Nontheist Quakers

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Nontheist Quakers (also known as nontheist Friends or NtFs) are those who engage in Quaker practices and processes, but who do not necessarily believe in a theistic God or Supreme Being, the divine, the soul or the supernatural. Like traditional Quakers, also known as Friends, nontheist Friends are interested in realizing peace, simplicity, integrity, community, equality, love, joy, and social justice in the Society of Friends and beyond.


Quakers in the unprogrammed or "silent worship" tradition of Quaker practice have in the 20th century begun to examine the significance of nontheistic beliefs in the Society of Friends, as part of the Quaker tradition of seeking truth. 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" first appeared in a Quaker publication in 1952 on conscientious objection.[2][non-primary source needed] In 1976, a Friends General Conference Gathering hosted a well-attended Workshop for Nontheistic Friends (Quakers).[3]

Current resources include a nontheist Friends' website and there are nontheist Quaker study groups.[4] Os Cresson began a recent consideration of this issue from behaviorist, natural history, materialist and environmentalist perspectives. Roots and Flowers of Quaker Nontheism is one history. Nontheist Friends draw on Quaker humanist and universalist traditions.[5] The book Godless for God's Sake: Nontheism in Contemporary Quakerism offers recent, critical contributions by Quakers.[6] Some Friends engage the implications of human evolution, cognitive anthropology, evolutionary psychology, bodymind questions (esp. the "relaxation response"[7][8]), primatology, evolutionary history, evolutionary biology, biology and consensus decision-making, online especially, in terms of Quaker nontheism.

Nontheist Friends tend to share the Religious Society of Friends (RSOF) historic Quaker peace testimony and support for war resistance and conscientious objection.

There are currently three main nontheist Quakers' web sites, including the Nontheist Friends' Official Website,[4] Nontheist Friends Network Website (a listed informal group of Britain Yearly Meeting),[9] and the Nontheist Friends' wiki subject/school at World University and School,[10] which was founded by Scott MacLeod.

Nontheist Friends are a group of individuals, many of whom are affiliated or involved in the unprogrammed tradition in Quakerism. Nontheist Friends are attempting sympathetically to generate conversation with others who are more comfortable with the traditional and often reiterated language of Quakerism. Some nontheistic Friends see significance in this lower-case / upper-case distinction in terms of inclusiveness and friendliness, welcoming both to the ongoing NTF email list conversations. Questioning theism, they wish to examine whether the experience of direct and ongoing inspiration from God ("waiting in the Light") – "So wait upon God in that which is pure. ..."[11] – which traditional Quakers understand as informing Silent Meeting and Meeting for Business, might be understood and embraced with different metaphors, language and discourse.


  • Boulton, David (Ed). 2006. Godless for God's Sake – Nontheism in Contemporary Quakerism. Nontheist Friends.
  • Cresson, Os, and David Boulton (Foreword). 2014. Quaker and Naturalist Too. Morning Walk Press.

Notable Nontheist Friends[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Cadbury, Henry (1936). "My Personal Religion". Retrieved July 17, 2007. Unpublished manuscript in the Quaker Collection at Haverford College; lecture given to Harvard divinity students in 193.
  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. '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. ^ a b "".
  5. ^ Cresson, Os (September 16, 2010). "Roots and Flowers of Quaker Nontheism".
  6. ^ Boulton, David, ed. (2006). Godless for God's Sake: Nontheism in Contemporary Quakerism. Dent, UK: Dales Historical Monographs. ISBN 0-9511578-6-8.
  7. ^ Benson MD, Herbert and Miriam Z. Klipper. 2000 [1972]. The Relaxation Response. Expanded updated edition. Harper. ISBN 0-380-81595-8
  8. ^ Benson MD, Herbert. 1976. Steps to Elicit the Relaxation Response. From "The Relaxation Response." HarperTorch.
  9. ^ "Non-theist Friends Network". Non-theist Friends Network.
  10. ^ "Nontheist Friends' wiki school at World University and School".
  11. ^ Royce, Josiah. 1913. "George Fox as a Mystic" Cambridge, MA: The Harvard Theological Review. 6:1:31-59. JSTOR 1506970.
  12. ^ Anderson, Sam. 2011. "Nicholson Baker, The Art of Fiction No. 212." The Paris Review (198).

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]