One Saturday back in the early 1990’s I found myself in a brief workshop sponsored by a Quaker organization; there was a short business meeting, a presentation, some socialization and networking during “dinner on the grounds”. And then…..
…..a program about how I could “heal” myself. I didn’t at that time feel any particular need for healing, but I was told that by understanding the social and familial forces that have plagued me (and, supposedly, everyone) I could begin to resolve my issues and heal. I was then offered the opportunity to work with another workshop participant to share our history, our pain and our strivings so we could each find the “divine” person within. I participated because it seemed harmless if a bit feckless, and my partner was clearly enthusiastic about it all; I thought perhaps I could be of some support to him even if I was more than a little skeptical.
Well, I don’t think I was any more divine or healed that day than I was before this episode of amateur psychotherapy, but I came away with the beginnings of an interest and inquiry that I’ve followed for the past quarter-century: the impact of psychoanalytic thought and new age/pop psychology (let’s conflate it all as PNAP) on Quaker thought and practice. Tracing it has been an interesting journey. For me, it is more than a passing interest or hobby. My sense is that some of the overarching themes of PNAP have changed Quaker thought and practice, for better or worse.
I’ve been an active Friend for over forty years, mostly at the level of my monthly and quarterly meeting and Friends General Conference. I’ve attended 32 of the past 33 Friends General Conference Gatherings. I’ve served twice as a Friend in Residence (once at Pendle Hill, once at a meeting). I have worked as an executive for a Friends organization, and have visited meetings throughout North America facilitating couple enrichment retreats with my wife. I’ve served on more Friends’ committees and boards than I can remember, and in my professional capacity have consulted with a number of Friends organizations and facilities. This exhausting Quaker resume has been an immensely rich opportunity over the years to observe Friends functioning in many Quaker contexts. It has been a wonderful opportunity to explore my interest in the impact of PNAP on Friends thought and practice. I’ve been helped in this by my professional life, in which I’ve been a counselor, consultant, administrator and teacher in a wide range of mental health, business and university settings.
Before I proceed let me sharpen the focus of this inquiry. I want to be clear about who I’m talking about when I describe “Quakers.” Many of my observations in preparing this paper have been in vivo during my years as a Friend, and by that I mean the liberal, unprogrammed tradition of Quakerism that generally falls under the umbrella of Friends General Conference. I have no experience with programmed meetings or evangelical Friends churches, nor have I done any significant research about them, so I am limiting my observations to the species of Quaker that I know: the liberal, unprogrammed tradition.
I also want to be clear about what I’m talking about when I refer to “psychology”. The psychology that I want to explore is that which has reached and impacted the popular culture, and not necessarily the professional practice of psychology, psychiatry, etc. (although there is clearly some overlap here). From their earliest days the mental health professions have marched along, progressing in fits and starts, doing important research, and often being of real help to people.
There has always been a core of thoughtful professionals whose work is effective, ethical, and not impacted by popular fads. What I want to address in this paper is the psychological thought that has become part of our popular culture, and thus impacted Quaker thought and practice.
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To put all of this into context we should briefly look at the way that cultural “landmarks” can exert massive influence on a popular culture. Sometimes seemingly minor and time-limited events can change a social context if they happen to find fertile ground for this change. For example, the opening of the tomb of Tutankhamen in 1923 ignited a furor of interest in Egypt; the 1970’s television show “Kung Fu” was a catalyst for an explosion of interest in eastern religion, philosophy and martial arts.
In the world of PNAP there have also been these bellwether events. One that is particularly relevant to this inquiry is a lecture series by Freud and Jung in 1909 that ignited an intense interest in psychoanalytic concepts. (More about this a bit later.) Another one was the publication in 1988 of The Courage to Heal, a pivotal catalyst for a terrifying mania suggesting that millions of people had been subjected to parental sexual abuse but had repressed all memory of it.
It is naïve to think that Friends culture is in any way immune to these influences. Despite the 18th, 19th and early 20th century effort to provide a “guarded” education and social context for Friends the popular culture inevitably found its way in. By the mid 20th century efforts to maintain these barriers were anachronistic artifacts rather than serious efforts.(1) Music, dance, attending secular schools and colleges, marrying outside the faith, all became acceptable. Even couples from the two factions of the Hicksite-Orthodox schism were permitted to wed and reproduce, mirabile dictu.
The two thematic wellsprings that I believe have influenced Quaker thought and practice are the psychoanalytic movement that began in America in 1909, and the New Age/pop psychology movement that began in earnest in the years after WWII and continues unabated through today, conflated here as PNAP. Although the two schools differ dramatically in philosophy and technique, and haven’t always gotten along well with each other, there are some enduring commonalities which I believe have had a significant impact on Friends.
The psychoanalytic movement in America has a specific birthday: September 7, 1909, when Sigmund Freud gave the first of several lectures at Clark University in Massachusetts. From the vantage point of the 21st century, it is hard for us to understand the massive and enduring impact of these (and related) lectures. Psychoanalytic concepts and terminology filtered into the daily discourse of American society. Popular magazines wrote breathlessly about it, asserting that it would be the method by which the world’s ills would be cured.
Even today, concepts such as ego, id, repression, catharsis, neurosis, the unconscious, resistance, and myriad others are so immured in our language that we’ve lost sight of their origins. Undergoing psychoanalysis came to be seen as a journey to wellness and wholeness, a “transformative” journey that would require courage, perseverance, and a lot of money; a typical analysis involved four or five sessions a week for several years. (More about “transformation a bit later.)
From its earliest days some pivotal themes have been integral to the psychoanalytic movement, and they are important to identify here:
• First and foremost, psychoanalysis was (and is) about the individual, with little attention to the person as part of a social network or system. Any interest in others was only in regard to their possible impact or damage on the individual.
When I was first studying psychology back in the early 1970’s I came upon the topic of “object relations”. At first I thought it might refer to how I got along with my desk or my typewriter, but I soon learned that the “objects” were other people in the life of the individual. The psychoanalytic patient was in effect in a one-person drama, with all other characters playing bit parts, or off-stage parts. Although the psychoanalytic movement grew within the context of the European Enlightenment that recognized individual rights and dignity, this new movement added a narcissistic/ solipsistic element. A psychoanalytic process was not couples counseling, family therapy or group therapy. It was an intense one-on-one process between an analysand and an opaque analyst.
• Psychoanalytic theory was also about the past, and often about blaming others. Childhood experiences, and especially alleged parental misfeasance, were often considered to be the source of problematic behaviors and attitudes in adulthood. Mothers were popular targets of psychoanalysts, and until the 1970’s schizophrenia and autism were thought to be caused by “schizophrenegenic” mothers. The damage caused by this idea was dredful.
• The idea that a “better” self was hidden within the individual was a key tenet of psychoanalysis. The goal has always been to uncover and encourage this better individual through this “hero’s journey”. The “hero” would ostensibly go on to live a more self-aware and more fulfilled life, a transformed life.
• Freud and those who followed him articulated the idea of the unconscious, with drives and motivations that might not be readily known and understood by the individual. A key part of the psychoanalytic process was the discovery and exploration of these repressed elements of the person.
It’s not hard for Friends to see how and why psychoanalytic thought resonated with our testimonies. A psychoanalytic process is not unlike the ongoing labor with our testimonies that many Friends try to undertake in search of rightly ordered living. Religious or psychotherapeutic? It may be that they differ only in that one of them includes a deity in its discourse. I’m reminded of an old joke by Woody Allen: he told of a conflict with the IRS when he tried to deduct the cost of his psychoanalysis as a medical expense. The IRS countered that it should be considered entertainment; they finally compromised and made it a religious contribution.
This is only a brief and superficial description of key psychoanalytic concepts, but it summarizes the ideas that have permeated our culture since that day in 1909, and they have instructed and informed the popular psychology and self-help movements of the years since WWII. Read on for more about this.
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In the years after WWII the various mental health fields began to shake loose from the ascendancy of psychoanalytic thought that dominated in the first half of the 20th century. Some have called the new thinking “pop” psychology; others have referred to it as New Age Psychology. At the risk of infuriating one or another acolyte of a particular psychological idiom we can effectively conflate them here to include the various ideas about psychology that became part of the popular culture and which played the same role in postwar years that psychoanalytic thought played earlier in the century.
So, exactly what is this “Pop/New Age” psychology? Its scope overlaps with more clinical psychology and psychiatry, and often refers to a “spiritual” component. We find the fingerprints of PNAP in therapeutic practices, in myriad self-help programs, and in a vast library of self-help books. A comprehensive list of these PNAP initiatives would more than fill this journal, but here are a few notable ones:
- gestalt therapy
- primal scream therapy
- thought field therapy
- emotional freedom technique
- therapeutic touch
- repressed memory therapy
- past life regression
- Myers-Briggs Types
- Scientology, in its focus on “auditing” to achieve a “clear” state
And the self-help groups and 12 Step Programs
- Alcoholics Anonymous
- Narcotics Anonymous
- Co-Dependents Anonymous
- Neurotics Anonymous
- Survivors of Incest Anonymous
- Schizophrenics Anonymous
- Emotions Anonymous
….and myriad more
And the books:
- Looking Out for Number One
- How to be Your Own Best Friend
- The Seven habits of Highly Effective People
- Getting Unstuck
- The Power of Now: A guide to spiritual enlightenment (talks about dealing with the false self)
- Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape our Decisions
- You Can Heal Your Life
- Codependent No More
- The Courage to Heal
- Awaken the Giant Within: How to Take Immediate Control of Your Mental, Emotional, Physical and Financial Destiny!
- There is Nothing Wrong with You: Going Beyond Self-hate
- The Power of Your Subconscious Mind
- I’m OK, You’re OK
- Learned Optimism: How to Change your Mind and Your Life
The overarching themes of PNAP clearly borrow from the psychoanalytic movement, and expand on them. It is important to remember that Freud was ambivalent at best about the therapeutic benefits of his processes; he saw it as a process of self-exploration that might have some growth potential for analysands. It was his followers and later the acolytes of PNAP that painted their initiatives as manifestly therapeutic. If we can generalize about PNAP (a difficult task, since the boundaries of all this are fuzzy) we find some distinctive themes that echo psychoanalysis in many ways:
A solitary and even solipsistic focus
that often ignores relationships and responsibilities to others; books such as “Looking Out for Number One” and “How to Be Your Own Best Friend” are iconic examples of this. A famous text, “Codependent No More”, pathologizes our strong feelings about others. I remember serving on a clearness committee many years ago in which an engaged couple was seriously at odds because one of them was deeply concerned about his aging father; his spouse accused him of being “codepen-dent”, when in fact it seemed to me that the son’s concern about his father was simply the love that a child can feel for a parent. The couple struggled to reconcile the perspective of “codependency” with the testimony of stewardship that was guiding the son to seek ways to support his father.
The apotheosis of this solitary focus comes from Fritz Perls, the father of Gestalt Therapy, who wrote that “I am not in this world to live up to other people’s expectations, nor do I feel that the world must live up to mine.” He also asserted that “Our dependency makes slaves out of us, especially if this dependency is a dependency of our self-esteem. If you need encouragement, praise, pats on the back from everybody, then you make everybody your judge.”
A reframing of feelings of self-blame, shame or guilt, even if justified, as a psychological problem or deficit,
ignoring, minimizing or explaining away actual behaviors that should reasonably generate feelings of shame. The inevitable corollary to this was a more individually centered and self-generated set of moral standards, far different from the moral standards set by Friends testimonies or other cultural moral standards. The massive juggernaut of 12 step programs–Alcoholics Anonymous and its countless spinoffs –are all based on the idea that an important first step in recovery is to acknowledge a powerless stance in regard to whatever issue is troubling them. The removal of shame thus becomes the first step in regaining power.
The belief that many of our behaviors and difficulties are caused by forces outside our conscious awareness,
and that we can access this “subconscious. Accessing and understanding this “subconscious” has been central to both psychoanalysis and PNAP, with the hope that bringing this into conscious awareness will allow us to change for the better. (O how I wish this were true; I am unalterably beset with lots of issues that hobble me, even though I am painfully aware of their source and meaning; many people would surely say the same about themselves.)
The possibility of transformation through technique
has also been a cornerstone of psychoanalysis and PNAP. The various luminaries of the psychoanalytic movement have argued for over a century over arcane elements of technique, and the discourse continues unabated today. PNAP has spawned countless techniques, each initially claiming to be a “holy grail” of transformation. A complete list of these would fill this journal, but here are a few of the better known technique-based approaches: Neuro-Linguistic Program-ming; EMDR, Thought Field Therapy, Dianetics (from the Church of Scientology), hypnotherapy, Bioenergetics, repressed memory therapy, Primal Scream Therapy. The list is endless, with new techniques being spawned every day.
These themes in and of themselves have been critiqued, analyzed and defended for decades, and there’s no need here to add to those conversations. For our purposes I simply want to record their presence in our culture and describe their most distinctive features, so we can see what impact if any they have had on Quaker thought and practice.
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Some Thoughts About Transformation
Before we continue, the topic of “transformation” needs some further examination here. It is arguably one of the most overused words in the Quaker lexicon (along with “deep”). Its meaning is fuzzy at best, and can mean different things to different people, but the influence of PNAP may have given it a new meaning. It is important to examine it because it is often a key component of PNAP activities.
The concept of “transformation” in and of itself is a venerable theme in religious tales, generally meaning that a person underwent a sudden change that led to a connection with the divine and a sense of belonging to the divine. The story of Saul of Tarsus is the ur- narrative of transformation, but we can also find it in the story of Francis of Assisi and St. Augustine’s “transformation” from wild child to theologian. Televangelists tell us of the number of souls they have saved at mass rallies. We sometimes hear messages in meeting for worship of someone suddenly having found a new identity, a new purpose, a new motivation. This is often characterized as “transformation”, and it seems like a reasonable use of the word. Its defining characteristics are suddenness and a manifestly religious content.
I myself have been transformed, but it has been a much slower and less dramatic process. It has taken all of the forty years I have spent among Friends, and continues today. The process of my transformation has been based on my decades of laboring with some of our testimonies, most notably those of simplicity and stewardship. I’ve also been helped along by exemplars and role models, some real and some not (Henry Cadbury, Walt Whitman and Jean-Luc Picard to name just three of many.) It can be called transformation, and I credit Doylestown Friends Meeting and the wider world of Friends among the authors of this transformation. But it can just as easily be seen as a process of maturing, evolving, studying, and observing. This sort of transformation is an evolutionary process that encompasses all aspects of my life. The more cloistered life of Friends in the 18th and 19th centuries was perhaps a way to manage this sort of transformation and guide it in a specific direction.
But in the world of PNAP the idea of transformation has become more complex and fungible, and it seems to be used without any consistent referents. Sometimes it refers to a sense of self-awareness, which is a common goal of analytic processes; other times it refers to happiness, freedom from pain, financial prosperity, or better sleep. One popular PNAP technique, the Emotional Freedom Technique, promises that
“Instead of taking months or years with conventional counseling, EFT can fast track results down to even one or two sessions. Positive results are literally experienced within minutes of beginning the tapping. This emotional clearing soon results in the fading of physical pain and discomfort. The symptoms may even vanish altogether.
Emotional Freedom Technique also has the ability to change negative belief systems about ourselves that limit our potential and prevent us from living the life we deserve. If you have heard of The Secret and The Law of Attraction, then EFT is a huge part of this consciousness movement because it has the power to transform the subconscious mind so effectively and quickly.” (2)
There are endless other examples of programs that offer one form or another of a vaguely defined quick fix that is often characterized as “transformation”, each with its own definition of this transformative outcome. The descriptors are usually vague and universal concepts such as “the end of suffering”, happiness, calm, or self-awareness. But regardless of the particular nature of the promise that is given, the key elements for our purposes are that there is the application of a technique, there is the hope or expectation of a quick change, and the possibility that the transformation may not be expressly religious or spiritual. The venerable psychoanalytic techniques promised this as the product of a long and expensive process; the techniques of more modern popular psychology offer a much faster approach. These techniques are perhaps secular versions of the “blinding revelations” of religious mystics. However, while some of these PNAP techniques seem manifestly absurd, it is impossible to make any overarching evaluation of them; people are helped and even” transformed” by all sorts of approaches.
In the final analysis the promiscuous use of the word “transformation” leaves me without any coherent understanding of what it means. We can make some general observations about it all, but ultimately those who offer “transformation” should be able to explain what they are offering, and those who seek it should first understand the specific components of what they are seeking.
That having been noted, we can begin to look at what has actually been happening among Friends in regard to PNAP.
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A word about methodology here. Liberal Quakerism is marked by a distinctive lack of any central arbiter of doctrine and practice. Even though each yearly meeting publishes its own book of Faith and Practice our congregational nature leaves, and even encourages, each meeting to develop its own culture. In my travels through the corridors of Quakerism over the last forty years I’ve been astonished at what a heterogeneous sect we have become. One meeting is manifestly Christian, and the next one seems to have a Universalist tilt to it. Some meetings are energized by social activism, while others seem to focus on personal introspection. Some meetings are manifestly “religious”, while others are more “psychological” in their activities, committees, and messages in meeting for worship. (Some of us celebrate this heterogeneity; others of us foment schisms over it all.)
Given this, any general observation by a single person about Quaker thought and practice and about the impact of PNAP is necessarily personal, impressionistic and exploratory. These observations aren’t statistically rigorous and certainly not definitive, but perhaps will serve to identify some interesting trends. More important, I hope that readers will want to consider whether and how much the emphases of PNAP in Quakerism are rightly ordered.
So, taking into consideration the limitations of this inquiry, I’m drawing some information from four sources:
• First and foremost, the workshops and programs offered at the annual Friends General Conference Gathering have been an immensely rich source of insight into this topic; their changing nature over the decades offers some valuable insights. FGC has been around for 116 years, and its annual gatherings, in various formats, are almost as venerable. This single source of comparative information has proven particularly useful. I appreciate the support of the Friends Historical Library at Swarthmore College, as well as the current staff of Friends General Conference, who provided valuable assistance in this research.
- The archived resources of Friends Journal, which covers all it has published for the past sixty years or more, both chronologically and by subject “tags”.
- The long series of Pendle Hill Pamphlets, over four hundred of them dating back to the 1930’s.
- Last, my own experiences over the past forty years in various meetings throughout the United States and the UK, and my involvement with a wide range of Friends organizations.
There are surely many other sources of information to mine, but I offer these as a starting point for any further exploration.
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So, my digging around in these places has focused on when and how the themes mentioned earlier seemed to appear. In summary form these themes are:
- a primary focus on the individual and less on the community, family or social context
- careful examination of the past for clues about current problems and functioning, often blaming others for difficulties and pathologies.
- the idea of unconscious drives and motivations as important elements of a psyche
- the possibility of transformation and growth through effort and application of special techniques
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Friends General Conference Gathering Workshops
It has been instructive to follow the programs and workshops offered by Friends General Conference; the years right after WWII were the first for which coherent records are available and workshops had formats somewhat comparable to what occurs today at the Gathering. There were of course a lot of programs dealing with politics, social justice, and the post WWII world. For example, in 1950 there was a “Human Relations” round table; a few years later a program on “How Shall We Act in Conflict Situations”. In the early 1960’s a program on “Human Values in Urban Society” was presented. At the same time there were programs that had a psychological orientation, such as “Why Do People Drink?” in 1952; “Meaningful Living in the Second Half of Life” in 1960; “Family Living” in 1962; “Finding Meaning in Everyday Encounters” in 1966; and “Family Life and Counsel” in 1967. I made note of their focus on social groups and social interaction.
The leitmotif of these psychologically oriented programs was practicality and advice about living effectively. They didn’t seem to have the darker themes that we’ve identified as coming from PNAP ideology. They were perhaps more advisory and encouraging than therapeutic. The Couple Enrichment program that FGC sponsored for close to half a century is of this practical genre. Programs of this nature are a valuable and venerable part of the Quaker world, and we all benefit from their ongoing presence.
But in the mid to late 1960’s – the time of the greatest ascendency of PNAP activities in the US–the tone of the programs at the Gathering began to shift. In 1969 a lecture on “Fulfillment and the Expansion of Consciousness” was offered. The following year a Tai Chi program was offered, entitled “Meditation in Movement”. In 1972 Ira Progoff offered a program on “The Next Step in Social Consciousness”. (Progoff was an analysand and student of Carl Jung; he created the Intensive Journal Method, a fountainhead of all current journaling practices; journaling as Progoff conceived it and as it is currently practiced is an entirely self-focused discipline. I would argue that it has a narcissistic flavor to it; I attended a weekend program with Progoff himself in the early 1990’s, and I remember being struck by the solitary and self-focused nature of it all.)
In 1973 “Seeking Spiritual Depth through Human Potential Media” was offered, along with programs on Creative Movement and Transcendental Meditation”; 1975 offered programs on yoga, journal keeping, and something called “Reaching for Healing Strength”. It is worth noting that this is the first time I encountered the idea of “healing” within a psychological context in these workshops.
In the early 1980’s a program entitled “Fine Tuning”, which didn’t appear to be about pianos, was offered, as was “Introspective Exploration”, “Ministry of Healing”, “Quest for Self”, “Holistic Health”, “Wholeness in Life”, “Journal Keeping for Spiritual Growth”, and “Right Brain/Left Brain Balance for Wholeness”.
It is also worth noting that during the early 1980’s a number of workshops were offered relating to gender and the challenges of being male or female. A program entitled “Men’s Issues” was about how gender oppresses men and women. A year later a program entitled “Men’s Experience” was offered. A few years later a program about “Spiritual Survival and Spiritual Healing for Incest Survivors” was available, along with one entitled “Women’s Rituals”. These programs were offered at a time when charges of sexual abuse and repressed memory filled the popular media and publicity-seeking therapists–most notably John Bradshaw–were pontificating about the “holocaust” of the American family.
I remember an afternoon program at a Gathering at about that time–not a formal workshop–in which a group of presenters put forth the idea that my entire gender is made up of sexual predators. At about that same time a plenary presenter, Sonia Johnson, used her platform to denigrate and insult men–all men–for their violent, aggressive and predatory nature; she seemed to have a particular animus for Margaret Thatcher, and insulted her by calling her an “honorary man”. It was shocking to see the way that these particularly potent and volatile memes from PNAP found their way into this Quaker fold.
Programs on Therapeutic Touch and something called “Friendly Touch” were offered in the late 1980’s. An AA-based workshop on “Recovery” was available at that time. Other programs were “The Experience of Being a Man”, “Dreams, Visions, Voices, Signs”, “Re-Evaluation Counseling”, “Family of Origin Issues”, “Becoming Whole, Becoming Oneself”, and “Building Toward Self-Reliance”.
In the 1990’s the trend continued, with “The Boy is the Father of The Man”, “Men’s Lives”, “Body, Mind and Spirit” (about kinesiology), “Healing Internalized Homophobia”, “Spiritual Centering Through Yoga and Meditation”, “Healing from Trauma” (for couples), “Enneagram as a Spiritual Tool”, and “Meeting for Worship for Healing”.
In the 21st century the same themes are present: “Being Bodies and Loving It”; “Reiki Healing”; “Gifts and Callings: Discovering Ourselves”; “Past Life Exploration”; Two workshops, one for men and one for women, on “Coming to Peace Between Generations”; “Living Skillfully With Outrage” for men, and “Anger and the Third Way” for women; Overcoming Internalized Oppression”; “Creating a Personal Spiritual Fairy Tale”. (It was interesting to observe at the 2016 Gathering that the workshops and plenary sessions seemed to be more focused on social justice, interactional and Quaker functioning issues, with perhaps less of an emphasis on individual issues; we’ll see what the future holds in this regard.)
I want to emphasize that I’m not offering any critiques or evaluations of these programs, except perhaps for those that attacked or accused my gender, or inflamed people with absurd allegations about family members. People are helped and taught in many ways, and it is beyond my pay grade to editorialize about them. Indeed, all I mean to do here is identify the PNAP themes and the ways that may have impacted on Quaker thought and practice. I leave it to others to apply any value judgments.
Friends Journal and Pendle Hill Pamphlets
Let me now turn much more briefly to Friends Journal (FJ), and then to Pendle Hill. The goals and roles of FJ are broad. Much of what we find within its pages is reporting and news of yearly meetings and Friends organizations, and the activities of individual Friends. Even the articles that are manifestly about Quaker thought and practice (rather than quotidian reportage) seem to me to have a “real-world” practicality. But this approach still has a great deal of room for material that might be considered to have a psychological orientation, and it is within these articles that it is useful to seek out hints of the influence of PNAP.
The topics that FJ has discussed over the decades that might reflect PNAP’s impact include marriage, parenting, sexuality, LGBTQ issues, and PTSD, among others. Most of these articles reflect the practical bent of FJ, but it is useful to note the prevalence of one “tag” in FJ’s online index: the topic of healing, which accounted for no fewer than 64 tags covering the past fifteen years. Spelunking through these tags one finds material that clearly has some of the elements of PNAP effectively conflated with traditional Friends’ ideas and discourse. “Forgiveness: A Personal Journey” appeared in 2003; an article from 2005, written by a psychologist was about “The Wounding and Healing of the Human Spirit”; “Abuse and Healing” appeared in 2008.
The multifaceted mission of FJ perhaps made the impact of PNAP less obvious than in other contexts, I guessed. But then the current (9/16) issue of FJ arrived in my mailbox. It reports at length on the current ferment at Friends General Conference and the various yearly meetings about white privilege and white supremacy. One prominent article suggests that we need a “12-step program to overcome our internalized racism”. It goes on to outline these steps, some of which come directly from the memes of PNAP: “We admitted we were powerless over having been colonized by our white supremacist culture…”; “We admitted to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of these modes of thought, action and silence”; “In humility, we let go of destructive habits…” White supremacy is characterized as “addiction and as a disease”. Just as all of the many 12 step programs contain the themes of PNAP, in this FJ article we can see clearly the idea of the unconscious, the role of guilt/blame, and the possibility of transformation. It seems that the memes of PNAP have become so immured in our cultural discourse that they have taken on a self-evidentiary quality. It will be interesting to watch the progress of this important and long-overdue initiative.
Pendle Hill has published more than four hundred pamphlets since the inception of the series in 1934. From the beginning many were clearly about the practice of Quakerism, but the years surrounding WWII and the Cold War were marked by interest in peace, politics, and activism. Some acknowledgement of psychology was evident in the early years of the pamphlets, but they were of a more practical nature, as in the pamphlet on “Religion and Mental Illness, by Carol Murphy (1955), which focused on pastoral care and mental illness. But then, in the late 1960’s and into the 1970’s there was a spike in interest in psychological issues, many of them with distinct PNAP connections. The frequency of these diminished afterward, but with some pamphlets still featuring PNAP elements. Here are some of the titles:
- Psychotherapy Based on Human Longing, by Robert Murphy (1961)
- Born Remembering, by Elise Boulding (1975) (About childhood memories and forgetting)
- The Psychology of a Fairy Tale, by David Hart (1977)
- A Quaker Looks at Yoga, by Dorothy Ackerman (1976)
- Seeking Light in the Darkness of the Unconscious, by John Yungblut (1977)
- The Unconscious, by Robert Murphy (1996)
- Depression and Spiritual Growth, by Dimitri Mihalas (1996)
- Living from the Center: Mindfulness Meditation and Centering for Friends, by Valerie Brown, 2010
Some Personal Experiences and Observations
I’ve been fortunate in the past forty years to visit many Friends Meetings throughout the country. While each meeting has its own culture the element of silent unprogrammed worship has been consistent and welcoming for me. After all, how much variety can there be in a room with Friends sitting in silence? Well, in the past decade (or thereabouts) I’ve observed two changes in the ways that meetings for worship are conducted, and these changes seem to reflect some of the themes I’ve identified.
One of these changes is the increasingly common practice of asking, once meeting for worship has ended, if anyone has something they would like to share that “did not rise to the level of a message in meeting for worship”. The other change is the very common practice of the clerk asking if there are any requests for the meeting to “hold someone in the light”, a Quaker-style request for intercessory prayer.
What often follows when these opportunities are given can seem reminiscent of a 12 step program or a group therapy session. Confessions, expressions of guilt or anger, reports of new insights, and delving into the past for answers, all seem to be common in these post-meeting discussions. They don’t particularly feel right for me, but then they may be powerful additions to Quaker worship for others. I’m prepared to withhold judgment.
I’ve also observed during the past forty years that the nature of clearness committees, meeting support groups and even Friends gatherings has shifted toward the psychological. What was often the role of meeting elders when I first connected with Friends has become the role of Friends who can offer some professional counseling expertise; I have been asked many times to serve on clearness or support committees solely because of my professional background.
There are other markers of this infusion of PNAP themes: The Friends Conference on Religion and Psychology (http://fcrp.quaker.org), an annual event which began in 1943, has as part of its mission “to discover our own deepest processes and nourish them… (and to)…uncover the ways in which our new insights can help us return to the everyday world more focused and grounded in our spiritual reality” (3); there is the theme of transformation in purest form, with slightly different words.
Couple Enrichment, which began as a peer program many years ago, now has an extensive training and recognition program, and many leader couples who are mental health professionals. At least one yearly meeting maintains a Friends counseling service. Friends’ gatherings often offer the availability of professional counselors, or healing centers, or “safety net” programs to deal with emotional issues that arise in the course of a gathering. 12 step programs are common at these gatherings, offering support for a wide variety of struggles and issues. The DNA of PNAP is everywhere in our religious community.
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So, in the final analysis, it seems that PNAP has found its way into Friends thought and practice, and this may not be either all good or all bad. The focus of PNAP on the individual, the displacement of guilt, shame and blame, and the offer of possible sudden transformation seem to have had some direct impact on the way we think and function as Friends. This is a worthwhile topic for Friends to consider, and for them to evaluate whether these shifts are rightly ordered.
Quakerism continues to evolve, and our congregational nature perhaps makes us particularly open to (vulnerable to?) the influence of social trends in popular culture. Our cherished identity as a “peculiar” and isolated people is by now largely myth, and it is useful for us to be aware of how we are being influenced. We have the opportunity to embrace or challenge these changes, and that discernment is best made with some conscious awareness of what is influencing us.
1. A fascinating novel about this is The Bulwark, Theodore Dreiser’s last novel. Its protagonist, Rufus Barnes, is modeled on Rufus Jones; the novel describes Barnes’ failed efforts to maintain a “bulwark” against modern culture. Dreiser and Jones knew each other, and Dreiser’s portrayal of Quakerism in the early 20th century is insightful and accurate.
2. Conscious Wealth Institute,