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Nuclear Christians

In a recent article of mine about Christians apologists for the state, its military, and its wars, I mentioned, for the first time I believe, the term “nuclear Christian.” I would like to elaborate on the meaning of this neologism.

Another anniversary of the dropping by the United States of the atomic bombs “Little Boy” and “Fat Man” on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima (August 6, 1945) and Nagasaki (August 9, 1945)—and the incineration of 200,000 civilians—has come and gone.

Even as more information comes to light and, thanks to the Internet, becomes more readily available about how unnecessary and evil that action was, it seems as though conservative Christians are more resolute in their defense of it.

Not a one of them has probably ever read or even heard of the 1995 book by Gar Alperovitz, The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb and the Architecture of an American Myth, the 2001 article by Ralph Raico, “Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” or the just-published article by Barton J. Bernstein on American conservatives in history who criticized the atomic bombing of Japan.

But it is not just Christians defending the atomic bombs dropped on Japan that is the problem.

Fred Schwarz, founder of the Christian Anticommunism Crusade in 1953, held a rally in New York City in 1962 “to warn the nation that the president needed to adopt a more aggressive stance against the Soviet communists even if it meant risking nuclear war” (Daniel K. Williams, God’s Own Party: The Making of the Christian Right, p. 61). Pat Boone also told the crowd: “I have four lovely young daughters, and I’d rather see them blown to Heaven in a nuclear war than to live in slavery under Communism” (Williams, p. 61).

In the late 1960s, many pastors in the Southern Baptist Convention supported the U.S. war effort in Vietnam. According to David E. Settje, Faith and War: How Christians Debated the Cold and Vietnam Wars (pp. 68-69):

In 1968, Baptist Press reported on a survey of five hundred ministers in Florida and Louisiana that demonstrated a hawkish stance. Seventy-five percent agreed or strongly agreed that the United States could not afford to lose in Vietnam, with 69 percent backing an escalation of the conflict if current U.S. forces failed to win. Perhaps more telling of their conservative stance and adamant approach to winning the war, 47 percent sanctioned the use of nuclear weapons if essential for victory and 36 percent stated that the war should continue even if it brought about World War III.

H. Franklin Paschall, the pastor of First Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and president of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1967 and 1968, remarked around this time: “It if takes ‘total victory,’ that is total destruction of North Vietnam to bring about negotiations for a just and honorable peace, then I am for it” (Settje, p. 69).

In the 1980s, Jerry Falwell, who erroneously believed that the Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal was twice as large as America’s, “took out advertisements in major newspapers across the nation opposing a nuclear freeze” (Williams, p. 204)

Unfortunately, not much has changed.

The typical Christian occupying a pew today in a conservative, evangelical, or fundamentalist church believes—because that is just what he has always heard or been told—that the United States had to nuke Japan to save the lives of U.S. soldiers who would die in an invasion of Japan. He believes that the United States had to fight against the communist plan for world domination by any means necessary. He believes that all options must be on the table—including the nuclear one—to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. He believes that the United States should continue to spend billions of dollars each year to maintain its arsenal of nuclear weapons. He is a nuclear Christian.

Thus, the typical Christian does not differ much from the typical American.

The difference is that Christians are supposed to be opposed to unjustified violence, unnecessary bloodshed, and the loss of innocent life—even when it is committed in the service of the state.

The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), in an official statement on nuclear arms titled “Nuclear Weapons, 2011,” says that “nuclear weapons, with their capacity for terror as well as for destruction of human life, raise profound spiritual, moral and ethical concerns.” Unfortunately, however, this document goes on to offer policy advice instead of explaining the nature of these concerns.

I will not take this approach.

Nuclear weapons are immoral. They are immoral because they are purely offensive weapons. They are immoral because they are indiscriminate in the destruction they wrought. And they are immoral because they cannot not target innocent civilians.

The works by Alperovitz, Raico, and Bernstein mentioned above are not the only things that Christians have probably never read or even heard. In “War, Peace, and the State,” an often-reprinted article by Murray Rothbard that first appeared in The Standard in 1963, the Christian case against nuclear weapons was admirably made by an agnostic Jew:

It has often been maintained, and especially by conservatives, that the development of the horrendous modern weapons of mass murder (nuclear weapons, rockets, germ warfare, etc.) is only a difference of degree rather than kind from the simpler weapons of an earlier era. Of course, one answer to this is that when the degree is the number of human lives, the difference is a very big one. But another answer that the libertarian is particularly equipped to give is that while the bow and arrow and even the rifle can be pinpointed, if the will be there, against actual criminals, modern nuclear weapons cannot. Here is a crucial difference in kind. Of course, the bow and arrow could be used for aggressive purposes, but it could also be pinpointed to use only against aggressors. Nuclear weapons, even “conventional” aerial bombs, cannot be. These weapons are ipso facto engines of indiscriminate mass destruction. (The only exception would be the extremely rare case where a mass of people who were all criminals inhabited a vast geographical area.) We must, therefore, conclude that the use of nuclear or similar weapons, or the threat thereof, is a sin and a crime against humanity for which there can be no justification.

This is why the old cliché no longer holds that it is not the arms but the will to use them that is significant in judging matters of war and peace. For it is precisely the characteristic of modern weapons that they cannot be used selectively, cannot be used in a libertarian manner. Therefore, their very existence must be condemned, and nuclear disarmament becomes a good to be pursued for its own sake. And if we will indeed use our strategic intelligence, we will see that such disarmament is not only a good, but the highest political good that we can pursue in the modern world. For just as murder is a more heinous crime against another man than larceny, so mass murder—indeed murder so widespread as to threaten human civilization and human survival itself—is the worst crime that any man could possibly commit. And that crime is now imminent. And the forestalling of massive annihilation is far more important, in truth, than the demunicipalization of garbage disposal, as worthwhile as that may be. Or are libertarians going to wax properly indignant about price control or the income tax, and yet shrug their shoulders at or even positively advocate the ultimate crime of mass murder?

If nuclear warfare is totally illegitimate even for individuals defending themselves against criminal assault, how much more so is nuclear or even “conventional” warfare between States!

It should also be pointed out that there is no defense against nuclear weapons (the only current “defense” is the threat of mutual annihilation) and, therefore, that the State cannot fulfill any sort of defense function so long as these weapons exist.

We have seen throughout our discussion the crucial importance, in any present-day libertarian peace program, of the elimination of modern methods of mass annihilation. These weapons, against which there can be no defense, assure maximum aggression against civilians in any conflict with the clear prospect of the destruction of civilization and even of the human race itself. Highest priority on any libertarian agenda, therefore, must be pressure on all States to agree to general and complete disarmament down to police levels, with particular stress on nuclear disarmament. In short, if we are to use our strategic intelligence, we must conclude that the dismantling of the greatest menace that has ever confronted the life and liberty of the human race is indeed far more important than demunicipalizing the garbage service.

Nuclear Christians—rebuke them and educate them just as you would any other Christian apologist for the state, its military, and its wars.

Originally published at on August 11, 2014.