” God shall judge between the nations and set terms for many peoples.
They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks;
One nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.” (Isaiah 2:4)
I’ve come to regard the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophesy- hammering swords into plowshares- as an essentially inescapable commitment in the attempt to practice Christianity as a U.S. citizen. Here’s why:
According to what I understand to be biblical faith, there is simply no way to worship God authentically without addressing idols, or specifically that with which we have replaced God in the grasping for personal power and ultimate security.
Nuclearism in the United States (that is, the governing policies with regard to the building, possession and use of nuclear weapons) has become a compulsory religion, one that demands assent and allegiance, punishes non-participation, and above all requires a faith that is utterly incompatible with the teachings of the Bible. Nuclearism doesn’t simply stand apart from Christianity. It refutes all of the basic tenets of Christian faith (beginning with the one that demands I place my ultimate security in God alone), while at the same time claiming that the U.S. has the exclusive right and duty to take up these weapons precisely because we are a “Christian nation” and a chosen people, destined to dominate the world as well as preside over (and survive) its end. These are the perversions by which my country claims the right to build and possess these weapons with the intent to use them, AGAIN. It follows, then, that the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal is a collection of idols, actively worshipped by a nation that simultaneously claims the mantle of Christ, and allowed to continue to exist largely beyond the moral scrutiny of its churches, virtually all of which have made their peace with the American Empire. It further follows that the U.S. Christian has a unique responsibility to smash these idols, as a constitutive dimension of a life dedicated to the liberation of self, church and community from this stockpile of mortal sin that possesses us like a New Testament demon. Idols are not property, nor are they something that the Bible counsels us to avoid, ignore, argue with or vote against. They are to be acknowledged and removed, in a spirit of repentance and with the understanding that nothing less than the worship of God in spirit and truth is at stake.
Jesus overturned the moneychangers’ tables in the Temple because those tables, located there, were a powerful symbol of the assertion that God approved of and cooperated with the oppression of the poor. The action Jesus chose as a response was prophetic because it exposed the meaning of the symbol while at the same time pointing toward its conversion. (Was it violent? Personally, and particularly in light of the oppression of the poor, I’ve always considered that to be a ridiculous question.) Plowshares actions do exactly the same thing. End. Of. Story.
Finally, I’ll say this: Many of us are familiar with the argument proffered by some Plowshares activists; that if we lived in Nazi Germany and knew about the concentration camps, none of us would be engaging in the absurdity of a discussion about whether tearing up the railroad tracks that led to the ovens at Auschwitz was an act of property destruction and therefore violent. We would simply either do it ourselves, or give as much support as we could to those who were willing to do it in our name. And yet many of us seem so morally confused about the notion of personally dismantling a nuclear weapon, built and possessed in defiance of both international and constitutional law. Why? Because we’ve become delusional, comfortably numb under the spell of empire, to the point where we refuse to acknowledge what these weapons are.
The existence of nuclear weapons is an ongoing, relentless assault on the human community and the planet itself. They are the big bully stick that authorizes every other violence, neuters the rule of law, entrenches white supremacy, perpetuates endless war and environmental destruction and ensures impunity for all manner of crimes against humanity. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s public life was centered on exposing what he called the “triplets of evil” in our society: Racism, militarism and materialism. Near the end of his life, he said: “The ultimate logic of racism is genocide.” Nuclear weapons are not only a threat to our future. They are used every day. They kill, every day. They are the ultimate logic of the delusions to which we as a nation are addicted. Auschwitz is still open. The emergency is now. Swords into plowshares.