Eli McCarthy is an adjunct lecturer for the Program on Justice and Peace at Georgetown University. He is the author of A Just Peace Ethic Primer: Building Sustainable Peace and Breaking Cycles of Violence (2020) and Becoming Nonviolent Peacemakers: A Virtue Ethic for Catholic Social Teaching and U.S. Policy (2012), along with numerous journal articles.
The Gospel of John (4:16-18) says: “God is love; and he/she that abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him/her. Herein is love made perfect with us, that we may have boldness…; because as God is, even so are we in this world. There is no fear in love: but perfect love casts out fear, because fear has punishment; and he/she that fears is not made perfect in love.”
Fear is one core element that undergirds the development of nuclear weapons, their proliferation, and the threats of their use. Religion and especially the Catholic Church have a central role to play in the debates about nuclear disarmament precisely because of the experience of encounter with such love that can draw us toward the casting out of fear.
Archbishop Auza’s statement to the UN last month included the point that “nuclear arms offer a false sense of security and the uneasy peace promised by nuclear deterrence is a tragic illusion.” Archbishop Tomasi, vice president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, called us to illuminate the shortcomings of an ethic of deterrence built on fear and mistrust.
What are some faithful and fruitful ways to address the fear and thus transform the conflict around nuclear weapons? The Catholic Church, collaborating with other religions, can offer a just peace approach to transform this conflict in a deeper and more sustainable way.
Dr. Maryann Cusimano Love has written about just peace criteria and used these to reflect on nuclear weapons. One key point she raises is how the United States and Russia have done some disarmament, but without demobilization and especially without building deeper relationships. Right or healthy relationships is one of the just peace criteria she identifies.
A broader just peace approach integrates the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Call to Just Peace in 2011, the Interfaith Just Peacemaking efforts published in 2012, and a virtue ethic consistent with Jesus’ way of engaging conflict. This includes asking orienting questions such as “what are the root causes” and “what kinds of people are we becoming,” as we intentionally and concretely seek to grow in virtues of mercy, solidarity, humility, and active nonviolence.
A just peace approach would contribute a range of faithful and effective practices for religious communities, civil societies, and governments to focus on and to scale up. The following practices are central to addressing the fear and mistrust that undergirds nuclear weapons.
Some of these core practices include: meditation and prayer, acknowledging responsibility for harm and independent initiatives, education and training in nonviolent peacemaking and resistance, solidarity with the marginalized, interfaith collaboration, nonviolent resistance campaigns, unarmed civilian protection, nonviolent civilian-based defense, conflict transformation analysis, trauma healing, restorative justice, environmental justice, as well as significantly reducing all weapons and the arms trade.
Nuclear weapons are built up largely from a community that fears for survival or from insecurity around economic and political interests. We need to do much better at educating, investing in, and mobilizing better strategies to get some of these genuine human needs met. For example, nonviolent resistance campaigns and unarmed civilian protection are two key just peace practices which are underdeveloped in both religious communities and broader society. What if the Catholic Church made a concerted effort to both educate more about and scale up these practices across our vast network of persons and institutions?
Further, Archbishop Auza also said last month that “the ‘doctrine of nuclear deterrence’ has made nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament more difficult.” Using a just peace approach, we might also wonder if a connected and similar faulty logic occurs with the “doctrine of peace through strength,” which has generated a massive arms race, arms trade, and the militarization of countries at the expense of resources for basic human needs. Pope Francis puts it this way, “Those who speak about peace while promoting war, for example through the sale of weapons, are hypocrites. It is very simple.” Hence, the just peace practice of significantly reducing weapons and the arms trade appears central to creating the conditions for sustainable agreements on nuclear weapons.
Finally, a just peace approach would better cultivate the vision and practices for a society to make the shift from national security to the concept of human security as Gerard Powers identifies as key to nuclear abolition. Perhaps this shift might be a next step along the road of shifting to a just peace approach, more clearly inclusive of environmental justice and the emerging practices of active nonviolence.
The Catholic Church has an opportunity to be both wise and bold, especially in these days with Pope Francis. Let us receive God’s love more deeply, that we may be a vehicle of the love that can draw ourselves and our world further away from fear, and in turn, from nuclear weapons.
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