Reading 6: Killing in the Name of God

The following post was written by medical student Leana Wen and published on June 21, 2007, on the New York Times blog Two for the Road: In Africa with Nick Kristof.


 

The most bizarre experience on this trip so far has been the visit to General Laurent Nkunda. It’s hardly an everyday occurrence to go to the military camp of an actual “warlord” who is accused of raping and massacring thousands. (He prefers to be referred to as “liberator of the people” and denies all allegations against him.) ...

One of the most striking parts of the interview is the religious fervor with which General Nkunda led his troops. Apparently, he is very influenced by the evangelist movement, and as a pastor in the Pentecostal church, he helps to convert and baptize his troops. He proudly sported a pin, “Rebels for Christ.” Before each drink and meal, he and his faithful prayed. “We fight in the name of the Lord,” he told us. “That is what I tell all my troops. When they fight, they have God on their side.”

As a lapsed Christian, I have to admit that I don’t know much about Christianity. But something about Nkunda’s comments made me feel ill to my stomach. Was he really using God as a license to kill? Was it really his conviction that God was with him in battle, or was he using “the God card” as a way to manipulate and control his troops? It would not be the first time that the name of God has been used to consolidate power, and certainly not the first time religion has given hope and purpose to unemployed young men without good futures....

I lie awake at night thinking about our experiences in Congo. Meeting this charismatic general who sounds like a preacher is superimposed with seeing the villages destroyed and hearing the stories of those whose lives were cut short because of conflict. To be fair, other “warlords” and rebel groups are also implicated in the conflict. And I may not know much about Christianity, or God. But the basic values of humanity are such that killing and maiming innocent people—in anyone’s name—is just wrong. That General Nkunda is able to use religion as a rallying cry to the point of committing such atrocities is testament to the depth of the problems and the erosion of human values in Congo.

Source: Leana Wen, "Killing in the Name of God," Two for the Road blog, June 21, 2007.

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