I have much been influenced by Quaker thoughts and ways. Their horizontal power structures in their church organisations, their intelligent, practical good works, the sheer good will that you can feel at any meeting of the Friends – I don’t know why I didn’t become a member years ago! (Well, actually, I do; but that’s a story for another day.)
If ever you’re in London pop into Friends House book store opposite Euston Station, it’s about the only Christian bookseller left in the city. The section on peace is impressive. Most of the quotes in this post are taken from books by David Boulton, who has been a big influence on me, see end for titles; and from speakers I have heard at Quaker Quest meetings on Monday nights. These are held in the basement of Friends House and are for non-members to have a snack and a drink, hear some speakers and ask questions and have a discussion and half an hour of trademark Quaker silent meditation.
Interestingly, more and more members of this small Christian denomination (ca. 20,000 in the UK) class themselves, like me, as non-theists. This is the same as being an atheist (some one who does not believe in God) except that there are no aggressively militant connotations: it is more a calm philosophical view-point.
This post is a list of quotes, mainly from Quaker sources, though the first is from the Romantic poet William Blake (1757-1827).
- “All deities reside in the human breast”. I put this in because it echoes the English Dissenter and Quaker founder George Fox (1624-1691):
- “There is that of God in all men.”
- The rest of the quotes are from the last few decades.
“God might just be present in every human.” – Quaker Quest speaker.
- “I add an ‘o’ — I believe in ‘Good’ rather than ‘God’.” – Q.Q. speaker.
- “So God becomes for us the imagined symbol of the human values that we recognise as making an ultimate claim on us. We can respond with all our heart and all our mind and all our strength to the promptings of love and truth in our hearts without first having to sign up to a belief in a transcendent prompter. Love and truth are themselves the prompters.” (David Boulton “Quaker identity and the heart of our faith” Quaker Life (2008).
- “When we see ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ we do not protest that science has shown us there are no fairies. When we read ‘Lord of the Rings’ we do not complain that there is no evidence for the existence of hobbits. In these realms of imagination we are exploring and celebrating what it is to be human. ‘The glory jest and riddle of the world’ (Pope) And that is how it is too when we knowingly perform the same ‘suspension of disbelief’ in the drama of religious worship, slipping out of our everyday prose into the poetry of God language; allowing good to be hitched to a fiction, an image, a symbol. That is very different from hitching it to a lie.” (David Boulton “Godless for God’s sake” (2006) p. 12.
- “…think through what the word ‘God’ is symbolising. What is the substance of the metaphor. What is it we are praising, affirming and celebrating when we praise, affirm and celebrate God? What else but the values our tradition has assigned to God?: truth, justice, compassion and loving kindness. Are these not precisely what the word God stands for?” (David Boulton op. cit.)
- “(I) believe, trust and have complete faith in the attributes of a God I understand to be no more, but gloriously no less, than the symbol of these values.” (David Boulton, op. cit. p. 13)
- “Early Friends had the wisdom to concern themselves with orthopraxy, right practice, rather than with orthodoxy, right belief.” (R. Alpern in Boulton op.cit.)
- “Ago, ergo sum [I act therefore I am] with the emphasis on relationship and action, like 2 sides of a coin.” (John Macmurray, theologian and Quaker, commenting on Descartes’ famous formula ‘Cogito, ergo sum’ [I think, therefore I am].
- “Since the non-theist does not believe in God, she cannot take those aspects of the tradition that are expressed in God language at face value. Instead she chooses to assume that those expressions reflect, in some distorted way, an important underlying experience. She further chooses to assume that it may be possible to revive that experience by groping for a way of re-expressing it without mentioning God.” (R. Alpern in Boulton op. cit. p.66)
- “God is some idea, a concept of goodness that exists within us all.” (L. Alpern in Boulton op. cit p.128)
And there’s plenty more where that came from.
Books by David Boulton:
(i) Godless for God’s sake. Nontheism in contemporary Quakerism, by 27 Quaker nontheists, edited by David Boulton, Dale Historical Monographs (2006)
(ii) The trouble with God. Building the republic of heaven. O Books (2005)
(iii) Who on earth was Jesus? The modern quest for the Jesus of history. O Books (2008)
(iv) Gerrard Winstanley and the republic of heaven. Dales Historical Monographs (1999)
TO BE CONTINUED