I contradict myself
November 7, 2013 9:07 AM   Subscribe

 
This makes a lot more sense than someone being both a Quaker and Richard Nixon.
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:11 AM on November 7, 2013 [40 favorites]


Quaker-ish?
posted by spicynuts at 9:12 AM on November 7, 2013


Heh, I went to a Quaker college and I see no contradiction with this, assuming they're coming from the liberal unplanned meeting wing of Quakers.

fight fight inner light kill Quakers kill!
posted by leotrotsky at 9:13 AM on November 7, 2013 [20 favorites]


After my first child was born, I started going to a Quaker meeting in La Jolla just to get a few hours of quiet to myself. I'm also an atheist, albeit a preacher's kid, so I'm always thinking about religion. So much of what this article says rings so true to me. I wish the meeting in my current town wasn't so very, very dysfunctional, so I could bring myself to join it.
posted by bibliowench at 9:21 AM on November 7, 2013


Let me try: I'm hindu and a monotheist, no, wait, um, I'm a non-dogmatic Catholic Muslim, no, no, um, I'm a Native American Anamist but I don't believe in dogs, wait, um...
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:22 AM on November 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


I see no contradiction with this, assuming they're coming from the liberal unplanned meeting wing of Quakers.

"A year and a half ago, our family began worshipping with a smaller Conservative Friends group. Conservative Friends are socially and theologically liberal but stricter in adhering to older Quaker practices."
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:22 AM on November 7, 2013


Quaker-ish?

Quatheist.
posted by dirigibleman at 9:24 AM on November 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Let me try: I'm hindu and a monotheist, no, wait, um, I'm a non-dogmatic Catholic Muslim, no, no, um, I'm a Native American Anamist but I don't believe in dogs, wait, um...

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
posted by griphus at 9:27 AM on November 7, 2013 [11 favorites]


"Only a Christian can be a good atheist and only an atheist can be a good Christian"--Ernst Bloch / Atheism in Christianity.

See also "Jesus as the atheistic mystic."
posted by No Robots at 9:28 AM on November 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


we humans are built for a different kind of rigour than that of evidentiary fact.

It's possible to write sentences that don't, but sound like they might, make sense.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 9:28 AM on November 7, 2013 [13 favorites]


Heh, I went to a Quaker college and I see no contradiction with this, assuming they're coming from the liberal unplanned meeting wing of Quakers.

fight fight inner light kill Quakers kill!


Guilford, home of the Fighting Quakers?
posted by zombieflanders at 9:31 AM on November 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm a Quatheist too. I attend Quatermass. I believe in science and evil aliens.
posted by Zack_Replica at 9:31 AM on November 7, 2013 [7 favorites]


That's a good essay. Maybe it won't speak to the non-Quakers among us as well as it did to me.

There is a good book called Real Like the Daisies, or Real Like I Love You: Essays in Radical Quakerism that explores similar themes. I read it a few years ago in a mixed group of theist and non-theist Friends and had good discussions. It also dealt with what the religious drive and experience might be for people who don't believe in a "real like the daisies" God.

It's interesting that he raises the question of whether people like him are part of the problem with contemporary liberal Quakerism. He says we have more of a "spine" than some other liberal religions but my experience of some meetings is that they are mostly a collection of like-minded progressives without a cohesive religious or spiritual base despite the Quakerly language.
posted by not that girl at 9:32 AM on November 7, 2013 [8 favorites]


Ah, the author is still a young guy. He probably just wants to sow his Quaker oats.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:34 AM on November 7, 2013 [22 favorites]


Kiss my grits, PeterMcDermott. Kiss all of our grits.
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:35 AM on November 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's possible to write sentences that don't, but sound like they might, make sense.

It's possible to dismiss viewpoints with which you merely disagree by suggesting that they are meaningless...

*shakes Sing Or Swim's hand in peaceable fellowship*
posted by oliverburkeman at 9:36 AM on November 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


I used to go to our local, very liberal, Quaker meeting for maybe a year, and I'm an atheist.

I stopped going because I would consistently fall droolingly asleep in the all-too-comfortable chairs they had. Marvelous bunch of folks, though.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 9:38 AM on November 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


There are lots of nontheist Quakers:
Nontheist Quakers (also known as nontheist Friends) are those who affiliate with, identify with, engage in, or affirm Quaker practices and processes, but who do not necessarily accept a belief in a theistic understanding of God, a Supreme Being, the divine, the soul or the supernatural. Like traditional Friends, nontheist Friends are actively interested in realizing centered peace, simplicity, integrity, community, equality, love, joy, and social justice in the Society of Friends and beyond.
posted by pracowity at 9:38 AM on November 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


There are lots of nontheist Quakers:

There is a difference between non-theists and a-theists. Also nontheist quakers are usually called Unitarians.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:41 AM on November 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


This is kind of a revelation for me. Thanks for posting.
posted by mochapickle at 9:41 AM on November 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Let me try: I'm hindu and a monotheist, no, wait, um, I'm a non-dogmatic Catholic Muslim, no, no, um, I'm a Native American Anamist but I don't believe in dogs, wait, um...

I'm Dave.
posted by davejay at 9:47 AM on November 7, 2013


But I know Roman Catholics and Jews who don't believe in God either. They continue to go to services because it's important to them to belong to a faith community, the ritual is still important to them and their doubt is something that they recognize as being as central to spirituality as someone else's belief.

And there are those who'll insist that a belief in the literal truth of the bible certainly isn't necessary to be a bishop in the Church of England. (ie. the resurrection as 'just a conjuring trick with bones'.)

So is it just that Quakers are more likely to discuss their doubt openly?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:48 AM on November 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


Steve Colbert to Unitarian: "So do you celebrate Hanukkah or Christmas?"
Unitarian: //thinks for a second// Yes.
posted by resurrexit at 9:52 AM on November 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Quakerism is the new Buddhism, at least among the 40-something liberal set in DC. Very hip these days.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:52 AM on November 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


The second- and third-most upvoted comments on the article are interesting because they capture both the snobbish-atheist are earnest-atheist perspective on the author's thoughts:

So, religion in your life is simply a celebration of an admittedly fictional story? Your experience of 'worship' sounds not too dissimilar to a Trekkie attending a Star Trek convention. Both might satisfy one's innate desire for storytelling and fellowship. Perhaps, they both even could serve as some form of moral compass (admittedly dubious on both counts). However, in only one of those 'churches' is it acceptable to state openly that the stories are the creation of man rather than a god. May you live long and prosper.

Thank you Nat. I'm a skeptic at core and I've been trained to look for empirical data and break things down logically. Because of that, I don't believe in anything supernatural. At the same time, the empirical data shows that religious people are happier! And it's not just because of their communities, it's because of the optimism and security of faith. Humans are wired to find symbols, think magically, and talk to someone who might or might not be real. Part of being human is being irrational. We also talk to our pets, look for happy endings in movies, knock on wood, and in stories we see the morals or meanings that we choose to see. But how can religion work for me if I don't really believe it? Placebos heal people, but do they work if you think they are placebos? Maybe there's a way to believe differently, as we did when we were kids. When I had imaginary friends as a kid, I knew the difference between fact and fiction, but I didn't care. Whether they were "real" or not just wasn't relevant. We are the totally irrational animals that we are. I think it's useful to find a mythology that corresponds to your values.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:53 AM on November 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm a Quaker. Also an atheist. Also lots of other things. The great thing about the liberal unprogrammed flavour of Friendship that I practice is that there is literally no problem or restriction to people of other faiths being perfectly welcomed Friends. My meeting has Buddhist Friends, Muslim Friends, Jewish Friends, Aboriginal-Spiritual Friends, etc.

Quaker meetings are simple. If you put a bunch of people in a room, get them to shut the fuck up for a while and think about the best in themselves and in the world, occasionally you'll have some people who come up with truly beautiful things to share with everyone. And those testimonies from ordinary individuals of N faith (or No-Faith) will invariable be a whole lot purer and more intelligible than any garbage spouted from a pulpit.
posted by sarastro at 9:55 AM on November 7, 2013 [19 favorites]


It's possible to dismiss viewpoints with which you merely disagree by suggesting that they are meaningless...

He says he's chosen to submit to the will of a God that he doesn't think exists. He doesn't need me to suggest that it's meaningless.

*shakes Sing Or Swim's hand in peaceable fellowship*

Oh, go raise a barn or something. Goddamn Quakers. :)
posted by Sing Or Swim at 9:55 AM on November 7, 2013


"Because of that, I don't believe in anything supernatural. "

That sure does sound familiar.
posted by griphus at 9:57 AM on November 7, 2013


Quakerism is the new Buddhism, at least among the 40-something liberal set in DC.

I've got friends who were raised without any faith, who entered 12 step fellowships and set about the process of seriously seeking a 'higher power' that wasn't just their mates, or the group or some strange meaningless acronym.

Several of them found Quakerism to be the easiest fit -- presumably because it was the one that provoked the least cognitive dissonance.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:59 AM on November 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm atheist-Catholic; I don't believe in anything, but I still enjoy tormenting my wife for her filthy, filthy Presbyterianism.

Pope Rules, John Knox Drools!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:01 AM on November 7, 2013 [16 favorites]


C'mon, someone say "It's more a philosophy than a religion."
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:02 AM on November 7, 2013


According to my friend Who is an Atheist and a Quaker non-theist Quakerism is more common on the UK than in the US, though from this thread I am not so sure. She seems to get a lot from it FWIW.
posted by Artw at 10:03 AM on November 7, 2013


Quakerism is the new Buddhism, at least among the 40-something liberal set in DC. Very hip these days.

Woah there. I'm nowhere close to 40!
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:05 AM on November 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


According to my friend Who is an Atheist and a Quaker non-theist Quakerism is more common on the UK than in the US, though from this thread I am not so sure.

All because of that damn Flushing Remonstrance*!

*Note: NOT a euphemism for something filthy.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:07 AM on November 7, 2013


Don't sweat it, anotherpanacea.

I'm pretty sure that anything that's popular with any over 40's set isn't really going to be hip. It's just going to be some other over-40's person's idea of what's hip.

(Way, way over 50's here.)
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:08 AM on November 7, 2013


> 'Can you lead a good life without believing in Christianity?' This is the question on which I have been asked to write, and straight away, before I begin trying to answer it, I have a comment to make. The question sounds as if it were asked by a person who said to himself, 'I don't care whether Christianity is in fact true or not. I'm not interested in finding out whether the real universe is more like what the Christians say than what the Materialists say. All I'm interested in is leading a good life. I'm going to choose beliefs not because I think them true but because I find them helpful.'

> Now frankly, I find it hard to sympathise with this state of mind. One of the things that distinguishes man from the other animals is that he wants to know things, wants to find out what reality is like, simply for the sake of knowing. When that desire is completely quenched in anyone, I think he has become something less than human. As a matter of fact, I don't believe any of you have really lost that desire. More probably, foolish preachers, by always telling you how much Christianity will help you and how good it is for society, have actually led you to forget that Christianity is not a patent medicine. Christianity claims to give an account of facts -- to tell you what the real universe is like. Its account of the universe may be true, or it may not, and once the question is really before you, then your natural inquisitiveness must make you want to know the answer. If Christianity is untrue, then no honest man will want to believe it, however helpful it might be: if it is true, every honest man will want to believe it, even if it gives him no help at all.

- C.S. Lewis, from an essay called "Man or Rabbit?"

Emphasis mine.

I am an atheist (the boring, old-fashioned kind that doesn't go to church) but I am with Lewis on this one, all the way.
posted by officer_fred at 10:10 AM on November 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


That's not so unusual. The majority of my Jewish friends are atheists or agnostic (myself included) and we still call ourselves Jews. Some even go to Temple. We are complex creatures.
posted by blurker at 10:11 AM on November 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


The words 'maybe' and 'perhaps', as generously used by the author, can perhaps be more enlightening than expressions of absolute certainty when it comes to spiritual matters.
posted by islander at 10:13 AM on November 7, 2013


The second- and third-most upvoted comments on the article are interesting because they capture both the snobbish-atheist are earnest-atheist perspective on the author's thoughts...

Reading that, I'm now imagining a children's magazine for atheist families with a Goofus and Gallant-like comic.

"Earnest Ernie respects others beliefs. Dickhead Dick snarks about bearded sky fairies."
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:14 AM on November 7, 2013 [15 favorites]


I was having a conversation with some friends many years ago, and one of us brought up the Quaker tradition of making furniture.

"That's Shakers that make furniture," said the one of us with the clue.

"What's the difference?" my friend asked.

"Oh, that's easy," replied one of us, "Shakers shake, and Quakers quake."
posted by not_on_display at 10:15 AM on November 7, 2013


I'm very happy to see this. I'm nonreligious, but spent a lot of time in Quaker environments as a teen, and have lately been feeling an urge to go to meeting. I'm going to finish reading this and think about it some more.
posted by feckless at 10:18 AM on November 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also, and not particularly related to this article, the history of Quakers is just fascinating. My favorite is finding out that the 17th century English Restoration folks were particularly worried about Quakers (out of all the dissenting groups) because their ranks were full of ex-New Model Army hard-bitten soldiers and they might at any point start a new army.
posted by feckless at 10:21 AM on November 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Good without God is possible.
posted by MonkeyToes at 10:23 AM on November 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


See, the thing is that religious expression can be really, really personal and individual. Even among the more "traditional", "organized" religions, if you take a couple of the adherants and quiz them about some of the key things you'll find that they differ greatly - because they're two different individual people, with their own individual collections of experiences and thoughts and feelings and needs and desires and hopes and fears. They may have both happened to both draw comfort and guidance and such from the same dogma, but the nature of the comfort and guidance and such is very different.

I frequently come across like a Catholic in here, but I haven't considered myself Catholic for years, in truth. I got my issues with the Catholic Church - and I'm not only talking about the recent news reports either. But there are things about Catholicism that resonate with me - just like I also find things that resonate with me among Judaism, Hindusim, Sufi poetry, Celtic-inspired neo-Paganism, a smattering of Tao, and a whole lot of other things. A lot of people would write me off as a cafeteria spiritualist - but so what. All I know is that I figured that God wired me the way I'm wired for a reason, and so the best way to be true to my peace with God is to be true to me - and if God's got an issue with me finding God in a lot of different places, well, then God should have wired me different.

And the same is true of all of us - the God I believe in doesn't even care whether people believe in Him or not. If atheism really works for you, then great. The point isn't whether you believe in this God or that one, or whether you even believe at all - the point is what that belief then helps you go on to become. If Quaker atheism is what does it, great. If novenas to Catholic saints which start off with incense placed before a statue of Ganesha do it, fabulous. If saying "God don't exist, but I know people do so I'm gonna work with being compassionate to people," super.

So yeah, Quaker atheism? That's not important - what's important is if it helps him be who he's supposed to be. And if it does, then awesome.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:24 AM on November 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


What's rarer: atheistic Quakers or theistic Jesuits?
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:28 AM on November 7, 2013


I'm a Quaker and an atheist too. I'm 22, and was pretty heavily involved in Quaker youth stuff in the UK until I was 18. Of the 200 or so young Quakers that I met, I can only think of two who were theistic (though there probably were a couple more, it wasn't a question that came up very often), so this isn't that rare.

Things are more mixed for the older people who make up the majority of meetings (especially rural ones). My parent's meeting is struggling to accommodate an old lady who believes she has visions of Jesus at the same time as some secular humanists. It's difficult to maintain a religious movement with so little dogma, and sometimes I wonder what purpose it fulfills, but fundamentally I think churches can make really nice little communities, and so it's great to be able to be a part of that without having to do the religion bit. As an awkward thirteen year-old I got a hell of a lot out of having a group of friends outside of school, in a kind and non-judgmental setting, and yeah, I still feel like a part of the community, even if my views on God have changed a lot since then.
posted by Ned G at 10:29 AM on November 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


"The point is: theological differences are not necessarily an issue when there’s work to be done."

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.
posted by MonkeyToes at 10:29 AM on November 7, 2013 [8 favorites]


The article certainly spoke to my condition: I was raised in an unprogrammed, Unitarian-ish Friends meeting [1], and recently began attending again after a long absence. I've been surprised to discover that (A) having a faith community has become rather important to me--not coincidentally, I recently married and have a kid on the way--and (B) my beliefs have been trending in a more explicitly Christian direction, despite the very non-Christian vibe of my Meeting (Weeks can go by without Jesus even being mentioned). As a result, I feel very attached to my Meeting and the moral principles it practices, even though our theological priors are on divergent paths.

And yet, I'd say that's normal for Friends. Since what unites Quakers isn't a shared creed, but a shared experience of silent worship [2], differences over belief are common. Not surprisingly, the history of Friends has been rife with schism and separation (including this one from earlier this year). But there is something invigorating in having contrasting voices in the same tent. I often feel greater affinity with an atheist who seeks the truth humbly and honestly than a self-righteous Christian who thinks he's got everything figured out (and vice versa). The Quaker tradition is filled with that sort of defiance of categories.

If you're interested in learning more about Friends, I'd start with this article by Eric Moon. It's about an inside baseball topic among Friends--whether to codify moral commitments to, say, pacifism or gender equality--but it gets at the heart of what makes Quakerism so distinctive among religions.

[1]: In the "Hicksite" branch, to be specific, represented today by Friends General Conference.
[2]: Silent worship is an essential component to any Quaker service, though it can play a small role, as it does among evangelical Friends, or comprise the entire service, as in the unprogrammed tradition.
posted by Cash4Lead at 10:33 AM on November 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


I've had Nontheist Friends bookmarked for a while. Case's essay is a good reason for me to revisit it; thank you.
posted by MonkeyToes at 10:52 AM on November 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


As a full fledged atheist Jew with a major skeptical and social justice leaning, this speaks fully to me.

I grew up in the Reform denomination going to synagogue very regularly, observing Shabbat and teaching Hebrew school. I dropped out of rabbinical study because I finally admitted my atheism, but I studied Judaism for 20 some-odd years before that. The rituals had deep meaning for me. For a while it felt right to abandon those rituals, but later, as became a little more mature in both my atheism and my self-awareness, I realized that the rituals and community were still worthwhile, despite not believing in the supernatural.

Ritual has nothing to do with a higher power, it has to do with being mindful of the seasons, my mental and physical health and my relationship to the world around me.These days I participate in many, many of the rituals of Judaism, taschlich, Yom Kippur (without the fasting), Rosh haShana, the Omer, Tu B'shvat and Sukkot to name a few. They are meaningful in and of themselves without a divine, they come from far more ancient traditions than Judaism and/or they are ways to mark the calendar in ways that fit with my life. There are even a few pagan rituals that have seemed like they would be a good fit and I've started to work those in.

I wish I had been more cognizant of the ability to interweave these concepts at such an early age.
posted by Sophie1 at 10:52 AM on November 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


My favorite is finding out that the 17th century English Restoration folks were particularly worried about Quakers (out of all the dissenting groups) because their ranks were full of ex-New Model Army hard-bitten soldiers and they might at any point start a new army.

According to some, this is partly the origin of the Peace Testimony among Quakers, as it's called today--George Fox's assertion to the king that "We utterly deny all outward wars and strife and fightings with outward weapons, for any end or under any pretence whatsoever. And this is our testimony to the whole world." Not necessarily that it was purely a religiously-driven repudiation of war (though he goes on to assert religious grounds for it) but that it was partly a plea against persecution by asserting that Quakers had no aggressive intentions.

I'm enjoying the ill-informed jokes in this thread. Always one of the best parts of being a Quaker: our relative invisibility and therefore the ignorance we get to bump into. A Nantucket Nectars cap declaring that there were no more Quakers by 1900 has been making the rounds of my Facebook friends the last week or so. This kind of thing is typical; one of my profs in college told the class there were no more Quakers. Practically every Quaker I know has a story like this.

I'm not sure I agree with the article's short statement about Conservative Friends. My experience with conservative yearly meetings in Iowa and North Carolina is that they tend to be both theologically and socially more conservative than liberal unprogrammed Friends. I have an acquaintance, for instance, whose conservative yearly meeting has refused to record her ministry (the closest thing unprogrammed Quakers have to ordination and something that is much more common among conservative than liberal Quakers) because she is in a relationship with another woman. But you can never get all the nuances in a single sentence.

Godly Play is an interesting curriculum that encourages kids to engage with Bible stories on their own terms. It isn't a specifically Quaker curriculum though it's gaining in popularity among Quakers in recent years, and when I went to an introductory workshop for it I learned that there were Quaker modules being created with the permission of the curriculum publishers.

Nice to see some other MetaFilter Quakers!
posted by not that girl at 10:53 AM on November 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


All I can say is that so much of this rings true to me as well. I would never describe myself as an atheist; that implies more certainty in the universe than I am capable of. I describe myself as an agnostic, and yet my time as a Quaker is something I think of fondly. Perhaps it was the exploration of the ideas, and the willingness to embrace uncertainty in a world so intent on absolutes?
posted by petrilli at 11:00 AM on November 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Somehow an atheist Quaker makes more sense to me than a Randian Rationalist Evangelical yet the latter are far more common these days.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:02 AM on November 7, 2013 [19 favorites]


Going To Maine: "they capture both the snobbish-atheist are earnest-atheist perspective on the author's thoughts"

To the former I would say: don't be a dick

To the latter: yes, knowing that a placebo is a placebo is irrelevant. The trick here is not belief in truth. It's the practice of ritual amplified by targeted, temporally limited faith in the parameters and elements of the ritual. Ritual is a powerful tool to interact with our own minds and bodies. It works best when you can perform rituals with absolute faith and without residual doubt. The trick is that maintaining this faith is not required past the (temporal) scope of the ritual itself. In fact its dangerous to do so. If you hold onto these beliefs you'll end up founding a religion or at least writing lots of books filled with woo.

If asked to describe my understanding of the world I'd have to say I'm an atheist and consider the scientific method to be the best and only tool to explore the objective nature of reality as far as such a nature exists or can be analyzed (I draw the line at what I perceive to be an unbridgeable gap between "map" (model) and "territory" (reality)). I'm also a practicing Buddhist studying martial arts under a Chan Buddhist monk. When in practice I have utter unshakable faith in the spiritual/religious/practical concepts tied to it and I submit to his authority without question. When I strike a target I have in that moment complete faith that it literally isn't there as the physical thing it appears to be, that its true nature is emptiness while its apparent nature is a product of my mind and thus under its control and that I will move through it as if it was air. My mind is able to enter this state through the ritualistic nature of the practice and the utilization of the mind's capability for placing faith in the truth of things. While this doesn't guarantee success in destroying the object (try it with a steel plate) it does improve the odds of success dramatically. The real trick is to not let the success of these methods fool you into converting temporary beliefs used as tools to align and optimize mental and physical activity into permanent beliefs in some sort of absolute truth or the existence of magic. And the long game here of course is to realize that all things appearing to be true remain questionable.

So I place absolute faith in ridiculous magical ideas and concepts because it gets me from point A to point B more often than if I don't. But I also know my faith's usefulness is restricted to particular contexts and actions and that outside of these it resembles utter nonsense. Yet it is undeniably a powerful tool and access to it is easiest through ritual.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 11:07 AM on November 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was glad to read this as it reminds me of the varieties of atheist experience. Given Sherwin Wine's Humanistic Judaism and the Religious Humanisms of the early to mid-twentieth century, I'm not surprised to see atheists looking for paths through Quakerism or other Christian traditions, even as those paths aren't for me. I've never felt the visceral want Case speaks of and I do feel the "stuff of the world" explanations "deep down in my toes." A naturalist understanding of the cosmos fills me with far more joy (and sorrow and other emotions) than any other framework ever has.

Case touches on an important point in saying "But we do still need impossible magic for our own irrational selves. At any rate, I do." I don't think the personal "At any rate, I do" can be stressed enough in understanding the different ways individuals approach these questions. The essay reminds me of certain parts of Humanist Chaplain Greg Epstein's Good Without God, as Epstein seems to share some of Case's religious perspective that other atheists lack. For example, at one point Epstein says that English has no atheist way of expressing "There but for the grace of God go I" that carries the same emotional impact, but for a naturalist long-studied in the vagaries of chance the phrase "That could just as easily have been me" might hold greater emotional impact.

Our engagement with ideas depends on our different backgrounds, on what Case describes as the stories we find engaging. And it can be hard coming to terms with the strong attachments people have to ideas you don't share. Just as I can't feel what Case describes as the longing of his irrational self, I suspect that, given his comment that "the stars are now too far away to be our friends or speak to us in our time of need," he would not understand first-hand the deep succor I draw from Sagan's starstuff idea that the stars in the night sky remind us of our unity and common heritage.
posted by audi alteram partem at 11:14 AM on November 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


Raised Quaker, 14 years of Quaker school. (Of course "Fight, Quakers, Fight" is a thing. MY HIGH SCHOOL EXPERIENCE IS VALID.)

The only surprising thing about this is that it's even a thing at all. I knew Quakers who believed all kinds of different things when it came to the most deity-related aspects of religious belief. I don't know if I'd have said I knew a lot of atheist Quakers, but I certainly knew Quakers who did and Quakers who didn't consider themselves Christians.

As others have noted, I was in east-coast unplanned-Meeting Quakerism, but at least there, this wouldn't even be a blip on the radar, or it wasn't to me.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 11:27 AM on November 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Hey, me too. I like "Quatheist", thank-you-very-much.
posted by zug at 12:09 PM on November 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


On Sundays I go to Catholic Mass with my family, go and get bagels, and then I attend Quaker meeting for worship. Mass gives me a focal point for the week's free-floating anger, the bagels introduce an element of redemption, and the Friends make me like people again. On Monday the cycle starts over again. It works for me.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 12:14 PM on November 7, 2013 [10 favorites]


Seems like it has the makings of a good username in there somewhere.
posted by A dead Quaker at 1:01 PM on November 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


For example, at one point Epstein says that English has no atheist way of expressing "There but for the grace of God go I" that carries the same emotional impact

I'm fond of "...weather permitting."

I have a quaker education and my mom hung out with cool ass nuns, but I had a very secular upbringing and mindset and still do. But my early contact with religion was very positive, and still to this day I get a little confused when I talk to someone who has a hardline, conservative religious viewpoint that offends my humanism, both because of my own strong agnosticism and because my general early impression of religion was "oh these are the nice, calm people who smile a lot, but not too much and have such good healthy cookies and apple cider and, sure an overfondness for acoustic guitar and wool socks and sandals, but who's perfect?"
posted by Divine_Wino at 1:18 PM on November 7, 2013


we humans are built for a different kind of rigour than that of evidentiary fact

Yeah. If you're going to be an atheist, you might want to rethink the 'humans are built' part.
posted by lumpenprole at 2:34 PM on November 7, 2013


Not even William Gibson could have conceived of a Quatheist in his wildest dystopian visions.
posted by Renoroc at 2:36 PM on November 7, 2013


we humans are built for a different kind of rigour than that of evidentiary fact

Yeah. If you're going to be an atheist, you might want to rethink the 'humans are built' part.


Atheism is apparently pretty darn orthodox about language.
posted by Going To Maine at 2:45 PM on November 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


Yeah. If you're going to be an atheist, you might want to rethink the 'humans are built' part.

That phrase doesn't necessarily imply that humans have been built by a god. I'm an atheist (or probably more appropriately, a nontheist) but embrace the idea that humans been built by evolution, pattern, custom, truth, etc.

On preview: Nodding.
posted by mochapickle at 2:48 PM on November 7, 2013


You catch more flies with honey, atheists.

/ducks
posted by Artw at 2:50 PM on November 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've been going to Quaker meetings on and off for about three years now, and I found that a lot of this article resonated with me. I'm pretty much a theist, but I do struggle with the idea of God. I find it easy to engage with the morality and ideas of Quakerism, but actually living in a Quaker way, and engaging with it as a religion is difficult for me at times even though it's the religious part that I feel most drawn to a lot of the time.

The silent worship of Friends is both one of the reasons I keep going back - I intellectually agree with the reasoning behind, and much of the time find it fulfilling - but it's also a thing I have a problem with. I sometimes wish for structured worship, with rituals and songs. To some extent, I feel a longing for the church-based community I had growing up Evangelical. Christian language and stories work for me in a way I don't think those of another religion ever could, though I get different things out of them than I did as a child (and than I think the church I grew up in would have wanted me to get out of them). I tried going to a Mennonite Church to get that, who were lovely, and I enjoyed myself, but the songs and the structure were different to what I grew up with, so there was a gulf there. I think I might go back though, and I'll certainly keep going to Meeting for Worship.
posted by Law of Demeter at 4:01 PM on November 7, 2013


The only surprising thing about this is that it's even a thing at all.

Absolutely. This is not at all uncommon. I've been a Quaker attender for a long time and have worked at two Quaker institutions. Today, I go to a Unitarian church because I don't live near a Quaker meeting. There have been athiests and agnostics at all the meetings I've participated in in both denominations. I myself identify as a Christian, a Quaker, and an agnostic, and none of those are in conflict for me. I'm glad to see a greater awareness developingof these faith communities which support a breadth of belief and pursuit of inquiry.
posted by Miko at 7:40 PM on November 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


embrace the idea that humans been built

Well, "built" sort of implies a teleology. Maybe "accreted?"
posted by Miko at 7:46 PM on November 7, 2013


Also nontheist quakers are usually called Unitarians.

No, that is completely wrong. Unitarians have their own separate and distinct theological tradition, and it's not "nontheist Quaker." Not by a long shot. And Unitarians are not in the aggregate a "nontheist" faith - Unitarianism includes theism. They are two definitely different branches off the Abrahamic tree. There are a lot of Christian Unitarians, and a lot of atheist, nontheist, and a.gnostic Unitarians, as I noted above.

People tend to conflate these two religions because they are both the most theologically liberal offshoots of Protestant Christianity. Yet they are quite distinct, and each has a theological tradition; though, from the outside, it can seem like "believe whatever you want" is the tradition in both, and in fact honoring the individual discovery of spiritual truth is central to both, they are still not not the same religion.

Just as a data point, I, personally, am having some trouble thinking about moving more closely to the Unitarian Church I attend, which feels to me like an abandonment of some of the Quaker principles I've internalized. It's not an easy transition where they're basically the same flavor. There are some important differences in everything from the intellectual foundations to congregational management and spiritual leadership and liturgy and so on - the things that make a denomination a denomination.
posted by Miko at 7:53 PM on November 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm an atheist who married into a Quaker family. Though I wouldn't call myself a Quaker, I've gotten a lot out of attending meeting and learning some Quaker ways of thinking and doing. I'd say it's a religion that I agree with rather than believe in.
posted by mbrubeck at 9:42 PM on November 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


It was an interesting article and rang true for the atheist Quakers I've known. I really like how he explained his need for ritual and community and made sense of it.

And from my mom's Quaker college: blood makes the grass grow!
posted by Margalo Epps at 9:47 PM on November 7, 2013


After blowing off the church permanently I attended a memorial service in a Quaker meeting hall (or whatever it's called). Nice, I liked how there was zero iconography and also no service leader. Anyone could talk and many did. If my church had been like this when I was growing up, I probably wouldn't have shitcanned it.
posted by telstar at 1:21 AM on November 8, 2013


It's weird. I went to The Friends School in Hobart (Tasmania) and there were plenty of agnostic/atheist quakers. The main thing this article has left with me is that I guess Tassie was a lot more isolated and sparsely populated so people just kind of appreciated the community spirit and went with it rather than identifying the "quaker community" as some kind of different group. It wasn't big enough for that when I left, let alone a hundred years earlier.

We did a lot of the activities this article describes but it was never a "hey we all have to sit in a circle and talk about this story now" so much as "hey you kids look bored, here's a story". It's weird to me reading about it in this context, I was brought up thinking that quakerism was founded by a guy that wouldn't take his hat off in court and that conventional traditions were pointless to anyone who lived their life doing the right things by others.

Personally I lapse back and forth between agnosticism and quakerism but I guess the main thrust of every good religion is "be nice". Everything else in the respective book is just explaining what nice means, and I think the truth lies in the crossover between texts rather than the holy truth of one book. The quaker concept of continuous revelation appeals to me, mainly because it holds the bible in the context I think it should - a 2000 year old self help book that has survived the test of time, but is getting a bit outdated in places. People aren't re-writing things, but it's open for discussion.

Anyway, I guess what is weird to me is that people in the US are so staunch about it. It kind of goes against what I was taught and I guess I should go to a meeting soon rather than talking about it here.

I have to say that while I'm a bit weirded out about the tone of the article and the comments, I'm really happy that I've found a place on the internet where people don't launch into reddit level LOL ATHEISM when any mention of religion pops up. Thanks everyone.
posted by gronkpan at 1:36 AM on November 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also nontheist quakers are usually called Unitarians.

No, that is completely wrong...


It was also a joke, but one you quite nicely stepped into!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 5:06 AM on November 8, 2013


Wait, that doesn't fit the tune, such as it is.
posted by nonane at 5:33 AM on November 8, 2013


I'm pretty sure that anything that's popular with any over 40's set isn't really going to be hip.

Hip replacement, perhaps?
posted by yoink at 9:12 AM on November 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


It was also a joke, but one you quite nicely stepped into!

Well, I didn't exactly miss that you were trying to be funny there - I can recognize that you intended it to be humorous, but it's also a very common misunderstanding that many people actually believe, which is why I wanted to correct it and not just let it stand so that only those in the know would recognize it. The idea that Unitarians don't believe in a deity, or don't believe in anything, as a group, is so embedded a thought, and at the same time so misleading, that the newcomer education at the church I've been going to deals with it head on. Once you get deeper into the theology of both of these religions the joke just falls apart and just doesn't make sense for either group.
posted by Miko at 11:14 AM on November 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


officer_fred: Lewis is looked on fondly by people who think it's only worth believing something if it's true. Evangelicals like him too (well, the British ones did, when I was one. There were some American ones who were sniffy about his drinking and smoking a pipe, ISTR). After all, "if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain... If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.", right? The difference between them and the rational atheist crowd is that they think that their belief (in God, the resurrection and so on) is true.

I sometimes see this turned into an argument for sophistical spirituality along the lines of "evangelicalism and modern atheism are two sides of the same coin, but the important thing is that I've found a way to feel superior to both of them".

But in fact, just because the evangelicals are wrong about the facts, doesn't mean they're wrong about everything. In particular, it doesn't mean that looking for evidence for their claims and believing only if there is any is the wrong approach. It certainly makes more sense than the sort of approach being mocked by this character:

"None of them lie, Inspector. There are no lies in religion. There are apparent facts that are illusions. There are words to be taken figuratively. There are ideas that are symbols of deeper truths. There are no lies. The people who sent me to the Middle East told us we would destroy an Evil Empire. They didn't lie, either." The lieutenant, The Night Sessions by Ken Macleod
posted by pw201 at 5:57 AM on November 9, 2013


Peter McD: Poor old Bishop Jenkins was misquoted and now has the label of "the bishop that said the resurrection was a conjuring trick" hanging round his neck forever. But he didn't refer to the resurrection as a conjuring trick, rather, he said it wasn't one:
'To believe in a Christian way, you don't necessarily have to have a belief that Jesus was born from literally a virgin mother, nor a precise belief that the risen Jesus had a literally physical body,' he said; and when this was attacked, he responded with a phrase that would continue to dog him: '(The Resurrection) is real. That's the point. All I said was 'literally physical'. I was very careful in the use of language. After all, a conjuring trick with bones proves only that somebody's very clever at a conjuring trick with bones.'
In other words, he was being a sophisticated theologian: to be a Christian, one need not believe that God would have done anything so vulgar as physically resurrecting someone, which would have been like a conjuring trick. All that stuff about bodily resurrection in the creeds and in the gospels is to be understood at a deeper level: there are no lies in religion, after all.
posted by pw201 at 6:09 AM on November 9, 2013


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