Where do I begin?

Last year I stumbled upon a website called BeliefNet.org. It contained a quiz called the Belief-O-Meter, in which you answer a series of questions pertaining to your personal belief system, from which is derives a list of religions that most closely coincide with you. It listed Neo-Paganism, Unitarian Universalism, and Liberal Quaker as my top three.

These are my thoughts on on those results:
-Neo-Paganism- Though I may have owned a couple of spell books during high school, nothing else in my life seems to suggest I am a pagan. I believe that I achieved this result through my lack of having any sort of structured theological beliefs, such as a believing that the Bible is the word of God; in addition to my answers pertaining to respecting the enviroment and such. Though my belief system may inadvertently coincide with that of Neo-Pagans, it is not something that I label myself.

-Unitarian Universalism- This one I immediately identified with, and correlates with what I have called myself for the past 7 years or so. I wasn't really "raised" anything- my family attended our local Methodist church until I reached the age of 8 or so, and even back then I recall thinking (as I sat in the pew) "If it's true that Christianity is the TRUE religion that God wants us to follow, then does that mean that all the other people in history who weren't Christian went to hell? That's a lot of people!" This way of thinking really didn't fly with me, that Christianity was the "right" was and everyone else was wrong and/or Hell-bound. When I discovered UUism, I was elated to discovered that there was no doctrine/dogma to follow in order to "be good" and achieve my place into "heaven". Their basic principals fit my own beliefs perfectly, and that is what I have labeled myself with ever since.

-Liberal Quaker- A-what-now? My idea of Quakers had always been that of someone who dressed like to oatmeal guy, and who were strict Christians. The kind of people who would essentially assume I was going to hell just by glancing at me. So not me. However, the term "liberal" before Quaker had me intrigued, and I began my Google quest. I can now see how misguided I was in my mental image of a Quaker, but I now find myself rather confused. They are so many different kinds! Some I know right away aren't for me, such as Evangelical or Conservative. However, I still can't figure out where I fit into the rest of the picture. I have found information on Nonthological Quakers, Quaker Universalists, etc.

I was hoping that some of you with more knowledge under your belts could help me figure this out if I were to list some of my personal beliefs, religious or otherwise, and tell me your opinion as to where I fit in to the gambet of Quakers out there.

My Beliefs:
1. God- I do not adhere to the Christian version of God. I don't believe "some guy" spoke to anyone telling them to write down his rules. I do believe there is "something" out there. It's hard to think that all that we know in creation is an accident. I have even pondered that if the big-bang-theory is true, perhaps something intentionally set that into motion. I guess you could say I am up in the air on this one, but again, I don't agree with the Bible's version of God.
2. Jesus- I believe Jesus was a real person (I'm pretty sure modern science and historians agree with me) , but I do not subscribe to the suggestion that he was conceived immaculately as the son of "God". I do think the man had some great teachings however. It irks me when people claim they are Christians and do some rather un-Christ-like things in "his"name, such as bombing abortion clinics or chastising gay people.
3. Gay/Lesbian/etc.- I believe that people are born that way, it is not a choise who you live, and they are not wrong or going to hell for being who they are.
4. Abortion- I believe it is a woman's choice to do what she wants with her body. Personally, I would have a difficult time trying to make such a decision, but I do not believe that any government or religion has the right to tell me I'm wrong or have committed as sin for choosing to have one.
5. Souls- I do believe people have souls, and that we die there is some kind of afterlife. Or at least, I hope we do. I really won't know for sure until I die! I just think that anything with some kind of a personality must have a soul, it is what makes us "us", as opposed to walking robots. I also believe animals have souls.

I think those are the highlights. I hope I have provided enough information for you to help me figure out where I may fit into the big picture of Quakerism, and I appreciated anyone who takes the time to do so.

Sincerely,
Chandra

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Welcome! I hope someone else can give a better answer about the different branches of Quakerism.
There's a wide spectrum of belief present in many Friends Meetings. Have you read about the spiritual disciplines practiced by Quakers? I came to Quakers not so much because my beliefs matched theirs as because Quaker worship and discernment structures helped me to know God's presence and follow God's guidance. --I realize God isn't a word that works well for you, but since it's the best one I know for what I've met I use it. Are you clear about what you're seeking in a spiritual community?

Hope that helps; if it's annoying ignore it.

joanna
Hey, Chandra!

Wow, I don't know that I would have been as brave as you, to have Googled about liberal Quakers and then post something like this... but I was shy as a 20-something and I know everyone's a bit different....

One thing I want to encourage you to consider--if you haven't already--is to look into A Meeting Near You. You don't say if you live in the States or in Canada or in the U.K. or where, so I don't know how much help I can be... BUT, if you live in the U.S. or Canada and you want to **attend** a liberal Quaker Meeting, look into QuakerFinder.

Every liberal Quaker meeting has a different feel, a different flavor of theist/nontheist/Christ language. But since most of the worship is a form of spiritual group meditation practice--opening ourselves to the Inner Light and the Inward Teacher, if those are phrases more readily accepted--there's not a huge chance you'll be chased out of meeting by what you hear...

Mainly, I want to say that Quakerism--regardless of the branch--is an experience-based religious/spiritual tradition. Reading about Quakerism, on the internet or in books, will be totally different from worshiping among Quakers. Like learning how to swim by reading about it is totally different from being in the water, swimming.

Maybe invite a few of your friends to check out the modern Oatmeal group with you. Safety in numbers and all that. *wink*

Blessings,
Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up
Obviously you fit the contemporary 'Liberal Friend' category quite well.

The question, to my mind, is whether you find it a satisfactory resting place... That "something 'out there' " as you put it-- Are you content with (or resigned to) letting that remain an unknown something?

There's considerable doubt about the 'Big Bang' thing these days, ie more scenarios being developed along the lines of: 'The physical universe once scrunched down into some minimal amount of space and then simply had too much energy in it to remain so small.' But that doesn't have anything whatsoever to do with God, one way or another. The crucial question to my mind: Did the human soul somehow emerge from intricate physical structures, or is the whole physical creation a product of Spirit?--the same Spirit that lives each human life?

If the Spirit is primary, that (as Steven Gaskin said) changes everything! But can you imagine that? & if so, how do things look from there?
I've heard Judaism described as not being about correct belief so much as a correct life. I think that fits the Society of Friends also.

Like Tim, I identify the Spirit of Christ with the Inner Light. I would also welcome you to our Meeting without demanding that believe as I do.
hi, Chandra! i took that same quiz on belief.net a couple of years ago, and my top 3 were identical to yours! i wasn't raised anything either--dad an agnostic and mom an atheist. my cousins were fundamentalists, mostly, so went to church with them sometimes. went with the folks sometimes to UU. until about 20 years ago, i was an agnostic but always wondering. started searching a couple of years ago, beginning with that quiz, and just a couple of months ago found this site. i've been reading about the Quaker ways and also some wonderful Quaker-oriented novels and learning so much that is hitting me right where i spiritually live. i went to a couple of Friends meetings in Chicago many years ago, but i wasn't ready. i think now that maybe i am, or almost, anyway!

so you are not alone in your journey, as i'm sure you already know. keep searching! and as Quakers say, "way will open."

peace and love always,

Beth
Hi Chandra

I was raised Unitarian-Universalist but found something in gathered silence more powerful than any sermon and more authentic than any church service. After becoming a Quaker I started reading George Fox and discovered that he objected to standard Christian doctrine as much I did (and you probably do), and that he based his objections on the Bible! This sent me back to the Bible to find out if he was right, then back to Fox to get his take on what the Bible REALLY says ... and the adventure continues.
As for Christ: Of all the religious traditions, only he died on the cross. Which means that however bad things get for us, we are not alone. Jesus knows our pain, humiliation and abandonment - been there, done that, knows all about it - and he will take all of our anger, frustration, and tears, and drown them with love. Or at least that is my experience. I respect any religious tradition that takes care of those on the margin, but when things really get bad Jesus is there for those who know his name.
Dear Chandra,

I encourage you to visit an unprogrammed (aka "liberal") Quaker meeting, and to allow yourself to explore and experience in the way Liz suggested.

I want to add that many devout Christians have the same reservations about the Bible -- and the dangerous ways it can be interpreted and applied -- as you voiced. Because Quakerism is a path to deeply seek for Truth, a Christian Quaker is led to recognize these very challenging and questionable elements of the Bible itself, and of the theology which Paul built around Christianity. I have been a Christian for 40 years, attended an unprogrammed Quaker meeting for 10 years, and became a member and "fully street legal" Quaker last November.

I won't go into all the ways I resolve the kinds of questions you are pondering. I will say that having those questions does not foreclose you being a Quaker or a Christian.

Feel free to contact me (dhoffmanlaw@earthlink.net) if you think I could be of any help either in discussion or just as a sounding board to sort out your convictions.

Chandra, I think that the idea that Christians believe that god is some old man in the sky is somewhat untrue. I do not say that there are no Christians that believe that but very few I have met have that understanding of god. I don't think the description of god as 'something' is that bad really, god is too big for us humans to full grasp really. I cannot really describe how I see god because I feel that language does not cover it all.

 

I believe that Jesus was the son of god but at one point in life my beliefs were similar to yours so I understand your thoughts.

 

I am all for gay and lesbian rights and I also believe that god make all of us the way we are. I don't say that you cannot make sexually sinful choices but I think that gay and lesbian poeple can live an acceptable life in god's eyes and still not have to change who they are attracted to.

 

I don't see abortion as a good thing but sometimes it is in my opinion the lesser evil. I however think that as Christians it should be something we should obstain from for moral reasons but I don't want to force others to think like me.

 

I believe in an afterlife but I have no idea what it will be like, I don't think the bible is very clear on this.

UU, Liberal Quaker, and Secular Humanist were my top 3 on Beliefnet when I took it a couple years ago :)

 

Your version of God (set things in motion then let them run) sounds like Deism.  My boyfriend is a Quaker Deist.  I consider myself a non-theist Friend, since I don't really have a strong belief in a separate-entity-as-deity, rather as a wholly internal thing we all share (sort of a Hive Mind, if you're into sci-fi...).  Thinking of Jesus as a human prophet or a guy with some great ideas or an exemplary role model we should emulate should have you fitting in just fine in a lot of Liberal meetings. 

 

Basically, hyphen-Quakers are pretty common.  Jewish-Quaker, Buddhist-Quaker, Atheist-Quaker...  Given "you must believe X, Y, and Z to go to Heaven" is something you don't stand by, then "Universalist Quaker" (or even more adjectives if you want to pile on) would probably fit if you decide to go the Quaker route.

Dear Chandra,

The Religious Society of Friends is a welcoming place to rest, as several Friends have described. For many people, that's all they want. And that is fine, as long as they are tolerant of the myriad beliefs found under one roof.

But Karen has brought up an important point. If all you want out of religion is to fit in somewhere, you might not find it.

You will find great tolerance among Friends, but we are not merely a place where "you can believe whatever you want," as some people say. Friends are challenged to live in the Light. (Or, in more Christian terminology, to stand in the Cross.) We may not be into doctrine, but we are on a spiritual journey. We are challenged to live as Christ/God/Spirit teaches us to live.

The Sermon on the Mount is where we begin, rather than focusing on salvation. The most agnostic/nontheist Friends will tell you something in different language about ethics and right living in the world, like "living simply so that others can simply live." No matter the language, being a Quaker is not about being comfortable. And religion, as practiced, isn't supposed to be comfortable. We walk the language of "comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable."

But if you are looking for a place that puts the focus on living in sacred space and walking in Truth as you live with others, then you have found your home.

Thee is welcome with Friends.

Yours in the Light, Paula

 

p.s. For more on this, google "Friends Queries." Queries are used by Friends for reflecting on how we live. Philadelphia Yearly Meeting describes them as follows:

Friends have assessed the state of this religious society through the use of queries since the time of George Fox. Rooted in the history of Friends, the queries reflect the Quaker way of life, reminding Friends of the ideals we seek to attain. From the Christian tradition, Friends have taken as a standard the life and teaching of Jesus, not only as recorded in the New Testament, but even more importantly as revealed inwardly, as we seek God's truth and its expression through our lives today. Friends approach queries as a guide to self-examination, using them not as an outward set of rules, but as a framework within which we assess our convictions and examine, clarify, and consider prayerfully the direction of our lives and the life of the community.

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