Help me convince my friend that Quakers are not a cult.

I just had the most surreal exchange with an old friend. He is convinced that the Society of Friends is a cult, and that I need to be rescued. It’s so far from the truth that I don’t know where to begin. I’m stuck between wanting to provide intelligent, forthright, arguments, and just laughing so hard that I can’t get the thoughts out.

And really, in the end, how does one defend any religion? I mean, it’s all just in what you believe, right? So how does one ever differentiate?

I’m stuck in a catch 22. If I try to convince him, he only gets more worried about how deeply entrenched I am in this “weird” belief system.

Any suggestions?


I would say “invite him to a meeting” - but he’d probably take it the wrong way.

Does have a pastor or church of his own? Ask him to ask them about the Quakers.

Ask him to define what does he mean by cult, then compare his definition to your actual beliefs and customs.

The first thing that’s needed in order to be able to have a productive debate about something, rather than two people talking across each other, is to make sure you’re using the same words to mean the same things. My current job has been a horror in many ways, but like every job it’s had some good points: one of them is that someone said something which made me understand an issue I’ve previously had with other clients who have a similar educational background to this one; turns out that the concept of “certificate of analysis” that I have and the concept they have are different. Now that I know where they’re coming from, I can communicate better with them.

It’s somewhat likely that he has been led to believe that any group not his own is a cult just because it’s not his group. I agree with your approach of not approaching it yourself.

(i.e. his definition of cult might be “My pastor says other groups are of the devil and that’s that”.)

Ask him if he thinks Richard Nixon was in a cult.

Or better yet, just ignore him.

Yeah, I wouldn’t even worry about his beliefs. You’re not gonna change his mind. Maybe he won’t try to rescue you or intervene.

He’s a lapsed Catholic. He wouldn’t be upset if it were something more mainstream. When we were kids we were both Catholic. He knew I was Presbyterian in High School, and that never concerned him.

I get what folks are saying about just letting him think that. But he’s a very old friend and dear to me. And he’s truly heart-rendingly upset. I’m concerned that he’s not going to get much sleep tonight. Mind you, I’ve still ended the conversation for the present. I’m not going to convince him now, but I’d like to help him understand.

He keeps comparing me joining a Quaker Meeting with the decisions made by Yusuf Islam (aka Cat Stevens).

I wonder if (like many people) he’s confusing us with the Amish?

The only way you can settle his mind is to ask him what he imagines happens in your relationship with other Quakers and at your meetings, so that you can clear up misunderstandings - no charismatic leader whose pockets you must keep on filling to be instructed in minute detail how to live; no cutting yourself off from those not in the group; and likewise for any other features of a cult (as I understand it).

It might be that his upset is in some way coloured by his experience as a Catholic. I’d resist the temptation to throw that back at him (though I’d imagine a good Quaker would never do such a thing): but getting him to talk about that might give you some clue as to how to reassure him about you.

The Wikipedia page on the History of Quakers might help. The Quakers have made important contributions to the formation of the United States, the abolition of slavery, treatment of prisoners, women’s rights, and the treatment of the mentally ill. They are pacifists.

Are you a “silent” Quaker? I’m trying to fill in the blanks on what part he finds objectionable.

Your friend is badly confused. He may have read that Quakers( like all Christian denominations) began as a sect, whereupon he confused “sect” with “cult.” Have him read an objective explanation of the beliefs of the Society of Friends, like this one.

Point out to him the similarities between Quakerism and Catholicism. Does he know about Swarthmore and Whittier (Richard Nixon’s alma mater) and a dozen other respected Quaker universities? And while Nixon isn’t anyone’s idea of a poster child for the Society of Friends, the GOP in 1968 would never have nominated a “cult” member president back in 1968, and Nixon certainly wouldn’t have been elected.

My son is getting involved with something that has certain cultlike qualities so I hav been boning up on this. Here’s one thing I found. From

I don’t think any of that is going to apply to Quakers.

The other thing was to look at the organization chart. If it was an inverted T, with one guy (or gal) at the top, and then the next level was way down, instructors maybe, that was a sign. If there are secrets that aren’t revealed until you’re way into it (like Operating Thetan III), that’s a sign. Again, not applicable to Quakers.

Well, as far as I know.

I’m not a Quaker, but as far as I know their organization chart looks as short and flat as they can manage to get it without losing the ability to stay organized at all.

Oh dear, your friend is badly misguided. I’m no fan of religions in general, be even I, The Great Atheist, have great respect for Quakers. Heck, the Cadbury family are Quakers, and what’s not to like about them (it’s the whole reason they made chocolate - to encourage people not to drink).

I think asking him what he thinks is a cult, and how he thinks the Quakers fit that might be a start.

He thinks this might lead to you retiring early and doing charitable stuff for the rest of your life?

In my experience, people involved with cults and cult-like orgs (I grew up in an extended family deeply immersed in the Pentecostal Movement in Aus) never want to talk about anything else BUT their religious beliefs.

So, whenever your friend wants to question you re anything Quaker, turn the conversation to sport, cars, travel, kittens…whatever rocks your boat.

TruCelt’s friend’s suspiciousness seems to arise not from fundamentalism but hostility to religion so bringing up Nixon would likely backfire.

I see the problem you may have in that the more you insist and argue that it’s not a cult, the more, to a mind primed to see it as a cult, you will be strengthening his confirmation bias.
Have you asked him to read the Wiki page on Quakerism? If he won’t even read the Wiki page, I doubt you’ll convince him.

I don’t suppose he would go to a meeting, either on his own or with you?

Perhaps mention there are non-theist Quakers. That could chip his idea of Quakerism being a cult.

Maybe he confuses Quakers with Shakers? Those are a little strange and lacking in foresight.

Asking him to define a cult might be a good idea. Providing examples of liberal Quakers might help. Drawing parallels with Unitarians (they’re not that far in attitude, are they?) also. Perhaps you could talk about what motivated you to move from Catholicism to Quakerism, that might built common ground.

Or he might have become hypervigilant/paranoid about people around him being stealth bastards and kooks, given some of the political and social developments in the US in the last few years. In which case, you might just have to let him go through whatever process he needs to go through on his own, as unpleasant as that might be.

I doubt it. Most people I know can readily tell the difference; even those who don’t hang around anything religious in nature. Although I am a little surprised at a Quaker implying that the Amish branch of the Old Order can be thought of as a cult.

I agree with others that you need to talk and come to common ground on terms first. To me I can’t bring myself to consider anything that has been around multiple generations and over 100 years as being a cult. Its like the Wesleyian Methodists or Lutheran churches; it may have started with the ideas of a few but from there it became a more general religion. Heck - I am sure I could find someone out there who considers anything Christian as a cult. Getting to the same language may show you both a lot and get you to more of a mutual understanding alone.

Let him believe as he wishes. Just smile knowingly.

A scintilla of research, on his part, would reveal his opinion is deeply misguided.

If it was a cult, there’d be tv shows about it, and books by ex quakers, and families pleading for help, none of which really exist. (Most exquaker material is of the ‘NOT devout/cultish’ enough type!)

True cults separate people from outside friends, family and their money! None of which the Quaker’s are doing to you.

What’s the point in arguing with him? He won’t believe your word and hasn’t done ANY research, save your breath.

Just smile!

I guess elbows doesn’t believe in fighting ignorance… gives elbows a funny look

He might start with Wikipedia to learn about Quaker history - or you might point him to the Quaker’s humanitarian efforts - the historical efforts Quakers made to abolish slavery and establish suffrage are pretty well impressive. You could point out that there are a number of Quaker Nobel Prize Laureates. And that persecution of Quakers and misunderstanding of the faith has happened for a long time - Massachusetts has a statue of Mary Dyer at their statehouse - they burned her for heresy (or maybe hung her, I can’t remember), and William Penn founded Pennsylvania to be able to freely practice his faith.