Chapter 9 The Role of Religion in Nuclear Disarmament
At the top of any religion’s priority list should be the quest for world peace. If so, members of these religions should be seriously concerned about weapons of war that can destroy the earth. In fact, it is the role and responsibility of religion in society to address the immorality of nuclear war, and to provide guidance that will ensure that nuclear weapons are not used to destroy a very important part of God's Creation.
Some members from all of the world’s religions are doing excellent work towards this goal. However, history shows that religions are frequently co-opted for the political purposes of control and division; arguably, religion has led to more wars than it has prevented. Religion has also not impeded the accumulation of nuclear weapons, as all of the world’s major religions, including atheism, are represented in the political leadership of nuclear weapons states. All U.S. presidents since the creation of nuclear weapons have claimed to be devout Christians of one type or another, but none have ruled out its use.
One segment of Christianity must be addressed in particular, as it is an important obstacle to human survival. Popularly called fundamentalists, millions of American Christians believe that the Bible is inerrant, meaning that every word is literally true, and their understanding of what it means is equally inerrant and the only correct interpretation. It is important to point out that the mentality of this Christian group has a closed-minded analog in each of the other religions as well.
In keeping with this faith in Biblical inerrancy is the absolute belief that Jesus Christ will return to conquer a devilish Anti-Christ and his demonic forces in a great final battle; he will then establish a Christian millennial kingdom on Earth. These two affirmations lead conservative fundamentalists of the political-right toward apocalyptic visions of the future of our planet. For many of these folks, the Bible's prophecies concerning the end of human history are being revealed in "sign of times" phenomena like the spread of AIDS and other diseases, the increasing development of weapons of mass destruction, and the outbreak of international wars—especially in the Middle East. Accordingly, these "signs of the times" are the beginning of a doomsday scenario, which is fulfilled in three steps: the Rapture, Tribulation, and Millennium. The Left Behind series, which has sold over 63 million copies, has promulgated this scenario.
At the on-set of the Rapture, which occurs before the really bad stuff happens, faithful Christians and deceased true followers of Jesus Christ will suddenly vanish from the Earth and "will be gathered up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air." Then, a seven-year Tribulation, described in the Book of Revelation, will reflect God's judgment on the non-believing rebellious people of the world. They will be destroyed by pestilence, plagues, fires, and nightmarish monsters that will be let loose on sinners everywhere. Then, following Israel's total occupation of its "biblical lands," hundreds of millions of soldiers from all over the world, led by demonic spirits and the Anti-Christ, will attack Israel and trigger a final battle at a place called Armageddon.
According to the late fundamentalist preacher Jerry Falwell, the armies of the Anti-Christ will number approximately 400 million soldiers and will be heavily armed with nuclear weapons. In his 1983 statement on "Nuclear War and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ," Falwell wrote, "The tribulation will result in such bloodshed and destruction that any war up to that time will seem insignificant."
Asked by a reporter when this would happen. Falwell said his hunch was that it would be under 50 years, “I don’t think my children will live their full lives out.” He was then asked why a nuclear Armageddon would not bother him, Falwell replied: "You know why I'm not worried? I ain't gonna be here." He was apparently right about that much.
Although there are many views of the details of the Second Coming of Christ, fundamentalists generally agree that the Tribulation will end as Jesus returns from heaven to earth. According to the Book of Revelation, “The Lord Jesus will appear, and the armies of heaven clothed in fine linen will follow him on white horses, and he will slay the Anti-Christ and his forces. (19:14-21)” In so doing, Christ will forcefully put an end to man's cruel rule on Earth, and will rule the way it should have been if man obeyed God's will. Then, the Millennium will commence and will establish one thousand years of paradise on Earth.
Thus, given the promise of the Rapture and the Millennium, many of today's Christian fundamentalists maintain that Armageddon is not really their problem, and any thought of avoiding it, or improving the prospects for long-term human survival and development, is not a vital concern. This fundamentalist outlook of the world, history, and the future, sets people aside as helpless victims and passive agents who are totally incapable of shaping and directing human destiny. Why worry about global warming, nuclear war, or the increase of deadly conflicts throughout the world? These are merely a means to an end, the end.
Christian fundamentalists, like all other Americans, certainly have the right to their religious beliefs. However, when those apocalyptic beliefs are translated into political action, it is very important for other Christians and concerned citizens to raise the following questions in a variety of religious, educational, and political settings, especially during presidential and congressional election campaigns:
1. Is it reasonable to believe that a God of love and mercy planned from the beginning to purposely destroy the creation and creatures made in His/Her own image?
2. Is it not inconsistent to depict Jesus as a non-violent, loving, forgiving healer of bodies and souls on the one hand, while on the other, supporting the belief that he will return to Earth as commander-in-chief of the holy warriors of retribution?
3. Is it reasonable and consistent to denounce radical Islamic terrorism, while at the same time religiously supporting the terror of Armageddon?
4. How does the fundamentalist, apocalyptic vision of the future affect human motivation regarding the education and hard work required to solve our most pressing human-made problems?
Without such questioning we may end up with political leaders who's religious beliefs cause Armageddon to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Many Christians do not hold such an extreme worldview, but they still hold a hypocritical view towards nuclear weapons illustrated in the following example. In the mid 1970s, William F. Buckley, Jr. spoke at The University of Iowa, in Iowa City. During his talk, he mentioned the virtues of the Judeo-Christian ethic and its historical contributions to the culture of the U.S. For some reason, in the middle of his speech, he praised the new "flexible response" nuclear weapons war-fighting strategy being put forth by then Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger. Following his talk, I asked him what he thought Jesus' response would be to Schlesinger's nuclear weapons strategy calling for the killing of millions of Soviet citizens under certain conditions. I also asked him if there were any conditions under which he personally, if he had the authority, would turn the key in a missile control center to launch a nuclear strike, thereby contributing to a nuclear exchange likely to kill millions.
Mr. Buckley's response to the first question was that he didn't feel he could speak for Jesus, although he had been doing so for much of the evening. His reply to the second question was that under no circumstances would he turn the key for a nuclear missile launch. Instead, he preferred a system of "automatic retaliation," by which he meant something resembling a radar interpretation of incoming enemy missiles, which would result in a computer-triggered U.S. missile launch completely untouched by human hands. Thus, like many of his fellow citizens, Buckley was unable to discern the contradiction between his Christian belief system based on the life of a committed pacifist who was willing to die rather than defend himself, with his own willingness to use a form of high-tech barbarism that would annihilate millions of innocent people. Not to mention the errors of early-warning systems highlighted in chapter two.
It is very useful to pose the “What would Jesus do?” question to those of the Christian faith who also happen to be nuclear war hawks, and who apparently have never considered this a fundamental contradiction in their value system. It is also important to ask government officials and religious leaders "Under what conditions would you turn the key?" questions. These values questions take the issue of nuclear war killing out of the realm of the abstract. Years ago, the philosopher Jean Paul Sartre said that the biggest crime of our time was to make the concrete abstract. When respondents are forced to deal with nuclear criminality in concrete terms, rather than "Pentagonese" and “Nukespeak,” they tend to not want to push the button.
Not all sects of Christianity suffer from a militaristic ethic and advocacy of nuclear weapons. Historically, the peace churches—the Friends, Mennonites, and Brethren—have straightforwardly addressed the morality of nuclear weapons, as have many "mainline” churches in the U.S. During the 1980s, with the rise of the Nuclear Freeze movement, numerous Christian theologians sought to convince members of the clergy and their parishioners to address the nuclear war problem. As a result, leadership from many Christian denominations and other religions have signed statements supporting disarmament.
For example, the United Methodist Council adopted a pastoral letter and foundation document called, "The Defense of Creation: The Nuclear Crisis and a Just Peace." In that letter, the bishops stated:
We say a clear and unconditional No to nuclear war and to any use of nuclear weapons. We conclude that nuclear deterrence is a position that cannot receive the Church's blessing. Thus, it follows that nuclear weapons have no legitimate use for deterrence or actual war fighting, it is wrong for any nation to possess them. […] We support the earliest possible negotiation of phased, but rapid reduction of nuclear arsenals, while calling upon all other nuclear-weapon states to agree to parallel reduction, to the eventual goal of mutual and verifiable dismantling of all nuclear armaments.
In 1988, the United Methodist General Conference reiterated its support of the statements of the Council of Bishops. Four years later, the General Conference developed a resolution entitled: "Nuclear Disarmament: The Zero Option," which said, "Now is the time to exercise the zero option: to eliminate all nuclear weapons throughout the globe."
In line with that pronouncement, the Conference approved the following statement of commitment and action:
We affirm the finding that nuclear weapons, whether used or threatened, are grossly evil and morally wrong. As an instrument of mass destruction, nuclear weapons slaughter the innocent and ravage the environment. When used as instruments of deterrence, nuclear weapons hold innocent people hostage for political and military purposes. Therefore, the doctrine of nuclear deterrence is morally corrupt and spiritually bankrupt. Therefore, we affirm the goal of total abolition of all nuclear weapons throughout Earth and Space.
The statement then gave a list of 10 recommended actions to all possessors of nuclear weapons:
1. Renounce unconditionally the use of nuclear weapons for deterrence and war fighting purposes.
2. Pledge never to use nuclear weapons against any adversary under any circumstance.
3. Immediately take all nuclear weapons off alert by separating warheads from delivery vehicles and by other means.
4. Embark upon a program to systematically dismantle all nuclear warheads and delivery vehicles as soon as possible with adequate safeguards and verification, carried out under multilateral treaties and through reciprocal national initiatives.
5. Ratify and implement the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
6. Cease all research, development, testing, production, and deployment of new nuclear weapons, and refrain from modernizing the existing nuclear arsenal.
7. Halt all efforts to develop and deploy strategic anti-missile defense systems because they are illusory, unnecessary, and wasteful.
8. Respect the requirements of nuclear weapon-free zones where they exist.
9. Enter into a multilateral process to develop, adopt, and carry out a nuclear weapons convention that outlaws and abolishes all nuclear weapons under strict and effective international control.
10. Develop and implement a system for control of all fissile material with international accounting, monitoring and safeguards.
It is important to note the similarity of the Methodist Statement to the "Roadmap to Abolition," which was described earlier. In some ways the Methodist Statement is even more comprehensive. When I appear before United Methodist audiences, I usually use their Church's statement on nuclear war as a preface to my presentation, and give them a handout with the ten recommended actions listed above. A similar approach can be used with other denominations and faith communities.
The National Religious Partnership on the Nuclear Weapons Danger
Under the direction of the late Rev. William Sloane Coffin, a group of religious leaders from different national organizations met to address the threat of nuclear war. The group responded by establishing Faithful Security: The National Religious Partnership to End the Nuclear Weapons Danger (Faithful Security). As a key project of its work, Faithful Security developed a very useful toolkit entitled, "Breaking Faith with Nuclear Weapons: A Guide to Religious Communities," which provides the resources that people of faith need to learn about the dangers associated with nuclear weapons, and actions they can take to build a safer world.
In 2005, Rev. Coffin initiated a powerful declaration entitled, "Call to Action on the Nuclear Weapons Danger," which opens with Psalm 33: "The warhorse is a vain hope for victory, and by its great might it cannot save." The body of the "Call" states:
Today our leaders are renewing nuclear production activities and upgrading nuclear testing facilities. They are invigorating arsenals that should be left to decay. Our country cannot rightly seek to halt the spread of nuclear weapons while at the same time developing new weapons capabilities of our own. As these dangerous weapons spread to North Korea and beyond, and as terrorists seek to acquire them, we must realize that we have made a very deadly mistake. It is time to break faith with nuclear weapons once and for all. Nuclear weapons merit unequivocal and unhesitating condemnation. The 30,000 nuclear weapons around the globe have more than 100,000 times the power of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These are doomsday arms - genocidal, eccocidal, and suicidal.
It is our belief that only God has the authority to end all life on the planet; all we have is the power, and it is past time to surrender it. To live in a world within minutes of possible annihilation is to defy God's will not to do God's will.
When the Cold War ended, many thought the nuclear danger had ended with it. It did not, and now, having assumed a more sinister shape, it is mounting again. Scores of admirals and generals from many countries have come to believe that nuclear weapons invite far more than they deter catastrophic conflict. They agree that the possession of nuclear weapons by some states is the strongest incentive for other states to acquire them. They are also painfully aware that nuclear weapons, while most useful to terrorists are utterly useless against them. Consequently, these leaders now advocate, as do we, the abolition of all nuclear arsenals. As General Lee Butler declared five years ago, “A world free of the threat of nuclear weapons is necessarily a world devoid of nuclear weapons."
The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was a grand design struck in 1970. Since that time, over 180 non-nuclear countries have promised to forego nuclear weapons provided the nuclear powers abolished theirs. In other words—and this is crucial— non-proliferation was, from the beginning inextricably linked to nuclear disarmament. But instead of honoring their obligations under Article VI of the treaty, the nuclear powers have substituted a double standard for the single one intended. For 35 years, they have practiced nuclear apartheid, arrogating to themselves the right to build, deploy, and threaten to use nuclear weapons, while policing the rest of the world against their production.
We call on all members of America's religious communities, as a testament of our common faith to join Faithful Security, and to take action immediately to break faith with nuclear weapons. The first step to eliminate nuclear weapons is to demand that the U.S. government lead the way to global abolition of nuclear weapons by immediately making a plan for how to freeze, lock down, reduce, and eliminate nuclear weapons in a step-by-step process with ever increasing verification.
Fellow believers, we know how often justice appears a weary way off, peace a little further. But if we give up on justice, if we give up on peace, we give up on God. So let us resolve to labor mightily for what we pray for fervently, confident in the poet's contention that 'we are only undefeated because we go on trying' and in the vision of the prophet that 'the earth shall be filled with knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea'. God Bless You All.
As previously noted, it is important to include a "what you can do" segment of any presentation on the dangers of nuclear weapons. The Faithful Security toolkit offers "Six Things People of Faith Can Do":
1. KNOW THE FACTS. Learn the basics about nuclear weapons and their current status in the U.S. and other countries. Keep abreast of current policy developments. Visit the most informative and useful websites, including the ones listed in the (tool kit's) 'National Resources' section. Stay current on legislation by joining the Faithful Security Network. (http://www.faithfulsecurity.org)
2. PRAY. The nuclear weapons danger cannot be addressed through action alone. All activism must be accompanied by an inner journey that faces the existence of nuclear weapons, the possibility of annihilation, and the power of God in the face of those threats. Religious people can be a voice of hope for the future while they are performing the prophetic task of warning powerful institutions to change their course.
3. GET TOGETHER/ORGANIZE a small gathering in your home or religious community to strategize about how to raise awareness and take action. Consider showing a film that exposes the destructive power of nuclear weapons.
4. PASS A MODEL RESOLUTION. Once you've learned more about the nuclear weapons danger, encourage your religious community to pass the model resolution.
5. BUILD MOMENTUM. As you take action, keep letting others know about your efforts. Prepare an op-ed for your local newspaper. Meet with the editorial board of your local paper. Initiate conversations with your local religious leaders. Write an article for the regional newsletter in your faith community.
6. SPEAK TRUTH TO POWER. Our elected officials are the ones who are making the daily decisions to fund new nuclear weapons or to follow our treaty obligations by reducing and eliminating nuclear weapons. Build a relationship with your local and national elected officials by writing letters, making phone calls and setting up in-state lobby visits.
The essence of the tool kit is summed up by Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, of the Muslim-Christian Consultation on the Nuclear Weapons Danger, ”It is not the work of one community only, it is not the work of somebody else, it is our work together.”
A Buddhist View of Nuclear War Prevention
In a discussion of religion, Buddhism holds a unique position in that its leaders historically have refused to call it a religion. Dr. Daisaku Ikeda, founder of the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research, explains that Buddhism does not ask “What religion does this person follow,” but, “What is this person's state of life?” He says, “Buddhism transcends all superficial differences and focuses directly on life."
With this philosophy, Dr. Ikeda penned the following September 14, 2006 article entitled, "Emerging from the Nuclear Shadow":
The startling development of military technology has entirely insulated acts of war from human realities and feelings. In an instant, irreplaceable lives are lost and beloved homelands reduced to ruin. The anguished cries of victims and their families are silenced or ignored. Within this vast system of violence—at the peak of which are poised nuclear weapons—humans are no longer an embodiment of life. They are reduced to the status of mere things.
In the face of these severe challenges, there is a spreading sense of powerlessness and despair within the international community, a readiness to dismiss the possibility of nuclear abolition as a pipe dream.
Peace is a competition between despair and hope, between disempowerment and committed persistence. To the degree that powerlessness takes root in people's consciousness, there is a greater tendency to resort to force. Powerlessness breeds violence. But, it was human beings that gave birth to these instruments of hellish destruction. It cannot be beyond the power of human wisdom to eliminate them. […]
The idea that nuclear weapons function to deter war and are therefore a 'necessary evil' is a core impediment to their elimination; it must be challenged and dismantled. If we are to eliminate nuclear weapons, a fundamental transformation of the human spirit is essential. Since the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, more than 60 years ago, the survivors have transformed despair into a sense of mission as they have continued to call out for nuclear abolition. As people living today, it is our shared responsibility -- our duty and our right -- to act as heirs to this lofty work of inner transformation, to expand and elevate it into a struggle to eliminate war itself. […]
Crying out in opposition to war and nuclear weapons is neither emotionalism nor self-pity. It is the highest expression of human reason based on an unflinching perception of the dignity of life. […]
Faced with the horrifying facts of nuclear proliferation, we must call forth the power of hope from within the depths of each individual's life. This is the power that can transform even the most intractable reality.
To emerge from the shadow of nuclear weapons, we need a revolution in the consciousness of countless individuals—a revolution that gives rise to the heartfelt confidence that “there is something I can do.” Then finally, we will see a coming together of the world's people, and hear their common voice, their cry for an end to this terrible madness and destruction.
"Emerging from the Nuclear Shadow", must be a joint mission of Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus and other faith communities on a worldwide basis. Anything less, is to misunderstand the purpose of religion.
 General FAQ. (2008). The Official Left Behind website. Retrieved from: http://www.leftbehind.com/06_help_and_info/faq_general.asp
 First Thessalonians, 4:17
 Falwell, J. (1983). Nuclear war and the second coming of Jesus Christ. Old-Time Gospel Hour.
 Robert Scheer interview with Falwell, Los Angeles Times, March 4, 1981, quoted in Halsell, G., (1986). Propecy and Politics: Militant Evangelists on the Road to Nuclear War. Westport, Conn.: Lawrence Hill and Co., pp. 34-35.
 Flynn, T. (2004, April 22). Jean-Paul Sartre. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/sartre/
 In defense of creation: The nuclear crisis and a just peace. (1986). The United Methodist Council of Bishops. Nashville: Graded Press, p. 24.
 Saying no to nuclear deterrence—United Methodist statement on nuclear war. (n.d.). Retrieved from: http://www.zero-nukes.org/sayingno.pdf
 These religious statements, including those by the World Council of Churches, The National Council of Churches, and other interfaith groups can be retrieved at: http://www.zero-nukes.org/religiousstatements.html
 The toolkit can be retrieved at: www.faithfulsecurity.org/pdf/tool_kit.pdf
 Coffin, W.S. (2005). Call to action. Breaking faith with nuclear weapons: A guide for religious communities. p.4.
 Faithful Security: The National Religious Partnership on the Nuclear Weapons Danger. (n.d.). Six things people can do. Breaking faith with nuclear weapons tool kit, p. 8.
 Ikeda, D. (2006, September 14). Emerging from the nuclear shadow. Japan Times. Retrieved from: http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/eo20060914a3.html
see also: http://www.daisakuikeda.org