Editor’s Note; In this series on academics and the Fall, I have focused on the consequences of the Fall for Christian scholars in general, Christian scholars’ view of time and liberal arts education, but in this final post, I want to talk about the consequences of the Fall for our academic agendas regarding evil.
Christian ethicists often talk about ordering our loves to the highest goods. Yet, we tend to neglect one equally important responsibility: ordering our evils. We are not explicitly told how to order our human evils or fruitless deeds of the darkness. We are commanded to distinguish (Heb. 5:14), expose (Eph. 5:11), hate (Rom. 12:9), turn from (I Peter 3:11), not imitate (I John 3:11), reject (I Thes. 5:22), weed out (Mt. 13), get rid of (James 1:21), and fight (Eph. 6:12-16) evil. We should also overcome it with good (Rom. 12:21; I John 2:13) and a blessing (I Peter 3:9). Looking at the two greatest commandments, one could point to unfaithfulness to God as the worst of all evils (likely why blasphemy of the Holy Spirt as the unforgivable sin), and then failing to love one’s neighbor as the second. In this essay, I want to address the worst form of failing to love one’s neighbor: genocide.
Having worked in ethics and public policy both in the university and in the policy realm, I know that Christians prioritize a whole range of failures to love our neighbors as worthy of our most serious attention, whether it be the racial injustice both past and present, abortion, religious persecution, environmental degradation, prison reform, hunger, sexual or domestic abuse, and more. What should get our greatest attention?
My own answer as an ethicist has always been—all of them—through the different gifts and calling of Christ’s body. Some of us may have certain experiences (e.g., racism, being pressured into an abortion by family, friends, or a boyfriend in college, close friends or relatives who spent time in prison or went hungry, or an experience of sexual or domestic abuse) that give us the passion for fighting a particular evil. In your specific profession or discipline there may also be a particularly pressing evil.
At this moment in history though, I think all of us, must band together and recognize a malignant and spreading evil among us that everyone should fight (in addition to and not neglecting the current evils each of us are called to address). We should consider the Uyghur genocide as one of those moments. Genocide combines all of the evils mentioned above. By definition, it focuses on imprisoning, torturing and exterminating a particular race or ethnic group. It also involves forced sterilization, rape, forced interrogation, prison, hunger, abuse, the washing away of history and identity, forced relocation, and more. It is an evil so grotesque that we must gather the whole Church and every available person and resource to fight and overcome this evil.
When students study the Holocaust, as with most major historical events, they often fail to realize the slow, human part of the process by which knowledge and formation of such a movement comes about. Also, they think, of course, they would have opposed it. The reality is that knowledge of a genocide leaks out slowly through intelligence sources or papers smuggled by a journalist, someone like Malcolm Muggeridge or Gareth Jones (depicted in the recent movie Mr. Jones), who exposed the Ukrainian man-made famine perpetuated by Stalin (the Holodomor). Thus, what the Babylon Bee makes a satirical headline is actually true for many of our students, “I Would Have Spoken up about the Holocaust,’ Says Man Who Is Silent on China’s Concentration Camps.” They have very little knowledge of contemporary atrocities even though China’s concentration camps are currently larger in number than those from the Holocaust.1 I have talked to friends and students who know about the latest American political issues, the latest royal gossip, or the latest scandal of evangelical leaders. Yet, they know nothing about the greatest evil of our time. We as Christian scholars need to help them order our evils better.
We need to start marshalling this evidence and presenting it to them clearly and forcefully every appropriate chance we can. After all, we have known since January of 2018 about the development of the internment camps holding up to one million Uyghurs. For instance, an August 2018 a Foreign Policy article estimated that “5 to 10 percent of the adult Uighur population [of the 12 million in China] has been interned without criminal charge.” Why?
Unlike materialistic-minded Westerners, and oddly enough, materialistic-oriented Marxist theory, the Chinese view the problem as one related to “belief systems and ideas.” Therefore, the solution is not to try economic development, addressing political inequities or the usual Western strategies for integrating alienated populations. Instead, they set about “re-educating.”
One official Chinese Recording explained the situation this way: “Members of the public who have been chosen for re-education have been infected by an ideological illness. They have been infected with religious extremism and violent terrorist ideology, and therefore they must seek treatment from a hospital as an inpatient.” Notice two things here: (1) the Chinese Communist Party is attempting to clinically diagnose a religious belief system as an “ideological illness”; and (2) it defines religious extremist ideology as a “poisonous medicine which confuses the minds of the people” and leads to it growing and spreading “like an incurable malignant tumor.” It is communist sin. What then can save the people? Not Jesus, but the Communist Party. As the Recording explained, they are offering salvation: “We must be clear that going into a re-education hospital for treatment is not a way of forcibly arresting people and locking them up for punishment, it is an act that is part of a comprehensive rescue mission to save them.”
In the end, this forced conversion experience is to help those in need of communist salvation to “clearly distinguish right from wrong” and experience the abundant life, “At the end of re-education, the infected members of the public return to a healthy ideological state of mind, which guarantees them the ability to live a beautiful happy life with their families.” The camps are simply “good news” for the sick.
Unfortunately, there is no assurance of salvation. As the Recording cautions, “having gone through re-education and recovered from the ideological disease doesn’t mean that one is permanently cured. So, after completing the re-education process in the hospital and returning home … they must remain vigilant, empower themselves with the correct knowledge, strengthen their ideological studies, and actively attend various public activities to bolster their immune system against the influence of religious extremism and violent terrorism, and safeguard themselves from being infected once again, to prevent later regrets.”
Also, in typical communist fashion the Chinese government does not recognize the right of parents to educate their children. Thus, the state takes the children away from the adults. Foreign Policy reported, “One Kashgar-area county alone has seen the construction of 18 new orphanages over the last year to accommodate children left behind by interned parents, where they will be taught entirely in Chinese.” Children are also encouraged to report on their parents.
Joseph Stalin’s supposed quote, “If only one man dies of hunger that is a tragedy. If millions die, that’s only statistics” is certainly true today of the Uyghurs. We live in the narrative age when a symbolic individual death sparks mass protests (many of which are understandable and moral). Yet, it is an age that cares little about statistics, because statistics have no story and emotional resonance (and when truth is narrative, stats become meaningless). As a result, we have not had one vigil that should unite us all against this horrendous evil. We have had no mass sanctioning or protest against an evil like apartheid that occurred when I was in college.
What makes it even more difficult is that we are not in the country where the injustice is occurring. We cannot easily rise up the political ranks as William Wilberforce or the American abolitionists and use political tools (although certainly trade agreements, sanctions, etc. all these things need to be considered).
As a result, everyone must count the cost before joining this fight (Luke 14:31-33). For the Christian community to take up this war against the Chinese government’s genocide, it will be costly. The genocide is being perpetrated by one of the most powerful empires on earth at this moment. They will attack prominent spokespeople digitally, physically, and in many other ways. Also, having lived in a former communist country and read and heard the stories, we should not expect this fight to be a nice one. Expect “threats, harassment, and public character attacks.” We must be wise.
We also need to start taking concrete actions. What might this involve? One of my graduate students does not buy Chinese products, which I certainly think is one option. For academics we can do even more though. My dissertation advisor’s first book and qualitative research project was to an oral history of the survivors of the early twentieth century Armenian genocide—recognized by the United States government only this last week (he wrote the book in 1999). One of our jobs should be to expose evil and help us remember it. One brave soul has already started a victims’ database. Perhaps Christian scholars can also start collecting the stories for books and articles about Uyghur genocide. Perhaps they will lead the first mass American protest against the Uyghurs. We certainly need to start highlighting it on our campuses, our chapel services and in our churches. In our ordering of evils, this one should be number one right now for the whole church.
- The peak daily inmate numbers of Nazi concentration camps was 714,211 in 1945 according to Nikolaus Wachsmann’s 2015 book, KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps.