Interview with The Grim Reaper

The hands of the atomic scientists' Doomsday Clock now stand at 90 seconds to midnight

A new cartoon, courtesy of Harry Bliss, shows a fellow chatting with The Grim Reaper. The Reaper, sensitive to the chap’s feelings, tells him not to worry overmuch — it’s just a preliminary interview. But should we believe Mr. Reaper? Or should we be worried, very worried?

The latest report from the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists tells us that “This year, the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moves the hands of the Doomsday Clock forward, largely (though not exclusively) because of the mounting dangers of the war in Ukraine. The Clock now stands at 90 seconds to midnight — the closest to global catastrophe it has ever been.” And the clock is ticking.

Yes, we should all worry about Ukraine. My head and heart are with the people of Ukraine. Vladimir Putin is a murderous liar. He is largely responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of people, including many of his own ill-informed conscripts.

Nonetheless, how we support Ukraine must be in accord with justice. Our ever-increasing military aid, truth be told, presupposes a central dimension of our foreign policy. Our arming of Ukraine, though we do not speak openly of it, depends on our longtime and ongoing threat to use weapons of mass destruction. That’s the bottom line. We will use nuclear weapons should it be necessary to do so; indeed, we even refuse to sign any “no first use” pledge.

But not only is the use of Mutually-Assured-Destruction weaponry unjust; so too is the threat, however veiled, to use this weaponry. Nothing so affronts justice more than an assault, for whatever reason, on innocent human beings along with the poisoning of the environment that attends it. And we are committed to the threat to do just this.

Pope Francis does not equivocate on the folly of maintaining the nuclear arsenal. In contrast, our political leaders are chiefly interested in keeping that arsenal up to date. They bemoan nuclear proliferation lest other countries adopt the very policy they themselves enshrine.

Perhaps the practitioners of realpolitik suppose that everyone’s sin is no one’s special sin. Perhaps they think that no one’s special sin is only a venial sin. Ah, the endless twistiness of the human mind.

Of venial sin, St. John Henry Newman wrote that “The Catholic Church holds it better for the sun and moon to drop from heaven…than that one soul, I will not say, should be lost, but should commit one single venial sin, should tell one willful untruth.” A fortiori, this is the case for threatening the deliberate nuclear destruction of untold millions.

So what are we to do about Ukraine? If we are not well-informed, we should become so starting today. If we are not in the habit of contacting our political representatives, we should develop that habit as soon as we can. And what do we say? We need to tell them to explore every possible avenue for applying economic pressure on Putin and his ilk. We need to tell them to act forthrightly to shape world opinion against his rogue enterprise.

And will such measures be enough? No one really thinks so. Some devils, Jesus tells us, can only be driven out by prayer and fasting. When should we do so? Of late, Lent seems to have become chiefly about Mardi Gras. We should be very worried, indeed. For the most part, our real-time interview with The Grim Reaper suggests that many of us are apt candidates for something final.

Preparing the way of the Lord, John baptized with a baptism of repentance. Soon comes Lent, and it’s so much more than Mardi Gras.


Jim Hanink is an independent scholar, albeit more independent than scholarly!

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