Among the Intellectualoids

Religiously Opposing Nukes and Human Reality

Every anti-nuker was welcome at Riverside Church's convo last weekend -- even Wiccans.

By 5.6.10

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A long battery of leftist groups hosted a primarily anti-nuke "For Peace and Human Needs Disarm Now!" summit at famously liberal Riverside Church in New York this past weekend, featuring the United Nations General Secretary. It concluded with an Interfaith Convocation for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons at the Church Center to the United Nations, a United Methodist outpost across the street from the UN complex.

Headlining the anti-nuke religious rally was Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori, along with National Council of Churches chief Michael Kinnamon. But the jamboree was fully inclusive, with its brochure boasting of "representatives from the Baha'i, Buddhist, Christian, Confucian, Hindu, Humanist, Indigenous, Jain, Jewish, Muslim, Shinto, Sikh, Taoist, Unitarian Universalist, Wiccan, and Zoroastrian communities." Indeed, "ALL are welcome," it promised, repeating the common mantra of ardent religious inclusivists, for whom diversity is divine. Did a Wiccan warlock share the podium with the Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop? It's not clear, though full interfaith collaboration was promised.

The summit and rally were to warm up anti-nuke religious activists prior to the United Nation's Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference starting May 4 in New York. "It's a very important witness by many, many faith communities from around the globe to the difficulty and the problem of nuclear weapons," blandly noted Bishop Schori, in a report by her denomination's news service. "People have gathered here in advance of the U.N. meetings this coming week to express their concern and to call for an end to the possibility of nuclear war."

Embodying a Religious Left preference for sentiment and good intentions over cohesive policy, Schori evidently told the religious peacemakers at the Church Center to the United Nations: "It will take the peacemaking of entire communities to abolish nuclear weapons." She added: "We must share in that work together, and we have an opportunity -- each one of us -- to enter in today. Thanks be to God." The National Council of Churches (NCC) chief also chimed in: "We long for a day when nuclear weapons are removed from the face of the earth."

Having mostly abandoned the traditional Christian transcendent notions of winning lost souls and spiritual warfare, liberal religionists equate the church's mission with campaigns for banning various objects or pathologies through legislation or treaty. Liberal religionists also generally prefer speaking universally rather than to particulars. So Bishop Schori will campaign against nuclear weapons in general, as though the weapons themselves were the originators of evil, but she will not say much if anything about Iran's or North Korea's nuclear initiatives. And certainly she will not harshly criticize the radical Islam that guides Iran's theocratic mullah's or North Korea's version of police state communism.

Actually acknowledging human evil and the universal need for personal redemption is difficult for liberal religionists, who do not much like Christian and Jewish teachings about humanity's fall from grace. For liberal religionists, God's Kingdom can be achieved through another round of political agitation and resistance to American and Western dominance. "After I read that the U.S. is the only country in the world to have dropped a nuclear weapon, I felt it was my responsibility as a U.S. citizen to come," explained one activist to the Episcopal News Service. For the Religious Left, the U.S. atomic strike on militarist Japan 65 years ago is more mobilizing than what Iran or North Korea may do tomorrow. And while critiquing Western political and economic systems as root causes of human suffering is certainly acceptable, pointing at non-Western depravities largely is not. 

"We mourn and remember," read one prayer at the interfaith anti-nuke convo, with Hiroshima and Nagasaki clearly in mind. "We remember the tragedy, the loss, and the pain of our actions. We remember those dark clouds we created that took the breath of life. You have provided us with abilities to create; Yet we have used them to undo. We have fashioned swords of mass destruction and fallen upon them. We have used our collective abilities for suicide…"

Another litany was more specific: "May we remember and mourn; Those who died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki; Those who use their gifts to create weapons of mass destruction; Those who have died of cancer and disease from exposure to nuclear tests; Those who today suffer from these diseases and those not yet born who will; Those islands that were destroyed in nuclear weapons tests; Those who would sow fear by threatening to use nuclear weapons; Those who fund new generations of weaponry; Those who profit from the manufacture of nuclear weapons." 

This litany does also cryptically mourn "when world leaders threaten to use nuclear weapons in war," and "when we hear hateful speech and do not object." Could this refer to the Iranian president? Maybe, but if so, then he is merely one object of concern amid a larger focus on primarily Western powers, mainly the U.S., whose disarmament is the religious activists chief objective.

The religious convo's statement of purpose condemned the "the criminal atomic bombings of Japan by the United States," and described nuclear weapons as just one cataclysmic global threat, along with Global Warming and poverty, both of which by implication are also Western generated. Anti-Western themes also proliferated throughout the summit's workshops, which opposed the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, NATO, peaceful nuclear energy, and anti-missile defenses. 

This final emphasis indicates this anti-nuke crowd prefers sweeping utopian plans to abolish all nuclear weapons, rather than more realistic, incremental steps towards obsolescence. Pursuing utopia is more appealing at surreal places like Riverside Church and the United Methodist Center at the UN, where the realities of fallen humanity and their geopolitical implications are most unwelcome strangers.

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About the Author

Mark Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C. and author of Methodism and Politics in the Twentieth CenturyYou can follow him on Twitter @markdtooley.