Bishop Swing gives a provocative theological analogy to vividly illustrate why one person should not have the authority to end civilization. He supports, and I support the pending legislation to require Congressional approval for first use of nuclear weapons.
Michelangelo and Donald Trump
By Bishop William Swing
On the 16th century ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is Michelangelo’s scene of the finger of God stretched out touching the finger of Adam at the moment of Creation. Five centuries later, our reality is that the finger of Adam is now, very much, poised of the nuclear trigger which could bring about The End of God’s handsome gesture. This is not a political matter or an intimidation ploy; nuclear weapons represent an abomination of the touch of God. Because they exist, human beings must choose either Creation or The End of Creation.
Lots of us try to have it both ways. Nuclear weapons with appropriate safeguards! That has worked for 72 years, a tiny number held up to the stakes of 14 billion years. Strong and reasonable nations have kept each other in check, and the game-changing accidents have broken in our favor, each and every time. But the old game is changing. Now, religious people who think nothing about detonating themselves with small devices are frantically trying get their hands on nuclear weapons. Political leaders, with limited nuclear knowledge and massive personal agendas, lust for the nuclear trigger. Thus the weapons just keep getting bigger and bigger, as do the odds against nothing bad happening.
This is the question: once your finger has touched the finger of God and the fate of this earth has been bequeathed to you, how do you keep your hand off the nuclear trigger? Up to now in the United States of America, we have answered that question in a biblical fashion. Adam, our representative man, alone has the power. Adam, aka as our President, can either chose to launch nuclear holocaust or can refrain from doing so. No one else has a voice in the matter.
What’s wrong with this picture? Every major religion in the world realizes the blasphemy of this position. But neither God nor faiths nor moral individuals have a vote. The ultimate decision lies in the political sphere, and whichever political party wins the election has its own designated Adam to end civilization, if he or she so choses. The absurdity of nuclear weapons with a human finger on the trigger causes some of us to work for the reduction and toward the final elimination of nuclear weapons. But nothing changes. The big nuclear possessors modernize while the wannabes gather fissile materials.
Only two things, in my opinion, will change the equation. First, an intended nuclear strike or accident will bring home to everyone what evil we have been living with, if anyone is still alive. Second, some rogue nation or established leader, caught up in self-aggrandizement or misguided religious furor, will unleash the hounds of hell on this earth. Then, if it is not too late, we will all open our eyes.
One first step toward curbing a first use of these weapons is being promoted by a congressman and a senator (HR 669 and S. 200). They want to take the singular burden off the hands of one person, the President, and insist that the Congress must be nuclear accomplices. So these bills aim at requiring a congressional declaration of war before allowing a President to have first use of nuclear weapons. These bills would not solve the main problem, but they would move us from caprice to cooperation. That would be a start.
Last Sunday, our church, the Episcopal Church, prayed for the President of the United States, by name, as we do every Sunday, every year, regardless of whether the President is a Republican or Democrat. Donald Trump has my prayers. We have put upon him a final decision making challenge that, unfortunately, lifts him to the top of the Sistine Chapel.
We ought to take away the nuclear threat and allow our President to come down to earth.
Bishop William Swing is the President and Founder of the United Religions Initiative. URI is a global grassroots interfaith network that cultivates peace and justice by engaging people to bridge religious and cultural differences and work together for the good of their communities and the world. Bishop Swing served as the Episcopal Bishop of California from 1980 until his retirement in 2006.