Nuclear Disarmament and Our Highest Spiritual Truths

Presentation by GSI President Jonathan Granoff at the 2010 Network of Spiritual Progressives Conference

Washington, DC

Rabbi Lerner asked me to share my highest spiritual truths. I had intended to talk about the moral imperative to abolish nuclear weapons. I will try and put these two themes together.

The highest spiritual truth that I know is contained in Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad — there is only One, the Lord is One and only That One is worthy of worship. La llaha illa Allah — there is no God but the One God; there is no reality but God. God is a mystery and His wondrous creation is filled with the mystery of life, unified, harmonious, and each of us is one within the One. Hindus describe Indra’s web as a fabulous net that stretches out in all directions, and each node of the web has a jewel, and each jewel reflects the entirety of the web, and if any part of the web is touched, the entire web responds.

Each heart is that jewel, and each heart reflects the entirety of all life. One who knows himself or herself will know that jewel and see that all lives are interconnected and are a manifestation of that one mysterious being and power, beyond name, beyond gender, beyond form, beyond description, that permits us to know it and to know our soul, our real selves as infinite light and infinite love. The great majesty of the human experience is that this capacity of knowing oneself is directly related to the capacity of knowing one another. Each of us only gets one heart, and that heart has to open in all directions. If you think you can only open it to the divine — to HaShem, to God, to YHVH, to Allah, and you can’t open it to humanity, that insight into the mystery of life, the secret of the One, is not going to happen.

Jesus summed it up very nicely [quoting the Torah], saying the method of obtaining peace is to love that power of infinite light and love with all your soul, all your heart, and all your might, and like unto that, love your neighbor as yourself.

It is an open door that goes two ways, inside and outside. The peace is an inside job, you can’t measure it. Your soul is an inside job, you can’t measure it. Your consciousness is an inside job, you can’t measure it. That which is most important can’t be measured, and in a way, it can only be pointed at. But there are universal principles of the way it’s been pointed at, and universal principles of how we are to behave if we are to honor that.

I think one of the greatest problems the world faces today is the franchising of the way in which you do this. Franchising, like McDonalds or Burger King: Islam, Judaism, Christianity franchising love, franchising compassion, and claiming an exclusive ownership of it, as though my Jewish love is better than your Hindu love, or my Christian liberation is better than your Jewish liberation. If these metaphors for that which is beyond description, beyond any form of idolatry are to have any meaning in this age, they are a call for us to express that love, express that virtue, express that mysterious power, and that is indeed free and open.

I would analogize to wells being dug to get to the water table. The water table is one, and the wells are each unique and separate. The value of each tradition is to dig to get to that one water table. We are people who honor life, desire to seek and serve peace, and work as a network. Also, we are people digging to get to that water table. We are people who recognize that network of life itself, and who are willing to say shame on you for saying that you own God’s love, shame on you for creating divisions among humanity in the name of God.

The Sufi saying, I learned from Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, is to “separate from yourself that which separates you from your fellow human beings.” The same qualities that separate us from one another separate us from that which is most important inside. Anger, falsehood, jealousy, pride, arrogance, fanaticism separate us while love, compassion, patience, tolerance, and peace bring us together. If religion and spirituality have any meaning it is to reconnect us with that oneness.

Buddhism: hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful. Christianity: all things whatsoever you would that men should do to you, do you so even to them (Matthew). Confucianism: do not onto others what you would not have them do unto you (the Analytics). Hinduism: this is the sum of duty — do not unto others that which would cause you pain if done to you (the Mahabharata). Islam: not one of you is a believer until he desires for the other that which he desires for himself (Hadith). Jainism: in happiness and suffering, in joy and grief, we should regard all creatures as we regard our own self. Judaism: what is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man — that is the law, all the rest is commentary.

Grace is part of the fabric of creation, part of what holds things together, and these ethical principles express the way things actually are. It’s not poetry, it’s a description of how things really really are. When these principles are violated, instability ensues — instability in our personal lives and instability among states. States must also treat other states as they want to be treated. There is a universal convention barring biological weapons. Imagine if nine states said, “no state can use polio or smallpox as a weapon, but nine states can use the plague as a weapon to maintain international peace and security.” Such a proposition would be offensive to our basic morality and logic. We would laugh at it. It violates that ethical principle of do unto others as you would have others do unto you.

States have to understand that if we’re going to have stability in the world, we’re going to have to want for other states what we want for ourselves. We don’t want to be dominated, and we don’t want to dominate others in our names. We don’t want nuclear weapons pointed at us. Right now as we speak thousands of nuclear weapons are “launch on warning,” giving the President of the United States about fifteen minutes to decide if there is a computer glitch or if we are under massive attack. There are dozens of nuclear devices pointed at this city right now, where we are [Washington, D.C.]. We are at the mercy of people in Russia right now. They are not our enemies. Collectively we are people who appear to be willing to do genesis in reverse, and just take things back to the very beginning … for what? And why are they doing it? Because we are putting them in this same position.

As Oscar Aria said at the last Security Council on this, and the first Security Council session ever on this, in September of last year, 22,000 eyes of death face humanity every night. I agree with George Kennan that this is a blasphemy and an offence to God. This is a violation of the fundamental principle that must guide our relationship to the natural world, which is reverence for life. And it violates the most fundamental ethical principle. So I would add an eleventh commandment, and this is how I tie spiritual principles into the theme of nuclear weapons: Don’t kill everybody.

The idea that one can worship at the altar of the quest for ultimate dominance through nuclear weapons and then prevent others from joining the cult is unrealistic. The greatest stimulant to the proliferation of nuclear weapons is the reliance on nuclear weapons by the most powerful. The President of the United States has stated that he is seeking the security of a world without nuclear weapons. The Secretary General of the United Nations has stated that obtaining the elimination of nuclear weapons will be a public good of the highest order. Yet, because we have not created a constituency that will put political pressure on the President to advance nuclear disarmament, in the new budget there is an extra $170 billion for the nuclear venture over the next ten years designated to upgrade warheads and delivery systems. Last year we spent $52 billion in the US alone on the nuclear weapons venture, with no public debate because we have not put any political pressure based on the moral and practical imperative to abolish nuclear weapons.

I contend that the reason for this failure of political pressure is that we have not made the clear and powerful moral argument. We have not said to our political leaders, “Shame on you — shame on you for continuing to threaten to use nuclear weapons. Shame on us for tolerating this. Shame on you for putting the oceans at risk, shame on you for allowing species to be killed at alarming rates, shame on you for calling us who want to have a sustainable future idealists; we’re the realists!” They are living and working with an idea that is a nightmare.      

Ahmed Djoghlaf, who is the UN’s leading figure on biological diversity, said: “If the 9 billion people predicted to be with us by 2050 were to have the same lifestyle as Americans, we would need five planets.” The magnitude of the damage to the ecosystems is much bigger than we ever imagined. The rate of extinction is currently at 1,000 times the natural, historical, background rate of extinction. The most recent study by the International Union of Conservation of Nature found that 17,291 of the 47,677 species assessed are threatened with extinction and 70 percent of the fishing stocks are at risk.

If we are to be able to protect the global commons, the oceans, the climate, then the level of cooperation necessary is exactly what makes the spiritual imperative of loving one’s neighbor as oneself to be the practical imperative of this moment. I contend that that level of cooperation cannot be obtained in a world with nuclear haves and nuclear have-nots. The same diplomats on Monday who have to say, “We’re threatening your country and your people with nuclear annihilation,” will find it a bit difficult on Tuesday to say, for example, “Let’s cooperate to protect the oceans.” Nukes are not only about nukes, the nukes are about our values and how we communicate and try to work together

The destruction of natural biodiversity is not just about business as usual but about what do we hold precious? When you put issues in this framework, then the political effectiveness of morally informed activists, such as the Network of Spiritual Progressives, can continue to grow and stretch. Similarly, if the people in Israel and Palestine looked at the actual existential situation they are passing on to their children, they would say: “We don’t have time for carrying the burden of our mutual histories of victimization with us as an excuse to keep us apart and in perpetual conflict We don’t have time for it.”

I believe the truth is that the same power that placed the power of extraordinary destruction in the splitting of an atom is mystical and mysterious. Atoms, releasing energy for destruction three times the heat of the face of the sun, within a thousandth of a second are a wonder. Now one must reflect on the fact that the devices dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima are minor and small compared to the megaton bombs we have now in our arsenals — but that power contained in an atom is mysterious and mystical isn’t it? You can’t see it with your eyes or touch it with your hands. I believe that the same power that gifted our intellects with the capacity to discover this power has also gifted us with the wisdom to move the world to a place without nuclear weapons.

No one predicted that the Berlin Wall would fall as it did, and how we were saved from Armageddon. None of the intelligence services predicted it. No one imagined that apartheid was going to end without a bloodbath. No one could have predicted that with our little blackberries we would have access to more intelligence that the CIA or the KGB had thirty years ago. No one could have predicted these things, and we can’t predict the future. We can predict whether we are going to be the human beings that we know we’re capable of being. I believe that the same power that gave us that power of destruction that arises from the splitting of the atom, has also given us the power of love, compassion, peace, wisdom, and mystery. I will close simply asking that great power of love to bless us, give us the courage to accept the blessing, and to bring us into the state of oneness and wonder and gratitude. Thank you very much.

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