An Impact of “Who Shall Live?”

          The source of the following account prefers to remain anonymous. She may represent more people of similar feeling that, for obvious reasons, would be unlikely to come to our attention.
          During the early 1980s, as a young person of multi-religious ancestry, I looked for some form of spirituality that affirmed the good in every person and every religion, rather than continuing the pointless sectarian wars of history in any sense.  I wanted to live out G-d in everyday life, through active love, including that form of dimension of active love usually termed social responsibility, with more attention to the spirit than the letter of things.  By a stroke of grace I ended up at a Quaker-founded college.  I was drawn to attend Meeting and borrow books from the Meetinghouse library. The Friends' emphasis on the Inner Light and the daily, heartfelt work of making peace and justice drew me in.  As a young woman and an emerging feminist, I was deeply fascinated too by the importance and courage of foremothers in starting and continuing the Society of Friends. I began to think about joining myself.

          I distinctly remember the moment when the desire of joining chilled, past the point of re-ignition.  I was standing in the Meetinghouse library, looking over the books, trying to stay prayerfully open to whatever title the Divine nudged me towards.  The title Who Shall Live? snagged my eye.  I was a woman, a disabled person, a survivor of violence, and a descendant of genocide and colonialism survivors.  The very question, with its encoded assumptions of entitlement and excessive power, sent a wave of panic through me.  It had such an imperialist "vibe" to it. 

         The full title of the book is even worse: Who Shall Live? MAN'S Control over Birth and Death. It was published by the American Friends Service Committee in 1970. 

          I picked up the book and carefully read through its arguments for abortion and active euthanasia.  The words and the things they proposed struck me as cold, abstract, detached from the Heart of Love, pronounced from an "on-high" stance that G-d does not take with human beings, that G-d does not encourage us to take against one another.  The book described serious social problems, yes, but why were Friends, the very people who had borne such witness against the Vietnam War, who resisted the threat of nuclear annihilation, who affirmed the full presence of the Inner Light in women -- why were they proposing "solutions" that just perpetuated inequity and violence, rather than going beyond them?

          I folded the book up, eased it back into the shelf, and walked out of the Meetinghouse into the snow.  No, not towards religious fundamentalism -- towards anything but.  Yet the message was clear: whatever respect and love I had for its best teachings, the Society of Friends was no place for me.

We have excerpts of a book written in response to Who Shal Live? entitled All Shall Live!