Hiroshima: toward a Greater Light

day1 logo

Day1.org logo

Thanks to executive producer Peter Wallace of Day1.org for featuring the podcast of “Only One Sin: Exceptionalism” in advance of the August 8 Anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima.

Click HERE to sign up and listen on Day1.org.

Kosuke Koyama - RIP

Kosuke Koyama  (1929-2009)

This meditation, an excerpt from Be Still!, reflects on Hiroshima  in the greater light of the Rev. Dr. Kosuke Koyama, the Japanese peacemaking theologian to whom the collection of essays is dedicated.

Kosuke (pronounced ‘KO-soo-kay’) Koyama was 15 years old when it happened, and was baptized during the firebombing of Tokyo.

The horror of the bombings led him to see something else about us: the sin of exceptionalism that knows no limits.

nuclear-bombHis last published book — Theology and Violence: Towards A Theology of Nonviolent Love awaits translation into English from the original Japanese.  We wait on bended knee.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 5, 2017.



On Hiroshima Day 2015 – Like a Child Piling Blocks

Like a child piling blocks
Your words construct new dreams,
Towering poet.

Gentle and strong, as trees
Bend gracefully in wind,
You stand – and I bow.

One of the great pleasures in life has been the unexpected friendship with Japanese theologian Kosuke Koyama.

Ko, as his friends called him with great affection, and his wife Lois, a native Minnesotan, came to Minneapolis following retirement from a distinguished teaching position at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York. I knew him only by reputation: John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Professor of World Christianity Emeritus; cutting edge Asian liberation theologian and leader in Thailand, Singapore, New Zealand, and the United States; author of Water Buffalo Theology, No Handle on the Cross, Three Mile an Hour God, Mt. Fuji and Mt. Sinai, among others; pioneer in Buddhist-Christian intersection and inter-religious dialogue; spell-binding keynote speaker at the Fifth Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Nairobi, Kenya.

The friendship that developed, if friendship can be defined to include mentors and those they mentor, great minds and ordinary ones, people of stature and those who look up to them, the wise and the less wise, was particularly impactful because my father had been an Army Air Force Chaplain in the South Pacific in World War II.

During the March, 1945 firebombing of Tokyo, the planes came from my father’s air base. Though my father rarely spoke about the war, there was a certain sullenness that would come over him whenever I would ask him for stories. Now, after my father’s passing, I was learning from Ko what the war had meant to the 15 year-old Japanese boy being baptized in Tokyo while the bombs dropped all around his church.

The pastor who baptized him instructed him. “Kosuke, you are a disciple of Jesus Christ. You must love your neighbors…even the Americans.”

For the rest of his life Ko pursued the daunting question of what neighbor love means. Who is the enemy? Who is the neighbor? Are they one and the same? Late in his life, before he and Lois moved from Minneapolis to live with their son in Massachusetts, he had come to the conclusion that there is only one sin: exceptionalism. At first it struck me as strange. Can one really reduce the meaning and scope of sin to exceptionalism? What is exceptionalism, and why is it sinful?

At the time of our discussion, the phrase “American exceptionalism” – the claim that the United States is exceptional among the nations – was making the news. It was this view that led to the invasions and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – the unexamined belief that the Afghanis and the Iraqis would welcome us with open arms as liberators – that captured in a phrase the previously largely unspoken popular conviction that America is exceptional.

In this American belligerence Ko heard the latest form of an old claim that had brought such devastation on his people and the people of the world. The voices from the White House, the State Department, and the Department of Defense, though they spoke English, sounded all too familiar, impervious to criticism and restraint on the nation’s military and economic adventures.

Nine years ago today, on Hiroshima Day, 2006 he spoke to a small crowd at the Peace Garden in Minneapolis at the exact hour the bomb incinerated Hiroshima. His voice rang with a quiet authority that only comes from the depths of experience. Here’s an excerpt from that speech:

“During the war (1941-45) the Japanese people were bombarded by the official propaganda that Japan is the divine nation, for the emperor is divine. The word ‘Divine’ was profusely used.This was Japanese wartime ‘dishonest religion’, or shall we call it ‘mendacious theology’? This ‘god-talk’ presented an immature god who spoke only Japanese and was undereducated about other cultures and international relations. Trusting in this parochial god, Japan destroyed itself. “

“Then,he said to make his point to his American listeners, “dear friends, do not trust a god who speaks only English, and has no understanding of Arabic or islamic culture and history. If you follow such a small town god you may be infected with the poison of exceptionalism: ‘I am ok. You are not ok.’ For the last 5,000 years the self-righteous passion of ‘I am ok. You are not ok’ has perpetuated war and destruction. War ’has never been and it will never be’ able to solve international conflicts, says Pope John Paul II.”

Two paragraphs later, Koyama spoke in terms that speak to the policy of drones and other advanced military technology:

“In spite of the remarkable advances humanity has made in science/technological [sic], our moral and spiritual growth has been stunted. Humankind seems addicted to destruction even with nuclear weapons and biological weapons. Today there are 639 million small arms actively present in the world (National Catholic Reporter, June 30, 2006).Fear propaganda always kills Hope. Violence is called sacrifice. Children killed in war are cruelly called a part of the ‘collateral damage’.”

Today, Hiroshima Day, 2015 I wish I could break bread with Ko and my father to discuss the meaning of it all, and share with Dad the haiku poems published in The New York Times following Ko’s death, written in his honor by his colleague at Union, Peggy Shriver, testaments to hope in belligerent times:

Smiling East-West spirit,
You move with sun and Son,
Shining Peace on us.


Like a child piling blocks
Your words construct new dreams,
Towering poet.


Gentle and strong, as trees
Bend gracefully in wind,
You stand – and I bow.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 6, 2015

Kosuke Koyama – Hiroshima Day

INTRODUCTION: Today is the 60th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. It seems fitting for Views from the Edge to publish an address Japanese theologian and social critic Kosuke Koyama delivered at the Peace Garden in Minneapolis, MN at the very hour “Little Boy” turned Hiroshima into an inferno.  Dr. Koyama spoke these words on August 6, 2006 at the hour the bomb dropped on Hiroshima

Hiroshima Day Speech at the Peace Garden, Minneapolis – August 6, 2006. Kosuke (“Ko”) Koyama was living in downtown Minneapolis at the time.

It is hardly possible to imagine that in an atomic era,
war could be used as an instrument of justice (Pope John XXIII)

Dear Friends,

Sixty-one years ago, at 8:15 in the morning of August 6, 1945, the Japanese city of Hiroshima was annihilated by a nuclear bomb. The bomb, nicknamed “Little Boy” exploded 570 meters above the ground creating a fireball 100 meters in diameter with a temperature at its center of 300.000 degrees Celsius. Instantly the city became a land of death and destruction. 140.000 people perished. Three days later, on August 9th, the city of Nagasaki suffered the same fate. 80.000 perished. The Japanese authority told us that this extremely powerful bomb was the atomic bomb and advised people to wear white shirts and carry ointment. When the war ended 66 major cities of Japan were desolate wildernesses through fire-bombing. During the night of March 10, 1945, five months before Hiroshima, 325 B29s burned 16 square miles of Tokyo killing 100.000 people. I narrowly survived that holocaust.

As we pause to remember Hiroshima day this morning we are deeply disturbed and concerned about the destruction going on in the Near East today. Any bombing is a demonstration of human depravity. It breeds nothing but despair and hatred. Above all, it kills innocent children! Injuring and killing children is an “absolute” evil. Bombing is an indefensible act of terrorism. It must be totally outlawed and abolished if humankind is to remain human. I am not afraid of God. God will never drop nuclear bombs upon the inhabited cities. I am afraid of humans, for they have actually done it and may do it again! Religious speeches about hell do not frighten me. Hell cannot be worse than what I saw and went through the night of March 10, 1945 in Tokyo. I do not think God can make a worse hell than the one made at the order of American Air Force General Curtis E. LeMay. (1906-1990).

What is it in the thinking of people that allows for the kind of violence and terror that we have created through the use of our modern weapons? Sadly we have to admit that too often violence is encouraged by fanatic religious language. Nothing can be more ignorant and violent than religious motivated fanaticism. “God is on our side!” To release the horrors of war in the name of God is the worst of heresies. War is “the failure of all true humanism.” “It [war] is always a defeat for humanity,” says Pope John Paul II. The sages of Asia, Buddha and Confucius, taught that “god-talk” makes humans irresponsible. People, they said, are responsible for what they do. “You make a mess. You clean it up” they say. This is an honest message. “You made a hideous mess in the Rape of Nanjing in 1937. You are responsible. You clean it up!” There is no conflict between this Asian message and the message of the religions of Abraham: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Honest confrontation may activate “an enormous capacity for goodness and generosity” hidden in human spirits (The New York Times, July 31, 2006, from the Tikkun Advertisement, “STOP THE SLAUGHTER IN LEBANON, ISRAEL AND THE OCCUPIED TERRITORIES!) As I reflect the litany of atrocities that has taken place during my life time I am led to say that it is honest human talk, not dishonest religious talk, that will give 21st century humanity the wisdom and courage to live by hope.

James Baldwin says: “It is a terrible, an inexorable, law that one cannot deny the humanity of another without diminishing one’s own; in the face of one’s victim, one sees oneself.” This is an honest observation not unlike Newton’s law of motion that to every action there is an equal reaction. We cannot demonize others without demonizing ourselves. We cannot bomb others without bombing ourselves. We cannot kill other children without killing our own children. “All who take the sword will perish by the sword,” says Jesus. This is honest human talk. To think that one can deny the humanity of another without diminishing one’s own is pornographic. To suggest that by taking the sword we can prosper by the sword is deceitful. The children in Hiroshima or in Baghdad are as precious as the children in San Francisco. Any religion, any political power, or any ideology that despises this universal preciousness of the lives of children and all human beings must be publicly condemned for the sake of the sanity of human spirit.

During the war (1941-45) the Japanese people were bombarded by the official propaganda that Japan is the divine nation for the emperor is divine. The word “divine” was profusely used. This was Japanese war-time “dishonest religion,” or shall we call it “mendacious theology.” This “god-talk” presented an immature god who spoke only Japanese and was undereducated about other cultures and international relations. Trusting in this parochial god Japan destroyed itself. Then, dear friends, do not trust a god who speaks only English, and has no understanding of Arabic or Islamic culture and history. If you follow such a small town god you may be infected with the poison of exceptionalism: “I am ok. You are not ok.” For the last 5.000 years the self-righteous passion of “I am ok. You are not ok” has perpetuated war and destruction. War “has never been and it will never be” able to solve international conflicts, says Pope John Paul II.

Today eight nations (the United States, Great Britain, Russia, China, France, India, Pakistan and Israel) are in possession of nuclear arsenals. The bomb confers the power that I may characterize as “absolute.” Something that is “absolute” should not be trusted to unreliable human hands. The sanity of being human is to recognize human limitation. The idea of unlimitedness is demonic. Indefensible Weapons (Robert J. Lifton / Richard Falk) are “glorified” for their ability to pose an ultimate threat to an enemy. Albert Einstein saw that “war cannot be humanized. It must be abolished.” That is not an utopian dream. Let me quote from the recent New York Times Tikkun Advertisement: “The paranoid and allegedly ‘realistic’ version of global politics asserts that we live in a world in which our safety can only be achieved through domination, or others will seek to dominate us first. Of course, when we act on this assumption, it becomes self-fulfilling.” Martin Luther King Jr. said that “if we want to survive upon the earth, for our own self-interest, we better learn to love our enemies.”

In spite of the remarkable advances humanity has made in science/technological, our moral and spiritual growth has been stunted. Humankind seems addicted to destruction even with the nuclear arsenal and biological weapons. Today there are 639 million small arms actively present in the world (National Catholic Reporter, June 30, 2006). Fear propaganda always kills Hope. Violence is called sacrifice. Children killed in war are cruelly called a part of the “collateral damage.”

Remember that fireball! It is a human copy of the great fireball called the Sun. Humanity is now in possession of the unimaginable possibility of cosmic super-violence. We, the species called human on the third planet of the solar system, are now capable to obliterate all living beings upon the earth. When Hiroshima/ Nagasaki was nuclear bombed, symbolically the whole world was bombed. Every bomb used against others is ultimately a bomb exploded upon ourselves. How dedicated we are to destroy ourselves! Since Hiroshima, war is no longer about this nation against that nation. It is we, all of humanity, who are against our own good.

We must hold on to the vision of the “enormous capacity for good and generosity” of the billions of people upon the earth! At this moment it is fitting for the world to remember the gift the American people made to Japanese people in 1945 which was enshrined in the Article Nine of the Post War Constitution of Japan:

Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.
In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.

Modern Demoniacs

The story of the Gerasene Demoniac (Gospel of Mark chapter 5:1-20) was to be the sermon today at Shepherd of the Hill in Chaska. Because of a storm that limited attendance, that sermon will be spoken next Sunday, the first Sunday of Lent. In the meantime. this afternoon, one of our members sent me this sermon on the Gerasene Demoniac.

“Modern Demoniacs”

A Sermon for the Third Sunday after Pentecost
by the Rev. John Kirkley, long-term interim rector
The Episcopal Church of St. John the Evangelist, San Francisco, California

May I speak in the name of God, the one, holy and undivided Trinity. Amen.

Does anyone recognize the name, Claude Eatherly? Major Eatherly was the captain of the Straight Flush, a B-59 that accompanied the Enola Gay in dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Responsible for reconnaissance and assessment of the effect of the bombings, it was Earthly who gave the signal to drop the bombs. After the war, he shared his remorse with the German philosopher Gunther Anders in a series of letters that became the basis for the book, Burning Conscience: The Guilt of Hiroshima.

The tall, handsome Texan was completely undone by his participation in the use of weapons of mass destruction (which earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross and other honors). According to his family, he wasn’t the same person after he left the military in the early 1950s. He was a haunted man, haunted by the inability of his fellow citizens to acknowledge the crime against humanity for which they were collectively responsible. “The truth is,” he wrote to Anders, “that society cannot accept the fact of my guilt without at the same time recognizing its own far deeper guilt.”

As Eatherly’s mental health deteriorated, he seemed compelled to seek out punishment for his crime, to become the scapegoat for a nation that refused to acknowledge its guilt. In between hospitalizations, he became involved in a series of petty crimes leading to armed robbery. Eventually, he was committed to a mental institution based on the expert witness of psychiatrists. Gunther Anders response to Eatherly’s earlier correspondence proved to be prophetic when he wrote, “One can only conclude: happy the times in which the insane speak out this way, wretched the times in which only the insane speak out this way.”

Claude Eatherly, it seems to me, was a modern-day equivalent of the Gerasenes’ demoniac. He was the United States’ demoniac; we needed him, much as the Gerasenes’ needed the possessed man whom Jesus healed. The story of the Gerasenes’ demoniac is a story about the social usefulness of possession. It is a story about the dynamic of scapegoating as a way to deny and displace our collective encounter with evil, whether the evil we commit (as in the case of Eatherly) or the evil we endure (as in the case of the Gerasene’s demoniac). Although the story takes on mythic elements that seem irrational by the standards of scientific materialism, these elements serve to heighten the universality of the story and underscore its truth. The language of demonic possession may seem archaic, but it points to a reality that we cannot dismiss.

Why did the Gerasenes’ “need” this demoniac? What “necessary” role did he play in their community? The country of the Gerasenes was a region encompassed by the Decapolis, ten Greek city-states established and populated by veterans of Alexander the Great’s campaigns. These Gentile cities, originally autonomous, were subsequently caught between Jewish rebels from Galilee and the legions of the Roman occupation. Struggling to maintain their proud independence, these cities were at various times sacked by both Jewish and Roman forces. There was no love lost between the Gerasenses and either the Jews or the Romans.

In fact, the Gerasenes seethed with resentment over the indignities of Roman subjugation. In Jesus’ time, this repressed anger, this despair of ever being free again, simmered well below the surface of Roman control. This is the context in which we must understand the Gerasenes’ demoniac.

It is not surprising that this man’s demons collectively named themselves, “Legion.” His psyche was occupied by the demons representing the spirituality of the Gerasenes under Roman occupation. He internalized the dynamic of colonizer and colonized, characterized by brutality, exploitation, subservience, resentment, and guilt. In his inner life and relationship with his neighbors we see the evil of Roman imperialism writ large.

The Gerasenes and their demoniac engaged in a ritualized drama of bondage and release, whereby the demoniac was repeatedly subdued and chained, only to break free and return to the wild again. It was his self-destructive enactment of their unfilled rage that allowed them to retain a sense of “normalcy” in the face of the dehumanizing constraints of Roman rule. This one man, dwelling naked in the tombs, gave expression to the suffering and powerlessness that no else was willing to acknowledge.

We, of course, have our “demoniacs” as well. Thursday afternoon a woman came by St. John’s looking for her son. She showed me a picture of Nick, a young man in his early twenties diagnosed with bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia. He has been living on the street for several weeks, refusing to take his medication and becoming increasingly disassociated from reality. His mother, following a trail of ATM transactions, was led to the Mission.

It turns out that Nick had been a promising film school student at NYU, without any previous symptoms of mental illness – until the events of September 11, 2001. Nick was at school in Manhattan when the terrorists crashed the two hijacked planes into the Twin Towers. It changed his life forever. Shortly thereafter, an agonizing process of mental and emotional deterioration ensued, culminating in his sure conviction that God has called him to save the world by convincing us that we all just need to get along. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?

Now, I do not doubt that there is something within Nick’s psychological constitution that made him susceptible to being affected by the trauma of 9/11 in this way. He is clearly mentally ill. Yet, I believe that he has been possessed by evil, internalizing the spirituality of the death-dealing institutions of our world that dominate so much of our lives. Like Claude Eatherly and the Gerasene’s demoniac before him, Nick is giving expression in his inner life and relationships to the evil that the rest of us refuse to fully acknowledge, expose, and renounce. In so doing, Nick allows us to feel normal and comfortable in our denial. “Poor Nick,” we say, as if his mental illness is simply a personal problem and not a sign of our collective insanity. One can only conclude: happy the times in which the insane speak out this way, wretched the times in which only the insane speak out this way.

Nick is a symptom of spiritual disease that has infected all of us. We have come to accept a hellish level of violence, dishonesty, prejudice, greed, and xenophobia as normal in our society. In fact, so blind are we to our own faults as a nation that we persist in believing that we have the right and duty to impose our culture throughout the world, by force if necessary. In so doing, we mask our self-interest and will-to-power behind a façade of benevolent aid. We are “liberators, not occupiers,” said the Romans to the Gerasenes. Meanwhile, the suicide bombers keep exploding and the Nick’s keep crying out in our streets. The truth is, we have all been colonized, victims of collective possession, and we cling to the identified demoniacs in our midst so that we can feel good about ourselves.

It is instructive to see how Jesus intervenes in this situation. In Luke’s narrative, it is a bit odd that we find Jesus diverting into Gentile territory at this point in his ministry, a kind of sneak preview of the Gentile mission to come. What is this Jew doing in the Decapolis? Whatever the reason, notice that Jesus comes among the Gerasenes as an outsider, and it is precisely as an outsider that he can see beneath the surface of the spiritual façade operative in the culture of the Decapolis.

The demoniac approaches Jesus, only Jesus doesn’t see a “demoniac.” He sees a man in search of wholeness. Jesus recognizes that the source of this < man’s trouble lies outside of himself, and so he commences to address the foreign power that has invaded this poor man’s psyche. That power’s name is Legion.

Legion doesn’t want to be sent away. The occupying power desperately wants to maintain its foothold somehow, somewhere. Jesus acquiesces to this request, but in such a way as to reverse the scapegoat mechanism that had locked the demoniac in such a cruel relationship with the townspeople. Normally it is the scapegoat who is killed by the people as a substitutionary sacrifice for their sin. Instead, the scapegoat is healed, and Legion, representing the spirituality of the people, is cast into the swineherd and headlong over a cliff. Evil requires a scapegoat in order to maintain its legitimacy; without it, it dies.

The townspeople are definitely not happy with Jesus. The cost of his intervention to heal this man was simply too high for them, economically and spiritually. The loss of the swineherd is a significant financial loss, and in the spirituality of Legion, profits always have more value than people. While the Gerasenes marvel at the healing of the demoniac, they are also afraid. Who will be their scapegoat? Must they now acknowledge their own inner violence and despair? That is simply too much to ask, and so they beg Jesus to leave them alone.

The demoniac is like an alcoholic who gets well, depriving everyone else in the family of their scapegoat. Suddenly, everyone is in an uproar because the family drunk is unwilling to carry all the negative emotional energy. What, you mean I have to look at myself now instead of focusing on you as the problem? No thanks!

In an extraordinary example of what Freud called “the return of the repressed,” the “Legion” that is cast out by Jesus subsequently reappeared in the form of an actual Roman legion that occupied the Decapolis less than forty years later. The demoniac was healed, but the people refused to accept the implications of his healing for their own spiritual well-being. Unable to acknowledge their hatred of the Romans, and without a scapegoat to accept their displaced violence, it erupted in a bloody revolution that was ruthlessly suppressed.

What is perhaps most astonishing, is the response of the man formerly known as the Gerasenes’ demoniac. The townspeople find him clothed and in his right mind at Jesus’ feet, in the posture of a disciple. When the townspeople run Jesus out of town, he pleads to go with him. Jesus responds, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” Which is exactly what the demoniac-become-disciple did.

His courage in so doing is nothing less than breathtaking. Jesus calls us to the same form of discipleship as the former demoniac. Our faith is not a retreat from the world, a following Jesus that takes us out of the brokenness of our world. It is rather the marvelous gift of freedom from possession by the evil powers of this world, precisely so that we can offer a voice of peace and hope to that very world.

In a world such as ours, this gift of awareness can feel like a terrible burden sometimes. As daunting as it may seem to hold together both the pain of life and its inexhaustible joy simultaneously, to fail to do so leaves us vulnerable to becoming either a scapegoat or a devotee of the spirituality of Legion. In our baptism, we renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God, as well as the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God. Together (for we cannot do it alone) we must refuse, with all our might, to collaborate with structures of evil, so that the insane will not be the only ones to speak out; and, what is more, so that there will be no need for insane people. In renouncing evil, we must renounce our need for scapegoats as well, until all God’s children know the joy and dignity for which they were created.

“Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” Amen.

•The Series: `Do Justice'. Reflections before and after GC 2003. http://www.rci.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/dojustice/dojustice.html
•Assays. A Series of reflections before GC 2000 http://newark.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/assays.html
•Joy Anyway!. Reflections and Visions of Anglican Pilgrims. http://newark.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/joy.html
•Louie Crew's Anglican pages: http://newark.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/rel.html
•Louie Crew's home page: http://newark.rutgers.edu/~lcrew
You are welcome to submit your essays for consideration for this series. Send them to lcrew@newark.rutgers.edu Identify yourself by name, snail address, parish, and other connections to the Episcopal Church. Please encourage others to do the same.

Please sign my guestbook and view it.

My site has been accessed times since February 14, 1996.
Statistics courtesy of WebCounter.