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Quakers – that’s some sort of cult isn’t it?

People have some strange ideas about Quakers. Some people think it’s some sort of cult. Nothing could be further from the truth, the whole idea of Quakerism is that you make up your own mind, based on your own experience. No brainwashing involved. Quakers are officially called the Religious Society of Friends, they are a Christian denomination that started about 300 years ago, in the UK.

There are a couple of other myths that I’ve come across.

1) You can’t be a Quaker, you don’t wear old fashioned clothes and a funny hat/bonnet.

A tiny minority of Quakers (mostly in the United States) do “dress plain” i.e. complete with bonnets and long skirts. Every Quaker I’ve ever met wears regular clothes. Some Quakers chose to wear clothes that are fairly traded, but there aren’t any set rules you have to follow.

2) You can’t be a Quaker, you drive a car/watch television/ use the internet…

Some people seem to confuse Quakers with the Amish. The Amish are a Christian denomination, in the US and Canada.  The confusion probably comes about because both the Amish and Quakers are known for simple living and non violence.  In some Amish communities this includes using horse drawn carriages and living without modern conveniences such as electricity. All the Quakers I know live in modern houses, some may choose not to run a car or watch television but modern conveniences are not in anyway forbidden.

Another reason for confusion between the Amish and Quakers is that there are a large number of Amish people (50,000) in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania was, in colonial times known as “the Quaker province“. Quakers believe in religious freedom for everyone, which allowed the Amish communities to prosper in that region.

3) Quakers only eat porridge

Most people have seen the image of a quaker man on porridge oats. The Quaker cereal company have no ties with Quakers. In fact the Quaker logo is a good example of branding.  Quakers were thought to epitomise integrity, honesty and purity which the people at the oat company thought would be a good trademark, the quaker man logo was registered in 1877 and continues to be used by Quaker Oats to this day.

Personally I’m not a big fan of porridge, I know its good for you but I certainly wouldn’t eat it just because it has a picture of an 18th century quaker on the packet!

4) If you need to join a religous society just to make friends you must be really sad.

Hmm, I admit, I prefer the term Quaker to “Religious Society of Friends”, a religious society of friends does sound a bit sad. If you need to go to a religious society to make friends you must be a bit of a weirdo. I suppose I do think some Quakers are a bit weird, but just like any other group of people, be that a sports team, a choir, a church, a playgroup or the mates you meet up with in the pub it takes all sorts and the world would be dull if we were all the same.

Quakers refer to other Quakers as “Friends” (with a capital F) similar to the use of the word Deaf with a capital D in the deaf/Deaf community. It’s a bit odd at first, but you get use to it after awhile. Some older Quakers still use the Thee/Thou (meaning “you”) among Friends. Although I’ve only heard that once or twice.

Some of my good friends are Quakers, there are plenty of other Quakers that I know in passing but wouldn’t call them friends in the conventional sense.

5) Do you try and convert people?

Lord No!  I can think of nothing worse, the thought of:

a) trying to convert people or

b) listening to someone that wanted to convert me

Fills me with dread and horror. If you go to a Quaker meeting a few people will probably say hello, but they won’t start “bible-bashing”. The whole idea of Quakerism is that your “life speaks”. You don’t need to go round telling people you are a Quaker but you should be honest and fair with others, your whole life should be an example, not just what you do for an hour on a Sunday.

You mean, I could have met a Quaker and not even realised it?  Yep, very probably. If you want a slightly more sarcastic take on these questions check out Bob Loblaws Blog.

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