Quaker Universalist Conversations

Friends, What canst thou say?

Quaker-ism or The Quaker Way?



This distinction between Quakerism and the Quaker Way has really come home to me in the year since I first read Rex Ambler’s 2013 book, The Quaker Way; a rediscovery https://quakerbooks.org/products/the-quaker-way-21, and especially since April, when I started facilitating the newcomers group for my Quaker meeting, using Amber as guide and inspiration.

In fact, when I witness now to “being a Quaker,” I avoid the term “Quakerism” altogether and use the newer term instead. It says more authentically what I myself live by, and it helps me to open the doors of “Quaker-ism” to anyone who wants to peek inside…especially anyone who is allergic to “isms.”


A friend on QuakerQuaker asked me to define my terms. Here is what I shared with him:

I take my definition of belief system from James P. Carse (see my 2008 blog post “Weeds (Part II)”):

In The Religious Case Against Belief (2008), Carse analyses the error he sees in most of our arguments over religion. Through compassionate yet incisive examination, he reveals that “what is currently criticized as religion is, in fact, the territory of belief” (book jacket). The distinction, as he defines it, is enlightening.

Belief systems are “comprehensive networks of tenets that reach into every area of thought and action” (32). They claim to define all that needs to be known, they mark the boundary beyond which orthodox thinking must not go, and they name anything and anyone beyond that boundary as enemy.

Religions may produce belief systems, yet “they are not at their core intelligible, and they are saturated with paradox” (36). Unlike the Roman civitas, a society ruled by law and structured by clear lines of authority, a religion is a communitas stretching across time and space, a “spontaneous gathering of persons who identify themselves and one another as members of a unified body.” Unified, Carse writes, by “the desire…to get to the bottom of the very mystery that brings them together” (84).

For spiritual, a brief hint comes from James Hemming’s 1986 essay, “The Spiritual Reach of the Human Mind” in Quaker Universalist Reader Number 2: Universalism & Religions:

“Spiritual” entails a special sort of relationship between the individual and the universe...concerned with the clarification of vision.”

I wander the illusory boundary between so-called “theist” and “non-theist.” My perspective is that all religious or ideological statements, all stories and creeds and rituals, are descriptions of how we human beings experience our interrelationship with the Real, not descriptions of the Real itself or of it’s “will” for us. As the Zen admonition says, they are fingers pointing at the moon.

In my usage above, the word discipline refers to a deliberate path of practice. For example, since 2008, I have observed the discipline of Taoist tai chi practice. This means not only that I go to regular classes (just as I go to meetings for worship), but also that I practice the set daily and that, at any moment of a day, I may notice that my posture and movement are not aligned in a healthy way, and so I make the corrections and get back into the discipline.

Lots of words…but is this helpful?


Add a comment
Preview, then submit.