Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Happy United Nations Day

In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD! 
Isaiah 2:2-5

At the United Nations building in New York City there is a statue of a man beating a giant sword into a plowshare. The sculpture, titled, “Let Us Beat Swords into Plowshares,” was created by Evgeniv Vuchetich and given as a gift by the Soviet Union in 1959.

When President Reagan addressed the United Nations General Assembly in 1987, he began by describing the journey that brought the delegates and the nations together as a kind of pilgrimage, and then he said, “We come from every continent, every race, and most religions to this great hall of hope . . .”

Near the conclusion of his address, speaking specifically to the Soviet Union as well as to the whole assembly, he asked, 
“Cannot swords be turned to plowshares? Can we and all nations not live in peace? In our obsession with antagonisms of the moment, we often forget how much unites all the members of humanity. Perhaps we need some outside, universal threat to make us recognize this common bond. I occasionally think how quickly our differences world-wide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world. And yet, I ask you, is not an alien force already among us? What could be more alien than war and the threat of war?”
The United Nations Charter was ratified on October 24, 1945. Today is United Nations Day. When I was a child we celebrated United Nations Sunday in church every year.

My guess is that most people don’t know that today is United Nations Day. And we do not have many political leaders who would speak of the U.N. assembly room as “this great hall of hope.”

Over the years the United Nations has been  relentlessly vilified and marginalized by politicians. Some see it as simply ineffective and others see it as a threat to our sovereignty. 

In 2012, Fox News political commentator Dick Morris wrote a book called “The Black Helicopters Are Coming.” In it he claimed that President Obama was plotting to have the United States invaded by the United Nations. Morris admitted at the time that “it sounds crazy,” but insisted that it was really going to happen.

When Donald Trump addressed the United Nations General Assembly a month ago there was spontaneous laughter when he claimed that "In less than two years, my administration has accomplished almost more than any other administration in the history of our country.”

But his embrace of "Nationalism"  and his dismissal of an international approach to world problems like climate change are antithetical to the UN’s global mission. And that is no laughing matter.

The truth is that the United Nations has not lived up to our expectations. We have avoided massive world wars, and that is no small achievement. The second half of the twentieth century was much more peaceful than the first half. And the United Nations deserves some share of the credit for that. On the other hand, smaller wars have been constant and the resulting deaths and injuries have been staggering. 

In spite of its obvious limitations, the world is a better place because of the United Nations, and on United Nations Day I want to touch briefly on a few of the U.N. organizations that have fostered international progress and understanding.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is organized to reduce hunger worldwide through improving agricultural productivity and raising levels of nutrition. The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) is similarly targeted to reduce rural poverty in developing nations by funding relief efforts.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) promotes global cooperation to improve maritime safety and decrease marine pollution.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) acts as a forum for discussing global financial issues and provides loans to developing countries.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) promotes world peace and security by fostering international cooperation in education, science and culture. They promote the fundamental freedoms endorsed in the UN Charter.

And then there are some UN organizations that require no further description: the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Trade Organization (WHO), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), and the World Bank Group (WBG) which includes five sub-groups focused on promoting development and reconstruction.

It is an impressive list. Together they promote an international strategy for beating swords into plowshares. 

Thank you for reading. Your thoughts and comments are always welcome. Please feel free to share on social media as you wish. 

*This is a revised version of a post first published on October 24, 2012.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Is the Transgender Person My Neighbor?

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
Luke 10:29-32

In what we call “The Parable of the Good Samaritan,” Jesus defines what it means to be a neighbor. And along the way he defines what we mean by “privilege.”

Privilege is the ability to pass by on the other side.

Yesterday the New York Times reported that the Trump administration is planning to adopt a rigid definition of gender as a biologically determined status that is fixed at birth by the genitalia with which a person is born. The effect of this change in terms of government policy would be to define transgender Americans out of existence.

According to a memo obtained by the Times, the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Health and Human Services is arguing that government agencies must adopt an explicit and uniform definition of gender “on a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable.”

Sex would be defined as either male or female and fixed at birth:
The sex listed on a person’s birth certificate, as originally issued, shall constitute definitive proof of a person’s sex unless rebutted by reliable genetic evidence.”
The new definition of gender would be the most consequential in a series of actions taken by the Trump administration to exclude transgender people from civil rights protections and rescind recent governmental policies designed to extend them. The Times reports that the Trump administration “has sought to bar transgender people from serving in the military and has legally challenged civil rights protections for the group embedded in the nation’s health care law.”

Catherine E. Lhannon, who served as head of the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights under President Obama said, “This takes a position that what the medical community understands about their patients — what people understand about themselves — is irrelevant because the government disagrees.”

Roger Severino, who now heads the Civil Rights Office of HHS has been critical of the efforts made by President Obama to increase protections for transgender Americans. Mr. Severino previously led the Devos Center for Religion and Civil Society at the Heritage Foundation and had opposed the expansion of protections under Title IX to include gender identity, calling it a “radical gender ideology.” 

Severino described the steps taken by the Obama administration as the “culmination of a series of unilateral, and frequently lawless, administration attempts to impose a new definition of what it means to be a man or a woman on the entire nation.”

“Transgender people are frightened,” said Sarah Warbelow, the legal director of the Human Rights Campaign. “At every step where the administration has had the choice, they’ve opted to turn their back on transgender people.” 

After the New York Times article was published online, transgender people posted pictures of themselves on social media with the hashtag #WontBeErased

There are approximately 1.4 million Americans who identify as transgender. In a nation of 330 million that’s barely 4 tenths of a percent. 

The rest of us can just cross the road and pass by on the other side.

Thank you for reading. Your thoughts and comments are always welcome. Please feel free to share on social media as you wish. 

Friday, August 31, 2018

Ayn Rand, Jesus, and Donald Trump

Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out to the field.” And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him.
Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” And the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!”
Genesis 4:8-10

Cain assumes that he is asking a rhetorical question.

But he is mistaken.

The question is real and it will be fundamental to the long biblical narrative that follows through the Hebrew Scriptures to the end of the New Testament. Cain poses the question for God, but it is quickly turned back as the question God asks of us. 

And Jesus will tell his followers that it is the question by which their lives will be judged.

Ayn Rand, on the other hand, sides with Cain.

I first encountered Ayn Rand (her first name, she said, rhymes with swine) late one night in the fall of my freshman year in college. I was quite entranced for at least half an hour. 

My brief enthusiasm for her philosophy was, I thought, a sort of “rite of passage;” something everybody did at least once. But it was not anything to be taken seriously.

In the movie “Dirty Dancing” one of the major sub-plots is that Baby is trying to help Johnny’s dance partner get an abortion. She confronts the college kid who got Johnny’s partner pregnant and asks him to pay for the abortion. The young man, who is also romancing Baby’s sister, refuses. 

Then he pulls out a dog-eared copy of Rand's “The Fountainhead” and tells her she should read it, that she’ll like it, but that when she finishes it, he wants it back because he has notes in the margins.

He tells her that she needs to understand, “Some people count, and some people don’t.”

“You make me sick,” she tells him. And then she pours a pitcher of water down the front of his shirt and pants.

The philosophy of Ayn Rand should make us sick.

Her basic position is that selfishness is a virtue and altruism is a sin, though as a staunch atheist, she would not call it a sin. It is not just that we are not obligated to help others; we ought not to do it.

In Rand's view, our responsibility is to take care of ourselves. Period. 

In a report in the Washington Post, detailing connections between Rand's philosophy and key players in the Trump administration, James Hohmann describes Rand as “perhaps the leading literary voice in 20th century America for the notion that, in society, there are makers and takers, and that the takers are parasitic moochers who get in the way of the morally-superior innovators.”
“Her books portray the federal government as an evil force, trying to stop hard-working men from accumulating the wealth that she believes they deserve. The author was also an outspoken atheist, something that oozes through in her writing. Rand explained that the essence of ‘objectivism,’ as she called her ideology, is that ‘man exists for his own sake, that the pursuit of his own happiness is his highest moral purpose, that he must not sacrifice himself to others, nor sacrifice others to himself.’”
In an interview with Kirsten Powers, Donald Trump described himself as a Rand fan and said that he identifies most with Howard Roark, the hero of “The Fountainhead,” an architect who blows up a housing project he designed because his blueprints were not exactly followed by the builders. He told Powers, “It relates to business, beauty, life and inner emotions. That book relates to ... everything.”

It is ironic that the evangelical embrace of Donald Trump has not been hindered by his admiration for one of the most famous atheists of the twentieth century. 

But for serious Christians, her atheism is not the most important issue. 

Unlike the theoretical atheism of those who reject the idea of God as unnecessary or unscientific, Rand’s rejection is primarily a moral one. 

Many atheists reject Christian theology while expressing an admiration for the ethics of Jesus. Rand rejects the core of Christian ethics as “immoral.”

Onkar Ghate, a Senior Fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute, posted an essay titled, “Does America Need Ayn Rand or Jesus?” 

Ghate argues that for Rand, “morality is not about subordination or service to others or to some ‘higher power’; it is not about self-sacrifice. Hers is a morality that upholds egoism and individualism: it seeks to teach you the difficult task of pursuing the values that achieve your own individual self-interest and happiness.”

In the ethics of Ayn Rand, pursuing your own self-interest and happiness is a “difficult task.” And she believed it was “immoral” to love others more than you love yourself.

Hers is a curiously non-ethical ethics. Historically, the task of ethics has been to balance the self-interest of the individual against the needs and interests of the community. Ethics restrains our natural selfishness. In Rand’s system selfishness is a virtue. 

Ghate is to be commended for his honesty in clearly stating that Rand's philosophy is opposed to the central core of Jesus’ teaching. 

And he is right. We have to choose Ayn Rand or Jesus. We can’t have both.

Thank you for reading. Your thoughts and comments are always welcome. Please feel free to share on social media as you wish. 

Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Pennsylvania Grand Jury: First, Do No Harm

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. But if any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea.”
Matthew 18:1-6

Several times each year I use a portion of a prayer by Harry Emerson Fosdick that asks God to “Remind us of Jesus’ tender compassion for children and of his burning indignation against those who do them wrong. Remind us of his deep and overflowing love, drawing all children near to him.”

According to Matthew’s account, burning indignation would be an understatement. 

I have been thinking about the stories of clergy sex abuse and the cover ups by the Roman Catholic Church in Pennsylvania. You can read an overview here, but I will not retell any of the painful testimonies offered by victims or the damning descriptions offered by investigators.

They are just too painful and too disgusting.

If you read the stories you will soon be in tears and then you will want to beat your head against a wall. The suffering of the victims is immeasurable. 

And there is no reason to believe that Pennsylvania is unique. Then beyond the pain inflicted directly on the victims, there is the pain done to the faith of so many others.

It would be bad enough if the problem were confined to the Catholic Church, but it isn’t.

And, of course, it isn’t confined to clergy.

But the clergy cases are uniquely troubling. Like teachers and coaches and physicians, we clergy are given roles of trust and responsibility in the lives of the people we serve. But the role of a clergyperson is sacred in a way that the other professions are not.

When someone comes to my office they need to feel safe and they need to be safe. They need to know that they will be listened to and respected and cared for. They need to know that whatever they share will be held in sacred trust. And they need to be both physically and emotionally safe.

In church, the pastor’s study and the worship space should each be a place of sanctuary.

Like many other congregations we have a “safe sanctuaries” program that provides guidelines to prevent opportunities for abusive relationships. Our offices and classrooms have windows. We don’t meet alone with children or youth. Those precautions ought not to be necessary, but the Pennsylvania cases remind us that they are.

In 1739 Methodist founder John Wesley provided three simple rules for the clergy and lay persons who were part of the Methodist movement. First, do no harm. Second, do good insofar as possible to all persons. And third, attend the public ordinances of God.

They all matter.

But the first one is first for a reason.

Do no harm. 

If we cannot keep that first rule, nothing else matters.

Thank you for reading. Your thoughts and comments are always welcome. Please feel free to share on social media as you wish.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Traditionalism: Hardened Hearts and Dull Ears

Millennial Panel at Uniting Methodists Conference- photo by IRD
"For the sake of your tradition, you make void the word of God. You hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied rightly about you when he said:
‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.’”

Matthew 15:6-9

Jesus is hard on traditionalists. It is a point that seems lost on today’s traditionalists, who wear that label proudly. And yes, they do wear it "proudly" in spite of the fact that Jesus is also critical of religious pride.

And few things are more traditional in response to those who are different, and marginalized for their differences, than a hard heart.

As Jesus says:

This people’s heart has grown dull,
and their ears are hard of hearing,
and they have shut their eyes;
so that they might not look with their eyes,
and listen with their ears,
and understand with their heart and turn—
and I would heal them.”

Matthew 13:15

The hardened heart of traditionalism was on full display in an article posted in the Juicy Ecumenism blog of The Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD).

In a post titled, “Uniting MethodistsPanelists: the Bible Is Wrong,” Dan Moran reports on a conference sponsored by the “Uniting Methodists” caucus and focusing on the “One Church Plan” endorsed by the Council of Bishops as a “Way Forward” for the United Methodist Church.

The article is almost entirely devoted to commentary on a panel discussion led by the Rev. Mike Baughman who is the lead pastor for Union, a new church start in Dallas, Texas. The participants were four young milennials who are leaders of the worship planning tea at Union. Moran voices disappointment that all of the panelists “were fully LBBTQ-affirming,” and then concludes that, “The unorthodox beliefs shared by these ‘Uniting Methodists’ panelists appear to speak clearly to the heart and future aspirations of this caucus and its preferred plan.”

Moran centers his analysis of the discussion on a comment by Lauren Manza, “who identifies as lesbian.” She was, in Moran’s words, “unabashed in criticizing the Bible itself.”

He writes that when she was speaking about same sex marriage and commenting on “the verses that traditionalists use to argue against it,” Moran reports that she said:

“I believe if I sat down with Paul today, Paul would say ‘I’m not down for that,’ but I think the Bible’s wrong.”

The emphasis is Moran’s.

That’s the issue. She thinks the Bible is wrong.

Clearly, for the traditionalists, that was was a “gotcha” moment.

And to make matters worse, Rev. Baughman did not correct her.

“Instead of providing a counterpoint to her attack on Biblical authority, Baughman continued Manza’s train of thought.” He recalled that there were times when a member of the worship planning team would ask, “Can we just say the Bible’s wrong?”

“One of the things that’s been interesting,” said Baughman, “is I think there is this sense among a lot of millennials that just because the Bible says something, that doesn’t mean it has any authority whatsoever.”

He is talking about the saying, not the Bible. The saying does not have authority just because it is in the Bible. Which is not the same as saying that the whole Bible has no authority.

Not surprisingly, the assertion that the Bible doesn’t have “any authority whatsoever” caught the attention of the traditionalists.

At last, the progressive agenda has been exposed!

One typical comment asks, “If the Bible is wrong, why do we even have it anymore? Just throw it out with the rest of our morals and “do our thing”. And then he adds, “Satan is alive and well in the Methodist Church – I know he is in ours.”

Moran summarizes it this way:

“Baughman and the panel ultimately presented an approach of disregarding the fundamental concept of the Bible as the ultimate source of religious truth and authority. They commended this approach to their audience on the grounds that some young Americans at this particular moment in cultural history find it acceptable. . . . If there was any doubt that the agenda of the ‘One Church Plan’ and its most enthusiastic supporters is liberalizing the UMC, this panel made it clear.”
The Uniting Methodists have a very different vision for the future of the UMC than the traditionalists do. And the biggest difference is that the Uniting Methodists want to preserve a place for the traditionalists, while the traditionalists have no place for the progressives. In the traditionalist plan, the progressives, like their LGBTQ siblings, are welcome to stay only if they cease to be progressive or gay.

Which leads me to three observations, a question, and a final comment:

First, the panelists were not talking about the Bible as a whole. They were talking about a few verses. And those verses are far from the center of the biblical message.

Second, the authority of Scripture is not verse by verse. The authority of the Bible is found in its great overarching themes of grace and justice and building the Kingdom of God on earth. Individual verses or passages can never be decisive.

Third, we all know that the Bible is “wrong” at many points. Even the most devoted hard line traditionalists don’t believe in executing people for having same sex relations. And that’s just the handiest example. One of the most important tasks of biblical interpretation is separating those things which are time-bound and reflect the limits of ancient culture from those truths which are eternal.

Fourth, a question: When did United Methodists become biblical inerrantists? Or biblical literalists, for that matter? There is nothing even remotely Wesleyan or Methodist about biblical inerrantism.

And finally, just for the record, I’m confident that if Lauren Manza could sit down with the Apostle Paul today, he would agree with her.

Thank you for reading. Your thoughts and comments are always welcome. Please feel free to share on social media as you wish. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

CAFE Standards, Global Warming, and the Wonder of the Automobile

1952 Volkswagen Beetle
The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it,
the world, and those who live in it;
for he has founded it on the seas,
and established it on the rivers.
Psalm 24:1-2

I am a car guy.

I have always been a car guy.

Cars are part of my earliest memories. The first car I remember in our family was a Renault 4CV. That was followed by a string of Volkswagens, a Volvo 544, a Falcon, and a series of 2-stroke Saabs.

When I need to figure out when something happened, I date it by recalling what car we owned, or what car I was driving or what car someone else was driving or maybe remembering some car I saw on the way.

When I show people the historic photographs of our old church building on Main Street. I always ask, “Do you know the best thing about this picture?” Of course, they just stare blankly because it is a very ordinary photograph of our old and architecturally unremarkable education building, Colby Hall. 

Then I point to the very small image of a car parked in the street. “That,” I say in the way that I imagine anyone would speak of something miraculous, “is an XK 120.” And then I launch into an enthusiastic explanation of the Jaguar  XK 120, completely undeterred by the fact that almost no one ever matches my enthusiasm. Or reverence.

Given my history, you might think that I would be happy about the Trump administration deciding to roll back the Obama CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards, but I’m not.

That’s because although I have been a car guy since I was a little boy, as an adult I am now also an environmentalist (it’s that pesky Christian ethics thing about caring for creation and environmental stewardship) and the environment trumps the car stuff.

Especially now, when the world is literally burning up.

I am on vacation in Georgetown, Maine right now. It’s late afternoon. We are less than two miles from the Atlantic Ocean and it’s 90 degrees here. And it seems like it’s been 90 degrees forever. 

And this is not normal.

And it’s lots warmer almost everywhere else in the United States. And there’s a heat wave in Scandinavia. And a drought in Australia. And California is actually on fire.

A hot few days in the summer does not prove that global warming is real any more than a snowstorm in the spring proves that it’s not. But the global trends look suspicious. 

Then there’s the lobsters. They are migrating north toward the colder water. As Elaine says, “You can’t argue with a crustacean.”

Those who defend the relaxed CAFE standards argue that automobile emissions in the United States are a very small fraction of the global carbon footprint. But they are still one of the largest single things we can regulate. And this does not seem like the time to move in the wrong direction.

But there’s more.

The relaxed standards will cost more money, because the savings in manufacturing costs will be more than offset by increased fuel costs over the life of the vehicle. It will result in job losses and it will cause us to lose a competitive edge in the global marketplace.

The big thing is the environment. And the second thing is the economy. But it’s also about the cars.
The first cars produced in response to the energy crisis and the new emissions and safety standards of the 1970’s were truly terrible cars. They were slow, ugly, and not very fuel efficient. Since then we have been on a remarkable trajectory. Today’s cars are better in every way, and much of that improvement has been in response to government mandates in the United States and around the world.

Our 1952 VW Beetle was adorable. And on a good day it could get 25 mpg. Compared to the average of all cars at the time, that was pretty impressive. But the top speed was less than 70 mph, and that was downhill. With a tailwind. And it’s best not to think about crash safety.

By contrast, the 2012 V6 Mustang that sits in my driveway consistently gets better than 30 mpg on the highway (more than 34 mpg on one memorable trip to Maine). It has airbags and crumple zones. And it’s very fast

For comparison, the 1969 Mustang that Steve McQueen drove in “Bullitt” had a 390 cubic inch V8. It would do zero to 60 mph in just 5.7 seconds and could run the quarter mile in 14.1 seconds.

That's very fast.

According to the road test people, that would make it just a few ticks slower (s-l-o-w-e-r) than a 2012 V6.

And Steve never got 30 mpg.

Thank you for reading. Your thoughts and comments are always welcome. Please feel free to share on social media as you wish. 

Monday, August 6, 2018

Hiroshima and the Prophetic Vision of Harry Emerson Fosdick

“Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.”
Matthew 5:9

“War is essentially the denial of everything Christ stood for.”
Harry Emerson Fosdick

One of our summer traditions is going to the Patten Library book sale. The books sale is part of “Bath Heritage Days,” a festive occasion of craft fares, displays and sales. A few years ago I found a wonderful little book of sermons by Harry Emerson Fosdick called, “A Great Time to Be Alive.”

Fosdick looks better and better to me as the years go by. When I was in seminary, I thought he was a theological and intellectual lightweight. In my estimation, opposing Fundamentalism was obvious. And didn’t he spend his whole career at Riverside Church, bought and paid for by Rockefeller money? But now, when I re-read “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” I am struck by its relevance for our time.

Fosdick’s liberal theology, which seemed so pale and lifeless when I was in seminary, now looks both profound and prophetic. Truthfully, I held those negative opinions based almost entirely on what other people had said or written. My opinion changed as I began to read Fosdick for myself.

Still, I was put off by the title of the book. I assumed that “A Great Time to Be Alive” would be a sugary recitation of happy insights from the 1950’s. Optimism pretending to be faith. A mid-twentieth century version of Joel Osteen. I bought it because I have a small collection of Fosdick books, but I did not expect much.

I was surprised to find a prophetic and remarkably hopeful collection of sermons written and preached during the Second World War. Fosdick’s hope takes account of the stark reality of war, but also looks ahead to the possibilities beyond the war.

The book was published in the summer of 1944, shortly after the Normandy invasion, when the outcome of the war was not yet certain. He believed it was “A Great Time to Be Alive” because so much was at stake for the future of humanity and every decision mattered existentially and spiritually.

Fosdick had the courage, in that perilous time, to declare that war is always at odds with Christian teaching. It may be necessary, but it is never good. 
“Whether one thinks of what our enemies have done to us—of Warsaw, Lidice, Rotterdam, Coventry—or what we have done to them—‘We literally drop liquid fire on these cities,’ says one expert in air warfare, ‘and literally roast the populations to death.’”
He assumes that we will win the war. Hitler will be defeated and Imperial Japan will be
vanquished, but the real challenge will be to win the peace, to create a world which is worthy of the human lives lost in war. “Many Americans,” he writes, “would love to save the world if only they could save it without changing their isolationism, without changing their ideas of absolute national sovereignty, without changing their racial prejudices and their economic ideas to fit the new interdependent world.” Sadly, those words are still relevant. We still want to save the world without giving up anything.

In many ways, we did “win the peace.” The Marshall Plan was an incredible effort to rebuild the nations we had defeated, and it led to decades of post-war prosperity. Although we still have a long way to go, we have made great strides in race relations. And the United Nations, for all its shortcomings, is still at the center of maintaining peace in the world. In other ways, we are still struggling to recognize the ties that bind us together and embrace the interdependence of God’s world.

Today, on the anniversary of dropping the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, as we contemplate a chaotic foreign policy and as American Christianity seems to be in increasing danger of losing its soul, Fosdick’s vision is particularly relevant.

In 2009 the Boston Globe described the Hiroshima bombing this way:
Targeted for military reasons and for its terrain (flat for easier assessment of the aftermath), Hiroshima was home to approximately 250,000 people at the time of the bombing. The U.S. B-29 Superfortress bomber "Enola Gay" took off from Tinian Island very early on the morning of August 6th, carrying a single 4,000 kg (8,900 lb) uranium bomb codenamed "Little Boy". At 8:15 am, Little Boy was dropped from 9,400 m (31,000 ft) above the city, freefalling for 57 seconds while a complicated series of fuse triggers looked for a target height of 600 m (2,000 ft) above the ground. At the moment of detonation, a small explosive initiated a super-critical mass in 64 kg (141 lbs) of uranium. Of that 64 kg, only .7 kg (1.5 lbs) underwent fission, and of that mass, only 600 milligrams was converted into energy - an explosive energy that seared everything within a few miles, flattened the city below with a massive shockwave, set off a raging firestorm and bathed every living thing in deadly radiation. Nearly 70,000 people are believed to have been killed immediately, with possibly another 70,000 survivors dying of injuries and radiation exposure by 1950. Today, Hiroshima houses a Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum near ground zero, promoting a hope to end the existence of all nuclear weapons.
It is sobering to remember that the United States remains the first and only country ever to have used an atomic bomb.

The Daily Mail published a stark pictorial of the immediate aftermath of the attack showing horrifically injured survivors wandering through the desolation, picking their way among the corpses just hours after the bomb was dropped. It is particularly chilling to realize that every person pictured would have died of radiation exposure in the weeks and months following the attack.

Thank you for reading. Your thoughts and comments are always welcome. Please feel free to share on social media as you wish. 

*I have published a variation of this post on each August 6 for several years.