Category Archives: NFN website

Website changes February 2018

I have moved the RSS (News) Feed from the American/International nontheistfriends.org website from the left-hand sidebar to the footer area of the website. (This will not now appear on the mobile site).

In its place I have put the signups for our RSS feeds of posts and comments in the left-hand sidebar followed by the Topic (Category) listings for Posts (both previously some way down the right hand column). These will appear at the foot of the mobile site pages.

Three more articles reviewed!

Continuing very slowly my promise to review earlier articles on the website, I would like to tackle three in one go: Michael Wright’s articles on Greta Vosper, Disagreeing about God and Prayer beyond belief.

  1. Michael opens his discussion of Greta Vosper with:

Gretta Vosper, a Minister in the United Church of Canada, and Chair of the Canadian Centre for Progressive Christianity, is a fresh voice in modern theology. She is blowing a blast of fresh air through hallowed portals. This is the essence of her view expressed in her first book: “With or Without God – why the way we live is more important than what we believe.”

Thus Michael characterises Gretta Vosper as ‘a blast of fresh air’ – a perfect storm perhaps, implying that the ‘hallowed portals’ (established churches) are theologically dusty places? (Can’t resist mentioning that Michael was an Anglican Vicar for 30 years). ‘Hallowed portals’ might remind us too of George Fox’s derisive remarks (not always in kindly tones) about ‘steeple houses’.

Michael continues quoting Vosper that ‘out of it all may be distilled a core that, very simply put, is love.’ and ‘The church the future needs is one of people gathering to share and recommit themselves to loving relationships with themselves, their families, the wider community, and the planet.’ Still not so very far then from those Quaker heretics of the 17th century.

‘why the way we live is more important than what we believe’ is a far cry from Christian orthodoxy, might be referred to (by some contemptuously) as ‘works righteousness’ whilst ‘With or without God’ leaves room for humanists, agnostics and non-theists too?

Finally Michael says ‘The core of what she is saying about prayer is to adapt the classic concepts of the acronym ACTS – Adoration, Confession, Supplication, and Thanksgiving, and use those concepts as secular spiritual activities. ACTS   – becomes Awe, Concerns, Thankfulness and Self-examination.’ This is a favourite theme of Michael’s as we shall see but as I haven’t read Greta Vosper’s work I’m not sure if Michael has derived this re-working of the acronym from her or interpreted Vosper to match his acronym – it would be interesting I think to know!

  1. Disagreeing about God. This is a longer article by Michael published originally in The Friend and I will refer you to it rather than trying to précis it here. A couple of points echo the article about Greta Vosper summarised above:

Michael quotes John Macmurray’s Swarthmore Lecture of 1965: “Faith no longer means the acceptance of an established creed or the assent to an authoritative system of doctrine. It recovers the original meaning of trust and fearless confidence; and this spirit of faith is expressed in a way of living which cares for one another and for the needs of all.” Search for Reality in Religion (Swarthmore Lecture 1965).

Michael then continues by discussing the *‘Whoosh Epistle’ of 2012 and comments:
‘Such is the context in which the theist/nontheist disagreement is aired in the pages of The Friend and elsewhere. I want to make a plea for a warmer spirit of mutual respect and understanding between Friends committed to either view, and for those who are not sure where they are in this debate.’
*This appears to have been quietly laid down? and is no longer available on quaker.org.uk (a cardinal web sin according to Tim Berners-Lee(1998)!)

He then describes his personal spiritual journey, 40 years an Anglican, many of them as priest, and then as a Quaker from 1998 with a developing move to a non-theist perspective.

He refers again to the ‘Whoosh Epistle’ and closes with:

‘Each of us is free to account for our experiences as we understand them. Each of us is free to explain them to others and to listen respectfully to their different perspectives. Can we recognise that there are many benefits in being part of a “rainbow coalition”? George Fox’s question – “What canst thou say?”- remains a challenge to us all.’

  1. Prayer beyond belief. Chelmsford NFN address: October 19. 2013. Whilst the two pieces considered above are 2 and three pages long, here we have, including notes, references and bibliography, a 19 page account of Michael’s NFN presentation to Chelmsford Friends. He visits all the subjects considered above in much greater detail and quotes A.N. Whitehead:‘Religion will not regain its old power until it can face change in the same spirit as does science. Its principles may be eternal, but the expression of those principles requires continual development.’ (as far as I know, Whitehead wasn’t a Quaker! Trevor) and explains how this applies to Greta Vosper’s work.

Michael talks of a new paradigm for Christianity and considers ‘Five key elements’: The Bible; God; Jesus; Doctrine; Prayer

Under ‘God’, Michael says:

There is no agreement in history about who God is, and what is God’s nature. There are widely different perspectives among Jews, Christians, Moslems, among the Hindus of India, the Buddhists of Tibet, the Shinto of Japan, the Druids or Wicca of Britain, and the American First Nations. The ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, and the Incasof South America had many gods – and I do not know of anyone nowadays who trusts or worships them.’ He then talks about Karen Armstrong’s work, Greta Vosper again and discusses the ‘Apophatic Tradition’.

Under ‘Prayer’ Michael returns to ACTS (AWE, CONCERNS, THANKFULNESS, SELF-RELFECTION) and considers these and related Quaker concepts in greater detail, matching them to our Advices and Queries.

That takes us to page 15 where Michael introduces ‘The spiritual exercises of Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Roman Catholic religious order the Society of Jesus’ (or the Jesuits). Pages 16-19 were handouts for the workshop but include a reading list and the thoughts ‘Godless prayer – impossible?’ and ‘Meeting for Worship – implausible for a nontheist?’

It has taken me 3 pages to review 30 pages of Michael’s but I hope they will encourage you to read and perhaps be inspired by the originals!

Meeting your maker

Just a small contribution from my mobile phone in sunny Spain at 700 metres and 35 degrees.

As this is not a personal blog, I am/have been wary of posting anything too personal or idiosyncratic.
The NFN does not have a nominations group but every AGM invites members to join the steering group if they wish and we currently have an SG of about 12 – see the relevant page for details.
Clerk, treasurer, conference organisers etc. fall by mutual agreement (or discernment?) to those who volunteer. So I find myself our second web person although I have hoped that other members of the SG and interested members of the Network (who may not want to volunteer for the SG) might also become contributing posters or editors (please do come forward!). In the meantime anyone can contribute by posting comments.
And so, bearing in mind all the excellent (and personal and idiosyncratic) Quaker blogs out there, I thought I’d put a spanner in the works or a cat among the pigeons here by posting something personal in the hope of stimulating (provoking) further non- theist discussion.
I don’t suppose many non-theists have any difficulty with the expression (or concept of?) ‘meeting your maker’.
An older member of my meeting (90 next birthday) recently said he tells enquirers after what he is doing now that he is ‘waiting for God’. I remember many years ago my father sitting in his armchair telling me he was only ‘waiting to die’.
One thing all of us have in common, theists and non-theists, is that none of us is exactly sure what ‘meeting our maker’ will be like.
I suspect (perhaps hope) a sleep from which I never wake up, RIP, mere oblivion. On the other hand, if not re-incarnated as the nth Dalai Lama, perhaps as a ‘bull in Wisconsin’ (try the Internet).
I doubt if many theists think that heaven (or hell) is a jolly place to meet up with old friends, Friends or long lost relatives.
Some members of NFN, even the Steering Group, describe themselves as ‘theist non-theists’ (or vv.) or ‘differently godded’ so may have different concepts of what God (a God) is and that is surely true for theists. So when does God become not God? When does a theist become a non-theist? (Darwin went at least halfway after publishing ‘Origin of the species’).
At 71 and for various health reasons I may be thinking about death more than is good for me. In some ways life is less precious because there’s not enough time left and I have so many regrets for things not done. On the other hand I can be grateful for each extra day granted not knowing whether I might fall under a bus tomorrow or struggle on for another 25 years.
If God is just a name we give to love, fate, eternity, the universe or the power that creates, sustains and destroys the universe or life itself, it would be nice to know before I depart this mortal coil to substitute another phrase for meeting my maker.
I look forward to your theistic, non-theistic, enthusiastic or morbidly Melancholic responses.
Trevor as web-person, agent provocateur.

Old website retired

Our thanks to Brian Wardrop for maintaining the previous NFN website over many years. Our registered domain name ‘nontheist-quakers.org.uk’ now comes to this site.

Most of the material on this new site has been derived from the old site so we still owe much to Brian’s original hard work. I hope the switch-over will run with no teething problems, but if there are any glitches I have overlooked please add a comment below. (or click on ‘Leave a comment/comments’ above to leave your reply).

Trevor Bending

Five weeks later

On 22 March (2017) I added a review of our Minute and Epistle from 2012 and said I would work through our existing articles, perhaps one every 6 days or so. Such is optimism. That was some 5 weeks ago (37 days precisely) so IF I continue at the same rate it might be 18 months, not three, to work through all the existing articles.

What is the point?  Well, I thought that reviewing our existing material might benefit me and at the same time draw in reflections and comments from others and give an appearance of something new every week (or every 5 weeks?) until something really ‘new’ was forthcoming from elsewhere.

Since that last ‘review’ there have been 4 posts, 4 comments and reports and minutes of the 2017 conference and AGM, and an April Newsletter with a report on the 2017 Conference added to the website. If you haven’t seen them yet, have a look now!

One of the posts was on a possible Facebook group and unless there are further responses, perhaps that will rest with the last comments there? Please do add your comments or replies here below or anywhere on the site that comments are allowed. If members of our Steering Group (or indeed any other members of NFN) would like to add comments, make Posts or otherwise contribute to the site, we would be pleased to see that happening.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, here is a quick review of the next article up (see the Articles page from the bottom) contributed by Sarah Richards (now Siddle since her Quaker marriage a year or so ago), our Membership Secretary and Treasurer, on ‘Quaker Discernment: A non-theist view’, in May-June 2013.

Sarah, a mathematician,  makes a comparison between the reality or existence of God and that of ‘i, the square root of minus one’. Earlier in her article, Sarah says “I do not believe in any form of eternal entity which can, at will, cause unique violations of the laws of physics, chemistry and biology.”  But “I do have an open mind on whether there might be some kind of Entity of Ultimate Reality which is beyond both the space and time in which we live and our comprehension, but which might in some way provide a reason why anything exists at all: but that is another story.” (She does not believe such an entity would have any human characteristics.)

Her discussion is quite deep and considers Quaker Meeting for Worship for Business, the process of ‘discernment’, the will of God and leadings of the Spirit, concluding that ‘this confirms my suggestion of a ‘will of God’ which can exist without the need for a God to will it: a non-theist solution to the concept of Quaker Discernment.’

As I have not done justice to her discussion here, I hope you might read the original article. In general I have not put direct links to all the articles and posts referred to here, in the hope this will encourage readers to browse or search for them and thereby become more familiar with the website, the material it contains, and perhaps come across other items that interest them.

Once again, please do add your comments or replies or otherwise contribute to the site. (It just needs a small amount of effort to see how you can do that!)

Trevor Bending

Facebook Group?

At the AGM on Sunday one topic we discussed was whether we should set up a Facebook group for the Non-theist Friends Network (UK). There were pros and cons discussed.

The cons were that:

  1. Many of our members (and many people interested in the work and ideas of our network) do not use Facebook (for a variety of reasons)
  2. It would be yet another place to have to check for interesting posts or discussions, adding to the sense that we may miss things.

The pros were that:

  1. Many people are used to following groups or pages on Facebook and so regularly check to see if there is anything new, even on their phones through the day
  2. Lots of young people use Facebook. I’m 51 and it is a little alarming that I’m referred to as young at some NFN meetings so it would be good to encourage some actual young people to engage in (or with) the network

Rhiannon sent us a couple of vibrant Quaker Facebook places she is involved with that may illustrate what ours might be like:

  • Quaker Renewal UK group (here).  (You do NOT have to sign up to facebook to read this – just close their pop-up window with ‘Not now’ or cross in top right corner. You WILL have to be signed up to facebook if you wish to join the group and join in the discussion – Trevor)
  • Reading QF&P page (here) (much the same as comment above)

And the Quaker LGBT Fellowship UK also has a Facebook group (here). (N.B. That’s a closed group so you cannot see the activity there without joining first – and being signed up to facebook.)

It would be great to hear your thoughts – just add a comment below this post.  (‘Dumbledad’ who posted this is our Steering Group member Tim Regan)

News and newsletters

By an oversight (or lack of it?) the newsletters for December, January and February have only been added to the website today.

The December newsletter is near the foot of the ‘Articles’ page (with earlier newsletters) but for 2017, the January and February newsletters have been added to a separate page in the ‘Articles’ sub-menu.

I have not (as yet) put them as a sub-page to ‘News’ which currently carries ‘posts’ to the website for technical reasons. I hope some posts by other members of our steering group may appear soon.

The next newsletter will probably be ‘April’ with further reports of our March conference. In the meantime see the text of Rhiannon’s talk in the previous post.

Five years on.

In preparation for our annual conference this weekend I thought I would try to start a series of quick reviews of the articles we have accumulated on the website over the last five years.

I will try to add about one review every 6 days or so which would mean about 3 months to review all existing articles – we’ll have to see how that goes!  I hope this will encourage members of NFN and visitors to the website to themselves ‘review’ this old material and reflect on where we have been and where we have got to over 5-6 years.

Let’s start then with the ‘Minute and Epistle’ from the first annual conference in March 2012. (All the articles can also be found under the  ‘Articles’ link in the menu at top of page so you can also read ahead and anticipate!)

Our 3 speakers then were Philip Gross, Quaker poet from Wales; Don Cupitt from the ‘Sea of Faith’ and James Riemermann from Twin Cities Friends Meeting, St. Paul, Minnesota. I remember this conference very well and how James’ presentation of ‘coming out’ as a ‘non-theist’ in his meeting moved me to tears. A search for ‘Riemermann’ on the Twin Cities’ website reveals a multitude of papers including this interesting piece on Theological Diversity from 2009.

The minute was signed off by the then steering group of just 5:
Frank Bonner, David Boulton, Maureen Tinsley, Miriam Yagud and Michael Yates. Four of these have since left the steering group after giving ‘yeoman’ (and ‘yeowomen’) service to start the NFN ball rolling, leaving only David on the present steering group of 11.

Do have a look at the original articles referred to and add your comments below. If anyone would like to help out by writing some of these proposed reviews or indeed book reviews or anything else of interest then please let me know via the ‘leave a reply’ box below or in a comment on the ‘Contacts’ page.  I look forward to seeing you at conference and taking any questions you might have about the website.

Trevor Bending

Illustrative Post

It was intended that the introductory post be set to always appear at the top but this doesn’t appear to be working at present. This and subsequent posts will appear in reverse chronological order (latest first).

The Network’s Steering Group will meet at Woodbrooke this week on 26-28 September 2016.  If  members of the Network have any suggestions they wish to put to the Steering Group, please use the Contacts page to send your comments.
(Correction: – this meeting took place on Wed-Thur 28-29 September).

Steering Group members can help development of this new site by making/testing the ‘Leave a reply’/Comments feature below or on other pages.

Whether the Home page (first or default loading page) of this new website should be the occasional posts/latest news (as now) or some other page is yet to be decided.

In the beginning

The website of the Non-theist Friends Network in the UK has been maintained at http://www.nontheist-quakers.org.uk for some years and will continue to be so whilst these new experimental pages in wordpress.com are being developed.

It is hoped that members of NFN, our Steering Group (committee if you like) and interested readers will contribute to these posts and web pages at least by way of moderated comments where these are invited. (‘Leave a reply’ or click on ‘Comments’ above and scroll down the new page. Your comment/reply will appear after moderation.).