Review #1: Patrick Nugent’s homework assignments
For a general introduction, see the document on this website with reviews from the 1960s.
There is also a list of publications on Quaker nontheism on this website. It does not include letters, editorials, book reviews or internet blog postings (an exception was made for two particularly important pieces). These other materials should also be listed since they are a vital part of the publishing history of Quaker nontheism.
Here is a chronological list of the NTF publications in the 2010s that I know about. For the full citation, see the main list of publications. Here, the date is followed by the author’s last name, first name, and a period: 10 Alpern, Lincoln. 10 Britton, David. 10 Cresson, Os. 10 Seeger, Daniel A. 11 Britton, Liberty. 11 Gathering of Nontheist Friends at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre. 11 Mason, Marcia L. 11 Smith, Steve. 11 Yagud, Miriam. 12 Anderson, Paul. 12 Boulton, David. 12 Conference of the Nontheist Friends Network. 12 Craigo-Snell, Shannon. 12 Dudiak, Jeffrey. 12 Hughes, Ian. 12 Nugent, Patrick J. 12 Riemermann, James. 12 Wise, Julia. 13 Bates, Paul. 13 Conference of the Nontheist Friends Network. 13 Cresson, Os. 13 Seltman, Muriel. 13 Wright, Michael.
You are encouraged to take up parts of the large and important task of reviewing this literature.
This version is dated January 16, 2014.
Iowa City, Iowa
email: oscresson (AT) juno.com
Review #1: Patrick Nugent’s homework assignments
Patrick Nugent thinks nontheist Friends are not doing their homework. In May 2012, he published suggestions for studies that would support the further development of nontheist Quakerism. His essay, “Response to Papers on Theism (Just a Little) and Non-Theism (Much More),” is in Quaker Religious Thought , issue #118, May 2012, pp. 51-56. Excerpts are attached to the end of this message, below. (The issue is for sale at the website, http://qtdg.wordpress.com/ )
Here is a summary of Patrick Nugent’s six homework assignments:
(1) Learn more about our history, and relate this to the history of other Quakers and nonQuakers at the time.
(2) Address, from nontheist perspectives, the big questions facing all Quakers such as our relation to the early Friends and our sense of what defines a Quaker.
(3) Develop nontheist interpretations of personal experience (which is central to our justification of Quaker diversity).
(4) Study how nontheist Friends seek and find unity on ethics, values and testimonies.
(5) Consider the purpose and practice of religious bodies that are not united by common doctrine.
(6) Listen to and respond to Quakers whose experiences are culturally distinct from our own.
Patrick Nugent is an enthusiastic Christian theist Quaker who seems interested in helping nontheist Friends and who has a lot of relevant experience organizing religious and academic efforts. He was the founding director of the Institute for Quaker Studies at Earlham College, and a past director of the Newlin Center for Quaker Thought and Practice at Earlham College. Although I don’t know what meeting he belongs to at present, he was once a member and recorded minister in West Richmond Friends Meeting, a pastoral meeting that recently seceded from Indiana Yearly Meeting. Nugent was one of the authors of a statement that sought to avoid the split ( http://quest.quaker.org/issue-9-FUM-02.htm ) He has also been an associate professor of theology at Friends Theological College in Kaimosi, Kenya (see: http://ftc.quaker.org/ ; and also: http://ftc.quaker.org/PatrickJohnNugent.html ).
This is a person with life experiences that could be relevant to the question of how to build on what NTFs have accomplished so far.
Nugent had been asked to participate in a session of the Quaker Theological Discussion Group and to comment on papers by David Boulton, “Nontheism among Friends: Its Emergence and Meaning,” and by Jeffrey Dudiak, “Quakers and Non/Theism: Questions and Prospects.” This was held during the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion in San Francisco, Nov. 19-22, 2011.
Paul Anderson organized the event. He is an Evangelical Friend and a long time professor of Biblical and Quaker Studies at George Fox University , editor of Evangelical Friend (1900–1994) and of Quaker Religious Thought (2000–2012). The papers by Dudiak and Boulton were read at this session, as were comments by Shannon Craigo-Smith and Patrick Nugent. All this was published in an issue of Quaker Religious Thought titled “Quakerism and Theism/Nontheism” (#118, May 2012). Paul Anderson added his own essay, “Is ‘Nontheist Quakerism’ a Contradiction of Terms?” It is a long piece, as long as Dudiak and Boulton’s together. This was the last issue that Anderson put together before retiring as editor of the journal. He seems to care deeply about this topic.
Unfortunately, David Boulton could not attend the session for health reasons. Charley Earp kindly agreed to read David’s paper, something like being asked to stand in for Daniel a few days before the visit to the lion’s den. Charley’s description of the event is online at http://leftistquaker.wordpress.com/2011/11/25/dialogue-across-the-divides-a-report-from-the-quaker-theological-discussion-group-2011-annual-meeting/
Reading Nugent’s article is in itself an opportunity to learn about finding the heart in the other person’s writing, whatever their personal views, and responding in our own terms. It is an example of offering support for Friends whose views differ from your own. I hope nontheist Friends can do the same for others.
In my view, Patrick Nugent is right: nontheist Friends need to be clear about our place in the wider Quaker stream. This is a complex issue with many facets. The six homework assignments are a good place to start.
When we respond to Nugent’s challenge there will not be one NTF position but a range of positions reflecting the range of nontheists, just as there is a range of views among theists. The practices nontheists develop to enable unity in diverse meetings may help theists with their own diversity issues.
The points Nugent raises are ones nontheist Friends have discussed, but we have not organized the results of our discussion. One way to do this would be to gradually produce writings that cover the range of issues. We could also assemble a study group to consider the issues he raises and how we might address them.
Of course, not all nontheists are writers, or readers. For some of us the experience is enough. This approach is represented by a workshop to be held during the 2014 FGC Gathering: “Caught off God: A Theist-Nontheist Dialogue” by Merry Stanford and Peter Wood. They write, “We’ll speak authentically and listen tenderly to each other’s experiences of the inner life, using the dialogue process of Couple Enrichment. Sharing will be personal and skills will be taught. Our focus will be on experience, not beliefs. Be prepared to be surprised by each other! . . . Most of this workshop is experiential. We will not focus on discussing beliefs or concepts. We will focus instead on sharing what we each know ‘experimentally,’ and will frame all of our sharing in worship.”
There are many ways to be Quaker, and nontheist, and this is good.
Here are excerpts from Patrick Nugent’s article:
“The themes I identify are all raised by David’s paper and I hope they are accepted in the spirit in which they are offered – as advice on building a strong theological foundation to ground what is, at the moment, a widely attractive but intellectually undisciplined trend. . . .
“We are in desperate need of a thorough and nonpartisan history of liberalism’s emergence as an intellectual force in Quakerism between the American Civil War and the Second World War, and of the concomitant changes in Quaker worship, discipline, and demography in the same period. . . . We need a similar history of liberal Quakerism after the Second World War, in which non-theist and universalist Quakerism will be a major theme. . . .
“I’d like to indicate how David’s sketch of Quaker non-theism might point toward future research and scholarship necessary for non-theism to claim a place as a carefully constructed, contextually informed theological position in the Religious Society of Friends.
“1. We need a book-length, rich, theological argument for non-theism as a compelling theological position, with Friends as its audience. It would need to draw from key thinkers like Cupitt and Robinson, but I would add the Americans Thomas J. J. Althizer (The Death of God) and, more importantly, Mark Taylor (A-theology), as well as the French (Catholic!) thinker Jean-Luc Marion (God without Being) and similar theologians. The feminist critique of God-language would surely play a key role.
“2. Non-theism needs to account historically and systematically for its claim to be authentically Quaker, including: [a nontheist response to] the theology of early Quakers, [and to their Christology, and to] the last 150 years of liberal Quaker history, including the emergence of universalism. . . . That is, non-theism needs to articulate systematically how it understands the theological normativity of classical Quaker thought. . . . By what principles do we judge non-theism—or anything else—authentically Quaker (or not)?
“3. Likewise, non-theists need to articulate a systematic account of ‘personal experience.’ Among liberal Friends, one’s private experiences seem to be the highest theological source of authority. . . . What constitutes ‘experience’ . . .? If ‘God’ is a human construct of mythic proportions, the notion of ‘personal’ experience is exponentially more so. . . . Further, [how do nontheists respond to] the personal experience of Friends who affirm the existence of God as something other than a ‘language’ translatable into other languages, and their personal experience of salvation through Christ Jesus as something other than superstition about a superman.
“4. How can a theologically paramount personal experience be the foundation for common action or common values [and] ethics, [and common views on] goodness, truth, beauty, justice? . . . What are the non-theist arguments and authorities for the Quaker testimonies?
“5. What is non-theist ecclesiology—the point, the purpose, and the mission of a gathered body of Friends? Is it anything more than a vessel for a diversity of disconnected private experiences and thought-systems? I can get that in my bowling league. Why church? . . .
“There are many theological burdens [nontheism] needs to assume if it is to claim its place as something more than a Quaker peculiarity. (The same may be said of most other forms of Quakerism.) I have sought here to articulate some major theological projects that non-theists might take up to further the cause.
“[One other point:] How does non-theist Quakerism account for, and interact constructively with the overwhelming majority of Friends around the world who are not white, not affluent, not primarily Anglophone, and who are very evangelical? . . . I would be fascinated to see how an expanded, global experience that included listening deeply and authentically, and non-judgmentally, to the ‘personal experiences’ of Friends from Kenya to Bolivia to the Philippines, might shape nontheist Quaker theology.”
Anderson, Paul. “Is ‘Nontheist Quakerism’ a Contradiction of Terms?” In an issue of QRT titled “Quakers and Theism/Nontheism.” Quaker Religious Thought 118 (2012): 5–24.
Boulton, David. “Nontheism Among Friends: Its Emergence and Meaning.” In an issue of QRT titled “Quakers and Theism/Nontheism.” Quaker Religious Thought 118 (2012): 35–44.
Craigo-Snell, Shannon. “Response to David Boulton and Jeffrey Dudiak.” In an issue of QRT titled “Quakers and Theism/Nontheism.” Quaker Religious Thought 118 (2012): 45–50.
Dudiak, Jeffrey. “Quakers and Theism/Nontheism: Questions and Prospects.” In an issue of QRT titled “Quakers and Theism/Nontheism.” Quaker Religious Thought 118 (2012): 25–34.
Earp, Charley. “Dialogue Across the Divides: A Report from the Quaker Theological Discussion Group 2011 Annual Meeting.” Blog post at http://leftistquaker.wordpress.com/2011/11/25/dialogue-across-the-divides-a-report-from-the-quaker-theological-discussion-group-2011-annual-meeting/
Nugent, Patrick J. “Response to Papers on Theism (Just a Little) and Non-Theism (Much More).” In an issue of QRT titled “Quakers and Theism/Nontheism.” Quaker Religious Thought 118 (2012): 51–56.