Things I might say on TV

If you’ve found this blog by searching the internet for ‘Rhiannon Grant’ and ‘Quakers’ because you’ve just seen me on BBC1’s The Big Questions, welcome. (If I didn’t actually make it onto TV, this post might disappear soon!) Here are some things I might say if I get the chance, in a post written in advance and scheduled to publish while the programme is going out.

Can you be Christian without God?

Yes, you can participate in a Christian community without believing in God. Actually, not all Quakers are Christians – even those of us who believe in God might not call ourselves Christians – and not all Quakers believe in God. What’s important to us is that we all join in with our communities, joining in with our silent worship, our work to help other people, and trying to tell the truth about our experiences.

Why are Quakers getting rid of God?

We’re not. If there is something out there which fits a traditional picture of God – all knowing, all powerful, all loving – it’s way beyond us to get rid of God! And even if there isn’t, we value God language as part of our history and as a poetic, beautiful, moving way of expressing things which are hard to say any other way.

So what are you doing?

We’re revising Quaker faith & practice, which is a book (now also published as a website) that we write to tell us how to be the best Quakers we can be. We make little changes to it every year and rewrite the whole thing once a generation or so – we started the last revision in 1985, so it’s about time. We’re revising the book to bring it up to date and include things which have changed (at the moment it doesn’t mention the internet, for example). I think it’s likely that we’ll include both very traditional ways of talking about God – Jesus, love, the Holy Spirit – and new and creative expressions, maybe drawing on science and other religions.

And do Quakers believe in God?

Some of us do, and some of us would explain our spiritual experiences in other ways.

Do you believe in God?

Yes, in my experience there’s something I can be in touch with, through silent worship and the natural world and relationships with people, which is more than just myself and which is a good thing – loving, hopeful, beautiful.

That doesn’t sound like the God of the Bible.

Depends which bit of the Bible you read! No, it’s a long way from many other people’s pictures of God. My God isn’t a man, my God isn’t supernatural, my God isn’t laying down lots of rules – except “love one another”.

What do Quakers think about the Bible?

Quakers think the Bible is a useful and interesting record of people’s religious experiences. We know it was written and edited by human beings, and not every story in it is historically true. That doesn’t stop it containing lots of emotional and spiritual truths, some of which are very beautiful.

Is Quaker faith & practice the Quaker Bible?

Not really – the Bible is the Quaker Bible! Quaker faith & practice is a collection of rules, guidelines, suggestions, and other Quakers’ experiences, which helps us to work out what to do. It tells you how to have a Quaker wedding and why Quakers don’t swear oaths. It tells you what it’s like to refuse to serve in the army, and how previous Quakers have responded to difficult decisions, like whether or not to have an abortion. It also offers questions and advice which are often read during our worship. Some parts of it, like the bits about marriages and data protection, need updating often. Other parts, like what we say about sustainability and the environment, last longer but we have new things to say as our understanding develops.

What do Quakers believe?

In one of our old phrases, we believe that everyone has that of God within them. That means everyone should be treated fairly, and everyone can have spiritual experiences for themselves. Because of that belief, we fight for peace and justice, and we worship in a way that gives everyone the same chance to join in.

You’ve mentioned Quaker worship a couple of times – what’s it like?

Quaker worship is based in silence. It’s about getting yourself into stillness – Quakers often say ‘centred down’ – and being open. We sit around in a circle or a square, with everyone equal, and wait to see what happens. Sometimes people pray for other people, or the world. Sometimes someone there will be given a message, either an insight into something in their own life or something which they want to share with the whole group. We call that spoken ministry. You can try Quaker worship on your own but in my experience it works best with other people.

What are Quakers best known for?

I guess we’re best known for being pacifists and more recently for our commitment to equal marriage. Both of those are very closely linked to seeing that of God in everyone and, because of that, wanting to treat everyone equally.

Didn’t the early Quakers believe in God?

I’m sure they did. They also believed that people should work from their own experiences, and put a huge value on telling the truth, so I think they’d understand that today, those of us who have different experiences need to use different language to express that. My experience fits with something I call God, so I use that word; other Quakers have different experiences and use different words, but all of us are working from the same principles.

6 responses to “Things I might say on TV

  1. I hope you got on. I love the idea of these things on national television. If you did could you give a link to the programme, with a time where your bit starts?

  2. Beautiful Rhiannon (your post above). Thanks for the link. Nope, it’s not half-way through but about 40 minutes in – the presenter/BBC obviously think that Daily Mail Man and press-regulation is worth twice as much as Quakers (and Anglicans and the whole christian church) and God.
    I didn’t think you got a fair crack of the whip (as they say), unlike Peter Hitchens, traditionalist Anglican and brother of number One atheist Christopher (deceased) who maybe not quite got a mention.
    In a way I guess your post above tells me what I wanted to know – what were you going to say!
    David Boulton got a little more in as did the two (female) and obviously Christian theologians who disagreed with each other but I thought it was particularly interesting that the presenter called the Anglican theologian from Leicester seated next to David to speak first (who’d been very clear about press-regulation) and I thought he rather well put the ‘Christian Atheist’, ‘Progressive Anglican’ and Quaker case!
    I will have to look up some of the protagonists (Elizabeth Storkey?) but if anyone wants to know what Quakers are about, they could hardly do better than read your post above. Thank-you!

    • Thanks Trevor, both for the correction about the time and your other comments! The Anglican who sat next to David B. is called David Jennings, and if you Google him you’ll see he’s well practised at putting that sort of case. 🙂 I did think it was a bit odd to do an introduction about Quakers and then ask an Anglican for the first input, but that’s TV for you.

  3. Well done, Rhiannon, I thought you were very good at explaining how Quakers worship and key points when you were first asked to speak. I think the virgin birth seemed to throw everything! Think it may have put a lot of people off God as it became very theological and historical. I liked some of the points made about the early church but wish you or David had been given the opportunity to open the discussion and explain clearly what Quakers have been discussing, although the Anglican minister seemed to suggest much was changing in the established church and it sounded quite quaker driven! Your foresight with this blogpost shows your understanding of how these media events spin issues away from real information and concerns.

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