Saturday, March 10, 2012

Kony 2012

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.


Ostensive Lyme said...

Glory to Jesus Christ alone!

Dear Fr Michael;
I appreciate your efforts to temper the self-righteous zeal with which some would counter violence with greater violence, in the name of justice. It is very Augustinian perhaps, though I do not think it measures up to the stature of the fullness of the Christian Gospel.

I always appreciate St Isaac's word on Holy Scripture, however here I believe it works against your conclusion that it is necessary to respond with violent military force.

Isaac exegetes holy scripture describing events, "when a person is commanded by God to do things that are blameworthy."

Have you yourself, or has the American government or its military, been "commanded by God" to resist violence with violence?
The Lord Himself did not permit Peter to use violence in defense of justice. The Lord Himself said that his Kingdom is not of this world, else His soldiers would fight.

My understanding- in part derived from St Isaac himself- is that as Orthodox Christians we read the whole of the O.T. through the 'lens' of Jesus Christ our Lord. The whole of the scriptures are about Him, and can only be exegeted rightly if we begin with Christ and Him crucified.

Whereas Moses allowed men to divorce because their hearts were hard, our Lord has now revealed the true telos of the Law; He has commanded that we love even our enemies if we would be perfect.
In this new commandment He gives to us- to love as He loved us (i.e. love unto our own death for those who do evil to us)- I see no room for the sort of military violence you deem necessary.
An organizational force to resist Kony, if it were truly Christian, might look like a prayerful troop of courageous Christians who stand in harms way, witnessing to the Ressurrection and the gospel by not resisting evil with evil.

But unless you, or the American government, or its military, has "been commanded by God" to resist evil with violent force and killing, then I believe we must in fact follow our King's commandments that are explicitly given to all, clearly: Love your enemies, do good to those who are evil, take up your cross.

I see no other way that testifies to the power made perfect in weakness.

-Mark Northey, a man who fails absolutely at practicing what I believe the Lord preached

Fr. Michael said...

Dear Mark,
I realize some have faith such that they will go and stand in harm's way as a witness to Christ, not resisting evil with evil but accepting harm in the hope that others will not be harmed. Some few such Christ-like folk exist, I know, but I am not one of them. I, with tears, call the police. I do not say that God has called the U.S. military (or the RCMP) to resist violence with violence on my behalf, but I do note that St. Paul seems to suggest such a possibility in Romans 13. But even if God never allows for violence (I do believe that God never wills it, and even if allowed for it is always blameworthy), no one can deny that North American prosperity is the product of and maintained by violence. Which brings me back to my point. We are all guilty of contributing to the kidnapping of children in central Africa. And whether we go ourselves and stand weaponless between an armed soldier and a child, or send an armed militia to do it for us, we must do so acknowledging that our sin has helped to cause the problem.

Pippi said...

I believe that publicity and worldwide shaming of such perpetrators as Kony will have an important effect. However, I don't believe our military should be involved. It's not our country, God knows we have meddled enough worldwide and murdered many innocents ourselves in the process. We have no room to throw stones, as you pointed out. I think much more good would be accomplished if only a small percentage of those rallying would instead travel to these wartorn, needy places and do what they can to help their fellow man. But it's so much easier to hide behind weapons. And we live in a world where we mistakenly believe we have a right to be protected by others. We have merely the right to protect ourselves, and those for whom we are legally/morally responsible.

Ostensive Lyme said...

Good morning Fr Michael.
We are in agreement, far more than any nit picky disagreement, we certainly agree. And I deeply appreciate your humble, honest, pragmatic voice on the question of violence.
I didn't intend to respond, but now I think I will, at least to clarify where I think we would speak slightly differently about 'inevitable' violence, which we may elect for (me too) because of our weakness.

When speaking about *how* we orthodox should speak about violence, I use the example of marriage.
When two people are going to get married, how does the priest counsel them? He tells them of all that is good, right, and beautiful about marriage- the high calling and invitation to imaging Christ and the Church in the mystery of their love and eternal faithfulness.
He does not go to pains to tell them about all the ways in which they, because of their sinfulness and imperfection, may fall away from the ideal. He does not remind them of the divorce rate and suggest they're as likely to break communion as remain in their bond. He does not remind them that the church- knowing their weakness- allows for them to divorce and remarry two times if things dont work out.
Of course, when the complexities of life come- *then* the pastor does his job and works out a path of salvation in the midst of sin, infidelities (little or big), and yes sometimes divorce.
But this is not what we *talk* about as Christians- it is not the image and not the calling.

Likewise with violence and our bodily harm.
I know in Christ's mercy the church permits self defense, soldiering, killings. But she calls us to love our enemies, to take up our cross and even lose our lives (and yes even lose our loved ones) out of love for our enemies. For they are icons of Christ too, and their lives are precious.
This is how I think we- and I wish you- would talk about violence/nonviolence/bodily harm. We dont have to rush to articulate all the ways in which we may fall short of the ideal.

To my thinking, this is exacly why the church reads the lives of the martyrs- even though the vast majority of christians actually did not respond with such a measure of faithfulness, we do not set our eyes on the weakness but on the *ideal*.

I just read something over at "Morning Offering" which inspired me to write this response (I would like to hear your thoughts- I'm not trying to argue but to seek truth).
What I read reminded me of the fundamental reason I wish we (our church, us christians) would speak wiht more boldness about the way of nonviolence- because the ancient martyrs seemed to have so much more grace! Do we not have the same Spirit today? Can we not live with the same boldness in Christ?

Here's what I read:
When Saint Polycarp was sentenced by the proconsul, he responded by asking why they were delaying his death by burning. These believers were rejoicing as they faced their immanent death, for their knowledge of the bodily resurrection of Christ, was proof enough to have giving them an invincible courage as they faced certain death. Grand Duchess Elizabeth and Nun Barbara were said to have been singing hymns, after having been thrown into the well, by the Bolsheviks, as the prepared for eternal life with Christ.

And to this I will add a word from blessed Sophrony:
When we read the Gospel, the reactions of Christ to what is taking place around Him astonish us. When Judas is going out to betray Him, He says, 'Today the Son of Man is glorified'. At every Liturgy we commemorate this moment, we repeat it in our consciousness. If a hostile enemy military force takes us to kill us, will we be capable of saying: 'It is today that I am glorified and that God is glorified in me'? You all know this account in the Gospel; it is the very content of our everyday life.

Why not teach and speak of the ideal, without rushing to point out all the ways in which we may fall short?

-Mark Basil

Fr. Michael said...

Dear Mark,
I can tell you have never been to one of my pre-marriage counselling sessions:)
You are right Mark, there is a tension. Already and not yet. I don't know why I move more quickly to the ugly than perhaps I should. I guess it is because my life experience has been mostly ugly with occasional blooms of divine beauty, and I assume, perhaps wrongly, that others have a similar experience. Some people, me sometimes, cannot see very clearly at all and reluctant compromise is all that keeps us from despair. Maybe these are the ones I am trying to speak to.