Reading Time: 3 minutes

(Post 14 of 33 in my 16-hour shift for the Secular Student Alliance Blogathon.)

2:30 pm EDT

I’ve written at length before about my burning love for the Belief-o-Matic Quiz. I may even do so again before midnight if I run out of words to coin. The quiz asks twenty multiple choice worldview questions, then spits out a list of belief systems and your percentage of overlap with each system. In other words, it doesn’t tell you what church you go to, but it might suggest what church you ought to be going to. If any.

I read a passing comment in an article about the quiz several years ago that I’ve never forgotten. It seems that many of the people taking the quiz were finding a high correlation with one particular denomination: Satanism.

Wait no, my finger slipped. I meant Liberal Quakers.

So many people were finding themselves in high alignment with Liberal Quakerism that the headquarters of the Society of Friends (their fancy name) reported a tripling of inquiries in the first year of the quiz.

A lot of these inquiries were surely from people who call themselves Lutherans, or Baptists, or Presbyterians, or Catholics, or Mormons, because every Sunday they put on their blinker, check the mirror, and turn into the parking lot of a church with that denomination on the sign. But they are actually black-hat-wearing, oats-munching Quakers. Liberal Quakers, to be precise.

It seems to me that a person who calls himself a Baptist but believes that Joseph Smith received golden tablets describing the ministry of Christ in the New World from the Angel Moroni in Upstate New York, along with a pair of special glasses for translating them, etc., it seems to me that that person is in point of fact a Mormon, no matter what pew receives his weekly backside.

Yet statistics on the total size of the various denominations count backsides in pews. The pollsters don’t often ask what the people attached to those backsides actually believe about golden tablets, or transubstantiation, or immaculate conception, or purgatory, or whether salvation is by works or by faith alone, or how many gods there are and whether any of them have the head of an elephant. They should ask these things if they really wanted to know how many people are in a given belief system, but they generally don’t ask or probably care.

But the Belief-o-Matic cares enough to ask. And I care about the answer for this Quakery result for one special reason: Liberal Quakers are really cool.

For starters, many mainstream churches are based on revelation— the belief that one person or group can know what God wants. Revelation-based churches in the U.S. are the primary opponents of countless progressive social policies and the primary supporters of militarism, authoritarian politics, corporal punishment, and more. They tend to use God as a bludgeon against others.

Liberal Quakers, on the other hand, reject revelation and consider the experience of God to be personal and individual. As such, they are utterly opposed to forcing moral or dogmatic opinions on others. No person can tell any other person what the experience of God is like, at which point all sorts of nonsense goes away. And lo and behold, this denomination that has walked away from dogma and revelation has a long, rich history of being on the right side of important social issues. They were among the first abolitionists. They marched and got themselves arrested for women’s suffrage. They promote peace and nonviolence and devote themselves to alleviating human suffering rather than adding to it.

If it’s true that a significant proportion of the American population has values and beliefs in line with a church that rejects revelation and is a force for social progress, yet their membership and dollars go to churches that embrace revelation and are a force for social regress, I think a conversation is in order, and the Belief-o-Matic can do that. We’d be better off if they recognized the mismatch and Quakered up.

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Dale McGowan is the author of Parenting Beyond Belief, Raising Freethinkers, and Atheism for Dummies. He holds a BA in evolutionary anthropology and a PhD in music.