I have been reading about the 1994 Rwanda genocide in John Rucyahana's The Bishop of Rwanda and Hugh McCullum's The Angels Have Left Us: The Rwanda Tragedy and the Churches.
This is the principal reason why I have been silent of late. I knew about Rwanda, but I didn't know. The premediated, carefully orchestrated unleashing of the most horrific violence recorded in history -- a million people tortured, hacked to death, burned, women brutally raped and killed, babies and the unborn slashed both in front of parents and sometimes parents forced to kill their children, in their homes, in the churches, complicity at all levels of society and government, no places to hide, all done with lightning speed over the course of 100 days, and the reign of terror allowed to continue beyond in the refugee camps in other countries -- is without parallel and is simply beyond words. Yet people have written them, their testimonies and those of others, documentaries, museums, memorials -- many of the churches left with the remains of the dead, their bodies twisted in the pain and horror of their torture and deaths.
I had no formal Lenten discipline this year, but these readings have served that purpose. I, for one, cannot fall back on any kind of Western distancing -- imagining that there must be something radically different about Them that would never allow it to happen among Us. As a human being I must face that such horrific Evil is potentially within us all.
Maybe I can elaborate on this later. Maybe not. But for now let me offer this from Ann Ulanov, speaking of evil after 9/11/01:
From the psychological side, there are a whole lot of theories that say destructiveness comes from privation or deprivation. It isn’t something in itself; it’s from bad parenting or low self-esteem. What religion offers to that psychology is a recognition that evil is a force … a horrific force … a mysterious force … it’s like an undertow of an ocean…. There’s something you contact that’s much bigger than what you did to you or me or what I’m going to do to you. And you get caught in that; you’re in something that’s outside yourself. The personal explanation is not enough. It’s a power that catches you, and you are not enough by yourself to defeat it. It’s universal.And, in further detail:
So I believe that evil, yes, you can get to it yourself. You can go to the place you've been hurt or threatened to be destroyed, or pieces of you have been destroyed, mangled, treated as if they are of no value. You can get to your outrage, your absolute determination to retaliate for vengeance, and you can understand how you feel that because of something done to you.From Interview with Ann Ulanov, PBS Frontlines: Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero. [Credit for form of quotation, with ellipses, in first paragraph to Tyron Inbody, The Faith of the Christian Church: An Introduction to Theology (2005) at p. 150]
But deeper than that, it's like an undertow of the ocean. It's like an undertow current. There's something that you contact that's much bigger than what you did to me or what I'm going to do to you. And you get caught in that; you're in something that's outside yourself. The personal explanation is not enough. In the larger, psychological explanation -- archetypal pattern of energy, unconscious instincts of hate and cannibalism -- even that isn't enough. That's involved, too. It's as if one has a spell cast on one.
But you feel you're caught in what the New Testament calls principalities and powers. It's a power that catches you, and you are not enough by yourself to defeat it. It's universal. So we can say after Sept. 11, "Oh, bin Laden. He is the personification of evil." Maybe he is, maybe he isn't. But even if you say that, evil is bigger. So the question is, then what does one do in the face of evil? You respect that it's there, that it's bigger. You're not naïve enough to think that if you get the right analysis you get the right theology somehow, voila! Everything's going to be fine. It's not going to be fine.
Thanks to Boocat for the story of Immaculée Ilibagiza (links to text and videos at Belief.net). Her book is Left to Tell - Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust.
[P.S. For those who follow Anglicana, I am not unmindful of the role Bishop Rucyahana and his Anglican colleagues in Rwanda have played in the Recent Unpleasantedness, appointing renegade U.S. priests as Rwandan bishops and supporting a formal split among Anglican churches worldwide. I may speak of that in due time, but I do not think such matters should eclipse the tragedy of the Rwanda genocide. I also am not unmindful of the fact that Rucycahana, who identifies as a Tutsi, the people who were the primary target of the genocide, is an unabashed, uncritical supporter of the RPA and the present government of Rwanda, and that this bias has been brought to his American evangelical supporters. See Bowing to Kigali and Rwandan Politics Intrudes on American Church. Nevertheless, I do not believe that this should discredit his witness to the suffering of all the Rwandan people, Tutsi and Hutu, and his efforts to reconcile all, including those who committed some of the worst violence. I can only hope and pray that someday he and other Rwandans can see that the Big Lie imposed on them -- the one that dehumanized and demonised the Tutsi, begun by the Belgians for the purposes of exploitation -- is cut of the same cloth as the lie of the Gay Agenda or Gay Conspiracy, which is being used by some Americans to exploit the Africans, never mind the bowing, to foment hate against GLBT's. ]