Dear God, Please Explain Genocide

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I have lately been reading about the genocide in Rwanda that occurred in the 1990s.  It has been a bit like reading about how big the universe is in the sense that it is difficult to grasp the magnitude of the atrocity, so I have had to stop repeatedly to try and think of it in terms of my own family and community, which is how it happened: Neighbors killing neighbors, workers killing their colleagues, teachers killing their students, and so on.  Putting the faces of the people I know in place of the murderers or the victims is the only way I can put what I am reading into any context, and in so doing it is terrifying to the bone.

One of the things that has stood out to me the most as an irony of the Rwandan catastrophe is that Rwanda is a heavily Catholic nation.  Here was a place where the vast majority of citizens self-identified as Christians, where priests were looked up to as community leaders, and where the populace regularly engaged in the rituals and prayers that church leaders purport to be essential requirements of a godly existence.  So how is it, then, that these same people who were kneeling in pews and reciting the Lord’s Prayer one moment were hacking their neighbors and friends to death with machetes in the next?

We are told so often by Christian theists that belief in god is a prerequisite for morality that the assertion in all its absurdity becomes humdrum to the atheist’s calloused ears, a tired and predictable arrow in the ever-shrinking quiver of pro-religion arguments.  In the context of Rwanda, however, this statement is nothing short of an outrage. These people didn’t simply stand idly by and do nothing to stop the genocide for fear of losing their own lives.  They perpetrated the genocide.  They picked up machetes, hatchets, and clubs, and they used them to torture people to death – pregnant women, little children, old people, everyone, nearly one million people in 100 days’ time.  Not godless heathens, not Satan-worshippers – Christians.  Devout ones.  If they were religious, why didn’t they know this was wrong? Why didn’t they stop it?  Why did they participate in it?

Perhaps even more to the point is the question of why god didn’t stop the genocide.  Is he really endorsing the brutal slaughter of innocents as a means to some other purpose? If he is omnipotent, can he not come up with a different means of achieving those ends, a means that doesn’t cause so much pain?  If he is merciful and just, as we are admonished to believe, where were his mercy and justice when little girls were being gang raped, and then having their Achilles tendons slashed so that they would remain immobile and  in agony until the next gang rape?  Are we to believe the free will explanation, which always places a human choice to hurt other humans above god’s supposed ability to perform miracles – or at least prevent suffering?  How can this dark stain on our history possibly be reconciled with the notion of a kind and loving god?

Some Christian apologists might say that genocide is an extreme example, something that has happened rarely enough over the centuries that it should not be used as a test of god’s might or moral character.  On the contrary, I happen to think there is no better example for illustrating Christianity’s failure to establish and perpetuate a code of truly moral behavior, or the extraordinary unlikeliness of god to exist at all, at least in the form of a kind, loving, personal god who will protect and reward the virtuous.  While the conflict in Rwanda may not have been fought for religious reasons, neither did religion prevent or ameliorate the devastation, making it at best irrelevant and at worst complicit.   In either case, if neither god nor his church can be relied upon to intervene when the world needs it the most, it is time to rethink them both.

9 Responses to “Dear God, Please Explain Genocide

  • Blessings to you & yours. <3

  • Blessings to you & yours. <3

  • Christianity never failed humanity, Chris. This year 2014 you will see with your own eyes things you have never seen before as The Body is just about ready to make its appearance, the Church, that is. You have only seen the horror of what man can do to man. You have not yet seen what the Divine can do to man. & they will all see Him.

  • Christianity never failed humanity, Chris. This year 2014 you will see with your own eyes things you have never seen before as The Body is just about ready to make its appearance, the Church, that is. You have only seen the horror of what man can do to man. You have not yet seen what the Divine can do to man. & they will all see Him.

  • DeAnn Fisher Kiser
    5 years ago

    Great points Tracey. I hope it makes a few people think.

    • Horrible, I agree!! Mankind has done horrible things n the name of God (crusades). I venture to say these people weren"t Christians at all. The positive things done by Christians far outweigh the horrible things done by a few. Let us see the good also.

      Christians are not perfect, just perfectly forgiven! We are all guilty of sin.

    • DeAnn Fisher Kiser
      5 years ago

      You know I love you Stacie! 🙂 But, if these people who committed these atrocities say "I'm sorry and Jesus is my savior", then do they still get to go to eternal reward even though they slaughtered millions of innocents? What about the men who held those girls hostage? If they "repent" before they die, do they get to go to Heaven too? But, me and Tracey who do not believe because of lack of proof (in our mind) who are giving and loving and great citizens and moms are doomed to fry? Doesn't sound very loving or fair to me…… (I told you I was a heathen)

    • Stacie Foreman Collins, your statement that "The positive things done by Christians far outweigh the horrible things done by a few" is mathematically, verifiably false. The number of people killed in atrocities perpetrated in the name of Christianity eclipses the number of lives saved in the name of Christianity. The crusades, the witch hunts across Europe and colonial America, the conflict in Northern Ireland, the hundreds of years of fighting between Catholics and Protestants, the Spanish Inquisition . . . I needn't go on. Additionally, these acts were not committed "by a few" as you assert. In Rwanda alone, estimates are that between 1 million and 3 million civilians participated in the genocide. And that is just one example. Never in the history of Christianity have a similar number of people mobilized and organized to the same degree for a humanitarian purpose. Do some Christians perform selfless acts? Certainly. The nuns who treat poor AIDS victims in Africa, for example, are doing something truly meaningful in the name of their religion. They are the exception, however, not the rule, and this is borne out by historical fact. Finally, I take exception with the satement that we are all "perfectly forgiven." Is your god really going to put me in the same category with someone who made parents watch as their children were raped and dismembered? If I live a good life without belief and never accept him into my heart, will god still forgive me just as he supposedly forgives the murderer who repents at the last possible moment? It is hard to reconcile either option with the concept of a just god.

  • Really good piece, Tracey. I couldn't agree more regarding the myriad ways christianity has failed humanity. I don't understand how anyone could hold it up as the one source of moral guidance when so many of its adherents have, and will continue to perpetrate these horrors. That said, I have to keep reminding myself that logic has nothing to do with it, and that history tells us that any "faith" is easily bent to serve a purpose.

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