Is Drone Warfare Like Media Evangelization? Almost…

Like a drone pilot, the techno-evangelizer can reach far. But there is significantly less danger in this approach, and that might be dangerous.

An MQ-9 Reaper flies above Creech AFB during a training mission.
An MQ-9 Reaper flies above Creech AFB during a training mission. (photo: U.S. Air Force photo by Paul Ridgeway)

When drone warfare started to catch public attention, many sounded the alarm that being able to coolly execute men from thousands of miles away would desensitize the drone pilot to the act of killing. Despite the apparent penchant for violence, it is embedded in our humanity that we ought not kill one another. When God pleads with Cain to not kill Abel, He is appealing to His created nature – the Creator knows the creature. It is only after Cain allows hatred and sin to fully dominate him that he fully dominates his brother through murder. So, the fear was that drones would allow people to bypass their humanity in order to “get the job done”.

This has not turned out to be the case. In fact, studies are starting to show that drone pilots face similar post-traumatic struggles as ground troops, most especially because they typically spy on and study their targets long before killing them. It is not just bombs and loud noises that are part of war trauma, but the mutual need and mission to kill.

From the soldier’s perspective the best thing about drones is the safety of the pilot. He is able to be at home and be a “deployed” soldier at the same time. So, his body is safe even if his soul is affected by the trauma of killing.

I keep thinking about the modern lurch in evangelization toward the technological and media approach – creating modern and savvy presentations of eternal truths with the hope that it will compel someone to accept the Gospel or embrace truth. In a way, this is like drone warfare. You are able to coolly lob truth bombs into the interwebs and pray that your well reasoned comments, perfectly tuned videos, and dynamic presentations will lead people away from death to life.

The benefit, of course, is being able to communicate with possibly millions of people at a time. Like a drone pilot, the techno-evangelizer can reach very far. There is good reason that all of the popes in the modern era of have said Christians need to be in the digital space.

But there is significantly less danger, and that might be dangerous.

I think safety is the biggest problem with techno-evangelization. From its birth, Christianity has been an agonizingly human thing. It was born from the reality of the Incarnation, entrusted to sinful man, and has been spread largely through the encounter with people who have had an encounter with Christ. And in the real encounter with Christ, it seems that an inevitable and even necessary outcome is the weight of real crosses and the intimate experiences of real rejection. The apostles and all holy evangelizers since them have known at some point in their life the feeling of being rejected. The news of the Gospel is good, but that doesn’t mean the response to its proclamation will be. This actually fulfills the prophecies of Christ that we, like Him, would be rejected and persecuted for the sake of God’s Kingdom.

When we view the world from behind a screen and attempt to reach it that way, I’m not sure that we experience the necessary danger that should accompany evangelization. You simply cannot scour the internet, picking fights and correcting error, and effectively see the people and what they might actually need in order to be introduced to the Gospel. I’m not saying we should not present the truth in the digital space, I just don’t think we should have the expectation that it is our primary way to evangelize. You are the primary way to evangelize.

You might write a lengthy treatise on relativism or papal infallibility yet not realize that the person on the other screen would really be brought to Christ by someone bringing Christ there incarnationally – in the flesh, with love and even eye contact. Much can be communicated through a screen, but not the Sacraments and the sacramental reality of persons, culture, and holiness.

It also seems that much of what is being produced is being traded within circles of the already convinced. We need to get out and see people that are living in the darkness so that we sense again the power of the light. When Christ told the rich young ruler to give all he had to the poor and follow Him, it was after Jesus had “looked on him and loved him.” Jesus knew what he needed, because He saw him. But, as far as we know from that one incident, the rich man rejected Him and went away sad. The Gospel is dangerous, and in its seen rejection we can learn so much, and feel within us the rejection that is sin, and the need for saints.

God sent messages before Christ, but it was His presence in the flesh that is the center of the economy of salvation. We can send thousands of messages, but our encounter in the flesh may remind us of why God came and walked among us. It works.

By all means, produce good things and be a light in the darkness of the online world. But don’t confuse it with the act of loving your neighbor, who is likely not thousands of miles away, but next door. And waiting for the Gospel.