Reconciling Revelry and Righteousness
I feverishly ran to the White House late Sunday night. I sang the Star-Spangled Banner with thousands of spontaneously gathered revelers. I chanted “Yes We Did.” I personally witnessed to what I considered justice for a mass murderer. I found no correlation to just war, but instead look to law enforcement. I did not celebrate one man’s death, but rather victory over evil, an evil that has defined my lifetime thus far. It will hopefully now not define the rest of my life. I danced on no grave, but for a nation that met in this instance the collective call of humanity to protect civilians and obtain justice.
I returned to my apartment and discovered countless tweets and Facebook statuses decrying the celebrations at the White House and across the country. I read status after status quoting scripture. Scripture I knew well; I preached a sermon several years ago questioning if my congregation actively prayed for Osama bin Laden. I read the now debunked Martin Luther King Jr. quotation that spread like wildfire across social media. I read my colleagues at FPL quote a chorus of faith leaders I admire condemn the celebrations.
But I also reread Dietrich Bonheoffer and listened to President Obama tell the nation, â€Ž”[bin Laden's] demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity…Tonight we give thanks to the countless intelligence and counter-terrorism professionals who have worked tirelessly to achieve this outcome.”
Today, Joan Walsh of Salon offered the best commentary I’ve read so far:
I personally had a hard time seeing bin Laden’s death as something to celebrate, but I didn’t judge those who did. The 9/11 attacks were of such enormity, rippling out to reach so many people in such different ways, we’re all entitled to our subjective reactions; it was everyone’s tragedy, and everyone grieves differently…
You can believe fervently in the power of King’s words about love, and hate, and violence — as I do — and still accept that President Obama did the right thing, based on the knowledge he had before him.
Walsh warned us not to “outsource our moral decision-making,” and without outsourcing my own thoughts to Walsh, I tend to agree. My reaction of patriotic fervor was my own, rooted in a deep commitment to stopping injustice.
On the moral question of whether Americans (and citizens of the world who are now safer) should rejoice over the killing of Osama bin Laden, I think people need the space to react in their own way, and it’s important to be respectful of diverse reactions and mindful of our collective commitment to pursuing justice.
Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons is an intern at Faith in Public Life.