The Lord’s Resistance Army and the Need for Divine Guarantees
The terrible brutality of the Lord’s Resistance Army has been crying out to Heaven since its founding in 1987. The LRA’s recent murder of a 37-year-old nun in Sudan is just one of innumerable atrocities committed by this organization, mostly in Uganda but sometimes elsewhere. The group is led by Joseph Kony, a self-proclaimed medium of the Holy Spirit, and it is based on a highly distorted form of apocalyptic Christianity.
It goes without saying that this group should be stopped, if necessary by armed force, and that people in that region have a right to be protected from its depredations. The LRA is so notorious that it has even figured in a recent popular mystery novel in which the tough-guy hero had a background of helping people specifically against the LRA. But apart from the intolerable physical atrocities, there is a deep spiritual atrocity here, and one from which we should all learn an important lesson.
The reality is that not just anybody can set up as a Christian leader and merit recognition. Yet people do this constantly, forming new “religions” and new “sects” and generally giving Christianity an increasingly problematic name. The Lord’s Resistance Army is just a very bad case out of a long series of sectarian Christian movements which, while they may generally be more palatable, really have no greater justification for their existence.
It is necessary to speak frankly about this. It is bad enough that ordinary sinners do so much to fuel secularist prejudices without adding the many groups which have no legitimate claim to religious authority. Indeed, modern secularists are fond of making adverse claims about religion, such as the claim that more people have died in wars over religion than in any other kind of conflict. Absurd? Of course, but the LRA proves once again that very real atrocities can be committed in the name of God, even in the name of Christ, and that these atrocities will not always be checked by the common sense of those whose version of religion or of Christianity may be more pacific.
But the root problem here is not that some religious or even Christian groups go entirely off the rails, but that all but one of them must inevitably be off the rails to some degree. Yet we persist in giving the name “religion”, or even the name “Christianity”, to whatever anyone claims to be of divine origin. It is a great fallacy to blame religion when people do stupid or evil things in religion's name. Not all that glitters is gold. If some idiot claims to be articulating the law and meting out justice on behalf of the United States of America, we don’t blame the United States government, still less politics as a whole. How much less should we attribute the idle and even absurd claims of random preachers or allegedly spiritual movements to “religion” or “Christianity”.
This is the great mistake of all those who do not recognize an authority principle in religion. No religion extends beyond natural intuition at best, or diabolical manipulation at worst, unless it can publicly demonstrate that it derives from true religious authority, that is, from God Himself. It is remarkable how few religions (exactly two, Judaism and Christianity) actually even attempt to demonstrate a clear public record of Divine authority for their beliefs. All others claim some sort of unverifiable private visions, a traditional mythology of uncertain origin, or a purely human wisdom.
Moreover, in the Christian world, even among parties that accept the public and historical Revelation of Jesus Christ, only one organization (the Catholic Church) make any claim at all to bridge the gap between what was once revealed and how that Revelation is being lived, taught and interpreted today. Catholics alone explain that the public, historical Revelation of Christ includes within it provision for an unimpeachable earthly principle of authority, embodied in the bishop of Rome, which is alone capable of preventing Christianity from devolving into a strange mixture of Divine Revelation and human fantasy.
I have pointed this out again and again. It has profound consequences—at worst, consequences like the Lord’s Resistance Army and at best, I suppose, consequences like hundreds of competing religious sects all claiming to have the truth, and all equally without any authority to make that claim. So of course, Christianity remains significantly Christian in these groups only insofar as it mirrors in important respects the full doctrine and practice of the One Church.
The plain fact is that no religious claim can be validated apart from the authority of Christ and of His Church. Any other use of the term “religion” is provisional at best, for it must inescapably cover a mixture of good and bad human efforts to approach the Divine, with no guarantee of success, and with every likelihood of slipping significantly astray. The Lord’s Resistance Army is but a recent and horrific example of religion without Divine authority. But we have examples on every side and in every age, rendering life more difficult for everyone by their very cacaphony. Surely sincere effort at discharging one's duty to God is to be encouraged, but unguided sincerity frequently sails perilously close to self-will.
Therefore I will say it once again. The authority principle in religion is paramount. Without it, no religious claim worth considering can be made. Even under legitimate religious authority, men and women will sin mightily, bringing every kind of discredit upon both religion and the very name of God. Thus some may still scoff at religious men for being no better than they are themselves. But at least under legitimate religious authority there will be a voice that men and women really ought to heed and which, for those who do, can actually save them from themselves—a voice that soars beyond specious theories and specious claims, and a voice that calls us beyond the madness we invent for ourselves.
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Posted by: Cornelius -
Feb. 22, 2011 10:22 AM ET USA
Two large religious denominations (that I can think of) rely on private revelation to advance their claims: Islam and the Latter Day Saints, i.e., Mormons, the latter via Joseph Smith.
Posted by: JARay -
Feb. 22, 2011 8:40 AM ET USA
Yes indeed. We have the "Prophet Muhammad" claiming to be chosen by Allah and yet, he gives no evidence, ever, of being anything other than a religious nutter. He even takes a child bride! What a strange being this Allah must be to choose such a man and give him no support by means of divine power. Muhammad has to rely on human persuasion accompanied by the sword.