I was sent a link to a video called Kony 2012. The video is about the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a man named Kony, who has become infamous for his kidnapping of children and turning the girls into prostitutes and the boys into soldiers. As I wrote to the person who sent me this link, certainly such things are terrible and those who do such things should be stopped. However, I also said that I was put off by the self-righteous tone of the video as it encourages young Americans to support the U.S. government as it sends military "advisors" to central Africa to help local militaries hunt down Kony.
In this post, I'd like to explain a little more exactly what I mean by self righteousness in this case.
St. Isaac the Syrian makes this rather surprising comment on certain "blameworthy" yet God-commanded actions made by holy people as recorded in the Bible. St. Isaac says,
Such also is the case [i.e. the soul is not guilty] when a person is commanded by God to do things that are blameworthy, but receives a reward instead of blame and censure, as with Hosea the prophet who was made a partner in an unlawful marriage [Hos. 1:2], and Elijah who committed murder in his zeal for God [1 Kgs. 18:40], and those who at Moses' command stabbed their kinsmen with swords [Ex. 32:27].
What is essential to see here is that although circumstances required--even from God's perspective--certain blameworthy actions (murder, unlawful marriage, and even more biblical examples can be found of theft, robbing temples, lying, and even pillage and slavery), even though sometimes God himself commanded such behaviour, such behaviour does not cease to be blameworthy. And although the soul (the person) may not be held guilty when, out of necessity to avoid a worse sin and in obedience, he or she commits a blameworthy action, the action itself must still be considered blameworthy.
In the case at hand, the blameworthy action(s) to which I refer is the use of the military to hunt down Kony. Perhaps it is necessary. Perhaps it is necessary to kill hundreds of Kony's followers, maybe thousands, in order to stop the LRA from kidnapping and creating more child soldiers and prostitutes. Perhaps it is necessary to use children who themselves are barely 18 years old (in the U.S.) and certainly younger in the Ugandan and other African militaries to hunt down children who are a few years younger still. And, we might ask, how many prostitutes will these wealthy (by African standards) foreign soldiers create while they are there, for let's not fool ourselves: no foreign soldiers throughout history have forgone certain comforts while so far from home, comforts impoverished local girls are encouraged to provide in exchange for a small fee?
But perhaps it is necessary. We live in a terribly messy world. Many Christians after the fourth century rejoiced that the emperor used his military might to suppress what they considered evil. We are not so different from them. Perhaps it is necessary, as it was necessary for the Levites in Exodus, so that a worse suffering would not ensue, to murder their brothers who were worshiping the golden calf. Perhaps it is necessary.
However, if it is necessary that military might be used to stop Kony--and it seems to me that it is necessary--then let us not rejoice in it. Let us not hold youth rallies and dance (or could it be that even that is necessary too?). But this brings me to the matter of tone, a tone that I called self righteous.
In Dostoevsky's Karamazov Brothers the old monk Zosima says that no one can righteously judge another because he himself is also guilty for the sins of the other. That is, if the one who judges had lived a less selfish and more caring life, perhaps the circumstances that led to the sin of the other would have been different. To apply this principle to the matter at hand we might say this: if every North American for the past fifty years had consumed only what he or she needed to be healthy, rode bicycles instead of drove cars, and spent all of their super abundant wealth on African community development, maybe a very different Africa would exist today. Maybe an Africa in which someone like Kony could not exist. Perhaps.
Humility is called for. North Americans have no room for self-righteousness. Years and years of our over consumption, exploitation and greed has created a context in which a kidnapping murderer like Kony can exist in central Africa. And now we must kill some more children in order to stop him. This is not something to rejoice in, but something to cry over.