense provides the basis for the cooperation so urgently needed. So we seek kinder ground: the ground of tolerance, respect, mutual cooperation and shared ethical and spiritual values, where oppression can be addressed and reconciliation sought between those of opposing views. 

We know this vision is shared by many individuals and groups. Many, including politicians, are seeking to promote the common good. The parliamentary privileges committee, which found against Boris Johnson, is constituted of MPs doing their best to ensure that truth is upheld. But the threat remains.

When standards in public life were debated in Parliament earlier this year Ruth Cadbury MP might have channelled her Quaker forebears when she said: “This…matters if we want people to vote and have faith that their vote matters, and have faith in what it is they are voting for this time and next time.”

Quakers have a distinctive way of understanding truth, grounded in experience and communal discernment, integrating scientific, religious and ethical knowledge, which could be helpful here. In the past few years, British Quakers have turned once again to their testimony to truth, coalescing in a new Quaker Truth and Integrity Group (QTIG). 

As Quaker and QTIG founding member Gerald Hewitson says: “We may recognise the deeply troubled world we are facing as a crisis of the Spirit – one that will continue until humanity puts itself in right ordering with the great mystery at the heart of our being, and at the heart of the cosmos. Without such a right ordering, we will not be able to take the necessary steps to ensure human beings live lives which respect each other and the great diversity of life which our beautiful planet upholds.”

We invite others, of whatever faith or none, to join us in doing what we can to ensure that truth and integrity flourish – in the interests of our personal relationships, of our democracy, of the rule of law, and of fairness and equality. 

It will be difficult work. But the world faces an existential challenge. The effects of climate change are all around us. Addressing them will depend on cooperation on a scale never seen before. Only by working together with integrity, trusting the truth revealed to us by the Spirit, only by experiencing our world reverentially and leading sacramental lives, can we face the challenge ahead.

Jan Arriens is a former Australian diplomat, translator, founder of LifeLines, which supports prisoners on Death Row through correspondence, and Quaker author.

 

A disturbing, thought-provoking article by Polly Toynbee in the Guardian of 20 February 2023: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2023/feb/20/legacy-boris-johnson-dishonesty-commons

Parliamentary debate on the Seven Principles of Public Life, 7 September 2022: here

Quaker briefing for Parliamentary debate: here

British voters want lying politicians to face consequences – new study Article by Alan Renwick, Professor of Democratic Politics, UCL, published 7 April 2022 here

An article in Prospect asking where is the calm, rational debate about the future of public service broadcasting, with some outstanding contributors, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, Alan Rusbridger and Ruth Davidson: here

An interesting article on integrity in public life from the University of Birmingham, dated Feb 2022: here

 

 

Institute for Government - February 2022 proceedings

Director's analysis of the issues facing good governance + discussion: here

Transcript of speech: here

John Major's speech

https://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/events/john-major

Transcript: here

Response to above by Jill Rutter: here

On 10 May the Institute for Government and the Bennett Institute for Public Policy hosted a panel of constitutional experts. The fascinating discussion may be found: here

As part of the discussion, Professor Russell cites a survey conducted by the Constitution Unit at UCL

What Kind of Democracy to be People Want?  here

John Lampen calls for a reinvigoration of the Testimony to Truth in the Friend, 26 September 2019: here

The Coming Storm is an 8 part podcast on BBC Sounds. The episodes of over 30 minutes each are of great relevance in terms of truth and integrity, covering essential themes such as obfuscation by politicians, the weaponization of social media and the creation of alternative realities. It may be accessed here

Oliver Bullough - Butler to the World, published 10 March 2022

This highly readable book details the history, extent and complexity of this system in Britain and its territories – how since 1956 our financial and legal systems have been designed to cultivate high wealth individuals and allow them to secrete their wealth using a myriad of devices under the full protection of the law. With all the urbanity of a butler we have offered a polished veneer to the world, allowing the citizens of under-developed countries to be plundered and proceeds which should have built schools, hospitals, roads to be offered safe haven and respectability in the intricacies of a banking system designed to obscure, hide, muddy. A butler is not required to possess integrity, simply exhibit loyalty to his paymaster.

Guardian review:  Here

T. Edmund Harvey: a Quaker politician of conscience  

Here is a link to a website piece by Mark Frankel (Kingston & Wandsworth AM) on the Quaker politician of conscience T. Edmund Harvey.

QTIG presentation to Britain Yearly Meeting on 24 May 2022 by Gerald Hewitson and Peter Hussey Here

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Interview by Gerald Hewitson and Peter Hussey with Catherine West, MP, on 11 May 2022 here

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The name to which Catherine was referring at 16:28 is Chris Bryant.