Note that I am only writing from my experience of British Quakers I am not trying to convert anybody! This is a factual writeup about my observation of the Quakers

At its most basic level the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) are group of people who all agree that there is 'something special' in everybody and everything, and who wish to seek out a greater understanding of that 'something'.

I will dispel a few important misconceptions that I used to have about Friends (that's what Quakers call themselves)

  • They don't have any rules. They agree on basic principles such as "Murder is bad" but, contrary to popular belief (and even some Quakers will get this wrong) none of them are fixed in writing. No rule can apply to all situations in all places and in all times. Therefore tales of draconian laws and totalitarian-style religious rule are the essence of what Quakers oppose.

  • They don't have any Priests. They get jumpy at the word. One of their central beliefs is that everyone is equal and they see a Priesthood as contradicting that.

  • They don't claim to 'know' the truth, they want to find it.

  • Quakers are not all teetotallers. Some are, some aren't, just like in any other area of society. Most would say that having the odd drink socially isn't a bad thing, after all good old JC had a couple. I think all would agree that getting wasted is bad because you can hurt yourself and more importantly; innocent bystanders.

  • They are not puritans, you don't have to renounce your CD player and modem to be a Quaker. Quakers generally feel simplicity is a good thing, but I doubt that many dwell in caves living off nuts and berries.

  • They don't all eat Oats ;-)

    What about The Bible?

    Quakerism is descended from the ardent Christian George Fox in the 1650s, so you might expect it to be a bit fundamentalist in the nasty sense of the word. Quakerism is very much about questioning and searching, two things that don't sit well with a fundamentalist authoritarian group. As a result a Quaker is not likely to scream that you are a blasphemer and cast you down if you question the divinity of Christ. A Quaker is more likely to shrug and say that the important thing is to learn from Jesus' way of life - and get on with it.

    I think it would be fair to say that most Quakers in Britain consider the Bible to be their primary source of printed inspiration, but it is not the only one. Important books were written before and after the bible. Most Quakers don't see the Bible as the literal truth of God (if they did there would be far too many stonings), but as a very useful source of guidance.

    Quite a lot of Quakers find inspiration in the writings of other great thinkers and religious leaders. I have spoken to many Quakers who follow the teachings of Buddha, have read about who considers herself Wiccan and have heard of a Jewish Quaker and of an Islamic Sufi who considers himself a Quaker. The point of the Quaker ethos is that each person seeks the truth, it is not for them to judge which path another should take.

    What About God ?

    Well what about God then? I think all Quakers believe in God, though the terminology and imagery might be very varied. Most Quakers come from a Christian background. Most that I have met were brought up in the Anglican church, and so naturally tend towards traditional Christian imagery. Quakers use a lot of different words to try to do the impossible and describe God.

    A common term used for 'God' is 'The Light'. Quakers believe that 'The Light' exists in every time, every place and every thing. Therefore all things are sacred. Some Friends may talk of an Inner Light when referring to ones conscience or a feeling of inspiration. They may also talk of an Outer Light when referring to spiritual feelings from without. How one visualises or interprets this is utterly up to the individual. Whether you feel that 'the light' is the presence of God the Father, Allah, Tao, Gaia, the Universe or anything else really isn't worth going on a crusade about. All are equally valid descriptions of 'The Light'. The same applies to the gender of God, while individual Quakers may have opinions it is generally viewed as unimportant in the grand scheme of things.

    What about Services?

    OK so they don't have Priests right? The services must be pretty quiet eh? Well...yes. Firstly Quakers don't have anything resembling the official ritual of communion. If all things are sacred then all times and places are equally holy. One may experience communion in one's own way, by walking in the woods, by reading the Bible, through meditation, or even washing the dishes. Whatever method you use to feel at one with 'The Light' the effects are the same, Quakers often quote an early Quaker's statement that he "felt the evil weakening in me and the good raised up.".

    Despite the fact that all times, places and people are sacred, it can get lonely if you sit by yourself communing with the universe all day. Quakers gather in 'Meetings'. In my experience of Quaker meetings (I've been to several) the Quakers all turn up, say hello and chat a bit before entering the actual Meeting hall. There they sit down in a circle of chairs (this isn't a mystic circle, it's just that it's the most logical shape if there is nobody in charge). They then pray/meditate/read in silence. This silence can become very deep, something you have to experience to understand. There is no set plan, but if someone feels moved to speak they might stand up and briefly speak what is on their mind. This isn't a sermon, just a personal insight, concern, question or problem that overcame them during the silence. After they sit down everyone returns to their praying/meditating/reading, probably pondering what the person has just said. This can be a quite moving experience

    After about an hour the mad dash starts for the coffee and biscuits.

    Quaker Related Links

    P.S. Quake is cool, but Half-Life is better.
  • Quakers have contributed much to our society: Richard Nixon is an example that comes immediately to mind.

    They also brought us our draconian criminal justice system, the model for the world. It all traces back to the early part of the 19th century, and the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. The first inmate, brought in October 23, 1829, was a farmer turned burglar named Charles Williams, age 18. He did two years, his name replaced by his number, "1". He was locked alone in his cell, eight feet by twelve, with nothing but a Bible. He spoke to no one the whole two years, not even a spiritual advisor. If he was caught speaking to another prisoner, it would mean being locked in a cell without light, denial of the one hour of exercise he'd get a day, or denial of one or more days meals. One prisoner is known to have been chained to a wall in a darkened cell for forty-two days. Others were doused with water in the freezing yard or fitted with iron gags connected to cuffs behind their backs. Resistance to the gags forced them down the prisoner's throat, killing at least one man.

    Sermons were read by men, presumably Quakers, walking up and down the long corridors splayed out like a man on a rack inside the penitentiary walls. Surely, with two years of such solitary cogitation, the miscreant would see the error of his ways.

    It has been argued that, given the standards of the day, the Quaker model wasn't all that bad. The inmates were well fed and had their medical needs met. But it is clear that, even in that benighted time, the prison's continuous solitary confinement shocked the conscience of the world.

    "I hold this slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain," said Charles Dickens of his visit to Eastern State, "to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body."

    The Quakers who ran the place attributed the inevitable cases of madness they produced to excessive masturbation.

    A quaker is an unripe or immature coffee bean. It has a wrinkled surface and is smaller and less dense than a ripe bean.

    When coffee beans are roasted they darken in colour; dark coffee like espresso has been roasted longer than lighter blends. Quakers, however, remain pale and yellowish no matter how long they are roasted.

    Quakers taste bad, and ruin the flavour of otherwise good coffee, so roasted beans are rated for, among other things, how many quakers are found in a batch. Fewer quakers is obviously better, and coffee which contains few quakers commands a higher price than quaker-filled batches. Top quality expensive coffee will contain no more than a few quakers per pound; low quality cheap coffee can contain forty or more. If you're curious about your favourite coffee, pour the beans out on the counter and have a look; it's easy for even the untrained eye to pick out the pale, immature beans.

    So the reason why that gas station coffee tastes so bad is that it's made with cheap coffee that contains a high proportion of quakers.

    I have recently read 'The God Delusion' by Richard Dawkins, and it moved me a lot. I too am atheist and proud, dismayed by the wars, violence, coersion, daylight robbery, opression of women...well I could go on, caused by organised religion.

    One of Dawkins' first points is the way in which religion is afforded a disproportionate amount of respect from society in general, many times more that that we are expected to afford people simply for being human. Religion is like a get out of jail free card which immediately allows people to indulge many kinds of hate-fuelled behaviour, or even simply to express extreme opinions without any kind of proof or back up, and somehow we are not allowed to question it, challenge it or ask for proof, let alone call it wrong or publicly call for it to be silenced or changed.

    As an example of this Dawkins gives the case of a Quaker extricating himself from serving in the army giving the excuse of being a conciencious objector. A birthright Quaker, Dawkins argues, may be waved through simply for having Quaker parents, whereas someone who may have much more strongly held belifs & values will have to argue their case much more strongly. Religion is used as a passcard.

    My argument with this is that Quakerism is not a religion! Officially we are 'The Religious Society of Friends' Religious society!!! I am an atheist quaker. I don't believe in God, I believe that if humanity works togther with a systematic application of morals, freedom of speech, staunch pacifism & an openess & belief in the potential of all people no matter what their upbringing or personal cricumstances we will have a better world. I do not use God as a passcard, in fact that would fundimentally go against my morals. What is more, I had to explain this to the Society in order to join, the question of inherited membership is a contentious one within the society, but I maintain that very few Quakers, by birth or otherwise, deviate from these core values.

    Yes, Quakers have their roots in the christian religion, and many Quakers still are christian, just as there are Buddhist, Taoist & New Age Quakers. We tend to be on the 'hippy' end of the scale, but we are far from being blinded by religious doctrine & conveniant interpretation of & dogmatic adherence to scripture. Instead we use historical texts (such as the bible or the writings of early Quakers), common sense, open, intelligant discussion & a founding belief in sticking to our morals combined with a continual reviewing of our beliefs & systems.

    The basis of Quakerism is systematic, we follow practices, not creed, and although I would never presume to speak for any other Quaker on their own personal theistic beliefs, I am atheist & proud, yet Quakerism welcomes me with open arms. This is why we are a 'religious society' and NOT a religion.

    Quak"er (?), n.

    1.

    One who quakes.

    2.

    One of a religious sect founded by George Fox, of Leicestershire, England, about 1650, -- the members of which call themselves Friends. They were called Quakers, originally, in derision. See Friend, n., 4.

    Fox's teaching was primarily a preaching of repentance . . . The trembling among the listening crowd caused or confirmed the name of Quakers given to the body; men and women sometimes fell down and lay struggling as if for life. Encyc. Brit.

    3. Zool. (a)

    The nankeen bird.

    (b)

    The sooty albatross.

    (c)

    Any grasshopper or locust of the genus (Edipoda; -- so called from the quaking noise made during flight.

    Quaker buttons. Bot. See Nux vomica. -- Quaker gun, a dummy cannon made of wood or other material; -- so called because the sect of Friends, or Quakers, hold to the doctrine, of nonresistance. -- Quaker ladies Bot., a low American biennial plant (Houstonia caerulea), with pretty four-lobed corollas which are pale blue with a yellowish center; -- also called bluets, and little innocents.

     

    © Webster 1913.

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