As this is my first post on QuakerQuaker, and as it might be relevant to understanding my perspective on this matter, I'll briefly introduce myself.

I'm Frederic Bayer, 19 years of age, a convinced and enthusiastic Friend living in the United Kingdom but born and brought up in Germany. I regard myself as a Christian Quaker. I was a "spiritual but not religious" atheist before I became a Quaker – the Quaker Way "reconciled" me with Christianity.

Within the Liberal Quaker framework of the United Kingdom, I suppose I could be considered somewhat "conservative", as I adhere to a form of "new plain" dress, and feel that the activist side of Quakerdom should not make us lose sight of the spiritual side – a view excellently expanded on by Ben Pink Dandelion in his Swarthmore Lecture this year.

I am also, however, a Quaker universalist, believing that the Quaker Way should be open to non-Christians, to anyone who shares our worldview and testimony. I firmly believe in non-creedalism, and as the Quaker Universalist Group puts it, I believe "that spiritual awareness is accessible to men and women of any religion or none, and that no one Faith can claim to have a monopoly of Truth."

In that light, I was shocked and dismayed at a major display of ill-spiritedness in the Facebook group "Religious Society of Friends". Here it is, summarised in a single screenshot, censored for privacy:

I find both the post and the comment shown here quite disturbing and "unquakerly", if I may be forgiven for passing that kind of judgment.

Before I get back to that, though: Other responses weren't much better either. One of the most common complaints? A sense of: "How dare he speak for God!"

That just puzzled me. Is it not the foundation of the Quaker Way – the unifying factor between all our branches, liberal, conservative and evangelical – that each and every one of us has the capacity to be moved by the Spirit and thus speak for God (or for our "collective unconscious" or whatever image the non-theists and polytheists among us might propose?) A phrase we use and hear all the time: "that of God in everyone" – are we really saying that some people do not have anything of God within them?

Another criticism I find more understandable was that this message was "preachy". And yes, that is a point of fault with it. In its tone, it insinuates that non-Christian Friends are either stupid, delusional, or both. At this point, I consulted §17 Advices and Queries of my yearly meeting:

Do you respect that of God in everyone though it may be expressed in unfamiliar ways or be difficult to discern? Each of us has a particular experience of God and each must find the way to be true to it. When words are strange or disturbing to you, try to sense where they come from and what has nourished the lives of others. Listen patiently and seek the truth which other people's opinions may contain for you. Avoid hurtful criticism and provocative language. Do not allow the strength of your convictions to betray you into making statements or allegations that are unfair or untrue. Think it possible that you may be mistaken.

This, to me, is one of the central insights of our community. This tender spirit in which we are to receive all speech, in case they might be ministry, in case they may have a purpose to fulfill in our own journeys of life, faith and thought.

That advice, I hope, makes obvious my quarrel with both the original ministry and the response: The original ministry leaves no room for error. It leaves no room for the belief that God may not exist. It leaves no room for the belief that Christ may not be his son, nor that the Bible may not be his word. Everyone is free to have their beliefs on God, on Christ and on Scripture, but not to criticise others for not sharing in them. In my view, that violates one of the tenets on which our Religious Society of Friends, at least here in Britain, is based: Acceptance and respect for one another.

The reply is guilty of the same. No attempt was made to "try to sense" where this querying came from. It is very possible that the Friend making the post was genuinely curious to see what non-Christian friends' views of God, Christ and Scripture are. And it was also hurtful and provocative, because it dismissed not only Christianity but theism as a whole, which permeates Quakerism and is held as a view by the vast majority of Quakers worldwide, as a "superstition", as something silly, facile, delusional.

On both accounts, I wonder: Where is the goodwill? The respect, acceptance, the attempt at understanding? The tender spirit and open heart which is one of the foundations, if not even the single-most important foundation, of our community?

Pink Dandelion warned in his Swarthmore Lecture that if the two major "types" of Quakers in Britain today – theist and nontheist – drift apart and radicalise in their views, hardening their hearts to those of others, this will lead to a schism. I would like to think that the unifying, reconciling spirit central to Quakerism should prevent that, but evidently, the danger of its failure is greater than I was willing to believe.

P.S.: I myself am not immune to this. We are all struck with anger or a temper on occasion, and I cannot claim to always react well to things that "rub me up the wrong way". But just as I am glad to be called out when that happens, I think it is the responsibility of every one of us to make others aware of when they do it, and that is what I have attempted to do here.

Views: 954

Comment by James C Schultz on 1st mo. 1, 2015 at 10:41pm

thanks Bill.  I hope you are well.  I'll try to correct it.

Comment by James C Schultz on 1st mo. 1, 2015 at 10:42pm

Maybe Non-theists are being drawn to the RS of Friends?  They don't have to know why they are being drawn, we just have to show them by our lives there is more to life than they presently understand.  I doubt if the children drawn to Jesus knew why they were so drawn yet Jesus said "allow"the little children to come unto me.  When I am led to share at meeting a message from the Spirit I acknowledge the presence of non-theists as much as possible and point out how the message applies to them as well as those of us who believe there is a plan for our lives by a creator God.  While I go out of my way not to be preachy I am sure non-theist will find any mention of a creator God preachy.  Many don't come back but I did read somewhere that many are called but few are chosen.  I find most messages from the Spirit at my meeting are messages of hope and/or love.   Subjects that should bridge the Theist Non-Theist divide.

Comment by Laura Scattergood on 3rd mo. 13, 2015 at 3:27pm

News to me that being  a non-theist Friend has ever been cool!

Comment by Laura Scattergood on 3rd mo. 13, 2015 at 7:38pm

I figured you were kidding! However, something lies beneath the joke,  the Quaker path as a marketable and hip commodity, changeable to meet market demands.  Words and Ideas and Forms may not be more important than people.  But the Words  that Proceed from the Mouth of G-d are more important than any human agenda,   however cool, however loving.

Comment by Laura Scattergood on 3rd mo. 13, 2015 at 10:06pm

Hey, I wasn't actually referring to a literal marketing campaign.   .   Just the tacit impression I have that modern faith,  Quakerism as well as others,  is more and more about creating a product for a consumer.  That is,  a new improved  Gd for the ever- demanding  customer And nope, the last thing I would refer to is a written word of Gd!     At least in my current, still, technically Quaker context.  I might have to get on board with Torah if I convert. 

I love your example of  Rabbi Kook's  parable.  I have often thought of Atheism as being more virtuous, demanding and honest than a half-hearted declaration of faith.  At least an Atheist has respected Gd enough to take the trouble not to believe. 

I continue to comment and post here,  even as I begin to pull away from Quakerism after so many decades.  Having found out that I am actually came from  the "Kook" family  or perhaps more of a "Koch family ", and the  Weissinger, those are the only names I know so far, as much as I came from the small child who survived the voyage in one of the ships of Penn's fleet.   Forgive me but "love" just tain't one a my things!    Although righteousness is.   I am entirely tired of the word, "love",  as it proceeds from the mouths of humans. " Every Word that Proceeds From The Mouth of G-d" means something to me,  far more mystical than I can grasp and perhaps have been foolish to even say it. 

Although I am not rejecting the phrase, "G-d is Love",  there's something about it that strikes me as a bit off, a bit reductionist,  but suffice it to say that the phrase is not to be understood in a circular fashion. I can't remember who said that, was it Paul or someone?  I should look it up befor I show my ignorance.

That is I am  being drawn towards Judaism.   .   . My confusion is apparent, and I have taken up the affectation of spelling the Divine name in that manner.   . . just to be consistent.    

Comment by Laura Scattergood on 3rd mo. 13, 2015 at 10:35pm

Wow, that was pretty wild!  Here I was trying to explain myself and you all ready understood!  Exactly, that's what I mean.  Discerning what is from mainstream culture that is toxic and spitting it out of our mouths!  And despite my stern comments on the topic I certainly have not succeeded at all. And although I sound stern, much sterner than I really am,  I am probably not at this point advocating some kind of extreme separationist venture, although at times it has appealed to me.  I had written some a while back on rock music, and in fact I even extended this to music in general in my own mind, and I said G-d didn't give rock n roll to us.  Now I don't think that comment is entirely true,  that was an anathematic reply to a pop song of my day.  My comment just meant to remind myself to be discerning on messages that come from popular culture and if needed,  abstain from those things if the message is corrosive spiritually, as to be discerned by each individual.  For instance the keening addiction to erotic and romantic love that most  popular music preaches on continually is corrosive to me.   .   . And you are right,  if you use the Internet at all it is difficult to not be drawn into some story about a pop icon or some other foolishness. .  Anyway, I think we have each others points now! Thanks for understanding me.  I think that was Divine intervention.

Comment by Laura Scattergood on 3rd mo. 14, 2015 at 11:14am

Quite a patchwork spiritual history, Rudy.  I looked up, the reference to G-d is Love, other than its appearance in multiple embroidered samples, it is found in First John. And I don't suppose we have any idea who wrote First John.     On Orthodoxy, I used to work for a social service agency founded by a devout sect derived from the Orthodox.   It was certainly a time of spiritual growth for me as their service to others was so infused with divine fervor,  and it was very energizing.   Painting icons!  That is quite a feat!  My dalliances with Catholicism are limited to going to a Catholic undergrad college and sending one of my children to a progressive Catholic school.  That would have been simultaneous, working for an Orthodox sect, sending my a child to a Catholic school... Then I went to an Adventist grad school, at which I felt a calling toward plain dress, that didn't last more than 18 months or so.  This all sounds so looney when I write it down!   I, too, have a huge library of books from as many traditions as I can gather,(even pamphlets from questionable sects and odd writings are part of the collection)  and before I packed them up for my upcoming move, would sit with selections from them, often startled by the synchronicity with which  diverse writings would deliver the same needed lesson. 

I am probably too much of a Universalist to convert to Judaism.  And as some say, as a gentile, I can be outside Judaism but highly righteous, if I convert I probably wouldn't be a very good Observant Jew.   Especially with years of Quakerism, and no holidays!  I can't keep up with all these complicated holidays. 

But just the idea of having thousands of years of authoritative writings and oral teachings and distinct leaders, and a distinct community with requirements.  And to even have a community!   And not to mention that the parts of the teachings I understand make sense to me, and the parts I don't understand intrigue me.

For a long time I longed for Quakerism to become once again a distinctive community, and then I began to realize, Quaker identity is simply over.   I thought it could be revived.   .  . It seems to me that Quaker Identity and Quaker Community is now somewhat like joining 4H or the Girl Scouts.  Perfectly benign but utterly void.  As Lewis Benson said, the car without the engine.   Perhaps that is  just for me, as I can't find anywhere to fit on what Petty Sengar calls the "Q Continuum".    And as for my "non-Theist" apparent jabs, I have walked that road a while too, although never overtly or outwardly,   I had Deist leanings,  I had some non-Theist thoughts as well.  Mainly because it is easier to deal with Theodicy from a Deist or Non-Theist position,  and to just take the actions that the atheist in Rabbi Kook's story took.  That is, when there doesn't seem to be an existent or participating G-d,  as a moral human I take the righteous action whenever I can.  Also the hubris of thinking that a G-d, a creator of the Universe might be interested in me, or take the trouble to guide me, I struggled with that too.   The discovery that I have the matrilineal Jewish line, that were Cryptic Jews,  for whatever reason,  put some puzzle pieces together for me.  Quaker and Methodist on one side, Jewish on the other (not to mention an assortment of scoundrels) .  .   . Anyway the Jewish discovery opened my mind to the possibility of a G-d that might have some kind of detailed instructions for me,  that I might be able to follow and be of service to righteousness in my remaining decades.  So currently, I am open to these specific instructions.


Comment by Olivia on 3rd mo. 15, 2015 at 11:46am

Hi Frederic,

Welcome!  I'm very grateful for you original post.  This is a very wise post, I believe.  I love what a spirit of integrity you have. 

My own experience of Quakers online has been similar to this (at times):  it seems that we are a Society defined by our worshipful silence....but in the world of online discussions, there is:

no way to "insert silence here" as we can do in worship on a Sunday morning.

no way to directly sense the living Spirit in a person...since we are only interacting with them via their words, we can not hear their tone or the space between their words, the Spirit in their voice, or the humility and divine passion that flows through them as they speak.

I had the opportunity once to see a biographical play about John Calvin, and the lead actor did a very fine job, and it was one example of many, I'm sure, of how even the most legalistic "SOB" type of a Christian (by some people's standards) could actually have said every word with an immense Spirit of love and leading behind it...   It bore witness to the fact that if we were to hear whatever those words are in the presence of that living spirit that emboldened and inspired the person, we would be compelled by it, and moved....our criticisms rendered speechless.

And I see that fact as one way that the internet does a great disservice to Friends.  We are given a space where we can ignore all of these basic requirements of our faith:  space, silence, nonreactiveness to the words of others,  accepting them instead as God's word for us to grapple with that morning...etc.

I'm seeing what a perfect post you wrote, that really shouldn't be followed by any discussion and should be left with plenty of divine silence after it because it is indeed worthy of that and is a very great message all on it's own. 

profoundly kind and drawn to copious amounts of integrity....

And yet here we are on a discussion board where all we have are our words to convey our intended worshipfulness, silence, respect, understanding, or lack thereof. 

Prompted by your encouragement to see the Spirit in others, I can also see that the Facebook poster may have done the same (though was a bit absent minded or tone deaf to the way his words were more cliched than his passionate spirit).

Sorry to go so long here, but if I can share one more thing that hopefully is easy on the ears/eyes/mind:   I have a little story on my page here at QQ that was inspired by some interactions with other Quakers -- it's called "a Christmas (being born) tale":

"In a talk between a nontheist, a Buddhist, a psychic, a scientist and
a Christian, these particular friends discovered that they had more in
common than they might have thought previously.   They discovered that
when they spoke of each of their leadings (when they spoke of no-god,
of Buddha, of science, of Christ, and of the unseen extrasensory world
of psychic phenomena), they were in each case talking about the same

the physical and real
of listening awareness, of stillness and surrender, of miracles and

They did not know this when they were in their own beliefs -- in their
own thoughts about their beliefs -- but through listening to one another
it became clear.

It turns out that it DOES matter what you believe, but this doesn’t
mean what we once thought.  The truth is a narrow and uncompromising
path, but it is found everywhere.     You must follow it to the
letter, but only down the path it is calling YOU."

I love that that seems to be what we are dealing with in our world, in our lives, that everyone can and must only go down the path that the divine is calling them.  It is a hard lesson for some people to realize that that's what non-theists are doing too... but I have greatly benefited from their witness to me and the chance to keep learning this. 

Anyway, thanks again for your wisdom and your kind heart, Frederic.


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