Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Rebuilding the Tower of Babel in a Nucelar Age

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?

This week’s questions offer the panel a rare opportunity to elucidate an important distinction: in the field of Theology and Ethics the words “mutually verifiable” have no discernable meaning. We have all been confronted with the conundrum of pacifism: if a murderer held a gun to the head of your loved one, would you take their life or let them take the life of your loved one? The point of that question is, at the moment of crisis, the fog of fear and fury obscure even our most closely held morals. Disarmament then, the holstering of weapons, the cessation of testing and production, and the enforced inspection and validation of compliance is, to my mind, a necessarily political and diplomatic one. It is a process through which the infrastructure of destruction is torn down. It is a stepping back away from an unacceptable future. There is no place at the nuclear negotiating table for religion. Cool heads, undistracted by anything more than hard science and verifiable fact must be permitted to prevail in the tearing down of a possible future with which no one can agree.

But in the wake of those talks, outside the door of the conference room, when our attention can refocus on the construction of a plan for the future, there and then we need the framework of theology and the building blocks of ethical debate. All people of faith are compelled not just not to kill, but to heal what is broken in Creation. Obviously the production, arming and deployment of weapons of mass destruction of any kind is not in keeping with that mandate. We must ask ourselves, as citizens of the world, and as students of the Word, what lessons can we take from the Buddha, the Torah, the revelations of Mohammed or the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth. What is the picture of peace, the Kingdom, if you will, and how can we create it faithfully, with strength and unity? It is in answering these questions, in long and exhaustive dialog, in self examination and cross cultural exploration that our steadfast belief in a good God, in His will for us to come together as a whole people, and in our ability in His image to realize that goal, that Theology and Ethics is our best tool. In splitting the atom, like the builders of the tower of Babel, we aspire to a god-like power over Creation. But it is a desire for destruction, which is not God-like at all. To bring an entire planet into agreement on the sanctity of life and the insanity of mass destruction is accomplished one day at a time, one person at a time, one treaty at a time and ultimately it makes the words “mutually verifiable” immaterial.