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Theology after Hiroshima

  • R. Bauckham (a1)


The year after Hiroshima the American theologian Henry Wieman wrote, ‘The bomb that fell on Hiroshima cut history in two like a knife. Before and after are two different worlds. That cut is more abrupt, decisive and revolutionary than the cut made by the star over Bethlehem. It may not be more creative of human good than the star, but it is more swiftly transformative of human existence than anything else that has ever happened.’ One might not expect many Christian theologians to agree too readily to such a statement of the significance of Hiroshima, but it illustrates the challenge which Hiroshima and its implications constitute for Christian theology. Hiroshima revealed a radically new possibility in human history: the possibility that human beings themselves might put an end to human history. Jonathan Schell, whose brilliant book The Fate of the Earth contains the most extensive attempt so far to think through the implications of the radical novelty of the human situation since the invention of nuclear weapons, wrote that by inventing the capacity for self-extinction as a species, ‘we have caused a basic change in the circumstances in which life was given us, which is to say that we have altered the human condition’.



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page 583 note 1 Wieman, Henry N., The Source of Human Good (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1946). p. 37.

page 583 note 2 cf. Koestler, Arthur (quoted in Garrison, Jim, The Darkness of God: Theology after Hiroshima (London: SCM Press, 1982), p. 69): ‘From the dawn of consciousness until 6th August, 1945, man had to live with the prospect of his death as an individual; since the day when the first atomic bomb outshone the sun over Hiroshima, he has had to live with the prospect of his extinction as a species.’

page 583 note 3 Schell, Jonathan, The Fate of the Earth (London: Pan Books, 1982), p. 115.

page 583 note 4 ibid., p. 169.

page 584 note 5 cf. Wieman, op. cit., p. 38: ‘This bomb has become a symbol giving to all human life a new meaning with portent of dread and splendor.’

page 584 note 6 But not always taken seriously at the time: cf. Niebuhr, R., Faith and History (London: Nisbet, 1949), p. 269: ‘It is now fairly certain that atomic destruction is not likely to rise to the height of imperilling the global structure.’

page 584 note 7 Chernus, I., ‘Mythologies of Nuclear War’, JAAR 50 (1982), p. 261.

page 584 note 8 ibid., p. 266.

page 585 note 9 Quoted in Prins, Gwyn (ed.), Defended to Death: A study of the nuclear arms race (Harmondsworth, Middx.: Penguin, 1983), p. 28.

page 585 note 10 A parallel could be suggested with Jewish theological neglect of the Nazi holocaust for a long time after the event, on which see Fackcnheim, Emil L., God's Presence in History (New York: New York University Press/London: University of London Press, 1970), pp. 7172.

page 585 note 11 Besides the works discussed below, I have been able to find only: Aukerman, Dale, Darkening Valley: A Biblical Perspective on Nuclear War (New York: Seabury Press, 1981); Selby, P., ‘Apocalyptic Christian and Nuclear’, Modern Churchman 26 (1984), pp. 310; Lakeland, P., ‘God in the Nuclear Age’, Month 17 (April 1984), pp. 119123. I have not been able to see Vogel, H., Um die Zukunft des Menschen im atomaren Zeitalter (Berlin: Lettner, 1960). In the two important volumes, The Church and the Bomb (the report of a working party under the chairmanship of the Bishop of Salisbury; London: Hodder & Stoughton/CIO Publishing, 1982) and Murnion, P. J. (ed.), Catholics and Nuclear War: A Commentary on The Challenge of Peace (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1983), there is very little strictly theological discussion.

page 587 note 12 Davies, D. R., Theology and the Atomic Age (Lichfield Cathedral Divinity Lectures 1; London: Latimer House, 1947).

page 587 note 13 ibid., p. 72.

page 587 note 14 Knox, Ronald, God and the Atom (London: Sheed & Ward, 1945).

page 589 note 15 A rare mention, in this context, is Moltmann, J., The Church in the Power of the Spirit (London: SCM Press, 1977), p. 166.

page 589 note 16 Moltmann, J., ‘Theodicy’, in Richardson, A. and Bowden, J. (eds.), A New Dictionary of Christian Theology (London: SCM Press, 1983), p. 565, refers to both Hiroshima and Auschwitz, but goes on 10 discuss the theodicy issue only in relation to Auschwitz.

page 590 note 17 On the link between Hiroshima and Auschwitz, see Fackenheim, op. cit., pp. 6, 95.

page 590 note 18 Moltmann, J., On Human Dignity: Political Theology and Ethics (London: SCM Press, 1984), ch. 7.

page 590 note 19 J. Garrison, op. cit. (n. 2), p. 3.

page 591 note 20 ibid., p. 92.

page 591 note 21 ibid., p. 6; cf. pp. 118, 152.

page 591 note 22 ibid., p. 118.

page 591 note 23 ibid., p. 5.

page 593 note 24 Kaufman, G. D., ‘Nuclear Eschatology and ihe Study of Religion’, JAAR 51 (1983), pp. 314; discussed in Jung, L. S., ‘Nuclear Eschaiology’, Theology Today 40 (1983), pp. 184194.

page 593 note 25 Kaufman, art. cit., p. 4.

page 594 note 26 In this discussion of providence I am indebted both to remarks made by Professor Kaufman himself in his Ferguson lectures and to discussion of the lectures with him.

page 596 note 27 G. Prins (ed.), op. cit. (n. 9), pp. 136–44.

page 599 note 28 I am well aware that this does not meet the problem of innocent suffering which would also be a major feature of the nuclear holocaust.

page 600 note 29 The most important area of discussion which has not even been mentioned is that of Christological reflection on the nuclear threat. It is an important feature of Aukerman's book (n. 11 above) that he begins this.

page 601 note 30 This paper was first given as a lecture to the Greater Manchester Theological Society in May 1984. I am grateful for various comments made by those who heard it on that occasion, especially by Dr S. H. Russell and Dr P. S. Alexander.

Theology after Hiroshima

  • R. Bauckham (a1)


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