A nontheist Friend or an atheist Quaker is someone who affiliates with, identifies with, engages in and/or affirms Quaker practices and processes, but who does not accept a belief in a theistic understanding of God, a Supreme Being, the divine, the soul or the supernatural. Like theistic Friends, nontheist Friends are actively interested in realizing centered peace, simplicity, integrity, community, equality, love, happiness and social justice in the Society of Friends and beyond.

Friends have recently begun to examine actively the significance of nontheistic beliefs in the Society of Friends, in the tradition of seeking truth among friends. 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 [1]. The term "non-theistic" was first written in a Quaker publication in 1952 on conscientious objection [2]. As early as 1976, Friends General Conference Gathering hosted a well-attended Workshop for Nontheistic Friends (Quakers).[3]

The main nontheist Friends' website [1] is one significant site for this conversation, as are nontheist Quaker study groups. Os Cresson began a recent consideration of this issue from behaviorist, natural history, materialist and environmentalist perspectives. See Roots and Flowers of Quaker Nontheism [2] for one history. Friendly nontheism also draws on Quaker humanist and universalist traditions. The book Godless for God's Sake: Nontheism in Contemporary Quakerism [4] offers recent, critical contributions by Quakers. Some Friends are not only actively engaging the implications of human evolution, cognitive anthropology, evolutionary psychology, bodymind questions (esp. the 'relaxation response' [5][6]), primatology, evolutionary history, evolutionary biology and biology in terms of Quaker nontheism, but also consensus decision-making.

Nontheist Friends are a group of individuals, many of whom are affiliated or actively involved in the unprogrammed tradition in Quakerism. Friendly nontheists are attempting sympathetically to generate conversation with others who are more comfortable with the traditional and often reiterated language of Quakerism. Questioning theism, they wish to examine whether the experience of the reality of direct and ongoing inspiration from God ("waiting in the Light") - "So wait upon God in that which is pure. ..." [7] - which some Quaker traditions see as informing Silent Meeting and Meeting for Business, for example, might be understood and embraced with different metaphors, language and discourse.

Notable Nontheist Friends

External links


  1. 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.
  2. Tatum, Lyle (ed.). 1952. "Handbook for Conscientious Objectors." Philadelphia, PA: Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors.
  3. 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).
  4. Boulton, David (ed.). 2006. Godless for God's Sake: Nontheism in Contemporary Quakerism. Dales Historical Monographs. ISBN 0951157868
  5. Benson MD, Herbert and Miriam Z. Klipper. 2000 [1972]. The Relaxation Response. Expanded updated edition. Harper. ISBN 0380815958
  6. Benson MD, Herbert. 1976. Steps to Elicit the Relaxation Response. From "The Relaxation Response." HarperTorch.
  7. Royce, Josiah. 1913. George Fox as a Mystic. The Harvard Theological Review. 6:1:31-59. Stable URL:

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