The Forbidden Fruit of Nuclear Weaponry

Lord, today was the first day that I actually considered that the making of nuclear weaponry could have been a sin.  In the past, influenced by just-war theory, which may I still believe is right, I justified the making of the atomic bomb as necessary for the war effort.  And indeed, perhaps it was “necessary” on a pragmatic level.  Perhaps the use of the weapon in Japan kept the war from going on indefinitely.  Perhaps.  The firepower on Tokyo with 80,000 dead after three days of jellied gasoline three months before the A-bomb showed that the Americans already had the capacity to level cities and destroy civilians—yes, civilians, who were likely to be trained as potential soldiers defending the island all the way to their suicidal death.  In other words, America may not have needed such a weapon anyways to destroy Hiroshima or Nagasaki, even if the destruction of those cities proved to be a necessary evil in the path to restored world peace.

But today, Lord, in reading our physics textbook, I became convinced that the secular author was right to include the social questions in a science textbook, as part of scientific responsibility (thank You, Father, for appointing that inclusion), and I also became increasingly uncomfortable with the “sweet technology” cited by Robert Oppenheimer, director of Los Alamos, where the first atomic detonation of 18 kilotons occurred, which is the equivalent of 72,000 conventional bombs going off at once.  Once the possibility is in view of some technical achievement—in other words, once it reaches that sweet point—the it becomes almost irresistible not to do it.

Wow.  At first, I wondered why technology has such a sweet allure.  For myself, I could picture the temptation working on me: “Look what I can do.  Look what I know.  And even more, look what wealth I possess that enables me to build it.”  In other words, the three pride factors of Jeremiah 9:23 all show up to display human glory—power, wisdom, and wealth.

Looking at it as an allure made me think of it as a transgression, i.e. crossing a forbidden boundary.  It made me think of the Garden of Eden, where Eve saw how beneficial the fruit would be for making her wise and such, so she ate it.  Lord, do You see?  Of course, You do.  We humans justify the means by the end.  “There it is,” we say.  “Look at all the potential benefits!”  But no potential benefits justified our mother’s forbidden fruit.  And perhaps the same is true of nuclear weaponry.

In bioethics too, I have been learning: Just because we can do it does not mean we should do it.  But what does such a world look like, Lord, when such potentials are resisted?

It looks like a world of meekness and waiting on You—not forcing our way because we think this thing or that thing must happen.  (Wow, do I have that attitude in my private life!  Oh, no.)  Instead of forcing their way, the kings of Israel had been commanded not to stockpile horses and chariots (Deuteronomy 17:16).  They were not to boast in these weapons, as other nations, but to boast in “the name of the LORD our God” (Psalm 20:7).  This is how David faced Goliath—not with sword or spear, but with Your name.  Surely, we need to learn a lesson here about our sinful idolatrizing of mighty means, when You are sufficient with five loaves and two fish.

Now in response, Lord, I could imagine someone saying to me, “Stockpiling is a sin.  Mere development is not.”  And granted, You allowed the Israelites to have swords and spears.  And if You allowed (and sometimes even commanded) the use of such weapons, then the development of them initially would not necessarily have been evil.  But then, maybe we allow for simple weaponry, but not those more complex and more destructive—and yet, would this argument not lead to reductio ad absurdum?  After all, if the development of a more destructive weapon is evil, just because it is more destructive, where would we draw the line?  Would this rule not only apply to nuclear weapons, but also to all “advances” in military technology, such as the introduction of gunpowder or the machines in WWI that made the cavalry obsolete?  Again, where would the line fall between allowable and nonallowable weapons development?

Yet there was a line in Judah’s history.  According to your prophets, Lachish was “the beginning of sin” in Judah, the southern kingdom (Micah 1:13).  As a fortified city, did not that city represent military reliance?  Surely You tolerate weaponry (Judah was forbidden a stockpile, but not all weaponry), but in truth, it is only tolerance.  Your plans for the future kingdom show us that You would prefer (if history allowed) that these resources were put to productive use—and after all, we only have so much resources—in having the swords made into plowshares, and the spears into pruning hooks (Micah 4:3; cf. Isaiah 2:4).  Agricultural implements, not military weapons.  How, then, can we, as the human race, justify the exorbitant expense of 25,000 nuclear weapons made during the Cold War?  Was it not largely fear that drove us Americans to make these weapons—first, fear that the Nazis would get there first, then fear of the Soviets getting ahead of us?  And is not such fear the opposite of faith in You, a faith that would keep us from stockpiling weaponry (Psalm 20:7)?  How ironically tragic then, that in the midst of our nuclear race buildup, we changed our motto to “In God We Trust” (1950s)?  Like the Civil War that first generated that particular saying in the North, we have often had our eye more on our enemy (the South then, the communists now) than on You.  Could you not have defeated the Nazis without nuclear weapons?  And even if not, would warding off that defeat with nuclear weapons have justified their creation?

Intriguingly, I have often regarded the 1960s as the decade when the knowledge of You was officially rejected, but could it be that the 1940s was the decade when You were practically rejected?  After all, if Lachish was the beginning of Judah’s sin, could it be that the Manhattan Project was the beginning of American sin?  Certainly, this corresponds to the consciences of many of those physicists behind the project.  In the words of Oppenheimer himself, “The physicists have known sin.”

One more thing stood out today, Lord, and it is interesting that You have gripped me with this story now for over a dozen years.  There is only one natural element that can produce a nuclear weapon: Uranium.  And even though plutonium can fuel a bomb, plutonium is not natural, but is a byproduct of uranium from nuclear reactors, what uranium can look after two beta decays.  Ironically, the name uranium (though perhaps named after the planet Uranus) ultimately comes from the Greek word for “heaven” (ouranos).  The “heaven” element has the doorway to nuclear power.  And even within Uranium, only 1% is Uranium-235, the isotope needed for a nuclear reaction.  This one pathway in the whole wide world, found within a heavenly place, strongly reminds me of the one tree in the Garden that You left for developing man’s knowledge of good and evil.  This pattern, then, is so like You!  To leave one small path into the (perhaps) forbidden grounds of nuclear weapons!  Although I would regard nuclear chain reactions as a good when used to harness energy production in a reactor, this one solitary path to nuclear weaponry is interesting.

Therefore, I am back to where I began.  Just because I can do something, should I?  Oh, for the trust in You, to resist the sweet allure of technology!


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