Nontheist Quakers (also known as nontheist Friends or NtFs) are those who affiliate with, identify with, engage in, or affirm Quaker practices and processes, but who do not necessarily believe in a theistic God, a Supreme Being, the divine, the soul or the supernatural. Like traditional Friends, nontheist Friends are interested in realizing centered peace, simplicity, integrity, community, equality, love, joy, and social justice in the Society of Friends and beyond.
Quakers in the unprogrammed tradition have recently begun to examine the significance of nontheistic beliefs in the Society of Friends, in the tradition of seeking truth. 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" was first written in a Quaker publication in 1952 on conscientious objection. As early as 1976, a Friends General Conference Gathering hosted a well-attended Workshop for Nontheistic Friends (Quakers).
There is a nontheist Friends' website and there are nontheist Quaker study groups. Os Cresson began a recent consideration of this issue from behaviorist, natural history, materialist and environmentalist perspectives. Roots and Flowers of Quaker Nontheism is one history. Friendly nontheism also draws on Quaker humanist and universalist traditions. The book Godless for God's Sake: Nontheism in Contemporary Quakerism offers recent, critical contributions by Quakers. Some Friends engage the implications of human evolution, cognitive anthropology, evolutionary psychology, bodymind questions (esp. the "relaxation response"), primatology, evolutionary history, evolutionary biology, biology and consensus decision-making, online especially, in terms of Quaker nontheism.
Nontheist Friends tend to share the Religious Society of Friends (RSOF) historic Quaker peace testimony and support for war resistance and conscientious objection.
There are currently three main nontheist Quakers' web sites, including the Nontheist Friends' Official Website, Nontheist Friends Network Website (a listed informal group of Britain Yearly Meeting), and the Nontheist Friends' wiki subject/school at World University and School, which was founded by Scott MacLeod.
Nontheist Friends are a group of individuals, many of whom are affiliated or involved in the unprogrammed tradition in Quakerism. F/friendly nontheists are attempting sympathetically to generate conversation with others who are more comfortable with the traditional and often reiterated language of Quakerism. Some nontheistic f/Friends see significance in this lower-case / upper-case distinction in terms of inclusiveness and friendliness, welcoming both to the ongoing NTF email list conversations. Questioning theism, they wish to examine whether the experience of direct and ongoing inspiration from God ("waiting in the Light") – "So wait upon God in that which is pure. ..." – which traditional Quakers understand as informing Silent Meeting and Meeting for Business, might be understood and embraced with different metaphors, language and discourse.
Nontheist Friends' Books
- Boulton, David (Ed). 2006. Godless for God's Sake – Nontheism in Contemporary Quakerism. Nontheist Friends.
- Cresson, Os, and David Boulton (Foreword). 2014. Quaker and Naturalist Too. Morning Walk Press.
Notable Nontheist Friends
- Cadbury, Henry, 1936. "My Personal Religion." Accessed online: July 17, 2007. Unpublished manuscript in the Quaker Collection at Haverford College; lecture given to Harvard divinity students in 1936.
- Tatum, Lyle (ed.). 1952. "Handbook for Conscientious Objectors." Philadelphia, PA: Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors.
- Morgan, Robert. 1976. "Report from the Workshop for Non-Theistic Friends – Friends General Conference, Ithaca, NY, June, 1976." (Note at end of report reads: "The author of this report is 'Workshop for Non-Theistic Friends'. The workshop was led by Robert Morgan (1916–1993), a Friend from Pittsburgh PA." Morgan was therefore "recording clerk" for this report).
- Cresson, Os Roots and Flowers of Quaker Nontheism NontheistFriends.org, September 16, 2010
- Boulton, David (ed.). 2006. Godless for God's Sake: Nontheism in Contemporary Quakerism. Dent, UK: Dales Historical Monographs. ISBN 0-9511578-6-8
- Benson MD, Herbert and Miriam Z. Klipper. 2000 . The Relaxation Response. Expanded updated edition. Harper. ISBN 0-380-81595-8
- Benson MD, Herbert. 1976. Steps to Elicit the Relaxation Response. RelaxationResponse.org. From "The Relaxation Response." HarperTorch.
- Nontheist Friends Network (a listed informal group of Britain Yearly Meeting)
- Nontheist Friends' wiki school at World University and School
- Royce, Josiah. 1913. "George Fox as a Mystic" Cambridge, MA: The Harvard Theological Review. 6:1:31-59. JSTOR 1506970.
- Anderson, Sam. 2011. "Nicholson Baker, The Art of Fiction No. 212." The Paris Review (198).
- Boulton, David. The Trouble With God: Building the Republic of Heaven.
- Boulton, David. 2016. Through a glass darkly: A defence of Quaker nontheism. Cumbria, UK: Dales Historical Monographs.
- Case, Nat. 2013. I contradict myself: I am an atheist and a Quaker. Does it matter what I believe, when I recognise that religion is something I need?. London, England: Aeon Magazine.
- Cresson, Os. 2007. Roots and Flowers of Quaker Nontheism. NontheistFriends.org. Jan 23. Accessed online: Dec 30, 2008.
- Crom, Scott. 1972. "The Trusting Agnostic." Quaker Religious Thought. Vol. 14(2): 1–39. Includes two carefully thought out replies and Crom's response.
- Dawkins, Richard. 2002. An Atheist's Call to Arms. Accessed online video: July 17, 2007. Monterey, CA: Ted Talks.
- Dennett, Daniel. 2006. A Secular, Scientific Rebuttal to Pastor Rick Warren. Accessed online video: July 17, 2007. Monterey, CA: Ted Talks.
- Durham, Geoffrey. (ed.). (in Press – Sep 2010). The Spirit of the Quakers. (Contains a nontheistic Friends' perspective by Alpern, Robin). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
- Fager, Chuck. 2014. Remaking Friends: How Progressive Friends Changed Quakerism & Helped Save America. (A second volume provides the source documents he used in his study: Angels of Progress: The Documentary History of the Progressive Friends). CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
- Hecht, Jennifer Michael. 2003. Doubt: A History: The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson. Harper Collins.
- Jackson, Kenneth T. 2007. A Colony with a Conscience: This republic owes its enduring strength to a fragile, scorched and little-known document known as the Flushing Remonstrance. Dec. 27, 2007. Accessed online: December 27, 2007. New York: New York Times online.
- Miles, Jack. 1996. God: A Biography. Vintage.
- Myers, PZ. 2013. The Happy Atheist. Random House.
- Riemermann, James. 2006. What is a Nontheist? NontheistFriends.org. Sep 20. Accessed online: July 17, 2007.
- Rush, David 2002/3 They too are Quakers: A survey of 199 Nontheist Friends, The Woodbrooke Journal No. 11.
- Russell, Bertrand (E. Haldeman-Julius, ed.). 1927. On Why I Am Not a Christian: An Examination of the God-Idea and Christianity. Accessed online: July 17, 2007. Little Blue Book No. 1372.
- Muriel Seltman's books Bread and Roses and Rescuing God From Religion
- Spong, John Shelby. 1998. Why Christianity Must Change or Die: A Bishop Speaks to Believers In Exile. New York, NY: Harper One.