Have you heard the news? A new treaty to reduce American and Russian nuclear arms is in the Senate Foreign Relations Committeeis waiting on bipartisan support in order to get a super-majority in the floor vote. This gripping fact will no doubt capture the passion of all those to whom God has “given a heart” for nuclear disarmament.
I can almost hear the crickets chirping.
To be sure, the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) is tremendously important, both as a step in the right direction for nuclear security and for the sheer firepower represented in the arms cuts. But it can be hard to get Christians excited about news like this because we are fundamentally personalists. That is, we don’t fight abstractions. If we want to fight poverty, for example, we sponsor this kid from this country and get her picture to stick on our refrigerator. This tendency to bring systemic issues down to the level of the individual is an intuitive manifestation of sweet, scriptural truth:
For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth—everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made (Isaiah 43:3, 6-7, TNIV).
Of course we know that our true struggle is “against the powers of this dark world” (Ephesians 6:12) rather than visible flesh and blood—but it sure helps when we can catch a glimpse of what we’re fighting for.
The rub comes when problems like nuclear weapons are impersonal, defiantly faceless. Even the imagery is pervasively inhuman: from the sleek, sterile profiles of bombs to the roaring mushroom cloud caused by their detonation. The only “face” that nuclear weapons have is that of the famous Doomsday Clock of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, which marks our proximity to global nuclear disaster.
So, if Christians are going to engage the nuclear issue, does it need a “face?”
If so, Countdown to Zero, a new documentary about the nuclear danger, might be considered a providential act of timeliness. The film was screened at the Q gathering in Chicago earlier this year and opens nationwide just as the Senate considers ratifying New START, and it gives a human view of the nuclear issue.
One of the closing sequences is a montage of laughing celebrants in Times Square on New Year’s Eve. Their cheers and “I love you’s” are faintly audible in the background, interspersed with footage of missiles launching and bombs falling. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” plays gently in the background while the audience is assaulted with narrative descriptions of what a nuclear blast actually does to human bodies. As the music fades, director Lucy Walker lingers on one emblematic shot: a young woman in Times Square, barely a girl, her dark hair swept under white knit cap, upturned eyes locked and shining, fixed on that falling New Year’s Eve sphere. It’s worth the price of the ticket.
We need this image, lest we forget the burning truth that these bombs are about people, not policy. The audio-visual incongruity of Countdown to Zero holds our faces to this fact. Right now we’re sleepwalking toward disaster, lulled by the dream that this legacy of the Cold War vanished with the last century. But the reality is that our launch procedures still mean that hundreds of millions of people are perpetually less than 30 minutes away from nuclear destruction—and that the risk of nuclear terrorism is only increasing.
This is the reason that Countdown is an alarm bell for a country—and a church—in need of a great awakening. Countdown pulls the curtain back on these dangers. It shows us how to take the concrete steps that can and will hold the destruction at bay. And it gives us faces to remember why this is a struggle worth the fighting.
Visit the Two Futures Project’s Countdown to Zero page to find showtimes, watch the movie trailer, sign a petition to ratify the New START treaty, get links to movie clips and a discussion guide—and get
for opening weekend.
Editor’s Note: The image above is the Doomsday Clock of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.