This abridged version of “Roots and Flowers of Quaker Nontheism” was compiled for the convenience of students of Quaker nontheism. An ellipses ( . . . ) or brackets ([ ]) indicate where material has been omitted. The original is a chapter in Quaker and Naturalist Too (Morning Walk Press of Iowa City, IA, in 2014, is available from www.quakerbooks.org). The chapter includes text (pp. 65-103), bibliography (pp. 147-157), source notes (pp. 165-172), and references to 20 quotations that appear elsewhere in the book but are not in this abridged version.
Part I: Roots of Quaker Nontheism
This is a study of the roots of Quaker nontheism today. Nontheist Friends are powerfully drawn to Quaker practices but they do not accompany this with a faith in God. Nontheism is an umbrella term covering atheists, agnostics, secular humanists, pantheists, wiccaists, and others. You can combine nontheist with other terms and call yourself an agnostic nontheist or atheist nontheist, and so on. Some nontheists have set aside one version of God (e.g. as a person) and not another (e.g. as a word for good or your highest values). A negative term like nontheism is convenient because we describe our views so many different ways when speaking positively.
Many of the Quakers mentioned here were not nontheists but are included because they held views, often heretical in their time, that helped Friends become more inclusive. In the early days this included questioning the divinity of Christ, the divine inspiration of the Bible, and the concepts of heaven, hell, and immortality. Later Friends questioned miracles, the trinity, and divine creation. Recently the issue has been whether Quakers have to be Christians, or theists. All this time there were other changes happening in speech, clothing, marriage practices, and so on. Quakerism has always been in progress.
Views held today are no more authentic because they were present in some form in earlier years. However, it is encouraging to Quaker nontheists today to find their views and their struggle prefigured among Friends of an earlier day.
In the following excerpts we learn about Quaker skeptics of the past and the issues they stood for. These are the roots that support the flowers of contemporary Quaker nontheism. . . .
First Generation Quaker Skeptics
Quakers were a varied group at the beginning. There was little effective doctrinal control and individuals were encouraged to think for themselves within the contexts of their local meetings. Many of the early traditions are key for nontheists today, such as the emphasis on actions other than talk and the injunction to interpret what we read, even Scripture. All the early Friends can be considered forerunners of the Quaker nontheists of today, but two people deserve special mention. Gerard Winstanley (1609–c.1660) was a Digger, or True Leveller, who became a Quaker. . . . He published twenty pamphlets between 1648 and 1652 and was a political and religious revolutionary. He equated God with the law of the universe known by observation and reason guided by conscience and love. Winstanley wrote,
“I’ll appeal to your self in this question, what other knowledge have you of God but what you have within the circle of the creation? . . . For if the creation in all its dimensions be the fullness of him that fills all with himself, and if you yourself be part of this creation, where can you find God but in that line or station wherein you stand.” [Source Note #1]
Winstanley also wrote,
“[T]he Spirit Reason, which I call God…is that spirituall power, that guids all mens reasoning in right order, and to a right end: for the Spirit Reason, doth not preserve one creature and destroy another . . . but it hath a regard to the whole creation; and knits every creature together into a onenesse; making every creature to be an upholder of his fellow.” [#2]
His emphasis was on the world around and within us: “O ye hear-say Preachers, deceive not the people any longer, by telling them that this glory shal not be known and seen, til the body is laid in the dust. I tel you, this great mystery is begun to appear, and it must be seen by the material eyes of the flesh: And those five senses that is in man, shall partake of this glory.” [#3]
Jacob Bauthumley (1613–1692) was a shoemaker who served in the Parliamentary Army. . . . His name was probably pronounced Bottomley since this is how Fox spelled it. In 1650 he published The Light and Dark Sides of God, the only pamphlet of his that we have. This was declared blasphemous and he was thrown out of the army, his sword broken over his head, and his tongue bored. After the Restoration he became a Quaker and a librarian and was elected sergeant–at–mace in Leicester. For Bauthumley, God dwells in men and in all the rest of creation and nowhere else. We are God even when we sin. Jesus was no more divine than any person is, and the Bible is not the word of God. He wrote,
“I see that all the Beings in the World are but that one Being, and so he may well be said, to be every where as he is, and so I cannot exclude him from Man or Beast, or any other Creature: Every Creature and thing having that Being living in it, and there is no difference betwixt Man and Beast; but as Man carries a more lively Image of the divine Being then [than] any other Creature: For I see the Power, Wisdom, and Glory of God in one, as well as another onely in that Creature called Man, God appears more gloriously in then the rest. . . . And God loves the Being of all Creatures, yea, all men are alike to him, and have received lively impressions of the divine nature, though they be not so gloriously and purely manifested in some as in others, some live in the light side of God, and some in the dark side; But in respect of God, light and darkness are all one to him; for there is nothing contrary to God, but onely to our apprehension. . . . It is not so safe to go to the Bible to see what others have spoken and writ of the mind of God as to see what God speaks within me and to follow the doctrine and leadings of it in me.” [#4]
Eighteenth Century Quaker Skeptics
There were skeptical Quakers who asserted views such as that God created but does not run the universe, that Jesus was a man and not divine, that much of theology is superstition and divides people unnecessarily, and that the soul is mortal.
An example is John Bartram (1699–1777) of Philadelphia. . . . He was a farmer and perhaps the best known botanist in the American colonies. Bartram had a mystical feeling for the presence of God in nature and he supported the rational study of nature. In 1758 he was disowned by Darby Meeting for saying Jesus was not divine, but he continued to worship at that meeting and was buried there.
In 1761 he carved a quote from Alexander Pope over the door of his greenhouse: “Slave to no sect, who takes no private road, but looks through Nature up to Nature’s God.” In 1743 he wrote, “When we are upon the topic of astrology, magic and mystic divinity, I am apt to be a little troublesome, by inquiring into the foundation and reasonableness of these notions” In a letter to Benjamin Rush he wrote, “I hope a more diligent search will lead you into the knowledge of more certain truths than all the pretended revelations of our mystery mongers and their inspirations.” [#5] . . .
These Friends were disowned for abandoning the peace testimony during the Revolutionary War. The Free Quakers cast the issue in more general terms. They supported freedom of conscience and saw themselves as upholding the original Friends traditions. They wrote:
“We have no new doctrine to teach, nor any design of promoting schisms in religion. We wish only to be freed from every species of ecclesiastical tyranny, and mean to pay a due regard to the principles of our forefathers . . . and hope, thereby, to preserve decency and to secure equal liberty to all. We have no designs to form creeds or confessions of faith, but [hope] to leave every man to think and judge for himself…and to answer for his faith and opinions to . . . the sole Judge and sovereign Lord of conscience.” [#6]
Their discipline forbade all forms of disownment: “Neither shall a member be deprived of his right among us, on account of his differing in sentiment from any or all of his brethren.” [#7]
There were several Free Quaker meetings, the longest lasting being the one in Philadelphia from 1781 to 1834.
. . . Hannah Barnard (1754–1825) of New York questioned the interpretation of events in the Bible and put reason above orthodoxy and ethics over theology. She wrote a manual in the form of a dialogue to teach domestic science to rural women. It included philosophy, civics, and autobiography. Barnard supported the French Revolution and insisted that masters and servants sit together during her visits. In 1802 she was silenced as a minister and disowned by Friends. She wrote,
“[N]othing is revealed truth to me, as doctrine, until it is sealed as such on the mind, through the illumination of that uncreated word of God, or divine light, and intelligence, to which the Scriptures, as well as the writings of many other enlightened authors, of different ages, bear plentiful testimony. . . . I therefore do not attach the idea or title of divine infallibility to any society as such, or to any book, or books, in the world; but to the great source of eternal truth only.” [#8]
Barnard also wrote, “under the present state of the Society I can with humble reverent thankfulness rejoice in the consideration that I was made the Instrument of bringing their Darkness to light.” [#9] On hearing Elias Hicks in 1819, she is said to have commented that these were the ideas for which she had been disowned. He visited her in 1824, a year before she died.
[Also mentioned in the original version of this essay are Job Scott (1751–1793), Abraham Shackleton (1752–1818), Mary Newhall (c.1780–1829) and Mary Rotch.]
The schism that started in 1827 involved many people but it is instructive to focus on one man at the center of the conflict. Elias Hicks (1748–1830) traveled widely, urging Friends to follow a God known inwardly and to resist the domination of others in the Society. He wrote,
“There is scarcely anything so baneful to the present and future happiness and welfare of mankind, as a submission to traditional and popular opinion, I have therefore been led to see the necessity of investigating for myself all customs and doctrines . . . either verbally or historically communicated . . . and not to sit down satisfied with any thing but the plain, clear, demonstrative testimony of the spirit and word of life and light in my heart and conscience.” [#10]
Hicks emphasized the inward action of the Spirit rather than human effort or learning, but he saw a place for reason. He turned to “the light in our own consciences, . . . the reason of things, . . . the precepts and example of our Lord Jesus Christ, (and) the golden rule.” [#11]
[Also mentioned: Benjamin Ferris (1780–1867).]
Manchester Free Friends
David Duncan (c.1825–1871), a former Presbyterian who had trained for the ministry, was a merchant and manufacturer in Manchester, England. He married Sarah Ann Cooke Duncan and became a Friend in 1852. He was a republican, a social radical, a Free Thinker, and an aggressive writer and debater. Duncan began to doubt Quaker views about God and the Bible and associated the Light Within with intellectual freedom. He developed a following at the Friends Institute in Manchester and the publication of his Essays and Reviews in 1861 brought the attention of the Elders. In it he wrote, “If the principle were more generally admitted that Christianity is a life rather than a formula, theology would give place to religion . . . and that peculiarly bitter spirit which actuates religionists would no longer be associated with the profession of religion.” [#12] In 1871 he was disowned and then died suddenly of smallpox. Sarah Ann Duncan and about 14 others resigned from their meeting and started what came to be called the Free Friends.
In 1873, this group approved a statement which included the following:
“It is now more than two years and a quarter since we sought, outside of the Society of Friends, for the liberty to speak the thoughts and convictions we entertained which was denied to us within its borders, and for the enjoyment of the privilege of companionship in “unity of spirit,” without the limitations imposed upon it by forced identity of opinion on the obscure propositions of theologians. We were told that such unity could not be practically obtained along with diversity of sentiment upon fundamental questions, but we did not see that this need necessarily be true where a principle of cohesion was assented to which involved tolerance to all opinions; and we therefore determined ourselves to try the experiment, and so remove the question, if possible, out of the region of speculation into that of practice. We conceived one idea in common, with great diversity of opinion amongst us, upon all the questions which divide men in their opinions of the government and constitution of the universe. We felt that whatever was true was better for us than that which was not, and that we attained it best by listening and thinking for ourselves.” [#13]
Joseph B. Forster (1831–1883) was a leader of the dissidents after the death of David Duncan. (For another excerpt, see pp. 17.) He wrote, “[E]very law which fixes a limit to free thought, exists in violation of the very first of all doctrines held by the Early Quakers,—the doctrine of the ‘Inner Light’.” [#14]
Forster was editor of a journal published by the Free Friends. In the first issue he wrote,
“We ask for [The Manchester Friend] the support of those who, with widely divergent opinions, are united in the belief that dogma is not religion, and that truth can only be made possible to us where perfect liberty of thought is conceded. We ask for it also the support of those, who, recognizing this, feel that Christianity is a life and not a creed; and that obedience to our knowledge of what is pure and good is the end of all religion. We may fall below our ideal, but we shall try not to do so; and we trust our readers will, as far as they can, aid us in our task.” [#15]
[Also mentioned: George S. Brady (1833–1913).]
Progressive and Congregational Friends
The Progressive Friends at Longwood (near Philadelphia) were committed to peace, and the rights of women and blacks, and were also concerned about church governance and doctrine. . . . Between 1844 and 1874 they separated from other Hicksite Quakers and formed a monthly meeting and a yearly meeting. They asked, “What right had one Friend, or one group of Friends, to judge the leadings of others?” [#16] They objected to partitions between men’s and women’s meetings and the authority of meeting elders and ministers over the expression of individual conscience and other actions of the members. There were similar separations in Indiana Yearly Meeting (Orthodox) in the 1840s, Green Plain Quarterly Meeting in Ohio in 1843 and in Genesee Yearly Meeting (Hicksite) in northern New York and Michigan and in New York Yearly Meeting in 1846 and 1848.
A Congregational Friend in New York declared,
“We do not require that persons shall believe that the Bible is an inspired book; we do not even demand that they shall have an unwavering faith in their own immortality; nor do we require them to assert a belief in the existence of God. We do not catechize men at all as to their theological opinions. Our only test is one which applies to the heart, not to the head. To all who seek truth we extend the hand of fellowship, without distinction of sex, creed and color. We open our doors, to all who wish to unite with us in promoting peace and good will among men. We ask all who are striving to elevate humanity to come here and stand with us on equal terms.” [#17]
In their Basis of Religious Association Progressive Friends at Longwood welcomed “all who acknowledge the duty of defining and illustrating their faith in God, not by assent to a creed, but lives of personal purity, and works of beneficence and charity to mankind.” They also wrote,
“We seek not to diminish, but to intensify in ourselves the sense of individual responsibility. . . . We have set forth no forms or ceremonies; nor have we sought to impose upon ourselves or others a system of doctrinal belief. Such matters we have left where Jesus left them, with the conscience and common sense of the individual. It has been our cherished purpose to restore the union between religion and life, and to place works of goodness and mercy far above theological speculations and scholastic subtleties of doctrine. Creed–making is not among the objects of our association. Christianity, as it presents itself to our minds, is too deep, too broad, and too high to be brought within the cold propositions of the theologian. We should as soon think of bottling up the sunshine for the use of posterity, as of attempting to adjust the free and universal principles taught and exemplified by Jesus of Nazareth to the angles of a manmade creed.” [#18]
Between 1863 and 1874 many of the Friends at Longwood were taken back into membership by their meetings. By the time of the birth of modern liberal Quakerism at the turn of the century, many Friends in unprogrammed meetings had become progressives.
Quaker Free Thinkers
Liberal religious dissenters in the nineteenth century were called Free Thinkers. Lucretia Mott (1793–1880) worked for abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, and temperance. . . . Her motto was “Truth for authority, and not authority for truth.” She refused to be controlled by her meeting but also refused to leave it. Her meeting denied permission to travel in the ministry after 1843 but she went anyway. Mott was a founding member of the Free Religious Association in 1867, when she told them, “I believe that such proving all things, such trying all things, and holding fast only to that which is good, is the great religious duty of our age. . . . Our own conscience and the Divine Spirit’s teaching are always harmonious and this Divine illumination is as freely given to man as his reason, or as are many of his natural powers.” She also said, “I confess to great skepticism as to any account or story, which conflicts with the unvarying natural laws of God in his creation.” [#19] . . . In 1849 Mott said,
“I confess to you, my friends, that I am a worshipper after the way called heresy—a believer after the manner many deem infidel. While at the same time my faith is firm in the blessed, the eternal doctrine preached by Jesus and by every child of God since the creation of the world, especially the great truth that God is the teacher of his people himself; the doctrine that Jesus most emphatically taught, that the kingdom is with man, that there is his sacred and divine temple.” [#20]
On another occasion she said, “Men are too superstitious, too prone to believe what is presented to them by their church and creed; they ought to follow Jesus more in his non–conformity. . . . I hold that skepticism is a religious duty; men should question their theology and doubt more in order that they might believe more.” [#21]
Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote in her diary that Mott said to her,
“There is a broad distinction between religion and theology. The one is a natural, human experience common to all well–organized minds. The other is a system of speculations about the unseen and the unknowable, which the human mind has no power to grasp or explain, and these speculations vary with every sect, age, and type of civilization. No one knows any more of what lies beyond our sphere of action than thou and I, and we know nothing.” [#22] . . .
Another Free Thinker was Susan B. Anthony (1820–1906). She was an active supporter of rights for women, abolition of slavery, and temperance. Raised a Quaker, she considered herself one even after she joined the Unitarians because her meeting failed to support abolition. Her friend, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, called her an agnostic. She refused to express her opinion on religious subjects, saying she could only work on one reform at a time. In 1890 she told a women’s organization, “These are the principles I want to maintain—that our platform may be kept as broad as the universe, that upon it may stand the representatives of all creeds and of no creeds—Jew and Christian, Protestant and Catholic, Gentile and Mormon, believer and atheist.” In a speech in 1896 she said, “I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do, because I notice it always coincides with their own desires. . . . What you should say to outsiders is that a Christian has neither more nor less rights in our association than an atheist. When our platform becomes too narrow for people of all creeds and of no creeds, I myself can not stand upon it.” When asked in an interview in 1896 “Do you pray?”, she answered, “I pray every single second of my life; not on my knees, but with my work. My prayer is to lift women to equality with men. Work and worship are one with me. I know there is no God of the universe made happy by my getting down on my knees and calling him ‘great’.” In 1897 she wrote, “(I)t does not matter whether it is Calvinism, Unitarianism, Spiritualism, Christian Science, or Theosophy, they are all speculations. So I think you and I had better hang on to this mundane sphere and keep tugging away to make conditions better for the next generation of women.” Anthony said to a group of Quakers in 1885, “I don’t know what religion is. I only know what work is, and that is all I can speak on, this side of Jordan.” [#23]
Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815–1902) was a leader of the women’s suffrage movement for fifty-five years and one of the most famous and outspoken Free Thinkers of her day. She was a member of Junius Monthly Meeting, a Congregational meeting in upstate New York, during their first ten years after splitting off from Genesee Yearly Meeting in 1848. As a child she was terrified by preaching about human depravity and sinners’ damnation. Later she wrote, “My religious superstitions gave place to rational ideas based on scientific facts, and in proportion, as I looked at everything from a new standpoint, I grew more happy day by day.” [#24] She also wrote,
“I can say that the happiest period of my life has been since I emerged from the shadows and superstitions of the old theologies, relieved from all gloomy apprehensions of the future, satisfied that as my labors and capacities were limited to this sphere of action, I was responsible for nothing beyond my horizon, as I could neither understand nor change the condition of the unknown world. Giving ourselves, then, no trouble about the future, let us make the most of the present, and fill up our lives with earnest work here.” [#25]
[Also mentioned: Maria Mitchell (1818–1889).]
Modern Liberal Friends
. . . Joseph Rowntree (1836–1925) was a chocolate manufacturer and reformer of the Religious Society of Friends and of society in general. He helped craft the London Yearly Meeting response to the Richmond Declaration of 1887, when he wrote, “(T)he general welfare of the Society of Friends the world over will not be advanced by one Yearly Meeting following exactly in the footsteps of another, but by each being faithful to its own convictions and experience. This may not result in a rigid uniformity of either thought or action, but it is likely to lead to something far better—to a true and living unity.” [#26]
The conference of Friends in Manchester in 1895 was a clear declaration of their views, as was the first Summer School (on the British model) at Haverford College in 1900, the founding of Friends General Conference in 1900 and American Friends Service Committee in 1917.
William Littleboy (c.1852–1936) and wife Margaret Littleboy were among the first staff at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre. William Littleboy was an advocate of ethical living as basis for religion, and of opening the Religious Society of Friends to skeptics. In 1902 he wrote to Rufus Jones urging consideration be given to Quakers who do not have mystical experiences, and in 1916 he published a pamphlet, The Appeal of Quakerism to the Non–Mystic. In it he wrote,
“We know that to some choice souls God’s messages come in ways which are super–normal, and it is natural that we should look with longing eyes on these; yet such cases are the exception, not the rule. . . . Let us then take ourselves at our best. [Non–mystics] are capable of thought and care for others. We do at times abase ourselves that others may be exalted. On occasion we succeed in loving our enemies and doing good to those who despitefully use us. For those who are nearest to us we would suffer—perhaps even give our life, because we love them so. . . . To the great non–mystic majority [the Quaker’s] appeal should come with special power, for he can speak to them, as none other can whose gospel is less universal.” [#27]
This influenced the young Henry Cadbury who many years later said, “I am sure that over the years [William Littleboy’s] perceptive presentation of the matter has brought real relief to many of us.” [#28]
[Also mentioned: Arthur Stanley Eddington (1882–1934), Joel Bean (1825–1914) and Hannah Shipley Bean (1830–1909).]
Some Friends worked their entire lives to bring together dissident branches of the Religious Society of Friends. Examples are Henry Cadbury and Rufus Jones. They based their call for reunification on the same grounds that nontheist Friends rely on today. These included an emphasis on practice rather than beliefs; the idea that Quakers need not hold the same beliefs; describing Quaker beliefs in the meeting discipline by quoting from the writings of individuals; the idea that religiously inspired action can be associated with many different faiths; the love of diversity within the Religious Society of Friends; the view that religion is a matter our daily lives; and the emphasis on Jesus as a person rather than doctrine about Jesus.
These bases for reunification among Friends also serve to include nonmystics, nonChristians, and people of other faiths including nontheist faiths.
At regular intervals during the history of Friends there is discussion about whether we have to be Christian to be Quaker. This is often in the form of an exchange of letters in a Quaker journal. One such flurry was prompted by two letters from Watchman in The Friend in 1943 and 1944 (reprinted in 1994).
In 1953 Arthur Morgan proposed inviting people of other faiths to join Friends. In 1966 Henry Cadbury was invited to address the question in a talk given at the annual sessions of Pacific Yearly Meeting. In his view Quakerism and Christianity represent sets of beliefs from which individuals make selections, with no one belief required of all. Quaker universalists have raised the issue many times (for example, John Linton in 1979 and Daniel A. Seeger in 1984). [#29]
The Quaker Universalist Group was formed in Britain in 1979, and the Quaker Universalist Fellowship in the United States in 1983. Among the founders were nontheists John Linton and Kingdon W. Swayne. It is a diverse movement. For the early Friends universalism meant that any person could be saved by Christ. Today, for some Friends universalism is about accepting diversity of religious faith. For others it is an active searching for common aspects of different faiths. Universalism can also mean an effort to learn from each other and live together well and love each other, differences and all.
Over the years, many Quakers stood against the doctrinal views of their times. They represent a continual stream of dissent and a struggle for inclusiveness that started with the birth of our Society. What was rejected at one point was accepted later. Much of what Friends believe today would have been heresy in the past.
Through the years, certain traditions in the Religious Society of Friends have supported the presence of doctrinal skeptics. This included being noncreedal, tolerant, and universalist; concern for experience rather than beliefs; authority of the individual as well as the community, interpreting what we read; and the conviction that Quaker practice and Quaker membership do not require agreement on religious doctrine.
Many Quaker practices are typically explained in terms of God, Spirit or the Inner Light, such as worship, leadings, discernment, the sense of the meeting, and continual revelation. Nontheist Friends embrace the practices without the explanation.
Part II: Flowers Of Quaker Nontheism
This is a look at Quaker nontheism flowering today. Nontheist Friends, by and large, do not experience, accept or believe in a deity. As a negatively defined term, nontheism provides a broad tent for people who hold many different positive views.
In general, nontheists support diversity of thought in the Religious Society of Friends. They bless what theists and nontheists bring to their meetings and the opportunities that come with diversity. They have been cautious about forming their own organizations because they want to join rather than separate from theists Friends. They hope we will accept each other as Quakers, without adjectives.
The material gathered here represents the flowering of Quaker nontheism.
These Friends were humanists who showed a tender concern for religious skeptics but they did not publicly address the issue of nontheism. We do not know what their personal views were (or are) and it doesn’t matter. It is enough that they helped create the Religious Society of Friends of today that includes meetings that welcome nontheists.
Jesse Herman Holmes (1863–1942) was a passionate advocate for Quakerism free of creeds. . . . In 1928 in “To the Scientifically–Minded” he wrote, “[Friends] have no common creed, and such unity—of which there is a great deal—as there is among them is merely due to the fact that impartial minds, working on the same conditions, arrive at similar conclusions. However, we demand no unity of opinion, but find interest and stimulus in our many differences.” [#30]
Holmes did not see religion as establishing truth. He wrote in 1912: “The accurate formulating of our ends and of the tested ways of attaining them is the function of philosophy and the sciences. The more difficult task of holding ourselves to the higher loyalties is that of religion. Not the discovery of truth but the patient using of it for the more abundant life is its task.” He saw that Friends can provide a congenial home for scientists, and in fact we need them. [#31]
In private Jesse Holmes could be outspoken. In a manuscript that was not published until 61 years after his death, he wrote:
“Meaningless phrases and irrational theologies have been moulded into rigid, authoritative institutions perverting and stultifying the adventurous, creative spirit which distinguishes us from the rest of the animal kingdom. They turn our attention from the splendid possibilities of our mysterious life and toward a mythical, improbable life after death. Over all presides a despotic, unjust, and irrational deity of the medieval king type, who must be worshipped by flattery and blind obedience. . . . I propose to a fairly intelligent people of a partially scientific age…that all this is a sad mess of ancient and medieval superstition which should speedily be relegated to the storage rooms of the museum of history. We should stop the pretense of awe, or even respect, for teachings which lack even a slight amount of evidence or probability. We should substitute a religion based on actual repeatable, describable and testable experience, and which has some connection with the genuine values of life: not an absurd and impossible life in a stupid, idle heaven, but a rich, active, adventurous life in the world we live in. . . . [I]f those who reject all this medieval rubbish will join heartily in a real world–wide effort for an uplifted humanity; if they refuse to continue systems which involve contests in indiscriminate killing and destruction; if they will dedicate themselves to a general cooperation in mutual service, refusing all incitements to seek poser over each other; if they will accept the adventure of lives everywhere seeking harmony, good–will, understanding, friendliness; if they will turn aside from all claims of super–men for super–rights and privileges, whether in religion, in politics, in industry or in society; then indeed we may renew and revive the purposes of prophets, statesmen, scholars, scientists, and good people since the world began. This would be a real religion.” [#32]
Henry Joel Cadbury (1883–1974) was an outspoken advocate for a variety of Quakerism without mysticism, unity based on love rather than dogma, beliefs as collateral effects rather than sources of action, ethical living as religion, and the possibility of life as spontaneous response to passing situations. . . . He worked his entire life for unity among Friends. He was an historian of the Religious Society of Friends, a Biblical scholar, a social activist, and a humorist. Cadbury hid his personal beliefs, preferring to help others find their way. He did lift the veil once when he wrote a manuscript that he apparently read to his divinity students in 1936. (It was not published until 2000.) He stated,
“I can describe myself as no ardent theist or atheist. . . . My own religion is mainly neither emotional nor rational but expresses itself habitually or occasionally in action. . . . If you know John Woolman’s Journal you will know what I mean by a religious personality in action. . . . The amazing revelation which he gives is that of a sensitive conscience feeling its course in a series of soul–searching problems — public problems that he felt must be personally decided. Such forms of religion do not often get recorded, but they are none the less real and important. . . . And what is the real test or evidence of religion that I can offer in myself? . . . It is whether in all our contacts . . . you can conclude that not consciously nor for display I represent the manner of reaction that befits a religious personality in action.” [#33]
In the Swarthmore Lecture in 1957, recalling how helpful it had been to read William Littleboy’s The Appeal of Quakerism to the Non–Mystic, Cadbury said,
“Someone ought to write a pamphlet The Appeal of Quakerism to the Non–Theological to help them with their inferiority complex. . . . They seem to others and perhaps to themselves subject to some defect. Perhaps it is intellectual laziness, or some congenital skepticism. . . . The repetitious recourse to any doctrinal framework, including the one most in fashion in the Society at the time, they do not find helpful to themselves, and they regard it as perhaps their duty and privilege to seek for or to exemplify other aspects of truth to supplement the limited emphasis. It is not that they wish to deny what the theologian affirms, but that they find his approach uncongenial and irrelevant to their own spiritual life, and they are indifferent or even pained or estranged when it is made central in the definition of Quakerism. . . . It does not speak to their condition. Their search is not for a more satisfactory theology, they do not believe that for them spiritual progress depends upon such factors. The obscurity of the mysteries of God does not really bother them and they have no confidence that even the most rational of religious analyses would add a cubit to their moral stature. They have, therefore, neither the will nor the competence to deal with the situation, but they hold their peace by simply keeping their own counsels without contradiction or controversy.” [#34]
Arthur Morgan (1878–1975) was an engineer, educator, and utopian. . . . He was president of Antioch College, chairman and chief engineer of the Tennessee Valley Authority, a founder of Celo Community and the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. He was a Unitarian who became a Friend in 1940. In 1953 Morgan proposed a minute to his yearly meeting opening Friends membership to people of other faiths. In it he stated,
“Many men and women of many faiths have shared in the search for truth and love and human brotherhood. Each faith has helped its sincere followers in that search. Each faith has something to learn from the others, and something to give. The Lake Erie Association of Friends desires to be a unit of such a brotherhood, and welcomes into its membership and to its meetings all sincere, concerned seekers whose ways of life and ethical standards and practices are compatible with its own.” [#35]
The minute was not approved.
Arthur Morgan declined to sign the Humanist Manifesto in 1933. He saw positive value in religion and did not want it cast aside. In a letter published in the same issue of The New Humanist as the manifesto, he wrote:
“I believe that unless the Humanist movement achieves a better distribution of emphasis, it will act as a sectarian movement to divide those who have one partial view of the issues of life from those who have another partial view . . . [A]ny vital religion must give great emphasis to faith, which in essence is an unproven conviction of the significance of living. . . . Faith, hope, and love are usually transmitted by contagion from persons who possess those qualities, but the human associations which transmit them generally have transmitted also an uncritical credulity. . . . Those who are free from that uncritical credulity commonly are also free to a considerable extent from the faith, the hope, and the warm love of men which so commonly accompanied that credulity in our religious history, when nearly all men were credulous. . . . The problem of humanism is . . . to hold faithfully to a completely open–minded and critical attitude, while holding to, or eagerly seeking, the strong drives of faith, hope, and love. As such strong drives appear they will express themselves in heroic living, and by contagion will be transmitted. . . . Religion should instill a hot partisanship for life which shall set for science the task of finding significance or of creating it. ‘Wishful thinking’, if wisely inspired, may cause the discovery or creation of the values wished for. Our business is to find significance, or to create it.” [#36]
[Also mentioned: Morris Mitchell (1895–1976), E. A. Burtt (1892–1989), Richard S. Peters (1919–2011) and Alice and Staughton Lynd.]
The first public expression of nontheism among Friends that I know of was the Humanistic Society of Friends, founded in Los Angeles in 1939. Many of the members had been Quakers, including their leader, Lowell H. Coate (1889–1973), but their literature did not mention Quakers. Coate later served as editor of The Humanist World, American Rationalist, and The Rationalist. The Society published The Humanist Friend, from 1939 to 1943, and continued as an organization until it became a chapter of the American Humanist Association in 1987. Three years later the chapter became a division of AHA. It was given responsibility for ministerial and religious humanism programs.
In 1963 Claire Walker wrote in Friends Journal, “Questing Quakers cannot feel comfortable with the supernatural in any form, but they are very clear about the crucial importance in our lives of values and implementation of values in our day-to-day living.” This was followed by Joseph Havens’s call for the study of post-Christian Quakerism, and Lawrence Miller’s review of John Robinson’s Honest to God which asked what sort of God, if any, is required in religion. Later in 1964, the words “nontheist” and “nontheistic” appeared in four Friends Journal letters about Daniel A. Seeger’s successful effort to end the government practice of defining religion in terms of belief in a Supreme Being when considering applications for religious exemption from military service. Quakerism in the absence of God was now being considered. [#37]
The first public gathering of nontheist Friends that I know of was the “Workshop for Non-Theistic Friends” at the FGC Gathering in Ithaca NY in 1976. Their published report was written collectively by 15 to 20 Friends led by Robert Morgan (1913–1992). It is a stirring declaration:
“There are non-theistic Friends. There are Friends who might be called agnostics, atheists, skeptics but who would, nevertheless, describe themselves as reverent seekers. The fifteen to twenty of us who joined this workshop did so out of the need to share ideas with others who are searching for an authentic personal religious framework. The lack of an adequate religious vocabulary which could be used as an alternative to traditional concepts has led to mistaken assumptions about individual non–traditional beliefs, thus hindering dialogue and real communication among Friends. . . . We share a respect and concern for all human beings. We shared an admiration for the history of Quaker altruism and, a desire to be part of our own Meeting “families.” Welcoming diversity, we were stimulated in our own thinking by listening to the beliefs of others. It is exciting to share these beliefs, but it is even more exciting to sense that we all had experienced important values and feelings that can not be adequately expressed intellectually. For us these values have given truth and meaning and zest to everyday life and an experience of religion as a growing, evolving concept. . . . Why do we belong to the Religious Society of Friends? In part because we feel the need to seek from within a loving and traditionally tolerant, gathered community. We found in our group that we were representative of a rainbow of beliefs which exists within the larger Society of Friends. This spectrum included theists who define God as a spirit or presence which intervenes and guides in a personal way. Most were non–theists who, while believing in something universal beyond our biological selves which exists in everyone, do not believe in an external directing spirit. . . . We hope for sensitivity and trust in our Meetings which allow us to grow in a community of seekers despite our differences. Unable to accept traditional theology, we are skeptical about substituting new concepts lest they become yet another theological system, but we felt it important to share the thoughts that sprang from this workshop with old and new Friends, young Friends and those who are considering becoming Friends. We believe Quakerism can accommodate this minority, and find part of its vital creativity in the process.” [#38]
John Linton (c.1911–2010) was one of the founders of the Quaker Universalist Group in 1977. He wrote,
“This new group would be committed to the view that, however great one’s reverence for the teachings and personality of Jesus, no faith can claim to be a unique revelation or to have a monopoly of truth. Because Christianity traditionally makes this claim, members of the group feel that they cannot limit themselves by calling themselves Christians. In their search for truth, and also in the interests of world peace and brotherhood, they are opposed to all divisive religious claims. They take the view that truth can be reached by more than one path. Yet because they believe in the Quaker way of life, and that Quakerism is universally valid and not dependent on Christianity, they have no wish to cut themselves off from the Society of Friends.” [#39]
In 1979 he wrote,
“It seems to me that the Society would be greatly strengthened by the influx of people who claim to be agnostic rather than Christian and yet who sincerely share the fundamental aspirations of Quakers. I shall therefore argue not merely that the Society should admit such people as a fringe element of ‘second–class members’ (which is what they feel at the present), but that it should widen its own basis and give up its claim to be a specifically Christian organization. I think this should be done not just as a matter of expediency, but in the pursuit of Truth, because I believe the Truth is wider than Christianity. And I like to think that Quakerism is about the search for Truth.” [#40]
Kingdon W. Swayne (1920–2009) published “Confession of a Post–Christian Agnostic” in 1980. Four years later, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting selected him as their clerk. He wrote,
“My own religious life can perhaps be best understood as an effort to build moral stability and connectedness by creating a web of motivation and behavior that is internally consistent and emotionally satisfying. I describe myself as post–Christian because both my best behavior and its motivations owe much to Christian thinking, though I reject most of the traditional theology. . . . If one rejects the authority [of Jesus] and most of the Christian tradition, where does one begin to build a belief system? I think I begin with the existentialist proposition that life without meaning or purpose is intolerable. Therefore one must define the meaning and purpose of one’s own life. I believe this task is within my power and is my sole responsibility. I prefer to see myself not as finding and doing God’s will but as striving for goodness on the basis of general principles that are derived from my own sense of the nature of the universe. . . .” [#41]
In 1986 Swayne wrote,
“I am a lifelong Friend who was been encouraged by his Quaker (dare I say Hicksite?) upbringing to construct his own edifice of religious meaning. My edifice is non–theistic . . . I don’t think it is terribly important how Universalistic or how Christocentric the early Friends were. The important point is that late 20th century Quakerism be true to its non–creedal self. For its role in the larger religious society of our era surely is as home and refuge for those stubborn individualists who create their own theologies but need a community in which to pursue their spiritual journeys.” [#42]
[Also mentioned: Eric Johnson (c1918–1994).]
Several surveys show the presence of nontheists among Friends. In Britain in 1989, 692 Quakers were asked “Do you believe in God?” and 26% answered “No” or “Not Sure”. In Philadelphia in 2002, 56% of 552 Quakers indicated “No” or “No Definite Belief” in response to the statement, “I believe in a God to whom one can pray in the expectation of receiving an answer. By ‘answer’ I mean more than the subjective, psychological effect of prayer. [italics in the original]” In the same survey, 44% disagreed, or neither agreed nor disagreed, with the statement “I very much want a deeper spiritual relationship with God,” and 52% did not agree with the statement “I have had a transcendent experience where I felt myself in the presence of God.” These polls are described in David Rush’s chapter in Godless for God’s Sake: Nontheism in Contemporary Quakerism. Also see Rush’s interviews with 199 nontheist Friends. [#43]
There was a nontheist workshop at the Friends General Conference Gathering in 1976, and then none until Robin Alpern, Bowen Alpern, and Glenn Mallison held one in 1996. Since then there have been one or two nontheist workshops almost every year. Robin Alpern and David Boulton have written histories of these events. [#44]
In 2004 and 2011-14 there were workshops at the Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre in Birmingham, England, and in 2005 at Pendle Hill, a Quaker center for study and contemplation near Philadelphia. These were attended by about 30 people each time. A strong desire was expressed to support other Friends, whatever their religious views are, and to be supported in turn.
There have also been nontheist Friends events at Powell House in New York Yearly Meeting, Ben Lomond Quaker Center in Pacific Yearly Meeting, and in other locations.
A website with Quaker nontheist writings, blog, and email discussion group is https://nontheistfriends.org. It was established in 2003 and is recognized as an affinity group by Friends General Conference. [For the “Welcome Statement,” see the website.]
The Nontheist Friends Network was organized in 2011 and is a listed informal group of Britain Yearly Meeting. They have a website, http:// www.nontheist-quakers.org-uk, an email discussion group and newsletter, and they sponsor an annual conference and other events. [For their purposes, see the website.]
A leaflet of the Nontheist Friends Network contains this message:
“Whether we describe ourselves as humanists, agnostics or atheists, and whether we understand God as the symbol and imagined embodiment of our highest human values or avoid the word altogether, nontheist Friends know that we don’t know it all. Our various ways of being nontheist are simply various ways of being Quaker, and we celebrate the radical diversity of Quakerism, nontheist and theist. We do not see ourselves as on the Quaker fringe but as part of the broad mainstream, with something to give and much to learn from the ongoing Quaker tradition. We too are Friends and seekers.” [#45]
Many Quaker humanists and nontheists have published their writings, especially in recent years. [For list of NTF writings, see www.nontheistfriends.org.]
In 2006 David Boulton edited and published a collection of essays by 27 Quaker nontheists titled Godless for God’s Sake: Nontheism in Contemporary Quakerism. [#46] This book was reviewed by Chuck Fager. He wrote,
“What have we come to in Friends religious thought, when the most exciting book of Quaker theology I’ve read in years is produced by a bunch of Quaker non-theists—twenty-seven in all? Well, there will be no hand-wringing about that here: I’ll take thoughtful, articulate, and challenging religious thought wherever I can find it—and there’s plenty of that in this compact volume. . . . What was it that The Man said? “By their fruits ye shall know them.” If that’s so, then as a group, nontheist Friends have as much claim to a legitimate place in contemporary Quakerism as many who feel they are defending the last true redoubt against the invading forces of unbelief. The proper response to the testimonies in these pages is not scorn or witchhunts, but an invitation to further conversation. And in my case, gratitude that these nontheists have taken the theology they don’t accept seriously enough to think and write about it as thoughtfully and engagingly as they have here.” [#47]
There have always been nontheist Friends, although they have not always spoken out. There have also been Friends whose views were compatible with nontheism, such as the view that Jesus was human like the rest of us, or that the Inner Light can be identified with natural processes such as the human conscience.
In 1913 a group of adult young Friends spent a year studying the condition of the two Philadelphia Yearly Meetings. In their report they wrote,
“[O]ne of the inherited features of Hicksite Quakerism is a deliberate indifference to uniformity of belief. As the Intelligencer says: “Our attitude has been one that in no way tended to uniformity of belief, and as a matter of fact we have had wide divergence of belief. We have hardly a meeting that has not had at times, at least, among its most active and influential members, those of varying shades of belief, all the way from literal interpretation of Scripture to Unitarian, agnostic and even atheistic doctrine.” Most Hicksites have little interest in theology.” [#48]
The young Friend who wrote the report is not named but is said to have been Henry Cadbury. [#49]
Since then nontheism has gradually emerged into public view. Survey data support the sense that there are nontheists in Quaker meetings today, and probably more than are generally known. Many of them may be silent for positive reasons, being comfortable in their meetings and having more important things to talk about.
Diversity is a good thing if we don’t pay the price of keeping silent about what we hold dear. We are just beginning to learn how to be diverse. One hundred years after the young Friends in Philadelphia studied how their yearly meetings might reunite, a committee of Quaker Earthcare Witness (QEW) approved a statement on unity with diversity. They wrote,
“As both Friends and environmentalists we on the Spiritual Nurturance Committee of QEW hold a variety of personal views, beliefs and approaches based in the variety of our backgrounds, traditions and experiences. We see it as good for QEW to endeavor to work with all who share our basic goals, both QEW participants and others. . . . Within the Spiritual Nurturance Committee we have collectively lived out the experience of acknowledging diversity while seeking and remaining in unity. We value inclusivity in our relations with each other. We commit ourselves to trying to focus on the spirit rather than the letter, listening and speaking from the heart, and seeking and sharing from the heart, in the manner of Friends. We recommend this model to QEW for our work with one another and with other organizations. We offer the seeming paradox of diversity within the supportive and inclusive structure of our unity.” [#50]
It is good to work for acceptance of diverse philosophical points of view among Friends, especially views not held by the person speaking. Practices that facilitate the inclusion of one set of people, such as nontheists, are practices that are good for the meeting as a whole.
On these pages you have read about an incredible community of religious thinkers. It has been a joy for me to bring you together with them.
Please send additional material or references to www.nontheistfriends.org.
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- Hannah Barnard, in Thomas Foster, An Appeal to the Society of Friends on the Primitive Simplicity of their Christian Principles and Church Discipline; and on Some Recent Proceedings in the Said Society (London: J. Johnson, 1801), 122–23.
- Hannah Barnard to William Matthews, September 6, 1802, William Matthews, The Recorder (London: J. Johnson, 1802).
- Elias Hicks, in Bliss Forbush, Elias Hicks: Quaker Liberal (NY: Columbia University Press, 1956), 78.
- Elias Hicks, in Norma Jacob, Introducing . . . Elias Hicks: A Condensation of Bliss Forbush’s Original Biography (Philadelphia: Friends General Conference, 1984), 19.
- David Duncan, ‘Essays and Reviews.’ A Lecture (Manchester, UK: Edwin Slater, 1861), 8.
- Friends at the Memorial Hall, Manchester, “Address Adopted by the Friends at the Memorial Hall, Manchester,” The Manchester Friend 2, no. 12 (1873), 190.
- Joseph B. Forster, On Liberty. An Address to the Members of the Society of Friends (London: F. Bowyer Kitto and Sutherland: W. H. Hills, 1867), 26.
- Joseph B. Forster, editorial, The Manchester Friend 1, no. 1 (1871), 1, italics in the original.
- Christopher Densmore, “Be Ye Therefore Perfect: Anti–Slavery and the Origins of the Yearly Meeting of Progressive Friends in Chester County, Pennsylvania,” Quaker History 93, no. 2 (2004), 28–46.
- Oliver Johnson, Message during yearly meeting in Waterloo NY, June 3, 1855, in the Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of Friends of Human Progress (Syracuse NY: Evening Chronicle Print, 1855), 5.
- (a) Christopher Densmore, “Be Ye Therefore Perfect,” 41. (b) Pennsylvania Yearly Meeting of Friends, Exposition of Sentiments (1853), http://www.quest .quaker.org.
- (a) Lucretia Mott to Mary P. Allen, June 5, 1877, in Anna Davis Hallowell, ed., James and Lucretia Mott: Life and Letters (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1890), 460. (b) Lucretia Mott, “When the Heart Is Attuned to Prayer,” in Dana Greene, ed. , Lucretia Mott: Her Complete Speeches and Sermons (NY: Edwin Mellen, 1980), 302. (c) Lucretia Mott to James L. Pierce, January 15, 1849, in Anna Davis Hallowell, James and Lucretia Mott, 315.
- Lucretia Mott, in Edward T. James, Janet Wilson James and Paul S. Boyer, Notable American Women 1607–1950: A Biographical Dictionary, vol. 2 (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1975), 592–95.
- Lucretia Mott, address at annual meeting of the Free Religious Association, June 2, 1871, in Anna Davis Hallowell, James and Lucretia Mott, 551.
- Lucretia Mott, conversation with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 1840, in Anna Davis Hallowell, James and Lucretia Mott, 188.
- (a) Susan B. Anthony, “Divine Discontent,” in Lynn Sherr, Failure is Impossible: Susan B. Anthony In Her Own Words (NY: Random House, 1995), notes 17, 20, 6, and 32. (b) Susan B. Anthony, address to Pennsylvania Yearly Meeting of Progressive Friends at Longwood, PA, 1873, in Proceedings of the Pennsylvania Yearly Meeting of Progressive Friends Held at Longwood, Chester County (NY: Baker & Godwin, 1873) 56.
- Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Eighty Years and More: Reminiscences, 1815–1897 (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1993), 44.
- Elizabeth Cady Stanton, “The Pleasures of Age,” speech on November 12, 1885, The Selected Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, vol. 4, ed. Ann D. Gordon (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2006), 459.
- Joseph Rowntree, Memorandum on the Declaration of Christian Doctrine issued by the Richmond Conference, 1887 (York, UK, 5th month 10, 1888).
- William Littleboy, The Appeal of Quakerism to the Non–Mystic (Harrowgate, UK: Committee of Yorkshire Quarterly Meeting of the Society of Friends, 1916). Reprinted by the Friends Literature Committee, Yorkshire, 1938, and by Friends Book Centre, London, 1945.
- Henry J. Cadbury, Quakerism and Early Christianity (London: Allen & Unwin, 1957).
- (a) John Linton, “Quakerism as Forerunner,” Friends Journal 25, no. 17 (October 15, 1979): 4–9. Reprinted as Quakerism as Forerunner, pamphlet #1 (London: Quaker Universalist Group, 1979). Also in Quaker Universalist Fellowship, The Quaker Universalist Reader Number 1: A Collection of Essays, Addresses and Lectures (Landenberg, PA: printed by author, 1991), 1. (b) Daniel A. Seeger, “Is Coexistence Possible?,” Friends Journal 30, no. 12 (1984): 11–14. Also in Quaker Universalist Reader Number 1 (Laudenberg, PA: Quaker Universalist Fellowship, 1986), 85.
- Jesse Holmes, “To the Scientifically–Minded,” Friends Intelligencer 85, no. 6 (1928): 103–04. Reprinted in Friends Journal 38, no. 6 (June 1992): 22–23. Also published as To the Scientifically–Minded (Philadelphia: Friends General Conference, undated), and A Los Intellectuales (Philadelphia: Friends General Conference, undated).
- (a) Jesse Holmes, The Modern Message of Quakerism, Philadelphia: Friends General Conference, 1912. Also published as What is Truth? Philadelphia: Friends General Conference (undated). (b) Jesse Holmes, “The Quakers and the Sciences,” Friends Intelligencer 88, no. 6 (1931): 537–38.
- Jesse Holmes, “‘Our Christianity’?” Universalist Friends 39 (Fall & Winter, 2003): 15–22.
- Henry J. Cadbury, “My Personal Religion,” Universalist Friends 35 (Fall–Winter 2000): 22–31, with corrections in 36 (Spring-Summer 2000): 18. For another interpretation of Cadbury’s writings, see Paul Anderson, “Is ‘Nontheist Quakerism’ a Contradiction of Terms?” Quaker Religious Thought 118 (May 2012): 5–24.
- Henry J. Cadbury, Quakerism and Early Christianity, (London: Allen & Unwin, 1957), 47–48.
- Arthur Morgan, “Universal Brotherhood in Religion,” Friends Intelligencer (October 17, 1953): 558 and 564.
- Arthur Morgan, letter, The New Humanist, 6 (May–June, 1933).
- (a) Claire Walker, “Must We Feel Comfortable?” Friends Journal 9, no. 15 (August 1, 1963): 334. (b) Joseph Havens, “Christian Roots and Post-Christian Horizons” Friends Journal 10, no. 1 (January 1, 1964): 5–8. (c) Lawrence McK. Miller, Jr., “The ‘Honest to God’ Debate and Friends” Friends Journal 10, no. 6 (March 15, 1964): 124–26. (d) Letters by Howard Kershner, Albert Schreiner and Mary Louise O’Hara in Friends Journal, April 1, May 15 and July 15, 1964. (e) For more on this, see: Os Cresson, “Reviews of Publications on Quaker Nontheism in the 1960s” (unpublished manuscript), https://nontheistfriends.org.
- Workshop for Non-Theistic Friends, “Seekers Beyond Tradition” Friends Journal 22, no. 19 (November 15, 1976): 586–87. Slightly edited version of unpublished report by participants in the Workshop for Non-Theistic Friends held at the Friends General Conference Gathering, Ithaca NY, June 26–July 3, 1976, https://nontheistfriends.org. Workshop also described in Robert Morgan, “Some Surprises For Us?” Friends Journal 22, no. 19 (November 15, 1976): 582–83.
- John Linton, letter, “A Universalist Group,” The Friend 136 (April 21, 1978): 484. See John Linton, letter, “A Universalist Group” The Friend 136 (October 20, 1978): 1315.
- John Linton, “Quakerism as Forerunner,” Friends Journal 25, no. 17 (October 15, 1979): 4–9. Reprinted as Quakerism as Forerunner, pamphlet #1 (London: Quaker Universalist Group, 1979). Also in Quaker Universalist Fellowship. The Quaker Universalist Reader Number 1: A Collection of Essays, Addresses and Lectures (Landenberg, PA: printed by author, 1986), 1–13.
- Kingdon W. Swayne, “Confessions of a Post–Christian Agnostic,” Friends Journal 26, no. 3 (February 15, 1980): 6–9. Also in Quaker Universalist Fellowship. Variations on the Quaker Message (Landenberg, PA: printed by author, 1990), 1–6.
- Kingdon W. Swayne, “Universalism or Latitudinarianism?,” Universalist Friends 7 (1986): 8–11.
- (a) David Rush, “Facts and Figures: Do Quakers Believe in God, and if They Do, What Sort of God?,” in David Boulton, ed., Godless for God’s Sake: Nontheism in Contemporary Quakerism (Dent, Cumbria, UK: Dales Historical Monographs, 2006), 91–100. Also see Mark S. Cary and Anita L. Weber, “Two Kinds of Quakers: A Latent Class Analysis,” Quaker Studies 12/1 (2007): 134–144. (b) David Rush, “They Too Are Quakers: A Survey of 199 Nontheist Friends,” The Woodbrooke Journal 11 (Winter 2002). Reprinted as They Too Are Quakers: A Survey of 199 Nontheist Friends (Millsboro, VA: Quaker Universalist Fellowship, 2003).
- (a) Robin Alpern, “Reflections on a Decade of Nontheism Workshops” (unpublished manuscript, 2007), https://nontheistfriends.org. (b) David Boulton, “Nontheism Among Friends: Its History and Theology” (paper delivered at the Quaker Theological Discussion Group meeting at the American Society for Biblical Literature Conference, San Francisco CA, November 2011).
- (a) David Boulton, ed., “New Nontheist Friends Network in Britain”, last modified April 27, 2011, https://nontheistfriends.org. (b) quoted in David Boulton, “Nontheism Among Friends.”
- David Boulton, ed., Godless for God’s Sake.
- Chuck Fager, review, “Godless for God’s Sake: Nontheism in Contemporary Quakerism,” Quaker Theology 13 (2007), http://www.quest.quaker.org.
- Henry Cadbury (?), “The Separation in the Society of Friends, 1827.” Friends Intelligencer 71, no. 9 (Second month 28, 1914): 129–132. Also published as Henry Cadbury (?), Differences in Quaker Belief In 1827 and To–Day (Philadelphia: Biddle Press, 1914).
- Margaret Hope Bacon, Let This Life Speak: The Legacy of Henry Joel Cadbury (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1987), 26.
- Spiritual Nurturance Committee of Quaker Earthcare Witness, “Statement on Unity with Diversity,” BeFriending Creation 26, no. 3 (May–June 2013): 9, http://www.quakerearthcare.org.