Why I Joined the Anti-War March

“Why I joined the anti-war march”

by Timmon Wallis, member of Enfield Peace Campaign

Saddam Hussein is a brutal dictator. He has gassed his own people, invaded his neighbours and assassinated members of his own family. I wouldn’t want to be sharing a room with him in the Big Brother house. On the other hand, I don’t stay awake at night worrying that he is about to invade this country or blow us up with chemical, nuclear or biological weapons.

Maybe he has such weapons. Donald Rumsfeld should know, since it was Rumsfeld who sold him the stuff. But even if he does, does that make him such a threat to us or to the rest of the world that it’s worth risking World War Three to get rid of him and his weapons? I don’t think so.


It was the USA and others who built up Saddam Hussein’s military machine in the 1980s as a bulwark against the fundamentalist revolutionaries in Iran. His military might was then smashed to pieces during the Gulf War when over 100,000 Iraqi soldiers were killed and thousands of tons of ‘smart’ and not-so-smart bombs were dropped on every military base and factory in Iraq. Since then, Iraq has been operating under a crippling regime of sanctions with 2/3rds of the country under the control of British and American warplanes which have been bombing military targets in Iraq on an almost daily basis for 12 years now.

Between 1991 and 1998, UN arms inspectors destroyed whatever still remained of his nuclear weapons facilities and declared Iraq incapable of producing nuclear weapons. They found and destroyed all of Iraq’s remaining mobile missile launchers and all but two of his remaining 819 long-range missiles. They destroyed 56 fixed missile launch sites and 236 of his 285 long-range warheads. They destroyed 88,000 chemical munitions and 600 tonnes of chemical agents. They destroyed Iraq’s chemical weapons plant and its only known biological weapons facility.

In 1998 the US and the UK forced the removal of the UN inspectors so they could launch their ‘Desert Fox’ bombing campaign. Perhaps Saddam Hussein has been busy since then re-building his weapons facilities and preparing to attack the West. But so far the inspectors under Hans Blix haven’t found a single shred of evidence to suggest that is the case. So why now, all of a sudden, does Saddam Hussein pose the greatest threat to world peace since Adolf Hitler? Isn’t it more likely that as the two-bit tyrant of a country that has been bombed back into the Stone Age he does not have the capacity to attack anyone at all, even if he wanted to?

And even if Iraq did pose a ‘clear and present danger’ to world peace and security, is launching a pre-emptive attack the best way of dealing with that threat? I don’t believe for one minute that Saddam Hussein has any links with Al Qaida. He is a secular leader who fought a 7-year war against Muslim fundamentalists in Iran. Saddam Hussein is one of the Arab leaders whom Al Qaida are trying to overthrow themselves! But if we want to help unite the whole of the Arab world against us, we could not do much better than to launch an attack on Iraq at a time when Arab opinion is already enflamed about the plight of the Palestinians at the hands of Ariel Sharon.

In my view, Tony Blair is taking this country down a course of action that makes us – and the whole world – considerably less safe rather than the reverse. He is making us a target for terrorists that we otherwise would not have been. And he is unleashing pent up feelings of frustration and anger across the world, the consequences of which he simply cannot know.


Science and Theology

Theology is meant to be the study of God. For those who regard the Bible (or some other religious text) to be the first and last word on God, theology is pretty straightforward, since you have only to look through your sacred scriptures to discover all there is to know about God.

For the more liberal-minded, however, theology becomes a bit more complicated, since the scriptures cannot be assumed, at face value, to be the one and only accurate guide to the nature of God. Liberal theologians have therefore tended to collect information from a number of sources, including personal experience, to determine what God must be like. Traditionally this approach to theology was called “natural theology”, as opposed to “dogmatic” or “doctrinal” theology. The aim of natural theology was to prove the existence of God and to identify his necessary attributes on the basis of facts collected from the natural world.

Since it is the job of the many branches of science to collect facts about the natural world, it would seem logical that science and theology would have their natural meeting point in the discipline of natural theology. However this has not proved a very fruitful meeting ground because of the fundamental differences between the way scientists and natural theologians tend to look at the world.

Natural theology does not, and cannot, start with the bare facts of nature and work from these towards an understanding of God. On the contrary, natural theology, as a discipline, is firmly grounded in a theological framework which starts with the premise of God and works backwards, as it were, to find evidence for God in the natural world.

Science, on the other hand, is not only starting from the other end — looking at the bare facts of nature and trying to build up piece by piece a comprehensive picture of the world from these bare facts. The whole enterprise of science is, in fact, an attempt to find explanations for why the world is the way it is which do not rely on the premise of God.

Of course there are exceptions, but in general scientists would never accept as an explanation for something the conclusion that “God made it so”. The last four hundred years of scientific investigation has been predicated on the assumption that there must be an alternative, and better, explanation than this. And if we don’t know what it is, then we must keep on looking until we find it.

So where lies the possibility of common ground between theology and science? Much has been made in recent years of how the “new physics” undermines the old mechanistic world-view of traditional science, thus making scientific endeavour more compatible with traditional religious assumptions. Some eminent scientists have even claimed that the origin of the universe cannot be explained scientifically without reference to God.

But historically the battle between science and theology has been very one-sided — science has steadily advanced and the “God of the gaps” has steadily retreated. It might well be the case that God is about to make a come-back. But those who hold out any hope of science finally coming round to a religious perspective on the world would do well to ponder on the nature and progress of science as a whole over these last few centuries.

Taken as a whole, science has built up a picture of the world and how it works which holds together with great coherence and predictive power. It is not just a matter of isolated facts and theories, many of which are still open to question and re-interpretation. Many of the most amazing feats of modern technology, like sending spaceships to the moon or building computers out of microchips, depend for their success on a large number of independent scientific discoveries.

The fact that these technologies have worked and continue to work is as much a vindication of the theories they depend on as any we could wish for. Yes, there are still many things we cannot explain, and no doubt many others for which our current explanation will be proved wrong. But the trend set by modern science is absolutely crystal clear.

The project of science has been to find natural explanations for things previously presumed to be the work of God. And so far it has been remarkably successful in doing so. Anyone who dwells on those things that science has not yet found a satisfactory explanation for, in the hopes that this will prove the limits of science and reveal the hand of God, is just asking, in the long run, to be overtaken by the march of science as surely as our predecessors who held out tenaciously against the scientific heresies of the past.

What, then, of theology? Science has already infiltrated all but the most fundamentalist religious institutions when it comes to biblical studies. Few biblical scholars nowadays treat the books of the bible as if they consisted of literal truths, handed down to us directly by God. Instead they study the bible as a collection of writings from a number of sources, which tell us a great deal about what those sources themselves believed about God. It is up to us to then decide whether what they believed about God makes sense or fits in with our own experience.

But at this point theologians have generally retreated into the defence of accepting certain theological propositions on faith, rather than on the basis of any commonly agreed body of evidence. And then, once these initial propositions are accepted, a systematic theology is built up around them, drawing from a number of different sources, but often relying quite heavily on the traditional theological ideas passed down through the centuries from Augustine, Aquinas et al.

A truly scientific theology would start from scientific premises about what we know about the world, and would steer well clear of the temptation to build any foundations on the sands of what science appears at the moment to be unable to answer. Therefore, a scientific theology would have to start from the theologically uncomfortable premise that there is no God. Only then would it be in a position to ask whether God could exist, and if so, what sort of God would it be and how would we know if and when such a God existed?

That would be the task of a scientific theology, and it might not be so barren an exercise as it may first appear from the initial premise. For there is one last frontier still to be penetrated by science, wherein lies the greatest hope for the discovery of God — the future.

And why should the future be such fertile ground for a scientific theology? It cannot be merely because science has not yet claimed it, or we would be in danger of falling into the trap mentioned above. Nor cannot it be because science is incapable of treading there, otherwise we could hardly speak about a scientific theology.

Science is certainly capable of monopolising what we know about the future just as much as it is of the present and the past. Indeed the attraction of science is largely based on its power to make successful predictions of the future behaviour of objects, based on a knowledge of their present behaviour and their past history. But in a general sense, the preoccupations of science are still very much with the origins of things rather than with their destinations.

The reason why a scientific theology would do well to look for the possibility of God in the future is that science as a whole by no means precludes such a possibility and may indeed point directly to it. And yet there is no branch of science specifically looking at this possibility or at the implications that would derive from it.

To put it very simply, the universe, as far as we know, has developed over the last 14 billion years or so from a single point of pure potential to the vast array of stars and planets and life forms and human culture that we have today. It is inconceivable from a purely scientific point of view to think that the forces which have so far created all this will not continue to create in the future.

And what does that mean? It must mean that there is at least a strong possibility that forms of existence still inconceivable to us now may develop in the future, and that these could include a being such as has been described through the ages as God.

We know that out of the spinning and whirling of infinitesimally small electrically-charged particles has come the possibility of atoms and molecules. And out of complex, twisted and contorted macromolecules with the ability to replicate themselves have come living cells. And out of microscopic buzzing, industrious cells performing all sorts of elementary tasks with absolute precision have come organisms as wonderful as human beings. And out of the ingenuity, imagination, intelligence and compassion of the human mind has come a host of cultural institutions, including religion, science, art, music, complex legal and political structures. Is it so outrageous to suppose that something we would want to call God could yet emerge out of all this?

The study of human culture from an evolutionary perspective positively cries out for a scientific theology. Where is humanity going? What choices do we have in the matter? Is there really an “end” to history, and if so, how would we know if we reached it? From a scientific study of the future possibility of God would emerge logical deductions about the attributes of such a God and testable hypotheses that might confirm or disconfirm contending theories. And at some point in the future such a science may no longer be focussed on the future but on the present. Might not a scientific theology actually help to hasten such a day by grounding people’s hopes and fears and expectations and beliefs on something much more solid than the beliefs of those who lived thousands of years ago?

Evolution of God

The Evolution of Heaven and Earth


God did not create the Heavens and the Earth and all that is in them. Everything that exists and that ever has existed has been created by the most marvellous process of evolutionary development. This has required no God, no external source of creative power, no foreknowledge of what was to come or pre-determination of what direction evolution might take. The evolutionary process is a blind, natural process of trial and error which creates variation and fills every nook and cranny of the universe with whatever variations can survive in that particular nook and cranny at that particular time. The constant flow of this process means constantly shifting environments into which constantly new forms must adapt. This amazing but un-miraculous process over billions of years has created all the beauties of the natural world, including human beings, our brains, and our abilities to manipulate the natural world and make our own human landscapes and creations, cultures and institutions.


But the evolutionary process, inexorable though it is, is not the only fundamental process at work in the universe. More fundamental than the creative process that constantly creates variety and fills every available niche with varieties most suited to it is the process of decay and destruction – entropy – the winding down and dissipation of the universe. Evolution is by far the more improbable of the two processes. Most of the time the response to variety and new forms is their death, destruction, decay, extinction. Only very rarely do new forms survive to create new possibilities for yet newer forms of existence.


Evolution has succeeded because in the long run, even the most improbable can happen, and over billions of years, it has! But with the advent of human beings onto the scene, the future of evolution is no longer certain. We are conscious agents, created by evolution, but able to consciously direct the evolutionary process from now on. We can choose and we do so at every juncture in our lives, whether to take the creative, evolutionary path forward, of the destructive, entropic path backward.


Human beings learned many thousands of years ago how to hinder and obstruct the evolutionary process in order to sustain a status quo which benefited one or other group within society. So instead of allowing the flowering of thousands of diverse human cultures, each suited to different geographical niches around the world and from whom each might learn for our mutual benefit, humans set about massacring and annihilating each other, enforcing mono-cultural dominance over others and systematically seeking out and destroying all that is new or different.


This pattern of destruction and repression has held back, and continues to hold back, our evolutionary development as a species. With the advent of nuclear weapons, we now have the capability of reversing the evolutionary process not just back to the stone age, but back to the origins of life itself. Nuclear weapons are themselves a destructive force which turns matter back i9nto the energy from whence it came many billions of years ago.


With our capabilities and predilection for destruction, it is hard to see how human beings can regain the evolutionary upper hand, and move forward to the next step in the evolutionary process. It is by no means a given that this will happen, since the course of evolution is now in the hands of human beings and we can choose to destroy ourselves and all that has been created by the evolutionary process thus far. But there is the possibility – the rare hope – that we will forego our entropic tendencies and choose the creative, evolutionary path. Because we are conscious agents we must consciously choose this path. And “we” means the whole human race! For so long as a few are bent on destruction and domination, and are not kept in check by the rest, they will always achieve the upper hand, since in the short term, entropy and destruction are the easier and more effective options. (It is far easier to destroy a civilisation that to create one)


But what if the human race chooses evolution? Chooses cooperation, tolerance, diversity, creativity, each developing according to their own potential into their various niches, in symbiotic relationship with each other? The evolutionary process which has created the universe and all that is in it suggests that the possibilities for future evolution are unlimited! Evolution has reached the point where conscious agents – ourselves – can direct its course. If we choose to work together to further the evolutionary process what might come next? For evolution does not stop of its own accord. It is an unremitting process of constant change, and human consciousness is just one step along the road. The future is unknown and unknowable, but the evolutionary process to date suggests that if human beings were to learn cooperation and symbiosis to a sufficient extent, a new level of evolutionary existence would come into being – a supra-human being with powers a quantum leap beyond what our consciousness has create. That supra-human being would be us – functioning in unison to actually become something beyond us.


Is it justifiable to call that supra-human Being that our cooperative efforts in the evolutionary direction could create – “God”? Would not that Being be very much like the concept of God which religions through the ages have tried to describe? A God who is above and beyond our merely human life, who somehow “knows” and controls our lives just as we control the cells in our bodies? From a careful study of the evolutionary process of “hierarchical integration” which has created our consciousness from a collection of nerves, our bodies from a collection of cells, complex macromolecules from a collection of atoms, and complex atoms from a collection of sub-atomic particles, we may learn a great deal about the possibilities of god and the nature of that God. It is unlikely that such a God would be similar in many details to the God of Jesus or Mohammed or Moses. But it could be that the inspiration for the great religions – and the experiences people have had, and continue to have, of the “spiritual” realm, and of “God” – are in fact glimpses, not of the pre-existent God who created the Heavens and the Earth – but of the God-who-is-to-come, the god that will be created when human beings become one in their endeavours for a cooperative world order, and which perhaps has been created wherever people have become one and sensed a power beyond themselves, binding them together.


But this new god requires a new theology and a new religion, for it is not a God of punishment and retribution, or sin and salvation. It is a God of evolutionary potential – a God which would carry our human possibilities onto the next plane of evolutionary development – which must be interstellar interactions with being on other planets in this vast complex of hundreds of billions of solar systems which make up our universe.


In the meantime, our aim as human beings is clear – we must work for the kingdom of God on Earth – the creation of one world, each person fulfilling their potential in harmony with others, not as automatons in a vast socialist super-state, but as fully conscious, self-aware individuals voluntarily cooperating to reach our own full potential in conjunction with each other.


To create such a world, we need to recognise our oneness and the true meaning of life and our purpose in the grand scheme of evolution. We need to work together to build a world which values tolerance, diversity, creativity and coooperation. And collectively we need to rid the world of despots, dictators, terrorists and every threat that prevents the delicate flowering of the human evolutionary potential.

Religious Experience and Theological Interpretation

William James, in his lectures on the “Varieties of Religious Experience”, helped to pave the way towards an understanding of religious experience quite apart from religious dogmas, religious rituals, religious symbols and all the rest that goes with religion. For James, it was the individual experiences which people claimed to have which made religion a valid and interesting subject to discuss.

But it seems totally outside our nature in the West to experience something without trying to interpret it, define it, compare it with other experiences. Pure experience is something that Eastern religions try to attain, but even there it is perhaps a heavily interpreted experience that counts as pure experience.

For what is pure experience? We can’t even talk about it without giving names to it and trying to explain it in words and symbols. It is inevitable that the words and symbols we use to describe our experience are those words and symbols we are familiar with in our culture or philosophical system.

It is foolhardy and quite unnecessary to deny anyone their valid claim to have an experience — religious experience or any other kind of experience. Experience is by definition individual and subjective, and we can never fully know what someone else’s experience is like. We can only guess and assume that their experience is similar to our own, but if they claim to have an experience which sounds like nothing we have experienced, who are we to dismiss it as a valid experience for them?

There are undoubtedly non-valid claims of experience mixed in with the valid ones. The world is full of people with mental illnesses of all kinds, many of whom claim the most extraordinary experiences and powers, which if they can in any sense be “true” experiences, they are true only in the sense that they take place entirely in the mind of the person concerned. Many psychologists have wanted to place all claims of religious experience in this category and thus dispense with them altogether as objective phenomena. But the fact is that a large number of otherwise apparently sane people have claimed such experiences, as evidenced by the work of James and many others. Even if it were true that they merely represent a class of psychological phenomena not qualitatively different from delusions and dementias of the mentally ill, we would still be bound to take them seriously if such a large number of people seem to have them.

But the experience and the interpretation of that experience are two very different things. We are under no obligation whatsoever to accept at face value or at any value the claims that go along with religious experiences, such as the claim that the experience one had was of direct communion with the living Christ, or with a dead relative, or that it was an experience of the love of God, or of God’s power, or an intimation into the future, or into a previous life.

These are very common sorts of explanations given by people who have claimed to have religious experiences. But they are already one step removed from the experience itself. Even if the experience was extremely visual and/or audible, in the sense that people feel they saw figures and heard words spoken to them, it is still impossible to accept that these are representative of pure experience and not the personal interpretation of that experience. Words are only heard in the language and vocabulary available to the person hearing them, and likewise visual images.

But even if we accept a certain amount of interpretation at this level as belonging legitimately to the experience, beyond this primitive level of interpretation are the layers of interpretation grounded in the culture and worldview of the person. Many religious experiences involve an experience interpreted as an experience of God, but noone can experience the sort of attributes commonly associated with God in those experiences, such that God is “almighty” or “eternal” or giving of “unconditional love”. Separating out these doctrinal concepts from the experiences which give rise to them or purport to validate them is difficult, but essential if we are to have a better understanding of religious experience as well as of whatever reality they are an experience of.

It should be fairly obvious, for instance, that noone has ever had an experience that could possibly be a direct experience of God as the “creator” of the world, and yet this theological precept is very often bound up with people’s interpretation of their religious experience. It could well be that whatever “god” people have legitimately experienced is not the creator of the world at all. In fact such a god — or gods — may bear no resemblance at all to the traditional Christian or other religious doctrines which define what theologians expect God to be.

I myself had an intense and powerful religious experience when I was 19. I felt I was being engulfed by the power and love of God and could see my whole life stretching before me. I felt I heard God telling me to drop everything else in my life and go into the ministry. There were undoubtedly strong psychological factors involved in my having that experience at that particular time. I was lonely and confused, desperate to find what it was I was meant to be doing with my life. The experience quite literally changed my life, although not entirely as God seemed to intend. I was admitted to a theological college and began a training for the ministry. But after two years of training and apprenticeship as a minister’s assistant, I became very disillusioned with the traditional churches and scurried back home to Quakerism. It took several more years for the experience to wear off in the sense that I could think about religion without going through the filter of that single experience.

I have never had another experience quite like that one, and certainly not one I would have defined at the time as a religious experience. And yet I think now that is largely due to the interpretation I put on the event, setting it apart from other experiences in a fundamental way. I have heard voices telling me what I should do on many occasions, but I have interpreted these as being the voice of my conscience rather than the voice of God speaking to me. I have been on mountaintops and viewed sunsets and heard music and seen paintings which have certainly given me the same feelings of being overwhelmed by beauty and power and love, but I have not interpreted these as being an experience of the beauty and power and love of God. In fact, the more I have come to recognise the essential similarities of all sorts of powerful experiences, the more I realise that that religious experience I had all those years ago was not so very different. What was different was the interpretation I gave to that experience.

I am now at a point in my spiritual journey where I no longer believe any of the old religious certainties with which I was brought up as a Quaker and subsequently studied as a theology student. I certainly do not believe in God as the creator, because I am currently immersed in the modern theories of evolution and cosmology which I believe have profound and important implications in almost all areas of life. In fact I don’t believe in the existence of God at all, in the normal sense of the word. And yet I do not deny my or anybody else’s experience of what they conceive to be God.

My own way around the paradox that presents is to understand God as an emergent power in the universe, something that is still evolving and perhaps not yet fully in existence, rather than the pre-existent creator of it all. I believe such a theory of God is fully consistent with what we know about evolution and cosmology. And furthermore I believe such an emergent God can explain the objective reality of religious experience.

Quakers believe there is “that of God” within all of us. Just as there must have been “that of life” in some organic macromolecules in order for life to emerge from those molecules, so there would have to be that of God in human beings if God were to emerge from us. Indeed it is assumed that in the thick pre-biotic soup out of which life emerged on this planet, there would have been countless attempts over a billion years or more to create what finally became the first living cell — hemi, demi and semi-cells that never made it, but were the precursors and the patterns out of which life developed.

So is it so surprising to think that evolution, which has created all the most amazing wonders of the universe, will not stop at human beings and human consciousness and all the wonders that make up human culture, but will go on? And would it be so surprising to think that whatever came next — whatever form of existence it might be to follow on from matter, life and consciousness, a super-human organism that somehow engulfed the whole of planet with super-consciousness and power — that we might want to call such a thing “God”? And if such a God were in the process of evolving right now, would it not be expected that people would sense it, experience little twinges now and again of what might come into existence? And might it even explain the whole phenomenon of religion, which is so pervasive in human society and yet so contradictory with the facts of nature as we have been discovering them over the last few hundred years?

Ironically, it may not be the traditional religious precepts and theologies but science that becomes our best guide to understanding such a God and the meanings that lie behind religious experiences of such a God. For it is in the study of the macro-evolutionary processes that have brought the universe to where it is today that we can catch glimpses and insights of what may speed or impede the evolution of God.

Believing and Not Believing

Believing and not believing (published in The Friend)

“Do you believe in God?” asked my 11-year daughter the other day. Assuming that she probably had in mind a very old man with a long white beard sitting on a cloud somewhere above Basildon, my natural response was to put the question back to her: “It depends what you mean by God,” I said.

“Well, do you believe in any God?” she persisted, trying to get a definite yes or no out of me. “It depends what you mean by believe,” I said, knowing that this old philosopher’s trick was a bit unfair to play on an 11-year old. Fortunately she then moved on to another topic, giving me a chance to formulate my thoughts on the subject a bit more clearly for the next time.

The problem is, even with more preparation I doubt if I could explain to an 11-year old just what I do believe about God, since I have a difficult time explaining it even to myself. You see, I do very much believe in God, and yet at the same time I absolutely do not believe in God. Let me try to explain to a slightly older and wiser audience:

If you ask me whether I believe in ghosts, or in UFOs, you are presumably asking whether it is my opinion that these things exist or not. But if you ask me whether I believe in world government, or in a minimum wage, you are presumably asking quite a different question, since it will already be clear to both of us that these things do not exist (as yet). Instead what you are asking is whether I place a high value on these things, or even whether I have some kind of moral commitment to these things.

So if you ask me whether I believe in God, it could be in the first sense — do I believe in the existence of God? Or it could be in the second sense — do I believe in the moral value of God? It may well be possible to believe in God in the second sense without necessarily believing in God in the first sense. This is not as paradoxical as it sounds if you believe, as I do, that God does not yet exist, but will exist one day, when human beings have learnt to live in peace with each other and in harmony with the rest of the planet.

I take as my starting point for this view the basic principle of evolution that all complex things have come from simpler things, which have come from still simpler things, and so on right back to the very simplest thing in the universe (whatever that might be). Now you may want to call that simplest thing in the universe “God”, but to most people, including me, “God” stands for something much more complex. In fact I would call God the most complex thing we can conceive of rather than the simplest. In that case, I would expect God to evolve, just as every other complex entity has had to evolve. And according to evolutionary theory, God could evolve if, as Friends believe, there is already “that of God” within each of us.

I believe the words and deeds of saints and sages through the ages, and the personal religious experiences of many ordinary people (including myself) testify to a God-that-is-to-come rather than to a God-that-was-there-from-the-beginning. From a Christian point of view, this is pure heresy, of course. But from a scientific point of view it is a perfectly valid hypothesis based on sound evolutionary principles.

So you see my predicament? I no longer believe in (the existence of) God, yet I most certainly do believe in (the moral value of) God, in the sense that I see it — rather than us humans — as the culmination of the evolutionary process. God is what the whole of evolution has been working towards these last few billion years or so, and we human beings are the only ones on earth who can create the conditions for God to come about. I believe our singular task is to create those conditions, so I can truthfully say that God is my whole reason for being and the highest moral value in which I believe, even though I don’t believe that God, as yet, exists.

But do you think I will be able to explain this to my daughter?

Tim Wallis

A Universalist Approach to the Quaker Peace Testimony

Early Friends drew their inspiration primarily from the Bible and interpreted their own religious experience primarily in Christian terms. Friends today however share a wider spectrum of beliefs, incorporating insights from other world religions as well as from seemingly “non-religious” sources, such as are found within modern science, psychological, feminist, socialist and other philosophical traditions.

It is impossible to summarise all the possible combinations of belief which may form a basis for the Peace Testimony today. There are as many bases for living out a Quaker Peace Testimony as there are Quakers. Yet we can identify a few strands which underlie most of these.

Sanctity of Life

“The truth in its full meaning lies in what was said thousands of years ago in four words: Thou Shalt Not Kill. The truth is that we may not and should not in any circumstances or under any pretence kill another. That truth is so evident, so binding, and so generally acknowledged that it is only necessary to put it clearly before us, for that evil called war to become quite impossible.” Tolstoy, 1899

For many Friends, the Bible merely echoes a fundamentally “humanist” belief that all (human) life is precious and somehow sacred; that whatever else we may do to each other, we simply do not have the right, under any circumstances, to take away the life of another (human) being. From this inevitably follows an opposition to all war and murder, whether sanctioned by governments or not.

“We need to remember that neither as individuals nor as a species have we created ourselves. We can kill all human beings and close down the source of all future human beings, but we cannot create even one human being…” Jonathan Schell, Fate of the Earth


That of God

“My own point of departure is ‘that of God in everyone’, the Inner Light, the Light of Christ within, and what I take to be more or less the equivalent in other faiths: the Buddha nature, Atman, Al-Haqq. If the divine dwells within all of us, that surely is the essence of our identity. From this vantage ground we gain a wider view of the Self.” Adam Curle, 1990

For most Quakers, whatever the basis of their beliefs, there is the conviction that there is “that of God” in everyone (or even in every living Being). Our purpose in Life is to listen and to respond to that of God within ourselves, and in our relationships with others to seek out and “speak to” that of God within them.

If we really believe there is that of God in every person we encounter, whatever their religious beliefs, however evil their deeds, what must be our relationship with them? The Peace Testimony is nothing less than our putting into practice that belief – recognising there is that of God in every Russian, in every Muslim, in every terrorist, in every Serb, in every neo-Nazi…

From this also follows logically an appreciation of the sanctity of life, so that it is impossible to conceive of one human being having a legitimate right to take the life of another human being.


Unity of All Life

“All living beings are members one of another, so that a person’s every act has a beneficial or harmful influence on the whole world. We cannot see this, near-sighted as we are. The influence of a single act of an individual on the world may be negligible. But that influence is there all the same, and an awareness of this truth should make us realise our responsibility.” Gandhi, Ashram Observances

There are many religious traditions which go one step further than to say there is that of God in all of us. They proclaim the essential unity of all life and claim that all separateness is an illusion. We are all drops of water drawn from the same river of live, and all our actions flow into the same sea. Whatever we do to another we do, quite literally, to ourselves. Hence to kill or to do violence to another is to inflict violence upon ourselves; to damage ourselves; to deny something basic about the nature of the universe in which we move.


Flowing with the Creative Force of the Universe

“Nonviolence is an inner Consonance with the evolutionary force…It is the law of Love that rules humanity. Had violence, i.e. hate ruled us, we should have become extinct long ago.” Gandhi, 1942

The theory of evolution teaches us that all existence on this planet – every plant, every animal, every mountain, every river – is the result of natural forces which are imperceptibly slow yet unstoppable in their effects. All of this unfolding of creation over many billions of years has been in contradiction to one of the fundamental laws of physics – the law of entropy, which states that all things must eventually dissipate and decay, rather than grow and increase in complexity.

Killing, and especially large-scale war, represents humanly-created entropy – a reversal of evolution.   A nuclear holocaust, the ultimate result of the war mentality, could result in the undoing of billions of years of creation through wholescale destruction of all life on earth.

To flow with the evolutionary force; the creative force in the universe, means to build up, to cooperate, to invent solutions, to join together in solidarity with the whole world, harmonising all our activities with the Earth itself – the living, breathing organic whole that evolution has created on this planet – Gaia.


Being Fully Human

“I would suggest that what is needed, and needed by all of us, is the fullest possible development of our humanity, or potentialities as human beings. This means an escape from the mindless automatism that governs so much of our lives, from senseless worries and fears, from prejudice, from ego cherishing, from vanity and irritability, from illusions of guilt and badness, from belief in separate existence. These and all other negative emotions and deluded ideas are like a fist closed tightly around the heart…But for us to be fully human [the self] must expand, gradually embracing all others, including all non-human others with whom we share the planet. It means losing the lonely sense of separation. It means to be more than to do.” Adam Curle, 1992

What does it mean to be human? What is our calling on this earth? For some Friends, the peace testimony arises out of a deep conviction that being fully human means discovering what love can do; what compassion really means; unleashing what each of us has locked away within us that can so easily be forgotten. To be fully human is to be at one with oneself, with the rest of the world, with the earth itself. It is the very opposite of violence and all that goes along with violence and war and hatred. To be human is to be more than a member of a species of anthropoid apes. It is to realise the full potential within each of us to be “a little lower than the angels” – sons and daughters of God; sons and daughters of the universe…


Bearing Witness to Nonviolence

“PBI-Bearing Witness to Nonviolence”

for Quaker Monthly, Feb 1993
I remember, not very many years ago, feeling it my duty to remind people who sat in comfortable armchairs that the world out there was not at “peace”, that in fact wars were raging on almost every continent, that more people had already been killed by wars since the second world war than were killed during it, etc. etc. With the end of the Cold War has come the end of that particular “peace” myth. There is no longer any need to remind people of the constant reality of war. Sadly it is all too obvious, with more wars entering our sitting rooms through television than ever before.

Now I am beginning to feel it my duty to remind people that war is not the inevitable state of human affairs it appears to be, that in fact peace also continues to rage… Indeed I find myself trying to convince life-long pacifists that military intervention is not the only way to stop “ethnic cleansing” and other horrors of modern war. It saddens me that some people can so easily abandon their faith in nonviolence, but it does not entirely surprise me. For those of us who sit in comfortable armchairs watching it all on television, the choice between violence and nonviolence can be a rather academic one.

For the people who must live in former-Yugoslavia, or in South Africa, or in Guatemala, or in Sri Lanka, the choice between violence and nonviolence is by no means academic. It is a living and daily reality. And though admittedly only a very few in that situation choose nonviolence, it is these people who keep alive my own faith in nonviolence. It is with these people that I believe the whole future of humanity rests.

Such people exist, I feel quite sure, in every situation of war or violent conflict. But they may not out-live that conflict. Indeed they are highly vulnerable targets of that conflict, for once the killing begins, there is enormous pressure from all sides to close ranks and support the war effort. Truth is indeed an early casualty of war, and the bearers of truth are the first to be silenced.

But what would happen if the forces for peaceful change were nurtured and given the sort of attention normally paid to those who wage war? Might not the voice of reason begin to prevail, the violence peter out, and peaceful resolution become possible? Perhaps this sounds so far-fetched and hypothetical only because it is so rarely taken seriously, even by pacifists. Instead we nurture and reinforce the violent option by suggesting that only the greater violence of NATO or the UN can succeed in stopping it.

Peace Brigades International was founded in 1981 by a small group of people from around the world who knew about the alternatives to violence from their own experience – people who personally worked with Gandhi in India, and alongside Martin Luther King in the US; people who witnessed Kenneth Kaunda’s nonviolent revolution in Zambia; people who had conducted brave experiments in nonviolence during bloody wars in Cyprus, Zaire, Palestine, and Northern Ireland.

These practitioners of nonviolence came together to create an organisation that would actively support nonviolent alternatives in the midst of war. They were not claiming to have all the answers to other people’s conflicts. I myself do not think we need to know what are the specific nonviolent alternatives to a specific violent situation to know for sure that there must be some. In fact I do not think it is our job as “outsiders” even to look for such alternatives. The best we can do is to support the “insiders” who are looking for alternatives to violence. Only the people engaged in a particular conflict know the full context within which their conflict is being waged. We are but mere on-lookers whose best expertise is as likely to exacerbate as to heal the wounds of war.

PBI seeks to identify those individuals and groups who are working in their various ways to promote a true and lasting peace despite the killing going on around them. Just finding these people and seeing the work they are doing is itself an inspiring task. It puts us in touch with the real saints and heroes of our generation – people of great courage and inner strength, often risking torture or assassination to continue doing what they are doing – people like Rigoberto Menchu, who was escorted by PBI for many years before winning the Nobel Peace Prize for her work on behalf of the Mayans of Guatemala.

The more we look, the more of these people we find. They are there in the Centre for Peace, Nonviolence and Human Rights in the front-line town between Croatia and Serbia. They are there struggling between the drug barons, war-lords, and death-squads in Barrancabermeja, Colombia. They are there trying to promote brotherhood and harmony between Tamils and Muslims in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka. Amidst the most brutal and bloody conflicts in the world we find such people. Even at the point it would seem every possible proponent of peace has been systematically identified and silenced through policies of terror such as continue to be employed in Guatemala, still we find them. They are carrying the torch for nonviolence long after our own armchair pacifists have given it up as hopelessly idealistic. If we could do nothing else to help these people, we would at least be preserving for posterity a record of their existence – a reminder to others that such people as these have lived in our own lifetime.

Fortunately we can do more to help these people than merely record their existence. We can quite literally protect them in their most vulnerable circumstances, by using the spotlight of world public opinion in much the same way as Amnesty does. We can enable them to carry on their work, by opening up the political “space” within which they must operate. We can even embolden them to do more and to build from small and precarious beginnings into movements that might have some chance of shifting the whole conflict away from violence. This is not just idle theory. We have seen it happening – in El Salvador, in Colombia, in Palestine, in Northern Ireland – one by one people beginning to lay down their arms and to choose nonviolent ways of fighting for their cause.

We cannot prove there is a direct link between a PBI presence and the success of nonviolence. The work of PBI is not yet on such a grand scale as this. Nevertheless we do know that the continued and persistent presence of international volunteers in Guatemala, El Salvador and Sri Lanka has thwarted the work of death squads unwilling to operate in the limelight, thus saving the lives of many individuals who most assuredly would otherwise have been “disappeared”. We also know that our presence has helped to spread information about what is going on to a much wider audience, through the ripple effects of over 200 volunteers from 15 countries taking their first-hand experiences back home with them. PBI as an organisation is barely 12 years old. We are in our infancy and we are still learning. But already we have begun to make a difference. And we are daily discovering the true and wondrous power of nonviolence as we witness it in the lives of those who risk death to fight nonviolently for what they believe in.

-Timmon Wallis