ONE OF THE MOST DELIGHT­FUL SATIRES in all of lit­er­a­ture is Don Quixote. Who does not know of his famous joust with the wind­mill or his expe­ri­ences at the inn — er — cas­tle? Renewed inter­est in the sto­ry has been sparked by the excel­lent play — now movie — Man of La Mancha.’’

It is a pity that so many miss Cer­vantes’ point. Most write it off as a quaint satire on the days of knight­hood and chival­ry — and per­haps in one sense it is. But Cer­vantes wrote in the days of the Span­ish Inqui­si­tion, at a time of great polit­i­cal and reli­gious upheaval. It was a time when dark­ness and ter­ror reigned, and all in the name of God. Cer­vantes him­self spent almost as much time as either a slave in Algiers, or a pris­on­er in Spain, as he did in freedom. 

As one watch­es the fool­ish, yet noble, antics of poor Don Quixote, there is a ques­tion that keeps push­ing its way to the sur­face: Who is crazy after all?” Per­haps this psy­chot­ic Knight of the Rue­ful Coun­te­nance with all his cas­tles is more sane than the real world filled with its ter­ror and tor­ture. His world had indeed gone crazy. 

As Quixote with reli­gious fer­vor charges at a lazy wind­mill, we see in the shad­ow a deter­mined yet equal­ly psy­chot­ic Church joust­ing with its own wind­mills. Indeed, per­haps it is bet­ter to live in the fan­ta­sy world of chival­ry and noble ideals than the real world of deceit and torture. 

And About Water­gate: But of course the Six­teenth Cen­tu­ry had gone berserk; today we are enlight­ened. I won­der — I wonder. 

The exec­u­tive branch of our gov­ern­ment has been cov­ered for months by the gloomy cloud of Water­gate. What­ev­er the facts, the most dis­tress­ing thing has been the unwill­ing­ness of top offi­cials to reveal the facts. The priests of civ­il reli­gion, who sur­round the Pres­i­dent, guard their cul­tic knowl­edge with a reli­gious zeal Quixote would have admired. And like San­cho Pan­za, Evan­gel­i­cal Quak­ers nod their approval seem­ing­ly afraid to ask hard ques­tions. Through it all one feels strange­ly as if he is watch­ing rusty lances being thrust at harm­less windmills. 

Then there are those espe­cial­ly knight­ed to destroy the per­pe­tra­tors of this moral holo­caust. They too have a fanat­i­cal reli­gious zeal to right this unrightable wrong. Away they charge in full bat­tle array. And like the Inqui­si­tion­ists, Lib­er­al Quak­ers join the witch hunt seem­ing­ly unaware that they too can be affect­ed by pro­pa­gan­da. One mus­es, Isn’t it right to attack such social evil?” Yes, it is right! And yet some­how there remains that uneasy feel­ing that the attack is against rick­ety wind­mills. Some­how the cen­tral issue, the real world, is being missed.

And About Us: But thank God it is only the politi­cians who have lost their per­spec­tive on real things. At least the Church, and most par­tic­u­lar­ly the Quak­ers, have it straight. No Inqui­si­tion here. I won­der — I wonder? 

Evan­gel­i­cal Quak­ers tend to hold a view of sal­va­tion that sends them off on numer­ous cru­sades against lit­tle more than wind­mills. They often see sal­va­tion as more a mat­ter of cor­rect doc­trine than an encounter with the Liv­ing Pres­ence. Hence, you have The Four Spir­i­tu­al Laws”; The Roman Road”; The Kennedy Plan.” At least a per­son must be clear about who Christ is before he can be a Christian! 

The truth of the mat­ter is that the Light of Christ has bro­ken into numer­ous lives before they had the doc­trines straight. It was so with me. And if we’ll be hon­est, most of us know that there is a great deal we still do not have straight. Cor­rect doc­trine is impor­tant — very impor­tant — but it is not pri­ma­ry. To think so is to fol­low the cult of Quixote. 

Lib­er­al Quak­ers have their own brand of fanat­i­cal creeds and dog­mas. One of the most rigid of their creeds is the thread­bare cliché, I do not believe in creeds” or I am a creed­less Quak­er.” This, of course, is a cre­do of the first mag­ni­tude and is often held with amaz­ing tenacity. 

This par­tic­u­lar brand of Quixote-style dog­ma is espe­cial­ly dam­ag­ing because it pur­ports to be an expres­sion of open mind­ed­ness, when in fact it is one of the most nar­row. To always be a seek­er and nev­er a find­er does not enhance the search for truth, it destroys it. Any­one who tru­ly believes this will cer­tain­ly join the man of La Man­cha to cru­sade against all who have creeds, since they obvi­ous­ly are not open to new light! May God save us from the kind of blind­ness that makes wind­mills into enemies! 

Orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in Quak­er Life, April 1974.

Originally published March 1974

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