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Henri Nouwen on the “Nuclear Man” and the “Wounded Healer”

In Nouwen’s The Wounded Healer (1979), he describes Peter, a “nuclear man” (many writing after Nouwen would recognize Peter as what is commonly described as a postmodern thinker).  Because “nuclear humanity” approaches the world in radically different ways from “prenuclear” thinkers, Nouwen says that “nuclear” humanity requires a new approach to Christian ministry and leadership and he devotes his writing in The Wounded Healer to describing what is required of those ministering in today’s context.

A preaching and teaching still based on the assumption that man is on his way to a new land filled with promises, and that his creative activities in this world are the first signs of what he will see in the hereafter, cannot find a sounding board in a man whose mind is brooding on the suicidal potentials of his own world.

The Wounder Healer, 14.

Many argue that this shift away from the confident optimism in human progress was instigated by witnessing the unfolding events of World War II, specifically the Holocaust and nuclear weapons.  Thirty years later, this shift has been cemented through continued acts of genocide, terrorism, and corruption.

And yet, there seems to remain a sense of optimism and hope for the progress of humanity in the world. There is hope that corrupt governments can get better, that extreme poverty can be eliminated, that ravaging diseases can be cured.

What do you think?  Does Nouwen’s observation hold true today or have we come full circle, returning to the optimism and hope of a “prenuclear” world?

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