Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
As a non-UK, theist-but-sympathetic-to-non-theism Friend, I'm not your intended audience I guess. But why do you think fervent non theism is dangerous? Spiritually dangerous to individual Friends, institutionally dangerous to Friends in the UK?
And if individual Friends are led by their conscience to non-theism (and how else should they get there?) how does talk of "danger" help them? I am asking specifically; of course some things *are* dangerous, and the community of Friends should legitimately address those things. In my view though making a strong distinction between theism and non-theism seems creedal, a matter of language rather than substance. If God exists, then God will continue to inform Her people's hearts as usual, whether we use language about God or not.
I couldnt agree more. Some people seem to want to turn the Quakers into a branch of the humanist society. Non theistic (atheistic) Quakerism is an oxymoron....and i think more of us need to take a stand on this!
I think the danger is in torpid atheism, which has been (at least here in USA Liberalfriendism) the dominant tone for a long time now. (Fervent atheism, bent on converting others, is thereby more open to conversion. And has more juice in it!)
And it's not so much a "danger" as a mislabeling: 'Skim milk masquerades as cream.'
The only danger I see is: "If we aren't being Friends, who will?" If people come in search of Spirit, and find instead a circle of Nice People sitting in Quaker smugness, they will forced back into George Fox's early state-- having no one outside themselves to rely on. That can potentially generate some powerful faith-- but taking more time and effort than anyone truly wants to expend needlessly. And wherever such people go-- it won't be fitting into our old bottles...
Forrest, you can be fervent and still not be trying to convert anyone. I am pretty fervent about my theological biases and hobbyhorses, as we would probably find if we were talking face to face, but I hope you wouldn't feel as though I were trying to convert you.
What am I missing, guys? I don't see Quakerism as being about taking a stand against others. A case could be made that Quakerism allows for for having a leading to try to convert non-theists, and a case can certainly be made for getting to know others better before you declare that a stand needs to be taken against them.
Non-theism is VERY different from atheism as I understand it so far: a non-theist might be a Quaker and a Buddhist with a belief in a Divine that permeates all of us but not a central Father-figure in the sky (that particular person's image of what theists believe, based on his earlier churching).
I am told that atheism is more of the fundamental position against the idea of God -- not non-theism. I understand so far that when people describe themselves as non-theists it is simply (to my mind) language that confuses others and creates division where none necessarily exists. If a non-theist is wrong when he assumes that to be a theist you have to believe God is an old white guy in the sky....he can be a religious person who feels the same way as me (a devout God lover) but for him the words of speaking his truth are "non-theism" in order to find something more authentic. For me I am comfortable letting God be all that wild mystical stuff, and also comfortable seeing all that wild mystical stuff in the story of Christ. What if we are, as Ruby suggests, more on the same page in actuality.
What's the deal with acting like a religious zealot or someone on a crusade? That's not usually a good idea. Too much blood and gore results.
There's a Theosophical friend of mine, raised Catholic and now repelled by the very idea that the Universe might get 'personal' with anyone. But we know we're talking about, living within, a spiritual reality. She doesn't use the G-word but it doesn't make her itch!
Where the disagreement is about words, it's pretty trivial.
Where it's about how the Universe works, about what fundamental causes & effects underlie our lives, about our place in it-- Then it turns into serious differences about what we should be doing and how we should be doing it.
A "religious society" that falls into a secular world-view simply stops functioning as a religious society.
This doesn't make anybody "Bad" or require "taking a stand against" them. As a Theist, I logically must assume that the presence of atheists among us is one of God's little jokes, and that it serves His good purposes in some way.
But we have been Given a serious challenge! It may (for me) eventually come down to finding some other religious body where the Spirit finds Itself more welcome! Or perhaps we'll be reignited in some way I can't imagine yet!
But we are spiritual beings, dependent on spiritual nourishment for the ultimate well-being the Universe intends for Her children. We can get that nourishment directly from the Source-- but we need to share it or it goes dry. In some groups, that sharing gets very difficult, like trying to illuminate a coal mine with a match. People visit, apparently seeking such spiritual nourishment-- and all too often, as I see this, they go away empty. That's sad, because we used to be God's Friends-- the people I sought out when I wanted to practice what Jesus was talking about. It's brought me great illuminations, some times and places, but lately just seems to sit there-- while wondering whether it likes calling what we do together "worship"!
My appeal for support was to British Quakers going to Yearly Meeting later this month.
However it is good to discuss issues with all Friends world-wide.
I am not currently concerned about the views or beliefs of individual Friends, but about the stance, the purpose, of Britain Yearly Meeting (BYM) as an organisation in its own right.
The 'danger' I refer to is not non-theism as such, but that this organisation might lose its essential characteristics if it were to degenerate into little more than just another secular humanist organisation.
If interested, see my blog: www. sp37. info
The "secular world view" is a vague thing to be struggling against. I am not sure
such a thing really exists. We are to struggle against the powers and principalities
and those are easier to identify (the idolatry of the market, idolatries of power
and celebrity, the smug self-satisfaction of comfortable middle class people like
me, "the hardness of heart of the educated" that Gandhi pointed out).
Why are there atheists? The rabbi Abraham Kook told a story of a student asking his
teacher just this question, and he answered with a parable, a version of the Good Samaritan story.
A number of religious people pass a poor, sick person on the street, and tell themselves
that God will provide. Then an atheist sees the man, and says to himself "There is no God
to help this man; only I am here; I must help him myself". That is one answer anyway.
Our struggle is against the powers that threw that poor man down on the ground, not against
the views people have of the universe. God wants us to pick people up.
Oh, "secular world view" is right up there with those other powers and principalities. ""Sex, fashion, and sports are all among the angelic powers," sayeth Springfellow. "So, particularly, is "money." Many of these (___?)'s are on the vague side, not so easy to pin with a word.
In George Fox's Journal we find this already getting problematical:
"One morning, as I was sitting by the fire, a great cloud came over me, and a temptation beset me; and I sat still. It was said, "All things come by nature"; and the elements and stars came over me, so that I was in a manner quite clouded with it. But as I sat still and said nothing, the people of the house perceived nothing. And as I sat still under it and let it alone, a living hope and a true voice arose in me, which said, "There is a living God who made all things." Immediately the cloud and temptation vanished away, and life rose over it all; my heart was glad, and I praised the living God.
"After some time I met with some people who had a notion that there was no God, but that all things come by nature. I had a great dispute with them, and overturned them, and made some of them confess that there is a living God. Then I saw that it was good that I had gone through that exercise. We had great meetings in those parts; for the power of the Lord broke through in that side of the country."
At this point I think we've all been so thoroughly imbued with the tendency to rely on that lens first and foremost-- that it's hard to recognize for that very reason.
"What shall we do about this?" -- and immediately we are aflame with "practical" steps and measures to take, as if it really were all up to our unaided selves.
Not so much "to struggle against"-- but to recognize. To see where a misleading perspective has weakened us, name it openly as illusory, pray that all may find our ways to the true foundation of the world.
Okay, I have finally looked up your blog post-- and while I find considerable similarity in our concerns, being (if I understand you) the effectiveness of BYM in particular (and perhaps the SoF in general...)
It appears to me that what you've said was: You're concerned that Friends' drift from a religious orientation may (now, later) undermine our effectiveness in meeting the world's secular needs and fulfilling our institutional obligations.
Do I have this right? And is that your meaning, or merely the aspect of it you hope will be most "objectively" understandable to our contemporaries? If that is the level of understanding that people will most readily find cogent... that implies that we've already drifted, a lot! What's your take?
Forrest, in one of those coincidences that might come "by nature" but strike hard when they happen, I just read that passage from Fox, in "Faith and Practice", last first day. Thank you for reminding me of it.
Stephen, I looked at your blog also. While I still can't share your concern, I think I understand it better now. I don't see nontheists as watering down Friends; nontheists, maybe especially fervent ones (per Forrest) are not just skim milk, they have often thought deeply about God and the universe, and about society.
The secular world view I worry about is the one that holds received ideas and the world's lies thoughtlessly. Christians, theists and non-theists can all be guilty of this; Kierkegaard railed against this.
I'm afraid my remarks are superficial, Stephen. I will read your blog again this evening (it is just after noon here) and hopefully will have more considered thoughts to share.
Forrest, who is Stringfellow? I feel as though I should know that name but don't.