Nuclear Weapons Lead to a Devil’s Bargain (367)

There is no need to insist that in a world where another Hitler is very possible the mere existence of nuclear weapons constitutes the most tragic and serious problem that the human race has ever had to contend with. Indeed, the atmosphere of hatred, suspicion and tension in which we all live is precisely what is needed to produce Hitlers.
– Thomas Merton, writing on February 6, 1962

The monk, Thomas Merton, wrote these prescient words 55 years ago. They’re as relevant today as they were then. From the tradition of our Christian Faith, there’s no possible moral justification for the use of nuclear weapons. By the consequences they produce, the use of nuclear weapons is immoral and any nation who would use them would be guilty of shocking immorality. One only need to look at the devastating, long-term aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagaski to confirm that historic truth.

And yet, some who claim the moral “high ground” argue their use is defensible using what’s classically known as the “Just War Doctrine.” Put forth first by St Augustine and then later elaborated by St Thomas Aquinas, this Doctrine has served as the Church’s moral guide for centuries. The Doctrine’s concluding admonition is this: “the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.” Using nuclear weapons, as the clear evidence of history has shown, certainly produces “evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.”

What complicates this (there’s always a complication, isn’t there?) is that we live in a non-Christian world. Until the last century, the western world still held to some semblance of Christian morality, but that’s no longer the case. Even as wars were fought in those years, there was some sense of moral accountability; that some things were simply beyond the pale; that there were some things moral agents should never do. That means it would be a mistake for those of us who attend ourselves to the way of Jesus to assume the war practices of any government today are automatically congruent with the Christian faith. While in some cases they might well be, we should never be “blank check” Christians or assume something must be “moral” because we’re the ones doing it.

Thus, Christians can’t assume that a leader of any government will follow our morality when it comes to nuclear weapons, the use of which produces a consequence so obscene as to render it morally intolerable. And as Merton suggests above, Christians must work to lessen “the atmosphere of hatred, suspicion, and tension in which we live” because that’s the very climate in which fascism thrives. When fear is ginned up and exploited, people are encouraged to abandon their Christian morality in favor of following false prophets who promise that they alone can offer us safety and protection. When such promises are accepted, they almost always produce a bargain with the Devil.

As Christians, staying passive and silent when any leader suggests that the use of nuclear weapons is a morally right thing to do, makes us complicit in the guilt of a potential, unspeakable crime against humanity. May God have mercy upon us all.



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