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robertogreco : barclay   1

I'm an atheist so why am I a committed Quaker? – Nat Case – Aeon
"I contradict myself. I am an atheist and committed Quaker. Does it matter what I believe, when I recognise that religion is something I need?"



"If you are really going to be part of a community, just showing up for the main meal is not enough: you need to help cook and clean up. So it has been with me and the Quakers: I’m concerned with how my community works, and so I’ve served on committees (Quakerism is all about committees). There’s pastoral care to accomplish, a building to maintain, First-Day School (Quakerese for Sunday School) to organise. And there’s the matter of how we as a religious community will bring our witness into the world. Perhaps this language sounds odd coming from a non-theist, but as I hope I’ve shown, I’m not a non-theist first. I’ve been involved in prison visiting, and have been struck at the variety of religious attitudes among volunteers: some for whom the visiting is in itself ministry, and others for whom it’s simply social action towards justice (the programme grew out of visiting conscientious objectors in the Vietnam era). The point is: theological differences are not necessarily an issue when there’s work to be done."



"How can we do that? How can I do that? Submitting to something I am pretty sure doesn’t exist? How can I bow down to a fiction? I did it all the time as a child. Open the cover of the book, and I’m in that world. If I’m lucky, and the book is good enough, some of that world comes with me out into the world of atoms and weather, taxes and death. It’s a story, and sometimes stories are stronger than stuff.

Maybe part of the trick is realising that it doesn’t have to be just my little bubble of fiction. I can read a novel, or I can go gaming into the evening with friends. I can watch a ballet on a darkened stage, or I can roar along to my favourite band in the mosh pit. I hated school dances with a passion, yet I have been a morris dancer for 23 years now: I just had to find the form that was a right fit. I don’t pray aloud, or with prescribed formulas. But I can ask Whatever-There-Is a question, or ask for help from the universe, or say thank you. And now that I’m in a place with a better fit, sometimes I get answers back. And so there I am, a confirmed skeptic, praying in a congregation."



"A year and a half ago, our family began worshipping with a smaller Conservative Friends group. Conservative Friends are socially and theologically liberal but stricter in adhering to older Quaker practices. The group uses the Montessori-based Godly Play curriculum for the children: it’s all about stories. Every session begins with a quieting and a focusing. The leader tells a story from the Bible or from the Quaker story book. Then ‘wondering’ questions are asked that spur the children to reflect on what’s going on, and what they would do in the same situation.

I wish I’d had this great programme as a child. The teacher is a good storyteller who clearly loves the kids, and they love the stories and the time with their friends. To me, it’s such an improvement on school-style lessons. It says: this is a different kind of knowing and learning — this is not about facts and theories you need to learn, but about the stories we want to become part of your life.

I love facts and theories, the stuff of the world. I spend most of my life wrestling and dancing with all this amazing matter. As the Australian comic Tim Minchin says in his rant-poem ‘Storm’ (2008): ‘Isn’t this enough? Just this world? Just this beautiful, complex, wonderfully unfathomable world?’ And yes, it’s enough. We don’t need to tell lies about the real world in order to make it magical. But we do still need impossible magic for our own irrational selves. At any rate, I do.

Because I don’t feel stuff-and-logic-based explanations deep down in my toes. There are no miracle stories of flying children there, or brothers reborn into the land where the sagas come from. The language of ‘stuff is all there is’ tells me that I can — even ought to — be rational and sensible, but it doesn’t make me want to be. ‘Atheism’ tells me what I am not, and I yearn to know what I am. What I am has a spine, it’s a thing I must be true to, because otherwise it evaporates into the air, dirt and water of the hard world.

Maybe I — we — need to start small, rebuilding gods that we talk to, and who talk back. Or just one whom we can plausibly imagine, our invisible friend. Maybe part of our problem is that we don’t actually want to talk to the voice of Everything, because Everything has gotten so unfathomably huge. George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, didn’t have to think about light years, let alone billions of light years. The stars now are too far away to be our friends or speak to us in our need. Maybe we could talk to a god whom we imagined in our house. Maybe we could ask what is wanted, and hear what is needed. Maybe that god would tell us not to tramp over the earth in armies, pretending we are bigger than we are, and that dying is OK, because it’s just something that happens when your life is over. Maybe we would ask for help and comfort from unexpected places, and often enough receive it and be thankful for it.

Maybe we need to name that little god something other than God, because maybe our God has a boss who has a boss whose boss runs the universe. Maybe we name this god Ethel, or Larry, or Murgatroyd. Maybe there is no god but God... or maybe there just is no God. And maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe we just tell stories that ring true to us and say up-front that we know they are fiction. We can let people love these stories or hate them. Maybe imagining impossible things — such as flying, the land where sagas come from, God — is what is needed. Maybe we don’t need the gods to be real. Maybe all we need is to trust more leaps of the imagination."
philosophy  quakers  atheism  2013  natcase  religion  belief  literature  fiction  skepticism  stories  storytelling  listening  learning  life  magic  wonder  truth  logic  trust  imagination  community  committees  myth  myths  josephcampbell  robert  barclay  via:jenlowe  everyday  quaker 
august 2013 by robertogreco

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