I’ve been trying to avoid one nagging question: How does your faith make you a different person? How has it changed your life? Followed by: How do others perceive this?

The old Quaker testimonies presented faith as a matter of the way we live. Our “sufferings” for our beliefs. (It matters THAT much!) The days when Friends lived “under discipline” – language and clothing as outward expressions – remaining inescapable.

So what about today? How does being Quaker (or whatever your faith) make you not just different, but a better person than you would have otherwise been?


Seasons 1

For more of my reflections, click here.



16 thoughts on “NAGGING QUESTION

      • I would think a first step would be to acknowledge the irrationality of religious belief, that is not to say it isn’t true, but to say that its truth value is essentially unknowable. Discard it if this bothers you, cherish it if you must, but acknowledge it for what it is. Since atheism and especially agnosticism does this implicitly, I think it gives you a head start. I say this as an ex-Catholic (don’t start!), educated in parochial schools for 12 years.

      • The “better person” goal would require us to be something other than self-centered or self-referenced, and I don’t see how atheism/agnosticism leads beyond that. (I am open for arguments to the contrary, though — I find it a fascinating possibility.)
        A similar paradox or conundrum arises in the different foundations of microeconomics and macroeconomics, where personal positive financial moves can have negative public effects — and the other way around.
        So just where do selfless acts that benefit greater society enter the picture when it comes to personal sacrifice?

      • Religion, in my view, just substitutes a supreme being for self, which can be molded to suit your purposes, and frequently is. The result is a basically self-centered person who has transferred authority to an allegedly omniscient, omnipotent arbiter of justice and right thinking, thereby imbuing self interest with a divine imperative. An irreligious person can have no such illusion, and so is forced to either admit to self-centeredness, or come to terms with the interests of others. That mammals in general, let alone humans, are essentially empathetic is well documented in the sciences. Every religion I know of beyond animism operates under the principle that people are inherently evil, or at least sorely misguided by lack of divine intervention. The irony is that if this is true, then it is inevitable that people will use religion to their own advantage.

  1. What about today? Well today I was suddenly thrust into babysitting a very active five-year-old girl when her mother went into labour. My wife had volunteered (if necessary) given that the couple has no nearby family and a husband should be there for the birth. My wife also had plans for a day at the spa today. Which leaves me at home with the young lady, because somebody has to do it. Believe me, if I wasn’t a Christian you wouldn’t ever see me doing something like this! My faith definitely makes me a better person. Though i will admit i am hoping for a short labour as well as a smooth birth.

  2. A slightly off-topic comment, Jnana, maybe, but you asked about what other people perceive. I’m afraid – in my public encounters away from the church – often what people perceive is “someone complicit with the abuse crisis.” I find I have to work incredibly hard to be able to get past that and even have an authentic encounter of persons.

    Is that something that Quakers have been touched by at all, or has it mercifully passed you by?

    • I haven’t come across that in public encounters, but that’s not to say we haven’t had offenders. We’re learning the importance of having policies and screening regarding those who work with children, for instance, and we recently had a situation of accepting a memorial minute for a Friend who was prominent in the yearly meeting for years who, as we learned, had been privately very abusive to his family. That was a very difficult labor, and powerful in its public candor.
      Reminds me of a quote I was heard from an old Quaker, “There’s no place Satan loves to work more than in the church.” Now if that doesn’t keep us careful!

    • I think this brings up what is to me at the heart of any discussion of religion, and that is the notion that one can separate a religion from its practitioners. To me, if the most committed adherents of a religion can’t even abide by its stated values, it doesn’t offer anything helpful beyond a simple awareness of compassion. I’m not talking about the occasional slip, but about systematic abuse, and I’m not very interested if any particular person is or isn’t complicit, at least for the purposes of this discussion. Does it surprise you that outsiders want to bring up abuses when you’re trying to argue in favor of your religion? I don’t recall many arguments to ignore practitioners’ behavior for religions other than one’s own.

      • I’ve seen circles where the focus is entirely on our own actions and failures, as individuals within a faith community, and not those of other faiths. There’s not much hierarchy in this model, rather brotherhood, and in my stream there’s no creed to recite or dogma to embrace. Maybe this is quite radically different from your experiences, but I sense this approach deals with our very humanity more than ethereal speculation.

      • It is indeed different from my experience, and yours sounds very astute. I wouldn’t challenge your faith, but I might wonder if it’s really necessary to achieve the result of empathy and compassion. Of course, I know you would say that misses the point, or would you?

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