Thursday, May 20, 2010

King Leopold's Ghost--A Review

I just finished reading the penetrating story of the material rape of the Belgian Congo in a book called King Leopold’s Ghost. It’s the history of how the greed of one charming man devastated a good portion of the African continent at the turn of the 20th century. Belgium’s King Leopold II bought into the colonizing whirlwind of the day, destroying African societies and killing millions of people in the process. He did this all for the sake of money, power, and colonial prestige. Sadly, he also did so in the name of philanthropy, Christianity and civilization. Pocketing millions of dollars, he built monuments to himself and his country on the backs of the native Congolese population. When they resisted, their spears and shields were no match for the sophisticated machine guns and weaponry of “civilized” Europe. Through forced slavery and despicable acts of injustice, Leopold, who never set foot in the Congo, forever changed central Africa.

It was through the primary intervention of one man, E.D. Morel, that the truth of Leopold’s activities were exposed. Morel, probably not a Christian, uncovered and publicized the atrocities that eventually led to the end of Leopold’s rule over the Congo. Morel had, as the author notes, both the media savvy and personal ability to publicize his message in a way that people came to acknowledge Leopold’s Congo for what it was—a form of tyranny and slavery.

The book has been a challenge to me on a number of fronts: Would I have had Morel’s courage to uncover the evil even if it cost me? Are there social injustices happening around me, which my eyes, being culturally conditioned as they are, do not see? Am I showing the kind of mercy that demonstrates that I’ve indeed become an object of God’s mercy because of the cross (cf. Matt 5:7)? Do I experience “mercy fatigue” because my response to the many opportunities to give or show mercy is rooted not in the grace of God but in my own moralistic tendencies?

Many of those who helped Morel expose Leopold’s Congo for what it was were missionaries who applied the gospel of grace to their lives and the situations around them. This book has made me think, once again, about how easy it is to be a follower of Jesus and yet not apply the gospel. Even some of the missionaries, it seems, had a subtle condescending attitude towards the African population. Read the book! It will make you think.