April Fool Satire Not Intended as Sarcasm
Now I'll try to comment on some of the issues raised.
Pam remarked that
...it certainly FEELS like you're saying that embracing nontheist members is... ludicrous. If you're not saying that, I really would like to know what you are saying.
First, I don't think it's ever "ludicrous" to embrace a person. I'm sure that if Pam attended my meeting I would try to make her feel welcome. I have heartily approved on many occasions when my Meeting accepted into membership people whose theological views are non-Christian despite the fact that I think Jesus is more or less the whole point of Quakerism. I don't think we've actually faced the non-theist issue in my meeting, but the principle seems the same.
The intended target of my satire wasn't any particular group such as universalists or non-theists, but the general proposition that saying "we don't want to exclude anyone" pre-empts any further discussion of what is and what isn't central to Quakerism. This general proposition is often sincerely defended, but I think there are very few people who have thought through its real implications. I assume tht for most of my readers there is, somewhere in my satire's list of people who should be included (whether it's militarists, Wiccans, pastoral Friends, Roman Catholics or simply "non-Quakers") someone who you as an individual don't think of as a viable candidate for membership in your particular Friends Meeting. You wouldn't necessarily tell them they can't join, but you would find it odd if they wanted to. Why would a militarist want to join a pacifist organization? Would he or she expect it to give up its corporate pacifist testimony? If the Meeting held to its pacifist testimony but accepted a non-pacifist member, would the member feel patronized or treated as a second-class Quaker?
If there is some point of view you would not try to actively "include" on equal terms in your Meeting, let's not say any more that we want to include everyone, and let's proceed to the discussion of what is and isn't central to your vision of Quakerism, to my vision of Quakerism, and - if possible - to some shared vision of our Friends community as a whole. If there is at present no such shared vision that doesn't necessarily mean we'll have to start excluding each other or go our separate ways, but it probably does mean that we'll always have a somewhat rocky relationship.
I'd like to ask Pam to say more about her concept of worship. She says that she thinks I or other theistic Friends might be saying "I don't want to worship with you if you don't believe in God." so I take it that she values the act of worship. But my understanding of the word "worship" breaks down here. To me, the word "worship" is a transitive verb. I can only conceive or worship as worship of someone or worship of something. Who or what does a nontheist worship? This is a relatively new question for me. I've been dialogueing for years with non-Christians theists who have argued that Christ isn't essential to the Quaker faith as long as all Friends still believe in the same God. That has been challenging in itself, but I have come to understand the terms of the discussion. Non-theism seems like a whole different issue.
Pam also thought theistic Friends might be saying 'and I'm not interested in hearing your story and seeing if it resonates with me, I just want to hear the word "god"'. I can't speak for other theistic Friends, but the circle of people whose stories I am eager to hear and resonate with is much larger than the circle of people I count as fellow Quakers. I love opportunities for inter-faith dialogue and also for dialogue with those whose ideals are grounded somewhere else than on religious faith. I also respect the right of every faith community, including my own, to find its own center and define its own boundaries.
Canine Diamond responded to my post on her blog, saying "As per my earlier posts, it has been my experience that membership and professed Christianity are not measures of one's committment to the social ideals of Quakerism, or of basic humanity." I certainly agree and hope I didn't give the impression that non-Christians lack social ideals or basic humanity. Among my life-long heroes I have counted Bertrand Russell (now deceased), Nat Hentoff, and many other non-theists with fine social ideals and deep humanity. Even if we speak only of distinctively Quaker wocial ideals, I'm confident that one could embrace them without embracing the Quaker faith. When I go to Meeting, however, I am not primarily in search of a chance to express my social ideals, Quaker or otherwise. I am seeking, rather, a chance to join with others in waiting on, listening to, worshipping, praising, and adoring God.
James Riemermann objects to Martin Kelley's post because he thinks that in it "...individualism is presumed to be the flag of those who step outside of the Christian or theistic tradition." That's not the way I understood what Martin was saying. A Meeting of people who are non-theist would not necessarily be any more individualistic than a Meeting of theists or a Meeting of Chritians or a Meeting of Buddhists. Any one of these perspectives could be the shared perspective of a group tht united around it. But in the extreme case a Meeting in which non-theism, theism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, etc. were all equally open options would be a Meeting where faith-commitments were individual rather than shared. I.E. it would be an "individualistic" Meeting.
I'm sure that none of the above has been the last word on these issues. I hope, at least, that the sting of my perceived sarcasm in the earlier post has been at least a little moderated.
- - Rich Accetta-Evans