Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind

A stressed out Aspie


Most of the time I enjoy being me, but …

Sometimes being neurodivergent is frustrating. Take today for example. Over on another blog, a discussion developed between the blogger and myself over my relationship with Quakerism. Either I failed to understand what he/she was conveying, or he/she failed to understand what I was saying, but clearly we were talking past each other. No matter how carefully I tried to clarify what I was saying, the worse the situation became.

The blogger’s stance was that Quakerism is founded on Christianity, aka no Christianity, no Quakerism. Therefore only Christians can be Quakers. I attempted it illustrate how, although it has Christian roots, a group, with no creed or dogma, that believes that Truth grows and changes in the light of new knowledge, and where individuals are encouraged to find their own truths, will over time, hold views that might not be consistent with the beliefs of the founders. And today there are many non-Christians who are Quakers. Time after time, the blogger would reply as though I didn’t understand that Quakerism has its roots in Christianity and I’m an the most incredibly stupid and obtuse person he/she has encountered and then proceed to tell me again that Quakerism is founded on Christianity.

The topic of the argument is really irrelevant but it does illustrate how frustrated, and at times abusive, a person can get when miscommunication occurs. Being neurodivergent I find communicating with neurotypical people complicated and difficult at the best of times, and as neurotypicals make up around 98% of the population, it results in a lot of frustration. It can be hurtful too. There’s only so many times one can ignore comments such as “How many hours does it take for you to get out of bed and figure out how to put your pants on in the morning!?!?” before one begins to question one’s worth.

That blogger probably communicates almost exclusively with neurotypicals just as I do. I wonder how he/she would cope having to communicate almost exclusively with neurodivergent people in the way I have to communicate almost exclusively with neurotypicals – especially if he/she is frequently told how much of an idiot he/she is.

As an Aspie I have difficulty recognising if language is being used literally or figuratively. At age 67 I now have a complex and rich set of rules I can apply in determining whether something is literal or figurative, and these days it serves me reasonably well. But it’s still just a set of rules, and at times there isn’t a rule that covers a particular set of circumstances. This is especially so where a phrase or sentence has a lot of social or religious baggage associated with it and means different things to different people.

It was my attempt to explain this that brought up the pants in the morning comment. I’d like to say that such a response is unusual, but unfortunately I can’t. Too often it’s an excuse for yet another put down. In reply to the pants comment, I was tempted to say that sometimes I can take a very long time to figure out how to put my pants on. But I suspect that even if I explained that it would be due to a migraine attack affecting cognitive and motor skills, I somehow doubt the significance of his/her comment would sink in. As it turns out, the blogger has dedicated a post specifically to me and my apparent inability to communicate. Such is life.

For all you neurotypical people out there, next time you happen to encounter someone who seems a little different, consider that he/she has to spend all day making accommodations for people like you. Is it too much too ask that you spend a few minutes of your day to try and accommodate them?


Author: Barry

A post war baby boomer from Aotearoa New Zealand who has lived with migraines for as long as I can remember and was diagnosed as being autistic aged sixty. I blog because in real life I'm somewhat backwards about coming forward with my opinions.

52 thoughts on “A stressed out Aspie

  1. That sounds incredibly frustrating and disheartening, Barry. I’m really sorry it happened, especially in the context of a conversation that represents a meaningful topic to you. Also, I can’t help noting the irony that, while autistic persons are often assumed to engage in black and white thinking, it sounds as though in this case you were clearly representing the nuanced perspective.

    • I suspect most autistics are capable of thinking in terms beyond black and white. The stumbling block is in the input or output. In my case, it’s not being able to know if someone is speaking literally or figuratively. I remember being told to “jump to it” by my first year teacher, and wondering why I was made to stand in the corner for being naughty. I did exactly what I was told to do – I jumped.

      These days the problem is to recognise when communication switches from literal to figurative, or the other way round. Most people seem to be able to slip from one to the other almost imperceptibly. It usually takes me some time to recognise the change, by which time it’s switched back again!

      For me personally, I find almost nothing fits neatly into categories – especially not into one of two possible categories. Instead of black and white boxes, I end up with lots of nearly identical shades of grey boxes, and I’m constantly moving the contents from one box to the other trying to find the best fit.

      • I suspect the same, and imagine, as you say, that it’s more a matter of differing communication styles than of thought content. That’s a really interesting metaphor, the metaphor of the gray boxes. I sympathize with the literalism piece, especially as a kid – as a kid, it was language that I took literally. As an adult, I tend to take emotional expression literally, and/or to assign more monumental significance to stray remarks than was intended. It’s like I take people more seriously than they take themselves, in a way. Does that make sense?

        • Yes it makes sense. I’m probably the opposite. As I have got older I tend to interpret things more figuratively than I used to. It’s less jarring on the nerves. But it does seem to result in not taking others as seriuosly as I should at times. I’m often told that the face is an indicator of what is really meant, but for the life of me I can’t read faces.

        • I imagine by the time you started getting older (however you define that), you’d expended a LOT of energy trying to be vigilant about achieving an exact understanding. Maybe figurative interpretation is a kind of retirement? (Smiles.)

  2. I don’t know Barry, but in 9 out of 10 times we have discussions, you communicate quite well. I don’t think the failure was on your part

  3. You’re a lot better at communicating than many neurotypical people are. Many neurotypical people think they can write whatever they want online and other people will just automatically get it, making assumptions that are not warranted. Then, there are people who are intentionally obtuse so they can troll people.

  4. Actually Barry, what I have been arguing, since minute one, is that a Quaker, by definition, is a Christian.
    Can anyone call themselves a Quaker if they like? They certainly can. What I have said repeatedly is that this is the No True Scotsman fallacy in practice. Anyone can refine Quakerism to mean anything they like, they can believe or not believe anything they like and call themselves a Quaker.
    To put it as bluntly as I can, if you don’t accept the tenants of Quakerism, (that has its foundational roots in Christianity) you’ve got no business calling yourself a Quaker. Why don’t these people call themselves Muslims or Hindus or Jews too? – since they don’t believe in any of the tenants of those religions either.
    You keep pointing out that there are a lot of people who are non theists who call themselves Quakers. That’s wonderful. Good for them. It doesn’t change the fact that Quakerism is based on Christianity. It doesn’t change the fact that if there were no such thing as Christinaity, there’d be no such thing as Quakerism.
    If I have a short coming, it’s that my patience wears thin too quickly and I end up making harsh comments that I later regret. For that I apologize.
    However, when I find myself confronted with someone, who can’t answer a simple cut-and-dried yes/no question “Do you believe in god(s)” without having to add useless caveats (“in the literal sense”-because I obviously didn’t differentiate between literal gods and figurative gods – !?!?!?!?) and then explains that they don’t understand what I mean by the phrase “believe in” or the word “god(s)”, well I mean, sorry dude. What can I say?
    It leads me to the conclusion that conversation with you is impossible because we’re in 2 completely different stratospheres that will never intersect.

    • Ashley, I intended this post to be about autism, not what a Quaker is or isn’t. Hence no link to the thread. It is simply a plea for neurotypical people to make accommodations for neurodivergent people. After all we have to accommodate neurotypical people 24/7.

      One of the problems I face is processing language. For example, I know what “believe” means and I know what “in” means, but put them together and at least two meanings are possible. When it comes to the word “god”, well it has many possible meanings. The most obvious in a Christian dominated society is the deity of the old testament and the slightly less horrific deity of the New testament. At the other end of the spectrum there is the god that is no more that a metaphor for the potential goodness of humankind or perhaps the power of humanity to make this world a better place. Such a metaphor makes sense to me, and I can believe in God in the sense that I have faith that we have the potential to alleviate much of the suffering we inflict on each other. I don’t know in what part of the world you live, but in this part of the world God as a metaphor is widely accepted.

      To me if I stated that I did not believe in god(s) of any kind it would not only mean not believing in deities but also not believing in the possibility of reducing the harm we do to each other and the environment.

      I don’t know if most people would know what you meant by your question (perhaps they would), but for me it has many possible answers depending on what you meant by “believe in” (to have faith in, or, to be sure of the existence of), and god (a deity, a supernatural force or something ‘other’, or, some kind of metaphor). So for me a simple “yes” or “no” answer is absolutely not possible. By making god literal it meant I could exclude the metaphorical god from the possible gods. As I don’t see evidence for any literal form of god, the consideration of whether or not I trust it is irrelevant.

      That is the kind of processing I go through all the time. It can become very tiring, even exhausting at times.

      It becomes even more difficult in face to face conversation as I don’t have the luxury of time that’s available in the blogosphere. All the possible shades of meaning need to be evaluated in little more than a blink of an eye. And as I am unable to read such nonverbal communication such as body language, facial expressions, or changes in vocal pitch, I don’t have those aids to assist me. Every incoming sentence needs to be evaluated for possible meanings, unlikely ones eliminated, and then re-evaluated in light of the possible meanings of the preceding and following sentences, eliminating unlikely combinations, and retaining the rest to be re-evaluated in light of the next sentence and subsequent sentences. If there are other distraction going on, I’m not able to ignore them, and have to process them at the same time as the conversation. It’s quite common for information to come in faster than I can process it, which can lead to a mental shutdown.

      Here we are on a post where there’s a plea for neurotypicals to make a little effort to accommodate the neurodivergent and your response is that that it’s impossible because we’re in 2 completely different stratospheres. I honestly don’t think you understand the significance of your comment.

      • Again Barry, this is what dictionaries are for – so we can communicate on even terms.
        Here’s a link to Oxford definition of the word god
        I certainly haven’t looked at every single dictionary for the definition of that word, but I think you would be very hard pressed to find me one that equates god with “reducing harm we do to each other and the environment”
        And therein lies the problem. That’ why it’s not possible for us to communicate effectively. I’m sorry Barry, but I can’t possibly know that you make up your own definitions for commonly used words. There is no reasonable way you could possibly expect me or anyone else to know that the word god means “reducing harm we do to each other and the environment” to you. This is ridiculous. I’m not a mind reader. You’ve made this definition up out of thin air. The fault lies in me for not understanding this? Give me a break Barry.
        Here’s a great way I think I can accommodate you though. If ever you are in doubt about which way I perceive a word or what I assume a word means, consult a dictionary. As I mentioned before, Oxford is my go to.
        Can we try that and see how that goes?

        • Ashley, among liberal Quakers and liberal Christians God as some sort of metaphor is not uncommon, especially in this region. Therefore it is necessary to include it. Like you, I’m not a mind reader and I can’t know that you hadn’t thought of the possibility that God could be a metaphor. I’m not saying it’s your fault – misunderstandings occur. What you seem to be closed to is the possibility that some words and phrases can have shades of meaning that go beyond a dictionary definition. Culture, religion, and politics can add a lot of baggage to some terms. I live in a multi-cultural multi-ethnic secular and religiously liberal society. That’s why your question posed something of a problem to me.

          So I clarified what kind of god, which happens to fit the dictionary definition, and you berate me for it even after I explained the process I went through.

          Dictionaries have their limitation. I looked up “Christian” which gave me “A person who has received Christian baptism or is a believer in Christianity”. So I looked up “Christianity” and found this:
          “Most Christians believe in one God in three Persons (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) and that Jesus is the Son of God who rose from the dead after being crucified; a Christian hopes to attain eternal life after death through faith in Jesus Christ and tries to live by his teachings as recorded in the New Testament.”
          Two problems: (1) it refers to most Christians, not all. (2) the trinity, Jesus’ divinity, the resurrection, an afterlife, and the authority of the bible are considered nonessential or irrelevant. If you want to argue that all Quakers are Christian then we need to agree on what a Christian must believe.

        • No Barry, I’m not closed to the idea that “some words and phrases can have meanings that go beyond a dictionary definition”. I watched that video you posted (that of God). I spent 5 minutes watching people make up stuff out of thin air. I am well aware that people have definitions that “go beyond a dictionary definition”. What I said is that in order to have meaningful, useful conversation with someone, you can’t make up definitions of words to suit whatever narrative you like. You can’t say “it’s a cultural thing that isn’t uncommon.” Why? Because it leads to absolute chaos. It leads to 27 consecutive back and forth posts about what the word “God” means with no resolution in sight. I never considered the possibility that God is a “metaphor” because it’s not. You know who else doesn’t consider God a “metaphor”? Lexicographers.
          It’s all about precision Barry.
          Sloppy definitions lead to sloppy thinking. Sloppy thinking leads to chaos and unending meaningless merry-go round discussions.

        • NZ’s most highly regarded theologian, non-theist and ordained Presbyterian minister Sir Lloyd Geering has been talking of God as a metaphor for over 50 years in this interview he describes God as an “expression of the mystery of the evolving cosmos”.

          He also takes a dig at New atheists: “I call them the fundamentalist atheists. They haven’t realised what an important concept God was.” (notice the use of the past tense). Perhaps this is where Eva got the term from?

          He also takes a swipe at fundamentalist Christians as being dangerous by “preventing us as a community from developing a secular-based religious tradition”.

          Sir Lloyd is highly respected in NZ, even among that don’t agree with him theologically (except among fundamentalists where he’s probably regarded as the devil reincarnated). As I have previously mentioned, here in NZ a large sector of the population, both religious and non-religious, understand that the concept of God ranges from a supernatural person with power over nature and human fortunes to a word that denotes the highest values which motivates us, and everything in between. Liberal Quakers have openly acknowledged this fact for around a hundred years.

          So yes, Ashley, “God” can be a metaphor. I did not invent the concept. It’s been in use for a very long time. In fact you surprise me when you say that you never considered that the word “God” could be a metaphor. It’s a well understood concept in NZ. Whether or not one agrees with the notion is an entirely different matter. Perhaps where you live, the noise from fundamentalists protesting their loss of religious privilege drowns out more moderate voices.

        • Have it your way Barry. God can be a metaphor. God can be “reducing harm we do to others and to the environment.”
          I guess we’re right back where we started. Dictionaries aren’t any good or aren’t complete enough and there can be a whole range of different meanings (from a supernatural being to word that denotes high values). Which conveniently of course leaves yourself a nice little escape hatch because you can always claim that the definition I use (the dictionary one) is incomplete, so you’ll never quite know what it is I’m taking about because you see there’s all these different definitions that I obviously didn’t take into account, which of course is a short coming on my part for not “accommodating” you.
          I tried my best but I see this is going absolutely nowhere so I will quit while I am ahead.

        • Dear Ashley, I mean no irony or sarcasm when I say, “Thank you for defending Quakerism”. I see your passion, and my comment “Yes Barry I see what you mean” was just a trifle bitchy. And- we disagree, and I am not sure I have the desire to dispute with you here. Some reading this thread may think you won, and some will not. If you want some idea of where I am coming from have a look at my post Atheist Quakers.

        • Clare,

          Whomever views this discussion will be able to see 2 things very easily.
          1) I say what I think and I give reasons for saying what I think.
          2) I don’t make baseless assertions that I refuse to substantiate.

          Thank you for posting that link but there was no need. I have accepted that assertion repeatedly. I understand that there are atheists who consider themselves Quakers. I have never disputed that. What I have been arguing is that if you don’t believe in the tenants of Quakerism and its Christian roots, you’ve got no business calling yourself a Quaker. You could just as easily align yourself with any other religious doctrine since you don’t accept any of the tenants of those religions either. If anyone can believe (or not) anything they like and call themselves a Quaker, then they can call themselves anything else they feel like calling themselves. The sky’s the limit. I am quite sure I have said that at least 10x by now. I hope this is the last time I have to say this. Makes Quakerism sound rather mushy, imprecise, non-committal and vague in my opinion. But then again, that’s what you get when gods and religions are founded not on truth or evidence or methodology of any kind but rather on fairy tales and superstition.
          I viewed your comment “I see what you mean Barry” not so much as “just a trifle bitchy” but rather as perhaps sarcastic and most certainly evasive. I asked several legitimate questions, all following a common thread. Namely, how do you know what you claim to know? I see you did not even attempt to answer them. In order for this conversation to be considered honest and open, you can do one of two things. Answer those questions or admit that you don’t know what you claim you know and we can start over. If you want to make unfounded baseless assertions and meaningless gibberish statements without explanation, go right ahead. However, I don’t think it’s going to lead to a very meaningful conversation. Do you?

        • But Ashley, I do believe very deeply in the tenants, or rather the testimonies of Quakerism. They are important to me. Every Quaker is likely to acknowledge that Quakerism grew out of Christianity. In the liberal branch there is some discussion over whether Quakerism today is still Christian. To a certain degree it depends on what one means by “Christian”. I’ve seen valid arguments that support both points of view. Certainly to fundamentalist Christians, liberal Friends can not possibly be Christians, but liberal Christians are more relaxed about it. How would you define Christianity? I’m prepared to work from a definition of your choosing because I don’t think you would be willing to accept my understanding of what it means to be Christian.

          As to your question “how do you know what you claim to know?” I think you need to be more specific on the what knowledge I, Clare or other Quakers claim to know. I’m not sure that I have claimed any specific knowledge. I’ve tried to distinguish between what I experience and what my understanding is of those experiences, but as your comments regarding the “that of God” video show, you don’t place much value in experience. I think what you fail to understand that something such as “Inner light” is not so much something that is known but something that is experienced. It’s not something that can or needs to be proved. The only proof available is to see how the experience is played out in the lives of Quakers individually and corporately.

        • Anyone who looks at my blog would see that I say what I feel. Backing up what I think is so wearisome! Especially to a person who calls it “baseless”. Possibly I would be misjudging you in reading you as saying that Quakerism which is not defined precisely in thought-through and substantiated assertions is baseless, but I feel the sense of the Meeting. You are like a child saying, “Come, fight me! Fight me!” And when I walk away you imagine I am scared.

        • Ah. That makes things a lot clearer. I went to your blog, dedicated to advocating for reason and common sense against daily assaults from religion, alternative medicine and other nonsensical quackery. You have the colossal arrogance to claim Barry is not “communicating effectively” just because you do not have the maturity to understand what he writes. You are a fool. You imagine that your “reason and common sense” is greater than all the things in Heaven and Earth. Go on, boast, misunderstand, and insult me one more time.

        • “Anyone who looks at my blog would see that I say what I feel. BACKING UP WHAT I FEEL IS SO WEARISOME!” (emphasis mine)
          I think that describes the sum total extent of your brain capacity in one nice, neat little sentence. Say whatever you “feel” like – no evidence and explanation required. Feelings good. Thinking hard. Thank you for being so succinct.

          “You have the colossal arrogance to claim Barry is not “communicating effectively” just because you do not have the maturity to understand what he writes. You are a fool. You imagine that your “reason and common sense” is greater than all the things in Heaven and Earth”

          You say I don’t have the “maturity to understand” but what you really mean is that I asked questions that he can’t answer without resorting to the use of “metaphors” as an explanation or some other vague imprecision.
          I mean after all, I’m not the one who posts a description of Quakerism that says there’s no creed or clearly defined beliefs associated with it and then tells me an hour later that he believes deeply in the “tenants” or “testimonies” of Quakerism. I’m not the one who says there is “an amazing amount of consensus among Quakers” and in the same sentence that he tells “their experiences and understanding of those experiences differ widely”. Everyone has completely different experiences and totally different understanding of those experiences but there’s a general agreement about them amoung Quakers. Using “experiences” as a word to describe events that exist nowhere except in the minds of the people who “experience” them because they are unable to be substantiated or proven with evidence of any kind. In other words, they are nothing more than a delusion.
          I don’t feel I need to comment any more on the ridiculousness and glaringly obvious contradictions of those statements. It comes from someone who can’t communicate effectively. The only people who understand it, are people like you, who have already admitted that they’ve turned their brain off and prefer to use “feelings” as a substitute for thinking.
          I don’t imagine that my reason and common sense is greater than all things in heaven and earth. I advocate that using reason and common sense is a much better path to understanding the world around us than is religion and pseudo scientific nonsense and “feelings”.

          It’s been lovely chatting with you Clare.

        • By coincidence, Peter Turner on Zingcreed has posted Quakers In A Nutshell. Does that help?

    • The problem with this is you make Quakerism credal. It isn’t, it is based in experience. In British liberal-liberal Quakerism, it is orthopraxy rather than orthodoxy: what we do, rather than the way we express it. But George Fox said the church did not speak to his condition, but the inner light did. Not only Christians find the inner light.

      And yes, sorry, Barry, this post is about Aspergers, and I find you communicate beautifully.

      • If it’s based on experience, then that further reinforces the notion that anyone can believe anything they like and call it Quakerism. Unless there is some kind of proper and improper experience that one has or doesn’t have in order to be a Quaker? If that’s the case, may I ask how these experiences are arbitrated and determined to be Quakerism in practice or not – by whom is this task undertaken? On what grounds and against what criteria are these experiences judged?
        You see what happens when someone makes a statement like that? It doesn’t answer anything and only leads to more questions.
        “But George Fox said the church didn’t speak to his condition but the inner light did. Not only Christians find the inner light.”
        I’m sorry but I don’t know that I can do this without sounding rude, but that statement is complete gibberish. Who is George Fox? What condition of George’s does “the inner light speak to”? What does that even mean? How do you know people other than Christians can find the “inner light”? How do you know Christians can find “inner light? What is the “inner light”?

        • Yes, Barry. I see what you mean.

        • Thank you very much for clearing that up Clare. You’ve been extremely helpful.
          If you consider your position so weak that you can’t defend any of the assertions you make, then don’t make it out to be a short coming on my part.

        • Well, Ashley, I’m glad you’re asking questions rather than imposing your own views of what Quakerism “should” be. It’s a start.

          As Clare said, it’s what Quakers do, how they live, how they interact with others and the environment that makes one a Quaker. I can’t speak for Quakers; I can only speak for myself and from my own experience of Quakerism. As to your question whether Quakers can believe anything they like, I can quote from What Do Quakers Believe?:
          The lack of a creed or clear description of Quaker beliefs has sometimes led to the misconception that Friends do not have beliefs or that one can believe anything and be a Friend. Most Quakers take the absence of a creed as an invitation and encouragement to exercise an extra measure of personal responsibility for the understanding and articulation of Quaker faith. Rather than rely on priests or professional theologians, each believer is encouraged to take seriously the personal disciplines associated with spiritual growth. Out of lives of reflection, prayer, faithfulness, and service flow the statements of belief, both in word and in deed.

          I am a non-theist, but I do have a sense of “something” which I am comfortable describing as a sense of the divine. I’m not particularly interested in whether it comes from a supernatural source or something more “mundane” or simply being in awe of the cosmic creation to borrow from a Lloyd Geering expression. It’s something I experience and for me the best way of understanding it is in religious terms. I’m comfortable using terms such as “that of God” or “Inner Light” because to me they speak to my experience even though I regard them as metaphors. Other non-theists have different experiences – some are very uncomfortable using religious language because it means nothing to them and it’s not what they experience.

          For want of a better word, there’s an amazing amount of consensus among Quakers even though their experiences and understanding of those experiences differ widely. Both theists and non-theists can enrich the experiences of each other. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

        • Now we are getting somewhere. Thanks for that post Barry. I read the italicized statement through several times so that I could do my best to understand it.
          Allow me to critique, probe, explore and question the explanatory power of that statement:
          The first half of the first paragraph mentions that there is no definitive description of Quaker beliefs in the form of a creed. It is immediately followed by a paragraph that states that it is the personal responsibility (of someone who calls themselves a Quaker) to understand and articulate the Quaker faith – The same faith that has no definitive creed and no clear description of beliefs.
          Sounds an awful lot like circular reasoning to me.
          I would love for someone to explain how you can take personal responsibility for understanding and articulating a faith (Quakerism) that rests on no creed and has no descriptive beliefs.
          The paragraph regarding “spiritual growth” is too imprecise to be of any value. I don’t believe in spirits as there is no reason to do so. If this is a metaphor for something else, the person who wrote this description needs to expand on that. It is a vague, meaningless statement. But that’s just nitpicking on my part. I don’t require an explanation of that to get the gist of this statement
          Reflection – no problem with that.
          Prayer – to whom or what are you praying to? Is it a deity of some kind? Or something else? And if it’s something else, what is it? If it is in fact a deity of some kind, must this not present a massive problem to someone who claims to be a non-theist? I would think so.
          Faithfulness and Service – Faithfulness and service to whom or what? To a deity? To yourself? To your fellow human beings? That statement could be construed as everything from faithfulness and service to a celestial deity to plain old ordinary humanism and everything in between.
          “Out of lives of reflection, prayer, faithfulness, and service flow the statements of belief, both in word and in deed. ”
          If there is no definitive Quaker creed and there is no clear description of Quaker beliefs, and reflection, prayer and faithfulness are all that are required to make statements of belief that you must take personal responsibility for, then that HAS to mean that those personal beliefs cannot be disputed, arbitrated or scrutinized. There is no basis for the dispute, arbitration and scrutiny, PRECISELY because Quaker has no creed and no clear set of beliefs to dispute with, to arbitrate against and to compare for scrutiny.
          If this statement is meaning to be a definitive description of Quakerism then yes I readily admit that it is absolutely possible for literally anyone to be a Quaker. However, rather than provide an explanation of anything, it has only created more questions than it has answered and only provides further evidence of my assertion that anyone can believe anything they like and call it Quakerism.

        • I would love for someone to explain how you can take personal responsibility for understanding and articulating a faith (Quakerism) that rests on no creed and has no descriptive beliefs.
          See my other comment regarding Quaker testimonies. Testimonies are not a creed nor descriptive beliefs but I do take personal responsibility for understanding and articulating them.

          spiritual growth”: If you understand the gist of it, why the necessity to make make it more descriptive/prescriptive? It can be understood in many ways. As a metaphor is one. There’s certainly no need to believe in the existence of spirits.

          Prayer”: I’m not sure that one prays to anything. I think it’s more a case of taking time to listen to the leading of the heart. For me it is partly contemplative, partly reflective. It’s up to the individual to find their own process of prayer. The following two statements summarise my understanding of prayer:
          There is little point in praying to be enabled to overcome some temptation, and then putting oneself in the very position in which the temptation can exert all its fascination. There is little point in praying that the sorrowing may be comforted and the lonely cheered, unless we ourselves set out to bring comfort and cheer to the sad and neglected in our own surroundings. There is little point in praying for our home and for our loved ones, and in going on being as selfish and inconsiderate as we have been. Prayer would be an evil rather than a blessing if it were only a way of getting God to do what we ourselves will not make the effort to do. God does not do things for us – he enables us to do them for ourselves.” – Elisabeth Holmgaard, 1984
          The sick and those caring for them have need of our prayers. But let us not imagine … that a few sentimental good wishes from a distance are all that is needed. Whenever we intercede in prayer we must be prepared for an answer which places a practical obligation upon us. A prayer is always a commitment.” – Thomas F Green, 1952

          Faithfulness and Service“: You’re right, it can be construed as everything from faithfulness and service to a celestial deity to plain old ordinary humanism and everything in between. I’m not into the celestial deity thing, and plain old ordinary humanism is closer to where I’m at. I don’t think there’d be many Friends firmly entrenched at the celestial deity end of the spectrum, although I’m sure there will be a few. For me the faithfulness and service is is in relation to the testimonies. I take a particular interest in LGBT and gender issues, human rights (Amnesty International) and issues relating to the Treaty of Waitangi.

          Ashley, there is no definitive or prescriptive description of Quakerism. For Friends that’s its beauty. At best there are indicative descriptions, and that statement I referred to is but one. Long before I discovered Friends, I believed and practised the values expressed in SPICES as best I could. Whether it is choosing not to purchase products made in sweat shops or unethically farmed, arguing for penal reform or speaking up against ableism, knowing there is a community that feels and acts the same way has strengthened my resolve. Could I have achieved the same things by other means? Certainly, and for many people, Quakerism is not the best option. But I found among Friends, a “spiritual” home that I didn’t experience elsewhere.

  5. By the way, Barry, I hope you’re not tired of hearing this, because I feel compelled to say it yet again: I respect and appreciate the example of civility you unfailingly set online.

    • How could anyone get tired of hearing that? ☺

      I do try to be civil, but I do recognise that sometimes I fall short. Comments such as yours let me know that my efforts are not wasted. Thank you.

  6. I am starting a new thread because I am having trouble keeping track of the reply posts above.
    I thought were going along a little more smoothly there for a minute but then I noticed your last response post and I am now more confused than I ever was.
    You post this: “The lack of a creed or clear description of Quaker beliefs… Most Quakers take the absence of a creed as an invitation… ” and then post this “But Ashley, I do believe very deeply in the tenants, or rather the testimonies of Quakerism.”
    This is having it both ways in the most promiscuous and exorbitant manner.
    Either Quakerism has a creed or a defined self of beliefs or tenants or testimonies or whatever you want to call it, or it doesn’t.
    Which is it?

    “but as your comments regarding the “that of God” video show, you don’t place much value in experience”
    I am sorry Barry, but what those people were expressing in that video was not “experience”.
    People who claim that “There’s something spiritually alive in every human being and you may not know it or feel it right away”, that there’s “An inner light that’s in us that’s our core and our inner self.” and that “There is something that goes beyond entirely rational understanding about a persons character… It comes from a place that can be considered divine.” have a great deal of explaining to do. This is not “experience”. And if they want to claim that these are “experiences”, then they should be able to withstand the same scrutiny that any other testable, falsifiable claim is subjected to. What is this “spiritually alive” and “inner light” thing these people refer to? How do they know these things exist? What is this “something” about a persons character than comes from a “divine” place”? These questions require answering. Saying that this is “experience” explains exactly nothing. If they are not able to be answered by anything other than “personal experience” and “it’s true for me”, then they are nothing more than unsubstantiated claims based hearsay, conjecture and delusion.
    I don’t consider the “personal experiences” of people who claim to have been abducted by aliens on UFO ships to be proof of anything other than an overactive imagination and (at bare minimum) an at least partially unbalanced mind, incapable of differentiating between fantasy and reality.
    Please don’t tell me “I don’t place much value in experience”. You have no idea how much you anger me and insult my intelligence with this condescending, arrogant garbage Barry. I take value in peoples real experiences, like for example, the plight of gay people trying to be recognized as equal in a society full of people who don’t consider them equal because of some irrational, hateful, stupid beliefs. All of them religious, many of them Christian. That’s REAL experience Barry. I don’t place value in pseudo-“experiences” in unsubstantiated, made up “divine” and “spiritual” bullshit.

    • Ashley, Testimonies are not a set of rules one must follow. They are the experiences of individual Quakers in written form that Quakers collectively see as speaking to their condition and/or the condition of their fellow human beings.

      The peace testimony is the most well known testimony, but it’s no a rule that must be followed blindly. It’s a testimony most Quakers believe profoundly, but their is no command, directive or rule that says one must under all circumstances take a non violent stance if your conscience does not allow you to do so. In general one becomes a Quaker because the testimonies are valued dearly and the way that Quakerism expresses them is meaningful. One doesn’t hold these values because that is what Quakers say you must believe.

      Testimonies are a way of witnessing values that Quakers hold dearly. They can be expressed in a number of different ways, and one common means is by the acronym SPICES – Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, and Stewardship. These aren’t value unique to Friends. Many other individuals and groups hold one, more or all of these same values, although they may express them differently. Quakers don’t claim a monopoly on these values. Have a look at Quaker Testimonies for a summary of the testimonies contained within SPICES. One can say that they are fundamental principles of Quakerism, but they are not directives or commands. Perhaps it could be expressed that if one didn’t hold values in these testimonies, one would see little or no value in joining the Religious Society of Friends. Put it another way: Quakerism is one way, but not the only way through which theses values can be expressed.

      There are two important expressions that might help explain it further. The first is attributed to George Fox and goes like this:
      You will say, Christ saith this, and the apostles say this: but what canst thou say?
      Art thou a child of Light and hast thou walked in the Light, and what thou speakest, is it inwardly from God?

      One way of interpreting that statement might be: Just because it is recorded that Jesus said something, or a leader says something, or an ancient document says something, it does not necessarily mean that that something is “gospel”. We are all capable of discerning the truth, albeit in different ways.

      The other statement is frequently added as a rider to testimonies and other Quaker documents. It can be expressed in various ways, but a common variation goes like this:
      Dearly beloved Friends, these things we do not lay upon you as a rule or form to walk by, but that all, with the measure of light that is pure and holy, may be guided; and so in the light walking and abiding, these things may be fulfilled in the Spirit, not from the letter, for the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life.”
      It’s the values expressed (in other words, the Spirit) in the testimony/document/query/advice that are important. Rules/creeds/dogma can stifle growth and can become idols themselves.

      If you read through the testimonies, you’ll see there’s no requirement that I believe in a deity, the Resurrection, the virgin birth, or that the world was made in six days, that salvation is only available through believing in Christ, or even that salvation exists. They don’t say I must believe anything specific. What they say is that the values expressed in the testimonies are important to Friends. What I can say is that I believe it would be very difficult, if not impossible to be a Quaker if one held beliefs that were contrary to the values (Spirit) expressed in Quaker testimonies.

      So I hold the values expressed in the testimonies important, in fact fundamental to my being. I live them with mixed success. I speak out strongly on many issues and where I am able I provide further assistance. That is all part of “being a Quaker”. I don’t have to be a Christian or a Quaker to hold them dear to me. However, I find Quaker fellowship the best way for me. Others do not.

  7. I am sorry Barry, but the more you explain, the more you confuse me.
    Allow me to further elaborate on my state of confusion. So far, in regards to Quakerism you’ve told me:
    – That it has no beliefs or creed (from the “What Quakers Believe” passage you quoted) and because of that, reflection, prayer and faithfulness are what is required to make your own personal statements of belief that you must take personal responsibility for
    – That it has Testimonies that you refer to as fundamental principles
    – That these fundamental principles aren’t unique to Quakerism and can be held by other individuals and groups
    – That testimonies don’t require you to believe in anything specific but that their values are important to you and other Quakers
    – That there is no rule that requires the peace testimony to be followed blindly and it is up to the individuals discretion, based on his personal conscience whether or not he/she chooses to follow it. This is an assumption on my part, but in order to be consistent, I assume this would have to apply to all other testimonies as well.
    – That it would be extremely difficult if not impossible to be a Quaker if you held beliefs that were contrary to the values expressed in Quaker testimonies

    There are some glaring contradictions and inconsistencies in those statements.
    – Testimonies, which you consider fundamental principles, don’t require you to believe anything specific and aren’t necessarily required to be followed if you have conscience reasons for not doing so. Yet it would be impossible for you to be a Quaker if you held beliefs that were contrary to these testimonies – testimonies that don’t require that you believe anything specific and aren’t necessary to follow. If they don’t require to believe anything specific and aren’t required to be followed, then they aren’t fundamental principles. They’re suggestions.
    – Quakerism apparently has no set of beliefs and no creed (A set of beliefs or aims which guides someone’s action – Oxford definition) yet has testimonies that are fundamental principles (A fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behaviour or for a chain of reasoning – Oxford dictionary). It is impossible for both of those things to be the case. And if you want to say hat creeds, beliefs and fundamental principles cannot be used interchangeably, then fine, I will accept that. In any case, that completely voids the statement about using reflection, prayer and faithfulness to make statements of belief that one must take personal responsibility for. If there are fundamental principles, then you can’t make your own statements of belief. To do so would completely nullify the very concept of having fundamental principles in the first place.

    I’m not trying to distress or upset or belittle you Barry, but the only thing I can say at this point is that the further along this goes, the worse it gets. No doubt you have answers and explanations for all of this that make sense to you. However, I am extremely skeptical they will make any sense to me. So rather than continue this any further, I will simply thank you for your time and effort. I will also take this time to apologize for some of my previous comments in previous posts that were rude and insensitive. I recognize that you have a condition (Asperger’s) and that impairs your ability to communicate somewhat. My frustration can get the better of me sometimes and for that I am sorry. While I cannot say that your thought process appears rational in any way to me, I can certainly say that you are a patient person and a gentleman.
    Have a good day.

    • Thank you Ashley, Perhaps Quakerism, (and maybe religion in general) is something one gets or one doesn’t. Not getting it is not a sign of deficiency or failure on your part, any more than my inability to get American humour (Big Bang Theory excepted) is a failure on mine.

      There is room in this world for many perspectives. Anyone who says only their perspective is valid is a fool, dangerous or both.
      Kia ora

      • Oh it’s not that I don’t get it Barry. I get it perfectly well. It’s not that I “don’t get” Quakerism – it’s that it’s not based on anything rational. In other words, it’s not that I “don’t get” Quakerism, it’s that I don’t believe in it. In a previous post you describe yourself as a non theist yet you have a sense of “something divine”. I understand perfectly well that you feel this way, and I “get” that you have a “sense” of “something divine”. What I am saying , is that this “something divine” is a figment of your imagination. It’s something that you probably didn’t make up on your own, but someone did at some point and you believe in it. You can’t even describe it much less explain it, you are not interested in knowing what it is or where it comes from and you can’t explain how you’ve come to know this. If you can’t do any of that, then there is no possible way you could ever hope to prove any of what you said to be real. That’s what makes it a completely meaningless statement to me. To date, from what I have read of yours, your go-to defense for this type of statement is to claim that it is a metaphor for a naturalistic explanation or meaning. (For example, when you say “That of God” in everyone, it really means “everyone has equal worth”, “I try to be good to people”, and so on and so forth) If that’s the case, then what need for the “sense” of “divine”? What need for this “something”. What need for “That of God”? It’s meaningless gibberish. This is no different than people claiming to know what to do because God told them what to do. There’s no way that they could ever hope to prove what they claim to know. And when un-provable claims like that are made by bullies and religious fanatics, well – I think we all know the nasty outcomes that often follow. This is not to say that you are a religious fanatic or bully. Quite the opposite in fact. But your approach and methodologies are the same. Both of you make untestable, un-provable, unverifiable claims. It’s just that they are about different things.
        The human brain is susceptible to all manner of trickery and self deception. The easiest person to fool is yourself. There is virtually no limit to the amount of things that humans will believe in without any evidence or reason to do so. I am certain that I could rhyme off an arms-length list of things that both of us “don’t get” – like bigfoot or Pastafarianism or Voodoo and so on. It’s not that we “don’t get” them. We don’t believe in them.
        Coincidentally, I’m not sure if this thought has ever crossed your mind, but the reason you call yourself a Quaker has absolutely nothing to do with the testimonies of Quakerism and everything to do with history and geography. If you were born on exactly the same date that you were except in Saudi Arabia, we’d be having a discussion about Islam and Allah and you’d have zero interest in Quakerism. You likely never would have even heard about it. If we were able to have this type of discussion 1500 years ago in Scandinavia, you’d be telling me about the Norse Gods and it wouldn’t be possible for you to be a Quaker because it hadn’t been invented yet.
        Food for thought perhaps?

        • I’m well aware that my sense of the divine in a human construct and that there is nothing “out there” that I am picking up on. Never the less the experience feels real and that is what I am picking up on. Perhaps a poor analogy might be the way a price of music can move people to tears of joy, or the emotions that run through me when a grandchild wants to cuddle. A sunrise can do something similar or the beauty of a Japanese valley in autumn can literally take my breath away. Of these can’t be sensed as divine, what can?

          The reason I feel Quakerism is my spiritual home is because of the way Friends behave towards each other and the wider community. The values as expressed in Quaker testimonies are what I try to live by. I valued those well before I discovered Friends and Quakerism.

          It’s probably true that if I had been born in Saudi Arabia I would be discussing Islam and Allah. I can see nothing wrong with that in fact it’s blindingly obvious and perfectly natural. As it is it can talk about what I believe in terms of Mauri and Io just as well as I can in terms such as God and inner light. Likewise what I believe can be described in terms that belong to Buddhism or Shintoism (I have some understanding of these through my wife).

          Of course if I had no knowledge of Quakerism I’d have no interest in it. How could I? If I had been born before the Enlightenment and modern critical thinking I might well have believed in some or all aspects of whatever theology had the monopoly on religious thought, but I suspect you might be no different. I rejected mainstream Christianity when I was around seven or eight years old and struck out on my own until I discovered Quakerism decades later. It wasn’t necessary to change one jot of what I believed to feel I had come home when I discovered them. Some ways of expressing my beliefs have changed, but that is natural when becoming a member of a community that has its own distinctive traditions.

          So far the only real criticism I see is in the way in which I express my values, which are in religious terminology. If that is all it is then then I think your argument petty.

          I’m the first person to acknowledge I might not believe what I do if I had grown up in a different environment. If my parents believed punishment was an appropriate means of teaching right from wrong, or taught me to fear and always obey authority then I might now be a Christian fundamentalist. But through good fortune I learnt tolerance and to have an open mind.

          You may say that a sense of the divine is a figment of my imagination, but then so too is the thrill I get from experiencing a violent electrical storm or the joy I feel when I see the pleasure a child displays on making a new discovery. How is it possible to prove any of these? I’m fact I don’t understand why such things require proof. Do I have to know why I enjoy thunderstorms or why I feel joy when I witness a child see their first rainbow. I’m sure there is an explanation, but would knowing it make any difference to the experience?

          You claim that what I believe is not rational. Well human beings are not purely rational beings. But may I ask specifically for an example of what I believe is nonsense or irrational.

        • Sod predictive typing.
          Should be “the divine is a human construct”
          “a piece of music”
          “If these things can’t be sensed”
          “I can’t see anything wrong with that. In fact it’s. ..”
          “In fact I don’t understand why such things require proof.”

        • “You claim that what I believe is not rational. Well human beings are not purely rational beings.”
          I agree with that statement 100%. Approximately 84% of the worlds population adheres to some kind of religion and/or believes in some kind of supernatural deity and/or some kind of divine inspiration or something or other than can’t be proven to exist. I just finished listening to a podcast about a reporter going on a “conspira-sea” cruise that is marketed to people who are conspiracy theorists. Everything from holocaust deniers to 9/11 conspiracy theorists to “big pharma” conspiracy theorists. I know all too well how irrational people can be.

          “I’m well aware that my sense of the divine in a human construct and that there is nothing “out there” that I am picking up on” – that’s a perfectly rational statement. Unfortunately, it conflicts directly with a previous statement you made: “I am a non-theist, but I do have a sense of “something” which I am comfortable describing as a sense of the divine.”
          This “sense of divine” cannot be “something” in one statement and “nothing out there” in the next. It is one or the other. It cannot be both. This is an example of irrational thinking. If your explanation is to simply say that its a metaphor for saying that songs can move people to tears, and other naturalistic things, then the “sense of divine statement” is pointless. I too can be moved to tears by listening to music. I do not need to attribute it to a “sense of the divine” or some other mystical explanation. There is no point in making it a metaphor for a naturalistic explanation. It’s an emotional response caused by chemical reactions taking place in my brain. There is no need to import mysterious “somethings” where they have exactly zero explanatory power.

          “You may say that a sense of the divine is a figment of my imagination, but then so too is the thrill I get from experiencing a violent electrical storm or the joy I feel when I see the pleasure a child displays on making a new discovery. How is it possible to prove any of these?”
          Neuroscientists make a living trying to get to the bottom of how the brain functions. They are only scrabbling at the lower slopes of the knowledge that is required to fully understand how the brain works. This thrill and joy you speak of is not a figment of your imagination. Dopamine, a neurotransmitter, can be measured and linked to happiness and pleasure or lack thereof. There is no use whatsoever in importing any kind of “divine” explanation or any other mysterious presence or substance in explaining this phenomenon. Neuroscience is but a fledgling discipline that has been around for barely 50 years. Neither I, nor they have the arrogance to claim that they have all the answers to questions surrounding brain function. It will likely take many years, decades and possibly centuries of research and experimentation to say that we know all the inner workings for the brain. What they won’t do, is invoke some kind of mysterious “divine” “something” to explain anything. This is nothing more than a tactic admittance of ignorance and is no more useful than the god of the gaps argument that creationists use – invoking a god to be responsible for something that we don’t yet understand. The more we discover about our world and universe and our place in it, the less and less these “divine” “somethings” will have to be responsible for.

          “So far the only real criticism I see is in the way in which I express my values, which are in religious terminology. If that is all it is then then I think your argument petty.”
          This may appear petty to you Barry, but it goes to the heart of effective, honest communication. Say what you mean and mean what you say. I am a professional engineer. I make my living preparing documents, drawings, reports, etc that are required to be very precise. I am required to understand a problem and solve it. My documents have to be precise enough for others to understand what the problem is and how I propose to fix it so that they will use those documents and perform the work proscribed in them. If I communicated to them, in the manner that you’ve communicated with me, that required endless refinements and explanations and clarifications and when we reached an impasse, told them that they “don’t get it”, well for starters, I’d be out of a job. Secondly, no work would ever get done. In fact, I don’t see how anyone could accomplish anything ever.

        • This “sense of divine” cannot be “something” in one statement and “nothing out there” in the next
          One is talking about a statement of fact, the other is how I feel about it.

          There is no point in making it a metaphor for a naturalistic explanation.
          But we do it all the time. People talk about angry skies or angry seas or use personal pronouns in reference to inanimate objects. How about when people say they are feeling blue or feeling green about the gills? My father was always a box of birds, and apparently, as a child, I frequently withdrew into my shell. People use metaphors without realising they are using them.

          I have never claimed that my sense of the divine is anything other than the result of brain function. The brain creates a reality out of the input from our various senses, and I see no reason for what I sense as divine being any different.

          Interestingly, I stumbled across Why God Won’t Go Away in which the authors argue that the religious impulse is rooted in the biology of the brain. By the use of brain imaging, they provide an explanation of how the mind can create a “reality” that can be understood as being an awareness of the divine.

          Unfortunately, in the epilogue the authors suggest that an Absolutely Unitary Being is a plausible, even probable possibility. While their explanation might be plausible (I haven’t examined their reasoning), I believe it would more likely to be a very remote possibility than to be a probable possibility.

          I think part of our problem of talking past each other is touched upon on your comments about the need for precision in communication. I agree with you to a point. I worked as an engineer in the I.T. industry for 35 years so I understand the necessity for precision and accuracy of language. However, when it comes to religiosity or spirituality, I’m not sure that it appropriate or even possible. I’ll need to consider this further.

        • Whether you are talking about what you “feel” or not Barry, you are making a claim. You claim that you have a sense “something” that you’d call divine. If you cannot substantiate the claim with anything other than “it’s a feeling” or “it’s a metaphor” then its meaningless. Whether or not its how you “feel”, the question still remains. What is this “something” you are talking about? I have asked this question already, and you have already told me, point-blank, that you don’t know what it is, you don’t know where it comes from and you don’t care where it comes from. Saying that it is a metaphor for something else, is question-dodging.
          I misspoke slightly before – let me expand on my statement. I said earlier that there is no point in making a metaphor for a naturalist explanation. What I meant by that (and what I should have said), is that it serves no purpose to import religious or supernatural speak to serve in place of a natural explanation. Now you can claim that people speak in metaphors all the time and I will certainly agree with that. The only useful ones, are those that are generally understood and universally agreed upon. I can ask you or anyone, what you mean by “being blue” and I will get an answer that will a universal answer. As we can clearly see, from the video you posted, “That of God” is NOT a universally agreed upon statement. It is apparently a metaphor than can literally mean anything to anyone. 17 people were interviewed and 17 completely different answers were given. Some of them could be considered divergent, many of them are not related in any way and several of them completely contradicted other statements. There isn’t anything even remotely close to resembling a universally agreed upon statement about what “That of God” means. I’ll also point out, for the record, that you refer to God with a capital G. It implies 2 things. 1) That there is only 1 god (which was we all know is not true. I could rhyme off dozens of them and if I did enough research, could probably come up with hundreds if not thousands more of them). 2) That you are referring to this God as a proper noun – ie someone’s name. Christians and Muslims are 2 religions that routinely refer to their deity as “God”. This is pure speculation on my part, but somehow, I don’t think that statement would be as powerful or useful in your and your co-religionists minds if it was stated as “that of gods” in everyone, or “that of FSM (Flying Spaghetti Monster) in everyone. To use the capital G and then say that it is a metaphor, smacks of trying to have ones cake and eat it too.

          “I think part of our problem of talking past each other is touched upon on your comments about the need for precision in communication…..However, when it comes to religiosity or spirituality, I’m not sure that it appropriate or even possible. I’ll need to consider this further.”

          I don’t know about whether or not its appropriate or not, but I can say with the utmost confidence that it is not possible to communicate with precision and accuracy with regards to religion. If it were, there wouldn’t be 4200 different religions in the world today, almost all of them completely contradictory and incompatible with one another. There’d be 1.

  8. As a theology graduate and former minister plus “2e” I’ve learned my bitter lessons about arguing about religion and with NTs and anyone else in general. I fully understand as one on the same side, your communication perils, having decided therefore to fully embrace my ND “superiority”, caring less, or not at all about matters and opinions outside my own luxurious sphere of interests. As yourself, I stepped over my first half of a century, and decided to drop all interests and acquaintances beyond the mutually useful ones. And selfishness truly pays its dividends. And I love it. And the sharp decrease in the amount of anti anxiety medication absolutely proves it.
    No one deserves my attention, except if my ND mind has fully assessed and decided upon its necessity 👑

  9. Excellent point Barry.

  10. Pingback: 632: AUTISM AND FAITH | zingcreed

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