Skip to main content
Center for Action and Contemplation
The Spiral of Violence
The Spiral of Violence

War Is a Spiritual Problem

Thursday, May 5, 2022

One of the CAC’s early prophetic actions was to protest regularly at nuclear arms facilities in the Southwest. In this updated reflection from the 1990s, Father Richard reflects on the connection he observed between our focus on smaller issues which allow us to feel in control and even holy, while we tolerate war and the proliferation of nuclear weapons that create widespread death and destruction:

The nuclear myth, with its false promises of deterrence and security, gets us off almost all the hooks that the Divine Fisherman uses to draw us to deeper levels of spirituality and consciousness: our powerlessness, our essential insecurity, the desire to give one’s life for something bigger than oneself, our fear of death, our capacity for faith, trust, and forgiveness, our restless hearts that long to be united.

Once we squelch spiritual energy in the name of hard-headed intellect and will, three not-so-obvious demons will move in to take the place of Spirit: expedience, law, and propriety. I see many well-meaning Christians living out of this mindset, unaware that they have abandoned the marrow of the gospel of peace and love and put their hope in “enlightened” self-interest. And we have grown used to it for so long that we think it is the teaching of Jesus!

Let’s take expedience. It is an early stage of moral development, but it finds no support in the words of Jesus. It is reflected in moral Christian parents who are righteously concerned about the evils of premarital sex but, when questioned, reveal that their real concern is for family embarrassment, future marriage prospects, or setbacks caused by an unplanned pregnancy. Understandable concerns, but hardly dealing with real moral evil or Christian spirituality.

This brings us to the second false savior: law. For many people, this is what religion is all about: law and order, control, doing what we’re told, and obeying the commandments. Paul clearly taught the opposite in the whole book of Romans: “a person is justified by faith and not by doing works prescribed by the law” (3:28). But the church got itself into the business of prioritizing good behavior instead of doing what Jesus did: proclaiming and living the new reality of the Reign of God.

Finally, propriety. Being proper like everybody else on the block seems always to have been a substitute for real transformation. Middle-class religion loves to bless “the way everybody thinks.” It makes the Sermon on the Mount into a tidy lesson while the poor remain oppressed, the hungry unfed, and illusions maintained. From this perspective, the human spirit remains without compassion—especially among nice, proper, churchgoing folks. Self-serving behavior takes the place of other-serving love.

What does this have to do with nuclear bombs and nuclear deterrence? I am convinced, with Pope Francis, that even owning nuclear weapons is a spiritual problem. The way forward will depend on spiritual transformation at a corporate level. Yet now Ukraine and the whole world are held hostage because Russia and the United States own nuclear weapons.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Why Deterrence Is Death,” in Grace in Action, ed. Terry Carney and Christina Spahn (New York: Crossroad, 1994), 21–24.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Frank J. Aleksandrowicz, Clark Avenue and Clark Avenue Bridge (detail), 1973, photograph, Ohio, public domain, National Archives. Chaokun Wang, 轮胎 tyre (detail), 2021, photograph, Pingyao, creative commons. John Messina, Drainage of Marsh Leaves (detail), 1970, photograph, Louisiana, public domain. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: War, bitterness, consumed and discarded goods. Why are we sustaining the spiral of violence? Do we not see that we are part of the creation we are destroying?

Story from Our Community:

Jesus told us to love our enemies, even those who cling to the goal of power for themselves at the expense of others. We see that played out on a daily basis within our own borders. Violence is never the answer to bringing about truth, peace, and justice. Following Jesus’s own example is the only way to transform the narrative that keeps us transmitting the same old problems back and forth.
—David S.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.


Navigate by Date

This year’s theme

A candle being lit

Radical Resilience

We live in a world on fire. This year the Daily Meditations will explore contemplation as a way to build Radical Resilience so we can stand in solidarity with the world without burning up or burning out. The path ahead may be challenging, but we can walk it together.

The archives

Explore the Daily Meditations

Explore past meditations and annual themes by browsing the Daily Meditations archive. Explore by topic or use the search bar to find wisdom from specific teachers.

Join our email community

Sign-up to receive the Daily Meditations, featuring reflections on the wisdom and practices of the Christian contemplative tradition.

Hidden Fields

Find out about upcoming courses, registration dates, and new online courses.
Our theme this year is Radical Resilience. How do we tend our inner flame so we can stand in solidarity with the world without burning up or out? Meditations are emailed every day of the week, including the Weekly Summary on Saturday. Each week builds on previous topics, but you can join at any time.
In a world of fault lines and fractures, how do we expand our sense of self to include love, healing, and forgiveness—not just for ourselves or those like us, but for all? This monthly email features wisdom and stories from the emerging Christian contemplative movement. Join spiritual seekers from around the world and discover your place in the Great Story Line connecting us all in the One Great Life. Conspirare. Breathe with us.