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Parish Life blog: Humanity v barbarism

Fr Andrew Hamilton  |  29 July 2019

The Feast of the Transfiguration of Jesus on 6 August celebrates a story of possibility.

The glory of Jesus as the Son of God was revealed to his disciples on the mountain. The glory of the humanity that he had taken on was also revealed, and with it the unique value and the destiny of each human being.

This feast of possibility is now indelibly linked to another event of negation. On 6 August 1945 the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, an event of hitherto inconceivable darkness. It marked the worthlessness and expendability of each human being in modern warfare.

The conjunction of the two commemorations is rightly challenging. It marks a choice between humanity and barbarism, between a vision of human beings as disposable cogs in someone else’s machine and as persons to be respected because of their inalienable value.


The respectful choice has been embodied in the fragile cooperation between states to protect people seeking asylum, to build their relationships on trust and negotiation, to negotiate mutual disarmament and to make care for the world and for people who are disadvantaged a shared commitment. The brutal choice has been embodied in the insistence on self-interest as determinative of relationships between nations, the exclusion and punishment of people who seek protection and contempt for the environment and people who are disadvantaged.

In societies the choice between humanity and brutality is cyclical. The commemoration of Hiroshima, however, indicates the heavy risk attached to cycles. The devastation there covered a radius of 14km. The strongest thermonuclear weapon tested since destroyed the earth for 100km around the explosion, an area greater than that of any Australian city.


If in international relationships there is no space for the restraint that respect for persons and the claim of harmony place on the actions of individual states, the long-term proliferation of nuclear weapons will be irresistible. The likelihood of them being used by inadequate and unprincipled national leaders against putative enemies will grow correspondingly.

The terrible light of Hiroshima is a warning. The joyful light of the Mount of the Transfiguration is an invitation. On the mountain Jesus gathered with representatives of Israel’s history and with his disciples who saw his glory. They were then invited to go down the mountain in hostile times to follow him in recognising the reflected glory of each human being and inviting them into Jesus’ company. This was a way of community, courage and love.

Image: Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. The park, in the centre of Hiroshima, Japan, is dedicated to the Hiroshima legacy as the first city in the world to undergo a nuclear attack. Getty Images


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