The Wages of Sin

Today, August 6, we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration when Christ revealed his true nature, the full splendor of his Divinity, to his disciples. And it was on that same date, sixty-three years ago, that the Devil revealed his own true nature, in its full and destructive splendor. In six years of war, the world had seen every form of inhuman depravity imaginable — from genocide to the firebombing of civilian targets. But Satan had saved his coup de grace for the very end.

A city was leveled; over two-hundred thousand people — men, women, children, soldiers and civilians alike — were killed. Some were instantly incinerated; others (the less fortunate) lingered, suffering a lifetime of the degenerative effects of radiation poisoning. With a single, singular bomb blast the world was irrevocably changed.

Historians can (and have, and do, and will continue to) debate the merits or lack thereof of our decision to unleash immense devastation on Hiroshima, but as a Christian and a Catholic I look first toward the judgment of God and the Church. The Catechism tells me that “one may never do evil so that good may result from it”, and that “every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and [humanity], which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation”. I’m not sure what sort of political alibi could take the edge off such censure. In the end, we proved ourselves to be as bad as the enemy we fought against.

Sixty-three years ago, Dorothy Day suggested that as a nation we should cover ourselves in ashes and sackcloth, begging forgiveness from God and from the world. But we haven’t. We have become a kind of international mafioso — benign enough so long as we get everything we want but always relying on a subtext of ruthless brutality. Is it any wonder that those nations we denounce as an “Axis of Evil” would want such super-weapons of their own, just in case? At this point in world history we would all do well to recall the words of Pope John XXIII, in his encyclical Pacem in Terris:

Hence justice, right reason, and the recognition of man’s dignity cry out insistently for a cessation to the arms race. The stock-piles of armaments which have been built up in various countries must be reduced all round and simultaneously by the parties concerned. Nuclear weapons must be banned. A general agreement must be reached on a suitable disarmament program, with an effective system of mutual control. In the words of Pope Pius XII: “The calamity of a world war, with the economic and social ruin and the moral excesses and dissolution that accompany it, must not on any account be permitted to engulf the human race for a third time.”

Our national position in the world is undeniably one of leadership, so it is worth reflecting this day: what sort of world leader do we want to be? Do we want to be a Caesar, living and dying by the sword, instilling terror (which leads, inevitably, to terrorism)? Or do we want to be a King Solomon, seeking only wisdom and right judgment for the good of all? Put another way: when we stand collectively before Christ at the Final Judgment, do we want to be told, “I was hungry and you fed me”, or “born into the wrong country, and you rained destruction upon me”?

Josh McDonald is a writer and a cartoonist living in Somersworth, NH. All opinions expressed herein are his own, and not necessarily those of CTA, its staff, its members, or its supporters.
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4 thoughts on “The Wages of Sin

  1. Amen!!
    wow, thanks indeed for this post. I’ve never before pondered the implications of this event occurring on the feast of the Transfiguration, and wow, there sure is a lot to mediatate on there!

    your words remind me of a saying i once put on a sign for a international arms trade show that i once protested: “arms are for hugging!!”

  2. Thanks for this thoughtful reflection, Josh. It really is tragic that something as basic as this — we should *not* be planning for new ways to kill one another — cannot rally enough support to get the action we need. I wish political, religious, and lay leaders would spend more time wrestling with THIS issue and less time debating gay marriage.

    I often hear the justification that the U.S. should be “allowed” weapons of mass destruction because we use them “justly.” I think you’d be hardpressed to convince those whose lives we’ve destroyed of that. And I don’t think we can convincingly lead a push for disarmament until we’re willing to put our money where our mouth is; and it’s a lot of money.

  3. There you go again, bein’ all wise. Fantastic reflection, thank you.

    This would be another case of that tricky personal vs communal sin. Because we werent there 63 years ago, but the suffering still exists today and we still don’t do anything do we? if we’re not part of the solution we’re part of the problem,…..etc. Oh my, messy messy. What about individual vs. communal effort (if there is such a thing?)? I participate in electing officials to act on my behalf but is that enough to say I’m doing something for the poor?

    I appreciated the inclusion of one of my favorite philosophies- the means don’t justify the ends. I think God goes by this philosophy too, which is why I don’t believe everything happens for a reason nor that God would have us suffer because of the good that could come of it, and certainly not so that God would be praised-ugh, I can’t imagine that God can be so seemingly egotistical.

    Free will however causes suffering and supposedly God gave it to us for good to come of it. But the suffering was not the point of free will, just a nasty side effect. Sort of like in end of life care when we give people morophine to ease their pain even though we know it can slow down their breathing which can then stop their breathing. The intent was pain relief though, so its not morally wrong. However, what if you are intending to ease the pain but are happy that it will end his or her life (ie end the suffering?) or add a little more to hasten death because hey, we don’t know how much pain he or she is in (wink wink), are we wrong? Intention, intention, but what if you have two intentions, one that is morally good and one that is morally bad?

  4. Thanks, everyone, for your comments. Lauren, always with the hard philosophical questions! In the specific context of the post, though, I do think the question of dual intentions is an interesting one since the detonation of the Hiroshima bomb did in fact have two stated intentions. First, to bring the Pacific war to a speedier end; second, to present a warning to the Soviet Union. The first is morally questionable at best; the second is — I see no way to sugar-coat it — international terrorism.

    Lacey, your comment reminds me of something I heard once from a Pax Christi associate at my former parish in Maine. He wondered (rhetorically, I’m sure) why those who work with nuclear weapons aren’t subject to automatic excommunication the way abortion workers are. It’s no less an affront to the sanctity of human life, so why isn’t it given the same moral weight?

    Julia, I totally agree that arms should be for hugging!

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