NEW YORK – Members of several of the world's main religions, including Christianity, Buddhism, Islam and Judaism, warned that the grave prospect of a nuclear weapons catastrophe looms dangerously over the world, and urged leaders to move toward disarmament at a United Nations conference on Wednesday.
Archbishop Francis A. Chullikatt, permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, said that although religious leaders are not experts on nuclear weapons, they still have the responsibility to speak out and take the floor on this particular issue.
"We know that we are not experts on disarmament, we do not have technical solutions, but we do have a voice to act," Chullikatt said, adding that the group of religious leaders have taken on the subject partly so that future generations do not accuse them of not doing anything.
The archbishop noted that the Roman Catholic Church warns that war is a crime both against God and against man himself.
"It is past time for this plan (nuclear disarmament) to be given the serious attention that it deserves. The centerpiece is the negotiation of a nuclear weapons convention or a framework leading directly to a global ban on nuclear weapons," Chullikatt said.
"Nuclear weapons are useless in addressing current challenges such as poverty, health, climate change, terrorism or national crime. The only way to guarantee that these weapons will not be used again, is through a common, irreversible, and verifiable elimination under international (law)."
He stated that the use of nuclear weapons will be a great moral crime against humanity, and insisted that now is the time to "renew the moral call for the total elimination of nuclear weapons," because in the event of a nuclear war, there will be "no victors, only victims."
The Rev. Tyler Wigg Stevenson, representing the World Evangelical Alliance, noted that evangelicals are "late in coming to the trenches where our brothers and sisters of the Roman Catholic Church and World Council of Churches, including members of other world religions, have labored long and faithfully."
He shared his hopes, however, that the evangelical "lack of moderation" will "make up for our tardiness."
"Nuclear weapons, like every other creation of human hands, are a technology. And like all technology, they give us the capacity or the ability to do a particular thing, which in this case is to make an unimaginably large explosive. Like all technologies, they cannot be uninvented."
Stevenson reflected on the grim possibility that nations will fail the people and lead them "into some form of nuclear catastrophe," though he clarified that he is only speaking of his personal views.
The WEA representative reflected that powerful people in the world sometimes like to imagine that there is no one higher than them, and that they forget that there is a God in heaven who will one day judge everyone's actions.
"No matter how powerful a king, there is an authority that is greater still," Stevenson said.
He added that although he does not expect world leaders to find the right path on their own, God has the ability to do great things, despite people's failures.
Bishop William Swing of the United Religions Initiative noted that the focus of some religious leaders today is on nuclear weapons, because "it would be absurd to imagine a future interfaith service after the nuclear holocaust. No faiths will be left to collect the mountainous grief."
He estimated that just the first strike of weapons aimed at the U.S. today has the capability to annihilate around 280 million people – and that America has the capacity to cause great damage herself.
Swing proposed that in the face of a "catastrophic nuclear Armageddon," people unleash a "much wider imagination" when it comes to addressing the critical issue.
"We need artists, filmmakers, hip-hoppers and story tellers, we need to point out that the nuclear issue is the environmental issue," he said, and added that movies need to show that a potential apocalypse is not entertainment, but a real threat.
The bishop further stressed that people need to be aware of the financial price that is paid for nuclear weapons, and the great price that will come if they are used.
Dr. William Vendley of Religions for Peace took a theological and philosophical approach on war and nuclear weapons, and pointed out that one of the central commandments of the Abrahamic faiths is "Thou shalt not kill," which he said is a clear, non-complicated commandment that is not tailored over specific circumstances.
"At the same time, that same tradition, and many others, recognize that reality is complicated, there are tragic situations where goods conflict, and where the least worst thing to do, in some traditions, might be to kill," he said.
"But what's really key is that the religious traditions don't ever elevate that conventional adjustment to the complication of competing goods up to the normative level. If you do kill, it's always wrong – even if according to some traditions, you might be doing the least worst thing at that given moment."
Vendley looked at some of the responses to the threat of nuclear weapons, such as determent by stockpiling such weapons, and said that it is always important to explore the moral questions concerning such options.
The conference, hosted by The Permanent Mission of the Philippines and the Global Security Institute, included other notable speakers, such as High Representative Angela Kane of the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs, as well as representatives of Buddhist, Islamic and Jewish faiths, who all agreed that the use of nuclear weapons goes against moral teachings.
"In Buddhist ethics, protecting innocent life is a high value. Nuclear weapons offend this value. According to Buddhist understanding, everyone and everything in the world are interconnected and interdependent," said Ven. Dr. Chung Ohun Lee of Won Buddhism International, to the U.N., adding that people have a responsibility to take care of the world and oppose nuclear weapons out of respect for all human beings.
"Nuclear weapons are immoral. Let us work together to rid the world of all of them," Dr. Chung Ohun Lee remarked.
Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi of Fiqh Council of North America said that according to the Islamic position, nuclear weapons "pose a grave danger to all of humanity" and called on the international community to work together to remove this danger.
"Islam teaches that God is the creator and master of everything in this world. All human beings are one family. Human beings must honor each other and live in peace," Dr. Siddiqi continued.
"Nuclear weapons do not come anywhere in the concept of just war. Nuclear weapons are by nature weapons of mass destruction. They make no distinction between combatants or noncombatants."
Rabbi Peter Knobel of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, who was the final speaker, drew an example from the story of Noah and the Great Flood in the Bible, when God promises to never destroy creation again, and gives people hope symbolized by a rainbow.
"It is not enough to merely stop proliferation, we are compelled to eliminate nuclear weapons, it is our duty to cherish and protect creation, to learn to love and care for one another, it is time to beat our nuclear swords into plowshares, and not stop beating until they are musical instruments."