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Pope Francis Calls Possession of Nuclear Weapons Sinful

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Readings for First Sunday of Advent: IS 2:1-5; PS 122:1-9; ROM 13: 11-14; PS 85:8; MT 24: 37-44

Last weekend, Pope Francis outright condemned the manufacture and possession of nuclear weapons. (I'll bet you didn't notice that in the mainstream media.)

The pope did so during his visit to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where he met with survivors of the two Japanese cities which were virtually wiped off the map when atomic bombs were dropped on them in 1945. The weapons of unprecedented mass destruction killed more than 200,000 people in matters of minutes.

During his remarks, Pope Francis said, "A world without nuclear weapons is possible and necessary. . . The use of atomic energy for the purpose of war is immoral, just as the possessing of nuclear weapons is immoral . . ."

The pope's visit and sharp condemnation could not come at a more opportune time either historically or liturgically (on this First Sunday of Advent). Historically, they follow hard upon the conviction of the Kings Bay Plowshares 7, a group of seven Catholic peace activists who in April of last year entered the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base in Georgia to symbolically destroy the nuclear weapons housed there. (Kings Bay harbors at least six nuclear ballistic missile submarines. Each of them carries 20 Trident missiles.)

The Seven included Liz McAlister, the wife of deceased peace activist Phil Berrigan, as well as Martha Hennesy, the granddaughter of Dorothy Day, the legendary co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement.

As I pointed out a couple of weeks ago, the group's own "weapons" for accomplishing their task were hammers, crime scene tape, and baby bottles containing their own blood. Once inside, they splashed their blood on the walls of the base's administration building. They used their hammers to "destroy" the nosecone of one of the Trident missiles. They also posted a formal indictment of the U.S. government charging it with crimes against peace.

At their trial the activists had planned to mount a "necessity defense." However, the presiding judge forbade them to cite their religious motivations. That nullified their planned argument that their "crime" was morally necessary to prevent the far greater catastrophe of a nuclear war.

The Seven had also planned to present Daniel Ellsberg as an expert witness to articulate that defense. All of us recall Ellsberg as the most famous whistle blower in U.S. history. In 1971, he risked a lifetime behind bars when he leaked the famous Pentagon Papers that revealed Washington's hidden strategy behind the Vietnam War. His recent book The Doomsday Machine: confessions of a nuclear war planner details his work as a Defense Department analyst and nuclear weapons strategist.

However, Ellsberg too was forbidden to testify. Had he done so, he would have argued that the Seven were faithfully following the prophet Isaiah's command to "beat swords into plowshares" (IS 2:4).

(By the way, with the judge's restrictions in place, the Plowshares 7 were convicted of conspiracy. On their sentencing within 90 days, the activists will face more than 20 years in prison.)

All of this -- Pope Francis' words about the sinfulness of nuclear weapons manufacture and possession as well as the conviction of the Plowshares 7 -- is relevant to this Sunday's liturgy of the word and historically relevant in the way just explained. That's because today's first reading contains those words from the prophet Isaiah.

Contradicting his people's earlier understanding of God as a "Man of War," Isaiah speaks words describing divine opposition to all war and a fortiori, of course, to nuclear war. They envision a precisely enlightened human future when the people of the world will "beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks," and where "one nation shall not raise the sword against another."

Then in today's Gospel reading from the 24th chapter of Matthew's Gospel, Jesus (like the Buddha before him) calls his followers to simply wake up rather than prepare for war against their Roman occupiers led by a violent "Son of Man." As Matthew's readers will discover in his 25th chapter, "waking up" means recognizing Christ's presence in the "least of the brethren." Jesus implies that such recognition precludes war of any kind and (again a fortiori) nuclear war.

To get what I mean, please read for yourself today's biblical selections. You can find them here. Despite their obscurity (especially in today's apocalyptic Gospel passage), you'll see that they're about waking up and renunciation of war. At least that's what I see in them, as you can tell from my "translations" immediately below:

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Mike Rivage-Seul is a liberation theologian and former Roman Catholic priest. Retired in 2014, he taught at Berea College in Kentucky for 40 years where he directed Berea's Peace and Social Justice Studies Program.Mike blogs (more...)
 

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6 people are discussing this page, with 13 comments  Post Comment


Mike Rivage-Seul

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"Wake up!" is the shared message of the Buddha, Jesus, and St. Paul. Somehow, the signs of the times show awakening happening all across the planet. When will that happen in our country on a comparable scale? Advent is a time for asking and answering that question -- not as individuals but in community.

Submitted on Sunday, Dec 1, 2019 at 10:00:01 AM

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Robert Gormley

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Great article Mike. The United States has been brainwashed by the likes of Fox news, etc. I don't think

any other country worships the military like the US.

Just like Rome 2000 years ago. Hopefully Jesus' return

is imminent and he will command the beating of swords

into plowshares.

Submitted on Sunday, Dec 1, 2019 at 12:54:16 PM

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Mike Rivage-Seul

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Thanks, Robert. Pope Francis has been a breath of fresh air. Lord knows, the church needs reform. It has to use the tremendous spiritual power it possesses (along with other faith and non-faith spiritualities) to address the world's real problems like nuclear war and climate change.

Submitted on Sunday, Dec 1, 2019 at 2:45:59 PM

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Kenneth Lee

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In my opinion, there is an innate goodness and morality that transcends any religion created by man (and all are). Those who control societies have, over the centuries, learned how to effectively brainwash people into believing that war is good, peace is bad, and ignorance is bliss (sound familiar, Mr. Orwell?). If this Pope wants to actually walk the talk, I'd like to see him condemn any military of any country that possesses nuclear weapons and strongly dissuade anyone from participating in said militaries, for their participation is in fact tacit support of same and denial of church position on that issue. I am obviously not a deist of any sort, other than cherishing the natural world, but perhaps organized religion can finally rise up and take a strong position in favor of said world instead of the world of man and profit. Sadly, organized religion is also about profit as well, given that the Catholic church is extraordinarily wealthy, with massive real estate holdings and heavily invested in the stock markets around the world. MORE INFO:

click here

Submitted on Sunday, Dec 1, 2019 at 4:18:39 PM

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Mike Rivage-Seul

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You are so right, Ken. The pope needs to write an encyclical saying the very things you suggest here. He should say clearly that we cannot in conscience allow our sons and daughters to serve in the kind of military establishment we now have. Sadly, I don't see him doing it.

Submitted on Sunday, Dec 1, 2019 at 8:08:44 PM

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Zef Rose

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It never ceases to amaze me that otherwise brilliant, logical, socially conscious and peace-loving people can continue to support a behemoth religion that has proven itself over and over to be life-denying, perverted, violent and insatiable.

Submitted on Sunday, Dec 1, 2019 at 5:03:29 PM

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Mike Rivage-Seul

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I'm sympathetic to your comment too, Zef. However, I also think we who consider ourselves "progressive" need to harness the power of faith to debunk religion and to rescue, for example, the teachings of Jesus from those who would domesticate his radical insights. So far we're not doing a good job of doing that. As a result, we've surrendered the field to reactionaries and their nationalistic, other-worldly interpretations, and the power of Jesus' revolutionary spirituality has been lost. This is the insight of liberation theology, which one might consider a kind of anti-theology.

Submitted on Sunday, Dec 1, 2019 at 8:14:29 PM

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Chuck Nafziger

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Pope Francis is a breath of fresh air. I have been to Nagasaki and felt the enormity of the crime they endured.


I agree that we have to back away from our violent Empire and live in peace with ourselves and our communities. When we quit supporting warped capitalism by dumping our hard earned money into the pockets of narcissistic oligarchs, they will dissolve and peace will become possible.

Submitted on Sunday, Dec 1, 2019 at 6:10:05 PM

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Mike Rivage-Seul

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I'm still puzzled by this second use of atomic weapons. The first at Hiroshima was deplorable and indefensible. But why this second usage?

Submitted on Sunday, Dec 1, 2019 at 8:16:02 PM

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shad williams

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It was a message from Satan worshipers. This might explain why the pentagon calls the world's most potentially destructive nuclear bomb, made by the Russians The Satan II. They could have named it the Satan Also, since it would follow the first generation of Satans unleashed by the Satanic leadership of America on Japan. The Satan II bomb would be powerful enough to be seen in nyc and des moines iowa as it detonates and obliterates the mettoplitan area of cincinnati ohio.

Submitted on Monday, Dec 2, 2019 at 7:47:56 AM

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Chuck Nafziger

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It was a field test of a plutonium bomb with real people to test it on. It was a merciless monster showing its strength to the Russians.

Submitted on Monday, Dec 2, 2019 at 8:48:23 AM

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shad williams

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It is no longer extraordinary to see professed christians by the billions stand down and allow themselves to be led by fake christians.

Submitted on Monday, Dec 2, 2019 at 7:21:08 AM

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Pope Francis is a great man. Here is a bit of his wisdom from today's news:

Pope Francis: "Dear brothers and sisters, consumerism is a virus that affects the faith at its root, because it makes you believe that life depends only on what you have. When you live for things, things are never enough, greed grows and other people become obstacles in a race and so one ends up feeling threatened and always dissatisfied and angry. The level of hatred rises."

Submitted on Monday, Dec 2, 2019 at 6:22:45 PM

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