Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Quakers Under the Microscope -- Participant-Observer Report No. 2


So I’ve heard that Quakers tend to be introverts who are not very outgoing with non-Quakers. How has that affected you as a non-Quaker extravert working with Friends?


Authors Note: This is the 2nd part of my series of working with Quakers. In this entry, I’ll attempt to describe some of my perceptions and misperceptions of Quaker beliefs. Also, I will attempt to describe an outsider’s perspective of the correct Quaker beliefs. -- Matt Bernot

Well, I too have heard stories about Quakers not being the most extraverted group on the planet, but to say they are not social would be, in my opinion, incorrect. A good part of this perception of Quakers comes from, in my personal belief, the fact that because Quakers do not actively try to convert or recruit new members they must be anti-social. I have found that Quakers are more passive and can be quite social if one takes the time to approach them first. Many Friends are quite friendly when approached. Another aspect of Quakers that may fuel the belief that Quakers are not social comes directly from the Quaker belief system.

The Quaker belief system is unlike most other religions. I will attempt to explain it in the best terms I can as a non-Quaker. I realize that I probably will not grasp the full concept of Friends beliefs, but I will make my best attempt and I invite our Friends to leave comments referring to whether or not they agree with what I say here.

For one, unlike most other religions Quakers do not have a set creed. Rather Quakers follow a set of Testimonies. There are many values found in the Testimonies. The role of these values, Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, and Stewardship (SPICES) are neither a creed nor commandments. Rather some Friends consider these values to be the guiding principles in decision making, while other Friends say that good decision making leads to these values being the product of a good decision. This argument reminds me of a favorite debate of the world today, which came first, the chicken or the egg. I would assume that if you asked ten different Friends about the role of the SPICES acronym, the ten Friends would give ten unique answers. Needless to say, this can be a bit off-putting to someone who is used to religions that have creeds and therefore the beliefs are set in stone.

Quaker beliefs come from within and it is, to an extent, up to each individual Friend to determine what is meant by the different teachings and what the correct course of action is in a given situation. When I first started working with Quakers, this unique way of thinking was surprising but also refreshing. It has challenged many of my own views and allowed me to think of things in a whole new way.

At first, I found it quite hard to understand how anyone could be a part of a religion that did not have a set creed or set beliefs. I also found it hard to see how a religion without few, if any, outward rituals could bring people closer together. However, after seeing Friends interact with each other, I realized soon after, that I was quite wrong. While outward rituals do seem to give the impression of bringing people together, I have come to see that the inner bond that Quakers have from their meetings runs far deeper than the outer bond that Catholics have from Mass. [Author’s Note: I was born and raised Catholic, but now fall under the category of lapsed Catholic.] In my own opinion, this inner bond that Quakers share and develop through silent, unprogrammed worship creates a bond between Friends that is far deeper than any bond created by participation in a ritual. One thing I think that causes this is the fact that all Quakers are equal since there is no minister or pastor that leads worship. This equality allows Friends to develop a spiritual bond that I have never observed before.

Now, from my time here, I have been able to correct my misperceptions of Quakers, which I am sure are shared by many other non-Friends. This experience so far has been enlightening.

Matt Bernot


  1. I'm one of those Friends you invited to comment. I find you're doing a very good job with comprehending and also expressing your understanding of Quakerism. I'm enjoying reading it. When's your next post due?

  2. Well, right now, I am thinking of a topic to write about, if there is something specific you would like my thoughts on, please feel free to tell me and I will see what I can do.


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