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.
- 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 heresy.
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.”
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.)