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King: Choosing the good or evil paths

POSTED: December 17, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Morphine and heroin are basically the same substance. Both are derived from the opium poppy. 

Morphine, when used to relieve extreme pain from disease or injury, is a blessing. Heroin is illegal. It destroys families and ruins lives. It is a curse. Morphine and heroin are two faces of the same coin — for good or ill.

In many ways religion and nuclear power display the same characteristics. Both have the capacity to enrich our lives, or they could destroy us all. Religion, which has offered hope and comfort to so many human beings, also drives people apart. Wars are fought over religion. Cities are destroyed, families torn asunder.

While I’m opposed to nuclear power because I don’t believe mankind has developed the wisdom to control it, I willingly acknowledge its potential. It may someday take us to the stars. Our sun is actually a nuclear reactor. It supports all life here on Earth. Scientists who study the inner workings of the atom may yet learn how to safely contain its power.

However, at present these two forces threaten to destroy us. Religious fundamentalism seeks control through fear rather than accommodation and compromise. Nuclear power and its stepchild, nuclear weapons, do the same. Individuals within a given system, religious or governmental, are willing to drive the world into war rather than give up the power they’ve gained within these systems.

The final irony is that the human race has come so far only to find itself on the brink of self-destruction. The odds are not in our favor. Every day brings new breakthroughs in medicine, physics and the other sciences. Meanwhile, we unbalance the atmosphere with excess carbon dioxide, befoul our air with particulate matter, contaminate our oceans with toxic waste and pollute our land with our own trash.

What’s our problem? Are we so afraid that we can’t face the truth, so cynical that we’re unwilling to struggle against the tide? Is “Peace on Earth” nothing but the babbling of ignorant children?

Parents will go to almost any length to protect their children. Governments send their youth into battle to defend the nation. Religion inspires individuals to endure all kinds of hardship to promote their faith. People donate to save the whales, save the polar bears, save the darter snail or some other endangered species. But how many are willing to sacrifice any part of their comfortable gadget-filled lives to protect their own species?

How many religious figures are willing to say that their particular faith is no more precious to God than any other? How many generals and congressional leaders will admit nuclear weapons don’t keep us safe? Nuclear bombs threaten, but they can’t be used. They’re more than 17,000 of them in the world today, a “sword of Damocles” hanging over the heads of all humanity.

It’s been said that nothing focuses the mind like the threat of death. Unfortunately, this isn’t true when applied to humanity as a whole. There is hardly a scientist in the world who doesn’t take the threat of global warming seriously, but equally, there is hardly a politician in the world who wants to promote environmental controls strict enough to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere to pre-industrial levels.

In fact, doing so is probably impossible. The best we can hope for now is to slow CO2 production to a manageable level. With enough time, the planet and its inhabitants may adapt to climate change, but time is not on our side. Not now, not when voices for accommodation and compromise are drowned out by the ideologues, by religious fundamentalists, by politicians focused on nothing but their reelection and by megacorporations that care for nothing but the bottom line.

Is there any hope? Of course, as long as we understand the threat and elect leaders who care more about humanity than about their own exalted position.

Where do your Congress members stand? Ask them!

Joan King lives in Sautee. Her column appears biweekly on Tuesdays and at

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