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.