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!

A place for nerds in the Society of Friends?

‘Neither and therefore no’ appeals to me. The rest of this post by Rhiannon, one of our two keynote speakers at last conference I found very moving, hence experimentally re- blogging it here.

Brigid, Fox, and Buddha

One of the questions asked in this year’s Spiritual Preparation for Yearly Meeting is:

  • Do you consider yourself to be ‘spiritual’, or an activist? Do you find the distinction helpful in considering your own journey and experiences?

My answer to this is: neither, and therefore, no.

When I picture an activist, I think of people who do things for which I don’t have the time, energy, or social skills. I do little bits of activism – the kind of things which get mocked in internet articles – like signing petitions, discussing politics with friends, and donating a bit of money now and again. I very rarely go to demonstrations, I almost never hand out leaflets, I’ve never been arrested, and the ways in which I’ve changed my life to bring it into accordance with my principles are mainly invisible. I’m often practical, but I’m by no means an activist.

When…

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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.

Discussion by Rhiannon Grant, David Boulton and others on Ministry etc.

‘Is it irresponsible to claim that spoken ministry comes from God?’
A fascinating and subtle post on Rhiannon Grant’s blog with discussion and comments by Rhiannon, David Boulton and others about where ministry in Meeting for worship comes from and perhaps the existence and nature of God/Goddess.

Brigid, Fox, and Buddha

(Extract) At the Nontheist Friends Network conference, in the questions and discussion after my talk, a friend asked about my approach to ministry. Most of the question was about how we understand ministry in meeting for worship, but along the way he raised a very interesting point – he said (and I paraphrase here, but hope that his point is clear and made in terms he would accept) that he wouldn’t want to claim that his spoken ministry came from anywhere but himself, because so much damage is done in the world by other people who claim that their instructions come from God…..

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QRB status minuted at Steering Group meeting in York

A meeting of the NFN Steering Group was held at Friargate Meeting House, York, yesterday 6th July 2017.

Further details will follow but it was minuted, amongst other items, that:

  • “7. Being a Quaker Recognised Body

Michael Wright has read to us the advantages of being a Quaker Recognised Body. We are pleased to learn that we need not restrict our membership to Quaker members and attenders. We ask Trevor to put our QRB status on our website.”

This recognition from being formerly a ‘Listed Quaker Group’ was approved by Meeting for Sufferings in April of this year.

The SG Meeting also confirmed the date and topic of next year’s annual conference and AGM at Woodbrooke as being from 9th – 11th March 2018 on ‘Quakers in 2033? Where are we heading?’
It was further agreed and minuted that the cost of the conference to participants in 2018 will be subsidised from our reserves at £199 per head to encourage attendance which we hope will exceed the 40 rooms to be provisionally booked. (The subsidy being approximately £25 per head and the net cost to participants £199).

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

Non-theism at QUG conference.

I came across this recording on the QUG website of Jan Arriens commenting on non-theists at the QUG conference at Woodbrooke a couple of weeks ago and thought it would be of interest here.

Jan indirectly refers to his having spoken at our conference in 2015.

If you don’t wish to listen to the whole 28 minute recording (such busy lives!) then the first 7 minutes upto a member of the audience referring to the Dalai Lama as a non-theist but not a materialist is of particular interest. (I hadn’t intended the link below to be so direct so hope QUG won’t mind and if it doesn’t work properly see the link to their website above).

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

Godless for God’s sake – reprint

As promised, a few words on the Godless for God’s Sake reprint, for the Newsletter and website.
David Boulton:

Godless for God’s Sake – ‘an invitation to conversation’
Godless for God’s Sake
has been credited with kick-starting the dialogue between nontheist and theist Friends when it was first published nine years ago in 2006. In fact, it brought into the open a subject that had been quietly making ripples for at least a couple of decades. Written by 27 Quaker nontheists from 13 Yearly Meetings in the USA, Britain, New Zealand and Australia, and addressed to ‘readers who seek a faith or world-view free of supernaturalism’, its first edition topped the list of best-selling books in both the London and the Philadelphia Quaker bookshops. Chuck Fager, editor of the American Quaker Theology, asked rhetorically: ‘What have we come to in Friends’ religious thought when the most exciting book of Quaker theology I’ve read in recent years is produced by a bunch of Quaker nontheists?’ An unapologetic theist himself, he added: ‘The proper response to the testimonies in these pages is not scorn or witchhunts but an invitation to further conversation’.

Godless had to be reprinted twice within 12 months, then several times on a print-on-demand basis, until stocks were exhausted. But publication of recent books both attacking and defending nontheism, coupled with concerns about how the controversy might affect plans for a revision of Quaker Faith and Practice, have prompted new demands for Godless, resulting in a fresh reprint, generously financed by the American-based nontheist Friends planning group.

Copies are available from the Quaker Centre Bookshop, telephone 020 7663 1030, price £9.50. All proceeds (after bookshop discounts) go to the Nontheist Friends Network. You read it when it first came out? Read it again with fresh eyes – or why not treat your meeting library to a copy?

David Boulton

(see also picture and extracts on Nontheism page)