• U.S.

Religion: Gun Thy Neighbor?

5 minute read

“When I get my shelter finished, I’m going to mount a machine gun at the hatch to keep the neighbors out if the bomb falls. I’m deadly serious about this. If the stupid American public will not do what they have to to save themselves, I’m not going to run the risk of not being able to use the shelter I’ve taken the trouble to provide to save my own family.”

This kind of tough talk from a Chicago suburbanite last week had echoes all over the U.S., as the headlines spread uneasiness and the shelter business boomed. In Austin, Texas, Hardware Dealer Charles Davis stashed four rifles and a .357 Magnum pistol in his shelter and pointed out its four-inch-thick wooden door: “This isn’t to keep radiation out, it’s to keep people out.” Davis is also prepared in the event that some of his shelterless neighbors get into his shelter before he does. “I’ve got a .38 tear-gas gun, and if I fire six or seven tear-gas bullets into the shelter, they’ll either come out or the gas will get them.”

Swarm of Locusts. “This seems to be something that looms very large in a lot of people’s minds,” says Vice President Roger Culler of International Shelter Corp. Many shelter owners, for example, go to great lengths to keep their shelters secret—even to the extent of passing off shelter construction workers as furnace repairmen.

Relations between Los Angeles and Las Vegas are still recovering from a flap over a speech by Las Vegas Civil Defense Leader J. Carlton Adair, who proposed a 5,000-man militia against the possibility of wartime refugees from California pouring into Nevada “like a swarm of locusts.” And Civil Defense Coordinator Keith Dwyer of California’s Riverside County (pop. 306,191) last week told a group of officials and reserve policemen in the town of Beaumont that as many as 150,000 refugees from Los Angeles might stream into Beaumont if there were an enemy attack, and that all survival kits should include a pistol. “There’s nothing in the Christian ethic,” said Dwyer, “which denies one’s right to protect oneself and one’s family.”

The Ethics of It All. What do the guardians of the Christian ethic have to say about the pros and cons of gunning one’s neighbor as well as loving him? As more and more families made preparations last week to go underground—with or without submachine guns—various clergymen had various recommendations.

∙THE REV. GEORGE W. FORELL, professor of theology at Chicago Lutheran Theological Seminary: “I certainly object to the notion of killing people to save your own life. Even if you shoot people to save your family when your family’s own survival is questionable, that is the use of a certainly evil means to attain an uncertain end; it assumes you know the end. The Christian counsel here is that one tries to do what is least evil and asks forgiveness for his sin.”

∙THE REV. HUGH SAUSSY of Holy Innocents Episcopal Church in Atlanta: “If someone wanted to use the shelter, then you yourself should get out and let him use it. That’s not what would happen, but that’s the strict Christian application.”

∙THE REV. JOHN SIMMONS of St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in North Hollywood, Calif.: “Self-preservation is the first law of human nature. But there is a higher law—God’s. Man’s first concern should be for others, not for himself.”

∙FATHER FRANCIS FILAS, S.J., chairman of the department of theology at Chicago’s Loyola University: ”Shocking as this new possibility may seem to so many people, the fact is that the situation is nothing else but a new application of a constantly recurring moral decision that is described by Roman Catholic moral theologians as the principle of double effect. This means that in doing one good action with good intention, one may find an evil result inextricably connected with the good that is intended. Examples in the past are the unavoidable death of noncombatants in war, and abandonment of a disabled ship to wolf-pack submarines in World War II convoys. Without any hesitation, I believe one could justify restricting capacity of a fallout shelter because of limited supplies, air, room and the like. But the method of restriction would have to be moral—namely, barring the entrance, and nonuse of violent means unless intrusion itself were threatened which would thereby ruin the shelter.”

∙METHODIST MINISTER PAUL A. SCHILPP, professor of philosophy at Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill.: “The immorality takes place much earlier than when people are in their shelters. It occurs when people think they can protect themselves from an all-out nuclear war.”

∙DR. EARL KALLAND. dean of Denver’s Baptist Seminary: “If you allow a tramp to take the place of your children in your shelter, you are in error. A Christian has the obligation to ensure the safety of those dependent on him.”

Most shelter owners say they plan to take in as many neighbors as possible in addition to their own families, then lock the door tight when there is no more room. “But it will be a hard thing to do,” says President Frank F. Norton of Norton Atomic Shelter Corp. in Highland Park, Ill. “What sends chills up and down my spine is imagining a child or two out there saying ‘Let me in!’ when you’re full and you just can’t let him in. It could happen, I know.”

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