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the Friend INDEPENDENT QUAKER JOURNALISM SINCE 1843
CONTENTS VOL 170 NO 15
3 Thought for the Week:
When non means yes! David Boulton 4-5 News 6 Speaking truth amidst power Anne van Staveren 7 Your money and/or your life? Mo Kelly 8-9 Letters 10-11 Just Peace? Michael Bartlet 12-14 Quakers in the World:
Asia and the West Pacific Unity of Spirit Ian Kirk-Smith 15 All fall down John Lampen 16 q-eye: a look at the Quaker world 17 Friends & Meetings
Cover image: New Zealand landscape. Photo: Tim Parkinson / flickr CC. See pages 12-15.
.llas / flickr CC
Above: The beautiful island of Jeju in South Korea. There is a proposal to locate a naval base on the island. South Korean Quakers are protesting against this proposal. Below: Female cones of the Araucaria cunninghamii or Hoop Pine. See pages 12-15.
.:Tatiana Gerus / flickr CC
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the Friend, 13 April 2012 Thought for the Week
When non means yes!
We Friends are often perceived as a negative lot. Asked what we believe, we tend to reply with a string of negatives. We are against credal formulations, against doctrinal dogmas as conditions of membership, against priestly hierarchy, against a professional ministry (at least here in Britain), against specific sacraments, against decorating our Meeting houses with icons, crosses and stained glass windows. We do not normally sing hymns, recite set prayers or read the Bible as the infallible word of God. We are among the most nonconformist of nonconformists.
Perhaps we need reminding that, oddly enough, our nons can all be expressed not as negatives but as positive affirmations. We are for a faith that does not depend on creeds and dogmas. We are for a radically egalitarian religious practice free of hierarchical control and clerical authority. We are for simplicity and inclusivity. Oddly, our nons can be ways of saying yes! We are for nonviolence, for being nonjudgmental, nonpartisan, non-profit-making. Maybe non is a nonessential part of our Quaker vocabulary.
I have been musing on this paradoxical positivity of the non-words since attending the inaugural conference of the Nontheist Friends Network at Woodbrooke on 9-11 March. Nearly a hundred of us were there and, as always when nontheist Friends get together, there was some fretting over the negative connotations of our adopted label. Must we define ourselves against something – and, in particular, against what Quakers have traditionally understood as the ground of their being: belief in God, the Spirit, our creator and our guide?
As it happened, all three keynote speakers at the conference commented on the negativity of the word,
only to emphasise how non can be yes. For Philip Gross, poet, novelist and long-standing Friend, nontheism is ‘not less but more’. It pushes back boundaries, expands the circle, widens our inclusivity.
For Don Cupitt, theism and nontheism are both affirmatives. Theism affirms a particular understanding of God as Supreme Being, ultimate reality and final authority. Nontheism affirms an understanding of the Spirit as a human construct, our imagined projection of the ideal, the fictional protagonist in our cosmic story. Two different ways of understanding God-language, but both affirmative – and, for Friends, neither excluding the other.
For James Riemermann from Twin Cities Meeting, USA, the continuing dialogue between theist and nontheist understandings is the adventurous living modern Friends are called upon to embrace. Integrity requires that we ‘reveal our true selves’, not merely tolerating each other but celebrating our diversity. ‘If we all believed the same, what could we possibly say to one another?’
This unattractive little non-word ‘nontheism’, then, for all its apparent negativity, emerges as an affirmative and positive commitment to Quaker values and Quaker action. The conference minuted that theism and nontheism ‘need not be adversarial viewpoints but may be seen as different ways of seeking, finding and expressing meaning and purpose in our lives. We affirmed the importance of listening to each other with grace and due sensitivity’. The French may take some persuading, but for Friends non can indeed mean yes!
David Boulton Brigflatts Meeting the Friend, 13 April 2012