Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Christopher Nolan's "Oppenheimer": "That'll preach ...."

Christopher Nolan's film
Oppenheimer is based
on the Pulitzer-prize
winning book American
Prometheus by Kai Bird
and Martin J. Sherwin.
I've been sharing with colleagues the suggestion that the release of the new film about the leader of the atomic bomb project, J. Robert Oppenheimer -- Oppenheimer, directed by Christopher Nolan -- is an opportunity for preaching and faith discussions on vital issues. (See full announcement below.) 

What am I hoping for? This morning it dawned on me: the reason I think this is such an important opportunity is, "Maybe the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand when everybody has a conscience and stops being a gadget."

The story of Oppenheimer is the battle within J. Robert Oppenheimer between what he felt he wanted -- to do an amazing thing, to have glory, to have power -- and what his conscience told him was important: to lead people away from their destructive impulses. Oppenheimer was responsible, more than any other person, for the successful creation of nuclear weapons. But he also was the most stubborn voice calling for the renunciation of those weapons. And he paid the price for it.

What might happen if people come away from Oppenheimer saying, "This is not about somebody else, and some other time -- this is about me, this is about now!" -- ??

A few years ago I wrote a post about how often we surrender ourselves to the agenda or program or ambition set by others, and before we know it our only choice is to keep "going along" -- "In Whose Machine Will YOU Be a Cog?" In a way, Oppenheimer is about the battle against just being a cog in the machine, just being a "gadget." The call to action in the title of Jaron Lanier's book, You Are Not a Gadget, comes to mind -- as does the irony that the nickname of the first bomb developed in the Manhattan Project was "the gadget."

There's no telling exactly what will be in the film ... or how people will react to it. But one thing is certain. Oppenheimer: "That'll preach ...."

Oppenheimer: A Summer Blockbuster Offers an Opportunity

What will you be preaching about this summer? What will you be discussing in small groups? There will be an opportunity to “preach into the moment” when a unique cultural event occurs this summer with the release on July 21 of a major motion picture: Oppenheimer. The film is based on the choice to develop and use nuclear weapons as told in the book about the Manhattan Project leader entitled, American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer.

The $100 million production promises to deal issues of faith and conscience, and to stimulate a national conversation on dangerous technologies and social practices – nuclear weapons, but also AI and all environment-threatening behavior. “We imagine a future, and our imaginings horrify us. … I don’t know if we can be trusted with such a weapon. But we have no choice. Is anyone ever going to tell the truth about what’s happening here?” says Oppenheimer in the film’s trailer.

The mid-summer release is timed to coincide with the anniversary of the first atomic bomb test (“Trinity” – July 16, 1945) and the use by the United States of atomic weapons against Japan weeks later (Hiroshima on August 6 and Nagasaki on August 9).

For more on the United Church of Christ (UCC) commitment to preventing the danger presented by nuclear weapons, see “Synod calls U.S. to pull back from brink of nuclear war.”

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