Presenting the work of Quaker atheists, agnostics, humanists, and others who practice Quakerism without supernatural beliefs

Reviews of Publications on Quaker Nontheism in the 1960s



Review #1: Claire Walker and the Questing Quakers

Review #2: Larry Miller’s review of Honest to God

Review #3: Toward a Quaker view of theology

Review #4: Dan Seeger and nontheist conscientious objection

Review #5: Carol Murphy

Review #6: Bradford Smith

Review #7: Joseph Havens

Review #8: Scott Crom


Learning about the history of nontheism among Friends can help inform and motivate us as we move toward increased unity among theist and nontheist Friends. Attached below are a series of notes about publications in the 1960s on Quaker nontheism.

A review can seek to accomplish many tasks, not all of them appropriate in any one review. We could simply list publications (111 items are in “Publications on Quaker Nontheism” which is in the appendix of Quaker and Naturalist Too). Annotating that list would be a help. We need reviews of important pieces of literature in our history. Reviews of criticisms of our field can be useful, especially if they suggest possible paths toward unity.  Interviews with key players would be good to have.

The reviews published here are works in progress. At this point the focus is getting the word out about the articles, using excerpts to capture some of the main points in an accessible way.

It is interesting to know what was published, but if possible we would like to know how it affected people. It would also help to look into how the writings fit into the context of the authors’ other writings, and the rest of their lives, and the conditions of the times when it was written. We can look for other publications by the authors we find. Of course, the information we seek may be impossible to find, or finding it may be too large a task.

The acceptance of nontheism by Friends today came in small steps, and these steps sometimes concerned other questions. For instance, the conditions necessary for the inclusion of nontheists are sometimes discussed in the context of whether Quakers need to be Christians. Questions about nontheists may come up in a discussion of Buddhism.

A major reason to write about our history is to encourage Friends today. It can lift us up to read about the experience of Friends in the past. We can be struck by the similarities in our situations, and by how things have changed. We can even try to get in touch with Friends whose writings we are reading, or to contact their families.

Looking at the past can help us gain clarity about the Quaker practices that allow for our inclusion today. It can help to show similarities and differences with the efforts to gain acceptance by other groups of Friends. We can ask why these concerns are finally addressed at some point, but not sooner.

The following reviews are about a very limited slice of the Friends literature of the 1960s. This only involves Friends Journal, and not all issues have been thoroughly browsed. I hope others will extend the discussion to other journals (for example, looking in other journals for reviews of Honest to God and reactions to the Seeger case.)

The list of publications on Quaker nontheism in Quaker and Naturalist Too does not include letters, editorials, book reviews or internet blog postings. These other materials should be part of a separate list since they are a vital part of the publishing history of Quaker nontheism.

Here is a chronological list of the NTF publications that I know about from Friends Journal in the 1960s. It gives the year follow by the author’s last name and first name. (The full citations are in Quaker and Naturalist Too.) 62 editors, Friends Journal. 63 Walker, Claire. 64 Cadbury, Henry J. 64 Havens, Joseph. 64 Miller, Jr., Lawrence McK. 64 Smith, Bradford. 65 Crom, Scott. 65 Macmurray, John. 65 Murphy, Carol. 65 Smith, Bradford. 66 Brayshaw, Maude. 66 Evans, Cadifor. 66 Holmes, Margaret. 66 Lacey, Paul. 67 Crom, Scott. 67 Crom, Scott. 68 Boulding, Kenneth. 69 Boland, James R. 69 Creasey, Maurice A. 69 Loukes, Harold and H. J. Blackham.

You are encouraged to take up parts of the large and important task of reviewing this literature.

This version is dated January 14, 2014.

Os Cresson

Iowa City, Iowa

email: oscresson (AT)

Review #1: Claire Walker and the Questing Quakers

Claire Walker wrote a Friends Journal article in 1963 about what she called “Questing Quakers” who reject the supernatural. She was a member of Stony Run MM, Baltimore YM, and a teacher at Friends School of Baltimore. An article about her is available online.

In 1976 Walker was part of the Workshop for Non-Theistic Friends and contributed an article to the issue of Friends Journal in which that workshop’s epistle was published.

A brief biography of Claire Walker (1911-2008) is in Collection, the magazine of Friends School of Baltimore, online at

I’m sure there were many nontheist Friends that we don’t know about, and many articles we haven’t yet seen.


Morgan, Robert M. and Claire Walker. “Toward New Concepts of God.” Friends Journal 22(19), November 15, 1976, pp. 582-87. This includes a brief introduction and the articles listed here as Morgan (1976), Walker (1976), and Workshop for Non-Theist Friends (1976), online at

Walker, Claire. “The Anti-Anthros Speak Out” Friends Journal 22, no. 19 (November 15, 1976): 583-85.

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.

Walker, Claire.“Must We Feel Comfortable?” Friends Journal 9, no. 15 (August 1, 1963): p. 334, online at

Review #2: Larry Miller’s review of Honest to God

In 1964 in Friends Journal there was review of Honest to God by John Robinson, a book that stirred up liberal Christians around the world. This is another example of little known writings that are part of the history of nontheism among Friends. The author of the review was Larry Miller, the executive secretary of Friends General Conference at that time. He started with a long description of the book from the perspective of modern liberal Christian theist Quakers, and ended with a call for inclusiveness. Here are excerpts:

“These theologians [Tillich, Bonhoeffer and Bultmann] lead John Robinson to some very challenging conclusions, and these admittedly tentative conclusions coincide with or enrich most of the traditional Quaker interpretations of Christianity. In fact, it is said that John Robinson was told by angry Anglicans to go and join the Quakers. Yes, he is speaking to Friends, and is one of us in spirit, because we are part of what one clergyman has called the Honest to God public. . . . A recent article in The Friend (London) has rightly pointed out that the basis of morality being called for by Robinson in Honest to God is similar to what the English Friends who wrote Towards a Quaker View of Sex are calling for. They all say that the morality of behavior cannot be expressed in proscriptive rules, but must be worked out in terms of the demands of love in any particular situation. . . . An Honest to God debate within the Society of Friends would be healthy and constructive. The Bishop is laying the ground for a new Christian radicalism, one that should appeal both to those with a strong Christian identification and to those with a radical bent of mind. . . . There are many questions Friends and others will have regarding the thinking of John Robinson [but] if Friends can see Honest to God as primarily a devotional book, as has one critic in England, this could provide the basis for personal growth and fruitful dialogue. As the Bishop himself says, ‘. . . we are still only at the beginning of our task. But the beginning is to try to be honest– and to go on from there.’”

There were letters on May 1, June 1, two on July 15, and an article that mentioned Honest to God on August 1. All but one supported Robinson’s effort to formulate a Christianity more in tune with modern thinking. Nontheist Quakerism was not mentioned but that was coming. Claire Walker had already called for Questing Quakers free of the supernatural on August 1, 1963 FJ (Honest to God was published March 19, 1963). Miller’s review was in FJ March 15, 1964; later in 1964 letters appeared supporting Dan Seeger’s nontheist conscientious objection to the draft; Carol Murphy wrote “Friends and Unbelievers,” FJ April 1, 1965 (a theist’s call for accepting doubters who are open to Friends of differing views); Scott Crom wrote “Human Experience and Religious Faith,” FJ September 1, 1965 (urging acceptance of Friends who have not experienced God but genuinely participate in worship); In Search of God: Some Quaker Essays appeared in 1966 (a British pamphlet, written by theists, encouraging agnostics to join Friends); Kenneth Boulding’s “Machines, Men, and Religion,” FJ December 15, 1968 (he asked if God isn’t another human idol and hinted at the possibility of religion without God); Maurice Creasey’s Swarthmore lecture in 1969 (on Friends and atheist Christianity); and Harold Loukes & H. J. Blackham’s Humanists and Quakers: An Exchange of Letters, also in 1969.

It happened gradually, starting with theists writing about modernizing their theology, asking whether Friends need one particular theology, and expressing their concern for doubters. Nontheism began to be considered as an option and some Friends started writing from a nontheist perspective and finally there was the 1976 FGC workshop for non-theistic Friends. But it still took another 20 years before the 1996 “Nontheism Among Friends” FGC workshop when the fire took hold and there was light.


Boulding, Kenneth.“Machines, Men, and Religion.” Friends Journal 14, no. 24 (December 15, 1968): 643–44.

Creasey, Maurice A. Bearings or Friends and the New Reformation. Swarthmore Lecture. London: Friends Home Service Committee, 1969.

Crom, Scott. “Human Experience and Religious Faith.”Friends Journal 11, no. 17 (September 1, 1965): 429–31.

Friends Home Service Committee, In Search of God: Some Quaker Essays. London: printed by author, 1966

Letters concerning Dan Seeger’s nontheist conscientious objection (this will be in another message).

Loukes, Harold and H. J. Blackham. Humanists and Quakers: An Exchange of Letters. London: Friends Home Service Committee, 1969.

Miller, Jr., Lawrence McK.“The ‘Honest to God’Debate and Friends.” Friends Journal 10, no. 6 (March 15, 1964): 124–26.

Murphy, Carol. “Friends and Unbelievers.” Friends Journal 11, no. 7 (April 1, 1965): 160–61.

Walker, Claire. “Must We Feel Comfortable?”Friends Journal 9, no. 15 (August 1, 1963): 334.

Review #3: Toward a Quaker view of theology

Friend Harry Gardner has highlighted the similarities in two great Quaker struggles toward unity with diversity. The line he noticed in the review of Honest to God is, “They all say that the morality of behavior cannot be expressed in proscriptive rules, but must be worked out in terms of the demands of love in any particular situation.”

Larry Miller, the reviewer, saw that those who just the year before had published their recommendations regarding Quaker sexual morality had found an explanation of Quaker acceptance of diversity that would also work for Quaker theology.

Towards a Quaker View of Sex had been published in 1963, the year before. Most Friends at the time, especially young Friends, knew of this pamphlet. It showed us a way to be Quaker and while holding views not typical of Friends in years past. Larry Miller saw that characteristics of Quakers that help us accept variety in our views on sex also apply to variety in our views on theology. We need a similarly groundbreaking study that could be called, Toward a Quaker View of Theology.

See for yourself. In the following excerpts from Towards A Quaker View of Sex I have inserted “theology” for “morality” and “theological” for “moral”:

“[Our research] supports us in rejecting almost completely the traditional approach of the organized Christian church to theology (morality), with its supposition that it knows precisely what is right and what is wrong, that this distinction can be made in terms of an external pattern of behaviour, and that the greatest good will come only through universal adherence to that pattern. Nothing that has come to light in the course of our studies has altered the conviction that came to us when we began to examine the actual experiences of people—the conviction that love cannot be confined to a pattern. The waywardness of love is part of its nature and this is both its glory and its tragedy. If love did not tend to leap every barrier, if it could be tamed, it would not be the tremendous creative power we know it to be and want it to be.”

“Quakerism begins with a search and its method is experimental. . . . The Society of Friends places particular emphasis on our individual and personal responsibility. We cannot accept as true a statement that is given us merely because it is given with the authority of tradition or of a Church. We have to make that truth our own—if it is a truth—through diligent and prayerful search and a rigorous discipline of thought and feeling.”

“This search is a move forward into the unknown; it implies a high standard of responsibility, thinking and awareness—something much harder than simple obedience to a theological (moral) code. Further, the responsibility that it implies cannot be accepted alone; it must be responsibility within a group whose members are equally committed to the search”

“It is the awareness that the traditional code, in itself, does not come from the heart; for the great majority of men and women it has no roots in feeling or true conviction. We have been seeking a theology (morality) that will indeed have its roots in the depths of our being and in our awareness of the true needs of our fellows.”


Towards A Quaker View of Sex Online at

Review #4: Dan Seeger and nontheist conscientious objection

Surprisingly, in 1964 Quaker nontheism was mentioned in four letters in Friends Journal. These had to do with Daniel A. Seeger’s effort to be legally recognized as a nontheist conscientious objector. His petition was denied at first but this was reversed by the NY Court of Appeals on Jan. 20, 1964 ( ). Dan was congratulated in an article in the Feb. 1964 AFSC Star, a newsletter of the NY office of AFSC where he worked. An emotional exchange of letters followed in the pages of Friends Journal.

Howard Kershner, a New York Friend, wrote on April 1, 1964: “The reversing court stated its belief that the statute was prejudicial in that it preferred theistically oriented religions over nontheistic ones. Can there be a nontheistic religion? We know of only one which is sometimes referred to as such, communism; and we doubt that it is a proper use of words to refer to any atheistic set of beliefs as a religion.” (Howard Kershner founded the International Commission for the Assistance of Child Refugees in 1938 and worked with refugees during the Spanish civil war and World War II. There is a 1942 video about his work, , and he published Quaker Service in Modern War in 1950.)

This brought a cascade of letters. Seven appeared in the May 15 issue, all supporting Seeger and inclusion of Quakers who do not experience God. Here are excerpts from four of them:

Robert S. Vogel, executive secretary of the NY AFSC, wrote: “[A]though the AFSC Star stated that Dan Seeger personally does not find the concept of man’s relation to a Supreme Being a useful one for describing the human condition, the article went on to explain that ‘his recognition of the element of mystery in human life makes him respect such a concept as meaningful to countless others.’ . . . ’Dan based his (conscientious objector) claim on what he described as a “religious devotion to a purely ethical creed”—devotion to ends and principles outside oneself rather than to narrowly personal ends and interests. As used in this sense, the concept of religion does not necessarily imply devotion to supernatural agents and is viewed as a quality of experience rather than adherence to any dogma.’ Dan Seeger has frequently expressed his dislike of labels because he feels they tend to blur important distinctions in matters which he regards as subtle, weighty, and complicated. He has always been quite sure, however, that he is not an atheist.”

Albert Schreiner, of Ossining NY, wrote: “Howard Kershner asks (April 1 issue) whether there can be a nontheistic religion and adds that he knows of only one: Communism. Actually there are many such religions. Perhaps the most widespread is Buddhism, which both in the teach of its founder and in its practice throughout southeast Asia is strongly nontheistic.” Schreiner goes on to describe several schools of Hinduism, Confucianism and Taoism and then writes, “[I]ndividual humanists are produced from time to time in Judaism and the religions descended from it, [and there are] Unitarian-Universalist Churches that accept into valid membership people of nontheistic beliefs, as do occasional Friends’ Meetings, while the Ethical Society consists almost entirely of humanistic believers.”

Martha Young, chairman, Overseers and Committee on Ministry and Counsel, Morningside Heights MM, wrote: “Dan Seeger and his wife worship with us regularly; we have found them to be deeply religious. Accordingly, our Preparative Meeting wrote a letter of support to the investigating authorities. We wish that Howard Kershner could know and value them as we do. . . . Howard Kershner asks why the New York AFSC should be elated by the vindication of the right of conscience by a court. We believe there is reason to rejoice if a man, prepared to suffer for his conscience, is spared this suffering. It seems to us that the court has vindicated the basic belief of Friends that there is that of God in every man, not only in the man who defines his belief exactly as we do. We do not judge how ‘most’ Friends may feel, but we do think that very many Friends and non-Friends will be grateful for a broadening of the freedom of conscience that is expressed in this court ruling.”

Mary Louise O’Hara of Albuquerque MM, wrote: “Howard E. Kershner’s criticism in his April 1st letter of Dan Seeger’s ‘nontheistic’ condition is a bit regrettable. Some of us have searched in vain for a Supreme Being . . . For us without a theistic Being, the actual application and extension of ethical love toward all creation is an expression of the highest spiritual significance, deep responsibility, and personal joy. This is the essential dedication of the AFSC, for whom Dan Seeger works. . . . The religious nontheist is grateful to be among Friends for whom the universal brotherhood of, and compassion for, all men is a simple accepted fact, as is tolerance toward all religions. Let those of us who experience and are sustained by a Supreme Being be tolerant of our equally religious members who cannot experience this blessing.”

On June 1 there was another letter supporting Seeger and then on July 15th Howard Kershner replied: “Nontheistic Quakerism? Heretofore military exemption has been granted when an individual declared that his understanding of the will of God would not permit him to do the will of the state. The exemption to Dan Seeger (see FRIENDS JOURNAL, April 1, May 15, June 1) who ‘…could not state that he believed in a Supreme Being,’ was granted because his own individual philosophy did not permit him to do the will of the state. If there is no Supreme Being, what do Friends mean by ‘that of God in every man’? What do Friends mean by ‘the laws of God’ if there is not God? I did not imply that because of Dan Seeger’s disbelief in God he had any preference for communism. There are many non-Communist atheists, but I am surprised to find so many nontheistic Friends. Are we deserting theism and Christianity, always strong in Quakerism, to become merely an ethical culture society?”

Perhaps people were tired since after Kershner’s letter on July 15 there was only a letter on Aug. 1 clarifying the definition of “agnostic” (as either uncertain about God or unwilling to accept any verbal creed), and one more on Aug. 15 supporting Seeger.

The next year, on March 8, 1965, Dan Seeger’s position was upheld by the Supreme Court ( ). This was the topic of a Friends Journal editorial on May 1 but its focus was that government must refrain from supporting particular religious beliefs, rather than the issue of nontheists in Friends meetings. There was an article by Carol Murphy and several letters at about this time on diversity of belief among Friends but they didn’t refer to the Seeger case (Ap. 1, Ap. 15, July 15, Aug. 15, three on Oct. 1, and Nov. 1, 1965). They mentioned “agnostics” but not “nontheists.”

Review #5: Carol Murphy

Carol Murphy published an article, “Friends and Unbelievers,” in Friends Journal on April 1, 1965. She wrote,

“Discussion continues from year to year on the subject of how or whether a noncreedal religious society can set a minimum standard of belief for membership. . . . Crucial to the dialogue between believers and unbelievers . . . is the presence or absence of an open mind. There can be no genuine communication with a mind which has closed all doors either to genuine faith or to genuine doubt. [O]penness to growing insight should always be at the heart of our religious life. . . .

“It should be apparent that the meaning of ‘belief’ and ‘unbelief’ has undergone a revolution in the course of this line of thought. . . . Where we formerly had thought of the believer as affirming ‘I believe in God,’ and the unbeliever as saying ‘There is no God,’ now we must think of the believer as saying ‘In spite of my doubts, I am open to God,’ and of the unbeliever as saying ‘I have my system, and I have no need for God.’

“In the light of this realization, the questions with which we began must be reconsidered. The way is now open to a criterion of belief and unbelief that involves no creedal formulas. . . . All this will require a gift for the discernment of spirits and the acknowledgment of the place of doubt as the purifier of faith, not its opponent. The believer is not submitting to absence of belief by his openness to contradiction and correction. All he asks from the unchurched seeker is a similar openness.”

Two subsequent letters and an editorial concerned the variety of Quaker belief.

Howard Kershner wrote on July 15, “Truly, we are in danger of becoming either an ethical culture society or a social service agency or both. If we cease to be actively and earnestly Christian, I see little reason for our continued existence.”

On July 15 there was an editorial titled, “’MY Lord Saith Something Different’”. The editor supported diversity of Quaker belief. (Friends Journal 10, no. 14 (July 15, 1964): 315.)

Bob Seeley wrote on Nov. 1, “Ultimately, it seems to me, the Society of Friends is a company of seekers – not a company of those committed to this, that, or the other theological position. Thus there does not seem to be any reason to exclude from our fellowship those who are honestly seeking, simply because they have not as yet found a religious base for their life.”


Murphy, Carol. “Friends and Unbelievers.” Friends Journal 11, no. 7 (April 1, 1965): 160–61.

Review #6: Bradford Smith

Bradford Smith published an article titled “Divine Law” in Friends Journal on July 1, 1964:

“For those who find the God ‘up there’ a stumbling block, it may help to think of the Law which unites all life, from farthest star to the inner structure of the atom. If this seems impersonal, we can remind ourselves that the grand design, the Law which spins both star and atom, also has its human and ethical aspects. . . . Although we think of the laws which regulate the stars, the animal world, human behavior, and the law courts as separate things, in fact they are all of one web. In all of them the spirit is at work, for spirit is the essence of law: law is the spirit which pervades all matter and all life. . . . Without law, all would be chaos. . . . Somehow this whole incredibly ordered universe obeys the laws of its nature and cannot do otherwise. . . . [The law] works in us like yeast in the loaf; it unites us to all that is; it draws us up into the divine.”

For many years Bradford Smith was director of the Quaker International Center in Delhi, India. Much of his writing was done with the knowledge that he did not have long to live. He died on July 14, 1964. A month later Friends Journal published his article, “The Road to Maturity.” His book, Meditation: The Inward Art, was published in 1968. In 1993, Pendle Hill published a collection of his writings: Dear Gift of Life: A Man’s Encounter with Death.

A poem by Bradford Smith appears at the end of Carol Murphy’s article, “Friends and Unbelievers” (Friends Journal, April 1, 1965). Here is the poem:

The Doubters

The doubters are the knowers:

Like that first doubter, God,

Who could not let his Adam be,

But gave him Eve and then the tree

To make a trial of Paradise;

Then of Gethsemane.



Smith, Bradford. “Divine Law” Friends Journal 10, no. 13 (July 1, 1964), p. 292.

Smith, Bradford. “The Road to Maturity,” Friends Journal 10, no. 16 (August 15, 1964): 376.

Smith, Bradford. “The Doubters.” Poem. Friends Journal 11, no. 7 (April 1, 1965): 161.

Smith, Bradford. Meditation: The Inward Art. Philadelphia PA: J. P. Lippincott, 1968.

Smith, Bradford. Dear Gift of Life: A Man’s Encounter with Death (pamphlet #142). Wallingford PA: Pendle Hill Publications, 1993.

Review #7: Joseph Havens

In “Christian Roots and Post-Christian Horizons” (Friends Journal, January 1, 1964) Joseph Havens wrote about the response of Friends to views that were common in 1964 but not generally accepted by Friends in the past. Here are excerpts:

“Western science and the religions of the East are forcing upon all Christendom a dialogue of profound import: the confrontation of Christian with post-Christian world-views. It is the thesis of this paper that this dialogue should be carried on within the Society of Friends, and not only between Friends and nonFriends. . . . [T]he challenge to Christendom is described in the book, Honest to God, by the Anglican Bishop, John Robinson. In it the author asks questions which have been in the minds of many Christians for a good many years, e.g., ‘. . . Why do we any longer need the category of God?’ All about us lie the signs of an alarming break-down in the fabric of meaning of Western religion. Robinson insists that we need ‘a radically new mould, a metamorphosis, of Christian belief and practice.’”

“Thinkers in all major Christian denominations are taking part in this dialogue, but they usually do so as theologians committed to a ‘defense of the Faith.’ The challenge from the secular or non-Christian perspectives is perceived as coming from outside the Church. In many Friends’ Meetings, in contrast, we have a radical diversity of view sustained within a shared community of worship. The very nature of that worship gives a leeway, a freedom, lacking in a liturgical service. This encounter of faiths, in other words, can go on fruitfully within our own Society if we are willing to commit ourselves to it.

“The spiritual basis of the dialogue has always been suggested: immediate, experiential encounter with ultimate Reality. Let me try to restate this general principle in the following broad propositions: a) Friends believe in the existence of a Reality which transcends themselves; b) They have had some ‘taste’ experientially of that Reality; c) They base their worship on the possibility of ever more fully experiencing that Reality.”

“I believe that we need the widest possible interpretation of the meaning of the ultimate Truth which is the focus of worship. ‘Tasting’ might include such diverse encounters as a sense of the unity and intelligence of Nature, an inexplicable and Grace-full deepening of a human love, a suggestion of an infinitely wide meaning or depth of Being in the hearing of a symphony or the reading of a poem-as well as seeing ‘the glory of God as revealed in the face of Jesus Christ.’ Only theological openness of this amplitude is sufficient to permit the soundings and searchings we must have.”

There were letters about Haven’s article in FJ on February 1, 1964 by Margery H. Dahn and J. H. McCandless; on March 1, by Marshall O. Sutton, Bradford Smith and Joseph Letson; on April 1, by Joseph Havens, Jane M. Morgan and Albert Schreiner; on April 15, by Robert Heckert; and on May 15, by Margret M. Houser.

It would be good to know more about Joseph Havens of Amherst, Massachusetts, and how he moved forward with his concerns. In September 1964 he helped lead a conference at Pendle Hill titled, “The Reformation of the Essence of Quakerism in Relation to the Thoughts and Issues of Our Time.”

Here’s a bit of biography: Joseph Durald Havens married Teresina Rowell in 1947. Lucia was born later that year and Wilfred in 1951. The Havens founded a retreat and conference center. Mulford Sibley and Rhoda Gilman wrote, “This center, called Temenos, is in Shutesbury, Massachusetts. Teresina Rowell Havens, who received a doctorate in comparative religions from Yale and studied Buddhism in Japan was also the author of several articles and pamphlets on the parallels between Buddhist and Quaker practice. See, for example, Mind What Stirs in your Heart (Wallingford, Pa.: Pendle Hill Pamphlets, 1992).”

Please note that often the people who helped create the conditions in which nontheist Quakerism developed were not themselves nontheists.


Havens, Joseph. “Christian Roots and Post-Christian Horizons.” Friends Journal 10, no. 1 (January 1, 1964): 5-8.

Havens biography at

Temenos Retreat Center:

Sibley, Mulford O. and Rhoda R. Gilman, Authority and Mysticism in Quaker and Buddhist Thought, QUF pamphlet, online at

Review #8: Scott Crom

In 1965 Scott Crom published “Human Experience and Religious Faith” in Friends Journal. He suggested that we need not be divided by the differences in our experiences, beliefs and forms of expression, and he urged the acceptance of Friends who have not experienced God but genuinely participate in worship Here are some excerpts:

“To set aside some experiences as religious is to run the risk of making too sharp a distinction between the religious and the secular. . . . To label anything is to prejudge it.”

“Why do some find the concept of God entirely empty or meaningless, but nevertheless still find value in religion – particularly in the Quaker way of worship? I suggest that we can understand the reasons for such points of view if we remember once more the workings of symbols, labels, and names. We should be clear that the label ‘personal’ is applied to God only metaphorically. . . . The question ‘Is God a person?’ does more harm than good, I believe. Far better, I suggest, to reverse the procedure and try to understand ourselves by recognizing ways in which we can resemble Him. The question should not be ‘Is God a person?’ but rather ‘Are we persons?’ Our minds must be open, our wills disciplined, our hearts tender. Is not this response both necessary and sufficient for Quaker meetings for business and for worship? Our experienced encounter with and recognition of that in which wisdom is grounded, that from which the moral imperative issues forth, and that abyss of love which gives meaning to our own pale human love – this experience of the ground beyond ourselves is surely enough to keep us from degenerating into a discussion group.”

“Quakers have wisely been opposed to the use of outward symbols lest they take the place of inward experience. Let us remember that a name, a term, a concept is equally a symbol, equally an attempt to objectify God.”

“If the mental symbol of God as personal helps to open doors and to turn one toward the reality so symbolized, then let us rejoice on behalf of him whom the symbol has helped. But if another finds that some particular mental symbol is as dangerous to him as a visible image and that other symbols keep him more open to the Light and make him more accessible to the divine-human encounter, then let us rejoice on behalf of one to whom the Spirit has spoken in a language that may not be ours.”

In 1967 Scott Crom published “Intellectual Bankruptcy and Religious Solvency” in Friends Journal. He defended variety in Quaker belief and language. Here are excerpts (the first two from Part I and the rest from Part II):

“By ‘intellectual bankruptcy’ I mean that we no longer have adequate, or even appropriate, ideas about God or satisfactory ways in which to think and talk about Him. By ‘religious solvency’ I mean that, in spite of this, religious salvation is as possible as ever, that essentially the same things are required of us as in Micah’s time.” [Micah 6:8, “what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.”]

“Those who are openly and honestly bankrupt are trying genuinely to make a new start – saying nay to the old gods, welcoming and participating in the death of God so that they can make the Great Affirmation. . . . What can be affirmed religiously when we are bankrupt intellectually? If the old language and ideas about God no longer carry for us their meaning for previous generations, then what can we affirm?”

“For me the Quaker heritage provides both the method and the content of the affirmation. I refer essentially to the fact that Quakerism is a religion based on experience. . . . But if the man upstairs is dead, if there is in fact no upstairs, what can it mean to walk humbly with our God, or to love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and mind? Can we make an affirmation that is religiously solvent without hiding or denying our intellectual bankruptcy?

“I believe we can, on the levels both of practice and of theory, and in a way that can yield a single, continuous world view. I find in John Woolman an excellent statement that needs only slight modification today: ‘There is a principle which is pure, placed in the human mind, which in different places and ages hath had different names. It is, however, pure and proceeds from God. It is deep and inward, confined to no forms of religion nor excluded from any where the heart stands in perfect sincerity. In whomsoever this takes root, and grows, of what nation soever, they become brethren.’

“Woolman’s phrase ‘the pure principle’ and terms like ‘the Inward Light’ or ‘the Indwelling Christ’ point for me to the same experience, discoverable by anyone and known to many. Let us sit quietly, together or alone, and open our minds in attentive waiting, neither using force to bring the mind to heel, nor giving it free rein to wander where it will, nor filling it with the recitation of prayers or poems or Bible passages so familiar that they do not really engage our attention. Sooner or later we do in fact find a new strength that looks for renewal and that promises growth.

“I don’t know whether this form of quiet waiting puts me in touch with otherwise hidden layers of my own unconscious or whether some external divine presence is revealing itself to me. And I don’t really much care, because the fact of the experience is what counts.”

“Religion is not what one says or believes; it is what one does and how one experiences. It is the recognition and the celebration of the quality of holiness in the here and now of this world, in whatever words capture one’s own experience and convey it to others. It is not the task of religion to explain life and the world but to live life and to see the world as worth living in and worth loving and worth working to redeem. Scientists and psychologists and historians are welcome to the job of explaining, as long as we realize they are simply searching for ways of ordering our experiences, of relating them, and of predicting them. If such ways work, so much the better. Just as the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath, so are theories made to enlighten experience, not to deny it or to cut it to some prejudged shape and size.”

“Let me try to put my whole point in another way: Language, in relation to experience, performs the functions of celebration, explanation, and manipulation. Quakers, of all people, should be able to sit loose to symbols and symbolic language and should be able to look beyond words to their function. . . . Let us be as flexible as possible in our language, but as faithful as possible to our experience.”

“I have sketched out a view of religion in which we sit loose to the traditional terms and symbols, making full use of them if they work but being prepared to abandon them and to experiment freely with other language if the deepest needs of ourselves and our brothers call for such experimenting. I have claimed that in the realm of explaining our experience of the world the old language is no longer functional. The question, then, is by what right do I call such a view religious. . . . I can answer only in terms of the nature of the experience which I see to be at the heart of religion. Our experience is in fact humanistic and secular because we can experience only in the ways open to human beings. But the experience to which I am pointing is one of healing growth and sometimes of painful and shaking growth; it is the experience of coming to see what is required of us – something which usually we have known all along but have refused to admit to ourselves; it is the experience of discovering oneself that same seed which is in others, the seed which, with nurture, develops into a fully-rooted unity with one’s own basic being and with others. This is genuinely religious experience because it puts us in touch with that which is the ultimate spring of all creativity and the only source of redemption for our broken and sinful world. And if creativity and redemption are not religion, then I do not know what is.”

Scott Crom later published “The Trusting Agnostic,” in Quaker Religious thought in 1972 in which he describes how he has combined skepticism about God with trust in God. In 1996 he signed up for the “Nontheism Among Friends” FGC workshop, but he did not attend.

Sadly, Scott Crom died in 2013 at the age of 85. It would be good if one of us would review some of his articles, pamphlets and books.


Crom, Scott. “Human Experience and Religious Faith.” Friends Journal 11, no. 17 (September 1, 1965): 429-31.

Crom, Scott. “Intellectual Bankruptcy and Religious Solvency (Part I)”. Friends Journal 13, no. 21 (November 1, 1967): 566–68.

Crom, Scott. “Intellectual Bankruptcy and Religious Solvency (Part II)”. Friends Journal 13, no. 22 (November 15, 1967): 599–600.

Crom, Scott. “The Trusting Agnostic.” Comments by Maurice H. Friedman and John H. McCandless, and response to comments by Scott Crom. Quaker Religious Thought 14, no. 2 (1972): 1–39.

Biography of Scott Crom:

Pendle Hill pamphlets by Scott Crom (with comments from the Pendle Hill website): #132: Obstacles to Mystical Experience: “A mathematician / philosopher discusses Western and Eastern approaches to mysticism.” #155: On Being Real: a Quest for Personal and Religious: “A conception of truth as the fidelity of consciousness to a reality which is neither fixed nor final.” #195: Quaker Worship and Techniques of Meditation: “By combining Yoga, Transcendental Meditation, and Quakerism, a deeper understanding of the inner life is achieved.” #267: Encounters with Transcendence: Confessions of a Religious Philo: “Reconciling the experience of transcendence with the disciplines of logic and mathematics.”


2 responses to “Reviews of Publications on Quaker Nontheism in the 1960s”

  1. Hi Os: thought you might like to know this resource came in handy just now. There was a Facebook question about where the phrase “holding in the light” comes from. The earliest use I could find in the Friends Journal archives was a May 15, 1978 article by Scott Crom (I shared it here:

    I didn’t really know about Crom but Google brought me to this great page. Thanks for compiling it (and glad to see new posts again on the site). Have you seen any references to the phrase in Nontheist Friends or closely-related circles in the 1960s and 70s?

    1. Greetings, Martin Kelley.

      Sadly we both just missed Scott Crom who died at 85 last August. At least we have his words. As to the history of “holding in the light” I’ll ask around and if more turns up we’ll let you know.

      The reviews you see here are just place holders for the real work: a more comprehensive survey with commentary as well as excerpts. A lot of wonderful pieces that readers today would appreciate are hiding in plain sight in the Quaker archives. Thanks for your interest and encouragement.

      Os Cresson

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