Yesterday Simon Jenkins wrote an opinion piece in The Guardian, The Quakers are right. We don’t need God. The subtitle reads “The group is considering dropping God from its meetings guidance as it makes some feel uncomfortable. This is the new religiosity”.
That’s a provocative title and has been shared more than 4,000 times on social media.
Some quotes from the article:
“The Quakers are clearly on to something. At their annual get-together this weekend they are reportedly thinking of dropping God from their “guidance to meetings”. The reason, said one of them, is because the term “makes some Quakers feel uncomfortable”. Atheists, according to a Birmingham University academic, comprise a rising 14% of professed Quakers, while a full 43% felt “unable to profess a belief in God”. They come to meetings for fellowship, rather than for higher guidance. The meeting will also consider transgenderism, same-sex marriage, climate change and social media. Religion is a tiring business.”
“The Quakers’ lack of ceremony and liturgical clutter gives them a point from which to view the no man’s land between faith and non-faith that is the “new religiosity”. A dwindling 40% of Britons claim to believe in some form of God, while a third say they are atheists. But that leaves over a quarter in a state of vaguely agnostic “spirituality”. Likewise, while well over half of Americans believe in the biblical God, nearly all believe in “a higher power or spiritual force”.”
“The sublimity of Dolobran meeting house and the exhilaration of Ely cathedral offer more than an emotional A&E unit. They offer places so uplifting that anyone can find it in themselves to sit, think, clear their heads and order their thoughts. There is no need for gods or religion to rest and be refreshed.
To that, Quakerism has added the experience of standing up and expressing doubts, fears and joys amid a company of “friends”, who respond only with their private silence. The therapy is that of shared experience. Clear God from the room, and the Quakers are indeed on to something.”
I was shocked when I first read the title, and after reading it, still not sure how seriously some these remarks are meant to be taken. I assume he is speaking more literally about the ideas and practices that many religions have developed in their forms of worship that often get in the way of people’s relationship with God.
I believe the key statement is “a full 43% felt ‘unable to profess a belief in God'” (in Great Britain). It is interesting that the statistics noted above are so different with Americans (well over half of Americans believe in the biblical God, nearly all believe in “a higher power or spiritual force”)
My experience with Quakers is limited mainly to Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative), and while in Indianapolis, with North Meadow Circle of Friends, who I found to be very similar to Iowa Friends. This distinction is important because the word ‘conservative’ refers to retaining or preserving many of the beliefs and practices of the ‘original’ Quakers (Quakerism began in Great Britain in the mid 1600’s). The core of those beliefs is that every person is capable of communicating directly with God today, to hear spiritual messages from God, and speak back to God. God is our guiding force, so we could not say “we don’t need God”, as the article puts it.
I have found even among ‘conservative’ Friends either difficulty or reluctance to use the word ‘God’. Usually, I think, because of the unhelpful thoughts or ideas that others associate with the word. My experience is that ‘conservative’ Friends do believe in God. But I have heard many Friends say they have not themselves had a personal experience with God. I often wonder what that means for their spiritual life. Having been blessed to have had such experiences myself has been so meaningful, in so many different ways, in my own life.
North Meadow Friends meeting, and I know other meetings do some form of this, has a practice of inviting members to share their “spiritual journey.” About once a month someone will have been asked to share their spiritual journey. Everyone enjoys hearing these stories very much and we learn quite a bit about each other that we hadn’t known before. During these stories, some use ‘God’ while others speak more in terms of the spirit or Inner Light or similar terms.
A less dramatic view of this coming weekend is found in the comments related to the article:
“Like Simon Jenkins, we too wait in anticipation to see what decision will be made by the Quaker yearly meeting this weekend, about whether to revise the Quaker book of faith and practice. For many younger Quakers, though, a potential rewrite is about more than just language, so much as a process through which we could become as inclusive as it is possible for a faith group to be. Quaker advice is to “respect that of God in everyone though it may be expressed in unfamiliar ways”. Through this weekend and the years that follow, that is what we are committed to do.”
Jessica Hubbard-Bailey The Young Quaker Podcast, Gabriel Cabrera Young Friends General Meeting