Since the RELIGIOUS (emphasis mine) Society of Friends now welcomes "non-thesist" members, will it also open up to military quakers, or hedonistic quakers or to any other group of people who want to join without changing anything about their lifestyle or beliefs? I'm  not trying to offend anyone, but I cant really understand the point of joining the RELIGIOUS Society of Friends, if you are irreligious. Surley joining the humanist society, or something similar would be more appropriate? Again....Im not trying to offend or attack anybody, I'm just deperatly trying to understand something that dosn't make sense to me. Surely a belief in God, as well as a belief  in peace, honesty, simplicity, and eqaulity should be nessessary to becoming a Quaker?

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Comment by Nikolas Southwell on 2nd mo. 21, 2011 at 2:01pm
I would like to say that I would not ban nontheists from attending, but only from joining the Society. In my own experience i have experienced being told that religion was a "fantasy" by a "nontheist" in one meeting, in response to my ministry. I will not return to this meeting. As for being asked not to talk about Christ in a meeting as was Stephanies experience....well need i say anymore? Its simply a symptom of political correctness allowed to run riot. This type of "we'd better not mention God in case we offend any atheists" thinking has to be completly driven out of the Society of well as society in general.
Comment by Paula Deming on 2nd mo. 21, 2011 at 2:18pm

Yes, Nikolas, your experience, and Stephanie's, are examples of intolerance. Distressing.

I feel a concern about using nontheism as a reason for withholding membership. Given the trouble we all have with language and making sense of our spiritual journeys, I feel that this might not be a true mark of someone's suitability for membership. Is the attender on a spiritual path, but cannot, in his experience, call an experience of a higher power "God"? By the time I felt called to membership, I was able to understand the Divine as "God," but I still felt this was a word misused by others as Santa Claus on a Cloud. Did I want to use that word? It was difficult. And I would have been devastated if my clearly heard call to membership had been rejected because of my limited vocabulary.

I know a few people who have gone to AA or other 12-step groups. I understand that in these groups, belief in a higher power of some sort is necessary to success in overcoming an addiction. Would you ban someone who cannot accept the name "God" for the higher power? That would be cruel.

And so I believe it would be cruel to keep a Friend out of our Society by virtue of how he is able to name the Divine. Love of whatever Source the Friend experiences is more important, as well as how that Love is brought into the world through the Friend's listening to the Divine.

Comment by Richard B. Miller on 2nd mo. 21, 2011 at 3:35pm
I would say that it is good to offer hospitality and welcome to atheists who are drawn to meeting.  After all, it is likely that they are being drawn by the God they don't consciously believe in.  But it is important that we quietly but firmly maintain our identity as a religious society.  We come to meeting not to "sit in silence" but to participate in waiting worship.  What we should never do is let the atheists set the tone.  Essentially they are guests among us.  We welcome them and know that God works within them as he works within us. 
Comment by Paula Deming on 2nd mo. 21, 2011 at 4:46pm

Yes, Richard. Thank you. We are responsible for the tone set in worship.

And I hope that an a-theist attender who applies for membership is asked careful, loving questions, and listened to deeply. The goal would be to ascertain whether the applicant recognizes s/he is a seeker and isn't hostile to the idea that God, for the seeker, simply has another name (or no name). Nothing is clear cut, which is why we must seek Divine guidance in each situation before we draw the line.

Comment by Nikolas Southwell on 2nd mo. 22, 2011 at 11:33am
I think Richard has said it best, but Paula also raises a good point.  We don't want to drive away genuine seekers. But I feel that we must at all costs, as Richard said, maintain that we are a religious society, and that we collectivly bear wittness to a belief in God/The Divine.
Comment by Stephanie Stuckwisch on 2nd mo. 22, 2011 at 11:42pm

I also agree with Richard and Paula. As I said in my earlier, we need open, tolerant discussion so that all sides can have clarity.


Comment by David Carl on 2nd mo. 25, 2011 at 7:30pm

Nikolas, if you genuinely want to understand why nontheists come to meeting, they have written extensively on that topic on the web.  There should be no shortage of material if you want to seek it out.  would be a place to start.  In addition, "religious" and "theist" are not coterminous for everyone (see Buddhism, for example).    Luckily for me (now a theist), my liberal meeting had little to say about theism when I first approached, else I'd likely have run away.   So the Lord works in mysterious ways his wonders to perform! 


Comment by Paula Deming on 2nd mo. 25, 2011 at 9:37pm

David, your experience mirrors mine! And, indeed, I did run away, for an entire year, but knew during that time that I had to return. I did a lot of study and interior work during that year. And this was a gentle meeting that generally spoke little about G.o.d.

This was more than 20 years ago. And it has been only in the past two years that I went from calling myself "spiritual but not religious" to "deeply religious." Friends Meeting supplies the community and atmosphere that allows us to fall into the arms of the Divine. 

This is why I ask Friends to cherish all seekers, even those who consider themselves atheists. The Divine is calling. Our care of these seekers can help with the double search that Thomas Kelly writes of. I continue to urge tolerance, unless newcomers are openly hostile to our being a religious society. That's where we draw the line.

Comment by Allistair Lomax on 5th mo. 10, 2012 at 1:04pm

Dear Nikolas,

I know it's been a while since you asked the question, but rather belatedly wanted to say that first of all, you have every right to ask the question here on QuakerQuaker, and secondly that you shouldn't be ashamed or feel confused for asking it. The very fact that you are asking this question, is to me, a sign of spiritual growth and discernment.

The simple fact is there is really no point in joining the Society of Friends if you don't believe in God. People in that position, certainly from my experience, do so because they want to remake Quakers in their own image. There are plenty of other outlets for people who want to persue some quasi-religious activity without the embarassment of the 'God-stuff', like mediation groups, masonic lodges and humanistic societies. The real question for me is why Meetings would allow someone who doesn't believe in God into membership in the first place? They are obviously not doing the same thing in worship as other believers.

I see many responses on these forums that invoke 'just loving each other' as the standard response to these kinds of theological dilemmas. This is confusing love with mere sentimentalism. It is neither loving or honest for anyone to be allowed into membership of any religious community that is not in unity with its core beliefs.  The result of this is disunity and fragmentation, which is exactly what we are seeing in liberal Quaker yearly meetings. The really loving thing to do is to actually be honest enough to draw the line and say, 'This is what we stand for as Quakers, and if you are not in unity with this, then you may find peace elsewhere' (or at least remain on the periphery as a visitor/attender). As Paul says in Corinthians, Love rejoices with the Truth.

Comment by Jim Wilson on 5th mo. 10, 2012 at 1:29pm

Friend Allistair:

Thanks for bringing this thread forward again.  I feel it is good to revisit this in light of several other threads which are now current.  I share with  Nikolas a sense of bafflement as to why a non-theist (aka atheist) would seek to join the RSoF.  As you point out there are numerous non-theist organizations which are a closer fit for non-theists such as Zen meditation groups, humanist associations of various kinds, etc., etc.  There is something almost belligerant about wanting to join an explicitly theistic organization and then seeking to alter its history, its basic views, and its way of life. 

I agree with Nikolas that 'non-theism' cannot be simply an isolated view; such an approach will inevitably result in the abandoning of anything and everything which is distinctive about the RSoF.  I have already seen this among some non-theists in their easy abandonment of the peace testimony.  It's easy for non-theists to abandon it because the basis for the peace testimony in the Quaker tradition is religious so that if you abandon the foundation, i.e. the religious perspective, other things will be abandoned as well.  Non-theists do not find this troubling; I get the impression that they are enthusiastic about such a reworking.

Friend Paula, I disagree that the view Nikolas expressed is intolerant.  Actually, I think the non-theists are the intolerant ones.  Let me illustrate with an analogy.  If you and I were members of a Rose Society, which was devoted to the cultivation of roses, and some people joined who wanted to put the focus on roses aside, and turn it into a bonsai society, how would you respond?  If someone suggested that bonsai do not really belong in the Rose Society, would that be an example of intolerance?  I don't think so.  And if the non-roseans (aka pro-bonsai) faction kept insisting on this in the name of tolerance for non-roseans, what would you think?

There are plenty of bonsai societies around and for me the puzzle would be why someone would want to join the Rose Society only to insist that the Rose Society change its focus to the cultivation of bonsai?  I can't think of any good reason.  Similarly, I am puzzled as to why a non-theist would want to join the RSoF only to insist that the RSoF change in a manner more to their liking.  This is especially puzzling when there are so many easy alternatives available for the non-theist.

Thy Friend Jim


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