Last Sunday, I had the pleasure of facilitating a discussion on religious diversity among Quakers at a meeting that I know to be both religiously diverse and peopled with long standing and immensely learned and wise Friends. As a non Christian, non theistic and relatively recent Quaker, I knew I would feel challenged. All one can do in this awe inspiring company is to present myself simply and honestly, to share my journey to Quakers along my atheist road and to some of the questions that help me explore and understand why such a died in the wool heretic as me, comes to feel at home in this odd bin of Christianity that is Quakers. After a wide ranging and wonderful discussion, some grumbling and throwing down of gauntlets, a previously hostile voice spoke up; ” OK I understand now, we are talking about a continuum here, where there are Friends in different places along the line but we are all Friends” I can accept that. So if I am asked to be open to the possibility that my belief can change, are you willing to consider the possibility that you might one day believe in god?” I answered, “yes”, and observed that “being open to possibility” seems to me the most important point that Friend was making. This seems the essence of Liberal Quakers for me. Last Sunday at that meeting, this spirit of possibility rose to the surface, above the anxieties, fear of threatened identities and sense of belonging, prevailed and fostered a great feeling of warmth and connection. This is where I find my meeting point with Quakers.
Being Open to Possibility: The Essence of Liberal Quakers?
3 responses to “Being Open to Possibility: The Essence of Liberal Quakers?”
This is a challenging post for me. After all the time and effort that I put into coming to be comfortable with the idea of no god. you ask me to be open to changing my view.
If I want others to be open to changing their minds, I, too, need to be open to the same.
Thank you, Miriam, for this challenge.
I don’t think I’m likely to change my mind because of thinking differently about the idea of a deity. That’s not because my mind is closed, just that I’ve spent a lot of thought over a long time coming to where I am now. Could I answer the Friend’s question “yes” when really it’s not a matter of openness to change?
For me the issue is inner experience. Having read William James “The Varieties of Religious Experience” as a touchpoint when I was young, and shortly thereafter read about “peak experiences” in Abraham Maslow’s “Toward a Psychology of Being” I have always been open to the prospect of such a powerful experience as they describe. If that came in the form of a personal experience of contact with God or Jesus (e.g. being wrapped in love, or in the presence of God, as some theist Friends have described) I’m sure I would be open to to it. I would have to have that powerful direct experiental enlightenment to become convinced. I am willing to be open to the possibility that that could happen to me.
I don’t honestly see myself as being open to the possibility of simply changing my mind and deciding to have unfounded faith; that doesn’t feel like a realistic possibility to me.
I have always struggled with the idea of a personal God who intervenes in the universe because I do not have any such experience. However, I can relate to the idea of God or divinity as a force or presence within nature, which often seems palpable to me. It is a deeply emotional and mystical presence.
An English diarist and naval administrator. I served as administrator of the Royal Navy and Member of Parliament. I had no maritime experience, but I rose to be the Chief Secretary to the Admiralty under both King Charles II and King James II through patronage, diligence, and my talent for administration.