It was just a week ago that we all got news about the killing of Osama bin Laden. On Sunday night, crowds of people came out to celebrate this victory in the war on terror. And while many people understood the impromptu reaction, others felt a bit uncomfortable by the celebration. I think we all probably had mixed emotions in our reaction to Osama’s death. Almost immediately, many of my (mostly) Lutheran friends and family discussed what our reaction should be and it was an interesting example of how theology influences our day-to-day behavior.
Usually these examples aren’t picked up on by the mainstream media. This case, however, was different. Early on, Religion News Service had a piece asking “Is it OK to cheer Osama bin Laden’s death?” that began:
Jesus said “love your enemies.” If only he had said how we should react when they die at our own hands.
The piece gives a nice survey of views from major religious groups, including Jews and Muslims. Other opportunities to discuss this issue — how the Christian (or other religious adherent) responds to the death of bin Laden — came with the news that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is being condemned for saying the news of his death pleased her. A Hamburg judge has filed a criminal complaint against Merkel for “endorsing a crime” after she stated she was “glad” that Osama bin Laden was killed by US forces.
The New York Times, on the other hand, had a completely religion free piece titled “Celebrating a Death: Ugly, Maybe, but Only Human.” Instead, it looked at what social scientists have to say about revenge and forgiveness and what not.
My pastor’s sermon this morning — which was an amazing exploration of death versus the Christian faith — began by mentioning Osama’s death. Something tells me that we weren’t the only congregation in America that heard sermons reflecting on his death. So I was pleased to see this Associated Press story that ran in USA Today under the headline “USA’s pulpits address bin Laden death.” Here’s how it began:
The killing of Osama bin Laden, a man who was America’s face of evil for nearly a decade, left Christians, Jews and Muslims relieved, proud or even jubilant. For their religious leaders, it was sometimes hard to know just what to say about that.
There is at least some dissonance between the values they preach and the triumphant response on the streets of New York and Washington to the death of a human being — even one responsible for thousands of killings in those areas and around the world.
The stories are all pretty standard and helpful. I’m most interested that they ran. It seems obvious that they should and yet it’s not a given, is it. Because these types of “what’s being preached in America’s pulpit” stories aren’t done regularly, they lack some of the depth you might hope you for.
And there are two areas that weren’t really broached, that I think should have been. One is the “Two Kingdoms” or “Two Cities” understanding in Christianity. This idea comes from Jesus himself. It was a topic written about by Augustine and Luther and many other Christians. That is probably one of the main ways that Christians understand the paradoxical response a Christian might have about the act — gratitude that the government worked for justice but sadness over the death of an evil man. This understanding sort of creeps up in the media response pieces, but it’s not terribly well fleshed out.
The other issue that I saw covered less than it should have been, if at all, is how religious adherents are to react considering the role that enhanced interrogation techniques played a role in the death of Osama bin Laden. It’s not that Christians are of one mind as to whether what the government did with enhanced interrogation techniques is or is not torture. But leaving all the euphemisms aside, for those who believe that the government should not have inflicted any pain in order to extract information from enemy combatants, and learning that pain infliction did play a role in helping the government obtain information, there are profound ethical questions.
Still, I think we’ve been seeing some good religion coverage surrounding Osama’s death.
Two things: torture, two kingdoms.