Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind

What’s wrong with Quakers?


Almost 13 hours into the new year. Yeah, I know some of you haven’t got around to starting 2019 yet, but we Kiwis like to get in early 🙂

I stumbled upon the question in the title of this post on  Quora the other day. One answer I particularly liked was this one from Mitch Davis, a Quaker from Australia. It sums up Quaker philosophy quite nicely in my opinion (but see the last line of the quote).

Quakers are wrong because we don’t believe in an absolute right. What’s right for you may be wrong for me, or what was right for me five years ago maybe wrong for me today. And vice versa. I’m fine with you being wrong as much as I hope you’re fine with me being wrong.

We’re all on journeys. Different journeys. And at different places along our journey. What is expected of Quakers is that we continually search for and develop our own personal truth which is consistent with our conscience, as it is at this moment. In practise this works quite well, because we appreciate and take delight in others having different opinions. Makes the world more interesting.

(Old saying: “four Quakers, five opinions”)

Anyway, if you’re still in 2018, make the most of it because it won’t be around much longer!

Author: Barry

A post war baby boomer from Aotearoa New Zealand who has lived with migraines for as long as I can remember and discovered I am autistic at the age of sixty. I blog because in real life I'm somewhat backwards about coming forward with my opinions.

18 thoughts on “What’s wrong with Quakers?

  1. “… our own personal truth…”

    The five-person expedition ventured deep into the forbidden wilderness. They observed a distant light on the horizon. It shimmered in a kaleidoscope of vivid colors. It began to pulsate with increasing intensity. Suddenly, it exploded in a blinding fireball which shook the ground and slowly faded into nothingness. The expedition was awestruck. They had never seen anything like that before. They debated what to do next.

    The religious one thought it was a warning from God and instructed them to turn back.
    The timid one also wanted to return fearing some kind of danger up ahead.
    The adventuresome one became even more eager to go forward.
    The scientist didn’t know what caused the light, but was very curious to find out.
    The lonely one urged the expedition to stay together.

    I’m like the scientist. Truth must be empirically proved.

    Happy Holidays! 🙂

    • You’ve taken it out of context. When read as “our own personal truth which is consistent with our conscience” it takes on an entirely different meaning than that which you imply in your story

      Personal truths refer to those questions that are not at present (and possibly can never be) proved one way or the other. That’s why they’re personal. Is it possible to prove what peace is, or justice or fairness? How about freedom or equality? How should one measure them? How should poverty be measured? Is it possible to prove what stewardship of the earth means. Can you empirically prove what is the best solution to the many current refugee crises? These are the truths we are referring to. To Quakers, it’s how we respond to these questions that matter, not speculation on whether or not God is three persons or how Jesus can be both fully human and fully divine at the same time.

      • I meant no criticism, and was just trying to point out that some people do not perceive the world metaphysically. To the empiricist, peace, justice, freedom, equality, etc. are all relative terms which require context to be meaningful, and the context in which they are used is a subjective (not objective) interpretation. Ask a group of randomly selected people to define such terms and you’ll likely get many differing answers.

        However, material problems such as environmental stewardship of the Earth and our numerous refugee crises are measurable through empirical means.

        We should never put ourselves in a predicament where we are forced to see existence as either exclusively metaphysical or as exclusively empirical. Science is our best tool for the material world, but it is limited by our current level of knowledge. What it cannot yet understand remains in the purview of our individual spirituality.

        • We should never put ourselves in a predicament where we are forced to see existence as either exclusively metaphysical or as exclusively empirical.

          I agree entirely, as I think most people do, be they religious, spiritual or neither. Most people don’t perceive existence as exclusively one or the other, at least that’s my experience here in Aotearoa New Zealand (although I’ve met a few people who have world views that are almost exclusively one or the other – neither of which are particularly pleasant).

          In the case of Friends, it’s values, how we determine them and, especially, our response to those that define Quakerism. Whether one describes one’s motivation to respond as “a leading from God”, one’s conscience or “just the right thing to do” is immaterial. However, I think the majority of Quakers would describe the experience of their personal prompting in metaphysical terms.

          The effects and costs of refugee crises can be measured, I agree. Likewise the effectiveness of any solution can be measured, although usially in hindsight. What can’t be measured is the social, economic, environmental, and other factors that are required to prevent such situations from developing, and whether we as human beings are capable of bringing all those factors together.

          Similar questions can be asked of environmental stewardship.

  2. I wonder why Quakerism has pretty much faded away here in the US. Seems like a pretty logical one considering….maybe that’s the problem here. People want illogical.
    Still hanging on to the last remnants of 2018. I can’t begin to imagine what 2019 will be like.

    • Has it, do you think? Do you have statistics? Do you perceive less public consciousness of Quaker work? Is it numbers of Quakers you think are declining?

      • I’ve never known anyone who was a Quaker, nor seen or heard of any houses of worship in any city I’ve ever lived in. Maybe it’s because I’m in the South and everything is Baptist with occasional Methodist or Presbyterian thrown in.

      • Statistically, participation in institutional religion is declining worldwide with the notable exception of Islam which is currently increasing.

        Best estimates place the number of Quakers at about 1 million, mostly in the Americas and Africa. For comparison, there are over 2 billion Christians and about 10 million Jews.

        • Correction: “the number of Quakers at less than 1 million.”

          • You’re being extremely generous with the number Quakers. Quakers generally agree there’s around 300,000 world wide, perhaps a little less. Around 80% – 85% are evangelical and belong to Quaker churches with pastors and programmed worship. Liberal meetings such as are found in the UK, NZ, and Australia make up around 10% of Quakers world wide. Roughly half of all Quakers live in Africa, with more than 100,000 in Kenya alone.

    • Numerically, Quakers have always been a relatively small group. Figures seem to be rather hard to find, but it appears that there’s somwhere between 70 and 80 thousand Quakers in the USA. Due to a number of schisms among American Friends, Quakerism there has evolved differently than it has in other English speaking countries, most of Europe and Asia. By far the largest “faction” are evangelical, and have reverted to having creeds and articles of faith, having pastors, worshiping in churches. and giving the Bible more authority than one’s Inner Light or conscience. Superficially, it’s difficult to distinguish them from any other protestant evangelical church. Perhaps their concerns these days are more in line with other evangelicals instead of a more radical activism of the past?

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