Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Quakers: High Noon

The Movie
  High Noon (directed by Fred Zinneman, 1953) is an taut, suspense-filled western set in a small western town and stars Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, Thomas Mitchell, Katy Jurado, and Lloyd Bridges in an early role.  This movie is placed high on many best-of-all-time lists, and won several awards, including several Oscars and Golden Globes.  It is an excellent portrayal of people faced with the toughest of choices between temporary safety and long-term security, illustrating how some rise to the occasion while many fail, and begs the question of an involved viewer:  what would you do if you were in the same situation?
   Gary Cooper plays the the small town marshal Will Kane.  The opening scene is set on the day of his retirement; he has married a Quaker wife, Amy (Grace Kelly), and is giving up the law, according to his pacifist wife's ideals.  On the day of their wedding, word is received that Frank Miller, an outlaw sent to prison years earlier, has received parole and is gunning for Kane.  Kane has only a few hours to convince the reluctant townspeople to form a posse to meet Miller, who is coming in to town on the train scheduled to arrive at high noon...

Practicing Religion
   The practice of religion in Quakerism is separate from the church building and only occasionally led by clergy.  Silent contemplation is a form of worship frequently employed in Quaker gatherings, where members sit in silent meditation on spiritual matters. Members will share their thoughts in these gatherings, if so moved.  Quaker churches, unlike many other Protestant denominations, are not led by a single ruling body, but are loosely affiliated with larger groups in the same geographical area, known as Yearly Meetings.  Faith and Practice books are often published during these meetings that denote the guiding principles of the group.
...o to be torn 'twixt love and duty...
   Together with the Amish and Mennonites, the Religious Society of Friends is known as one of the peace churches, because of their emphasis on non-violent practices and pacifism.  However, the history of the Friends church has been marked with compromises on this practice, as the group and individuals within it have sought to exist in the wider world.  A similar conflict can be seen in High Noon, when Amy gives Will an ultimatum, and the events that follow from there.  The history of the Pennsylvania colony is an excellent example of this give-and-take.
   Since their early history, Quaker groups have emphasized social justice and the equality of individuals.  This is reflected in their views of the equality of women, emphasis on simple clothing and the (now-uncommon) use of the thee and thou pronouns to avoid distinction by title.  The life of Quakers is defined by leading by example, trying to live by their own ethical code in daily activities, according to what they define as the inner light of Christ.

History of the Quakers
Charles I of England
   The Quaker religion is a version of Protestant Christianity, first formed around 1640 in Britain.  The beginnings of Quakerism were rooted in the social environment of Britain at the time. There was dissatisfaction with the church by several groups, which directly related to the political environment. England was under the rule of Charles the First (1600-1649) whose religious policies led to conflict between England and Scotland, and eventually ended in civil war, his own execution and the downfall of the monarchy until the Restoration in 1660.  The government responded to these upheavals with the Act of Uniformity of 1662, which in the sub-section called the Clarendon Code prohibited any public officer that did not take Episcopalian (Church of England) communion from serving in office.  Until the Clarendon Code was removed in 1828, its dictates prevented all non-Episcopalian citizens from holding public office.  Other groups besides the Quakers that were disenfranchised by the Act included the Presbyterian, Baptist and Congregationalist denominations; this driving upheaval fed emigration to American colonies by those persecuted because of their religion.
William Penn
   The leader and consolidator of the Quaker religion in its early days was George Fox, who felt that all earthly manifestations of religion were corrupt and that Christ and true religion could only be experienced directly by an individual.  In talking about his newfound ideals, he found others who were of the same opinion, and eventually became the recognized leader of these disparate groups.  He traveled Britain to spread his unique vision of Christianity, and met several times with England's Protector, Oliver Cromwell in the 1650s.  These meetings gave the Quaker religion its preaching technique of 'speaking truth to power', revived in the 1950s.  However, the Restoration was a time of great persecution of Quakers that led to a withdrawal from the political realm for a short time.
   A history of the Quakers would not be complete without a mention of William Penn's 'holy experiment' in the American colonies, founded in 1672 (Pennsylvania), lasting until the war with the Shawnee and Delaware tribes, when many Quakers stepped down from government.

Links and Sources
Religious Society of Friends, Wikipedia
Act of Uniformity 1662, Wikipedia
Non-conformism, Wikipedia
Charles the First, British Civil Wars
Quakers, British Civil Wars
The Ward Lecture, Quaker Pamphlets
Yearly Meeting, Wikipedia
Do Not Forsake Me..., The Senses of Cinema

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