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Faith Comment published in the Petersfield Post

11 July 2018: Tim Concannon, Joint Convenor of PACT

Thinking the Unthinkable

Last month I spent two days with the most powerful men on Earth. I don’t mean the politicians, but the men who have, for fifty years had the keys to Armageddon under their direct control. I was at a conference to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the first patrol of HMS Resolution; a ship which carried sixteen missiles, each with three warheads ten times more powerful than the bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Overwhelmingly, the attendees were former, or current senior officers of nuclear armed missile boats.

It was thought provoking.

These men were highly trained and individually picked through careful screening, to think the unthinkable, and, if ordered so to do, unleash weapons that would kill hundreds of thousands of fellow human beings.

The conference included contributions from theologians, unilateral disarmers and naval officers opposed to retaining our independent deterrent. In a refreshing change from the hysterical, divisive arguments that we are accustomed to hear in this Twitter age, the debate was conducted with courtesy and consideration by both sides.

What I found fascinating was the contribution from Professor Nigel Biggar, Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology at the University of Oxford. He pointed out that the two world wars of the twentieth century were unbelievably destructive, and the use of the atom bombs in 1945 saved huge numbers of lives that would have been lost had the allies had to invade Japan.

He was also of the view that the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction has prevented a major war between the superpowers for seventy years. Certainly, some of the people actually serving in these machines believe that and are proud, but understandably reticent about their achievements.

Many of these men are religious: - indeed the proud boast of one former captain is that he conducted one of the largest religious services underwater for ninety men.

As one whose first instinct is that these things are intrinsically evil, I found myself looking at the religious teaching on war. As long ago as the fourth century, St Augustine of Hippo was of the view that while individuals should not resort immediately to violence, God has given the sword to government for good reason (based upon Romans 13:4). Peacefulness in the face of a grave wrong that could only be stopped by violence would be a sin.

That doctrine has been refined over the years by St Thomas Aquinas and others, so that for Roman Catholics the concept is now found in Canon 2309 of the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church, which lists four strict conditions for "legitimate defence by military force":

I am therefore forced to the conclusion that as long as others have these things, we have to have them too. In this I am supported, apparently, by the Russian Orthodox Church.

Today's Faith Comment is scheduled to be written by the Chair of PACT - Tim writes it as part of his role as a Joint Convernor of PACT but here is expressing his personal views



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