Home > background > A lot can happen in 20 years – Part 5

A lot can happen in 20 years – Part 5

22 January 2009

This follows on from Part 4.

As mentioned in Part 1, I realised that it’s exactly 20 years since I entered the full-time workforce, and a lot can happen in that time, so thought I’d share my road to reason. This is a continuation.

Upon coming to a decision about Buddhism, I then chose to examine an aspect of Christianity that had I no experience of: the Religious Society of Friends (or Quakers). They seemed to be non-existent where I grew up, so it wasn’t until I moved to the UK that I learned more about them in passing, and eventually decided to investigate them in greater depth. My understanding is that the Quakers in the UK are notably different from those in the US — my friends there speak of Quakers there as if they are fundamentalist or fire-and-brimstone organisation, which is nothing like the Quakers I’ve come across here.

In the UK they meet in a Friends Meeting House (a church by any other name, but usually without many of the trappings) with the chairs arranged in a rough circle so that everyone can see one another, and the meeting consists of everyone sitting in silence. There is no preaching, no sermon, no tub-thumping, no agenda being cast down from the pulpit — just people sitting and quietly reflecting. It remains this way until someone feels moved to speak, at which point they will stand and calmly say their piece, then resume their seat; later on someone else may feel moved to speak (sometimes in response, sometimes not), and this continues until the meeting finishes. Once finished, everyone stands and shakes one another’s hands with a smile, and then everyone retreats to the canteen/dining area where everyone shares lunch, with most people having brought a plate of food to share.

With the exception of one meeting where a member clearly felt strongly about his son being sent to war and subsequently feeling moved to speak out against it (followed by another member gently providing Biblical platitudes, resulting in the same man feeling moved to speak out again against his son’s predicament, and so on), which drove home the unfortunate nature of the concept of “being moved to speak”, all of my attendances at Quakers meetings were delightful. Regardless of such instances of emotion-driven speeches, it is a truly welcoming and peaceful environment. In fact, one of the members of the same local Buddhist group I once attended is a regular attender at the Quaker meetings — they are so welcoming that one does not even have to profess Christianity (or indicate that you’re willing to “sign up”) to attend and be truly welcome, unlike every other religious organisation I’ve ever attended, before or since.

My experience with the Quakers showed that they are as much, if not more, about community and spirituality than religion and dogma, and those are attributes that I’m sure anyone can respect, admire and appreciate. However, they are prey to the same faults as other Christian groups: the adherence to the Bible as infallible, the belief in God/Jesus/Holy Spirit (the Trinity), and to the belief in the concept of “being moved” to speak. My biggest concerns were that nearly all such motions were from the speaker’s personal life or recent headline news. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to fathom that the source is mundane, not divine.

Continued in Part 6.

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