From 'the forty-three per cent' to a conflict of interest
The forty-three per cent
You reported (17 May) that, according to an article in The Economist, forty-three per cent of Quakers ‘don’t believe in God’, calculated by adding 28.1 percent who are ‘not sure’ to 14.5 per cent who say ‘no’. These statistics appear to have been extrapolated from the British Quaker Surveys where they are more carefully nuanced, better reflecting the complexity and flexibility of our theological diversity.
What do people mean when they say ‘not sure’? Not sure because certainty is deemed to be unattainable, or because they live with both faith and doubt? And are all those who are recorded as saying ‘no’ repudiating not only the God of the Bible, a supernatural Almighty, but also William Blake’s mythologised embodiment of ‘mercy, pity, peace and love’?
You conclude your summary of The Economist article with the statement that the 14.5 percent figure for nontheists is ‘up three per cent since 1990’. If that is what The Economist reported, it is clearly a misreading of the British Quaker Surveys, which record the percentage in 1990 as 3.4 and, at the last count in 2013, 14.5. That’s a rise of eleven percent, not three.
Whether the trend has continued since 2013 is as yet unrecorded, but what is certain, and surely a matter of celebration, is that Quaker unity in diversity is here to stay.
We are led to believe that forty-three per cent of Quakers in the Religious Society of Friends in the UK are atheists.
I would have thought our starting point as a religious organisation is the admonition to love God with all our heart and love our neighbour. That love might take many forms but we might expect to see a relationship with God as a necessary starting point in the search, leading to an experience of the love of God and a wider expression of that in our relationships.
Doubt is a reasonable and necessary part of the search for God, but why translate that doubt into a figure which bolsters the proportion of atheists? If those among us are not seeking to know God, then perhaps they have joined the wrong organisation. I fear that we are being subjected to a form of slow internal ‘evangelism’ and I ask myself why.
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