Archive for the 'meta' Category

A post-Quaker vision of the Society of Friends

I’m going to take a hiatus from Quaker blogging, for at least a month or two, though I’ll probably still be contributing to my non-Quaker blog and to Quakerpedia, a Quaker wiki reference project I’m working on, as well as commenting on other blogs.
Partially this is because I want to devote more time to my […]

New non-Quaker blog: Evolt

I just started a new blog as a place to put everything I think about that doesn’t seem suitable for Quaker blog, called Evolt. I’ll write about politics and culture of all sorts there. I’ll explain the name later (there, not here). In case you’re interested, I’m pasting the text of the first post here, […]

More on the Quaker blogosphere

Briefly — On the topic of a Quaker blogging “book of discipline,”* there’s a conversation going on in the comments to a recent post by Brooklyn Quaker (beginning here) about that very subject. The post is about the issue of whether the idea that “there is that of God in every person” is a traditional Quaker idea or a modern one, but at one point Rich felt he needed to delete some comments, and afterwards asked his readers for feedback. I’m posting about it because I think it’s a good idea (as I blogged about last month).

*I think this is a better name for such a concept than “Faith and Practice,” because “Faith & Practice” implies that we Quaker bloggers somehow have a common “faith,” when we obviously do not. But despite this, we could come up with a common set of guidelines for handling disputes, etc., and I think “Book of Discipline” captures this better as a phrase (and also, in my limited reading of old F&Ps/BoDs, when a YM book is called a “book of discpline” it tends to focus on just that – practices and procedures, rather than theology).

Why green anarchist Quakerism? (Take 1)

As promised last post, I want to explain why I’m trying in this blog to put [green] anarchism into dialogue with this funky old religious sect know as the Quakers, speaking mostly to my non-Quaker readers. It’s a little messy, but that’s the scenario around these parts for the time being. (Compare: “My Shtick in a Nutshell,” where Orthodox Anarchist does something similar.)

There are basically two reasons, at least coming at this question from the G@ side of things. Coming at it from the Quaker side would require a different answer.


For one thing, I think anarchists in general have a problem gaining acceptance for our ideas. Right now we’re barely even a force to be reckoned with, and I’ve seen a lot of threads on Infoshop News where people seemed to realize this (and be frustrated about it). In terms of the relevance of our ideas, I think we are absolutely the bona-fide, where-it’s-at political revolutionists of the 21st century, yet somehow we can’t solve our image and outreach problems. (Funny, that sounds like Quakers…)

what indeed...So what’s the solution?

I don’t know, but one small piece of the puzzle that I think is promising is to try to influence this funky old religious community known as the Religious Society of Friends (aka Quakers) to adopt more green and outwardly anarchistic habits.

Why them? Well, we already have a generally progressive political orientation, and are internally non-hierarchical (at least traditionally; some have abandoned this), so moving to anarchism and direct democracy in other spheres is less of a stretch than it is for most people. Also, for an international community numbering in the hundreds of thousands, we’re remarkably open to change. And historically Quakers have been an influential group, considering our numbers, so the odds are good that whatever happens among Friends will have an effect on the wider culture.

Hopefully, through the work of green-minded Friends, Friends as a whole will take stronger and stronger stands on the earth as time goes by. And I hope against coercive authority too, though I think I am in much smaller company in this endeavor.


So that all fits in a box labeled “why it may be good to try to get Quakers to become more green and/or anarchistic.”

The other box is “why it may be good to try to get (green) anarchists to become more Quaker-like.”

Why would I say that?

Well, what is politics about? For anarchists and their leftist ancestors, it’s about trying to solve the problems in the world by changing the social, political or economic structures of our world – granting rights, starting programs, protecting forests, and so on. Fixing the badness that surrounds us.

What’s missing from the picture in almost every case are the problems that cannot be solved by any structural change – the badness in individuals.

Ideally, we will find the perfect way of structuring (or destructuring) society, and then when we establish it we’ll be transformed from the petty, lazy assholes we are into kind, open-hearted angels. But that’s never going to happen, is it? If humanity were placed into a green anarchist utopia tomorrow, we’d find some way to fuck it up.

Because we need a “revolution of the human heart” every bit as much as we need an old-style political one. Which for me is where spirituality or religion comes in.

I absolutely don’t want to suggest that religion is the only thing that can help solve these problems of the individual, or even that it generally does so – in fact I often find that religion makes people more petty and spiteful, not less. But I have also seen the great potential for good that it has – both in history, in my own life and in my friends’ lives.

Which could all be used as an argument for religious anarchism in general, but I want to advocate for Quakerism in particular, because when it’s at its best it’s profoundly compatible with the anarchist ethic in a way that few if any religious traditions are.

pope.jpg(Case in point: a lot of Christian anarchists, a majority of whom, I reckon, are politically and economically anti-authoritarian but love and obey authority when it comes to religion. One Catholic anarchist wrote in a forum topic I started, It seems you find some tensions between political radicalism and theological conservatism. I myself find them to be quite compatible, however. I take my politics radical, my theology orthodox, and my coffee black. Shiver me timbers.)

In fact, one way of looking at Quakerism is as a sort of DIY, non-hierarchical group psychotherapy* with a strong political component, all couched in Judeo-Christian or semi-Judeo-Christian vocabulary (but friendly to non-Christians and beginning to be atheist-friendly).

In my somewhat limited experience in radical/anarchist circles, there is a hunger for something like that (maybe minus the vocab) – something that will speak to our inward condition and not merely our outward. Something that I think Quakerism, or at least more radicalized version of it, could provide.

(I’ll leave that phrase “a more radicalized version of it” intentionally vague.)

When I was in England, for example, there was an activist I met once who was talking a lot with people about trying to start something that sounded very like that.

The goal was to help activists deal with trauma inflicted upon them by the police and other authorites. He and his partner, for example, had been beaten by the cops before, and were having a hard time dealing with it, which, if I recall, he said was compounded on his or her part by childhood trauma from other abusive authorities.

I would set my sights for “anarcho-quakerism” higher than just activist damage control, to be sure. But I think there is a deep commonality between what that activist was seeking and what Quakerism could one day provide to the radical community.

*I know this “psychologizing” gloss of Quakerism will make many of my Quaker readers cringe. But I think much of this reaction may be because such readers have an unjustified prejudice against “psychotherapy” — as if trying to heal people’s souls/hearts/minds (or one’s own) were a tawdry thing — perhaps because they have issues with some particular version of psychotherapy (e.g. 19th-century precritical Freudianism), or can’t see the spiritual aspect of all things psychological and vice versa. (There’s a reason the root psykhe means “soul” as well as “mind.”)

Thoughts on the Quaker blogosphere

I think the Quaker blogosphere is getting kind of overwhelming.

I remember when I started, there were about a dozen or so of us (Martin, Rich, Amanda, Rob, Lorcan, beppe, Pam, Liz, etc.), and we mostly all were familiar with each other, and it was possible to keep up on everyone’s blogs. Now, I think there’s thirty or forty and counting. Which might not sound like a lot, but it’s more than anyone can reasonably keep up with.

Which is fine – there’s no need to keep up with all of it. But the whole giant verb-fest still sometimes seems to suffer from two problems:

Free, single + disengaged

I wish I had an impressive first post for this new version of this blog, now that I’ve migrated to a new host and blog platform, and more importantly, opened a new chapter (if not volume) in my life, free from the oppressive atmosphere of my college and ready to take on the world.

But my plans to do great things, at least in the worlds of eco-anarchism and Quaker ministry, have hit a couple snags.

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  • Nils: Zach, I find this idea, of creating a positive alternative to 'magical-thinking' religion, very appealing, even thoug...
  • Kirk: Over and over, I see Quakers as emphasizing process over product, and that's a good thing. But process is much harder to...
  • Zach: And it's not a rant at all! :) (By the way, since this is your first time posting here your comments were automatical...
  • Zach: Judy, Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments. I'm not excited by the prospect of disowning or not admitting...
  • Judy: Zach, On the subject of disownment, I am aware of a midwest FGC affiliated monthly meeting that disowned a member bec...
  • Zach: Hi John, Thank you for your thoughts. I've appreciated your comments elsewhere, and I'm glad to see your response to th...
  • John Helding: Zac, Just read, sped-read through this thread and a couple of things come up for me primarily from your last post. ...


  • So his initial message was always the same: give up your dependence on doctrines, rituals, preachers and everything else that is external to you, and find the light within you because that will teach you all you need to know. And you already know what the light is, because it's that that makes you uncomfortable about the things you do wrong. So take note of those uncomfortable feelings, and let 'the light in your conscience' show you what they're all about it. If you allow it to, the light will show you the whole truth of your life, and if you then accept that truth, it will set you free – free from guilt and shame, but also free from the powerful desires that made you act wrongly in the first place.

    Rex Ambler,
    Light to Live By p. 7

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