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Weapons of Mass Demonization ("On Faith": 10/5/09)
February 25, 2010
Q: Reacting in part to recent missile tests by Iran and North Korea, President Obama and a unanimous UN Security Council last week endorsed a sweeping strategy to halt the spread of nuclear weapons and ultimately eliminate them. Is nuclear disarmament a religious issue? Is it a pro-life issue? Is support for nuclear disarmament a moral imperative? Should we pray for nuclear disarmament?
I cut my teeth in ministry licking envelopes for the Nuclear Freeze Campaign in a stuffy office in a rundown church some thirty years ago with my fierce and fearless mentor, the Rev. Jan Orr-Harter. Jan, also a young Presbyterian minister, was already a major player among religious leaders, politicians, scientists and secular activists who - together - grew a national movement for bi-lateral disarmament between the United States and the Soviet Union.
I talked with Jan recently during the current unfolding drama around nuclear proliferation and engagement with Iran and North Korea. She reminded me of the parable of that time--that the catalyst that galvanized the nuclear freeze movement was the unlikely engagement of strangers - the scientific community with the religious one. The scientific community sounded the alarm about the critical danger of new nuclear weapons that would enable first-strike capability. Some were seduced by the notion that more sophisticated weaponry would allow for greater precision and control; but scientists knew otherwise, that increased capability unchecked would almost ensure our destruction. The scientific community sounded the alarm and religious communities heard it.
These religious warriors for peace mobilized with urgency, motivated by the sense that the apocalyptic scenario foretold in the Book of Isaiah seemed not only possible, but likely, as a result of human hubris and the misguided use of power. "The earth dries up and withers," it is written in Isaiah. "The world languishes...the earth lies polluted under its inhabitants for they have broken the everlasting covenant." Who says that religion and science are incompatible?
Up until recently we have been locked in a similar stand-off around nuclear arms with Iran (not unlike the one we faced 30 years ago), willing to demonize the stranger as we've weighed whether or not to engage. Ironically, here at Auburn Seminary, we have experienced a microcosm of that decision-making process, as I and my colleague, Rabbi Justus Baird, have had to weigh whether or not to accept invitations to join other religious leaders in meetings with Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during his annual visits to the U.S.
When we have looked at the political price we might pay by meeting with him, it has sometimes seemed too great, but when we turned to our sacred texts--Justus to the Talmud, I to the New Testament, and we, together, to the Hebrew Scriptures, non-engagement is not a moral option. We are reminded to engage the stranger, to love the neighbor and even the enemy and to actively pursue peace--a course that President Obama and other world leaders seem currently to embrace and champion.
The traditional religious mainline carried much of the weight of the earlier nuclear freeze campaign in the U.S. Today, a most hopeful sign is the emerging players on the scene--a newer generation of young evangelicals who are realizing the incompatibility of nuclear weaponry and a pro-life stance, as well as leaders from many faith traditions--strange bedfellows for sure. Perhaps this is the new parable of engagement--a Global Zero moment that will put the genie of nuclear weapons back in the bottle for good.
All Things Catholic (John Allen)