Cambodian Genocide and God’s Plan of Salvation

Today near Phnom Penh, Cambodia, I visited the Choeung Ek (“Killing Fields”) Genocidal Center.  At this location, approximately 10,000 Cambodians were executed by the Khmer Rouge government of Pol Pot.  Similar camps were located throughout Cambodia.  Through torture, starvation, execution, and pathetically-planned forced relocations, almost 2,000,000 Cambodians lost their lives (fully 20 percent of the county’s total population).

During my Mormon mission, I visited the only Nazi concentration in France, KL-Natzweiler, located near Struthof in the Alsace.  Here 22,000 died, including many who were the victims of medical experiments.  It is now estimated that 10-11 million men, women, and children were executed by the Nazis, including Jews (6 million), gypsies, Russians, Poles, and homosexuals.

I’ve also visited eastern Turkey, once part of the Armenian homeland.  Early in the 20th century, nearly 1 and 1/2 million Armenians lost their lives in another ethnicide.  Today, the ancient Armenian churches that have survived in eastern Anatolia are merely shells, ghosts of their former selves.  Most have not served as Christian churches for over 100 years.

At the Choeung Ek Genocide Center, the executions were particularly brutal.  They didn’t want to waste bullets, so they used axes, shovels, and other farm tools to accomplish the killing.  They used music to help masked the cries of the victims.  Among the many killed were women and children.  To remember this holocaust, there is now an information complex at the Choeung Ek site.  In the center of the complex is a giant stupa, which also functions as an ossiary for the bones of many of the victims.

Stupa at Choenung Ek Genocide Center

Stupa at Choenung Ek Genocide Center

The intent of the Pol Pot regime was to re-orient society along proletarian lines.  Those who died or were killed were frequently either political prisoners or members of the middle class (teachers, engineers, doctors, etc.) and their families.  Although there was a component of ethnicide, Pol Pot was largely trying to make Cambodian society over according to his own sick and perverted vision, an extreme version of Maoism or Stalinism.

Skulls Stored in Choeung Ek Genocide Center Stupa

Skulls Stored in Choeung Ek Genocide Center Stupa

When one thinks of Cambodia, Nazi Germany, or Armenia, one wonders about God’s master plan.  With so many people living and dying in such horrible ways, what is the point of life on earth?  For example, the Mormon Plan of Salvation (or Happiness) only makes sense when an individual has some economic, political, and/or social freedom.  So many billions have not or do not have real opportunity.  Are we to believe that these billions who have suffered on earth are here to fill some hopeless role in a gigantic stage production?

Science-fiction writers suggest that maybe we are just characters in a giant computer simulation.  For the sake of the Cambodians who died at the hands of the Pol Pot regime, I hope the genocide victims were not real, just a part of my personal computer simulation.

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12 Responses to Cambodian Genocide and God’s Plan of Salvation

  1. Allen says:

    Roger, I guess I look at life differently than you. Those millions who were killed by dictators will have their chance for the economic, political, and social freedom that you referred to. Their chance will come, of course, in the next life. I believe that this mortal life is just a small part of ones existence. Mortality is a chance for us to learn. After death, the spirit world is a continuation of our chance to learn. What did those millions learn? I can’t answer that question, because I haven’t suffered as they did. I would guess, though, that they (hopefully) learned forgiveness, patience, love. Is God to blame for their persecutions? No, of course not. Those millions suffered because of the agency of those who had political and military power. Those millions will have the opportunity to hear the Gospel and to find the peace and joy they did not have in mortality. Mortality is but a moment in eternity. A moment in which we all suffer tribulations from nature and from people who would harm us. That moment passes, and we (hopefully) have become more loving, kind, forgiving towards ourselves and others.

    • rogerdhansen says:

      Hi Allen, For me it is a matter of proportion. Why do so many have to suffer? If so many are living marginal lives, then really what is their purpose (or for that matter anyone’s purpose) for being here on earth? It would seem that life should have meaning for a much higher percentage of the earth’s inhabitants.

      When you say we shouldn’t blame God, doesn’t that imply that He is not “stirring the pot.” But don’t Mormon believe that God is “stirring the pot?” That He does answer prayers and that He does intervene. If He is truly intervening, doesn’t He then have a role. I’m not blaming Him, I just don’t understand the grand scheme of things.

      • Allen says:

        You’ve asked good questions. My answer as to why so many have to suffer is that people have free agency to help or to abuse others, and if people who have authority over millions chose to abuse, millions may be harmed.

        Yes, God does “stir the pot”, he does intervene in some things, but he doesn’t prevent people from exercising their agency. If I choose to poke you, God won’t intervene and prevent me from doing that. If I choose to torture and kill you, God won’t intervene and prevent me. God may intervene in some things to help His work go forward, but He will do that in a way that doesn’t take away the agency of others. This means that God won’t intervene to prevent evil acts from occurring. For example, Pol Pot is not in power today. Perhaps God did intervene in creating conditions that caused Pol Pot to lose his power over others. We don’t know what God does and doesn’t do. But, we do know he won’t take away our agency. We, through misuse of our agency, cause sin to exist.

  2. Up to 20,000 persons were tortured into giving false confessions at Tuol Sleng, a school in Phnom Penh which had been converted into a jail. Elsewhere, suspects were often shot on the spot before any questioning.

  3. rogerdhansen says:

    Allen, I struggle with magnitude of the problem. If you go beyond the genocides, and look at war, famine, and disease, there are many more who suffer (live hand-to-mouth, if at all) than who live lives that make any kind of religious or philosophical sense. What is the point of the earthly sojourn of the billions whose lives seem wasted. If God’s plan is make any sense, shouldn’t there be a better balance between opportunities?

    • Allen says:

      It is a huge problem, Roger. The magnitude of the number of people who are abused is staggering. If we look at mortality as the end of our existence, then I would agree with you. However, if we look at mortality as just a small part of our existence, and that we mortals have free agency to love or to abuse, then the problem seems manageable. I don’t know much about conditions in the spirit world after death, but I assume the abuse and suffering in mortality will not continue in the spirit world, and the millions of people who were abused in mortality will be free of that abuse in the next life and will be able to progress and receive blessings from God. The dictators, who in mortality had power over others and abused others, will not, I think, have that influence over others in the spirit world.

      • rogerdhansen says:

        My problem with the argument that “mortality is just a small part of our existence” argument is that it devalues our earthly existence. If it is so unimportant for billions, why does it matter at all?

  4. Allen says:

    “mortality is just a small part of our existence” helps me put things into perspective. Even though mortality is a small part of our existence, it is important for people like you and me, because we have opportunities in mortality to grow and progress. We not only grow in secular knowledge, we grow in our love and service to others. In the spirit world, we will, I think, continue in our growth and experience. However, there are billions of people who are deprived of opportunities for growth in mortality due to the agency of others, and I believe those people will have opportunities in the spirit world for the growth they never had in mortality. Joseph Smith saw Alvin, his brother, in the Celestial Kingdom, even though Alvin had not been baptized. The Lord revealed that He will judge people according to the desires of their hearts. Now, we understand that Alvin would have a proxy baptism performed in his behalf and he would receive blessings as if he had been baptized in mortality.

    When I said “mortality is just a small part of our existence” I was referring to a time-line of our existence not to the importance or lack of it of mortality.

    • rogerdhansen says:

      I understand that you were referring to a time-line. But does it work for billions to have an “abrievated” (and that’s the nice word) experience, so millions can have the “real” experience?

      • Allen says:

        If I say “no” it doesn’t work for people to miss peace and blessings here but to get them in the next life, then I would have to say that none of the proxy ordinances performed in our Temples will benefit them either. We’re talking about two phases of our existence: mortality and the next life. If I understand you correctly, Roger, you’re saying that receiving blessings in mortality is more important than receiving blessings in the next life. I’m saying that receiving blessings in both phases is important. People who are deprived of blessings in mortality can receive them in the next life, and when all is said and done, people will be happy for blessings received in either phase. I think that if a person who was killed by Pol Pot but accepts the Gospel in the next life and inherits the Celestial Kingdom will be satisfied how things turned out. Those who inherit the Terrestrial and Telestial kingdoms will be satisfied, too. And, I guess in a morbid way that those who choose to follow Satan and become adopted by him as sons of perdition will be satisfied since that is what they chose.

        By way of repetition, let me say again that people who are deprived of blessings and the peace of the Gospel in this life will have opportunities to accept (if they so desire) the Gospel in the next life and receive the peace and blessings for ever. Today, there are about 6 billion people on the earth. I don’t know how many have lived and died and how many will yet be born, but there are literally billions and billions of people who will have been deprived of the Gospel due to the agency of others who abuse them and to natural events, such as where they lived, that prevent them from hearing the Gospel. As you said, Roger, the magnitude of this problem is staggering. The key to solving the problem is a knowledge that the suffering of these people is but for a small moment and then they will have peace and love forever. Those who abused others will suffer the wrath of God, and, if they don’t repent, will suffer for their sins as Christ suffered in the Garden and on the cross (D&C 19).

        We need to do all that we can to relieve people of pain and sorrow from abuse, for example, I’m donating my unused computer cycles to humanitarian projects, but we can’t help all people who have been abused, and we trust God to help them in the next life. God created this mortal world and gave us our agency to do as we will towards life and towards others. We are here to learn to love, to sacrifice, and to serve others. God knows, though, that we won’t help all people, and he has revealed to us that we should have temples and do temple work for those who were deprived of having the Gospel here.

  5. rogerdhansen says:

    Allen, thanx for sharing your beliefs and perspectives with me.

  6. Gordon Long says:

    We visited both places with our 9-year-old daughter. She did not have any nightmares afterwards, since we had prepared her a lot before going there.

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