What is the relationship between Catholic belief and action in regards to nuclear weapons?
First, please understand that I am not a theologian, priest, spokesman for the Catholic Church, or any kind of expert on anything. To some definitions, I may not even be Catholic. This article does not seek to define Catholicism for anybody else, it only shares my own view.
The Apostle John may have expressed the Catholic perspective most concisely when he said….
God is love.
Three simple words, which could perhaps be all any serious person really needs?
God is love.
Love is an act of surrender.
Love is an action.
God is love. And love is action. Therefore God is an action.
To put it another way…
The most credible expression of our beliefs is not what we think or say, but what we do.
From this perspective, the implications for our relationship with nuclear weapons seems clear.
The real question is, what are we going to do about it? How will we make our beliefs credible by taking the leap from the talking of the talk to the walking of the walk?
If God is love, and love is action…
What action will we take?
I believe the Pope’s recent speech on nuclear weapons illustrates a challenge facing the Catholic community at large on this subject, including this typist.
As you read his speech, note how the Pope’s moral clarity is sharp and right on target, but there is no call to any specific bold practical real world action. We are not asked to do anything but pray.
I’m not dismissing the power of prayer, but doesn’t it seem likely that God is most likely to help those who are already attempting to help themselves? Isn’t God’s first response to our prayer likely to be…
“Ok, but what are you already doing about this? What action have you taken?”
From the perspective of this article, Catholic doctrine on nuclear weapons becomes most credible and powerful when it is connected directly to practical real world action.
A great example of this is Catholic Charities, the 2nd leading provider of social services to the needy in the United States, topped only by the federal government. What an impressive and entirely credible statement of Catholic philosophy!
Catholic Charities is a great example of moral theory being translated in to big bold practical real world action.
I believe that a similar powerful connection between Catholic theory and action can be accomplished on a large scale in the nuclear weapons arena.
Catholics could save the world by connecting their theory to action in the form of a billion dollar a year marketing fund for amplifying the Pope’s teachings on nuclear weapons.
If we are going to do the talking of the talk on nuclear weapons, let us do so on the very largest scale that we are capable of.
The philosophy is there. A Church structure which ties a billion Catholics together is there. A billion Catholics can clearly raise a billion dollars, so the money is there too.
All that’s left is establishing a connection between the philosophy, the structure and the money. All that’s left is the conversion of the talking of the talk in to the walking of the walk.
We just finished watching The Two Popes on Netflix, a surprisingly engaging film about the relationship between Pope Benedict and Pope Francis. If you enjoy a quality character study presented by two excellent actors, you will likely find this movie worth your time. A detailed description of the film is available on Wikipedia.
It was a timely viewing for me as I’ve been obsessing over the last month about how Catholics Could Save The World. And so it was morbidly fascinating to spend some time with the two most influential Catholics in the world, who in the course of a two hour film never mentioned nuclear weapons and the ever imminent collapse of modern civilization even once.
Lest that sound cynical, it was actually an educational experience to watch these two Popes interact, as I began to realize why the Catholic Church has not already laser focused their congregation on nuclear weapons. Just like me, and pretty much everyone else, they’ve been spending the last 75 years since the dawn of the nuclear age attending to their routine daily business.
I didn’t need to look any further than my own little life to understand why two Pope’s would not be talking with each other about nuclear weapons. I’ve known about nuclear war since I was a ten year old boy growing up in Florida during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Since then I’ve been a life long news junkie and am thus reasonably well informed about geo-politics and such.
And yet it’s only in the last month that nuclear weapons have become part of my daily thought stream. If I could largely ignore nuclear weapons for almost my entire life, why not Popes too? Catholics not saving the world started to make some sense.
In November 2019 the Pope visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki Japan and gave a speech declaring the possession of nuclear weapons to be immoral.
This article attempts to sketch out a plan by which Catholics could take decisive action in response to to the Pope’s concerns about nuclear weapons.
Please Note: While this article uses the Catholic community as an example, the following ideas could be put to use by any organization which wishes to help rid the world of nuclear weapons.
What if every Catholic pledged a recurring donation of $1 per year to fund a global marketing campaign to amplify the Pope’s teachings regarding nuclear weapons?
There are reported to be a billion Catholics worldwide, so at $1 per person per year, the target budget for this marketing campaign against nuclear weapons could be one billion dollars per year.
Some Catholics would of course contribute more and others less (many Catholics live in the third world), but the overall goal for the campaign should be a billion dollars yearly, an ambitious goal clearly within reach of the Catholic community overall.
Catholics have the philosophy of peace, and the required funds. All that’s left is to put the two together.
One billion Catholics. One billion dollars.
Catholics could save the world.
They really could. Seriously.
All funds donated would go directly to the Vatican. Catholics would not be asked to send money to some outside group that they may not have heard of. Instead, all funds raised would remain with their own community to be managed by their own leadership as part of their own message.
Automated payments of $1 per year can be handled by PayPal. The contributor clicks a few buttons one time, and that’s all the work they ever need to do.
One minute, one time. One dollar a year. Each contributor is helping to save the world, for close to nothing.
The marketing campaign would address the existential threat to humanity presented by nuclear weapons from the Catholic perspective as defined by the Pope.
The Marketing Campaign
One of the realities of the modern world is that a well funded marketing campaign is typically necessary for the selling of anything, whether it be shoes, cars, laptops or Presidential candidates.
This is no different. If Catholics wish to play a leading role in saving humanity from nuclear weapons, a well funded marketing campaign will be required.
Moral theory alone won’t get the job done.
Yes, the Pope is famous, and most of his speeches are well covered by the media. But as the leader of a major world religion the Pope has a great many things on his plate and can’t give a speech on nuclear weapons every day.
But a billion dollar marketing campaign can share the Pope’s message on nuclear weapons every day.
Getting Your Campaign Off The Ground
Getting a marketing campaign off the ground could be tricky for some groups, as the budget for the campaign might not exist until you have contributors. Could this help?
Imagine that you plan to reinvest all the money you raise in to more ads, so that you can get even more supporters. In such a case, for some period of time all the money you raise would be going to Facebook, Google, or where ever you decide to buy your ads.
Why not ask the advertiser to help you get the campaign going by running some free ads for you? Maybe you sign a contract which stipulates all funds raised for one year will be spent with the advertiser? Maybe you can make the advertiser in to a partner? If one says no, well, there are LOTS of companies out there that want your ad dollars. Somebody will work with you.
From the activist perspective, the concept being offered here goes like this…
Instead of asking any group (Catholics in this case) to support a nuclear weapons activist organization, the group in question is called upon to become a nuclear weapons activist organization.
As example, a billion Catholics working together through an ambitious plan of action have more power than all the nuclear weapons groups put together.
Each group is urged to make the case against nuclear weapons from their own perspective, using their own funds, under the management of their own leadership. Nothing new to join.
What If You’re Not Catholic?
I’ve used Catholics as the example here as that is faith tradition I am most familiar with, it’s a large congregation, and the Pope is a very well known figure that is easy to reference.
If you’re not Catholic, or if you oppose Catholicism, then just forget about the Catholic example used here and apply the principles shared above to your own organization.
Get your own people together. Raise some money. Run some ads against nuclear weapons on Facebook or where ever you can.
Explain your opposition to nuclear weapons in your own way, from your own perspective.
Anything you do to insert the subject of nuclear weapons in to the public discourse is helping to save the world.
Nuclear diplomacy as well as anti-establishment movements across the world beg the same question: which elites’ judgement is still trusted? The likely disappointment following the upcoming Trump-Kim summit will be blamed on insufficient trust or untrustworthiness of one or both of the participants. Similarly, the demise of the 1987 Treaty on Intermediate Nuclear Forces is the outcome of the United States and Russia accusing each other either of breaching the terms of the Treaty or of scapegoating the other side.
In this context of increasing distrust of elites and institutions as well as renuclearization of international politics, Pope Francis is a most interesting case to study: while facing a crisis regarding sexual abuse within the catholic church, he has remained a relatively popular figure even beyond believers; he also radicalised the Vatican’s stance against nuclear weapons policy. He unconditionally condemned use as well as threats of use of nuclear weapons on political and theological grounds. Is his judgement trusted? Is his leadership influential?
An Unusually Active Pope On Nuclear Matters
The current Pope has been unusually active compared to his predecessors in nuclear diplomacy. For example, in 2017, the Holy See ratified the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and offered to host summits after its entry into force. The Pope also recently claimed he would consider accepting a formal invitation from Kim Jong-un in the context of the nuclear crisis with North Korea.
While young European citizens show very limited support for nuclear weapons policies conducted in their names and a sense of powerlessness in affecting them, how supportive have European citizens been of the Pope’s radical positions on the matter? How did the Pope’s message resonate among the European public?Pope Francis speaks in front of the United Nations.
A European Affair
Thanks to a cross-national survey conducted in June 2018 by the Nuclear Knowledges program through the VULPAN project on levels of knowledge and attitudes of the European public regarding nuclear weapons (funded by the French National Research Agency), we have a first glance on how adults in nine European countries perceive the Pope’s approach to nuclear affairs.
We interviewed more than seven thousand adults of age 18 to 50 years old – about 1,000 interviews were conducted in France and the United Kingdom, and about 750 in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden and Turkey. This age range corresponds to approximately 55% of the adult population (18 years old and above) in eight of the surveyed countries, Turkey being the only exception with about 71% of the adult population in this age group. The eight European Union members included in the study cover approximately 69% of the EU’s population.
This survey is all the more relevant as the data was collected before the outbreak of sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic church which may overdetermine citizens’ attitudes today.
Europeans agree with the Pope upon his position on the issue but are mixed on whether he should be involved in nuclear politics and do not attribute much influence to him on their attitudes.
While most people (75% or more of respondents) surveyed from the nine countries support Pope Francis’ opposition to nuclear weapons, our survey revealed that his opinions have little impact on the public’s perceptions.
A Genuine Opposition To Nuclear Weapons
The European public supports Pope Francis’ relentless opposition to the very existence of nuclear weapons. Respondents who agree with the Pope also tend to believe that nuclear weapons make a country more vulnerable more often than those who disagree (except in Germany, where respondents are more evenly splitted).
Among respondents who agree with the Pope, only 5% or less of respondents also agree that nuclear weapons make them feel personally “absolutely safe”; in all countries but France at least 45% of those who agree with the Pope said that nuclear weapons do not make them feel safe. Finally, among those who agree with the Pope, at least 75% of the respondents believe to never be morally acceptable to use nuclear weapons. (Among those who disagree, responses are somewhat evenly split.) Those results from our survey do suggest that the Pope’s repulsion against the very existence of nuclear weapons finds support among European adults.
However, respondents do not attribute much influence to Pope Francis on the shaping of their views. Three out of four of respondents in those nine countries agreed with the statement that “My opinion on nuclear weapons is independent from what the Pope has to say”.
Similar results appeared when we did solicit our respondents to agree or disagree with “What the Pope says makes me change my mind on the matter”, with just about one-fourth or less of respondents supporting such a statement. The only noticeable exception is the Roman Catholic stronghold in Poland, where 42% of respondent agreed that Pope Francis’ could change their mind on nuclear weapons affairs.
Such figures indicate that the European adult public is mostly immune to the Pope’s persuasion even though they might agree with his overall anti-nuclear policy positions.
Support For The Pope’s Involvement In Nuclear Politics
In rejecting the influence of the Pope, are the European adults also rejecting his involvement in the debate on the future of nuclear weapons?
On this front, findings are mixed. In most countries, a majority of 55-60% of respondents agreed that “the Pope is a religious leader who should not be involved in politics”. In Germany and Italy only, a slight majority (55% and 51%, respectively) disagreed with the statement, indicating support to the Pope’s political engagement with the issue. Interestingly enough, in France and the United Kingdom, the two nuclear powers surveyed in our study, younger respondents (18-21 years old) are more favourable to the Pope’s involvement in politics than older respondents (47-50 years of age) by a margin close to 15%.
Interestingly enough, in France and the United Kingdom – the two European countries that possess nuclear weapons –, younger respondents (18-21 years old) are more favourable to the Pope’s involvement in politics than older respondents (47-50 years of age) by a margin of nearly 15%.
Overall, our study has four main findings. First, a majority of adults in France, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden and Turkey agrees with Pope Francis’s opposition to nuclear weapons. Second, most respondents do not perceive the Pope’s opinion as having much (if any) influence on their views on that matter. Third, a slight majority of respondents opposes the Pope’s intervention in political affairs. Finally, in France and the United Kingdom, younger respondents, especially those who are 18-21 years old, are overall more sympathetic to the Pope’s involvement in the politics of nuclear weapons.
Here’s a response to the Pope’s recent speech on nuclear weapons. Video and full text of the Pope’s remarks are available here.
First, let’s all give a big thumbs up to the Pope for speaking publicly about the threat of nuclear weapons.
Simply the fact that he addressed the subject at all puts him way ahead of the American politicians currently running for President, who appear to consider a President’s most awesome responsibility not really worthy of discussion.
Next, as is typically true of Catholic communications, the Pope’s speech is intelligent, articulate and well intended. I appreciated that the Pope would clearly state that the possession of nuclear weapons is immoral.
And let we American taxpaying voters recall that here in the United States, it is we the free citizens who own these civilization ending weapons. They don’t belong to the President or the military, they belong to us.
And now, on to the constructive complaints…
As seems typical of the Pope’s speeches, he is eloquent when addressing moral theory in a general manner, but seems somehow reluctant to offer detailed suggestions on how his moral teachings might be implemented.
In my view, the missing call to action undermines the credibility of the Pope’s message. If the threat really is as serious as the Pope says, and it surely is, shouldn’t we be doing something about it?
What action does the Pope suggest? Prayer? Is that it? Are we supposed to beg God to do that which we ourselves should be doing? I’m reminded here of that stern over the top of her glasses look my Mom used to give me when I was acting the fool, and can almost hear God replying to our prayers with words along the lines of, “Get back to me when you’re serious…“
Personally, I would have been far more impressed if the Pope had used the speech to rally the audience and his followers around some specific action plan.
Maybe something like this?
There are a billion Catholics on this planet.
Suppose each Catholic donated one dollar a year to a Catholic nuclear weapons fund? The Vatican would then have a budget of one billion dollars a year to fund a global marketing campaign aimed at amplifying the Pope’s teachings on nuclear weapons.
Ok, so even a dollar a year would be burden on some poorer Catholics in the third world, so the richer Catholics in the developed world could make up the difference. There are something like 70 million registered Catholics in the United States, sounds like a good place to start. At just $14 per year, or a bit over a dollar a month, American Catholics could pay the entire bill by themselves.
Should the Vatican start such a fund I will personally donate $100, and I haven’t been to Mass in 50 years (this post helps explain why). C’mon you guys, call my bluff, make me pay up!
The Pope called upon politicians to act, as he should. But why doesn’t he act? Not just talk, act. The Pope has more followers than the populations of the United States and Russia combined, and he surely has more credibility than the current leaders of either of these nations.
Given that the Catholic Church owns a global real estate empire that must be worth billions to trillions of dollars, is it really so hard for the Pope to ask his followers for one dollar a year?
A billion dollars a year to spread the Pope’s message on nuclear weapons. Why not?
Dear brothers and sisters in the Vatican, the wonderful sounding talking of the talk is only credible when it is seen to be directly connected to the walking of the walk. You have vast power at your finger tips. Please use it. Thank you.
In November 2019 the Pope visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki Japan and gave a speech declaring the possession of nuclear weapons to be immoral.
Video of the Pope’s speech and the full text of his remarks are included below.
Full Text Of The Pope’s Speech On Nuclear Weapons (from the Vatican website)
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
This place makes us deeply aware of the pain and horror that we human beings are capable of inflicting upon one another. The damaged cross and statue of Our Lady recently discovered in the Cathedral of Nagasaki remind us once more of the unspeakable horror suffered in the flesh by the victims of the bombing and their families.
One of the deepest longings of the human heart is for security, peace and stability. The possession of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction is not the answer to this desire; indeed they seem always to thwart it. Our world is marked by a perverse dichotomy that tries to defend and ensure stability and peace through a false sense of security sustained by a mentality of fear and mistrust, one that ends up poisoning relationships between peoples and obstructing any form of dialogue.
Peace and international stability are incompatible with attempts to build upon the fear of mutual destruction or the threat of total annihilation. They can be achieved only on the basis of a global ethic of solidarity and cooperation in the service of a future shaped by interdependence and shared responsibility in the whole human family of today and tomorrow.
Here in this city which witnessed the catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences of a nuclear attack, our attempts to speak out against the arms race will never be enough. The arms race wastes precious resources that could be better used to benefit the integral development of peoples and to protect the natural environment. In a world where millions of children and families live in inhumane conditions, the money that is squandered and the fortunes made through the manufacture, upgrading, maintenance and sale of ever more destructive weapons, are an affront crying out to heaven.
A world of peace, free from nuclear weapons, is the aspiration of millions of men and women everywhere. To make this ideal a reality calls for involvement on the part of all: individuals, religious communities and civil society, countries that possess nuclear weapons and those that do not, the military and private sectors, and international organizations. Our response to the threat of nuclear weapons must be joint and concerted, inspired by the arduous yet constant effort to build mutual trust and thus surmount the current climate of distrust. In 1963, Saint John XXIII, writing in his Encyclical Letter Pacem in Terris, in addition to urging the prohibition of atomic weapons (cf. No. 112), stated that authentic and lasting international peace cannot rest on a balance of military power, but only upon mutual trust (cf. No. 113).
There is a need to break down the climate of distrust that risks leading to a dismantling of the international arms control framework. We are witnessing an erosion of multilateralism which is all the more serious in light of the growth of new forms of military technology. Such an approach seems highly incongruous in today’s context of interconnectedness; it represents a situation that urgently calls for the attention and commitment of all leaders.
For her part, the Catholic Church is irrevocably committed to promoting peace between peoples and nations. This is a duty to which the Church feels bound before God and every man and woman in our world. We must never grow weary of working to support the principal international legal instruments of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, including the Treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons. Last July, the bishops of Japan launched an appeal for the abolition of nuclear arms, and each August the Church in Japan holds a ten-day prayer meeting for peace. May prayer, tireless work in support of agreements and insistence on dialogue be the most powerful “weapons” in which we put our trust and the inspiration of our efforts to build a world of justice and solidarity that can offer an authentic assurance of peace.
Convinced as I am that a world without nuclear weapons is possible and necessary, I ask political leaders not to forget that these weapons cannot protect us from current threats to national and international security. We need to ponder the catastrophic impact of their deployment, especially from a humanitarian and environmental standpoint, and reject heightening a climate of fear, mistrust and hostility fomented by nuclear doctrines. The current state of our planet requires a serious reflection on how its resources can be employed in light of the complex and difficult implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, in order to achieve the goal of an integrated human development. Saint Paul VII suggested as much in 1964, when he proposed the establishment of a Global Fund to assist those most impoverished peoples, drawn partially from military expeditures (cf. Declaration to Journalists, 4 December 1964; Populorum Progressio, 51).
All of this necessarily calls for the creation of tools for ensuring trust and reciprocal development, and counts on leaders capable of rising to these occasions. It is a task that concerns and challenges every one of us. No one can be indifferent to the pain of millions of men and women whose sufferings trouble our consciences today. No one can turn a deaf ear to the plea of our brothers and sisters in need. No one can turn a blind eye to the ruin caused by a culture incapable of dialogue.
I ask you to join in praying each day for the conversion of hearts and for the triumph of a culture of life, reconciliation and fraternity. A fraternity that can recognize and respect diversity in the quest for a common destiny.
I know that some here are not Catholics, but I am certain that we can all make our own the prayer for peace attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace: where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
In this striking place of remembrance that stirs us from our indifference, it is all the more meaningful that we turn to God with trust, asking him to teach us to be effective instruments of peace and to make every effort not to repeat the mistakes of the past.
May you and your families, and this entire nation, know the blessings of prosperity and social harmony!