Mark, camping in a field of forty tents and ten caravans of Quakers, was distressed by the Swarthmore Lecture. He is atheist, married with two sons aged around ten, has been interested in Quakers for two years but committed for six months. He is spiritual but not religious, and wanted his sons to have the community we offer. He tried the “Sunday Assembly“, but was disillusioned, as it appeared to be a huge marketing campaign with lots of people having different expectations of it- a bit like some churches.
He felt comfortable with Quakers, but in the lecture Ben Pink Dandelion said we should get back to our core beliefs. Quakers tend to be “fuzzy”, said Ben, a former Anarchist- all the anarchists could agree on was changing their names to something silly. Our Book of Discipline, Quaker Faith and Practice, is clear about who we are and what we do, but if you ask a Quaker about Quakers s/he will start “well, for me…” Mark saw this as an attack on him. His atheism is our fuzziness, and if we got back to our clarity we would exclude him.
I can state what we do in materialist terms. We set aside our egos and seek the highest Good, which (most of us) call God’s Will. We speak as moved- by “The Spirit” or by unconscious brain processes. We seek Unity and Discernment, not necessarily theist concepts. I told Mark that if he valued what we do, I wanted him in Quakers. I had thought the “fuzziness” Ben attacked was me- call myself a Quaker, but make no great advance on our Testimony, which in former ages set how we lived our lives. I loved Mark’s enthusiasm, and impressed him: he thought me thirty.
There were some polemic views. Sarah wanted Quakers to leave Churches Together, and said in the seminar on the language she used that she had used religious language when she was a child, but had matured now. She is only trying to get at her wife, a theologian, and just because you have matured out of particular language does not mean that anyone who uses it is childish. The Non-Theist network and the Committee on Christian and Interfaith Relations worked together. A man told me that though we could divide ourselves by the words we used, our differing experiences cut across those divides.
Trying to do too much, I slept through Michael Wright’s talk on “Atheist prayer”, but picked up some things. He is a former Anglican priest who had what he thought was an experience of God, and never had another though he craved it. He felt bereaved of God, but still heeded the intellectual and spiritual challenge of love, and just, compassionate living. Our responsibility is to ourselves, not God. Our promptings of love and truth come from within ourselves, not beyond. He used the Anglican mnemonic ACTS- Adoration, contrition, thanksgiving, supplication but changed it, so S was self-examination; but Thankfulness is a useful practice, whatever one believes. He recommended Gretta Vosper and the Progressive Christianity Network.