Also: Can atheists or agnostics be Friends?
The thing about the lack of religious dogma among Quakers is that what may seem like a simple “yes/no” question often has a more ambiguous answer, like “maybe” or “sometimes” or “it depends.” Do Quakers believe in God? is definitely one of those questions.
Most Quakers believe in… something. It’s when you ask if that something is “God” that the answer becomes more complicated.
Do you mean the God of the Abrahamic tradition, worshipped by Jews and then Christians and then Muslims over several millennia? Many Quakers do understand divinity through that framework, but some feel that it does not offer a complete understanding. So you’ll often hear Quakers talk about “Spirit,” for example. One Friend’s understanding of Spirit might be very similar to an Abrahamic understanding of God; another Friend might understand Spirit in a very different way. Generally speaking, though, Quakers do believe in something very much like what participants in Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs would recognize as “a power greater than ourselves” in the universe.
So can an atheist be a Quaker? Sure! Especially if you’re the kind of atheist who specifically doesn’t believe in the Abrahamic God—or, by extension, any personification of the divine. After all, you can believe that there is something more to reality without assigning it a personality or even an identity, and (perhaps more importantly from our perspective) you can believe in ethical principles without requiring them to have a holy source. Even if you are a hardcore materialist, who believes there is nothing more to existence than our physical reality, you can still believe in ethics, as expressed in Quaker testimony.
It’s even easier to be a Quaker if you’re agnostic—if, rather than completely rejecting the possibility of the existence of the divine, you have your doubts, or you simply can’t be sure one way or the other. The Religious Society of Friends recognizes that uncertainty; part of believing that everyone is capable of experiencing the divine is believing that everyone’s journey to that experience is unique, and takes place according to its own timetable. Rather than try to convince you that “God is real,” many Quaker meetings offer a space in which you may, at some point, encounter the continuing revelation for yourself. (If it doesn’t happen right away, don’t be disappointed! Some Friends go years or even decades without receiving a message directly from Spirit, but remain open to the possibility that it may yet happen.)
Next Question: Are Quakers Christian?
Learn more at Friends Journal
“Confessions of a Nontheistic Friend,”
David E. Drake
“Quaking with Confidence,”
Ben Pink Dandelion
“Finding Dropt Letters,” Paul Hamell
“No Religion. Always Practicing Quakerism.,” Julia Wise