Thursday, April 18, 2024

The Question of Non-Theism

In some of his many books, John Shelby Spong, the Bishop of Newark, New Jersey for 21 years, succinctly and lucidly describes key concepts of the New Testament and Christianity and explains keen insights.

A creative theologian at times, he has made startling statements including that “God is not a noun” but “a verb that invites us to live, to love and to be”!

(Probably, in that phrase, he is alluding to Process Theology which speculates that God is process, not substance). According to Process thinkers, God is very real, but God isn't a substance like most Creedal theologians believe.

However in the latter part of his leadership, Spong started denying many of the key doctrines of orthodox Christianity.
And most shocking--indeed, incomprehensible and incongruous--Spong promulgated in a few of his later books that there is No God! That Nontheism is the Truth!

Non-theism didn’t start with him, but is central to one branch of modern liberal religion, including one branch of Quakers in Britain and America. This is very strange since the Society of Friends is centered on God, has been for 380 years!

From Wikipedia:
“Non-theism among Quakers probably dates to the 1930s, when some Quakers in California branched off to form the Humanist Society of Friends (today part of the American Humanist Association), and when Henry Cadbury professed agnosticism in a 1936 lecture to Harvard Divinity School students.

The term "non-theistic" first appeared in a Quaker publication in 1952...In 1976, a Friends General Conference Gathering hosted a Workshop for Nontheistic Friends (Quakers).”

And in 2024 at Haverford College, June 30 through July 6, 2024, FGC is hosting an atheist leader, Tom Kunesh.
"His website on ‘atheisms‘ has an interesting typology of atheism (and agnosticism) and is well worth exploring..."
"Of particular interest is the page on ‘religious atheisms‘ which includes a short, very recently updated, biography of tom..." "Tom writes:
"What is a god? A god is an idealized human being, human characteristic or human creation to which is attributed with super-human powers of giving meaning to human existence. Examples of gods are Jesus...but no atheist, shaman or otherwise, knows a real god.
Knowing all the gods, the atheist must take care not to fall into the worship of any god."
"The following link takes you to a book by Kunesh, available there as an easy to navigate html file:

How can this religious atheism be central for spiritual seekers? Especially for Quakers since their central focus is on gathering for “Worship” every 7th day?

One well-known Quaker in the U.S. stated that he doesn’t worship at Worship but, instead, pays close attention to the moment. Another, claimed that he agrees with the hard materialism of famous new atheists.

Of course, there has been a major fracturing of Quakerism in the 20th century, into many different, even contrary meetings, manily as a counter moivement against the quietist, often stringent, Quakerism of the 19th century where Quakers were removed from Yearly Meetings for many reasons including marrying a non-Quaker, being an abolitionist and part of the “Underground Railroad,” for deviation from required clothing styles, etc.

However, it is one thing to strongly oppose rigid, narrow, demanding Quakerism (even early Quakers often disagreed about major points), but it's entirely different to centrally identify with Non-Theism, to deny that the Light is real.

Such modern non-theist Friends appear to strongly agree with Spong’s Non-theism, not only that many of the doctrines of Christianity aren’t true, but that there is no God. They appear to be promoting religious atheism.

How can Spong or Henry Cadbury, an agnostic, be so knowledgeable and inspirational, yet think the Light doesn’t exist, that no transcendent Creator is real?

Such claiming is contrary to the inspirational witness of George Fox, Margaret Fell, other early Friends, and many visionaries all the way back to Jesus?

It is possible that some Quaker Non-theists aren’t denying the True God, but only denying the concept of God in Creedal Christianity. A number of them had very severe experiences in creedal denominations, and so want nothing to do with the Creeds and other doctrines.

If that is so, then they aren’t really Non-theists but deniers of the creedal God.

If that is the case, then such a Friend is completely in line with George Fox who found no succor or belief in the religious denominations of Christianity in Britain.

And I agree with such unbelievers. As a devout theist of a Friendly sort, I’ve never believed in the Creeds of orthodox Christianity and Evangelical Christianity.

As I reflect about this odd, tragic development in modern, fragmented, Quakerism, and think about my previous article on the tendency of modern Friends to lean to rightwing or leftwing ideologies, I admit I feel discouraged. But then I remember, the present isn't that different from how Britain was in the 1640's--rife with all sorts of contrary movements, beliefs, etc.

More later

In the LIGHT of the Good, the True, the Just, the Caring,

Daniel Wilcox

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