You call that a religion?

Recently I sat down with a dozen or so of my LDS friends and spoke with them about my desire to affiliate with Quakerism. I talked about my deconversion from Mormonism and the joys I feel when worshiping with Friends. As I spoke about Quaker beliefs, practices, and values, one of my friends questioned whether The Religious Society of Friends could really be labeled a 'religion' because it doesn't have any concrete beliefs about the afterlife.

I found this post from Friend Heather to be a nice response to the question of whether Quakerism is a religion. I particularly like these paragraphs:
I don't worry too much about whether others call what we do a religion. What does the name matter? If we earnestly try to turn our hearts to God, to sit together in waiting worship, and to follow the promptings of the Light revealed to us, then it doesn't matter what we're called.

I thought of the many other times and places where I feel the sense of worship: around trees, in meditation, at concerts, in acts of service, walking, dancing, in the presence of the ocean, listening to a child, making love with my husband, experiencing sudden natural beauty, doing mundane chores, knitting, sharing a cup of tea with a friend. I am reminded that it's all sacred, that God is everywhere, and that all I need to do is open my heart and be where I am, right now.

What do you think? Do names matter? I suspect that most LDS would say that they do. Mormons hold the belief that the name of their church was divinely revealed and that each word in its name has significance. I'm not sure that Quakers give such importance to such words. I do know that they call themselves a 'religious society' rather than a 'religion' to distance themselves from the hierarchical trappings of most religions (and certainly those contemporary to the founding of Quakerism).

I've discussed before how labels matter to me because they are about creating self-identity. But I'm not sure if it's important to me whether Quakerism is a 'religion' per se. It just feels right to me and for me. And perhaps that's all that matters?


Anonymous said...

I really like those paragraphs also.

I looked up the word religion on dictionary.com and a few of the phrasing in the definition were "something one believes in and follows devotedly; a point or matter of ethics or conscience" and "the body of persons adhering to a particular set of beliefs and practices." I guess in those senses I would consider it to be something that is a religion, because there are basic elements of beliefs and ethics that Quakers adhere to and practice as a body of believers.

I think that the divide between Quakerism and other religions like Mormonism and higher (more orthodox) Christianity is that Quaker's seem to have a broader and more encompassing belief system that focuses less and specifics about God and the afterlife, and more about human action and interaction on earth. But I think that's really cool, because I think that one of the reasons we are able to focus on that is because (in my understanding anyway) there is a belief that there is God in everyone, so we can focus on that God within us and others and make conscious choices about our actions because of that.

I am not sure if that makes a whole lot of sense, and whether or not it would be easier for people from different traditions to see it as a religion, because it is not quite as rigid or well defined. I personally like the ambiguity, but I feel like it's not anything similar to any religion I have experienced in the past.

That it just feels right, is so VERY important to me, and because it feels right I really DO think that's enough, for me.

John White said...

what catbonny said goes for me too.

Anonymous said...

I'm of the “Who cares?” school of thought on the issue. I think labels are a necessary evil for conversation, but the less we can manage to use them to define ourselves the better. It only serves to confine our inner dialog and restrict our access to the real truth behind the labels.

So your friend thinks Quakerism isn't a religion. (I've said things like that in my past.) Meh. It just shows how limiting labels can be on our thoughts.

John White said...

What Jonathan Blake said goes for me too.

Anonymous said...

In the end, what you feel is all that matters. Lables are misleading and very confining. Once you lable me, you limit me! It is a good thing that someone can't put a lable on the Quakers.
Go where your inner light leads you, for that is the only truth.

Anonymous said...

I know this is an old post, but just read it and had to comment-
your friends comments (about the quakers not being a religion) sound a lot like my mother's reaction when I told her a little bit about quakers. She said; "sounds real easy." the implication was more along the lines of "lazy".

The implication being that only a lazy person would belong to a church that didn't require you to give 10% of your money, hold time consuming callings, and attend church three hours on sunday with various other meetings during the week, attend the temple, do genealogy, do visiting teaching, etc...

we didn't talk about it very much after that.

jana said...

Have you attended a Quaker Meeting or spent time with the Friends?

Honestly, the criticism of Quakerism as being "easy" makes no sense to me anymore although I can remember a time when I might have thought that. My notion of what is easy and what is hard has changed radically in the past few years. I feel such joy and ebullience in Silent Worship, I feel unspeakable connection to the infinite and to the world around me.

Long ago I memorized the scripture that reminded me that "[wo]men are that they might have joy." I feel that JOY each time I worship with Friends and I can't help but believe that I am on a right path.