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.”
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I’ve got a special invitation for Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and other union-busting governors who are Christian: join me at The Catholic University of America in Washington next Monday for a two-day conference that will highlight the Catholic Church’s long history of supporting unions since, well, 1891. Pope Leo XIII released the landmark papal encyclical Rerum Novarum that year, and in unambiguous language stood up for the dignity of workers and the vital role of unions at a time when powerful industrialists were getting very rich at the expense of the working masses. (Wall Street titans of today might understand something about this.)
The conference, sponsored by the university’s Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies, will feature major addresses by Cardinal Peter Turkson, President of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and John Sweeney, former President of the AFL-CIO. Other panels will include E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post, John Carr, the Executive Director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Justice, Peace and Human Development office, and Bishop Stephen Blaire of the Diocese of Stockton.
Gov. Walker and others can register here.
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America magazine, an influential Catholic publication edited by Jesuit priests, has an important editorial up online and in the next print edition challenging Catholic bishops to show greater urgency in addressing budget debates in Washington.
Bishops have shown no reluctance to speak authoritatively on issues of abortion and same-sex marriage. Bishops and the whole Catholic community must speak with the same clarity and vigor about the budget and the direction it sets for the nation. The budget is an urgent moral matter that demands a consistent, unified message. Its line items are more than just quotidian allotments of monies; they are moral choices…The upcoming struggle will be a matter of life and death.
The editorial goes on to describe Paul Ryan’s budget proposals as “wrongheaded.” As I noted in my response to Msgr. Charles Pope of the Archdiocese of Washington, it’s not partisan to challenge Catholic lawmakers like Ryan who want to eviscerate New Deal social reforms that Catholic bishops helped lay the moral groundwork for as far back as 1919. Bishops have raised concerns about the direction of the budget debate in a letter to the House of Representatives. This is a good start. But Catholics also need to hear from bishops and pastors in parishes across the country about the moral dimensions of budget battles on Capitol Hill.
Church leaders have not been shy about entering the political fray on other issues. Catholic bishops have publicly criticized pro-choice Catholic lawmakers by name, and some have denied them Communion. The Catholic Church is directly involved in high-profile political fights over same-sex marriage. Archbishop John C. Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis was featured in a DVD video message last fall, developed by the state’s Catholic bishops, criticizing same- sex marriage and urging Minnesota voters to support a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Over 400,000 Catholics in the state received the DVDs, mailed just a few weeks before Minnesotans voted for a new governor. Shortly after the 2008 election, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops sponsored a national postcard campaign to stop the Freedom of Choice Act, legislation that had not even been introduced and had languished in Congress for two decades.
All of this drives media attention and shapes a narrative about faith and politics that influences voters heading into elections. I haven’t seen the same muscular advocacy on economic justice issues from the Catholic hierarchy. But the bishops now have a prime opportunity to speak authentically from Catholic social teaching and challenge resurgent “trickle down” economic theories, anti-government libertarianism and anti-Christian Randian ideas in similar ways that their 1986 pastoral, Economic Justice for All, rebuked Reagan-era adulation of unfettered capitalism.
As the America editorial sharply defines it, this budget debate is about life and death. The House Republican budget proposal fundamentally undermines a culture of life by tossing the poor, elderly and most vulnerable into the free-market tempest and wishing them good luck. Along with privatizing Medicare and Medicaid, Jonathan Cohn of the New Republic also details how Republican leaders hope to slash nutrition assistance programs at a time when a staggering number of Americans need help putting food on the table. It’s time for more pro-life Christian leaders, including Catholic bishops, to directly challenge Republicans who claim the “pro-life”, “pro-family mantle” only to undermine those principles in practice.
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More great thoughts on Ayn Rand and Paul Ryan from the last few days.
In the Washington Post, Michael Gerson pinpoints the appropriate age level for the selfishness of Objectivism:
If Objectivism seems familiar, it is because most people know it under another name: adolescence. Many of us experienced a few unfortunate years of invincible self-involvement, testing moral boundaries and prone to stormy egotism and hero worship. Usually one grows out of it, eventually discovering that the quality of our lives is tied to the benefit of others. Rand’s achievement was to turn a phase into a philosophy, as attractive as an outbreak of acne.
In America magazine, Vince Miller echoes John Gehring’s arguments about Paul Ryan and the Catholic bishops:
It is worth noting that Ryan is Catholic. I wonder if he knows that both his principles and policies are fundamentally opposed to the social teaching of the Church? Perhaps if his Rand-inspired libertarianism leads him to a pro-choice position, his bishop might take note. But otherwise, he will likely not only be free to pedal his society-shredding fiscal policies, he will never be challenged by his Church to consider the profound error of Rands views. This is a profound failure in teaching the faith.
And proving that this issue transcends traditional political divisions for Catholics, David Bentley Hart responds to the Atlas Shrugged movie in the conservative Catholic magazine First Things:
Rand really imagined that there could ever be a man whose best achievements were simply and solely the products of his own unfettered and unaided will. She had no concept of grace, even of the ordinary kind: the grace of an existence we do not give ourselves, of natural powers with which we could never have endowed ourselves, and of all those other persons on whom even the strongest among us are dependent. She lacked any ennobling sense that what lies most deeply within us also comes from impossibly far beyond us, as an unmerited gift. She liked to talk about “virtue” a great deal–meaning primarily strength of will and the value that one creates out of one’s own native resources–but for her the only important question regarding the relation between the individual and society was who has a right to what. That is, admittedly, a question that must be asked at various times, but it is never the question that true virtue–true strength–asks of itself.
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Over at Vox Nova, Morning’s Minion joins in the conversation between John and Msgr. Pope about Catholics and the House Republican budget. His response is thoughtful and thorough, providing a point-by-point reply to many of Pope’s arguments and questions.
A portion of his response to Pope’s concern about welfare dependency:
Luckily for us, the debate over how to construct a welfare state that respects both solidarity and subsidiarity is not a new one. This was a major Catholic project over the past century, especially after the second world war, and especially under the umbrella of Christian democracy in Europe and elsewhere. It is this model that fits well with Catholic social teaching. The essence is a welfare system that keeps both the state and the market in their place – funded by the state, but managed by subsidiary mediating institutions in a fully autonomous manner. In the economic sphere, there is a strong overlap between Christian democracy and social democracy, and even Pope Benedict has pointed to the compatibility between democratic socialism and Catholic social teaching. Respect subsidiarity, yes, but don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. Avoid welfare dependency, yes, but do not avoid welfare.
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