Archive for August, 2006

To all Friends everywhere

Two things, loosely related.
First, an item of business. I’m launching a new blog today called To all Friends everywhere, which will publish recent epistles, written by yearly meetings or other Friends bodies on a weekly basis, in an attempt to bring the Quaker blogosphere and the real-world RSoF closer together. There is a longer introduction […]

Taking a break from blogging by blogging about blogging

For anyone else who uses WordPress, or thinks they might in the future (reminder: I’m willing to host other Q-blogs and sites at, here are the fruits of my many hours spent trying to make my blog look and work nicely, which you may find helpful.
I started out just customizing the default theme Kubrick, […]

NEYM roundup, one week after

Below is a roundup of blog posts on the 346th sessions of New England Yearly Meeting, which ended last Thursday. I found about a dozen posts, depending on how you count them. And I was going to write up little blurbs for each post, but decided quotes were less work.
Peterson Toscano of A Musing wrote […]

Announcing Quaker-E

Last week I finally got the technical details worked out for Quaker-E, a Quaker environmentalist mailing list that Pam and I have been talking about starting.

You are hereby invited to join if you are:

  • an environmentalist with an interest in Quakerism, or
  • a Quaker with an interest in the environment. . .

James Riemermann’s ‘Two Gods at least’

I didn’t intend to start posting on atheism/nontheism as much as I have lately, but I just wanted to highlight a post on the (relatively unnoticed, it seems) Nontheist Friends blog by James Riemermann, which I think is insightful. . .

‘There is no God’ at New England Yearly Meeting

Two days at a big Quaker gathering couldn’t have come at a better time.

I went mostly to see old and new friends. But I had low hopes for the actual quakerizing. I’ve been a bit unexcited about Quakers lately.

But I went to New England Yearly Meeting anyway, for the weekend at least, to see some people I like.

I was heartened when the keynote by Lloyd Lee Wilson was better and less exclusionary than I expected. I was heartened even more by the following period of worship. [Note: we atheist Quakers must find a new word for this.] One Friend spoke, deeply and movingly, but very simply, of oceanic heavings that are going on below us, signaling a new continent that we are approaching.

But the real suprises came in a meeting on Sunday morning.

  • A Friend spoke about her difficulty in believing in God, and how she has been helped by adapting a Buddhist breathing meditation such that she would alternately breathe the words “There is a God” and “There is no God.”
  • Another Friend said (I think this was the gist) that she has no problem believing in God in a meeting for worship, but that what she has trouble with is believing that despite all the “insanity” in the world, God is in control of it all. If I recall correctly, however, she seemed to be reaffirming that “he” is in control, rather than simply expressing her doubts about this.
  • Another Friend said that the issue is not whether there is a God, but why we hide from him. He added to this the thought that despite there having been 200 or so genocides since history began, God somehow intended them, and that they all somehow work out for the good, and we simply cannot comprehend the mysteries of this divine orchestration.
  • Another Friend sang an improvised song, which I think went like this: There is a God/His love surrounds me/There is no God/Our love surrounds us
  • Lastly, I think, another Friends said, twice, “It doesn’t matter whether there is a God,” because (clumsy paraphrase) our experience in gathered meetings and the love of our community is sufficient in itself.


To be sure, the theists are the majority in NEYM.

And some of them are more conservative than I realized: I was surprised to hear such hardline versions of theism coming from the mouths of liberal Quakers: that God is controlling all events, including genocide, and presumably child abuse and rape and factory farms – all as part of his master plan, all for good reasons that we puny humans simply cannot comprehend.

And even the atheist sentiment above is pretty tame – no one simply said “There is no God” and stopped there.

But what shocked me was how moderate (if not weak) was the reaction against this unexpected flowering of the ultimate heresey.

I mean, I didn’t hear anything that sounded like a straightforward rebuttal until a meeting many hours later, when a Friend said bluntly “God simply exists.”

Which, to this observer, sounded like a beginning of an end.

I’d like to expand on the last post (the long anti-theistic quote from Bakunin) at a later date. I realize it is pretty vitriolic and ‘un-Quakerly,’ but I think it’s good for Friends to hear harsh words from non-Quakers sometimes. Because we’re so ignored by the mainstream culture, we rarely have the chance to see how we appear to other thinking people. (Try reading these bits of Catholic and Protestant anti-Quakeriana.)

On ‘honest but timid souls’

‘The Friend speaks my mind’ – 19th-century political revolutionary Mikhail Bakunin on God, authority-lovers, and a group that sounds a lot (to my jaded ears) like liberal Quakers, in a memorable, withering passage:

bakunin expressionist.GIFThere is a class of people who, if they do not believe, must at least make a semblance of believing. This class comprising all the tormentors, all the oppressors, and all the exploiters of humanity; priests, monarchs, statesmen, soldiers, public and private financiers, officials of all sorts, policemen, gendarmes, jailers and executioners, monopolists, capitalists, tax-leeches, contractors and landlords, lawyers, economists, politicians of all shades, down to the smallest vendor of sweetmeats, all will repeat in unison those words of Voltaire:

“If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.”

There exists, finally, a somewhat numerous class of honest but timid souls. . .

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  • I am separated, as to bodily presence, from you; but I cannot forget you, because ye are written on my heart, and I cannot but desire your peace and welfare, as of my own soul.

    And this is my present cry for you. Oh that ye might feel the breath of life, that life which at first quickened you, and which still quickeneth, being felt; and that breath of life has power over death; and being felt by you, will bow down death in you, and ye will feel the seed lifting up its head over that which oppresseth it.

    Isaac Penington
    To friends of truth in and about the two Chalfonts

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