“If you think Richard Dawkins is too easy on religion, go down to that end of the room,” I said, indicating the steps up to the bookstore. “And if you…”
“Careful…” someone said.
And I was. There were several believers-in-God present – the exact number depending on your definition – and I didn’t want to make a joke that might be taken the wrong way.
“If you’re, uh… very theistic, go down to the other end,” I finished, indicating the fireplace. “And if you’re somewhere in between, go somewhere in between.”
All posts tagged Quakerism
Is naturalist or humanist spirituality an oxymoron?
Tom Flynn seems to think so. And since he happens to be the new director of the Council for Secular Humanism, his opinion is of some moment.
[Christopher] Orlet seems to find sincere, full-bore irreligiosity – the absence of any sense of a supra-natural aspect to life – almost incomprehensible, something there’s barely even a label for. Actually there are a couple of perfectly good labels for people who abstain from religion and spirituality. I’ve used one already: “scientific naturalist.” For another, I look no farther than my business card: “secular humanist.”
The way I read this passage, it seems he is equating “full-bore irreligiosity” with “[abstention] from religion and spirituality,” thereby suggesting spirituality is necessarily religious, or at least supernaturalistic.
This is rather like the question of whether you can be a religious atheist. Both “religion” and “spirituality” are associated with supernaturalism, and yet both have their godless proponents who want to see the terms reclaimed – for example, Felix Adler (founder of the religion Ethical Culture) and André Comte-Sponville (author of The Little Atheist Book of Spirituality).
I disagree with the first quest. It seems quixotic to say the least, and I’m not sure the word “religion” is worth reclaiming even if it were possible – it has negative connotations even for many religious people. But I agree with the second.
Because “spirituality” seems like a truly useful collective term for one’s emotional, social, ethical, and even cognitive functioning as subjectively experienced. At the retreat on nontheism among Quakers this weekend, the most common description of spirituality was “connection” – feeling connected to other people and to the natural environment, along with being attentive to the present moment. I see nothing objectively mysterious or supernatural about any of these things, as mysterious as they might feel subjectively.
And yet – one should use the word sparingly.
To quote James Riemermann again, writing on a different but related subject, “the word feels so terribly imprecise, and I can almost always find better ways to express myself.” If you’re about to say “spiritual” but you really just mean “ethical” or “emotional,” why not be specific?
(The link by the way goes to the Facebook event page.)
The full flyer text below the cut:
As early as 1976, the Friends General Conference Gathering hosted a well-attended Workshop for Nontheistic Friends. In the decades since, Friends have become increasingly aware of the theological diversity of our Religious Society. Through experience and statistical studies, we have learned a large proportion of our members and attenders are somewhere on a spectrum that includes postchristians, agnostics, atheists, secularists, humanists.
How can we be nontheists and Quakers too?
If our Quaker life is not centered on belief in God, what is our center?
What are our challenges?
How can theists and nontheists enrich each other while holding views that differ?
A: Because often they kind of suck, to paraphrase an excerpt from a new pamphlet just sent out in the QuakerYouth newsletter:
It can be tempting to look at the absence of young faces in our meeting houses and blame it on the ‘digital age’ or on young people needing ‘something more lively.’ However, I would like to hold up the possibility that people coming into Quaker meetings are not looking for a certain prevailing skin phenotype or age presence, but for the Spirit to be evident in the lives of the Friends who are there. I believe that they, like me, ache to have a spiritual community where they feel truly seen, truly held, and deeply challenged.
(From Coming into Friendship as a Gift by Christina Van Regenmorter)
“Friend speaks my mind,” as we say.
The interest group on nontheistic Quakerism I facilitated at the aforementioned young adult Quaker conference went rather well – a report may be coming on the Nontheist Friends website. (I posted one to the email list, but would want to edit it down a bit.)
Both the interest group and the conference generally changed something for me, and I find a new sense of commitment to the Quaker experiment.
I first started attending Quaker meetings back in 2002 at North Shore Friends Meeting in Beverly, Mass., and officially became a member a few years later. I’ve been living in the city for two years now, and in the past few weeks finally decided I really really felt right about transferring membership to Friends Meeting at Cambridge. I just sent North Shore a long letter of transfer, which is found under the cut.
Later this month, May 23-26, a young adult Friends (YAF) conference is taking place at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana. I’m going, and will be leading an interest group on theistic and nontheistic Quakerism in dialogue, if the organizers approve it.
Registration closes this week, so if you’re interested in going, hurry up!
Still mulling over what place (a) Quakerism, (b) humanism, and (c) just being a regular Joe each have in my life, but I feel a resolution (for the medium term anyway) coming soon.
Browsing the early issues of the Journal of Humanistic Psychology last month for my paper, I came across a review of a book by the American psychologist Eugene Gendlin. I’d seen his name once before in an unlikely place — a booklet by a British Quaker writer named Rex Ambler, whom I had the pleasure of meeting a few years ago at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre.