ON LYING AND KILLING
by Philip Berrigan, 2002
for Kirkridge Retreat and Study Center
The Lord then said: "What have you done! Listen! Your brother's
blood cries out to me from the earth!
Jesus said: "But now, you are trying to kill me...You belong to your
father the devil and you willingly carry out your father's desires.
He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth
because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he speaks in
character, because he is a liar and the father of lies.
Like many, I've found the Bible a storehouse of wisdom and life. It
occurs to me that the Bible possesses focal points that measure our
lives, upon which to rest faith and conviction. One of these focal
points would be the fierce justice of the Hebrew prophets. Another
would be what the Gospel calls "the law and the prophets" - "Love
your neighbor as you love yourself!" Eclipsing all would be the new
commandment of the new covenant - "Love one another as I have loved
you!" - that Jesus issued the night before his death, and in the
words of the Eucharist, sealed that covenant with his blood.
Prohibitions also qualify as focal points - most of the 10
commandments are prohibitions. The most elusive and fundamental is:
"Thou shalt not kill!" Jacques Ellul, in his book, Violence, calls
this commandment elementary to Judeo-Christian spirituality. He
asserted that without strict adherence to this commandment - love,
justice, freedom were impossible. In brief, the disciple must
renounce killing categorically, and further, prevent others from
killing, especially state terrorists.
Let me return briefly to the quote from Genesis: God telling Cain:
"your brother's blood cries out to me from the earth!" By murdering
Abel, Cain committed the first great interhuman crime. Adam and Eve
had proved disobedient and rebellious, but they had not shed blood.
Together, our first parents and Cain broke the two great
commandments: love of God and love of neighbor. More than that -
Cain began the ecological despoliation of the earth. "Your brother's
blood cries out to me from the earth!" This is something we don't
fully understand, but when murder is rampant upon the earth, we
butcher the ecosphere, and indeed, the cosmos also. Murderers can't
do else but hack at the earth, and therefore, at their own bones and
sinews. Hence, mass murder, and consequentially global warming,
melting icecaps, floods, droughts, earth quakes, volcanic eruptions,
forest fires, heatwaves, rising oceans, etc.
But one must turn to the 8th chapter of John's Gospel for Jesus to
teach us the dimensions of killing. In a fierce controversy with the
rulers, Jesus connects lying and murder and states that both amount
to devil worship. God is his father; their's is the devil. "Satan
was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth
because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he speaks in
character because he is a liar and the father of lies." (Jn.
They are trying to kill him, and this lethal intention enslaves them
to lying and demonism. You will recall that our life struggle is not
with one another, but with the demons, the principalities and
powers. You will also recall the temptations of Christ, (cf. Luke
4:5-7) that God has turned the world over to the demons, simply to
enhance our fidelity and freedom. How then do we demythologize and
render impotent the demons in our lives? By banishing any taint of
killing and any complicity in the killing of others. As the Buddhist
formula goes: "I will not kill and I will prevent others from
We are a society of killers, and our killing fields are now global.
We are a gun people - little guns and big guns, and our guns are
driving us mad. Daily, official killers strut before my
consciousness, a national landscape teeming with killers, all of
whom wear a price tag or are victims of neurosis, or worse. They
parade from the White House, Pentagon, Congress, Department of
Energy, Supreme Court, Warmaking Corporations, Veterans' Groups,
National Guards, Militias. God loves these killers - so must we.
Should we pray daily for them? Yes, the Sermon on the Mount enjoins
that (Mt. 5:44). They persecute us; they are our enemies; they lie
to us, betray us, and, with their wars and weapons, take measures to
kill us. But we commend them to God and toil for their conversion,
while resisting their killing. For they kill with our authority;
they kill with our silence and money; they kill in our name.
Let me repeat - they are killing us. I recall Lord Bertrand Russell,
renowned philosopher and mathematician, Peer of the Realm, writing
from Brixton Jail in London after civil disobedience at the War
Ministry: "Kennedy and Khrushchev, Macmillan and Gaitskell, DeGaulle
and Adenauer (all members of the nuclear club) are taking measure to
kill us all."
Another example, the Warsaw Ghetto, citied by Dr. Rosalie Bertell in
her book, No Immediate Danger. After the Nazis conquered Poland and
invaded the USSR, they herded hundreds of thousands of Jews into the
Warsaw Ghetto. There, they granted empty concessions while keeping a
stranglehold on food (a starvation diet) and communications with the
outside world. Weakened and beguiled, the people believed them, even
believed the promise of resettlement on liberated Soviet land.
Meanwhile, the Nazis feverishly completed the death camps and began
the selections, usually 10,000 in number. One man was suspicious,
escaped from the Ghetto, followed the tracks and discovered the
camps and mass murder. When he returned to the Ghetto and told of
his experience, people went into denial and disbelief. False hope
remained widespread until Jan.'43 when the Jewish Combat
Organization fought back for the first time. In April '43, SS
attempts to deport more Jews to the death camps encountered armed
resistance. In reprisal, the Nazis fired the Ghetto, blew up sewers
and machine gunned women, children and old people. 65,000 Jews died.
A handful escaped and survived to tell of this savage attempt at
Bertell's point is clear. The world is now an enormous ghetto, where
people repeat the credulity of the Jews - thinking our leaders wish
us well, tell us the truth, fabricate, deploy, and use nuclear
weapons to protect us. They ask some to design them, others to build
them, others to explode them, everyone to pay for them - everyone to
maintain a hushed silence, a trust usually reserved for God alone.
The reality is what Chomsky calls "the manufacture of consent."
Meanwhile, they trash every commandment of God, launch a new war
every year, loot the treasury, neglect education, health and the
environment and pillage the earth, under a blanket of annihilatory
It appears to me that Lord Russell was prophetic: "The American
pharaohs are taking measures to kill us all!" Dr. Bertell too is
right: the world is a ghetto, with only a tiny fraction aware of the
proximity of nuclear war, and even less of the relentless saturation
of the planet with ionizing radiation. Even friends and relatives
stricken by the cancer epidemic are invariably unaware.
(Even if we were to agree with Dr. Bertell's estimate - 30.5 million
victims from 57 years of nuclearism, that would leave the U.S. with
roughly 250,000 victims annually, i.e., for each of 57 years. I
think her figure cautiously low - scientists say that Chernobyl
alone claimed nine million victims). Whatever the case, 250,000
annually is an incomprehensible crime.
At this point, let us try to understand how 57 years of nuclearism
has degraded the earth into a toxic cesspool. The nuclear club has
staged 1,900 atmospheric and underground tests, over 1/2 of them
conducted by the U.S. These tests generate terrific heat which
plummets tons of radioactive garbage into the stratosphere, the
west/east winds distribute it and then it sifts down into soil, air,
Since World War II, there have been four nuclear wars, all conducted
by the U.S., the latest in Afghanistan; the last three wars employed
Depleted Uranium weapons. I should mention the one ton D.U. earth
and rock penetrating bombs that we exploded in the Indus Mountains,
separating Afghanistan from Pakistan, trying to kill Al Quaida
fighters. Snows from the Indus Mountains water most of Pakistan's
agricultural lands, inevitably poisoning it with a mammoth residue
of radiation. Pentagon spin doctors refuse to admit that D.U. shells
and bombs are nuclear weapons. One should ask the vicitms - Iraqis,
Yugoslavians, Afghans, American, NATO and British troops, and now,
Pakistanis. No one can escape it - it has a half life of 4.5 billion
years. See how our peerless leaders love us - how they kill us, with
the best of motivation always.
The U.S. possesses 103 functional nuclear power plants, producing
electricity "too cheap to meter. " These energetically poison air,
soil, water, and vegetation in their immediate radius. No one,
moreover, knows what to do with their waste - Yucca Mountain is an
expensive and hazardous boondoggle.
To continue - the Department of Energy has shamelessly admitted that
103 of its 149 nuclear weapons complexes are so irradiated that they
can't be cleaned up. Eventually, DOE will declare them national
sacrifice zones, and cordone them off from the public. Add to all
that, the 7 - 8 million tons of exposed uranium tailings scattered
around the planet, vulnerable to the elements, and so, sifting into
air, soil, and water.
It's a wonder that not more of us are not sick or dying. Ionizing
radiation enervates the human gene pool, and it weakens our immune
systems It is directly responsible for global cancer epidemics, and
a new and bewildering host of allergies. It is indirectly
responsible for HIV-AIDS, now spreading pell-mell from Africa to
China and Russia.
A word about intention, for it's our idolatrous intention to possess
the bomb and to explode it in certain circumstances that imperils
us. Richard McSorley, a Jesuit priest and friend, wrote this about
the bomb: "It is the taproot of violence!" He meant the intention to
possess the bomb and use it breeds every other violence: guns on the
street, war, political ambiguity and cowardice, charades of
religion, public paralysis, ravaging of the earth. It trashes the
moral order, creating disorder and lunacies of every kind. It
declares war on God, God's people and God's creation. It plunges the
U.S. and the world into moral, social, and political madness.
What shall we do in fidelity to God and in justice to one another?
We renounce killing - killing on the street, killing in war, killing
of the unborn, of the elderly. We embrace God's "Thou shalt not
kill!" with all our hearts, prayer, action. Furthermore, we prevent
the government from killing - no money for the American killing
machine, no silence before its crimes - nothing but inspired
nonviolent resistance. What if every Jew and Christian said and
meant: "Not in my name!"
We can discuss factors of non cooperation and direct action leading
to a national strike. The soft underbelly of what Dorothy Day called
"the filthy rotten system" is the economy. The economy is also the
underpinning of the nuclear strike force and the conventional
killing machine, which, you may agree, must eventually be
dismantled. Foremost in the movement to disarm nuclear weapons is
Plowshares - Plowshares on three continents - symbolic yet real
disarmament of First Strike nuclear weapons, all 78 in number. I for
one envision a national strike spearheaded by a voluntary slash in
consumerism, and by direct action, especially civil resistance,
especially Plowshares. We have much to ponder, pray over and
discuss. Thanks for your good hearts.