Tag Archives: Humanism

NFN Quaker meeting and Creative Conversation 7 October 2021

Dear Friends,

Thank you for registering for our Quaker Meeting and Creative Conversation, organized by the NFN, UK.
Howard Grace will share his presentation, The heart of our shared humanity, on Thursday 7 October at 7PM UK time by Zoom.
Please arrive early, as the Meeting will start promptly at 7PM.  The Zoom Room opens at 6:45PM.

If you have not already registered, email clerk@nontheist-quakers.org.uk to do so.

Format:
• Zoom Room opens at 6:45PM, please arrive early.
• 7PM: Welcome and Quaker Meeting: approximately 20 minutes for quietly gathering ourselves and connecting.
• Creative Conversation: up to 20 minutes for presentation or raising a question.
• Open Discussion: up to 40 minutes, in the Main Zoom room, for creative exchanges, expressions, and reactions.
• Conclusion: ending with a few moments gathered in silence.
• Optional Friendly chat: up to 20 minutes for socializing for interested Friends in small group breakout rooms
• Duration:1hr:45m – 2hr

You will automatically receive Zoom links to subsequent Meetings, approximately one week before each Meeting. There is no need to re-register. We ask that you please do not share the Zoom link with interested Friends, but encourage them to email the Clerk (clerk@nontheist-quakers.org.uk) to register. You may unregister/unsubscribe at any time by replying to this email address.
See you soon. 
In Friendship,
The QM+CC Working group (Gisela Creed, John Senior, William Purser, and Kiera Faber)
Nontheist Friends Network

Dinah Livingstone – On Dover Beach

Dinah delivered our third and final talk of the NFN 2021 Conference on 21st July and ’rounded off’ the series very fittingly.

(The many links below generally open in a new window or tab).

Our three speakers spoke quite independently, guided only to deliver their talks based on their idea of spirituality – ‘That’s the spirit! – dimensions of spirituality.’

Nonetheless, the notion (one of George Fox’s ‘windy notions’?) of Spirituality resulted in three talks which, very different as expected, hung together to satisfy and inspire different members of our ‘Quaker Kaleidoscope’.

Dinah is the editor of the Sea of Faith’s magazine ‘Sofia‘ in which role she succeeded the previous editor, NFN’s ‘own’ David Boulton (one of the key founders of the Nontheist Friends Network) in 2004 and changed its name to ‘Sofia‘.  Gill Pennington mentioned David’s ‘The Faith of a Quaker Humanist‘ (1997) which I understand is still the most often downloaded booklet from the Quaker Universalist Group’s website. We can see and perhaps ‘feel’ the threads linking Humanism, the Sea of Faith Network and the Nontheist Friends Network.

The Sea of Faith Network takes its name from Matthew Arnold’s poem ‘Dover Beach’, one stanza of which reads:

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

You can find the full poem (4 stanzas, 37 lines I think) here:
https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/43588/dover-beach

Was it surprising to many of us that Dinah’s talk from a ‘sea of faith perspective’ was so biblical? Both Andrew Copson and Gill Pennington had mentioned biblical stories but Dinah wove an account of what I might call the ‘sea of faith version of religion, humanism and nontheism’ drawn substantially from the bible as if it might be considered the source of these ideas. This is consistent with Dinah’s re-naming of the SoF Journal to ‘Sofia’ – a serendipitous extension of the acronym SoF. (An alternative spelling for ‘Holy Wisdom‘ being Sophia). The wisdom literature of the bible provides this potential biblical basis for Don Cupitt‘s ideas and Dinah’s talk. (SEA OF FAITH NETWORK started in 1984 as a response to Don Cupitt’s book and TV series of the same name.)

At the very top of the Sea of Faith website homepage it states:

“The Network…
Explores the implications of accepting religion as a human creation;
Promotes the validity of creative, human-centred religion;
Affirms the continuing importance of religious thought
and practice as expressions of awe and wonder and
celebrations of spiritual and social values.”

Only slightly less prominently on our NFN website (You have to look under ‘About’ and then ‘Aims of the network’ here: https://nontheist-quakers.org.uk/about/aims-of-the-network/), we state:

“The Network’s aim is to provide a forum and supportive framework for Friends who regard religion as a human creation. We want to ensure that our Religious Society of Friends is an inclusive rather than an exclusive Society. We seek to explore theological and spiritual diversity and their practical implications, in respectful acceptance of different views, experiences and journeys.” (clause 2. of our constitution added the words ‘and attenders’ at our last AGM).

It’s almost as if the Sea of Faith is the Christian branch of the nontheist humanists and the nontheist Friends network is the Quaker branch of the Sea of Faith. (and I’d always thought of us as the nontheist branch of the Quaker Universalist Group). Perhaps we should convene next on Dover Beach?

Joking apart, we can surely feel those threads referred to above linking Humanism, Christian origins, Quaker Universalism, Sea of Faith and the NFN.

Dinah drew from the bible, and Christ’s teaching, its essential humanism or human facing concerns. This is perhaps not so surprising given that ‘Humanism’ has arisen, in the last two centuries, from within the Western Christian tradition. As one wit reported in a recent Quaker meeting ‘God created man in his own image – and man returned the compliment’ (or was it the other way round?). I had better at least mention at this point the Goddess to contrast with God the Father.

This ‘pre-conference reading’ bibliography prepared for the 2020 conference provides links to David Boulton’s and other NFN books: https://nontheist-quakers.org.uk/2020/03/01/a-2020-nfn-conference-bibliography/

(Some of the links above are repeated):
https://sofn.org.uk/pages/dinah_livingstone.html
https://www.sofn.org.uk/links/don-cupitt.html
https://sofn.org.uk/sofia/index.html – Sofia magazine
https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/43588/dover-beach
https://www.sofn.org.uk/links/index.html – useful links
https://www.sofn.org.uk/links/spirituality.html – SoF links for Spirituality

Andrew Copson (Humanists UK) – what a fantastic talk!

‘What a fantastic talk! That was a great talk, what a thought provoking and affirming start!’ was one response to our first 2021 Conference speaker’s talk (Andrew Copson, CEO of Humanists UK) on Wednesday 7th July.

You can still register for the remaining sessions on 14th and 21st July 2021 here: https://nontheist-quakers.org.uk/2021/04/28/thats-the-spirit/

Andrew appeared to extemporise, speaking apparently without notes and giving the impression of masterly ad-libbing, suggesting he is fully conversant with a humanist understanding of spirituality and was able to cite illustrative examples without hesitation (I’m tempted to add or ‘repetition or deviation’!)

As the talk took place immediately prior to the European Cup semi-final between England and Denmark and there was some humorous speculation about how many attendees we may have lost, it was perhaps appropriate that one of Andrew’s earliest examples of ‘humanist spirituality’ (ie. non-religious) was the communal passion of a big football match. As he later revealed that he had no personal interest in football whatsoever, perhaps this was a bit tongue in cheek. He did say however, that although this might appear to be a ‘group experience’, he felt, from a humanist and scientific perspective, that the experience(s) were individual – in each individual’s head so that the idea of it being a ‘group experience’ was perhaps an illusion. Some Quakers, and many others, might disagree about the ‘group experience’ being an illusion. However, although we talk of a ‘gathered meeting’, let’s not forget George Fox’s ‘what can’st thou say?’ (individual experience?).
I also have no personal interest in football though I understand from my wife Georgina who (like my sister) is now watching the England-Italy final as I type this, that England has scored a goal within a record 2 minutes of the start.

It was also clear that Andrew had a good understanding of his likely audience and was familiar with Quaker practice and even nontheist Quakers.

Andrew suggested that a humanist spirituality had four key characteristics:

  1. Powerful and Positive experiences – elation, joy, a moment
  2. Personal, individual subjective
  3. Not intellectual, non-rational
  4. Take you outside of yourself – connect – ‘transcendent’?? peak experiences, universal in imagination, bigger than yourself, immersed ‘elsewhere’

This in part equates ‘spiritual experiences’ with Maslow’s ‘peak experiences’
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs and
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peak_experience
where Maslow describes these as “rare, exciting, oceanic, deeply moving, exhilarating, elevating experiences that generate an advanced form of perceiving reality, and are even mystic and magical in their effect upon the experimenter.”

So this is a psychological kind of explanation for spirituality. I believe Andrew also mentioned the mystical and magical and, somewhat tentatively, the idea of ‘transcendence’. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow’s_hierarchy_of_needs#Transcendence_needs in the first of the above articles).

That reminds me of an older, female Friend saying in (I think) an ‘afterwords’ discussion after meeting that ‘good sex is transcendent’ (or was that ministry in meeting?).

Later in his talk, Andrew added three ‘facts’ about humanistic spiritual experience he felt were also essential:
Humanist interpretation: – product of human brain – identical feelings – different interpretation – is it ‘God’? or ‘divine’?
3 facts:

  1. Humans not the pinnacle – product of evolution cf. the unitarian hymn ‘blue boat home’
  2. ‘Connective’ (to oneself), integrated (human being), know yourself – personal development – in this life – a Friend to yourself – humans give meaning to experience
  3. Connection with others – eg. one other; but also imagined connections – importance of fiction, novels (ex. Middlemarch), connection with art, fictional individuals; being part of the human story (history and ancestors). Future gazing, reaching out, awe and wonder, peak experiences

So, whilst Andrew sees these as ‘individual experience’, it is clearly possible to consider a connection with others as being a ‘group experience’. (whether this supposes a belief in a Universal Mind, I’m not sure). (cf. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_mind) and see Jung on Spirituality:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Jung#Spirituality

Many Friends present will have felt that Andrew’s explanation of humanist spirituality ‘spoke to their condition’ (apologies for the Quaker speak: http://quakerjane.com/index.php?fuseaction=spirituality.glossary#speak) and closely matched their own understanding; some may have a few caveats and it would be interesting to hear from you in the comments (Leave a reply below or by clicking on Comments at top).

Our thanks to Andrew Copson and Humanists UK.

We look forward to welcoming you to our next conference speaker on 14th July Gill Pennington, former Spirituality Tutor, Woodbrooke and final speaker Dinah Livingstone, Editor of Sofia (Sea of Faith)on 21st July.

Full details here: https://nontheist-quakers.org.uk/events/thats-the-spirit-dimensions-of-spirituality-nfn-conference-2021/
Registration here: https://nontheist-quakers.org.uk/2021/04/28/thats-the-spirit/

Living with absurdity

Not all, perhaps not many nontheist Quakers would describe themselves as existentialists (and surely not nihilists) but I thought this delightful post on ‘Canadian Atheist’ by 87 years old James Haught, editor of West Virginia’s largest newspaper,  deserved sharing amongst Friends.

Most of us probably wouldn’t share all the sentiments expressed (anyone for Trump?) and some of which might be very unwelcome to many Quakers in the world, but it moved me to smile (tickled my fancy?) so I hope Friends find it interesting too!

Living With Absurdity

NFN April 2020 Newsletter

Our April 2020 newsletter which David Parlett sent out to NFN members on 15 April is now on the website with messages from our clerk Gisela, new membership secretary Roger, Marcus Aurelius (apparently, although it might be Andrew Copson of Humanists UK or even David Boulton), myself as designated webperson, David Parlett and Helen Johnson of Croydon Local Meeting about all sorts of interesting issues. (and so far I haven’t mentioned coronavirus).
Trevor Bending

(PS not providing a link to the newsletter is a deliberate ploy to assist you in exploring the website – lots of interesting stuff including newsletters from 2013 to the present – now, where could it be? Tip – try the drop-down menus above or the menu on the mobile version of the website).

News from Humanists UK

As not everyone is signed up for comments, I thought I’d ‘upgrade’ this comment from 21 March to a post.

One of our speakers at the cancelled conference was to have been Andrew Copson, CEO of Humanists UK. He posted this on their website and emailed it to anyone signed up to their website. Although almost everything is about coronavirus at present, I thought his remarks were worth drawing attention to.
Near the bottom of his article, he quotes Marcus Aurelius ‘Peer deeply into yourself. There is a source of strength that will spring up within you, if only you look.’ and comments: “His words are not revelation or fancy. They are based on solid observation of the human capacity for resilience and courage in a crisis.”
I wonder if Quakers, even non-theist ones, might have a slightly different explanation?
https://humanism.org.uk/2020/03/20/message-from-the-chief-executive/

Coronavirus and Conference Cancellation/Postponement 2020

The Steering Group of the Nontheist Friends Network (NFN) has been closely monitoring the situation with the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic and reviewing the advice issued by Government and Public Health. It now seems likely that the situation will worsen in the next few weeks.

So, after careful consideration, and with deep regret, we have decided it is in the best interest of our participants , the keynote speakers and all who are near to us to cancel our conference, which was to be held 28-29 March 2020 at Friends House, London : “That’s the Spirit”, and postpone it to more certain times later or the following year, to be agreed.

This is not an easy decision for us to take but we feel it is the responsible thing to do now. We are disappointed not to meet you and engage with our subject of the different dimensions of spirituality. The decision will have some financial consequences for us, but we hope that by postponing , we are able to lessen the impact.  We are upholding all those affected by the COVID-19 outbreak and are hopeful we can forge virtual connections with many of you over the coming weeks, especially at a time when it will be important to come together while being encouraged to stay apart.

We hope that this announcement gives you time to cancel any accommodation and travel bookings . Your fees will be refunded at the earliest opportunity and we will stay in touch regarding a new conference date.

Gisela Creed
Clerk, NFN, 16/03/2020
Latest update here.

PS. Roger Warren-Evans will be contacting all participants with refund information shortly but it may take him a little time to work through the over 40 bookings received.

As Gisela indicates, it is hoped to hold the conference eventually, either much later this year or possibly next.  Information about the AGM (which is also POSTPONED!) will follow in due course.

Being ‘hopeful we can forge virtual connections with many of you over the coming weeks’ is in part an idea that in the absence of the conference, and perhaps being at home, we might all make use of the website to communicate our thoughts about the conference theme, the coronavirus and the new circumstances we all now find ourselves in. If you would like to send us your thoughts or start a conversation, please use the Comment/Leave a reply box below or at the foot of any relevant page or post.

A 2020 NFN Conference Bibliography

Conference bibliography: (Still valid for the conference now in 2021)
Items which may be worth referring to before, during or after the conference. (Links in each case lead to a source for the books).

‘Becoming fully human – Writings on Quakers and Christian thought’ by Michael Langford, published by Friends of the Light, 2019. https://friendsofthelight.org.uk/our-books

Clear Bright Future: A Radical Defence of the Human Being’ by Paul Mason, 2019

The Trouble With God: Religious Humanism And The Republic Of Heaven‘ by David Boulton,

(see this post on the above books: https://nontheist-quakers.org.uk/2019/07/11/the-republic-of-heaven/ )

Twelve Quakers and …‘ – Quaker Quest series

Kindlers‘ – Series of booklets

Godless for God’s sake‘ edited by David Boulton (also available in Kindle).

Titles in the Quaker bookshop online section ‘Spirituality and religion’ under ‘Atheism‘. (including ‘Book of Atheist Spirituality’, ‘Religion for Atheists’ and ‘The Young Atheist’s Handbook’ – all out of stock on 5/2/2020).

Telling the Truth about God‘ (in ‘Quaker Quicks’) by Rhiannon Grant

The Guided Life‘ (in ‘Quaker Quicks’) by Craig Barnett

ALL of the above are available in the Quaker Bookshop in Friends’ House except when out of stock – we will try to see if copies can be made available over the Conference weekend.

See also these items on the NFN website: https://nontheist-quakers.org.uk/faq/#a4
https://nontheist-quakers.org.uk/2017/11/30/god-words-and-us/
https://nontheist-quakers.org.uk/2019/08/26/quaker-advices-and-queries-for-nontheists/
AND search the website for ‘spirituality’.

Quaker Universalist Group booklets: https://qug.org.uk/pamphlets-2/ (some to buy, some for free download)
39: The Language of Spirituality by Alan York: https://qug.org.uk/pamphlets-2/pamphlet-39/
32: ‘Choosing Life: Embracing Spirituality in the 21st Century’ by Joycelin Dawes:
https://qug.org.uk/pamphlets-2/pamphlet-32/
31: Human Beings Yearning for a Faith by Clive Sutton: https://qug.org.uk/pamphlets-2/pamphlet-31/
30: ‘A Platform of Consciousness: Spirituality without Religion’, by Adrian Cairns: https://qug.org.uk/pamphlets-2/pamphlet-30/
26: ‘The Faith of a Quaker Humanist’, by David Boulton:
https://qug.org.uk/pamphlets-2/pamphlet-26/

Humanism and our Conference

The three speakers at our Conference at Friends’ House 28-29 March are Gill Pennington (former spirituality tutor at Woodbrooke), Dinah Livingstone (editor of ‘Sofia’ magazine for the Sea of Faith) and Andrew Copson (chief executive of Humanists UK).

For further details of these speakers see the 2020 Conference page

I am considering putting up a **bibliography of useful readings on spirituality for the Conference but in the meantime, think these two posts about Humanism on ‘Canadian Atheist’ interviewing Andrew Copson (see above) and the President of Humanists UK, Alice Roberts, would be of considerable interest to those attending or thinking about attending the conference. (We haven’t sold out yet but places are limited!): (click on the headings to go to the full interviews)

Interview with Professor Alice Roberts – President, Humanists UK & President, British Science Association

Extensive Interview with Andrew James William Copson – President, Humanists International & Chief Executive, Humanists UK


Don’t forget that the NFN AGM will also take place on the Sunday morning 9.30am!  For those unable to attend the whole weekend, ‘day tickets’ for Saturday (including evening meal) and Sunday (including lunch) are available from Roger on request (again, see the Conference page for booking details).
** If you have any suggestions for books or reading (including blog posts) of relevance to our theme of ‘Spirituality’, please let me know on our Contact page.

Accommodation still available at the Penn Club

Our clerk, Gisela, has confirmed, contrary to my comment yesterday:
I have today (7 January) confirmed with the Penn club that they still have plenty of accommodation, concession rates for people attending the conference are £81 for standard room and I think £75 for budget room.

The Penn Club are offering a special discount to Friends attending the conference. Book before January 31st to avail of the discount. To book call The Penn Club on 020 7636 4718 or email: office@pennclub.co.uk and quote non-theist conference. Space is limited and subject to availability. https://pennclub.co.uk/

For other options, see the previous post and comments. Now really is the time to book!