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.

Views: 1585

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion



Spiny Norman said:

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.


'Experience' is subjective, doesn't happen unless "There's somebody home in there!"

So experience of what people mean by 'spiritual' is also subjective.... but I'm afraid you might be inferring that 'What we're talking about is only subjective, so it doesn't matter how we think or talk about it.'

Suppose a person imagined that 'Electricity is only subjective,' so he didn't use the refrigerator and all his food went bad. Or he plugged himself into something while taking a bath?

The big difficulty with thinking 'Spirit is only subjective' -- is that everything that exists is Spirit and the work of Spirit. If we miss that, we're more out of line with How Things Work than the guy who doesn't 'believe in' electricity.

what, exactly, is a "non-theist" anyway. This term confuses me and I would appreciate clarification, thank you!



John Vechey said:

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! 

Patrice Wassmann asked: "what, exactly, is a "non-theist" anyway. This term confuses me and I would appreciate clarification, thank you!"

 

In Godless for God's Sake: Nontheism in Contemporary Quakerism,  David Boulton (the editor) wrote: "Nontheism, then, is the opposite: the absence of any belief in a deity or deities, in the existence of God (where 'existence' is understood in a realist, objective sense), and especially belief in one God as creator and supreme ruler." (p.6)  On p.15, he speaks of the "desupernaturalization of religion".

He defines the term in a way that includes "atheist, agnostic, naturalist [and] humanist". p.7

so a non-theist is basically an atheist then. Thank you. Atheism I understand fairly well, having grown up with a very outspoken atheist for a father! Who is still challenging me at the age of 84!

John, you said " I find myself disassociating a person with their words around spirituality and focus on their actions and their spirit." You are obviously growing in wisdom! The behavior of so many self-identified Christians is definitely not Christ-like, especially in the USA right now.

Patrice Wassmann wrote: "The behavior of so many self-identified Christians is definitely not Christ-like, especially in the USA right now."

The behavior of some non-theists is not at all decent, either.   The primary case in point in this thread talks as if anyone who disagrees with her is "childish" and out of touch with reality.  On the web generally, the "non-theists" are very aggressive in their attacks on those they disagree with. 

This is not to say that all non-theists act this way.  I am referencing only the majority of those who speak up.  We have no way of knowing what the "silent majority" of non-theists think or do!

 

Thanks William.  Also I came acrosss this site: http://www.nontheistfriends.org/

William F Rushby said:

In Godless for God's Sake: Nontheism in Contemporary Quakerism,  David Boulton (the editor) wrote: "Nontheism, then, is the opposite: the absence of any belief in a deity or deities, in the existence of God (where 'existence' is understood in a realist, objective sense), and especially belief in one God as creator and supreme ruler." (p.6)  On p.15, he speaks of the "desupernaturalization of religion".

He defines the term in a way that includes "atheist, agnostic, naturalist [and] humanist". p.7

Not necessarily, Patrice.  Non-theist includes agnosticism.

Patrice Wassmann said:

so a non-theist is basically an atheist then. Thank you. Atheism I understand fairly well, having grown up with a very outspoken atheist for a father! Who is still challenging me at the age of 84!

Forrest, I'm not saying that spiritual experiences don't occur, I'm saying that how those experiences are interpreted will depend largely on a persons upbringing, culture, conditioning, beliefs and assumptions.  

Forrest Curo said:


Spiny Norman said:

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.


So experience of what people mean by 'spiritual' is also subjective.... but I'm afraid you might be inferring that 'What we're talking about is only subjective, so it doesn't matter how we think or talk about it.'

Spiny Norman said:

http://www.quakerquaker.org/forum/topics/a-table-by-any-other-name?

Forrest, I'm not saying that spiritual experiences don't occur, I'm saying that how those experiences are interpreted will depend largely on a persons upbringing, culture, conditioning, beliefs and assumptions.


It does matter "how these experiences are interpreted" but that isn't what matters most.

What are these experiences experiences of? Different people of course will answer that differently, but what is the underlying reality of the situation?

Those are great questions Spiny, and probably at the heart of what I (and others on every aspect of the spectrum) are grappling with practically and spiritually.

It is probably unarguable that people who have self identified as Quakers throughout history, all line up on various sides of these queries. That's what I am struggling with now, and the reason for my post. 


Spiny Norman said:

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?

Another analogy this brought up is art.

My experience of a piece of art is very different than someone else's experience. How it moves me, how I interpret it, whether I like it, etc. But it still is the same piece of art. Subjective experience over unified object.

So I am not saying God is whatever we make it, but that God is the same, we experience and discuss God differently, and that I believe Quakers have a way of experiencing and getting close to God that ends with similar results, regardless of the belief spectrum. So my confusion comes in when I see different Quaker groups (or any group really, but am surprised by the Quaker side) holding "ownership" of the experience, or belief (in either direction).


Forrest Curo said:

Spiny Norman said:

http://www.quakerquaker.org/forum/topics/a-table-by-any-other-name?

Forrest, I'm not saying that spiritual experiences don't occur, I'm saying that how those experiences are interpreted will depend largely on a persons upbringing, culture, conditioning, beliefs and assumptions.


It does matter "how these experiences are interpreted" but that isn't what matters most.

What are these experiences experiences of? Different people of course will answer that differently, but what is the underlying reality of the situation?

Reply to Discussion

RSS

Support Us

Did you know that QuakerQuaker is 100% reader supported? If you think this kind of outreach and conversation is important, please support it with a monthly subscription or one-time gift.


You can also make a one-time donation.

Latest Activity

Helen updated their profile
9th month 8
Keith Saylor posted a blog post

Established in the living and continuous presence of Jesus Christ

We live in social contexts (the world over) wherein human relations are guided, informed, and…See More
8th month 29
Kirby Urner replied to Kirby Urner's discussion 'Thumbnail History'
"Hi William -- If one regards voting as a civic duty, then it's difficult to avoid aligning…"
8th month 19
William F Rushby replied to Kirby Urner's discussion 'Thumbnail History'
"Hello, Kirby! I feel that Friends should steer clear of partisan politics, avoiding alignment with…"
8th month 19
Kirby Urner posted a discussion

Thumbnail History

When it comes to the European experience, we already tell the story of the United States as one of…See More
8th month 15
M. E. B. Cannon liked William F Rushby's blog post A Quote from (Mary) Flannery O'Connor, 20th Century Novelist
8th month 14
M. E. B. Cannon updated their profile
8th month 14
William F Rushby posted a blog post

Advice From Mother Theresa

From *Brethren Life and Thought* by Joel Shenk: "People are often unreasonable, illogical and…See More
8th month 14

© 2021   Created by QuakerQuaker.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service