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Saturday, August 06, 2011

The Glory of God

I can't think about The Transfiguration without thinking of Hiroshima.

It's incredibly ironic that the glory of God and the potential for acts of human destruction share a place of juxtaposition on the same calendar.

The 2nd century theologian, Irenaeus, was fascinated by the Transfiguration and wrote: "the glory of God is a live human being and a truly human life is the vision of God".

Some translate that as "The glory of God is a human life fully alive," and see it as license to "follow their bliss" - come what may, without regard to the cost to self or others.

I'm sure that when American physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, who directed the scientific research known as The Manhattan Project which developed the atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 and, three days later, on Nagasaki, he thought he was doing a great thing to end the War.

History reports that the immediate effects of the blast killed approximately 70,000 people in Hiroshima.

Estimates of total deaths by the end of 1945 from burns, radiation and related disease, the effects of which were aggravated by lack of medical resources, range from 90,000 to 166,000.

Some estimates state up to 200,000 had died by 1950, due to cancer and other long-term effects. Another study states that from 1950 to 2000, 46% of leukemia deaths and 11% of solid cancer deaths among bomb survivors were due to radiation from the bombs.

Among the casualties were found many unintended victims, including Allied POWs, Korean and Chinese laborers, students from Malaya on scholarships, and some 3,200 Japanese American citizens.

The very human suffering of all of these thousands of people - men, women and children who were the "collateral damage" of the war - was done in the name of peace.

Is this what Irenaeus meant by the glory of God?

President Harry S. Truman, who ordered the bombing, said on August 9, 1945:
I realize the tragic significance of the atomic bomb... It is an awful responsibility which has come to us... We thank God that it has come to us, instead of to our enemies; and we pray that He may guide us to use it in His ways and for His purposes.
An "awful responsibility that has come to us".

I can scarce draw a full breath when I read the rest of that statement.

Even so, it's a very, fully human statement.

Is this what Irenaeus meant by the glory of God?

Emperor Hirohito of Japan, in his August 14 "capitulation announcement" - not surrender - to the Potsdam Declaration, which outlined the terms of Japan's surrender, wrote:
Moreover, the enemy now possesses a new and terrible weapon with the power to destroy many innocent lives and do incalculable damage. Should we continue to fight, not only would it result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization.

Such being the case, how are We to save the millions of Our subjects, or to atone Ourselves before the hallowed spirits of Our Imperial Ancestors? This is the reason why We have ordered the acceptance of the provisions of the Joint Declaration of the Powers.
No surrender. Just an announcement of capitulation. A very, fully human statement.

Is this what Irenaeus meant by the glory of God?

I am not a pacifist. I'm afraid I do not have the courage.

I do believe in peace, in seeking peaceful resolutions to conflicts which do not see war as an option. But, truth be told, if someone were coming at me or someone I loved with the intent to do harm or murder, I would stand and fight.

We hold in these human hands of ours the power to do enormous good as well as the power to do monstrous evil.

It's a choice.
Two images of transfiguration stand on the calendar of our human lives.

The glory of God - which brings the newness of life and the finality of death - and the human life fully alive - with all its potential for life and death. 

Which one will you choose?


Ahab said...

This post was breathtaking. In the U.S., I've met far too many people who justify the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings as necessary for peace and victory, and it nauseates me.

Healthy faith is life-affirming and respectful of other human beings. There is no room for such atrocious violence in a truly life-affirming faith.

motheramelia said...

At one time I had an office at a weapons lab that overlooked the gate where protesters would march each August 6. I saw the white robes of Holy Cross brothers and recognized them by name. I chose at the time to work in the system, but it always amazes me how good efforts go to naught and even though small gains are made, in the long run, others take what you do and go in a different direction.

The wv = waragiv like maybe war agin?

Brother David said...

Reflecting on the atomic bombing of Japan leaves me with mixed feelings. The Japanese Empire under Emperor Hirohito and his advisors was a powerful, ruthless and formidable enemy of the world at that time. It was dishonest in its dealings with other nations. It violated countless international laws. It committed unspeakable atrocities. As a nation, there is no innocence on its part, only guilt of everything charged. And it appeared willing to fight to the last living Japanese person and to take as many other folks with it in the outcome. It was going to take something powerful and perhaps drastic to stop the Japanese Empire at that moment.

The question is, why did it take a second bomb to bring Japan down? I am not a historian, and do not understand the unfolding of the War in the Pacific in its closing days, but I do not believe that the US would have dropped a second bomb unless there was evidence that the first was ineffective in stopping the juggernaut.

May there never be a third!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Ahab - History tells both sides of the story. Neither one is pretty. But, what we did to Japan seems beyond the pale. Literally.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Motheramelia - Thanks for your visit and your words. There is always that danger, isn't there?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Brother David - I think I understand your point about mixed feelings, but I can't imagine the need to drop one Atomic Bomb. Ever. That my have more to do with my blindness, but I simply can't see it. Set off a small bomb in the desert. Let the enemy know you have it, show them the results and have them understand that it can do worse. But to kill hundreds of thousands of innocent people? I'm having a Very Hard time with that.

JCF said...

Memory eternal, Hiroshima (and Nagasaki).

Transfigured Lord, have mercy---and NEVER AGAIN!!!!

Brother David said...

Set off a small bomb in the desert. Let the enemy know you have it, show them the results and have them understand that it can do worse.

That is just it. They saw what it could do, first hand on their own soil. They saw the devastation and the carnage, and likely their own medical profession was immediately aware with some inkling of what would lie in the future for immediate survivors. Yet somehow, at the moment, that did not appear to be enough.

I am not excusing it. But I cannot think of what else could have ended the course that Japan was on.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Amen, JCF. Never again. Amen.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Brother David - I guess I'm talking about a demonstration of Atomic Power that did not take lives but only showed what it could do. Not as an act of war but as a warning of what might be used to end the war. I think that might have been just as effective an end to the War than actually using it to end the war.

Muthah+ said...

I born during the war and listened to the men who came home from the WWII deal with the horrors of fighting in the Pacific. Elizabeth, it is easy to be outraged in hindsight. And with JCF, I truly pray, "Never Again." But perhaps it took those bombs for us to know that they could not be used again. It is a terrible cost and we should never make light of it. But it was the fear of those bombs that WWIII did not happen during the Soviet era.

It is the racial piece of the dropping the bombs on Japan that they would never have done to Germany that bothers me now. And all we can do at this point is ask for forgiveness as we have to re. slavery and the denigration of First Nation peoples.

Any nation has to deal with its history. We must claim it, see it with open eyes and then choose whether we can afford to do the same actions again.

What is more toxic was the kind of brinkmanship politics that informed the Soviet/US posturing that colored my whole life that makes it difficult to vision any other way of living on this planet.

Thank you for reminding me that TRansfiguration--or transformation is what faith is about. The vision of God is not humanity fully alive. But God fully alive in humanity. And I don't think that we have a clear vision of that save Christ.

Perhaps the only way we can truly visualize or envision peace is if we are willing to truly embrace a peace that costs us our 'willingness to stand for something.'

Like Brother David, Aug. 6 is always a day in which I am called to meditate on what peace is and what it could be without falling into some kind fairy tale thinking. It is only when we can begin to image it can we bring it to reality.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Um, Muthah+, I think there were many Americans - The Episcopal Peace Fellowship among them - who were, at that time. horrified and outraged by the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was not 20/20 hindsight.

I don't know what would have stopped the war, but I still say that innocent men, women and children did not have to die so that this would "never happen again".

We made a choice - a bad one, in my estimation. We can make other choices. I think August 6th, with its juxtaposition of the Anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and the liturgical calendar of the Transfiguration is a good day to reflect on the choices we make "for the glory of God".

walter said...

The Spiritual Big Bang is a Personal Free Choice: After a pause of Telling Secrets’ on line time, Elizabeth, I find myself reflecting on the power of the energy of the Holy Spirit in the Christian Transfiguration. If we are in the psychedelic desert of our lives – Walter Vitale & Elizabeth Kaeton - , which may be just a moment of deep spiritual retreat, the Transfiguration may come about with an explosion of the Vital Bomb in the present of the psychedelic desert. And the explosion of the Vital Bomb would generate through the redemption the transfiguration of our lives. I feel obliged to choose the Transfiguration. Yes, another powerful distinction, choice versus obligation. 14 my Portuguese Girl, my Little Girl and my Brother.

Walter Vitale

Brother David said...

You certainly do not stand alone in your strong feelings, Madre;

As Admiral Leahy, President Truman's military chief of staff, later wrote of the bombing: "In being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was taught not to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children."

Perhaps the Admiral should have spoken up at the time, rather than pen his too late reflection later.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Walter. I think.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Brother David - "Just following orders" doesn't cut it for me. You know?

MarkBrunson said...

Not taking sides, but there are some in Japan who will say that the A-bomb was the only thing that would've stopped Tojo - who was the driving force rather than Hirohito, who was the puppet and protested the war at its outset, albeit weakly. These folks will tell you that Tojo would've kept throwing Japanese lives away, even after the fall of Italy and Germany, until it was just him and his pistol against the combined armies of Britain, America and Russia (who would've loved the excuse to annex Japan, having tried several times in the Tsarist period).

You have to look at the context of Tojo's Japan - it had been made into a land of militaristic fanatics, inflaming the incipient xenophobia that has characterized Japanese thought for centuries. Even "foreign" religions like Buddhism were ruthlessly discouraged, and Shinto was the only official recognized religion. It was a paradise of a false Japanese dream, a golden era that never was - the good old days you talked about earlier. Even into the fifties and sixties, remainders of that militaristic/nationalistic movement were assassinating Diet members and staging terrorist acts as a protest against "Westernization" which taught - gasp! - the value of an individual life and conscience, which had been an alien concept to them.

It was a complex situation, and not well understood by Americans, now or then. It was more than just a vicious bullying attack. Again, not defending, but asking that we all stop looking for such easy good/bad dichotomies.