Avoid Living in Fear

nuclear blast

Nuclear war. It’s an extremely unpleasant subject, and its grim specter still haunts the world. Oddly, though—even as we anticipate the day when Iran’s lunatic Mullah’s develop them and North Korea’s deranged generals learn how to deliver them—the world is in a sort of “nuclear hiatus” at this very moment.

The Mutual Assured Destruction apparently worked, as the former Soviet Union and the United States decided against nuclear suicide. At the present moment the three world powers show little appetite for total war, so today’s children don’t have to learn the Civil Defense precautions that kept an earlier generation safe.

I was one of those young Americans indoctrinated in the sophisticated “duck and cover” method of nuclear blast survival. This video provides a nostalgic look at the paramilitary training we received. (A link to the full training film appears below.)

C.S. Lewis lived during the height of nuclear paranoia. Yet he retained his composed Northern Irish demeanor as he reflected on the threat. In an essay entitled “On Living in an Atomic Age” he wisely advised:

If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (any microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

In his essay “Is Progress Possible,” Lewis addresses those who used the uncertainty of the future as an excuse for making irresponsible life choices. His words ring just as true today, when so many youth turn to nihilism and self-destructive behaviors.

As a Christian I take it for granted that human history will some day end; and I am offering Omniscience no advice as to the best date for that consummation. I am more concerned by what the Bomb is doing already. One meets young people who make the threat of it a reason for poisoning every pleasure and evading every duty in the present. Didn’t they know that, Bomb or no Bomb, all men die (many in horrible ways)? There’s no good moping and sulking about it.

If only remaining safe in this fallen world was as simple as dropping to the ground and sheltering one’s head. It isn’t, of course, but we need not live our lives under the shadow of fear.

Returning to “On Living in an Atomic Age,” Lewis adroitly places the entire menace—and all perils to human life—in their proper perspective. It may not be the most comforting words we will ever read, but they are certainly true.

In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. “How are we to live in an atomic age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anaesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.


You can watch the entire “Stop and Drop” Civil Defense Video here.

15 thoughts on “Avoid Living in Fear

  1. What was the “duck and cover” supposed to do against an Atom bomb? I went to college near a place that had been high on the “hit list” at one point, and friends and I actually discussed, once, the fact that one of our number lived and worked inside the likely blast radius, and she would be the lucky one, because the rest of us would die in the fallout. It was an interesting discussion, and not nearly as depressing as it sounds.

    My faith is the only thing that stands between me and nihilism. Remove God and the hope of the Messiah from the equation and I have a view of the universe and of existence that is very dark. With my faith, I am able to recognize the wisdom of, and take comfort in this:

    “Bomb or no Bomb, all men die (many in horrible ways)? There’s no good moping and sulking about it.”

    If I were without my faith again, it would just be another spot of dark in the darkness. …Every day I am amazed that God has transformed a creature like me into a person who knows joy. Lewis was right in this, I think, as in so many things. It isn’t being safe that makes the difference, it is how one lives, safe or not.

    1. The ineffectiveness of sheltering under a desk is precisely the reason it almost seems surrealistic. Trying to extend to society a sense of security when the methods were ludicrous. Of course, we didn’t know that much about radiation then, so we assumed if you didn’t go blind looking at blast light, and you stayed out of the fallout (that would surely be cleared out by the first rain), we’d probably be safe.

      Yes, life without Christ would probably make most of the world nihilistic and hedonistic. That’s how the godless frequently live even now.

  2. Pingback: Avoid Living in Fear [blog] « Writings of Branko's Blog

  3. It’s so hard to imagine growing up with that silly program. Of course, when I was in school we got the doomsday version of the world; I grew up not expecting to live to adulthood, and had trouble seeing the point of doing my homework or anything else involving deferred gratification.

  4. I love that first quote from C. S. Lewis. I grew up in a home with rabidly anti-Communism parents who believed the Beatles were a Soviet plot to corrupt the youth of America. Some years ago it occurred to me that if I believed every conspiracy that my parents did, I would be too frightened to wake up in the morning. I don’t put my head in the sand, and I try to keep up with world events, but my focus is on living for the Lord in whatever time He has given me. When my time is up, whether by nuclear holocaust (or other fates my parents fear), I know that I will go to be with Jesus. What more can man do to me, that I should live in fear?

  5. Anytime I remember these days of fear over the bomb, I’m reminded of a Bob Marley song: “Have no fear for atomic energy, cause none of them can stop the time.” It’s always something, though, as you pointed out.

    What I find just as troubling is a Christian culture that seems to disregard their duty because we’re all going to be raptured soon…

      1. I’ve gone back and forth on the issue of whether or not the land promises to Israel are still in effect. I’ve always been pro-Israel either way but wishy-washy on that subject. Now, I believe the land promises are still in effect but can’t prove one way or the other if the current nation of Israel is “it.” Yet, it does make one think.

  6. Reblogged this on Stuff That Interests Me and commented:
    As a child we were taught to crawl under our desks in case our city was hit by “the bomb.” Silly actually, but it did create an atmosphere of impending doom, especially for a fourth grader! This is an an excellent post that deals with Living in Fear, not just from the possibility of some mad men getting the bomb, but fear of death in general, something that at this moment in time has special meaning for my family.

  7. Eimi

    I think many of us today would ask, “How are we to live in an age of terrorism?” to which good ol’ Lewis, once again, provides an answer. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Pingback: Hope in the Face of Danger « Mere Inkling Press

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