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 cliche, 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.

Text First Published March 1974