God and the bomb

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord, when Jesus on a mountain top (possibly Mount Tabor) with Peter, James, and John was “transfigured.”

As Mark (9:3) put it in a homey image: “his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them.“ Moses and Elijah appeared with him and, according to Luke’s account (9:31), they spoke of Jesus’ upcoming death.

On this day, the US dropped a bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, killing up to 166,000 and leaving tens of thousands more with debilitating radiation sickness. This bombing and the bombing three days later of Nagasaki are the only uses of nuclear weapons in war – and they were used against cities and killed civilians.

President Truman showed no remorse for the use of these weapons of mass destruction. According to Eduardo Galeano, in Children of the Days, Truman said: “We thank God that it has come to us, instead of to our enemies; and we pray that He may guide us to use it in His ways and for His purposes.”

How different was the response of Pope Paul VI (who incidentally died on August 6, 1978), who called it a “butchery of untold magnitude.”

The light of the mount of Transfiguration and the blinding light of the atomic bomb at Hiroshima provide striking contrasts. Des Moines bishop Maurice Dingman wrote of this in a pastoral letter in 1978:

“The very existence of the human race is in jeopardy. We must halt the arms race in the spirit of Tabor or proceed with the armaments race and face annihilation in the spirit of Hiroshima.”

The light of Tabor was not a light of destruction but of self-giving. Jesus was discussing his upcoming death with Moses and Elijah. And as he came down the mountain he told his disciples to keep this secret until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.

The difference is, for me, clear.

Will we let ourselves be transfigured, transformed, by the Lord who gave his life for us and calls us to take up the cross in order to live?

Or will we impose a cross of war and injustice on others in order to preserve our “way of living”?

And so, it is not “God and the bomb.” It is God or the bomb.


One response to “God and the bomb

  1. Very interesting piece. A right-wing Mormon acquaintance of mine is taking exception to you’re (slight) scolding of Harry S. Truman, which— I think — mistakes the immediate (and desirable) result of ending the war, with both remorse for the act, and the fruits of that act.

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