How many hipsters does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A number that you probably haven’t even heard of.
Several years ago, I became concerned about the fading awareness of the atomic age. Growing up in the 1980s, the ‘cold war’ loomed over our politics and our evangelical Christianity. Thirty years later, the post-9/11 world sent me in search of theological addresses of some of my concerns and this is when I stumbled into Theology for a Nuclear Age by Gordon D. Kaufman. While Kaufman’s larger work is outside the scope of my particular theological project, I connect with his concern about the nuclear age very deeply.
It has now been more than 70 years since the bombs were dropped at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is odd that Kaufman wrote in the 1980s – 35 years later – and I read his work almost 30 years after they were written. There is something oddly symmetrical about the reality of ‘the bomb’ becoming an issue again 70 years after its devastating power was first unleashed. I have been reading all of this nuclear theology for the past 5 years partly to exercise my own demons on the issue but partly because I feared that it would become a concern again with our global geo-politics.
The recent US elections have elevated nuclear war to a crisis level again.
My fascination with theological implications of the nuclear age is like being into a vintage band that has only recently come into popularity – thus the hipster joke above.
What follows below, and in the next several posts, will be selections of Kaufman edited or summarized into blog format. The book is a thin 63 pages and my hope is to whet your appetite to pick it up and join me in this consideration.
In a previous address Kaufman had suggested … that the nuclear age into which humankind has now moved – an age in which it is possible we may utterly destroy not only civilization but humanity itself – challenges scholars in theology and in the study of religion to do some radical re-thinking about our discipline and about some of the presuppositions taken for granted in our work. (vii)
There is a new situation in which humanity now finds itself – in which we are able, by the mere press of a button, to destroy our entire world as well as humankind itself – isn’t in a significant way ‘out of sync’ with the central traditional claim about God’s sovereignty over the world. (ix)
The religious eschatology of the West was undergirded by faith in an active creator and governor of history … and the end of history – whether viewed as ultimate catastrophe or ultimate salvation – was to be God’s climactic act. (3)
An end brought about by nuclear holocaust must be conceived primarily not as God’s doing but as ours. The possibility that we will obliterate all future human life is so novel and strange that it is difficult for us to grasp what we are up against. Human kind was never believed to have the power utterly to destroy itself; that power lay with God alone. Many, such as Karl Barth, say that this utterly calamitous self-destruction of humanity will never be allowed to occur. (4-7)
While it is my prayer that this is true … I am deeply convicted that we need to adjust the way that we think about our concept of ‘god’ in light of the new possibility and threat. If folks want to cling to classic/antiquated notions of a BIG GOD, I am fine with that (I really am). They will need to justify those claims again in this new era and not simply parrot formulations of previous centuries. Claims regarding GOD’s power and intervention cannot be grandfathered in to the emerging reality carte blanc.