George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, disapproved of creeds, as they are divisive rather than unifying. He also thought that mere words could not encapsulate the transcendence of the Divine. Quakers have always interpreted the words and symbols of Christianity and the Divine in novel ways, and our understanding of Quaker faith has also evolved over time. That the Religious Society of Friends does not have a creed permits this evolving group understanding of our faith.
Instead of creeds, Quakers have queries and testimonies. The queries are open-ended questions that help us to reflect and to open up to the Divine. Queries require that we do the work to figure out what we believe.
Testimonies also serve a very different role than creeds. Where a creed says, "This is what I believe is true,” or "This is what I have been told to believe," testimonies say, "This is what happened. This is the life I live. This is what I do for peace and community, with more or less guidance from the Divine." As the Divine spirit dwells ever more sweetly in one's heart, the testimonies of Peace, Unity, Equality, Community, Simplicity, Integrity (alas, there is no canonical list of Quaker testimonies... ) will be more evident in one's life.
Quakerism is an experiential religion. Each of us has had different experiences. My scientific world-view has no god. I do not believe there is a god calling the shots or judging us. In the long run, it doesn't matter what I believe, but I think it does matter what I do. I come down squarely in the camp of the non-theists, but I don't dwell on that: just like a creed, it would separate me from some of my Friends.
Even though I am a non-theist, when I pray, I pray to God. I feel that I have experienced God. I know I have experienced “That of God” in many people, and I seek to nourish “That of God” in myself and in others.
I speak easily in the language of the Divine because of experiences I have had: feeling the light of God fill my heart, feeling God's love washing over me, worshiping and giving thanks for this blessing that found me seemingly by accident – for surely I have done nothing to make myself worthy of this gift of the presence of God. Many times I have had the experience of being guided by the Divine in my daily life. At times I have been stunned by the way everything seemed to fit together, as if an omnipotent God had planned it all, bringing glory to God. Yet I also see the universe as a huge machine made up of atoms and energy, physical principles and laws, which work on their own. The universe does not require a god to run it.
Is this a common view among Quakers? Probably not. But I am guessing there are actually many people among liberal Quakers who carry a healthy amount of paradox in their personal understanding of God, including both theist and non-theist perspectives.
As a non-creedal religious society, Friends display a wide distribution of personal beliefs. We are all Seekers here. Quakerism is a methodology for finding corporate truth. The different ways that we all believe are important to consider when a Meeting strives to find Unity and seek Truth as a corporate body.
I strive not to judge a person on their beliefs. Rather, I strive to accept them in terms of their peace, their integrity, their love, and their commitment to community. ~~~
Mark Holdaway is a retired radio astronomer who worked on the design of the newly built ALMA telescope. Now he works as a musician and promoter of the kalimba, an ancient African thumb piano. Mark recently started on a course of study in music therapy. He has been a member of Pima Monthly Meeting since 1997.