If you have Colonial American ancestors, then chances are very high you have a branch belonging to the Society of Friends (Quakers). However, few of us really understand why they were considered dangerous radicals in both England and Ireland the 1600s. Part of this has to do with their theology of the “Inward Light.”
The Inward Light (Inner Light) has shaped the Quaker worldview. It is a metaphor to express that all people have access to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This empowers individuals and groups, with no need for a clergy. For “Silent Quakers” whose meetings are based upon silence, no one speaks unless directed by the Inward Light. At that point, any man or woman can share their promptings in an unedited format. Once a proclamation from the Inward Light is judged true, then the message is sent out far and wide. It becomes a call to action.
Little has been written on Quaker theology, because there is no one accepted doctrinal viewpoint. Helpful references are: Willmer A. Cooper’s A Living Faith: An Historical and Comparative Study of Quaker Beliefs (2001); Pink Dandelion’s The Quakers: A Very Short Introduction (2008) and his An Introduction to Quakerism(2007); and Janet Scott’s What Canst Thou Say?: Towards a Quaker Theology (1980). One uniting factor in such a diverse belief system is the Inward Light.
The Inward Light has allowed Quaker thought to “march forward” with the times. This has allowed them a profound and progressive voice. As they came to certain positions regarding prison work, equality of women, spiritual equality, opposition to slavery, social justice, and the opposition to war, it affected the larger society where they were living. Ideas originating from the “Inward Light” may be tame by today’s standards, but historically, they threw governments and churches in chaos.