Quill-ink The Quaker survey

I have a strong concern about the conclusions reached in the Quaker Survey article in the latest Australian Friend. There was a 20% response rate, and the article then goes on to say x% of Quakers do this, y% of Quakers believe that. I do not believe this is necessarily the case.

The article claims a 95% accuracy rate for a 20% response, but surely this would be only if the survey were truly random over all members and attenders.  This is not the case with this survey. Responses are limited to those from  Quakers who either enjoy participating in surveys, or who felt they should. I have spoken with Friends who chose not to participate, for various reasons, including not wishing to be categorised, and not feeling able to put their spiritual journeying into words and neat boxes.

In our YM epistle we state “Australian Quakers try to resist labels, divisions around belief and cultural practices” but it appears that this survey is attempting to do just that.

Elizabeth Field, New South Wales Regional Meeting



A Response

I agree with Liz Field that the results from a survey of this kind can never be taken to represent the views of all Quakers. However they can help us appreciate something of the wide range of opinions of Friends in Australia, and several respondents commented that completing the questionnaire helped them in thinking about their own beliefs and practices.

The Conclusion of the full report was that “The findings confirm that there is a wide diversity of views and experience amongst Australian Friends that is not easily captured in simple summaries. In particular there is a rich source of commentary provided by Friends and presented in the report Appendices (over 100 pages and 51,000 words) that are worthy of much more detailed consideration.”

Peter Williams, Canberra Regional Meeting and survey coordinator


G/god – should we use a capital letter?

I recently wrote to New Scientist about good usage around this issue which surfaced also in the last Australian Friend.  Here’s the gist of that letter:

I might be offended if you referred to me as ‘helen’ but am OK with you referring to me as a woman (lower case).  I would certainly be annoyed, or worse, if you lower-cased Allah, or Baiame (an indigenous Australian deity) or… God.  There is a systematic ambiguity in the word “god” or “God” because it refers both to any deity, and because it is used as a name.  To know which case to use, see if you can use a synonym for “god” such as “deity”.  If you can’t, then it’s upper-case God.

So, for example, It is correct to write that the name of the god of the Jews is God (leaving aside other ambiguities such as the fact that the name of the somewhat different god of the Christians is also God – and that we all have different ideas about the content of the concept). 

I hope this clarifies this particular tiny part of the issue.

Holding us all in God’s loving light,

Helen Gould, New South Wales Regional Meeting

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