The Common Good
March 2008

PLUS: 'A Crime Against God and Humanity'

by Douglas Roche | March 2008

Religious leaders condemn nuclear weapons.

Spiritual and religious leaders have long condemned the inhumanness of nuclear weapons. In 1983, the World Council of Churches, a fellowship of 347 denominations from virtually all Christian traditions in more than 120 countries, rejected the doctrine of nuclear deterrence and unequivocally declared: “That the production and deployment as well as the use of nuclear weapons are a crime against humanity and that such activities must be condemned on ethical and theological grounds.”

The Canadian Council of Churches, a community of 20 denominations, stated in 1998: “The willingness, indeed the intent, to launch a nuclear attack in certain circumstances bespeaks spiritual and moral bankruptcy. … Nuclear weapons do not, cannot, deliver security—they deliver only insecurity and peril through their promise to annihilate that which is most precious, life itself and the global ecosystem upon which all life depends. Nuclear weapons have no moral legitimacy.”

In 1999, more than 7,000 people gathered in Cape Town, South Africa, for the Parliament of the World’s Religions and issued A Moral Call to Eliminate the Threat of Nuclear Wea­pons, which states: “The threat and use of nuclear weapons is incompatible with civilized norms, standards of morality, and humanitarian law which prohibit the use of inhumane weapons and those with indiscriminate effects.”

Definitive Catholic teaching on nuclear deterrence is found in the Second Vatican Council and subsequent statements by Pope John Paul II. The council affirmed that any act of war aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of entire cities “is a crime against God and [humanity].” Pope John Paul II, in a statement to the U.N. Special Session on Disarmament in 1982, said nuclear deterrence could be accepted only as “a step on the way towards progressive disarmament.” The American Catholic Bishops in their 1983 Pastoral Letter on War and Peace adopted this same position.

As the 1990s progressed, it became clear that U.S. policy was not moving toward nuclear disarmament, and the Vatican stepped up its criticism, stating in a number of interventions at the United Nations that nuclear weapons are incompatible with peace and deserve condemnation. When previous commitments to nuclear disarmament continued to be trampled on, Vatican spokesperson Archbishop Celestino Migliore told the 2005 NPT Review Conference that the Holy See did not countenance nuclear deterrence as a permanent measure. Pope Benedict XVI followed this up in his 2006 World Day of Peace message, in which he criticized the idea of nuclear arms for security as “completely fallacious.” He said, “Peace requires that all … strive for progressive and concerted nuclear disarmament.”

The General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, Samuel Kobia, excoriates the spread of nuclear weapons technology as “an outrage to all humanity.” He said it was a “scandal” that countries possessing vast arsenals of nuclear weapons are unwilling to renounce their use.

Interfaith work to condemn nuc­lear weapons has started in a small way. A consultation of Christian and Muslim scholars, convened in 2005, called for a “total and universal ban” on all nuclear weapons. Together, Christians and Muslims are 55 percent of the world’s population, making the relationship between these two religious communities a critical factor in contributing to meaningful peace around the world. Since both faiths are unambiguous on the sanctity of human life and on the protection of all forms of creation, including the environment, their joint action for the common good of protecting God’s creation from a nuclear holocaust could have a potent effect on political decision-makers.—Douglas Roche

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