Celebrating Bin Laden’s Death?
Some of the most prominent images from last night’s news of Osama bin Laden’s death were the public outbursts of celebration in cities across the country. These gatherings are understandable given the symbolic power of the news for a nation still recovering from the trauma of 9/11, but I will admit that I experienced mixed emotions watching jubilation at the news of anyone’s death.
Of course, I’m not the only one struggling to make sense of this situation. Faith leaders with deeper insights than I are sharing their thoughts today:
The Vatican’s stance is that this isn’t a time for celebration:
“A Christian should never welcome the death of a human being, but should instead reflect on the serious responsibilities of everyone before God and men,” Father Federico Lombardi said in a statement. A Christian “should also hope and strive so that every event does not become an opportunity for hatred to grow but rather one for peace,” he added.
The Muslim Public Affairs Council similarly focused on the need to look forward:
“We hope this is a turning point away from the dark period of the last decade, in which bin Laden symbolized the evil face of global terrorism,” said MPAC President Salam Al-Marayati. “His actions and those of Al-Qaeda have violated the sacred Islamic teachings upholding the sanctity of all human life. His acts of senseless terror have been met with moral outrage by Muslims worldwide at every turn in the past decade.”
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach writes on HuffPo Religion:
“This is a time to give thanks to G-d and show gratitude. But who can celebrate? Their families are still bereft. They are still missing. American soldiers continue to die in Iraq and Afghanistan. We do not gloat over the triumph over evil because its very existence must forever be mourned.”
Also on HuffPo, Religion editor Paul Raushenbush:
“So, let us mute our celebrations. Let any satisfaction be grim and grounded in the foundation of justice for all who have suffered at bin Laden’s bloody hands. And also justice for crimes against God — for using God as an instrument of terror and and promoting distrust between peoples of different religions and nations. Let us put bin Laden’s body in the ground, and in doing so bury his disastrous and blasphemous religious legacy.”
These sentiments are echoed by New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good’s David Gushee, quoting scripture:
“Do not rejoice when your enemies fall, and do not let your heart be glad when they stumble.” (Proverbs 24:17)
As Christians, we believe that there can no celebrating, no dancing in the streets, no joy, in relation to the death of Osama bin Laden. In obedience to scripture, there can be no rejoicing when our enemies fall.”
Jim Wallis shares his thoughts on Sojourners’ God’s Politics blog:
“But the death of bin Laden must become an important historical moment of reflection. How do we best respond to evil and those who perpetrate it? What have we learned in the last 10 years about what truly is the best answer to the violence of terrorism? How do we change the conditions that have allowed terrorists to pull others into their agenda? In this fallen world we are often faced with imperfect choices in response to the clear dangers of evil. Religious wisdom always has us look also at ourselves and what opportunities we have to be makers of peace.”
Fr. James Martin shares a more personal reflection on this in his post at America, “What is a Christian Response to Bin Laden’s death?”
So the question is whether the Christian can forgive a murderer, a mass murderer, even–as in the case of Osama bin Laden–a coordinator of mass murder across the globe. I’m not sure I would be able to do this, particularly if I had lost a loved one. But as with other “life” issues, we cannot overlook what Jesus asks of us, hard as it is to comprehend. Or to do.
Fellow Jesuit Paddy Gilger at Whosever Desires:
“As far as I can say (and in truth who am I to prescribe a response to all?), it seems to me that we are in an odd middle ground, pulled between two poles. On one side I feel myself celebrating death, an odd feeling to be sure.
I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to characterize our beloved (I mean that word) U.S.A. as huddling behind locked doors after the events of September the 11th. I’m just not as sure that we can safely say that we received our Lord’s twice repeated counsel: “Peace be with you.” It’s the injunction to receive peace, the positive fullness of shalom He so desired as He wept over Jerusalem, that we are given. That’s the other pole.
I know it’s not so simple sometimes, perhaps in these very minutes, to live in this other pole. But calling ourselves Christians means being fully united with one another and with our Father’s will for us and our world. It’s our God, in his glorified body, who breathed the Holy Spirit upon our angry, frightened, hurt ancestors who had locked themselves in that upper room.”
Interfaith Alliance President Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy added his thoughts:
“It is my fervent hope and prayer that as we put this chapter behind us, we also leave behind the demonization and mistrust of the broader Muslim community that came with it. The best possible follow-up to bin Laden’s death would be our nation’s recommitment to living together with respect for diversity, achieving unity through cooperation, and strengthening our resolve for establishing peace with justice.”