“The truth is out there.”
What does some old sci-fi TV show have to do with Quakerism? Well, nothing really, I cheerfully admit it. And yet when I think about some of the attitudes which Quakers have, I can’t help thinking of Mulder and Scully. Mulder and Scully, I’m sure you remember, had a lot of conversations which went roughly like this:
Mulder: It’s aliens, I know it.
Scully: Don’t be daft, aliens don’t exist. It must have been [complicated science thing].
Mulder: Just you wait and see.
Sometimes Scully was right, and sometimes it seemed that Mulder had to be right. That doesn’t really matter (and was to quite an extent an artefact of the show’s storytelling anyway). What I’m thinking about is the structure of this debate. In a lot of cases, I’m a Scully sort of person. If you ask me about reflexology, or acupuncture, I’ll be firmly in science camp: I might ask you about studies and about how in physical terms this is supposed to work, or the underlying logic of it, or something else I learned from Ben Goldacre. If you ask me about aliens or ghosts, I’ll accept some theoretical possibilities, but demand much more evidence before I agree that they are actually real. On the other hand, I’m more like Mulder when it comes to God. The God for which I find evidence isn’t always much like the Gods other people talk about, and often the nature of that evidence is such that I don’t expect other people to be convinced by it (why should you be interested in or moved by my religious experience, for example?) but I do think there’s a Truth even if it’s as much In Here as Out There. (Just to confuse things, Scully as depicted in the show is a practising Catholic, but that’s too complicated for a blog post which is not actually meant to be about the X-Files at all.)
Scully doesn’t write Mulder off, though. For some reason only possibly related to his physical attractiveness and/or needing to keep her job, she keeps following him around and investigating whatever mysteries emerge. Mulder’s searching for the truth which he believes is out there – which he thinks probably involves aliens, let’s face it – and Scully’s also searching; she might not have the same ideas about where it will lead, but she’s actively looking for the evidence and not sitting around hoping it will come to her.
One way of describing Quakers today would be to talk about a community of seekers. We’ve got lots of Mulders and some Scullys (and some boths and neithers, of course), and we’re all trying our best to understand what’s going on with the evidence we have available. Sometimes, Mulder gets upset when Scully asks questions which he finds hard to answer – but those questions usually lead to better answers in the end. Sometimes, Scully gets upset when Mulder keeps insisting that it must be aliens when it was clearly a bear – but those arguments often lead to better answers, again, when it was neither aliens nor a bear but a neighbour dressed as a bear. (Or was that on Scooby-Doo? This analogy is getting away from me.) My point is: in both cases, we have to be unafraid of the questions, knowing that they will often help us in the long run, even when they upset us and challenge our current ideas about how the world is or should be.