Tag Archives: Language we use

The Quakers are right. We don’t need God.

An article in The Guardian (online) by Simon Jenkins under this title, dated 4 May 2018, has brought many more visitors to our NFN site – in fact linking to an article by David Boulton which references a 2013 survey cited by Ben Pink Dandelion. Perhaps we should return the compliment and put a link to the Guardian article here!

Some Friends, including ‘non-theists’, might think this title is a travesty of the Quaker position and Yearly Meeting decision to revise Quaker Faith and Practice. (Link edited at 22.00 Central European Time to be more useful on a mobile device!)

Simon Jenkins writes ‘I am not a Quaker or religious, but I have been to Quaker meetings, usually marriages or funerals, and found them deeply moving’.  As this member and attender for 8 years (Trevor Bending) has so far been to only one Quaker marriage (my  own) and no Quaker funerals (yet), we must assume that Simon has a considerable number of Quaker friends or contacts.  In any event, his article is much more interesting than the provocative title and well worth reading.

I think some further consideration or re-consideration of what we might mean by ‘non-theism’ is now due in the light of the YM decision and the publication of ‘God, Words and Us‘.

It would be wonderfully appreciated if some of our NFN members, Followers, and Friends were to append their comments here!

Big Questions TV programme BBC 1 this Sunday 10am.

(Note from David Boulton)

Just a quick note to say the BBC are going ahead with The Big Questions TV programme this coming Sunday (10am on BBC 1), asking whether religion needs God, with particular reference to the theist/nontheist dialogue among Quakers, and the decision to revise the Red Book made at YM last weekend.

David and Rhiannon Grant have been asked to participate.

I look forward to it if we can get it in Spain just before we do our local (2 of us) meeting for worship.

You might also be interested in this post from the ‘jolly quaker’ (Mark Russ) brought to my attention by twitter.

God, words and us – open to new light?

                         ARE WE OPEN TO NEW LIGHT? – from Laurie Andrews

On his visit to Myanmar in November (2017) Pope Francis said, ‘Religious differences need not be a source of conflict – they can be a force for unity, forgiveness and reconciliation.’ You would think that a creed-free religion like Quakerism would be immune from doctrinal conflict but the Religious Society of Friends (RSoF) has suffered painful schisms in the past. However there have also been times when Friends worked together to absorb differences as the RSoF evolved and adapted in the light of continuing revelation. For example, in the 19th century Quietism gave way to Evangelicalism. Then in 1895 at a conference in Manchester, British Friends recognised that the society had become insular, fixed in its beliefs, sticking to scriptural and not spiritual revelation. Frances Thompson told the conference, ‘God’s truth is given in every age. It is our duty to welcome the light which may just be reaching us’. As a panel in the Quaker Tapestry records, this ‘challenged the old thinking and distressed some’. Quaker sociologist Ben Pink Dandelion records that in the 1960s Liberal Quakerism took hold in Britain which has in turn evolved into what Ben calls ‘liberal-Liberal Quakerism’ – or even ‘post-Liberal Quakerism’. When I joined Friends in 1984 there was tension between so-called Christo-centric Friends and Universalist Friends. Now non-theism has ‘challenged old thinking and distressed some’ as I found when I heard one Friend minister in meeting that the RSoF should not admit non-theists, like me, as members.

In 2014 Meeting for Sufferings set up a Book of Discipline Revision Preparation Group to pave the way for a new edition of Quaker Faith and Practice. The group invited Friends with backgrounds in academic theology, Quaker studies and related subjects and some ‘Friends on the bench’ to join a think tank to consider whether it is possible ‘to reframe the differing perspectives of British Quakers which have often been characterised by the shorthand “theism/nontheism”, so as to be less polarised.’ The group communicated by email and then in February 2016 24 of them met for a weekend at Woodbrooke Quaker study centre. Their endeavours resulted in a book edited by Helen Rowlands, God, words and us: Quakers in conversation about religious differences, a copy of which has been sent to every meeting in Britain Yearly Meeting.

The introduction asks, ‘What does the word God imply for each of us?’; ‘When we gather in a Quaker meeting … is faithfulness to a shared practice or method enough to unite us?’; ‘How helpful is it to identify and label different positions?’. The foreword noted that ‘our starting point as Quakers is direct experience; our biggest challenge is to find living ways of communicating the depths and significance of that experience’. The group concluded that: ‘The Quaker community needs to engage in open dialogue on a continual basis …when this is done well we can be enriched by our diversity; the kind of language is also important … we should try to avoid destructive aspects of difference; it is unhelpful to refer to these issues using polarising shorthand descriptions such as “theism/non-theism”. If labels are needed to describe people’s beliefs, they should be self chosen and not imposed on others; the real pattern of conviction of belief in Britain Yearly Meeting is much more nuanced and kaleidoscopic, and we need a variety of models to describe it.’

In the first chapter headed ‘Telling Our Stories’ a number of Friends describe how they came to Quakerism and their experiences as members. In the second they share their understanding and experience of prayer, worship and discernment: they were asked – How do you understand prayer? What is your experience of worship? What happens for you in meeting for worship? The group then went on to explore the language of theism and non-theism; notes at the end record, ‘Diversity of belief among Friends is real and should be acknowledged’, and ‘Diversity is a gift in/to the Quaker community. Differences need not prevent us from working together for the common good.’

In conclusion the group agreed that, ‘the RSoF is a community centred on the practice of waiting, listening meeting for worship. We agree that differences of understanding about what it is we listen to or worship do not prevent us from practising meeting for worship together. We agree that the community can benefit from the presence of a diversity of spiritual paths … Within our society there is a kaleidoscope of experiences of presence, of absence, connections, separation, within, outwith, beyond, past, present, future. To reduce this marvellous collection of shifting shapes and colours to a simplistic “black and white” model of two possible positions is to lose or disguise much that is potentially enriching. Instead, we can consider the range of spiritualities within our Religious Society using other, richer models.’

Although only 100 pages long, this little book is profoundly important. As I wrote in a letter to the Friend (8 December): ‘I believe it has the potential to make the same impact as Towards a Quaker View of Sex. That essay, written in 1963 by a group of Friends, helped to shape the liberal, tolerant zeitgeist of the 1960s and eventually led to British Friends pioneering same sex marriage. The essay called for “a release of love, warmth and generosity … that will weaken our fear of one another … this search is a move forward into the unknown; it implies a high standard of responsibility, thinking and awareness – something much harder than simple obedience to a moral code.” … God, words and us explores “orthodoxy” and “heresy”, showing us possible ways to reconcile the irreconcilable.’

‘The spirit blows where it will.’ (John 3:8)

LAURIE ANDREWS  

 

New Quakerism?

In a post on 27th July (https://nontheist-quakers.org.uk/2017/07/27/meeting-your-maker/) I wrote:
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.

As we approach the season of the birth of Jesus and later (in March) our conference considering the future of Quakerism, I felt it was time for another spanner or cat.

In an interesting article in The Young Quaker (magazine of Young Friends General Meeting) for October 2017 (page 7), Laurence Hall writes about the Seeds of a new Quakerism. He says ‘In essence the emerging New Quakerism is deeply aligned with movements that are now reshaping the world around us.’

Being myself blissfully unaware of the ‘New Quakerism’, I turned, as one does, to Google and whilst there were many results related to ‘Quakerism’ and ‘New’, there was only one (the first) which seemed to relate to a ‘New Quakerism’ as such.

That link was to ‘We need a new Quakerism‘ on the blog of Hye Sung Francis  who styles himself ‘an anti-capitalist pentecostal quaker’.  He writes:’It seems to me that many Friends, even those who consider themselves “convinced,” are hungry for more than what the Society has to offer. We keep coming back to the same point: we desperately need to re-imagine Quakerism.’ and later: ‘Without that conviction that God reigns and that God will reign, only the empty forms of Quakerism persist. That is the way of death.’ Is that what our conference will consider?

On his blog, Hye Sung Francis has a number of other rather interesting posts: ‘Jesus, a Failed Revolutionary‘ reminds me of David Boulton’s ‘Who on Earth was Jesus‘ and the fact that I haven’t yet got round to reading ‘Jesus the Terrorist‘. In that post, Francis writes:
There’s another lesson here: the destruction of the systems and authorities on this earth and the realization of God’s kingdom cannot be accomplished by one person. Christ’s ministry wasn’t a one-man show. It can only be realized through his people, through his body. Through us.’

Francis’s most recent post, ‘On Being Friends with Jesus‘, makes many interesting points to ponder including the wonderful “Any theology that values God above people is false.”

I hope non-theist Friends (and others) will follow the hypertext links above, both to the many excellent articles in The Young Quaker and to Hye Sung Francis, and consider how these viewpoints relate to non-theism among Friends, our forthcoming Conference and to ‘God, Words and Us’.

I look forward to your feedback and comments and, I hope, those of younger Friends, whether non-theist, Godly, ‘anti-capitalist pentecostal’ or whatever. We do indeed need to move outside our ‘elderly, white, middle-class’ comfort zone, where that applies to us, and perhaps all other comfort zones too!

 

God, Words and Us – another view

God, Words and Us
Quaker Books – November 2017   £8
A review by Hugh Rock

The slight extent of this book, 98 pages, belies its heavyweight testimony. It is a conclusive demonstration of Quaker Faith. But it does not recognise this. It masquerades as an attempt to discover what the unifying principle of Quaker Faith might be, and assumes a starting point of doubt and conflict.

The subtitle ‘Quakers in Conversation about Religious Difference’ is a euphemism for the nagging subject of nontheism, that was identified by the Book of Discipline Revision Preparation Group as top of the list of topics that worried Friends and required more discernment before any revision might proceed. The twenty-four prominent voices gathered in these pages were engaged to discern, and concluded, (Hooray! Hooray!) that the polarising labels are a ‘misrepresentation’ (p79), ‘misleading and unhelpful’ (p80). Nobody identifies themselves as a theist, and the nontheists are themselves a mighty mixed bunch.

The chapter contents need some explanation beyond their headings:

Telling our stories’ reads like eighteen miniature Swarthmore Lectures. They are diverse confessions of faith.

Bringing our full selves to the conversation’, is a preparatory catechism for dialogue respectful of everyone’s feelings.

Sharing experiences of core Quaker practice’, assembles various views on prayer and Meeting for Worship.

Exploring the language of “theism and nontheism” ’, turns out to be a decisive rejection of any such simpleton polarity.

Reframing the issues: developing some alternative models, seeking new vocabulary, rediscovering Quaker insights’, is an ode to Isaac Penington’s ‘The end of words’ 1, 2. It sings the vain hope that at some deeper level the irreconcilable clash between believing in God and believing that there is no God, can be resolved.

So, what is the paradox of doubt, and conflict with no apparent answer, that this book contradicts? It is, in itself, an exercise of the unifying principle of Quaker Faith. It exercises the simple faith that, out of mutual respect for varied spiritual experiences, we can, and must, distill collective action of love for the world. Twenty-four people of varied persuasions listen hard, respect and validate the significance, for others, of worldviews that they do not hold themselves. That, in these times especially, is a pearl without price.

The Revision Committee have no need to fiddle with the ancient language of Quaker Faith and Practice. ‘God, words and us’ can stand as a supplement: it is definitive testimony to what Friends can say in their twenty first century cultural environment.

 

‘God, words and us’

God, words and us‘ is the title of a new 100 page book from Quaker books, edited by Helen Rowlands which summarises the findings of the ‘think-tank’ set up by the Revision Preparation Group (RPG) of Meeting for Sufferings to consider some of the issues prior to any possible revision of Quaker Faith and Practice.

NFN’s David Boulton and Michael Wright were part of the think-tank in a personal capacity (ie. Not representing NFN).

Here they offer a synopsis of the new book (Michael Wright) (pdf) and a succinct review (David Boulton) (Word.doc).

David will be one of our three speakers at our 2018 conference and Michael Wright will lead a discussion of the book at the conference on the Sunday morning.

You may also like to read what Rhiannon Grant, another member of the think-tank, and I believe the ‘RPG’?, has to say about ‘God, words and us‘. (I have used a link which also gives some bonus items from her blog!)

Regional Conference in Bristol

  • Our Regional Conference in Bristol.
    The first of what we hope will be a new series of regional one-day conferences organised by NFN and hosted by local or area meetings took place at Bristol Redlands meeting house on Saturday October 28th. More than 50 Friends (with a variety of views) attended from Bristol and South-West England and were given a warm welcome by Celia Beeson on behalf of Redlands meeting. Hugh Rock from the NFN steering group chaired the two sessions which included small-group discussion and lively contributions from the floor.
    I introduced the theme, Nontheism among Friends: Its Place in our Religious Society, looking first at the many ways in which Quakerism has changed over the centuries, then opening a discussion on what the current dialogue on nontheism means for Quaker language and practice. After a tea break we looked at the work of the Quaker Faith and Practice Revision Preparation Group and its efforts to ensure that we all escape the trap of seeing theism and nontheism in simplistic, binary and polarised terms. United in our belief in an open, inclusive Society, we concluded with reflection in meeting for worship.
    The steering group is grateful to Redlands meeting for taking the initiative in inviting us, and publicising the event in the region. We hope other meetings in major Quaker centres such as York, Newcastle, Manchester and London will consider inviting us to join them in similar events.
    David Boulton
    Steering Group member

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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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

Talk: God or whatever you call it

Talk given by Rhiannon Grant

Brigid, Fox, and Buddha

This talk was given at the Nontheist Friends Network conference at Woodbrooke, 24-26th March 2017. 

This is a talk with two halves. In the first half I want to talk about talking about God, and in the second half I want to talk about God. In the first half I’m going to ask: can we say anything about God, and if we can, what are we doing when we say things about God? In the second half I’m going to ask: what kinds of things do Quakers typically say about God, and what should we, as a community, do about talking about God.

Before I start, I want to say two things about the way I’m going to talk. Firstly, I’m going to use the word God a lot. I’m going to use the word God because it’s in the title of my talk, but also because it’s a…

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