Renouncing the Nuclear Idolatry: No More Gods of Metal!
06 August 1945, the day that death rained from the sky on Hiroshima, Japan. 09 August 1945, a second atomic bomb of a different design (might as well test out both models) was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan. The first city had little military significance and the second had none. Nagasaki had the largest Christian population in Japan, including a large Catholic monastery and convent. Ground Zero was the Catholic Cathedral. The pilot, bombadeer, and even the chaplain, were all Catholics. [See the excellent post on this over at Payne Hollow under my “Kindred Spirits” links.]
These two “weapons of mass destruction” ended the Second World War–and have threatened the annihilation of the human species, and perhaps all life on the planet, ever since. Tomorrow is Hiroshima Day, the 61st anniversary of the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima. It is also Peace Sunday, commemorated by churches throughout the world each year on the Sunday closest to Hiroshima Day. Given the events of this last month, our focus tomorrow at Jeff Street Baptist Community will not be primarily on the resurgent nuclear threat. But with Israel’s undeclared nuclear arsenal of around 30 warheads, George W. Bush’s doctrine of “preemptive war” and desire to use “mini-nukes” in conventional wars, and Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the mushroom cloud shadow hangs over the current Middle East violence in Iraq, Gaza, and Lebanon, too.
During the Cold War, I was one of many who realized that the possession of nuclear weapons, even as a deterrent, was a form of idolatry–trusting in the ability to threaten God’s creation for our security, rather than in the living God. The religious dimensions of the Bomb have been there from the begining: refrring to the original testsite as “Trinity,” Oppenheimer’s quotation from the Hindu Bhaghavad Gita (“I am become death, the destroyer of worlds”), and the pervasive naming of the nuclear weapons and systems for delivering them after pagan gods (e.g., Nike missiles, Poseiden nuclear submarines, Titan rockets, etc.). Gods of Metal indeed.
Further, like the Greek story of Prometheus or the Genesis narrative of the Fall, the advent of the nuclear age meant a deep realization (at least for a time) of usurped power and loss of human innocence. The power of life and death on a vast scale has been stolen from God and humans living afterward are East of Eden, cast out of any garden of innocence. Clearly this is blasphemy.
Yet, more than a decade after the end of Cold War’s “justification” for these abominations, there has been little nuclear disarmament from the nuclear nations, and now more and more nations scramble to join the “nuclear club.” The fevered dreams of the Dispensationalist heresy that grips so many U.S. churches has a large (and politically influential!) minority of U.S. Christians praying and working for global thermonuclear annihilation as the fulfillment of their apocalyptic expectations.
We must meet this threat with the weapons of faith: unilaterally disarming our hearts and trusting God alone for our security. I have for years admired those whose faith has led them to “Plowshares Actions,” radical forms of civil disobedience where these individuals break into sites which make or store nuclear weapons in the U.S. and in literal reinactment of Micah 4:3 and Isaiah 2:4, use hammers to destroy the function of a nuclear warhead (and sometimes pour their own blood on the vile things, too), before calmly waiting to be arrested. Such Christians have usually had stiff jail sentences for their civil disobedience, but have been able to use their arrests and trials to raise awareness of the blasphemous danger of these gods of metal. If we understood their courage and faith, we would be offering such witnesses medals instead of jail cells. I know that if I were single and without children, I would have joined them–and for the sake of all the world’s children God may yet call me to such action.
Short of a plowshares action, what witness might God be calling on us to make in the face of the nuclear blasphemy? In the last year of his life (2005), the late Rev. Dr. William Sloan Coffin, Jr. of blessed memory, former Protestant chaplain at Yale and later Senior Minister at Riverside Church, NYC, and a longtime Christian peacemaker, helped form a new interfaith response to the resurgent nuclear danger. It is called Faithful Security: The National Religious Partnership on the Nuclear Danger. If you click here http://www.faithfulsecurity.org/html/resources.html
you can find their new organizing kit, “Breaking Faith with Nuclear Weapons: A Guide for Religious Communities.” I urge you to check it out and bring it to the attention of your local church and your denominational leaders.
In 1948, only 3 years after the advent of the nuclear age, General Omar Bradley, the last surviving U.S. 5-Star military officer from World War II, said:
We live in a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants, in a world that has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience. We have solved the mystery of the atom and forgotten the lessons of the Sermon on the Mount. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about dying than about living.”
God have mercy.
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