2016: LOVE - NOT WAR
Welcome to the John Garrett Jones Website
NOVEMBER 11 2016: ARMISTICE DAY: 100 years ago, the war still had another 2 years to go. Although it was billed as the war to end wars, there was a re-run coming just 21 years hence. An Archduke had been assassinated and millions had to die. This did not happen in darkest Africa but in a Europe which regarded itself as a beacon of civilised enlightenment. We should certainly not forget but we should certainly ponder the depth of our delusions.
The European Union, with its shared currency and freedom of movement across borders is the best possible atonement for a hideous past. My own country refused to join the eurozone and is now jibbing at the freedom of movement - but Nigel Farage is probably wearing a big poppy!
As the conflict and human rights violations in Syria grow ever more harrowing we
need to take stock of the total inadequacy of our current options for effective
action on the world stage.
1] A stable worldwide peace can never be achieved while nation states or federations each have their own armies. This situation, long out of date, is a built-in recipe for conflict.
2] Global peace can only be guaranteed globally and this can only happen when all legitimate weaponry is under global command. Multilateral action is useless; this has to be omnilateral.
3] For this to happen, the UN has to be empowered to set up and command a global security force enabling it to deploy all the legal force there is; there can be no legitimate opposing force.
4] Such a force must be pledged never to wage war but to act only and always in conformity with the Universal Charter of Human Rights.
5] Force must only be used to disarm those who are illegally armed and who refuse to surrender their weapons voluntarily, pending authorised, neutral conflict resolution.
6] All arms trading must be made illegal and all nuclear, chemical or biological weapons must be safely destroyed. No individual can possess a gun except under stringent, globally-controlled restrictions.
I am now 87. I was born in 1929, around half way between two world wars, aged 10 when WW2 broke out, living near Northolt RAF base, subject to nightly air raids during the blitz. My best friend, living less than half a mile away, narrowly escaped death when his family were bombed out. When the war ended and the United Nations was set up, I was first jubilant, then gutted to realise that, after six years of mayhem, we STILL had nothing resembling a world authority. As time has passed, it is clear we are determined to cling to the mad idea that heavily armed, often bitterly hostile nation states, each with their own army, can be sufficiently "united" to keep the world in order.
Syria is the latest manifestation of this madness. It has brought untold suffering to the survivors who have managed to escape and the whole of Europe is in turmoil. Peace talks are unavailing and air-strikes permit super-powers to wage their proxy wars with cynical disregard for human life, inflicting the 'collateral damage' which slaughters babies even in their prams.
Here are some other things which need to happen before things improve:
Membership of the United Nations must be made conditional on acceptance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights since this is the only basis for the claim of international unity. A government's refusal to accept and act on this Charter must entail exclusion from the United Nations.
All member nations of the UN must accept their secular obligation to afford the same status and dignity to all subjects within their borders, regardless of race, colour or creed. They must also accept that their soveriegnty ends at their borders.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights can be updated by a panel set up by the UN Assembly but the basic rights to life, to freedom of conscience, to a living wage, education, healthcare and legal protection must always be safeguarded. All these rights imply everybody's obligation not to infringe the rights of others, on pain of prosecution. There must be swift and effective action against all infringements, whether by government or citizen.
The above aims, even if all achieved, will be but the beginning of a genuine world order but they will provide a secure umbrella under which all the myriad things remaining to be done can be achieved over time. We shall be free to move forward constructively, with nothing except climate change to impede progress.
IF THE 2 LINKS BELOW FAIL TO RESPOND, YOU WILL FIND THE INFO YOU WANT BY SCROLLING DOWN TO THE FOOTNOTES AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS PAGE.
You will find a short biography of JGJ at:
If you are interested to know my current thinking about religion, click the link below:
RELIGION: a personal view
I am always glad to have feedback; my email address is below. You used only to click on it but now the simplest way is to copy the link and paste to destination location on your email form
For more background on all this you may like to read the last of the monthly updates to my full website:
JAN 1st 2016: A HAPPY NEW YEAR?
If we want this new year, and the years which follow, to be happy we have to think globally because the only thing we all share, apart from our common humanity, is our planet.
2015 ended with savage, often unprecedented, weather events. It also saw the first unanimous attempt of the world community to tackle climate change.
2015 put the war in Syria centre stage because of the hundreds of thousands of desperate migrants flooding into Europe - or drowning in the attempt. Again the whole world is seeking a secure peace in Syria and beyond.
The message of this website is that we delude ourselves if we imagine there can ever be a secure peace anywhere so long as nations are allowed their own armies. What does a nation need an army for if not to fight a war, either of defence or offence - and politicians are good at making offence look like defence.
REMEMBER KUNDUZ: "On Saturday 3 October 2015, MSF's trauma hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, was hit by a series of bombing raids at approximately 15-minute intervals, all carried out by Coalition forces... Thirty people were killed in the attack: 10 were patients, three of them children, 13 were MSF staff and seven have yet to be identified. Thirty-seven people were injured, including 19 members of the MSF team. The MSF hospital in Kunduz has been partially destroyed and is no longer operational, depriving tens of thousands of people of lifesaving surgical care. The attacks took place despite the fact that MSF had provided the GPS coordinates of the trauma hospital to Coalition and Afghan military officials in Kabul... The attack continued for more than 30 minutes after we informed ...Kabul and Washington that it was a hospital being hit." [Dispatches No 79, Medecins Sans Frontieres]
The above is one of the few incidents of "collateral damage" where survivors have lived to tell the tale. Most of the others have been wiped off the planet without leaving any human trace.
Here's what we could and should do about all this:
It is not a human right to be able to wage war.
In fact the war which began a century ago deprived 16 million human beings of their most basic right, the right to life. Another 21 million were wounded, many of them incapacitated for life,
What did this war, which was supposed to be "the war to end war", actually achieve? Its most awful legacy was WW2. That war ended under the mushroom cloud which continues to overshadow us. Yet we still continue to play our war games as if the cloud were not there. We are playing with something much deadlier than fire. Isn't it ironic that we inhabit the only planet in the whole of the known cosmos which is favourable to life, yet we, the pinnacle of life's achievement to date, have become far the biggest threat to life on our planet in the billions of years of its history?
Let us not forget that the war against Iraq launched jointly by Bush and Blair was meant to defend us against weapons of mass destruction which proved not to exist. It was supposed to be retaliation for the outrage of 9/11 - with which Iraq had not been involved. It was an act of pure aggression which has done untold harm. There were many dark incidents during that war which cast a lasting slur on the pillars of freedom and democracy. It now emerges that the CIA has countenanced acts of torture, even murder, in many other arenas as well.
These are things done in our name. They are things which we ordinary citizens have actually funded though our taxes. Are we happy to let them continue to happen?
How can wars be permanently prevented?
Wars happen because nations or federations are each allowed to have their own armies. Wars will only cease to happen when this is no longer the case. If anyone knows of any other way of preventing wars, it would be interesting to hear about it.
It will be argued that nations need those armies in order to defend themselves from outside attack. This argument is ludicrous when we observe the power games in which many leading politicians are currently indulging, thanks to the vast arsenals which we taxpayers have so generously gifted to them. These power games certainly inflate their leaders' already gigantic egos but do nothing whatever to make their countries or the planet safer.
Security and Defence can only be secured by an international authority, never by heavily armed and often fiercely hostile nations. We have the United Nations Organisation; why don't we make it do the job it was set up to do, namely "to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war"?
In fact, since its inception in 1945, the UN had prevented itself from achieving its primary goal by allowing each of the permanent members of the Security Council the right of veto, which effectively prevented the UN from taking any firm action whenever one of those five saw such action as a threat to its own interests. We were thus back to square one, no further on than we had been with the old League of Nations.
If we are serious about ridding the planet of the scourge of war, this situation obviously needs to change. It can only change when nation states are willing to renounce national power in favour of a global security network.
Only ordinary people like you and me can make this change happen.
If we leave it to the politicians, change will not happen because they are locked into party political contests to win their next elections, based mainly on domestic issues. Working to bring about a new international order is rarely on their map, so this most urgent of all issues just goes by default.
It is different with the generals and military personnel who have had first-hand experience of the realities of modern armed conflict. They are deeply concerned about returned soldiers with post-traumatic-stress-disorder, many of them eventually driven to suicide, also all the civilians who have been wounded or bereaved or made refugees. Soldiers have been trained not to reason why, simply to do or die, but very many of them now regard this as sheer irresponsibility and welcome the opportunity to rethink their role. They are in a uniquely strong position to press for the changes here advocated.
This process of rethinking is a prime responsibility for all of us. Here is some food for thought - and action:
OUR GENERAL PREDICAMENT
As a result of the recent collapse of the global economy, most governments around the world are still crippled by debt, having had to borrow so heavily they continue to add huge amounts of interest to their loan repayments. They have been forced to make savage cuts in their budgets which impact most on those who are already struggling to make ends meet.
Contrast with this the fact that global spending on arms worldwide grew 5.9% in 2009 to reach a staggering total of $1.500,000,000,000 [=$1.5 trillion]. Sheer economic necessity has forced arms sales down in subsequent years but spending under this head is still shamefully huge. It is worth noticing that NATO signatories account for 70% of all current arms expenditure worldwide. NATO wields formidable force which is currently deployed under joint US-European command.
As if this were not grim enough, recent record-breaking climatic catastrophes have made our global predicament more acute and more expensive than it has ever been. What the forecasters call 'extreme weather events' are now regular happenings. Our wars are certainly not helping to improve the climate.
Governments around the world keep saying they must cut back on all unnecessary expenditure. Harsh necessity has even forced them to reduce their 'defence' budgets - but they refuse to recognise that ALL arms expenditure is not only non-essential but is actually deleterious. The military hardware the wealthy nations spend a mint of money developing, manufacturing and marketing will either never be used (in which case it will rot into obsolescence and need to be replaced at still greater cost) or, even worse, it WILL be used, thus adding to the horrendous toll of death and destruction for which we humans, throughout our history, have been responsible, never more horribly than in the last century, the age of mass education and scientific enlightenment - and two world wars culminating in nuclear mass destruction.
As a result, we are now trapped in a global economy in which "defence" budgets play a huge role. We have become so used to this that we take it for granted as one of the unalterable facts of life - just as we did with slavery until Wilberforce and company jolted us into a realisation of the enormity of what our blindness was costing the millions of human beings sacrificed. In this case it is the future of our entire planet which is at stake
Underlying our complacency is a conspiracy we mostly prefer to remain ignorant about. Wendela de Vries, one of Europe's foremost peace campaigners, puts it like this:
"War profiteering is one of the main pillars that support war. The military-industrial complex has a long record of pushing for the development of a war industry and of battlefields to test its products. War profiteering has many forms and a wide range of impacts. The most notorious forms ... are the arms industry and the arms trade, ... companies involved in war “reconstruction”, companies to which military functions are outsourced, financial institutions backing warfare, companies profiting from the extraction of resources in conflict areas and many more." [de Vries, email to the ENAAT group, 28 June 2011]
If national politicians were prepared to change this, they would have to find alternative employment for many millions of people, so this is a task they find it very convenient to shelve, particularly at a time when 'defence' seems the biggest and most stable element in their vulnerable national budgets. It is also undeniably true that the leaders of "super-powers" would feel bereft without their "super-armies", but isn't it unbelievably cynical to make millions of people earn their livings by dealing out death for others? What sort of livelihood is this?
The simple truth is that our tribal ideas about 'security' and 'defence' are a relic of the past. The only way in which we can have a world without war is by jointly setting up a strong global authority which will have sole command of all armed force, none of which will be used except to rid the world of illegally held arms and to protect the human rights of every citizen. In times of emergency this force would be a rapid and efficient means of aiding stricken populations; this would simply be a big enhancement of what is already happening.
A SUGGESTED UN INITIATIVE:
If delegates to the UN are in favour of putting an end to even the possibility of war - and why should they not be? - they should jointly propose that every political party in every country be invited to join an international league of anti-war parties, committed to setting up, as a high priority:
 A global force which will be the sole legitimate owner of military weapons and the sole commander of all existing military force. This force will be the executive arm of an empowered United Nations Organisation, acting only in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
 This force will replace the existing UN peacekeeping force as it will no longer be necessary to stand between opposing armies.
 This force will exist solely to maintain peace, to remove all illegitimately held weaponry, and to react quickly to all reported human rights abuses. It will also be responsible for preventing the researching, manufacturing and marketing of new weapons.
 This force will be commanded by a multi-national global authority but will have local subsidiary centres scattered across the globe.
 This force will be recruited and trained in its new tasks by globally administered colleges spread across the globe.
 This force will be monitored by an independent multi-national body to check for any abuses of its power, which will be promptly and impartially dealt with.
 National governments will no longer be permitted to act militarily outside their own borders. Internal disputes, requests for realignment of borders and all other contentious issues will have to be brought before a UN body set up to deal with these in a fair and open manner.
Of course the detail needs to be worked out, but such an international league could enable voters throughout the world to have the unprecedented opportunity of voting for a war-free world.
"The question is not one of "surrendering" national sovereignty. The problem is not negative and does not involve giving something up we already have. The problem is positive, creating something we lack, but imperatively need: the extension of law and order into another field of human association which heretofore has remained unregulated and in anarchy." [ Emery Reves, The Anatomy of Peace]
In 1945, when The Anatomy of Peace was first published, I, a 16 year-old schoolboy, devoured it with great enthusiasm. Alas, when the United Nations was set up later that year, the core members were given the power to veto proposals they disliked. Post-war euphoria beguiled them into thinking the nations which had jointly defeated Hitler could safely be trusted to safeguard the peace. The reality was that there was still a bitter ideological conflict between the Eastern and Western blocs. The name "United Nations Organisation" was no magic wand to resolve this conflict. Only loyalty to the UN charter, to which they had all signed up, could have done that. The preamble to that charter had stated:
There obviously was no such loyalty and never has been. The peoples of the world had been betrayed. How could they be saved from the scourge of war without the structures needed to enforce peace? To ask the nations "to live together in peace ..as good neighbours" showed a total lack of reality. Was this what we had fought the war for?
In no time the former allies were at each other's throats and we had a cold war. The resulting nuclear arms race still threatens to be our undoing. If it prevented WW3 - just - it did nothing to prevent the disgusting trade in arms which, ever since, has fuelled endless little wars, which have slaughtered endless little people. It has also empowered tyrants, terrorists, insurgents, pirates and other undesirables.
All this began 70 years ago. The founders of the UN had blundered horribly and nobody since has been able to convince the world that we had been set on the wrong track altogether. So, instead of going right back to the drawing board as we should have done, we have continued to blunder on along the same wrong track, causing millions of people still to endure "untold sorrow" because of preventable wars and armed conflicts. We still have not learned that one never reaches the desired goal by marching in the wrong direction.
Turning the UN into a genuinely apolitical global authority is obviously going to be a massive task which involves a huge shift in our thinking. It will only happen when there is an irresistible surge of grass-roots conviction right across the globe; it cannot be imposed from above. Old style patriotism (which was often simply tribalism writ large) needs to give place to a committed globalism, a real love of the planet without the health and support of which none of us can survive for a minute. No nation will be able to boast of its staggering military capability. Superpowers will be a thing of the past, but each nation will glory in the fact that it is contributing to the global force.
Of course there are serious disputes between nations and groups within or across nations, many of very long standing. Military force is never going to resolve these. Contending parties must appeal to a neutral arbitration mechanism which, when it finally reaches a mutually acceptable resolution, can then enforce it.
Sigmund Freud, in almost his last published work, wrote:
"After long doubts and vacillations we have decided to assume the existence of only two basic instincts, Eros and the destructive instinct ...the aim of the first of these basic instincts is to establish ever greater unities and to preserve them thus - in short, to bind together; the aim of the second, on the contrary, is to undo connections and so destroy things" [Sigmund Freud, An Outline of Psychoanalysis, Hogarth/Institute of Psychoanalysis, 1949, pp5f.]
The ethos we have cultivated over recent centuries has done a great deal to devalue love and creativity whilst glorifying hatred and destruction. Look at the way our Western tradition (amongst others) has viewed maleness: men who fight are heroes - "real men"; men who love each other warmly and physically are pathetic - "queers".
Freud often used the Greek word for death (thanatos) to denote the destructive instinct. Nobody can deny that thanatos is unstoppable; it comes to all of us sooner or later. The last thing we need is all the war games and nuclear warheads which threaten to give thanatos the final victory. Here is a quote from a novel first published in the year I was born - 86 years ago - and still one of the most important ever written. The writer, after three years of fighting, is wounded and living with horrendous casualties all round him:
"Everything must have been fraudulent and pointless if thousands of years of civilization weren’t even able to prevent this river of blood, couldn’t stop these torture chambers existing in their hundreds of thousands. Only a military hospital can really show you what war is. I am young. I am twenty years of age; but I know nothing of life except despair, death, fear, and the combination of completely mindless superficiality with an abyss of suffering. I see people being driven against one another, and silently, uncomprehendingly, foolishly, obediently and innocently killing one another. I see the best brains in the world inventing weapons and words to make the whole process that much more sophisticated and long-lasting…….For years our occupation has been killing - that was the first experience we had. Our knowledge of life is limited to death. What will happen afterwards? And what can possibly become of us?" [All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque, p.180 in Vintage Future Classics English Translation of 1929 German edn]
Our creativity, our love, our constant striving to improve our lot, are an unending struggle against the pull of the primal chaos. We may be tempted to ask if it is worth trying to fight the tide. It might seem simpler just to go with the flow and eat, drink and be merry. But this is not an option if we mean it when we say we love our children. We have reached the crucial moment for decision in the whole history of our species. If we persist in making wrong choices, we shall very soon have reached the point of no return. We have created a huge machine with our technology and ingenuity but at present the machine has no competent driver; unless it gets one in a hurry, the machine will surely run amok.
This website advocates not only the renunciation of war but also the positive affirmation of our bisexuality, since this is the best possible antidote to violence. It was again Freud who insisted that the basic constitution of every human individual is bisexual. In spite of this, bisexuality is often regarded as a problem area, more of a liability than an asset. In fact, an informed, responsible approach to this central issue of our sexuality may well be the most hopeful pointer to the future for our species since it will enable men to become much keener to love one another than to disembowel each other. It would also provide the most creative way of curbing population growth. David Attenborough has recently noted that the global population has increased threefold in his lifetime. As he quietly observes, the planet is finite and simply cannot support ever-growing armies of humans. World population reached 7 billion during 2011; this represents a 40% growth over the past 20 years. We need to do some hard thinking about how to harness our sexual energy, most of which is surplus to reproductive requirements, in order to enrich human life and human relationships without presenting the planet with more people than it can support.
I began my professional life working in South Indian villages. This taught me a great deal, not least that it is quite possible to have a society wherein there is no history of war, no inhibition about affectionate physical contact, even in public, between males, and no inclination to restrict sexual love to the opposite gender. If you would like to access my Coming Clean about Bisexuality: a male perspective, you can do so simply by keying in to your browser the first four words of the title. Click on the top entry and you should be taken straight to the book. You can freely copy and paste the book to a word processing document on your own computer if desired.
Visitors from Holland will find a Dutch translation of Coming Clean about Bisexuality at http://www.bikring.nl This also can be freely downloaded.
Music, like sex, is also an international language because it does not depend on words but does arise from something deeply implanted in all human beings. Hence music can achieve what few other things can. It is astounding how people reared in one musical culture can become so proficient in the music of an entirely different culture as to become world-renowned instrumentalists or vocalists in the new medium.
Sport and athletics comprise another international language since balls (I am thinking now of the leather ones!) and swimming pools know no linguistic barriers. Bodies around the world yearn to do the same things - hence great international festivals like the Olympics.
Maths is yet another international language since numbers behave the same wherever you happen to live. Much the same is true of all the sciences since they use terms and tables which are international in scope and are dealing with universal phenomena.
Painting and sculpture, dance and the appreciation of natural beauty are untroubled by language.
Even religion, that cauldron of fierce enmities, once it gets free of words, has elements within it which speak to all of us.
Is it not time we began to feel terribly ashamed for the way we have abused our human intelligence and to realise at last our enormous potential for corporately creating an exciting and sustainable future for our children and for the animals which could and should inhabit their world?
FOOTNOTE 1: Brief biography of JGJ:
JOHN GARRETT JONES
John Garrett Jones was born in London in 1929. He began his professional life as a village missionary and pastor in South India. This was followed by a five-year stint lecturing in an Indian theological college.
He returned to Britain in 1965, leaving the church a year later since he was no longer comfortable about advocating a credal faith. He obtained a lectureship in a College of Education in Lancashire, during which time he wrote Faiths of the World .This included modern secular ideologies along with the major traditional world religions.
In 1972 he was appointed to lecture in the Philosophy Department at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand. His field was Buddhist thought in its early days in India, then in its development as it spread into SE Asia, China and Japan. In 1979 he wrote Tales and Teachings of the Buddha [Allen and Unwin, 1979], a study of the popular Buddha-to-be birth stories (the “Jatakas”) and their relation to more orthodox teaching. In 2001 a second revised edition of this book (same title) was published by Cybereditions.
He and his family returned to Britain in 1983. In 2001, now writing under the name “Garrett Jones”, he published Alfred and Arthur [Authors OnLine] an account of the influence on the life and poetry of Alfred Tennyson of his love for Arthur Hallam. Around the same time he wrote a popular e-book, Coming Clean about Bisexuality: a male perspective. It was subsequently published in a Dutch translation which is available from a link at the author's website.
In 2004 he wrote Ourtopia, [Authors OnLine]. This book outlines the history of a planet which has been dogged by tribalism ever since the arrival of homo sapiens; it stresses the urgent need to replace this with a genuinely sustainable and just world community. At the request of an Iranian scholar, this book has also been available in his Persian translation since 2005.
Jones has been married since 1957, has two daughters, three grandsons and a granddaughter along with some much-cherished male friends.. The grandchildren beguile their grandparents with the wonderful music they are making these days. But Jones still gets angry about the globally hostile aspects of the consumerist, market economy and bemoans the fact that religious tribalism still bedevils human life and blocks social progress.
FOOTNOTE2: RELIGION: a personal view:
When I ask myself why I feel so strongly about the theme of Love - not War, I conclude that it does have a lot to do with Jesus. How likely is it that we should ever have heard a whisper about a carpenter's son who lived in an obscure province of the Roman empire and died young because he had fallen foul of the religious establishment and been crucified by the Roman governor along with common thieves? This is one of history's great enigmas.
Traditionalists tell us that the answer is that Jesus was hyper-special, God's only begotten son in fact, born of a virgin, his birth marked by angelic choirs and a great star; he did not stay dead but rose again and eventually ascended into heaven - so no wonder we heard about him.
I do not believe any of this now. I did once but I long since dismissed it as the embellishment which usually attaches itself to a person who gets to be worshipped.
I now believe that Jesus is still with us partly because he told some wonderful stories: the top rankers would be the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son but there were lots of others. They are timeless and remain as pungent as ever. But the main thing is that he knew how to love, not excluding prostitutes, publicans and sinners in general; he was not impressed by the self-righteous. The really amazing thing is that he did not try to escape capture nor did he do anything to put himself on the historical map. He continues to loom over us simply because of the power of his personality and of the message he generated, neither of which can be tarnished by time. As I have indicated, it is impossible for most modern men and women to read the New Testament accounts uncritically. Jesus himself was necessarily a child of his time and this shows even when those who report his words are not distorting them. But most of us recognise pure gold when we encounter it.
Then there is this -
We are told that when Tony Blair and George Bush were shoulder to shoulder, jointly hatching the attack on Iraq, they also shared prayers and bible study together. What a pity they did not focus on the account of the arrest in Gethsemane:
Matthew tells us that "a great multitude with swords and staves" came to take Jesus as a common criminal. "One of them that were with Jesus" was so outraged that he drew a sword and cut off an ear of the high priest's servant. Jesus told him to put the sword away, "for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword."
Jesus was quite clear and unambiguous about certain things which most of his would-be disciples still refuse to take seriously.
about god -
I'm fond of this feminist joke:
when god created Adam, she was only joking.
Brevity is the soul of wit but this is more than just witty since it sends up the whole idea that god is male.
Take a look at the Sistine Chapel roof:
This is supposed to be god creating Adam. Notice that god is older than Adam and Adam is created a full grown male, genitals and all; god is undoubtedly male - look at that beard - but his genitals are discreetly veiled to avoid the too-obvious absurdity of suggesting that god is a full-blown male. In reality this is not god creating Adam in his image but the reverse: Adam is creating god in his image - or, more accurately, the image of god as his father (Freud found that very interesting incidentally).
Before we go any further, let me put my cards on the table. I am completely agnostic about god. I'm not an atheist. I'm not saying there is no god. I'm simply admitting that I have no clear idea what the word god denotes. In the theistic tradition - that's basically Judaism, Christianity and Islam - words for the deity have been Jahweh, God and Allah - different words to denote the same being, although you would not think so judging by all the blood spilled by users of one of those names when they are at war with users of a different name.
But, to pursue the point we were making, all of them, whichever name they use, insist that their divinity is never a 'she' or an 'it' but always a 'he' (with a capital H). This gives a powerful sanction to male chauvinists of whatever persuasion.
To make a break with this tradition I am not going to talk about god by any name. I am simply going to use a red O.
Whatever O denotes, I'm quite certain it cannot be any kind of man in the sky. If we need O to account for the fact that we and everything about us exists, why do we not need something else to account for the alleged fact that O exists? Also, if O made everything there is, O has a lot of explaining to do, especially if O is supposed to be perfect; if that were true, why is O's creation not equally perfect?
Our problem is that everything we know about is finite. We know that this cannot be the whole story. Take space as an example. Is it finite? Does it have bounds? If space does not have bounds, can you conceive how it can go on for ever? But if it does have bounds, what lies beyond those bounds? If the answer is 'nothing' what is the difference between 'nothing' and 'empty space'? We are obviously out of our depth here because our minds are only able to take a firm grip on what is finite - that is why O is such a tricky concept, since O cannot be finite.
Probably for most of us O takes on most meaning when we contemplate the strange fact that, so far as we know, in this whole vast universe, only our tiny planet does actually seem to be going somewhere. The great French palaeontologist Teilhard de Chardin outlined the story of the planet's first five billion years (now thought to have been much longer than that incidentally) in the following terms: first, the geosphere (a cooling ball of inert matter); then the biosphere (the gradual emergence of primitive life); then the zoosphere (the dawn of animal life); then, relatively recently, the noosphere (the advent of mind and intelligence); Chardin envisaged the next stage as what he termed the 'omega point' when intelligence has so cross-fertilised that it has ceased to belong to just individuals and has become a corporate organism. He died before the birth of the computer age but he would certainly have seen our current access to the vast and ever-expanding database which is the internet as a big step towards the omega point.
We really have no idea what or who underlies all this but let's call it O - not so much the author of the beginning as our shadowy intimation of what lies ahead. We might prefer not to call it anything. The important thing is not to rely on any supernatural force to save us from ourselves. Wherever our planet is heading, it is largely up to us to steer it in the right direction, assuming we do hope for it to reach a desirable destination. We like to call our species homo sapiens - the wise hominid. The way we are going at present, a chimp or a bonobo could wonder what happened to all that wisdom.