Friendly Witness: The Spiritual Ground of Quaker Social Action4th mo. 19, 2023 from 1pm to 6pm
Quaker Theological Discussion Group 202312th mo. 1, 2023 at 8am to 12th mo. 2, 2023 at 10am
Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
British Friends please consider supporting me in raising awareness of the danger posed by fervent non-theism.
I think the danger is in torpid atheism, which has been (at least here in USA Liberalfriendism) the dominant tone for a long time now. (Fervent atheism, bent on converting others, is thereby more open to conversion. And has more juice in it!)
And it's not so much a "danger" as a mislabeling: 'Skim milk masquerades as cream.'
The only danger I see is: "If we aren't being Friends, who will?" If people come in search of Spirit, and find instead a circle of Nice People sitting in Quaker smugness, they will forced back into George Fox's early state-- having no one outside themselves to rely on. That can potentially generate some powerful faith-- but taking more time and effort than anyone truly wants to expend needlessly. And wherever such people go-- it won't be fitting into our old bottles...
What am I missing, guys? I don't see Quakerism as being about taking a stand against others. A case could be made that Quakerism allows for for having a leading to try to convert non-theists, and a case can certainly be made for getting to know others better before you declare that a stand needs to be taken against them.
Non-theism is VERY different from atheism as I understand it so far: a non-theist might be a Quaker and a Buddhist with a belief in a Divine that permeates all of us but not a central Father-figure in the sky (that particular person's image of what theists believe, based on his earlier churching).
I am told that atheism is more of the fundamental position against the idea of God -- not non-theism. I understand so far that when people describe themselves as non-theists it is simply (to my mind) language that confuses others and creates division where none necessarily exists. If a non-theist is wrong when he assumes that to be a theist you have to believe God is an old white guy in the sky....he can be a religious person who feels the same way as me (a devout God lover) but for him the words of speaking his truth are "non-theism" in order to find something more authentic. For me I am comfortable letting God be all that wild mystical stuff, and also comfortable seeing all that wild mystical stuff in the story of Christ. What if we are, as Ruby suggests, more on the same page in actuality.
What's the deal with acting like a religious zealot or someone on a crusade? That's not usually a good idea. Too much blood and gore results.
There's a Theosophical friend of mine, raised Catholic and now repelled by the very idea that the Universe might get 'personal' with anyone. But we know we're talking about, living within, a spiritual reality. She doesn't use the G-word but it doesn't make her itch!
Where the disagreement is about words, it's pretty trivial.
Where it's about how the Universe works, about what fundamental causes & effects underlie our lives, about our place in it-- Then it turns into serious differences about what we should be doing and how we should be doing it.
A "religious society" that falls into a secular world-view simply stops functioning as a religious society.
This doesn't make anybody "Bad" or require "taking a stand against" them. As a Theist, I logically must assume that the presence of atheists among us is one of God's little jokes, and that it serves His good purposes in some way.
But we have been Given a serious challenge! It may (for me) eventually come down to finding some other religious body where the Spirit finds Itself more welcome! Or perhaps we'll be reignited in some way I can't imagine yet!
But we are spiritual beings, dependent on spiritual nourishment for the ultimate well-being the Universe intends for Her children. We can get that nourishment directly from the Source-- but we need to share it or it goes dry. In some groups, that sharing gets very difficult, like trying to illuminate a coal mine with a match. People visit, apparently seeking such spiritual nourishment-- and all too often, as I see this, they go away empty. That's sad, because we used to be God's Friends-- the people I sought out when I wanted to practice what Jesus was talking about. It's brought me great illuminations, some times and places, but lately just seems to sit there-- while wondering whether it likes calling what we do together "worship"!
My appeal for support was to British Quakers going to Yearly Meeting later this month.
However it is good to discuss issues with all Friends world-wide.
I am not currently concerned about the views or beliefs of individual Friends, but about the stance, the purpose, of Britain Yearly Meeting (BYM) as an organisation in its own right.
The 'danger' I refer to is not non-theism as such, but that this organisation might lose its essential characteristics if it were to degenerate into little more than just another secular humanist organisation.
If interested, see my blog: www. sp37. info
Oh, "secular world view" is right up there with those other powers and principalities. ""Sex, fashion, and sports are all among the angelic powers," sayeth Springfellow. "So, particularly, is "money." Many of these (___?)'s are on the vague side, not so easy to pin with a word.
In George Fox's Journal we find this already getting problematical:
"One morning, as I was sitting by the fire, a great cloud came over me, and a temptation beset me; and I sat still. It was said, "All things come by nature"; and the elements and stars came over me, so that I was in a manner quite clouded with it. But as I sat still and said nothing, the people of the house perceived nothing. And as I sat still under it and let it alone, a living hope and a true voice arose in me, which said, "There is a living God who made all things." Immediately the cloud and temptation vanished away, and life rose over it all; my heart was glad, and I praised the living God.
"After some time I met with some people who had a notion that there was no God, but that all things come by nature. I had a great dispute with them, and overturned them, and made some of them confess that there is a living God. Then I saw that it was good that I had gone through that exercise. We had great meetings in those parts; for the power of the Lord broke through in that side of the country."
At this point I think we've all been so thoroughly imbued with the tendency to rely on that lens first and foremost-- that it's hard to recognize for that very reason.
"What shall we do about this?" -- and immediately we are aflame with "practical" steps and measures to take, as if it really were all up to our unaided selves.
Not so much "to struggle against"-- but to recognize. To see where a misleading perspective has weakened us, name it openly as illusory, pray that all may find our ways to the true foundation of the world.
Okay, I have finally looked up your blog post-- and while I find considerable similarity in our concerns, being (if I understand you) the effectiveness of BYM in particular (and perhaps the SoF in general...)
It appears to me that what you've said was: You're concerned that Friends' drift from a religious orientation may (now, later) undermine our effectiveness in meeting the world's secular needs and fulfilling our institutional obligations.
Do I have this right? And is that your meaning, or merely the aspect of it you hope will be most "objectively" understandable to our contemporaries? If that is the level of understanding that people will most readily find cogent... that implies that we've already drifted, a lot! What's your take?
(The other big name on this subject is of course: Walter Wink)
"...Stringfellow's foremost contribution to theological thought is to see in "images, ideologies, and institutions" the primary contemporary manifestations of the demonic powers and principalities often mentioned in the Bible. This outlook made him categorically suspicious of activities of governments, corporations, and other organizations, including the institutional churches, a viewpoint that placed him at odds with the nearly-ubiquitous "progressive" sentiments of the mid-20th century..."
In a rather long rant of my own, I found these notions quite evocative of... something... happening in the human collective consciousness/unconsciousness.
Yeah, I think God is fond of atheists, who function as a sort of quality-control on religious apologetics.
'Thinking deeply about God and the universe' is not, unfortunately, a very good way to grok the actual "All This STUFF!" we find ourselves inhabiting.
Non-theistic faith to me is not "atheistic"....but "panentheistic"....God is not anthropromorphic....God is Wholly Other.....non-theistic faith calls us to Depth.....too often our "theistic" views of God become..."idols" made by human hands...God is More....God is Present in and with All Things....something a "theistic deity" to me doesn't convey.
"Panentheistic" formulations of Itall are just logical implications, workings out of "omnipresent, omniscient," etc.
"Wholly Other" may be a useful counteremphasis to balance notions of a domesticated God... but
since we are, by all accounts & our own deepest experience, "theomorphic"-- That phrase doesn't really cover the territory, just relegates God to a "can't talk about that" limbo.
If "theistic deity" means something small and nasty to some people-- Whence the assumption that this must be what other people mean by it?
Incomplete & mistaken images of God are as common as incomplete and mistaken images of human beings-- Yet we continue to use the term "human", even manage to share some valid descriptions & expectations through it.
If your particular Nonthee is truly as big as 'the Thou There Be', then we have a language difficulty. The language I know employs the word "God" for that referent; and whatever misunderstandings this entails seem easier to negotiate than the blurring of "pantheist" with "materialist."
I have the greatest respect for my non-theist friends who are religious. It is not a contradiction in terms. Take Buddhism and Taoism, for instance; we call these religions for a reason. I have a strong leaning that way myself. The Tao Te Ching has been by my bedside for over 40 years, right alongside the Bhagavad Gita, the Lotus Sutra, and the Bible. Each of these four have different descriptions of the One. Like a beautiful tapestry, each contributes something to the overall richness. To think that we can encapsulate the Divine in any one point of view is idolatry, just as certainly as the worship of Mammon.
That being said, and as worthwhile as it is to appreciate the amazing richness with which the Divine has visited itself upon humanity, I am a Christian. ("Why I Call Myself a Christian") The Society of Friends is rooted in the Christian faith. For instance, we are not pacifists because it is nice or logical to be non-violent, we are pacifists because the Light within each of us bears testimony to the truth of Jesus' words, e.g., "resist not evil." The fact that Buddha and Lao-Tse also preached non-violence serves to confirm and broaden that testimony for me.
So let's be careful about how we speak. Non-theism is not the problem. It is a problem if we fail to assimilate new Friends in such a way that they respect the Christian basis of our Society, even if it is not their own faith. So long as they have a vibrant, living faith, this will not be a problem for them, nor will their faith be a problem for us.
Getting back to semantics, maybe instead of saying "the non-theists", we should be saying "the non-faithed." Boy, is that clunky. Forget I said it.
I'm not much a one for fighting against things anyway. There is something un-Friendly about that approach. I understand that many of the early Friends were real firebrands and contended against all kinds of things. Later generations found that approach to be unsupported by Friends' testimonies. It may be that we moved too far from the early rabble-rousing mode into Quietism. It's possible to be too extreme either way. Yet in the present instance, I believe we can accomplish much more by contending FOR love, FOR faith, FOR the view of Christ that gave our Society such dynamism, rather than against anything.
This is all an argument about misnomers!
"Buddhism and Taoism" are neither "theistic" nor "non-theistic." Taoism has nothing to say on the subject and Buddhism leaves it as something to be found-out-about. (Any conceivable conflict between Taoism & 'theism' would be on the level of "science vs religion", that is, a wrestling match between an eagle and a whale.) Neither posit a non-spiritual universe, which is the crux.
There's a difference between "I don't like the description of God that people have been throwing at me" and "The word 'God' means nothing good and I'm not having any!" What they're describing may be the same, but they reflect different attitudes and approaches to that situation. The latter may want to brag about how "Quaker" it is, but it ain't. Even though it's become the tacit norm of the people called "Quakers".
What needs to be overcome-- are not other human beings. (I notice that we've lost Stephen Petter in the fuss: "The Dial-up or Broadband service that this webspace was associated to has now been cancelled and the website is currently offline as a result." I gather I liked him better than he liked me...
I have to insist that "contentious" is okay, whereas "malicious" or "brittle" don't play well with others. I could be wrong, considering how many good people seem reluctant to play with me (sigh!)
We still have the basic problem that Petter was bringing up: Can we, should we, survive as (what a friend of mine calls) a religious society for people who don't want to be very religious?
Forrest, Buddhism and Taoism don't address the topic, and that is what makes them non-theistic. What they are not, is they are not atheistic. "Non-theistic" means "no opinion on Deity." "Atheistic" means "There is no Deity." I majored in comparative philosophy and religion back in the day, and these terms were part of the working tools we were given early on to understand these distinctions.
So, if what our Friend Petter is concerned about is atheism among Friends, then the term Non-theistic is not what he means.
Unless, of course, Friends want to ignore the academic study of these topics and popularize different ways of using these terms. There is nothing wrong with that. Words are fluid. They change meanings all the time, as culture develops in one direction or another.
However, to understand what I've said in my previous comment, you have to know that I am using those terms as they were taught to me in the academic discipline of comparative religion and philosophy.
As far as contention goes, think deeply about the peace testimony, and how whether that applies only to physical violence. I find it also means that how we talk to each other is important. That there will be disagreement goes without saying. But must we contend over that? Or can we not resolve it?
I am in full agreement that the Religious Society of Friends ought to remain religious. It would be a great loss in many ways if we do not. I would suggest that respecting and even emphasizing the Christian foundations of Quakerism does not mean the exclusion of all other authentic religious forms of expression.