Tag Archives: Rhiannon Grant

NFN Newsletter Issue April 2022

Familiar? Graphics is not my strong point – there’s quite a story behind the above attempt to re-create the masthead from David’s last newsletter.

Greetings Friends and welcome to our Spring 2022 Newsletter!

At the NFN AGM on 17 February, a couple of Friends suggested that perhaps it would be a good idea to continue the newsletter which could be emailed out to everyone on our wider mailing list and even printed and posted for the small number not on email. Printed copies could also be left at Meetings, Friends House and Woodbrooke etc. as a form of ‘outreach’. I have in the past produced a local meeting newsletter on the meeting website with the option of a printed copy. As the proposed NFN working group(s) for a newsletter and beyond the group for the ‘Creative Conversations’ do not seem to have yet been implemented, I thought I would produce an occasional newsletter in the form of a post on our website – so here it is for spring.

Creative conversations
Our next MfW and Creative conversation is at 7pm on Thursday 7 April, 2022: David Parlett,  A Theist Cuckoo in the Nontheist Nest. For further details look on the website at:

David Parlett – A Theist Cuckoo in the Nontheist Nest

Details of further conversations will be emailed and posted when available.

If you are interested in sharing your Creative Conversation with the Working Group, or would like to join us, email clerk@nontheist-quakers.org.uk. If you have already registered you will automatically receive links to our Zooms approximately a week before each meeting. As ever we would love to hear from you!

Nontheist approaches to religious language
This course took place on ‘zoom’ and Woodbrooke’s ‘moodle’ learning environment with Rhiannon Grant from 28th February to 27th March. About 20 Friends took part, possibly a majority might identify as nontheist Friends and a number of us from NFN were present, but a wide range of ‘theist’, ‘humanist’ and ‘nontheist’ viewpoints were represented. The discussions on the Moodle Forum for the course were most interesting.

The course was oversubscribed and we are told it is likely to be offered again, perhaps this year – look out for it and I would thoroughly recommend it. By the end of the course I was thinking ‘now we need a course on Nontheist approaches to God’ – but see below.

Further courses at Woodbrooke
We have already publicised the above and two other courses coming up soon:
The three courses are given by Rhiannon Grant. They are:

(Please note that these courses are organised by Woodbrooke and designed by Rhiannon Grant. They are not produced by the Nontheist Friends Network.) To judge by the first, I believe these shorter further courses will also be well worth attending and several of us have signed up for them already. (Pay as led).

Pronouns
The following pronouns are used in this issue: we/us/our means those who ‘manage’ NFN business – Steering Group, Working groups, NFN members, website or newsletter contributors etc. I/me means Trevor Bending as website editor and producer of this issue. I hope that future issues will include your contributions: articles, quotes, images, jokes, comments, letters etc. (See the end of the newsletter/post to see how to contribute. You can also make comments/leave a reply on the website below and on most other pages). Suggested deadline for submissions to a next issue (Summer 2022?) is mid-June – 21st if you like. I’d also be happy to accept contributions or responses to this issue for supplementary publication before the next issue.

Quaker blogosphere and social media
Quakers across the world, including nontheist Friends, are very active on the internet. There is a well-established nontheist Friends Facebook group with American and British moderators (Helen Gilbert is the British moderator). The group is public, so anyone can view it and the very interesting discussions that take place there, but to comment you will have to sign up to Facebook and apply to join the group. https://www.facebook.com/groups/1631439757083868

One American Friend who posts there regularly is Chuck Fager editor of Quaker Theology whose website/blog ‘A Friendly Letter’ is worth a visit. Rhiannon Grant’s blog ‘Brigid, Fox and Buddha‘ is definitely worth following along with 213 other followers. Speaking of followers, the NFN website is now followed by over 250 people.

Other Quaker blogs include:
Ben Wood’s ‘The Armchair Theologian’ – although this doesn’t seem to have been updated for 16 months.

Craig Barnett, author, Woodbrooke tutor and co-founder of the City of Sanctuary movement who currently serves on the Book of Discipline Revision Committee has a blog called ‘transitionquaker‘ and you might begin with his post (from 2014!) on ‘The Imaginary Theist’

Another Woodbrooke tutor, Mark Russ, has a blog at https://jollyquaker.com/

Another (professional) Quaker theologian, Rachel Muers, has a blog which she posts to somewhat intermittently, sometimes controversially. https://rachelmuers.wordpress.com/

Quakerquaker is an interesting blog/forum with multiple contributors expressing alternative views.

The senior editor of Friends Journal has a topical blog here: https://www.quakerranter.org/

Finally, for blogs today, Friends’ House has an active blog with various contributors: https://www.quaker.org.uk/blog

(Many of these blogs and quite a few more are listed here: https://blog.feedspot.com/quakers_blogs/)

There are also several Quaker Universalist Facebook Groups, American and British, and the websites of the UK Quaker Universalist Group, the American Quaker Universalists and our American Nontheist Friends (to which we also link on our website). Those American Friends also still maintain the nontheist google group which is very lightly moderated and springs into life from time to time!

Other current and forthcoming events
We have already mentioned David’s talk this Thursday above, the courses at Woodbrooke, and the Quaker Universalist Group Conference on Health and Healing is taking place this weekend at Woodbrooke and online. Friends may also be interested in the upcoming conference (‘Living Truth – A Rallying Call for Quakers’) of the new Quaker Truth and Integrity Group (QTIG) which is taking place online from 25-30 April. Speakers include Rachel Muers, Ben Wood, Jane Dawson and Molly Scott-Cato. Attendance is free but requires booking now. The session on Saturday morning (30 April) Drawing things together, agreeing an epistle, and framing next steps hopes for all participants to contribute ideas towards ‘helping Friends live out our Testimony to Truth in the power of love’ out of a ‘concern for the state of truth and integrity in public life across the UK and indeed more widely, (and) the Quaker Truth and Integrity Group seeks to discern what might be done to help redress the current situation.’ QTIG has a steering group, the clerk is Gerald Hewitson assisted by Jan Arriens and I’m pleased to say we have been able to help Jan with developing their website using QMN (Quaker Meetings Network) software (https://quaker.app/about/) which is designed for Quaker Meetings and recognised groups to create, fairly easily, websites with no knowledge, or desire to have any, of HTML, style sheets and the like. Jan has managed to do this very well and the website now has some 11 pages. (By way of comparison the NFN website has evolved, over 10 years since Brian Wardrop first created it, to have some 45 pages, numerous additional articles, documents, sound files and images etc., 133 posts, over 400 comments and some 250 followers – more about this below).

Quaker Humanist
In the last newsletter produced by David Boulton, I drew attention to David’s 1997 Quaker Universalist pamphlet, The Faith of a Quaker Humanist. A number of the participants in the ‘NARLA’ (Nontheist Approaches to Religious Language) course outlined above would probably identify as ‘Quaker Humanists’. I’ll put here an extract from that pamphlet – the section on ‘Faith’. David wrote:

Quakers will have no problem with the word “faith”. Theirs is a religious tradition, and in religious traditions faith invariably occupies a central place. Friends have their own (regularly revised) book of “faith and practice”. Humanists, on the other hand, generally avoid the word, precisely because of its religious connotations. This is a fairly recent preference. Nineteenth and early twentieth century humanists were often happy to write of their “faith”, even of their “religion”. As late as 1960 Julian Huxley gave one of his broadcasts the title The Faith of a Humanist. But today humanists usually prefer to see themselves as representing a “world view” rather than a “faith tradition”.

I have no quarrel with that. I am not going to challenge the convention that, when we talk of faith traditions, world faiths, inter-faith dialogue, we generally mean religious traditions, world religions and religious dialogue. We do not normally regard, say, socialism or existentialism or humanism as faiths in this sense. But few would deny that there is a strong element of faith in all these secular isms. Some of us would say it takes a lot of faith to remain a socialist these days! And perhaps in the light of the cumulative inhumanities of the twentieth century, it takes a lot of faith to be any kind of humanist.

So I am using “faith” not in its acquired sense as a body of religious beliefs but in its more basic sense of a kind of combination of trust and hope. Faith in this basic sense is not about belonging to a religious group, still less about believing dogma simply because that is required of us by some outside authority and tradition. Faith is the voluntary acceptance of certain uncertainties, and the willingness to trust and hope despite those uncertainties.

I fall in love. I trust and hope that my beloved loves me as I love her. I cannot furnish myself with irrefutable, logical, scientific proof that she loves me and that our mutual love will last till death doth us part. Indeed, common experience offers plentiful evidence which might presuppose me to assume the contrary! My acceptance of her love, and my giving of my love to her, has to be an act of faith. I promise to be faithful. Our lives together are based on this trust and confidence – con-fidence, “with faith”. And that faith has to be constantly renewed. From time to time it may fade, or be broken. But such faith has its own imperatives for survival and growth.

On a more mundane level, I fall ill. I call the doctor. There is no certainty that her medicine will cure me. I know only too well that medical science is inexact, imperfectly understood even by doctors. But I place my confidence in her. I have faith in her proposed remedies, albeit a rather sceptical kind of faith which is contingent on their working at least some of the time.

I live in a consumer society where the free market is god, where greed is exalted, where property rights take precedence over human rights, where there is said to be no such thing as society. I have lived through a massive dismantling of collective and cooperative enterprise and a triumphalist demolition of social values. If I remain a socialist, a communist or a liberal social democrat, I exemplify the triumph of faith over experience. Faith, to borrow Byron’s image, is flying the flag of freedom (or whatever banner we may be carrying) against the wind.

My point is that it takes faith to be a humanist or a Quaker. There is no certainty, no logic of history, no immutable grand design which guarantees that all will be well, and all manner of things will be well; that love will prevail  over hatred, “that of God in ·everyone” over that of the devil, the “ocean of light” over “the ocean of darkness and death”. If, before we try to live by them, we demand rational demonstration or proof that human values of love, compassion, sympathy and fellowship will prevail, we shall never get started. If we choose to try to live by these values, to build a society in which these values are exemplified, we had better recognise that we are unfurling our banners against the wind. We are choosing to live by faith.

So I am not proclaiming a new faith-tradition, a belief-system called Quaker Humanism! I am saying what is obvious: that we live by faith, whether we like it or not. And I am saying, which is perhaps less obvious, that there is much common ground between Quaker faith and humanist faith, which is what we are about to explore, first by unpacking the word …
Quakerso David continues and we will consider whether to offer any further extracts in future newsletters. In the meantime you can read the whole pamphlet here.

Continuing this theme, Tony Philpott, clerk to QUG, wrote a book in 2013 called ‘From Christian to Quaker‘ that can be found here: https://qug.org.uk/publications/books/from-christian-to-quaker/
That would make useful preparation for the ‘Are Quakers Christian’ course mentioned above.

Similarly, Michael Wright, clerk to NFN from 2015 to 2018 (sadly, Michael died last year) wrote his account of Jesus in his book ‘Jesus Today‘. (link takes you to the pdf of the book on the website). and that too might be useful preparation for that course and for ‘Why attend meeting for worship if you don’t believe in God’..

The website
I have heard no further about a working group to consider our website (and use of social media) but will be happy to work with that if it happens. In the meantime please send any suggestions or contributions for the website to me (see below).

I will try to give some helpful tips for using the website.

The appearance varies significantly as between a laptop or desktop computer on the one hand and a phone or mobile device on the other and whether you use the latter in portrait or landscape mode (turn the phone sideways!) and on the size of the screen. On a mobile you can scroll to the very bottom and choose ‘View full site’, but you will then need to view it landscape.

On the full site the main menu is the 8 items across the top of the screen (below Nontheist Quakers)

which are: HOME           NEWS       ABOUT            EVENTS               FAQ       ARTICLES        CONTACT          HOW TO?

These items are on every page and remain at the top of the page even when you scroll down. Home takes you to whatever is currently the home page (sometimes varies); NEWS is news (the latest and previous posts);  About is about NFN and has a drop down menu of 5 items (6 pages including About). Events you can guess (past, present and future) with a drop down menu (varies). FAQ is Frequently Asked Questions and has one further item, also about Nontheism and a book, in the drop down menu.  Articles has articles and newsletters (drop down with two items) going back to 2013.  Contact takes you to a form to fill in to contact us via the website editor (I pass messages on or answer them myself as appropriate). How To? tells you what I’m telling you now but is much more complicated and somewhat out of date.

The left hand column (white on black) disappears if you reduce the size of the window (or on a small tablet) and is a site map which is not especially useful. Look instead in the right hand column which is mostly green on white and has more navigation options. It will only disappear if you make the window extremely narrow when it then appears right down the bottom above the white on black column which has also then located itself there. All this is perfectly standard practice for window navigation on the web.

That right hand column contains ‘Search…’ which is very useful for finding everything about say ‘Jesus’, ‘Bible’ or ‘David Boulton’ (5 pages in the latter case – try it, it’s fun! I just tried ‘Elephant’ and it brings up one item).
This search will NOT find items in Articles or documents (pdf, Word etc.) – scroll down the Articles page to see what is there.

In the case of a mobile phone or narrow tablet (unless viewing ‘full site’ – see above) it’s quite different: You will then see a single column (the current home page) with Menu and Search at the top. (Turning it sideways – landscape – just makes it larger and easier to read). You can scroll to the very bottom for ‘full site’ as mentioned above (passing much of interest on the way???) but if you tap on Menu, you will get a drop down menu of the 8 main items and their sub-pages. You can also tap on Search and then enter your search term – on my phone you then have to tap ‘go’ to activate it but may vary depending on phone or tablet.

I think that’s more than enough – have fun exploring the site (45 pages plus lots of interesting articles and documents) and don’t forget to enter your email address to follow the site if you haven’t already done so. Oh, and leave your ‘replies’ or comments anywhere indicated on the site – if your comment doesn’t appear immediately, wait a day or so for it to be ‘moderated’ – and tick the check-boxes for ‘Notify me of new comments by email’ and ‘Notify me of new posts by email’. Any questions? Email me!

At 5 pages of A4, this newsletter is shorter than David’s last one by 1 page – I’ll try and do better next time – send me those articles!

NFNnewsletterApril2022 – Word version (most hypertext links should work)

NFNnewsletterApril2022 – pdf version (to print; probably only links which show full url’s will work)

The Newsletter is published three or four times a year. To keep up with NFN events visit our website www.nontheist-quakers.org.uk. For more information about the Network email clerk@nontheist-quakers.com. To contribute to the Newsletter or the website email trevor at humber.co.uk (remove spaces and replace at with @).

 

David Boulton’s talk tonight – don’t miss it!

Viewing the video on Wittgenstein posted by Rhiannon Grant in the course materials for ’Nontheist Approaches to Religious Language’ led me to view 2 short video clips about Wittgenstein on youtube from Don Cupitt’s 1984 TV series and then to listen to this:
https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m00036kp Giles Fraser (1984 – ‘a passionate atheist’ – later Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral – thanks to Cupitt perhaps) on Don Cupitt and the TV series ’The Sea of Faith’. (28 minute radio programme). A very interesting and, I think, fairly balanced assessment of Don Cupitt’s work.
Don Cupitt was one of our speakers at NFN Conference in 2012 (10 years ago!) and a post from 2017 (Five years on) says:
“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 (Trevor) 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.”

Giles Fraser is an interesting maverick, perhaps a little like Cupitt, apparently voted Conservative (for Brexit) in 2019 though saying at about the same time: “all my political energy has been a reaction to Margaret Thatcher. I hated and continue to hate Thatcherism with a passion that remains undimmed”, and having resigned as Canon Chancellor in 2011 as a result of refusing to sanction using force to remove Occupy London (remember that?) from outside the cathedral.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giles_Fraser
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don_Cupitt

That’s a warm up, I hope, for our 10th Creative Conversation presented tonight by David Boulton on ‘Friends and the Secular World’. Don’t miss it!

 

Upcoming events

I mentioned at the AGM on Thursday (17th February) that some nontheist Friends might be interested in the Quaker Universalists’ Conference at Woodbrooke and online from 1-3April.
Details can be found here: https://qug.org.uk/conference-2020-health-and-healing/

Friends might also be interested to look at the newly formed Quaker Truth and Integrity Group (next meeting for QTIG members on 23rd February and Zoom Conference from 25 April): https://quakertruth.org/calendar/

Courses at Woodbrooke which should certainly be of interest to nontheist Friends have already been mentioned here.

Trevor

Update and Courses at Woodbrooke

The audio file for John Richter’s talk has now been added to the homepage. There’s a minute or two missing at the beginning and unfortunately the recording quality is only fair. If we are able to add a text or transcript later we may do so.

Woodbrooke has some upcoming (online) courses which may be of particular interest to nontheist Friends – they might make a nice follow-up to John’s talk!

Nontheist Approaches to Religious Language
28 February 2022 – 27 March 2022
Tutor: Rhiannon Grant
£45.00

Why Attend Meeting for Worship if you Don’t Believe in God?
12 April 2022 – 12 April 2022
19:30 – 21:00
Tutor: Rhiannon Grant
Pay as you are led ( £ )

Are Quakers Christian?
26 April 2022 – 26 April 2022
19:30 – 21:00
Tutor: Rhiannon Grant
Pay as you are led ( £ )

Details of all these and a few other courses can be found here:
https://www.woodbrooke.org.uk/product-category/exploring-quakerism

I put the following in the comments this morning:
Whilst we’re talking about spirituality, here’s an interesting article (terrifying?) on Xi Jinping thought and the politicisation of spirituality in China:
https://unherd.com/thepost/chinas-new-plan-to-fill-the-religion-shaped-hole/

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/

Quaker ‘Advices and Queries’ for Nontheists.

Quaker ‘Advices and Queries’ for Nontheists.
A ‘thought for the day’ from Trevor Bending, member of NFN Steering Group and NFN website editor.
(Most of the hypertext links in this piece do NOT open in a new tab or window. Therefore use the browser back button to return to this page).

I thought very carefully about the title of this post and decided it would be ‘Advices and Queries’ (from Quakers) for all (including nontheists) expressed as above. ‘All’ approaching nearly 8 billion of us and counting.

After 370 years there are about 377,557 Quakers in the world (less than 0.016% of all Christians), most of them in (more or less) Evangelical Friends’ Churches or ‘programmed’ meetings in Africa and the Americas. Of the world total about 21,500 are members of or attending ‘unprogrammed’ (often largely silent 1 hour) meetings for worship in Britain (excluding Ireland where there may be another 2000). There are 129 followers of this NFN website whilst our number of paid-up members of the Network for this year to date are too embarrassingly few to mention. So, what can we say?

The NFN Steering Group (SG) have previously discussed a ‘nontheist’ version of Advices and Queries prepared by an ‘old Friend’ and member of NFN which manages to remove the word ‘God’ altogether. But it was decided that we would not want to be seen (mistakenly) as ‘proselytising’ for ‘nontheism’ (which we are not) and that for this and other reasons (including ‘something missing’ – traditional language or God perhaps?) we would not wish to publish that document, interesting though it is.

A Friend, Stephen Feltham, has asked ‘Why have Quakers stopped referring to God’ and more generally laments the loss of spirituality amongst Friends or its submergence by political and social activism, losing God. (But see QF&P 20.14).

Seeking to hear where Stephen’s words come from, his heartfelt plea certainly strikes a chord with this ‘nontheist’ (whatever ‘nontheist’ might mean). But it is not the intent of NFN to remove God (either in person or the ‘Word’) or religion or spirituality from the Religious Society of Friends. In fact our conference next year is to be titled ‘That’s the Spirit! – Dimensions of spirituality’ and is now planned to take place at Friends’ House, Euston, from 28-29 March 2020.

Stephen’s last paragraph in the piece above reads:
‘Is it fair to question if we are really justified in calling ourselves a religious society anymore? Have we become so politically ‘on message’ with justice, equality, inclusivity, diversity, the planet and gender issues that we have no more time for the love of God and so we may just as well call ourselves a social activist association?

On the home page of the Quaker Spirit website, under the heading ‘A clarification – Quaker Spirit is for all’, Stephen writes ‘ALL are welcome. We want to develop our spirituality and avoid great busyness.

I think it would be fair to comment that many, especially younger, Friends may feel that ‘activism’ for justice, equality, inclusivity etc. by Quakers is dependent on spirituality and not separate from it. Whereas our A&Q 28 advises ‘Attend to what love requires of you, which may not be great busyness’ it is clear that this is in the context of advancing age and the need to ‘relinquish responsibilities’ (and make way for others?) and not a recommendation to ‘avoid great busyness’ altogether. Indeed, early Friends (at least in the 17th century) were hugely concerned with ‘with justice, equality, inclusivity, diversity, the planet and gender issues’ (the latter in consideration of the role of women in ministry and in (the) society). It was only later in the late 18th and early 19th centuries that Friends in Britain became ‘quietist’ and somewhat inward looking (not in the best sense of that term).

In the 21st century, Friends in Britain have become more outward looking again (as they have perhaps been for the last 150 years) and social (including political) concerns and activism have again come to the fore.  At the same time there has been an increasing concern for ‘re-kindling’ and ‘vibrancy’ in meetings which certainly depends on developing greater spiritual ‘inwardness’.

In a previous post and in response to a piece by Neil Morgan in The Friend of 9 August, a member of the NFN Steering Group writes:

I am a member of the Network who does actually believe in God. But what I believe in is not the existence of God but the presence of God, and for me that difference is vital. …. cont.: .. I feel that to speak of God as ‘existing’ is to categorise God as part of the universe, bound by space and time, whereas the presence of God is not an objective reality but a subjective human experience. People may claim they don’t see God as a bearded old man in the sky, yet many still speak as if they do. If God ‘exists’ anywhere, it is in the human heart, not ‘out there’. A literal belief in the externally ‘real’ existence of God seems dangerous and demeaning. The NFN provides me with a respectful and non-judgmental forum enabling me to explore my theology more thoroughly than in most other areas of Quaker life.

(for the full response and many others from members of NFN on Discernment see here).

Elsewhere on Quaker Spirit, in Squeezing out the Spirit, Stephen writes: ‘I am inexorably being driven to resigning altogether from Quakers one of whose fasting growing special interest groups does not, it seems to me, believe in God!’

I wrote in response on the site’s Forum: I would like to re-assure you that NFN is not fast growing! (I think we have about 100 members at most and a conference attendance – not all members – of 40-50.) As to not believing in God, some do, some don’t. One of our Steering Group believes in the ‘presence of God’ but not in the ‘existence of God’. (see above). Others have varied beliefs’.

I’m a little doubtful though, whether Stephen would want to add NFN to his list of other Quaker groups, but then consider some of the points made above and that in a sense NFN ‘budded off’ from the Quaker Universalist Group, itself regarded somewhat askance by many Friends when it first formed some 40 years ago.

Perhaps then we can agree on inclusivity and in the future join together in celebrating, and practising, Quaker spirituality.

Meanwhile, we can turn to Young Friends for a new take on Advices and Queries.

In ‘Living our beliefs’ a book which deserves to be much better known, produced by Young Quakers in 2015, edited by Graham Ralph, young Friends have made a book that ‘tackles similar topics to Quaker Faith and Practice but .. (is) .. shorter, more accessible and more concise.’

An online version of this book (pdf) and a range of videos and music tracks and talks associated with it can be found at http://www.yqspace.org.uk/living-our-beliefs One of the 17 or so chapters is ‘Advices and queries as compiled by young Quakers’ (p79-81) created at junior yearly meeting in 2015.

This version reduces 42 Advices and Queries (some 12 pages) to 42 simple statements (2 pages). One breathtaking example is A&Q4 which is reduced to just 4 words ‘Remember our Christian heritage’, compared with the original – 73 words with 5 references to Jesus and two to God.

These 42 contain one reference to (the word) God compared to some 37 in the original. The one reference to God is in A&Q 17 (original 117 words, 2 references to God) which becomes:

‘Everyone thinks of God differently; don’t be judgemental’.

(The original ends with ‘Think it possible that you may be mistaken’.)

Another view, by Laurence Hall, can be found in the Young Quaker, Sketches of a Godless Quakerism (to read online pages 8-9).

What all this boils down to is that it is not whether you believe in the existence of God, or the presence of God, or not but what kind of God, what do you mean by ‘God’, what do you mean by belief. In the end it is all words (theology? Or ‘windy notions’ as early Friends might have called them) and it is our practice, both spiritually and actively, that counts.

If Christianity (and perhaps Judaism?) can be reduced to Jesus’ (fictional??) story of the ‘Good Samaritan – now go and do likewise’ then these ‘simplifications’ (of complex issues) by young Quakers might serve us well.

One of the video passages in ‘living our beliefs’ online is this from Quaker Faith and Practice on ‘Believing in God’. (The text of which is here.)

I became convinced this morning that whilst ‘Quakerism’ (Quaker meeting for worship, Quaker Faith and Practice) might not be for everyone, it is right for me and is ‘the Truth, the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth’ – but this Truth includes uncertainty and mystery and not knowing what we don’t know and I can’t impose it on anyone else and I must ‘think it possible that I may be mistaken’ although I must accept that others may try to impose their Truth on me.

Towards a Nontheist View of Discernment

Towards a Nontheist View of Discernment

What is discernment for you? A recent piece in The Friend (by Neil Morgan, 9 August issue) titled ‘How nontheists view discernment is giving me a headache’, argues that without the sense of revelation from God, and sense of connection with God, discernment loses its distinctive Quaker quality. So what are nontheists doing? Are they just ‘listening empathically’ to each other? The piece ends with the plea, ‘Could Rhiannon [Grant] or someone from the NFN please explain to me what they are doing when they are discerning – or at least what they think they are doing?’ (This was in a review of Rhiannon’s book Telling the Truth about God. Rhiannon reminds us that she does not self-identify as a nontheist but is a friend of nontheists.) In response, we asked our members to share their views on how nontheists view discernment for publication in this newsletter, identifying writers only by initials. Here are some responses (so far…)

The Nontheist Friends Network is my spiritual home. Born in 1935 I have always been a sceptic about God. My mother was a Grammar-school science teacher, my father a pillar of the Welsh Calvinist Methodist Church.

When, as a young child, I asked my mother where God was, she said ‘Oh – up there somewhere’, to which I responded – ‘He cannot be thick, or else he would fall down’. I have never been a ‘believer’ in God or been able to ascribe any significant meaning to the word. My ambitious father sent me to a Quaker boarding-school, simply because he could not find a private Methodist school that he liked.

I went to university, and became Secretary of the Cambridge Humanist Society, under the chairmanship of E M Forster. I regard the world’s religions as among the greatest artistic creations of mankind. I realize that millions have found inspiration in their images of Deity, but I cannot share them. For me, religions resemble great symphonies, inspiring works of sculpture or painting, wise sayings – and they are part of my world, but not supernatural.

And yet I loved my Quaker school and its diverse, cosmopolitan, community. I loved Reading Meeting, which we attended every fortnight. I came to love Quaker ways, and Quaker values. Later, in my sixties and an Attender at Swansea Meeting, I was accepted as a Member, and became a Friend. I came home. [RWE]

I am surprised that Rhiannon Grant’s book gives Neil Morgan a headache. Nontheists have a heart and an awareness of all the rich sensitivities of the human spirit, communicated for instance by poetry, art and music. They also share the characteristic human sense of empathy and compassion towards the feelings of others. They bring all these senses to bear on matters that require discernment – senses that some would call spiritual. [GGS]

I find a quiet place and I think. Not exactly rocket science. I may do this during MfW too. Occasionally I may do some research and read things that may relate to a concern, or I speak to people. This process may take some time, depending on the concern, or it may just be listening to points of view at a meeting for worship for business to compose a minute. Either way it just requires some head space and a time of thought without the intervention of a God figure. I often come to a revelation all on my own. [AK]

I’m listening to what Friends have to say with an open mind and an awareness of my own possible prejudices, being prepared to make up my mind or change my mind according to what I hear. I weigh it all up, using my experience and intelligence, think about ‘what love requires of me’ and I speak my views if I feel it would be helpful. If a decision goes a way I’m not happy with, I accept that this is what Friends wanted and try to accept it with good grace,

I’m certainly not waiting for any kind of divine guidance. [LE]

My late husband called Quaker processes ‘the jewel in the Crown.’ As Assistant then Clerk of my Meeting, I found discernment to be a bright facet of the jewel.

It is hard work, to put oneself aside and listen – really listen to what each Friend says. Then to keep that so important space between each contribution is vital as we begin to ‘take on board’ the many aspects of the item under consideration. This will lead to a moment when the Clerk feels it is right to attempt a minute. The Clerk then needs to be upheld by the quiet, loving support of those present as he or she tries to put into words the sense of the Meeting.

The minute first proposed can then be worked on, if need be, until Friends feel it to be a true reflection of the discernment process that has just taken place. This has been achieved by a group of Friends having mutual respect, care and love for each other and for the furtherance of Quakerism. [AR]

I see discernment as a way of improving the quality of discussion and of eventual decision- making as compared with more common ways of handling group discussions such as committees and voting.

The very fact of meetings (of any kind) implies universal recognition of ‘collective intelligence’ alongside individual points of view. My own experience has left me in no doubt that (a) the outcome of meetings can be influenced by the mood of the meeting and (b) that the mood can be managed. Such management can take the form of, for example, the style of the chair, the meeting conventions and practical aspects such as timing, papers circulated, accommodation and so on.

Quakers have developed a particular style of discussing business matters that is harmonious with Quaker values and therefore, on the whole, observed. The discipline of waiting to be called by the clerk to speak, of avoiding engagement with others who have spoken, of speaking respectfully, of a readiness to be persuaded and of careful recording of the discernments of the meeting by the clerk all lead to a productive interaction between individual views and the collective intelligence which, to me, is the essence of discernment.

So I understand Neil Morgan’s use of the words revelation and connection but I see them applying to the relationship between individual views and collective intelligence rather than to God. [GH]

I have never ever thought that discernment was only possible with a belief in God!
This would mean that only ‘religious’ people could do any good – which is obviously not true.

For me, Quakers are a constant reminder that the fundamental tenets of Quakerism – peace, equality, sustainability, justice and truth – are what we need to keep in mind on a daily basis and that is what the community of Quakers gives me. [MW]

Discernment does not lose its distinctive Quaker quality because one is a non-theist. In meeting I try to think good thoughts and how I can do better with my life – it tempers the bad stuff in the world. I do not sit there worrying about whether it is God, or simply my conscience bringing these thoughts out. But it does. For me Quakers is about what you do, not whether you believe in God or not. [EW]

Neil Morgan (9 August) asks how nontheists regard Quaker discernment, assuming that they necessarily cut ‘God’ out of the equation. I am a member of the Network who does actually believe in God. But what I believe in is not the existence of God but the presence of God, and for me that difference is vital.

For as long as I can remember I have been constantly aware of a presence that is ‘closer than breathing’, very personal, yet not entirely part of myself. It has always been with me, more or less out of eyeshot, and its presence means that I never feel lonely or alone. Not only that, but I also feel that it both guards and guides me. Whatever it may be is reliable and comforting. I call it ‘God’ because I grew up with the word and still find meaningful and useful. But it’s a name, not a definition. I ‘believe in’ it in the etymological sense of credo = cor do (Latin: ‘I give my heart’). I also share in the presence of God corporately, mostly in meeting for worship.

I feel that to speak of God as ‘existing’ is to categorise God as part of the universe, bound by space and time, whereas the presence of God is not an objective reality but a subjective human experience. People may claim they don’t see God as a bearded old man in the sky, yet many still speak as if they do. If God ‘exists’ anywhere, it is in the human heart, not ‘out there’. A literal belief in the externally ‘real’ existence of God seems dangerous and demeaning. The NFN provides me with a respectful and non judgmental forum enabling me to explore my theology more thoroughly than in most other areas of Quaker life. I may not like the word ‘nontheist’, but I treat it as a name, not a definition. After all, I don’t define myself by reference to my own name.

Thus I can understand Quaker discernment as joining with others in listening to and acting on the leadings of God, and as an occasional clerk and elder for many years can attest to its efficacy. [DP]

IF.. You would like to respond to this discussion, or comment further, please email David Parlett, or Comment (‘Leave a reply’) here below. (Initials or name required. Your email address will not be published).

“Theism vs Non-Theism” or Quaker Spirit?

I recently came across this post on Sam Barnett-Cormack’s  (Quaker) Openings blogspot website: https://quakeropenings.blogspot.com/2018/01/theism-vs-non-theism.html and felt it worth drawing attention to it here.

(In the original version of THIS post, I credited the said post to Rhiannon Grant, perhaps because her name appeared below in a comment. I have now corrected the error here.)

The piece is quite wordy (and Sam says “Verbosity is not a virtue, but a tendency towards excessive brevity can do a surprising amount of damage.”) but tries to get to grips with, as one might say, ‘the heart of the matter’.

His final two paragraphs include “We are not contending with one another, whatever the ongoing disagreement-in-public between Boulton and Guiton might suggest.”; “Let us be Friends, in truth and not just as the traditional code term for our faith in-group.”; and concludes with the one line “For the sake of all that is good and true, let us be Friends.”

But he also says “We can explain our experiences and understanding of the Divine without it being an attempt to convince or exclude others.” and whilst this may be true, I certainly know ‘non-theist’ Friends who will have no truck with the ‘Divine’.

But then again, that is surely just a matter of ‘words’ – isn’t it?

How do Friends, Quakers, theists, non-theists or whatever, feel about ‘Spirit’? Is this ‘Holy’? Is spirit or inspiration just a matter of breath? Is the Inner Light Winstanley’s ‘light of pure reason’ or something else altogether? The spirit of Christ? Human spirit?
Quaker Spirit? (as in the newly arrived website http://www.quakerspirit.com/view/ministryofthemoment/wedoneedgod.aspx )

The last mentioned spirit (page) ends with “And, whilst we are talking of it; in the light of the BBC question “So what is the difference between Quakerism and Mindfulness today?” Should not a simple answer suffice, e.g. Quakerism has at its root a belief in the Divine i.e. God-centric, whereas Mindfulness has at its root “Knowing directly what is going on inside and outside ourselves, moment by moment.” i.e self-centric.

You may want to know the provenance of that last website. It seems to be an initiative, possibly individual and personal, of Stephen Feltham from the Friends Fellowship of Healing and says “Quaker Spirit is an initiative to gather Friends with the sole purpose of experiencing the spiritual and mystical ethos of Quakerism.”

Elsewhere on the site (under Modern Quakers) we find “Your teacher is inside you, don’t look outside. It will teach you wherever you are.” (quoting Rex Ambler paraphrasing George Fox) and “The light is what enables you to see. This light enlightens you, it shows you when you do something wrong. (For me, this is the light of awareness, mindfulness)” and “We believe that we all have an inward teacher. This inward teacher can be found in the still silence. This inward teacher is “that of God” (or whatever name you wish to call that which is beyond all names, I like the term True Self). ” (Self-centric?).

So God (the word, or the Word?) is problematic for some Friends; ‘Divine’ perhaps more so for some of those same Friends. What about ‘Spirit’? The Quaker Spirit website lists ‘Other Quaker groups’ as Friends Fellowship of Healing, Quaker Fellowship for Afterlife Studies, The Kindlers, Quaker Universalist Group, Experiment with Light Network, Quaker Quest, and Quaker Arts Network, and it is implicitly clear that these groups are seen as fellow travellers as it were. I’m not sure that all of those groups would accept the association but can see the point about “the sole purpose of experiencing the spiritual and mystical ethos of Quakerism.”

That’s seven groups implicitly associated and a page about a proposed Quaker Spirit Gathering (for summer 2021?) says: “When first distributed to our ‘Other Groups’ a very encouraging set of replies was received. Read them here.”  There are eight replies but none of them is explicitly associated with any of those seven groups.

I can’t help wondering if this is an ‘inclusive Spirit’ or an exclusive one?

Then: Mark 3:28-29 “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”

and Luke 12:10 10 “And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.”

or in the non-canonical (and clearly heretical) Gospel of Thomas:
44. Jesus said, “Whoever blasphemes against the Father will be forgiven, and whoever blasphemes against the son will be forgiven, but whoever blasphemes against the holy spirit will not be forgiven, either on earth or in heaven.”

In the end then, what Friends think, believe or experience of the ‘spirit’ might be a matter of some significance.

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.

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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