A dramatisation of the story surrounding the death by hanging of the Quaker Mary Dyer in 1660

Courage and Conscience

The issues are forgotten but we remember the acts of conscience
- anonymous

The Quaker period, explored in this Play, was significant in the Colony’s history, as was a previous period of disturbance by Antinomianism in the mid-1630’s: salvation by Grace not Works. Both periods were full of drama, extremes of beliefs, personal strivings and heroics. Many people had strong religious theories, opinions even obsessions, and acted upon them.

Since Mary Dyer’s death, the questions have been whether her actions in returning were those of a determined person of principle, and martyr if-need-be? or those of a person of faith, absolutely convinced and certain, standing firm in her religious beliefs. Or was she just religious-mad?

Courage is that quality of the universal, even the eternal, displayed in many a human situation, in many a human story, which has been valued throughout our history (see the separate Essays on this site).

It is as valuable today, in our equally tempestuous ‘modern’ world, as it was in her age. Her personal story prompts more questions - how was she influenced and convinced? And what underpinned such courage, provided it was not just blind dogmatism?

Influence and convincement are today perhaps even more complex and hard to question and/or deny. The 24/7 ‘global media’ is a crucial influence and convincer.

News and the facts in her day travelled at the speed of a horse or the wind which filled the sails. The power of steady reason and time for longer debate meant the effects were slower-to-the-boil.

Today, we are presented not with just the facts, but instantly with comment and interpretation. We are at the mercy of both the accuracy and the integrity of reported facts. They impact, for good or ill. But comment and interpretation often intrude to influence our reason and sweep us away, in emotion, in intellect, stirring us to ill-considered, biased action.

Truth is still hostage to ego’s often ignorance and tyranny. Fundamentalism, violence in protest or blind resistance can so often lead to unlawful action and disruption through physical strength - and misery for others, for thousands, millions, living today. In her day it was dozens, perhaps hundreds.

But another perennial for human beings is the call to conscience. If it is to be of value and effective value, it must be based on love, not ego. The greater the viewpoint, the greater the value placed on love not hate. If and when the heart opens, love can dissolve fundamentalism, blind resistance, violence in protest. Delusion continuing is, eventually, the seed bringing forth dogmatism, even hate.

Puritan against Quaker, in Massachusetts Bay Colony, saw convincement immovable. Resolution of the conflict was not possible, until heart and reason opened. The four hangings were one factor, but it was a mass of the resident-settlers themselves who, influenced and convinced, persuaded their leadership to slowly, grudgingly, back down. And then, over a lengthy period, only after the new King (Charles II) ordered that the oppression be stopped.

The ego rampant is not truth, but a mere part of it. Who am I? Why am I here? How should I truly strive to live? What should I act upon? These questions if heard bring ego to quietude, because in the face of such first questions, and remembrance of this immense, awe-inspiring universe, ego can be seen as a tiny source of wisdom.

Still clear Reason, connecting each human with universal grandeur, is the principal and guiding faculty, essential especially in today’s modern, 'progressive' glittering confusion. This wonderful, amazing world, with bright new technology, astounding achievements, educational and cultural potential for Good, surely also presents us with the mirror side - the staggering ‘moral’ failures, failures of integrity and principle, which may well be seen as greater than anything prevailing in centuries before.

It is all confusing and bewildering to the simple, the decent, the virtuous - but not those locked into ego. The simple and virtuous – who today are often aware and intelligent, not stupid – place their unshakeable trust in faith, faith in God, Absolute, Ultimate Source of this, and perhaps other, universes: there can be no justification of hate.

The Quaker ideal is simple and love is at the heart of it. But the need is constantly to recover, when swept away by the world’s glitter and by ego’s incessantly narrow and selfish demands.

The Quaker aim and ideal is to see ‘That of God in everyone’ and to listen in silence to His ‘leadings’, granted through Grace. These both call for clear conscience and resolute courage, for any actions which are then seen as necessary. They were Mary Dyer’s strengths.

“Wait on the Lord, be of good courage
And He shall strengthen thine heart”
                                                    Psalm 27

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