Why the Bishops Oppose It Now
“NEVER before has the human race been as close as it is now to total self-destruction.” With these words the sixth assembly of the World Council of Churches, meeting last summer in Vancouver, Canada, sounded the alarm against The Bomb. Urging nuclear disarmament, they proclaimed: “Nuclear deterrence is morally unacceptable because it relies on the credibility of the intention to use nuclear weapons.”
A few months earlier, in May 1983, the Roman Catholic bishops in the United States issued the final text of a long letter entitled “The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response.” In this, they urged a reduction in existing nuclear stockpiles as well as a halt to “the testing, production and deployment of new nuclear weapons systems.” They insisted: “There must be no misunderstanding of our profound skepticism about the moral acceptability of any use of nuclear weapons.”
These were two of the more outstanding recent declarations by religious leaders against nuclear weapons. Some have reacted with delight to the involvement of the bishops in the anti-Bomb cause. A Presbyterian minister, quoted in The New York Times, said of the letter by the U.S. bishops: “In it you hear a voice of moral conscience, not just speaking to Catholics but speaking to us as Americans and as decent human beings . . . God bless the Catholic bishops.”
Others are more critical. Philosopher Sidney Hook said: “The bishops’ position is uninformed, unrealistic and morally irresponsible.” And conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly was quoted as saying that the bishops’ statement is dangerous because it leads Catholics down the road of “pacifism . . . and disarmament and loving the Russians.”
Nevertheless, given the long history of clerical involvement in wars, and pro-Bomb statements by religious leaders in the years since the second world war, these recent anti-Bomb statements mark a startling turnaround. Why the change?
Forty Years Late
The U.S. bishops’ letter offers an explanation of sorts: “Today the destructive potential of the nuclear powers threatens the human person, the civilization we have slowly constructed, and even the created order itself.” Yet this has been true ever since those atomic bombs exploded over Hiroshima and Nagasaki almost 40 years ago. Why was there no hue and cry back then?
The World Council of Churches says: “We believe that any intention to use weapons of mass destruction is an utterly inhuman violation of the mind and spirit of Christ which should be in us.” Well, was that not also true when civilians were being massacred by the hundreds of thousands during the last world war? Yet few church leaders spoke up then.
Nuclear physicist Harold M. Agnew voiced his opinion bluntly: “I think they are hypocrites in that they seem to be accepting that conventional war is O.K. and nuclear war isn’t. For the first time in history, because of the power of nuclear weapons, those who make the decisions to get involved in war are equally at risk with the young people who traditionally are sent off to execute the elders’ decisions. So the churches and all the other decision-makers’ wine cellars, material wealth and other holdings are no longer immune in the event of a nuclear war. We’re all in it together.”
Perhaps the comments of columnist James Reston have a bearing. He said: “The church is sustaining the peace movement, and the movement is giving new strength and purpose to the church in its struggle for a voice in the secular world.” (Italics ours.) Could it be that the bishops are trying also to regain lost influence and prestige by becoming leaders in the increasingly popular antinuclear movement?
We have to raise another question:
What Difference Will It Make?
“As a teaching document the [U.S.] bishops’ letter is designed to exert moral influence on the issue of war and peace.” So said theologian Richard B. Miller in the magazine Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Yet how much “moral influence” will religious leaders really have?
Will the leaders of the U.S.S.R. listen to the bishops’ warnings? Or is it likely that the United States will suddenly change course? Why, even while the Catholic bishops were in the process of preparing their letter, the administration reportedly tried to persuade them to bring it more in line with government policies!
And what of those who make their living from nuclear weapons? Well, the U.S. bishops left it open for those who work at producing them to keep on doing so if they wished. And they failed to encourage those in the military to refuse to be trained in the use of nuclear weaponry. So most of those involved in the production and use of nuclear weapons will most likely find reasons to carry on as before.
The Things They Forgot
The truth is, the bishops have come up with the wrong answer to the wrong question. The nuclear arms race is only a symptom. The real disease afflicting the human race is far deeper. Even if the bishops are somehow able to persuade politicians to remove the nuclear threat, other dangers will take its place unless the basic problem is handled.
A statement by the apostle John shows how much more complicated the problem is than most people think. He said: “The whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one.” (1 John 5:19) Thus, there are invisible personalities involved, including Satan the Devil who in the Bible is called “the god of this system of things.”—2 Corinthians 4:4.
True, many today do not believe in Satan. But surely the bishops do. And they must know that, according to the Bible, Satan has used the rebelliousness of mankind to further his own ends, like a master chess player manipulating pieces on a chessboard. For humans to try to bring lasting peace to the world by political means is like the pawns in a game of chess trying to make peace with one another while ignoring the shadowy figure of the chess player hovering over them. Satan is behind much of what happens on earth today, and any proposed solution that does not take him into account is bound to fail.—Revelation 12:12.
What about the comment, ‘The destructive potential of the nuclear powers threatens the created order itself’? While men may have the power to wreak great havoc on this earth, do the bishops think they will? Have they forgotten that God prophesied through the apostle John that He would “bring to ruin those ruining the earth”?—Revelation 11:18.
Yes, nearly 2,000 years ago God foresaw that man would get to be in a position to ruin the earth, and said that He would not permit it. Rather, we are promised: “He has founded the earth upon its established places; it will not be made to totter to time indefinite, or forever.”—Psalm 104:5.
The Real Problem—And Its Solution
The U.S. bishops, in the second draft of their letter, spoke of “a world of sovereign states, devoid of central authority.” Here they are getting close to the real problem—and its solution! It is a question of government.
Think of all the hardships mankind experiences because of being ruled by selfish, nationalistic governments, all “lying in the power of the wicked one.” (1 John 5:19) Certainly, if mankind were united under one government that was lying in the power of the Righteous One, Jehovah God, there would be no threat of nuclear destruction, and many other problems would be solved too.
Could that ever happen? In words that most schoolchildren know by heart, Jesus said it could, when he taught us to pray: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10, The Jerusalem Bible) Religious leaders sometimes speak about the Kingdom of God. But usually they fail to explain that God’s Kingdom is a real government with real authority and that it is in operation now. Soon it will act decisively toward the governments of this earth. “In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be brought to ruin. . . . It will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, and it itself will stand to times indefinite.”—Daniel 2:44.
God has the power to stop the activities of Satan, and he will do this through his Kingdom. (Revelation 20:1-3) Moreover, he has the power to stop the insane activities of the nations. He can and will “render judgment among many peoples, and set matters straight respecting mighty nations far away.” (Micah 4:3) Will he remove the nuclear threat? Yes, and even the threat of war itself. “He is making wars to cease to the extremity of the earth. The bow he breaks apart and does cut the spear in pieces; the [war] wagons he burns in the fire.”—Psalm 46:9.
Those murderous fireballs that rose above Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 reminded us as nothing ever did before of mankind’s need for God’s Kingdom. Whether any more nuclear weapons will be dropped in anger, we cannot say. But we do know that God will not allow man to destroy the earth. He will not allow the human race to be wiped out, and he will not allow the nations to continue terrorizing mankind forever.—Isaiah 45:18.
Is God’s Kingdom a realistic hope? The bishops evidently do not think so, since they offer political solutions. Nevertheless, we invite you to investigate the matter for yourself and see what you can do now in a practical way to work in harmony with the only real solution.
Only God has the power to save us from this dangerous situation. He has announced his purpose to do so.
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The “Just War” Theory
Christendom has traditionally countenanced war, and her theologians have developed what is called the “just war” theory. According to some explanations of the theory, a war is to be considered “just” if it is:
● Declared by a legitimate authority (that is, a legal government)
● Fought for a just cause
● Fought with a right intention (that is, in pursuit of reconciliation and without unnecessarily destructive acts)
● Fought as a last resort
● Fought with a probability of success
● And if the damage to be inflicted is proportionate to the good results expected. The direct killing of noncombatants is also forbidden in a “just” war.
Many religious leaders feel that the nuclear bomb makes any “just war” theory out of date because of the awesome destruction a nuclear war would cause. But is it only now that this theory is called into question?
What about World War II, to mention just one example. During that war, religious leaders blessed both sides of the conflict. Yet surely both sides could not have been fighting for a just cause or with a right intention. Civilian centers such as London, Dresden and Tokyo were bombed, killing horrific numbers of innocent noncombatants. Yet the religious leaders continued to support the war.
The truth is, Christendom’s leaders have always been ready to call a war “just” if it was waged by the country they happened to live in, even if it resulted in members of their flock fighting and killing fellow religionists of other nations. In this they have shown not the spirit of Christ but one like that of the American patriot Stephen Decatur, who is famous for his declaration: “Our country, right or wrong!”