Friday, August 17, 2007

Jesus and the Atomic Bomb

Note: This post is a followup to the one I did last Friday.

As of right now in the history of the world, only one country has ever used a nuclear device in war. Us. The United States. And I have heard all the justifications about how using the devices saved American lives, and in fact, I have probably known (and still know) men whose lives were spared because we didn't launch an invasion of the Japanese islands.

I've stated before that I don't believe America is a Christian nation or ever has been, mainly because I don't believe that nations can be Christians. They can be largely comprised of Christians or even led by Christians, but nations are largely about self preservation and protection of its citizens. Whatever the cost. Basically nations believe that the lives of their citizens are inherently more valuable than the lives of people of other non-allied nations.

And that's what Harry Truman and his advisers decided in 1945. They decided that the lives of the American soldiers were of greater worth than the lives of the Japanese civilians, and so they felt that dropping two atomic weapons were the proper way to end the war.

Now from strictly a nationalistic perspective, this was the right maneuver. And it should have been an easy call for the Americans. Particularly because they felt that the Germans would have done the same thing given similar circumstances.

What it can't be called is Christian. Plain and simple. Doing something that takes the life of your enemy (especially noncombatants) is not how Christ enjoined us to follow him. Very simply put, the one time Jesus had someone fight for him (Matthew 26:50-54, Luke 22:47-53), Jesus not only chastised Peter for fighting for him, but then proceeded to heal the ear of one of the men that came to capture him. What do I think Jesus would have thought of Fat Man and Little Boy, the two atomic weapons? I can only think that he would have thought the same thing of them as he did of Peter's sword.

The only thing I can hope is that when/if our brothers and sisters 5,000 years from now (if the Lord doesn't come back and the creek don't rise, as my grandmother used to say) and wonder how God could have worked through such a people as us, that they will give us the same benefit of the doubt as we give the Israelites in the Old Testament who committed genocide on the Canaanites. That they will simply trust that God was able to work out His purposes, even through such broken vessels.

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20 comments:

chris said...

"Give Israelites the benefit of the doubt who committed genocide on the Canaanites" The Israelites were COMMANDED by God to utterly DESTROY the Canaanites. We do not have to guive them the benefit of the doubt.

GKB said...

Great thoughts, Phil.

I would recommend "Saved from Sacrifice" by Mark Heim. It's a book on atonement, and the sacrificial system, but some of the themes in the book have helped me reinterpret some of the passages in the Old Testament.

Of course, moving from being a Biblical literalist has helped, too. That way, when people like Chris say things like he said in the comment above, I can just shrug and move on...

chris said...

gkb,

First of all, I'm not a "he."

I would really like to know what you mean by the last sentence. Are you saying God didn't command them to destroy the Canaanites?

Anonymous said...

I am intrigued by the "moving from being a Biblical literalist" idea. Granted there are passages in the Bible that we don't take literally, but there are some we do and should. Does a Bible literalist take every word of the Bible at its face value? Does a Bible "figurativist" say everything is just figurative and therefore up to our own interpretations. Where's the line? Is there a line?

And while gkb may not have meant it this way, "That way, when people like Chris say things like he said in the comment above, I can just shrug and move on" sounds extremely condescending.

Suzie

Southern Beale said...

Great post, Phil. Of course America does not act like a Christian nation. How can we, when people of faith don't even agree on what it means to be a Christian in the first place?

I always wonder why fundamentalist Christian war supporters don't see the irony in their attachment to the Old Testament. It's like they've forgotten about Jesus, his ministry and what that whole crucifixion thing meant.

gavin richardson said...

i like your framing of how a nation doesn't care for those outside the nation or allied state. that is an excellent point, the Christian would (should) care for the other nation and less about it's own..

Southern Beale said...

Does a Bible literalist take every word of the Bible at its face value?

There really is no such thing as a Biblical literalist. Everyone picks and chooses, everyone, even fundamentalists. Some people are just more honest about it than others. It's the nature of Scripture that it must be interpreted by each generation. For example, those folks who say they want the Biblical account of the earth's history taught in schools: well, which one? The Bible has three.

William Sloane Coffin once wrote that Scripture is filled with eternal truths, not historical facts. (I'm paraphrasing, that's the general idea). That makes sense to me.

I don't understand fundamentalism, except that I believe it's rooted in fear. Fearful people need certainty and absolutes.

chris said...

"....thou shall smite them; then thou shall utterly destroy them..."
Deuteronomy 7:2

God had already destroyed all men except the family of Noah because of immorality. If you want to get out of the Old Testament, there is no reason to believe that this pattern will not prevail in the final judgement as well.

So far no one has answered my question in my second post.

The conquest of Canaan is not a minor point of the Bible, it is a very large part of the Old Testament, as is the flood. To deny this is to deny a major part of the scriptures.

Brian Littlefield said...

Suzie: well said!

Phil: You titled this post such that it was aimed at atomic bombs, but really it's about war. It seems that your argument presupposes that all killing is murder. So let's take things back a few years and let me ask you this: was it evil for us to even enter into war against Germany and Japan in 1941? How about in 1917?

jim said...

The question that Chris poses helps illustrate the some of the dichotomy of Christianity. On one hand, we have the God of the Israelites, who told them to completely remove all traces of the Canaanites from the planet. Total genocidal smackdown.

On the othe hand, we have the example of Christ, who healed a man's ear rather than submit to violence even in self-defense. (And not violence He caused, but a violent act of one of His followers, implying that those who follow him should reject violence, perhaps?)

It's almost tempting to ask if the Father and the Son are related, they seem to think so fundamentally differently.

How do we reconcile the two different approaches in our minds? We can just accept what hapened to the Canaanites and to the guy who had his ear reatteched and move on, but if we stop and think, we're in trouble right away. Acceptance of both does not let us easily look on what we do with certainty about whether it is right in the eyes of God or not.

Nor does it allow us to look on what the Israelites gave to the Canaanites and understand why that was right or, more importantly, in what other circumstances (Hiroshima and Nagasaki) are we right in smiting someone with a comparable level of force. There is an inability to apply the Canaanite example anywhere else in time or place. It's our doubts on applying the example, not doubts about what happened.

Eli MF Cash said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Phil said...

Chris, if I weren't a Biblical literalist, I would postulate that the Israelites were putting justification for their genocide and subsequent conquering of the land into the mouth of God as they wrote their Scriptures.

Brian, it seems you might not have gotten the point of what I said. My point was that it's perfectly legitimate for a nation to take actions to protect its interests. However, my other point is that such actions cannot be construed as Christian actions, just as a nation cannot be considered a Christian nation.

Southern Beale said...

The conquest of Canaan is not a minor point of the Bible, it is a very large part of the Old Testament...

... and I say that Jesus sorta makes all that Old Testament stuff irrelevant.

bp said...

I don't believe any Christian can participate in a war . . .

Justin said...

Chris,

If God speaks directly to you and says kill these people, go ahead and do it.

As for me, I'm gonna follow the words of Jesus, rather than justify my desire to destroy human beings with old testament verses.

Keith Brenton said...

God is sovereign. He is just. He is merciful. He has mercy on whom He will have mercy. He gives life and He takes it away.

While Jesus advised buying swords, two were enough - and He never instructed anyone to use one.

That's because God was through winking at ignorance and the violence it engenders. At just the right time, Jesus came with a message of peace on earth and good will to men - and among men.

There's a sea change in the way God relates to man from one testament to another. You can't ignore that when pondering questions like this.

Remember the two commandments on which the law hinged? They were there all along.

Mankind just wasn't ready to take them seriously ... until seeing Jesus live and die them.

I don't have the answer to 1945. I didn't live then, and I don't know all of the circumstances. Heck, I don't even have the answer to 2007. How do you deal with intransigent terror that is hell-bent on suicidal genocide in the name of a god named Allah who pretends to be the same one worshiped by many of the ones who must be hated and exterminated?

John the Baptist encountered soldiers. He didn't tell them to quit their jobs, desert, stop killing people. He told them not to cheat and intimidate others.

Jesus encountered a Roman centurion. He didn't order him to resign, disarm, release Israel from Roman rule. He healed the man's servant.

One or two swords, a healed ear and the declaration "I AM He" were enough to ensure the escape of His closest friends at His arrest so that they would live to fight another day - to fight spiritual battles against the one He called the prince of this world.

chris said...

Justin,

Actually, God didn't speak to me but he did speak to Joshua and no one can deny that. I am not trying to justify killing prople now, only saying that the Israelites were commanded to because God promised the land to them through which Christ would be born.

Brent said...

Has anyone seen the film "Why We Fight?" Wars are all about money.

G. Brandon Hoyt said...

Ok, quick comment on an old post, I know:

I agree with the general sentiment that we are not a Christian Nation. Christians are their own nation, under a King. I do believe that war can be the right and moral and just thing though, not because one nation's self interests are served, but because God uses it to establish justice. Think about the real lesson of the killing of the Canaanites. God really does care about the wickedness of a nation, and will destroy it; ref Jeremiah 12.
Read my sermon from last nite: http://basicorlando.blogspot.com to get the full picture.
hehe!

Reason over religion! said...

"The only thing I can hope is that when/if our brothers and sisters 5,000 years from now (if the Lord doesn't come back and the creek don't rise, as my grandmother used to say) and wonder how God could have worked through such a people as us, that they will give us the same benefit of the doubt as we give the Israelites in the Old Testament who committed genocideon the Canaanites. That they will simply trust that God was able to work out His purposes, even through such broken vessels."

Scripture justifies genocide. Yeah, let's roll with that. Set a good example for our Muslim friends.

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