Quaker Universalist Conversations

What is “belief”?

Recently Katie Kent added a comment to the discussion following last July’s Intellect post. She wrote:

I have just come to realize why i define myself as a quaker: it is a spiritual discipline and practice, rather than a set of beliefs.

To me, “Rising to Unity” is the listening for, and awareness of “That Which Is” … a place to grow the Light Inside … and to do this, I need to be drawn aside into the Silence.

Words, Thoughts and Beliefs are inadequate to this Knowingness / No-Thing-ness …

Katie’s comment resonates with my observation early in that post:

Human beings tend to miss out on most of their own experience, because they try to put it into words.

Quaker universalism has its historical roots in the first Friends’ practice of diving beneath the shimmering surface of beliefs into the nameless depth of the ocean of Light.

But what is “belief”?

For some, “belief” means being able to subscribe to a normative set of doctrinal statements. As a Lutheran teenager, I was able to confirm publicly that all of my conscious understanding of Jesus could be summed up in the words of the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer and so on.

For others, “belief” refers to a wordless certainty arising from inner experience, a Knowingness/No-Thing-ness, to use Katie’s poetry. As an adult Quaker, I am certain inwardly that Jesus—both the historical man and the sacred archetype—is the perfect type of human being who shepherds me through life, yet I cannot confirm this publicly, because it is experimental knowledge, not conceptual knowledge.

In your own usage, what do you understand the term “belief” to meaning? What different meanings might it have?

Is “belief” something which must be agreed to? Is it something to be experienced in a way which transcends the possibility of agreement?

How do notions of “belief” and of “universalism” come into play with each other?


Belief is that which does not succumb to reason. In this sense, belief is unreasonable. However, not all beliefs are equal. An insane person may unreasonably believe. By contrast, a sane person who is otherwise quite reasonable might unreasonably believe. In the same vein, two sane people may unreasonably believe: one’s belief may not affect her/his life while the other’s may change it profoundly. Religious belief, I believe, is the latter.
Belief is an evolving life force. It is born in the form of nascent concepts revealed to us, and as we develop and experience life, so too do our beliefs change and morph into our growing awareness of the meaning of life, itself. For example, the doctrine of the Trinity was most painstakingly taught to our graduate class in Theology by a most dedicated Jesuit who spent a semester taking us through the three major councils that formulated the dogma. Though I know the formula by heart, I have reshaped it to fit the reality that I experience and the closest I can come to that reality is to understand Jesus as a liberator — a departure that the present day church will not accept.
One of the most amazing revelations I discovered arose from my study of Quaker writer Robert Barclay on the topic of universalism. I found that revelation in his “An Apology for the True Christian Divinity” which to me is the most intellectual treatise on the scriptures I have ever read. The revelation from Barclay to me arose out of John 1:9. His commentary can be found here: http://www.qhpress.org/texts/barclay/apology/props5-6.html Namely, the universalism of John 1:9 that the Lord/Light Spirit is He “who enlighteneth EVERY man that cometh into the world” (John 1:9)” Wow! Every man, just let that sink in! (but which is not to conclude that all come to that Light.) Peace and Love-Rolf
My belief comes from prayers being answered. My belief comes from life’s hardships that help me grow in my maturity and well-being, especially in forgiving those who may have caused these hardships. My belief grows out of the caring of others and the caring for others. Following the words of Jesus Christ in how I deal with others makes me grow in my belief. This is my proof of the Lord’s existence.
Definitions and Clarifications: As we begin this conversation, I look forward to clarifying my understanding of some basic English terms. Initially, these are the key terms in my experience and some initial thoughts about how they can be clarified, but I look to your comments for fuller clarification and additions. Belief: Tentative assertions of truth in light of recognition of continuing revelation. Theology: Thinking and thought with the mind Faith: Recognition of trust in the tentative assertions of truth (belief) Religion: Community of identification and affiliation Tradition: Remembered history in the evolution of religion I find these clarifications helpful in our discussions in Friendly Faith and Practice meetings before Meeting for Worship in our Meeting.
Friends, Thank you for all these richly thoughtful comments. On January 31st, we published a new post, More on ‘belief’, in hopes of bringing more readers into the discussion. Please join us there. Blessings, Mike
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