As you all know by now, U.S. Navy SEALS found and killed Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the September 11th attacks and the “spiritual” leader of Al Queda, on Sunday, May 1st. Shortly after the news of his death was announced, spontaneous street parties formed outside of the White House, complete with college kids drinking beer and chanting “U-S-A, U-S-A.” President Obama stated that “justice has been served” with Osama bin Laden’s death, and this sentiment was echoed in many interviews that I heard on the radio today. Clearly, people around the world feel not only a great sense of relief that this most-wanted terrorist is dead, but also a sense of satisfaction that revenge has finally been done against this man who killed so many innocent people.
So my question to myself, and to all of you, is this: Is it ever appropriate for a Christian to celebrate the death of another, and what is the appropriate response to Osama bin Laden’s death?
To help me in answering this question, I looked to some of the experts. In a brief statement on the morning of May 2nd, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said this:
“Osama bin Laden, as we all know, bore the most serious responsibility for spreading divisions and hatred among populations, causing the deaths of innumerable people, and manipulating religions to this end…
In the face of a man’s death, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibilities of each person before God and before men, and hopes and works so that every event may be the occasion for further growth of peace and not of hatred.” (Vatican, May 2, 2011)
In another article published by NPR’s Linton Weeks on May 2nd, a campus minister named Mike Hayes stated that “the celebrations in the streets were [not] our finest moment as Americans, and reminded me much of the anger I felt at seeing Afghans dancing in the streets at the fall of the Towers on that dreaded day. We are called to forgiveness. And that is the only way that we can truly be free. Holding onto our hatred keeps us in slavery to bin Laden’s madness and gives the terrorists continued power over us.”
In the same NPR article, Harvard Professor Christine Korsgaard makes the observation that “if we confuse the desire to defeat an enemy with the desire for retribution against a criminal, we risk forming attitudes that are unjustifiable and ugly – the attitude that our enemy’s death is not merely a means to disabling him, but is in itself a kind of a victory for us, or perhaps even the attitude that our enemy deserves death because he is our enemy…It is important not to confuse the desire for retribution with the desire to defeat an enemy…If we have any feeling of victory or triumph in the case, it should be because we have succeeded in disabling him – not because he is dead” (National Public Radio, May 2, 2011).
In summary, the Christian response to Osama bin Laden’s death should be one of deep personal reflection on one’s own responsibility before God and before men, and a desire for increased peace and reconciliation rather than division and hatred. While we feel a natural sense of relief that Osama bin Laden has finally been disabled, and that he will no longer be able to orchestrate monstrous crimes against humanity, we must never confuse our desire to defeat him with our desire for revenge.
Our President made a tough call as the Commander in Chief, and the decision he made was the one that he felt was in the best interest of the United States of America. I am confident that he, in collaboration with the leaders of our Armed Forces and intelligence agencies, made the most informed decision that he was able to make, and we will never know how many acts of violence may have been prevented because of bin Laden’s death. However, as Americans we must honor those who died on September 11th, 2001 by working for continued peace and true justice in the world. As Mike Hayes said, “the celebrations in the streets were [not] our finest hour” (NPR 5/2/11). We can be relieved and glad that bin Laden has been defeated, but we should not rejoice in a spirit of vengeance over his death. We should, in fact, be praying for his soul. This event should cause us to humble ourselves before God, asking Him how He would have us serve Him and His People, and begging His mercy and forgiveness for all of the times that we have contributed to the evil in this world.
What are your thoughts and reactions on this matter? Let’s have an honest and civil discussion, remembering to be charitable to one another…