Wednesday, October 9, 2013

More Questions

[Snatching a comment by Olivia -- can do with more people if they like]

i'd like to see more of this as it's own blog post: "Someone's observation: that people usually think that whatever you're saying must be something they've already heard before -- and so they don't hear what's said, but merely what they'd heard before. How to get past that, in reading all this?" if thee becomes inspired in that department....

....recognizing that i do take the Bible seriously in my own way and that i too would hope that some would be drawn to weigh in who are more of the other sort at the moment but somehow still want to approach the topic of making peace with it -- or expressing the peace they have already made with it...which may have led them to set it aside?? i find that in other ways too i am being drawn to try to hear from the self-stated "non-theists" who feel very spiritually centered and authentically on a spiritual path. i am still trying to understand what that is like.


  1. All right, there are many different ways of 'taking the Bible seriously' -- some of which may lead to 'setting the Bible aside' at least for awhile.

    Assuming (whether correctly or mistakenly) that one knows 'what it's saying' is probably the main reason for that.

    Untheists do it -- mistakenly I think -- and theists are often mistaken in doing this.

    Questions that occurred to me this morning:

    Should we think of it as 'a wake-up call'? To what? Do we need it after we wake up? Are we awake? Merely as wide awake as we can get so far?

    How about looking at it as a 'you are here' map? Are we reading it correctly? Is it accurate? -- Or what's inaccurate about how people are reading it?

    Re your last question: To what extent is 'nontheism' a rejection of certain misunderstandings of the Bible, which tend to keep people from reading it in a useful way? To what extent -- the inability to accept things the Bible really is intended to tell people?

    How much of that is accessible outside the Bible? How much has giving up the Bible really cut Friends loose from The Big What It Is?

  2. Hi Forrest, You say,
    "the self-stated "non-theists" who feel very spiritually centered and authentically on a spiritual path. i am still trying to understand what that is like."

    This is what confuses me about modern Friends, the seemingly contradictory use of words...
    As a retired English teacher, I don't understand how a Friend can be a "nontheist" and yet be "on a spiritually centered and authentically on a spiritual path." It would seem to be based on the denotative meaning of the words that to be a "nontheist" is by definition to be a "non-spiritually centered" and to be on a "non-spiritual path." If there is NO Spirit, then how can one be on a spiritual path?

    Trying to understand just the new use of words just themselves...

    Then there is, of course, the issue of how nontheism doesn't make sense within a worshiping communion. If there is no ONE to worship what are the nontheists doing during worship each 1st day?

    1. Actually, my friend Olivia says... but I agree with her that untheists, and we, should talk together better.

      People of that persuasion have been the dominant faction in Quaker Meetings around here for awhile now. I can't explain this except to say ~'God has done this, and it is wonderful in our eyes.'

      I agree this probably limits the amount of spiritual juice a group can manifest. But I agree with Olivia that the Spirit is at work in people who 1) Don't know what we mean by 'God' and 2) are led to join Meetings for reasons I don't understand either.

      What I noticed in my own transition, years ago, from atheism to recognition -- is that people are really not consistent. There is generally a gap between:

      what a person actually believes (ie, will he walk on it?)
      what a person thinks he believes.
      what a person can tell other people he believes (depending on their own beliefs & disbeliefs. "Do the pigs like their pearls?" -- "Not particularly.")

      The current political environment seems to involve weird interactions between people with "religious" beliefs (but limited actual encounters with God -- whom they genuinely distrust despite their stated beliefs) and people who class the whole business with Santa Claus & the Easter Bunny.

      God is far more concerned with all these various people than either of us can be -- so how are we to help resolve all this? Refuse to talk & wait for God to send them flaming letters across the sky?

    2. [If you've read the right Lord Dunsany stories you'll recognize my quote. The Witch Who Lives at The Edge of the World keeps pigs; and naturally enough employs poets to feed them. What are they given to feed the pigs? Pearls, of course.]

    3. hello rivermenno & forrest (and others)!

      yeah that was me initially wondering those things and forrest made it a post. i can say, rivermenno, that one thing i'm clear on so far is that those who fall under the self-chosen umbrella nontheist believe quite a wide variety of things / are highly unique.... but one aspect that has been interesting to me has been to discover that they are in many cases what i still call God-people, they just are saying no to a certain definition of God that is too small -- but somehow is still the definition that they think the word "God" means. So if i find God to be large enough to have created everything and be the force behind science and goodness and the construct of the human body....they may be inagreement with me about all that except for calling to God. and they may be inclined to think that if i say "God" I mean "a white guy on a cloud."

      so it's rather weird, to my thinking. but the upshot has been the wonderous awareness that in many cases these are actually God people stepping out in integrity to say "no, there is that which is bigger than X____". am i saying this clearly? does this make sense? "nontheism" not being the same as saying "there is no organizing divine principle in the universe" but simply saying (in some people's minds) it's not "some guy on a cloud."

      i think so far even the two people i have met who feel actively ANTI-theist (one by email, one in person) ....are not saying that they are anti-their-own-Spirit and to me they are still good people in the eyes of God....just dealing with something not all that evil but more of the natural order...but are people God still likes.

      i get feelings about these things sometimes because God seems to give me an influx of love for them that i wouldn't have these are my impressions.

      i have felt the spirit of Christ very present several times in someone who describes himself as a "nontheist" and when asked more about it says he's a practicing Buddhist. i find that as he listens to the Source of all Light, sitting mindfully in meeting, we are communing with the same Thing.

      Hopefully this isn't too rambly. Help at all?

    4. Hi Olivia and Forrest,

      Sorry, I must disagree. #1 The non-theist Friends I've personally talked with or dialogged with online aren't saying they don't agree with a certain image of God, but rather they really claim there is NO God, none at all, none in the sense that Quakers for hundreds of year meant. :-( Several have stated they don't "worship" in Meeting for Worship.

      #2 Nontheist literally means "no God". If any nontheist Friends really trust in God but don't agree with popular perversions of the word "God," then it behooves them to come up with a term which affirms their faith in God but denies the false definitions. Maybe a term like "Friendly theist:-)" or GF-God theist" for George Fox's view of God theist. Yes, I know that is unwieldy but it sure is more clear than identifying with "nontheist" which is an exact synonym of Atheist.

      In the Light,

    5. P.S. Some Buddhists are theistic. I've read their work. Wonderful reflections on Truth. The very best meditation on the Sermon on the Mount that I've read is by a Buddhist!

      Other Buddhists are extremely Atheistic--denying God totally:-( I have one of their scholarly tomes in my garage library. The long book repeatedly claims that Buddhism is totally atheistic.

    6. I agree that the majority of people I've encountered who like the 'non-theist' label are in fact atheists. Of those willing to accept "spirituality" as a reality, most of them seem to imagine that it's purely 'interior' and entirely subjective -- an "experience" rather than the basis of all experience.

      This also seems to be the tacit "common-sense" belief system of most Quakers in my Meeting over the last twenty years. Not knowing God as a working reality underlying their lives, they simply don't consider God's existence/nonexistence a subject worth their time -- which they consider would be better devoted to Good Works.

      Hmmm, so why those "Good Works"? Do they have a traditionally moralistic God-image peering over their figurative shoulders to keep score on "Does this person Make It In despite not believing in Me?" How much Quaker Guilt and perfectionistic obsession should be attributed to that dynamic?

      On the old Matthean sheep-vs-goats entrance test, they'd pretty much all make it in on Good Intentions. [I once searched all the gospels for that 'Road to Hell is paved with' quote, certain it must be in there somewhere! Because it's that true!] But they'll fall short on ~"One thing you lack: Sell your ill-gotten possessions and reimburse the poor for the sins of your class." [My paraphrase.]

      The possession of [relative] wealth really does seem to work against finding The Gospel. Some folks really do think the Good News is that they're doing fine and the Poor could do just as well if they could only learn Middle Class Values.

      But they really are good people -- like the Pharisees of Jesus' time -- and the Spirit has been tacitly at work with them, doing all it could short of waking them up!

      Are such Meetings what Quaker Meetings are Intended to be? Of course not. Is God at work in them, making good use of them? I would say 'yes'.

      So, are we supposed to help rectify the situation? I believe so; but then 'How?' becomes a serious question...

  3. That's interesting to hear that Buddhism includes both ends of that spectrum. I was not aware...

    I may not have explained my current sense very well but I can try to clarify:
    I agree with your first sentence here "The non-theist Friends I've personally talked with or dialogged with online aren't saying they don't agree with a certain image of God, but rather they really claim there is NO God, none at all..."

    And YET:
    - I am finding that this is because they have stuck in their minds an image of what "God" means which is too small for reality. From what little I know, this is a hazzard of growing up Unitarian Universalist maybe? Perhaps someone else can speak more knowledgeably than I to where this whole idea that "God" = "white guy on cloud" comes from.

    But some of these folks then -- because they aren't stupid enough to believe in an embodied man on a cloud being the size of What's Going On (and a white one at that) -- seem to be committed to the label "nontheist" while still believing very profoundly in the Spirit that is in all things, and seem in fact to be reaching very authentically for Spirit in all things instead of a diminutive truth (little "t").

    Personally I would like to shout from the rooftops "I don't believe in a white guy in the flesh up on a cloud 100 feet overhead either... and I call that God."
    (err....maybe not shout that exactly or for very long)

    With those who simply misunderstand (oddly) the nature of God that the rest of us are operating under, but have their own divine values, I sometimes feel that I am in the presence of the Christ with them in meeting and that we are each cultivating relationship with that same Spirit that makes for a gathered meeting. I found this with one such gentleman and the language we had in common for what that was seemed to be "listening awareness". Outside of our own belief systems we found that the divine essence was speaking to each of us in different ways and for him it came to him via sitting in his Buddhist meditation and was the esesence of "listening awareness". I found that in "the Christ" I am in this state and with this presence.

    People like this who help me think outside the box of my first image of "nontheist" model for me a wider sense that perhaps when Jesus said "I am the Truth" -- perhaps all who seek to listen and be one with actual spiritual Truth (by whatever name it appears to them) are of this same One.

    (shrug) For some reason though this includes people who have had whatever formative experiences etc that when they hear the words "Christ" and "God" they can only hear this as a perversion of the larger spiritual divine goodness.

    This of course is not to say that that applies to all "nontheists". If someone likes that word for it and goes to the trouble to state that they don't believe in Spirit and anything they can't see and that all belief in anything Divine is like believing in fairies.... That's another matter. [I wish I wasn't speaking for ANY nontheists actually! But since these people are not currently focused on "making peace with the Bible", here we are!]


As the Spirit moves -- but in responding, please consider who you're responding to and what they mean by their words.