Nuclear Madness: Religion and the Psychology of the Nuclear Age

SUNY Press
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This book builds on Robert Jay Lifton’s theory of psychic numbing, and takes madness as a guiding metaphor. It shows that public perceptions of the Bomb are a kaleidoscope of ever-changing ideas and images. Recent changes in public awareness only signal new symptoms of this public madness, symptoms unwittingly fostered by the antinuclear movement. Since the newest nuclear images follow the same psychological pattern as their predecessors, they are likely to lead us deeper into nuclear madness.

Chernus offers new interpretations of four major theorists int the psychology of religion—Paul Tillich, R.D. Laing, Mircea Eliade, and James Hillman—to trace the roots of nuclear madness back to the onset of modernity, when the West gained technological mastery at the price of losing religious imagination and ontological security. The author develops an interpretation of Lifton’s own thought as an ontological and religious psychology. Drawing on the work of Eliade and Hillman, he goes on to suggest that madness reflects a repressed desire to transform life by opening up the floodgates of imagination. A conscious cultivation of the play of imagination can lead the way through madness to sanity and peace. But, imagination can only respond to the nuclear threat if it is acted out in a new brand of peace activism that blends pragmatic politics with psychological and religious transformation.
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About the author

Ira Chernus is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He is co-author of A Shuddering Dawn: Religious Studies and the Nuclear Age with Edward Tabor Linenthal, also published by SUNY Press.

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Additional Information

Publisher
SUNY Press
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Pages
336
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ISBN
9780791498910
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Language
English
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Genres
Religion / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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In his “Atoms for Peace” speech of 1953, President Dwight David Eisenhower captured the tensions—and the ironies—of the atomic age. While nuclear devastation threatened all nations, Eisenhower believed only nuclear preparedness offered protection; while nuclear weapons loomed as the ultimate war cloud, nuclear power offered progress and hope.

In this thought-provoking consideration of Eisenhower’s speech and others leading up to it, Ira Chernus views the “Atoms for Peace” speech, presented to the General Assembly of the United Nations, not merely as a legitimation of American foreign policy but as itself an act of policy. Indeed, he frames the policy in a new interpretation of Eisenhower’s broad discursive goal, which he calls “apocalypse management,” a plan to allow the United States to manage threats and crises around the world.

Chernus sheds new light on the internal consistency of Eisenhower’s thought, which many observers have found inconsistent, as well as on the ways in which the president’s rhetoric backed him into a policy corner he had not intended to occupy. Chernus also reviews the domestic impact of the speech through a detailed examination of media interpretations in the United States.

This tightly reasoned, clearly written study offers a new understanding of the evolution of cold war nuclear policy, the power of presidential rhetoric, and the political understanding of America’s “man of peace,” Dwight David Eisenhower. The full text of Eisenhower's speech is presented in the text. Those interested in American foreign policy will find it compelling reading; scholars and students will find it challenging and rewarding analysis.
"This book takes an incisive look at the stories we are told -- and tell ourselves -- about evil forces and American responses. Chernus pushes beyond political rhetoric and media cliches to examine psychological mechanisms that freeze our concepts of the world." Norman Solomon, author, War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death In his new book Monsters to Destroy: The Neoconservative War on Terror and Sin, Ira Chernus tackles the question of why U.S. foreign policy, aimed at building national security, has the paradoxical effect of making the country less safe and secure. His answer: The "war on terror" is based not on realistic appraisals of the causes of conflict, but rather on "stories" that neoconservative policymakers tell about human nature and a world divided between absolute good and absolute evil. The root of the stories is these policymakers' terror of the social and cultural changes that swept through U.S. society in the 1960s. George W. Bush and the neoconservatives cast the agents of change not simply as political opponents, but as enemies or sinners acting with evil intent to destroy U.S. values and morals-that is, as "monsters" rather than human beings. The war on terror transfers that plot from a domestic to a foreign stage, making it more appealing even to those who reject the neoconservative agenda at home. Because it does not deal with the real causes of global conflict, it harms rather than helps the goal of greater national security.
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