«By CAROLE ANNE HAMBY A thesis submitted to the University of Birmingham for the degree of DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY Department of Theology and Religion ...»
154 experiential theology. The distinction between those who do or do not engage in God-talk (theo-logy) does not equate one rather than the other with practices that involve conscious attention to inward engagement. Turning inward to one’s own conscious contemplative activity may or may not entail, for the practitioner, a relationship with God. Indeed, the definition with which this research was initiated, paraphrased as, concerning those individuals who engage with self-referring consciousness, does not necessarily require theist interpretation. It is possible, then, that some Quakers, who are non-theist, understand, engage in and value Inwardness under a description that does not make reference to God.10 Questions arise as to interpretations of what is accessed in Inwardness: for Christian Quakers it is ‘that of God within’ understood, in the main, as in seventeenth century Quakerism. For others, Inwardness may be practised via Conditions 1-2, but take on different perspectives when notions of God are introduced. Therefore, in terms of the Elements listed as numbers 3-9 in Tables 2-5 any notions of God only have relevance for F-Q practitioners, who may continue to engage in a spiritual practice that seems to be true to Fox’s teaching as identified in this thesis.11 For others Inwardness may have connotations that are oceanic or cosmic, and be described in terms other than Godly, as, for example, unmoving, spacious or silent expansiveness.
These differences have led to identifiable, but not necessarily conflicting shifts in Quakerism, as ‘liberal theology [which] silently and invisibly became orthodoxy among Friends...’12 In general influences have taken Friends in one of two directions: one spiritual and the other social, or socio-political, each of which contributes to the totality of the Britain Yearly Meeting and the range of its diversity.13 Punshon points out that the
11 See text note.
12 Isichei, E. Victorian Quakers (Oxford: University Press, 1970), p. 41. See Dandelion for a thorough examination of Liberal Quakerism, Introduction, 129-153.
13 The latter is discussed in terms of Inwardness i.e. as the consequence of Inwardness, see 2.4.
Although the Meeting for Worship has continued to be the bedrock of Quaker life, emphasis on social action and political concern, always a feature of Quaker living, continues apace and with sharpening political focus in the twenty-first century. This is not at the expense of the spiritual significance of Quaker faith and practice but, rather in recognition that spiritual practice, accepted without question, is not emphasized in the way that the behavioural aspects of Quaker ways of life are. 15 There continues to the present, some differentiation among Friends between those who have greater concern for spiritual matters from which social action emerges; and those who place greater concern on social action whilst acknowledging its spiritual underpinning in Meeting for Worship. Both contribute to the ‘body’ of Quakerism in its fullness, and although there may seem little distinction in these two positions as described, the significance of Inwardness in each is different.16 For the sake of clarification the two strands are referred to as social and spiritual Quakerism.17 Those Friends who engage in social Quakerism often work with particular allegiance to a specific Testimony position, for example peace activity or social service. Some of them display characteristics that are increasingly, and perhaps primarily, outwardly turned.
For these Friends social action seems to be both within and beyond their religion. It cannot be said definitively that, for them, spiritual concerns are diminished, but Quakers who are 14 Punshon, J. ‘Some reflections on Quakers and the Evangelical Spirit’ in Anderson, P and Macy, H. R. (eds) Truth’s Bright Embrace (Newberg, Oregon: George Fox University Press, 1996), p. 217.
15 See, as indication, Swarthmore lecture titles. Curle, A. ‘True Justice: Quaker Peace makers and Peace making’1981, Bailey, S. ‘Peace is a process’, 1993, Newell, T. ‘Forgiving Justice: A Quaker vision of criminal justice’, 2000, Lacey, P. ‘The unequal world we inhabit: Quaker responses to terrorism and fundamentalism’, 2010, Lunn, P. ‘Costing not less than everything: Sustainability and spirituality in changing times’, 2011.
16 Though not necessarily its nature.
17 This is not a totally accurate distinction because, as indicated, the majority of Quakers respect Meeting for Worship. However, there may be a difference in the intensity of and concern for personal spiritual growth involved and involvement in practice of Inwardness may be a matter of degree rather than of kind. Empirical examination of individuals’ spiritual practice would provide interesting and relevant information relating to this consideration.
156 wedded to socio-political concerns seem to espouse a view similar to that expressed by the Dalai Lama.18 They are not however divorced totally from the spiritual practice of their heritage. There is little friction between F-Q participants in Quaker faith and practice and non F-Q participants, partly because of the lack of formal sharing of beliefs, but also because of the general tolerance of Friends for each other’s views.19 There can be differences of emphasis in their practical activities: these contribute to the totality of the Religious Society of Friends, its engagement in Inwardness and the consequences of Inwardness in the world. Specific relationships between different theological positions, as described above, and the social engagements of Friends, are not definitive. It is intended here to show rather that individuals contribute in different ways to a Society that is flexible and mobile in its outwardly-turned activity, and firmly embedded in its inwardly-turned spiritual practice.
It is important to note that, in terms of changes within the Society and the identity of its membership, a recent and possibly more serious challenge to Quakerism, as a religious movement, comes from a humanist position. This is discussed here in order to clarify the full range of differences that exist within the present day Quaker membership. David Boulton, a self-proclaimed non-theist member of the Religious Society of Friends, raises issues about ‘the twilight of God’ and, under the influence of Don Cupitt, adopts a ‘Sea of Faith’ perspective.20 For Boulton, and others, the Christian ‘kingdom of heaven’ is a nonnotion when that ‘kingdom’ implies a rulership of God. In turn he questions ‘what there is to worship in a Quaker meeting for worship: ‘if not God, then what?’ Inwardness is not the issue for Boulton, since there is merely, but importantly, a settling process, in which silence and stillness contribute to a significant corporate gathering – a corporately shared
human presence. He writes:
Meeting for Worship is a meeting, a getting together of Friends. We can reflect, meditate, contemplate all on our own, but it’s coming together and doing it together that makes a Society of Friends. Religion is above all about relationship, and
Boulton’s view might satisfy some Quakers as to its adequacy, but it is apparent that it is a world apart from an F-Q explanation of spiritual practice in its devotional form. As such it is unlikely to sustain the continuity of the Religious Society of Friends, as it has been understood traditionally, in the years to come.
As indicated above the range of faith and practice within British Quakerism in the twenty-first century is considerable. Significant changes in Quaker faith and the identity of the membership are reflected in a 2008 document on ‘Quaker identity and the heart of
our [Quaker] faith’.22 These are encapsulated below:
1. For the first time since the early days of the Quaker movement, convinced Friends with no previous Quaker background now greatly outnumber those raised by Quaker parents and that therefore assumptions about obtaining understanding of our peculiar ways of being and doing through osmosis can no longer be made.
2. Whereas a generation ago the largest theological divide among us [Quakers] was expressed as between the Christ-centred and the universalist, it now appears to be between those whose experience is of a transcendent God and nontheists, for whom ‘God’ is a metaphor for entirely human experience.
It is evident, from this statement of the Quaker Life Central Committee, that the Society’s corporate voice remains singular despite the existence of the diversity of how people are “Quaker” in the twenty-first century. Personal descriptions of the experience of Inwardness, within Meeting for Worship, are nonetheless likely to be varied.
Any acknowledgement or interpretation of Inwardness, from such contrasting positions as those of non-theists and Christian Friends, including for example Heron below, may be markedly dissimilar–a religious Quaker may address or refer to God, a non
22 Conference papers and study material for use in meetings for learning, based on the Quaker Life Conference held in April 2008.
5.3 Inwardness in the modern era As shown in 5.2 above, the development of Liberal Quakerism has led to increasing freedom from any specific faith definition, and, for many of its adherents, virtual freedom from any doctrine. It has sanctioned not only diversity among its practitioners, but also
given way to uncertainty. 24 Dandelion concludes that:
Liberal Quakerism remains a distinct and changing tradition within Quakerism. It operates in a unique way amongst religious groups in its emphasis on form rather than belief and consequently transcends many of the philosophical and theological problems associated with the more doctrinal churches. 25 Thus one of the characteristics of ‘maturing’ Quaker Liberalism is that there are those who, like Boulton, dissociate themselves from religious language and God-talk. This fact affects, to a great degree, how Inwardness is likely to be discussed and, potentially, how it is understood.
Gorman’s consideration of what he considers the ‘amazing fact of Quaker worship’ involves, in his terms, avoidance ‘of [religious] words that... are likely to cause negative reactions’.26 Gradual undermining of the religious position, steeped in Christianity, has given way to new and different ‘legitimate standpoints’ to which Gorman affords respect.
Language of Inwardness, and its consequences, is often reframed. In his discussion of 23 It is questionable whether a Meeting for Worship, comprising such diversity of participants, can ‘gather’ in the sense Quakers intend and whether ‘ministry’ is sustained in distinction from ‘mere thoughts’ that non-theists wish to share.
24 Dandelion, An Introduction to Quakerism.(Cambridge: University Press, 2007), pp. 151-153, on ‘the absolute perhaps’.
Dandelion, ibid, p. 153. ‘In Britain, nonetheless, the turn to Inwardness in un-programmed, silent 25 worship remained the form of spiritual practice. This being so it was (and remains) necessary to consider what might be the new interpretations of its content that often remain hidden: one of which concerns a
changing, modern understanding of the Light:’ See also Dandelion, B. Pink, ‘Open for Transformation:
Being Quaker’, Swarthmore lecture. ( London: Quaker Books, 2014) chapter 2.
Gorman, G. ‘The Amazing Fact of Quaker Worship’, Swarthmore lecture (London: Friends Home 26 Service Committee, 1973), pp. 3-4.
159 Quaker worship, Gorman ‘humanize[s]’ the experience of Meeting for Worship. He adopts the view that although Quaker worship is ‘a religious activity’ his examination is from the standpoint ‘of human experience’.27 However, the experience of worship, even though ‘human experience’, is known by many Friends as a distinctive type of experience regarded as a search for spiritual knowing, which remains mystical and, for some, holy. Damaris Parker Rhodes describes an experience related to her spiritual journey as follows: ‘…then inwardly I saw. This seeing was echoed in the whole of my surroundings which became lighted from within with a holy light’.28 Parker Rhodes distinguishes initially between an experience and ongoing experiencing. She took her first experience forward in becoming a member of the Religious Society of Friends. This enabled her to ‘seek inwardly to grasp what is most precious in our [Quaker] tradition’. She said, ‘It was necessary for me to belong to a religious fellowship in which experience and action could be tested and tried; Friends provide just this important living discipline’. 29 Liberal Quakerism in the twenty-first century is indeed liberal in its faith, yet, unprogrammed worship, practised in Britain, remains conservative in its practice.30 Thus Gorman chooses his language carefully, with avoidance of certain words. In relation to faith position diversity increases among Friends but in terms of practice, both inwardly in worship and outwardly in the witness of testimony, much remains constant. It is within this range of constancy and change that issues of membership have focused on Quaker identity in the present day. Although emphasis on worship, as inwardly experienced is, in
Gorman, ‘The Amazing Fact of Quaker Worship’, p. 5. 27
28 Parker Rhodes, ‘Truth: A Path not a Possession’ Swarthmore lecture, (London: Friends Home Service, 1977), p. 9; compare ‘lighted from within with a holy light’ with Stephen’s ‘consciousness … lighted from within’(chapter 1).
29 Parker Rhodes, ibid,p. 13; this is the ‘singular voice’ mentioned above.
30 For relevant comparison see Dandelion Introduction, table 3.3 ‘The operation of the culture of silence (after Dandelion 1996, p. 258)’ and table 3.4. ‘A model of Quaker theology (after Taber 1992, p. 16)’.
His analyses focus on specific aspects of Quaker faith and practice including a ‘culture of silence’, showing its advantages and disadvantages, and also Quaker theology as multi-faceted.