I am reading To Be Broken and Tender by Margery Post Abbott right now and am thoroughly enjoying it. In it she spends a lot of time discussing the conflict between evangelical Friends, liberal Friends, programmed meetings, unprogrammed meetings, etc.

I've also read quite a few other books, postings on Quaker Quaker and other Quaker blogs. 

One of the things I've loved and appreciated about getting more into the Quaker faith is that it's about an individual's experience of God / Divine / The Light. I grew up within a variety of religions and associate much of the traditional Christian language and acts negatively. Through Quakerism, my comfort with other people's language around Christianity has been eye opening, and I find myself disassociating a person with their words around spirituality and focus on their actions and their spirit.

All that is to say, I personally fall squarely into a non-theist liberal Quaker camp, but have learned the skills to appreciate anyone's spirituality (Quaker or otherwise) and spiritual language. 

What I don't understand is the rift between the various Quaker communities. The testimonies are the same, and key tenants like a person's inner relationship with God, and the idea of that of God in everyone. I just don't understand how anyone who would self identify as Quaker, question the authenticity of a group because of language or spoken beliefs. I know I am not the first to struggle with this, but I would really like to understand more and hear more people's thoughts.

I realize that the unprogrammed "liberal" Quakers are the vast minority (around 11% of the Quaker population), so that may play a part, but that doesn't seem like that is enough.

It just seems to me that the word in English for table is "table." In French, the word is "table," but with very different pronunciation. Still very familiar to the English speakers. In Danish and Norwegian, the word is "bord" and we may even understand it easily as a table is made of boards. In Spanish, "mesa," so rather different, but in Chinese, it's 桌子, loosely pronounced "tous schu." 

At no point do we spend much energy discussing whether or not the Chinese have a better or worse grasp of what a table is. Or whether or not a table is something different because it has a different name. The idea that another culture, no matter how foreign the customs or how different the language, wouldn't be talking about the same thing, used in roughly the same way, is silly to think about.

 

So why do many Quakers do that? I don't understand and maybe you can help.

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I doubt I can help, but here are some of my thoughts...I am currently a Christian who has always worshipped at an American Baptist church ( as I like to say, we are the liberal Northern Baptists!) I am currently exploring Quaker faith and practice as I have been interested in it since I was a teenager, and now find that much in Quakerism aligns with how I think and believe. I was very surprised, as I began my inquiries, to find that there are atheist and non-theist and other varieties of non -Christian Quakers. I am happy to interact and join with people who don't believe in God, or Christ, on many levels, but if I am going to worship, I personally want to worship with others who either share my faith or are seeking in that same direction. I can't quite understand how one can go to a meeting for worship if one is not "worshipping" God. It seems to me that there are already many other paths for those who just want to meditate, or be socially active, so why join what is, or used to be, a Christian denomination. Since you are in the non-theist camp, I would like to know why you chose to be a Quaker. I'm not sure that I find your analogy to the table to really be applicable when what we are talking about is the eternal, which is considerably more important than a table. Thanks for letting me share, and  Peace to you!

 Patrice Wassmann said:

I doubt I can help, but here are some of my thoughts...I am currently a Christian who has always worshipped at an American Baptist church ( as I like to say, we are the liberal Northern Baptists!) I am currently exploring Quaker faith and practice as I have been interested in it since I was a teenager, and now find that much in Quakerism aligns with how I think and believe. I was very surprised, as I began my inquiries, to find that there are atheist and non-theist and other varieties of non -Christian Quakers. I am happy to interact and join with people who don't believe in God, or Christ, on many levels, but if I am going to worship, I personally want to worship with others who either share my faith or are seeking in that same direction. I can't quite understand how one can go to a meeting for worship if one is not "worshipping" God. It seems to me that there are already many other paths for those who just want to meditate, or be socially active, so why join what is, or used to be, a Christian denomination. Since you are in the non-theist camp, I would like to know why you chose to be a Quaker. I'm not sure that I find your analogy to the table to really be applicable when what we are talking about is the eternal, which is considerably more important than a table. Thanks for letting me share, and  Peace to you!

Hello, Patrice!  I find your comments and questions express exactly what I have been thinking.

Words in various languages for "table" cannot be compared to names of the deity in different religious traditions.  Jesus Christ is a name, but the name connotes a whole matrix of meaning.  The same is true of  Allah, etc.  These are not simple alternative labels for the same referent.

John seems like a well-intended and very likable fellow, but I do not think that his religious philosophy would hold up well under serious scrutiny.

Thank you for your thoughts and comments. I appreciate your candid response and engagement with the conversation.

For me, I don't necessarily see a practical difference in spirituality between the average evangelical Quaker and the average atheist Quaker. I see many words that are different, but the core tenants of the spirituality holds up whether or not one believes Christ died for our sins as our lord and savior, Jesus was a powerful man who was connected to God, or whether the Bible is a fable that we can use to better ourselves by using history and story telling that goes back thousands of years.

As I understand it, evangelical Quakers believe "that of God in everyone," and that we can all be ministers of God (whether George Fox, Christopher Hitchens, or Moses), and don't require an interpreter to speak with God (even if some are more skilled ministering for others). If this is true, then I can't see how there is relevance of a label someone self identifies with, or how they talk about their experience of the inner light of Jesus.

From the other side, if we're all looking for answers in the light, and believe that every human deserves equal respect and weight, and that we need to look deep inside to find a deeper meaning, then I don't see how the language is relevant. If someone goes through that journey as a "Christian" and the best way to explain themselves is through that language, that isn't important. 

The reason I use the table analogy is that for me, I can self identify with the gamut of Quakers. The belief that we are all equal (God in everyone), that searching to be closer to god brings us the core testimonies, and that our deeds are ultimately what we shall be judged on, then I can't see much of a difference outside of language.

If you say evangelical Christian, another says Christian leaning, someone else says humanist, and a third says athiest, and another universalist, but the act of experiencing those beliefs are the same, the results of the worship the same, then how are we not the same?

That is why I believe I can be Quaker and non-theistic, and have grown to appreciate, respect, and learn from "God-centric" belief and words, and am grateful for Christianity for bringing a gift unto the world, even if for me I don't need that direct experience of Christianity to be close to that gift.

Peace to you as well! 



William F Rushby said

Words in various languages for "table" cannot be compared to names of the deity in different religious traditions.  Jesus Christ is a name, but the name connotes a whole matrix of meaning.  The same is true of  Allah, etc.  These are not simple alternative labels for the same referent.

John seems like a well-intended and very likable fellow, but I do not think that his religious philosophy would hold up well under serious scrutiny.


Thank you for your comment William.

How do you reconcile "that of God in everyone" with different religions or belief structures? They may be praying to Allah, and have different rules around their belief, but is God not God? Christians don't shape God to what they want, he is the universal truth, and evangelical Quakers have one way of getting close to their interpretation of the Christian God. But are  Southern Baptists, Assembly of God, or methodists not Christian as well? Even though there are many differences? And if they can all be worshipping the same God, who is in everyone, then are the Muslims really worshipping a different God? Or are we all in search of finding the God within equally? 

I, naturally, belief that I am a well intentioned guy whose religious philosophy does hold up, and I believe it came from the same source that your religious philosophy does.

Hello, John!  Your comments certainly raise lots of questions, and you seem to be in earnest in your quest for answers to the meaning of life.  Don't hold your breath while you search!  I have been around for 72 years, and I am still searching very earnestly myself.  This is not to say that I haven't found any answers.  I believe very strongly that the most adequate answers to life's meaning are to be found in Jesus Christ and the Bible.  I even find some answers in George Fox and the great cloud of Quaker witnesses, as well as in the Anabaptist tradition.  And, yes, Patrice, the Baptists have some answers too!  I am particularly drawn to the Old Regular Baptists.  http://www.amazon.com/Old-Regular-Baptists-Central-Appalachia/dp/15...

 

When I was a college student, Abraham Luchins (of blessed memory, as the Jews say) helped me to find my way spiritually, even though he was a Jew and not a Christian!

 

Arguing is not my preferred style, so I am not going to respond to you on that level.  On the other hand, books are one of my most valued ways of relating to reality, so I have a book suggestion for you!  I hate to admit this, but the book I want to recommend is not one I have yet read myself.  It is Stephen Prothero, God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World--and Why Their Differences Matter       

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/006157127X/sr=1-1/qid=1380674242/r...

 I do have the book on order, and plan to read it.  "Life is so short, and there are so many books to read."

 

While I am at it, let me also recommend Lewis Benson, None Were So Clear: Prophetic Quaker Faith

http://www.amazon.com//gp/offer-listing/0963836730/sr=/qid=/?condit...

As a young man, Lewis searched earnestly for the meaning of life and the significance of the Quaker faith.  This book tells his story, and also includes some of his writing.  I think that you would find the book very worthwhile to read.

 

So, Earnest, (oops, I mean John!), the ball is now in your court!

                       

 

 

For a "nontheist" you use the term "God" rather a lot. In a sense that's admirably plain speech, using the term that most of us do use...

but aside from "being in everybody," what does this table look like? How does it behave? Can we sit on it or do we have to eat at it? How many legs? Would it rather be a rock?

Thank you Forrest.

I honestly cannot consider myself an expert on Friends of any type, for I've only attended two Quaker meetings (one University Friends Meeting in Seattle for a year and a half, the other a Quaker meeting in Dublin four times).

My question to you, is: whether evangelical or liberal, do the Quakers of all types converge on testimonies like simplicity, peace, equality and integrity? And even if the building of these tables are different, with different materials, are they not ultimately the same height? Leg numbers? etc?

I don't presume to know the answer, and please don't misinterpret my questioning for arguing, I am seeking to understand.


Forrest Curo said:

For a "nontheist" you use the term "God" rather a lot. In a sense that's admirably plain speech, using the term that most of us do use...

but aside from "being in everybody," what does this table look like? How does it behave? Can we sit on it or do we have to eat at it? How many legs? Would it rather be a rock?

Thank you very much William for taking the time to share your experience and give book recommendations. I love reading, so will read those books you recommended, even if you haven't read them all.                       

 

 

Thanks John.  I think these tensions are inevitable and are present in all spiritual traditions, particularly at a time when society is becoming increasingly secular.  Do we regard Quakerism as a religious institution with a set of required beliefs, or do we regard it as a living spiritual community which adapts and develops?  Do we regard ourselves as traditionalists or modernisers?  Do we recognise that spiritual experience can be expressed and labelled in a variety of different ways?  Are we confident enough in our own spiritual practice to embrace other approaches, and not find them  threatening?

Yes, John, I would have thought so.

John Vechey said:

My question to you, is: whether evangelical or liberal, do the Quakers of all types converge on testimonies like simplicity, peace, equality and integrity? 

It seems to me that all spiritual experience is inherently subjective, so people will think and talk it about it in different ways.  And they will therefore think and talk about God in different ways.  


John Vechey said:

How do you reconcile "that of God in everyone" with different religions or belief structures? They may be praying to Allah, and have different rules around their belief, but is God not God? Christians don't shape God to what they want, he is the universal truth, and evangelical Quakers have one way of getting close to their interpretation of the Christian God. But are  Southern Baptists, Assembly of God, or methodists not Christian as well? Even though there are many differences? And if they can all be worshipping the same God, who is in everyone, then are the Muslims really worshipping a different God? Or are we all in search of finding the God within equally? 

Hello, John!

Since you are into reading, I would also like to suggest that you feast on Quaker Religious Thoughthttp://qtdg.wordpress.com/back-issues/  It is even published in your "neck of the woods", at George Fox University.  This publication is where I got my start in Quaker theology.  One can purchase the whole series for a very modest price.

An alternative publication is Quaker Theology. http://www.quaker.org/quest/QT-Issue-list.html  Quaker Theology was started by Chuck Fager, and provides a theological forum for more liberal Quaker thinkers.  It is less academic in its orientation and concerns.  This publication complements QRT, but does not serve as a substitute for it.  This publication is available online, as well as in print.

Of the three books I recommended to you, the Prothero volume is the only one I haven't read.

Your recurrent references to "that of God in every man" and to the "Spice" testimonies are evidence of the influence of liberal Quakerism on your thought.  The "that of God" concept has been rendered politically correct nowadays as "that of Whatever in everyone".  This concept was popularized as a formula for capturing the essence of Quakerism by Rufus Jones.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rufus_Jones_(writer)

The "Spice" acronym represents Howard Brinton's attempt to pin down the fundamentals of Quakerism in five "testimonies".  Others have later added a sixth, so "Spice" becomes "Spices".  Howard Brinton was the foremost interpreter of liberal Quakerism in the latter half of the 20th Century.  See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Howard_Brinton

Anthony Manousos has recently published a book length study of Howard Brinton.  Contrary to what the Amazon site states http://www.amazon.com/Howard-Anna-Brinton-Anthony-Manousos/dp/19377..., the book is available.  See Bookfinder.com for further information.

When you have perused these references and need more suggestions, let me know.  We haven't even touched on older works, of which ministers' journals and autobiographies are very significant.  You will also want to become familiar with the series of volumes on Quaker history, including titles by Rufus Jones and W.C. Braithwaite.

 

 

 

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