When Gloating isn't Gloating

Ever since Osama bin Laden’s death became generally known, the country’s mood has felt like spring break for grown-ups. In front of the White House, at Ground Zero, at the Phillies-Mets game, people were celiebrating. Strangers were hugging. In the long run, it might not turn out to be one of those events for which everyone recalls his wherabouts, but then, it might. (For the record, I was fast asleep.)

But then, the Vatican weighed in. Speaking as the Church’s official voice, Fr. Frederico Lombardi cautioned believers that a Christian “never rejeoices” at a man’s death. Really, Father, I remember thinking. Must you be such a wet blanket? I guess we’re supposed to eat our vegetables and drive fifty-five, too. It’s enough to make a man take up dominion theology.

But after a while, the funniest thing happened. Not celebrating bin Laden’s death began not to seem so burdensome anymore. Here’s why:

In truth, the bare fact of bin Laden’s death was the least of what made me happy. The greater part of my satisfaction by far came from knowing American arms and intelligence had triumphed in a contest with America’s enemies. For ten years, al-Qaeda and its supporters had been patting each other on the back, telling themselves they were smarter, more patient, and further-sighted than we were. No longer.

I also felt satisfaction in knowing that al-Qaeda lost a valuable figurehead. Yes, it had been a long time since bin Laden had exercised any real administrative leadership, but he — and his survival in the face of a multinational manhunt — had the greatest symbolic importance. To the credulous, they offered compelling evidence that God indeed sided with the Islamists.

I felt satisfaction in knowing he and his followers succumbed after a brief struggle. Not even Homer could make it into a glorious last stand. When you put up less of a fight than Uday and Qusay Hussein, you know you’ve had it.

Bin Laden’s death, the separation of his soul from his body, was incidental to any of these things. We could claim the same strategic and moral triumph by capturing him alive. Granted, killing him outright has spared us a tangle of legal issues — where to try bin Laden? Where to hold him in the meantime? Could we, in fact, put him to death following whatever due process we settled on? I am relieved these are all moot points; if that makes me an imperfect Christian, I suppose I’ll have to live with it. But as I said, that relief accounts for the smallest part of my happiness. The rest is strictly kosher.

Update: Matt Zoller Seitz describes the crowds at Ground Zero: If one picture is worth a thousand words, the reverse is also true:

There were engaged, ecstatic — and over time, increasingly tipsy — revelers. There were news vans and trucks with broadcast-quality cameras and bright lights and rumbling generators. There were roving reporters with notepads and handheld digital tape recorders. I saw people collecting video and audio with their iPhones. One woman circled the outer edge of the crowd, holding her iPad slightly above her head, getting a smooth tracking shot around the edges of the gathering and double-checking her framing by glancing up at the screen.

In some sectors of the designated celebration zone — a two-block area ringed by cops and barricades — witnesses to history appeared to outnumber participants.

Then again, the distinction between participants might be a false one. Nowadays just about everybody has the ability to record his or her life at any time, for any reason, via digital stills, video, audio. And there was a whole lot of recording going on last night. Three young men in kilts climbed on top of a bank of pay phones and gave an impromptu bagpipe concert; the strobe-flash illumination of shutterbugs was so intense that they might as well have been performing on the floor of a disco. There were people taking video and still photos of cops, construction workers, Marines, sailors and civilians wrapped in American flags or carrying signs. There were people taking pictures of the people taking pictures. And there were people taking pictures of the people taking pictures of the people taking pictures.

Clouds of pot smoke occasionally wafted through the scene, and as the celebration wore on, it became harder to move through the throng without accidentally kicking an empty beer bottle and sending it clattering down the street.

If you stood back and squinted at the crowd, hundreds of rectangles of electronic light seemed to bob like embers on a dark wave. People were showing each other their iPhones, sharing Twitter feeds, Facebook updates, uploaded and downloaded photos, YouTube clips, streaming video from CNN. They were discussing the coverage, repeating what they’d heard, saying what they did or didn’t believe.

Read the story of the Abottabad resident who unknowingly liveblogged our raid on bin Laden’s compound. This is the sort of thing that happens when villains hide out in suburbia.

World leaders react: Carmen Binladin, Osama’s sister, says he’d sooner have died than “face justice in a U.S. court.” To my great disappointment, Silvio Berlusconi played it straight, calling bin Laden’s death “a great result in the fight against evil.” If he can’t think of something quotably tasteless to say at a moment like this, what good is he?

It seems bin Laden used one of his wives as a shield. Bad form, sir.

  • http://www.bannonoceanart.com bill bannon

    Here is Mary gloating…it’s called the Magnificat….Fr. Lombardi may not read it since Fr. Raymond Brown of the PBC thought it a Lucan insertion for effect:


    My soul magnifies the Lord,
    And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.
    For He has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden,
    For behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
    For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation.
    He has shown strength with His arm:
    He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
    He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
    and exalted those of low degree.
    He has filled the hungry with good things;
    and the rich He has sent empty away.
    He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy;
    As He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to His posterity forever.

    Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.
    As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen

  • http://jscafenette.com/ Manny

    “In truth, the bare fact of bin Laden’s death was the least of what made me happy. The greater part of my satisfaction by far came from knowing American arms and intelligence had triumphed in a contest with America’s enemies. For ten years, al-Qaeda and its supporters had been patting each other on the back, telling themselves they were smarter, more patient, and further-sighted than we were. No longer.”

    Hear, hear! I completely agree. Look closely at any war or battle and you will find there is no Christian way to fight one. If I’m rejoycing, well then I’m human. And i am definitely not a saint. Obama ruthlessly murder 3000 of my countrymen in a cowardly strike and caused incalculable implications to our way of life. He had declared war on us. We responded. May he burn in hell.

  • Bender

    I’m all for mocking bin Laden as much as possible (e.g. South Park using a magnifying glass), but the “human shield” thing perhaps is stretching it.

    “Human shield” suggests innocent people involuntarily placed in front. It does not suggest people voluntarily acting as bodyguards.

    The women in front of bin Laden were probably no more human shields than are the Secret Service agents that Obama stays behind.

  • Aimee

    A really good, thoughtful blog post. I appreciate how you teased out the complexities of the issue, and why we should rejoice.

  • Gloria Enoch, S.F.O.

    Wonderful article and comment. Very timely. I went through some excitement and GLOATING last night and posted my remarks and read remarks on facebook, then I put the Prayer of Francis up…Make me an Instrument of your Peace. Sometimes we are just quite literally BESIDE OURSELVES as it were. I appreciate the view from the Vatican . It is nice to have a gentle reminder. Pax et Bonum. Gloria Enoch, S.F.O.

  • Anne B.

    Why, I’m not gloating. I’m just sitting here, radiating quiet satisfaction ;-)

  • jkm

    Well, it’s a good thing I’m used to being in the minority, but it’s been a rough day. When I came out as having difficulty rejoicing (as opposed to expressing quiet relief and deep compassion for the families of 911 victims) over the killing of anyone (especially when my government, which, socialist commie pinko leftist old hippie that I am, I actually elected, goes around high-fiving themselves on a “perfect kill”), I was pretty much roundly stoned, called unAmerican, terrorist scum, and the spiritual equivalent of Mrs. Bin Laden Number Whatever throwing herself in front of the bullets. I understand y’all may add Not Really Catholic to that list, too, after that admission. So I read the Vatican statement with prayerful relief that someone somewhere shares my sense of moral ambiguity. Not trying to keep the rest of you from dancing on the purported watery grave, honest, just queasy about saying, “Yeah, sure, it’s fine to send troops into somebody else’s sovereign nation to assassinate somebody we’ve decided is the Great Satan.” Sounds like Great Satan thinking to me. I guess I’ll just go back to today’s other radical weirdness, which is hearing the right wing radio gang singing Obama’s praises. (Although El Rushmo, God love him because somebody has to, absolutely cannot say the phrase “I’m so glad Osama is dead!” without saying “Obama is dead” first, and then, uh, correcting himself.) Prayers for all.

  • Brian English

    ““Yeah, sure, it’s fine to send troops into somebody else’s sovereign nation to assassinate somebody we’ve decided is the Great Satan.” Sounds like Great Satan thinking to me.”

    Moral relativism at its finest.

  • lethargic

    I’m so glad he’s out of the picture and I can’t help but feel “what took them so durn long” … and I’m glad “Mr. International Diplomacy” finally realized that Pakistan’s government is not our ally and we can’t tell them anything important anymore …

    … but I share jkm’s conflicted feelings. Too much celebrating makes us like those Palestineans and other Mohammedans who celebrate every time Christians get killed … sigh.

  • http://chrysologus.blogspot.com Adam Rasmussen

    I agree with Fr. Lombardi. We can be glad about good things that will come from his death–a blow to terrorism, a boon for peace–but Christians shouldn’t delight in the death of the wicked, because God himself says that he does not delight in the death of the wicked.

  • http://thatsadancerslegmargaret.wordpress.com Bernadette

    I’m with jkm, particularly since I think this doesn’t make the world any safer. If anything it’s more dangerous since now we’re going to have to deal with all the ways Bin Laden’s followers are going to try to avenge his death. One of my friends in the military posted the following: “A nation that champions dignity and peace cannot glory over sentiments of vengeance, but only solemnly accepts the killing of another as a last resort for upholding the protection of society. The American who wants to truly support their troops will not celebrate the death of Bin Laden for violence only begets further violence. No, instead, pray for their safety, make your gratitude known, desire peace and be not afraid to initiate it.”

    I’ll take that over gloating any time.

  • http://acts17verse28.blogspot.com/2011/05/few-thoughts-about-bin-ladens-death.html NCSue

    I must say I have mixed feelings about this. Here’s my post from this morning:
    http://acts17verse28.blogspot.com/2011/05/few-thoughts-about-bin-ladens-death.html

  • Brian English

    “I’m with jkm, particularly since I think this doesn’t make the world any safer. If anything it’s more dangerous since now we’re going to have to deal with all the ways Bin Laden’s followers are going to try to avenge his death.”

    Because bin Laden’s followers weren’t dangerous at all prior to him being killed.

  • http://jscafenette.com/ Manny

    ““Yeah, sure, it’s fine to send troops into somebody else’s sovereign nation to assassinate somebody we’ve decided is the Great Satan.” Sounds like Great Satan thinking to me.”

    Someone we decided was the Great Satan? I couldn’t care less how anyone classified him. This man was responsible for the worst attack on American soil and the deaths of 3000 innocent Americans. I don’t care what he was called or how people thought of him. Human justice, as imperfect as it can be, was served.

    And jkm, that crack about Rush Limbaugh is patheitic. Did you realize that MSNBC commentator accidently tweeted:

    “Obama shot and killed” Read more: http://dailycaller.com/2011/05/02/typo-msnbc-correspondent-accidentally-reports-on-twitter-that-obama-killed/#ixzz1LFSJVblp

  • Dan

    Whatever claims to sovereignty that Pakistan had collapsed the moment they decided to shelter bin laden. Sovereigns have rights BECAUSE they have duties. Failure to perform those duties necessarily means a forfeiture of sovereign right.

    So any moral scruples about the technical details of international law, which is nothing but an artifical construct and that doesn’t even exist is nothing but a waste of time.

    In the aftermath of the victory of the righteous at Lepanto, ALL OF CHRISTENDOM was ecstatic, even the Protestant realms to the far north. This idea that celebration over the destruction of the wicked somehow indicates a want of morality and sophistication is something so brain dead as to beggar description.

    Such a position is anti-human, anti-history and contrary to the bible.

  • jkm

    I understand. Still, I’m with this guy, whose Father sends the morally relativistic rain to fall on the just and the unjust:

    “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.’
    But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court with him. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison.
    Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny. . .

    “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on (your) right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.

    “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you,
    that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

    In prayer,
    Your morally relativistic, brain dead, anti-human, anti-history, biblically contrarian sister in Christ

  • c matt

    Moral relativism at its finest.

    I do not think the statement refelcts moral relativism. If anything, the statement is the exact opposite of moral relativism as it holds the same morality whether the targetted person is the greatest saint or greatest sinner.

    Perhaps you were thinking of moral equivalence?

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Interesting.

    I remember, after 9/11, though many Americans were grieving, some had absolutely no compassiona, or pity, on—those who died in the Twin Towers.

    “Little Eichmans!” screamed one big chief pundit. Michael Moore expressed a wish that the terrorists would have crashed their planes into the Red States, rather than Manhattan, which didn’t support George Bush. Others talked about “Chickens coming Home to Roost”, and muttered about the dark doings of “Neocons”, and Zionist conspiracies—the “thinking” being that, if we just dumped Israel, all would be well. An underground cartoonist penned “hilarious” cartoons of 9/11 widows as money-grubbing harpies, and some tried to blame President Bush, alleging he’d blown the Twin Towers up on his own.

    I do not remember many people at that time, Christian or othewise, pleading for forgiveness, understanding, and turning the other cheek to those slandering their own countrymen. In fact, we were exhorted to be polite to the other side, and called “Islamophobic” if we said anything negative about Islam. If we said anything negative about Big Chief Pundit, Michael Moore, etc., we were accused of being “Nazis”, or “Neocons.”

    It was alright to blame Amerikkka, Bush, Israel, the victims of 9/11—but criticize anything or anybody else, we were unchristian!

    And now, we’re exhorted to feel sympathy and pity for Bin Ladin, and “Violence only begets violence!” and his followers will just want to avenge his death. . . hey, they were so peace-loving and gentle before this, and now we’ve just made them mad!

    So it goes.

    Somehow, I do not think Jesus approves of this hypocrisy, or embracing of evil.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Yes, Dan, there was great rejoicing in Christendom over the victory at Lepanto—one of the great battles of all time. In fact, I believe it was to celebrate that victory that the October was declared the month of the Rosary, and devotions with the Rosary were encouraged.

    (Now, all you who feel that’s too warlike, and trimphalist, should toss out your rosaries right now, and re-think any, and all, devotion to Our Lady, as she was supposed to the one who helped the Christians at Lepanto to her victory.)

    Those who danced in the street on 9/11 were celebrating the deaths of innocents: of office workers, secretaries, cooks, cleaners, restaurant workers, policemen, firemen, hapless airplane passengers.

    This attack on Bin Ladin, however, appears to have been focused only him, and his cronies. The Seals did not gun down crowds of innocent Pakistanis, on their way into the compound (as Islamic terrorists did in Mumbai—and, considering that attack originated in Pakistan, I hope someone’s investigating a possible Bin Ladin connection); they didn’t carpet bomb the area, they didn’t declare war on all of Pakistan, they didn’t treat Osama, and his wife, in the horrible way the Mumbai terrorists treated the Chabad rabbi and his wife—they got in, killed some people who were not at all innocent, and got out.

    Yes, Osama was a human being, Christ said we should love our enemies. Christ also understands, however, that humans are weak, and while His love never ends, human love has its limits. There’s also the moral problem that, in feeling too much sympathy and pity for an evil man, while reviling our own country (calling it “Great Satan”) can lead to evil as surely as indulgence in revenge.

    C.S. Lewis once said that one’s enemy is the person one is truly tempted to hate, and revile; not some straw man; the person, or people, you actually dislike. I get the creepy feeling that many find it all too easy to “forgive” Osama for crimes they never much blamed him for in the first place. (“Neo-cons!” “Great Satan”! “Gold-digging 9/11 harpies!” “Little Eichmans!” “The Zionists!”)

    Heck, we’re probably not even going to cut off any of Pakistan’s too-generous foreign aid, and we’ll probably go on pretending they’re our allies.

    So, I don’t see any equivalence with 9/11. American celebrating seems more like the celebrating that accompanied our victory of WWII.

  • Brian English

    “I do not think the statement refelcts moral relativism.”

    Sure it does. The foundation of moral relativism is that you have no objective basis to use to judge the morality of actions.

  • Brian English

    “Yes, Dan, there was great rejoicing in Christendom over the victory at Lepanto—one of the great battles of all time. In fact, I believe it was to celebrate that victory that the October was declared the month of the Rosary, and devotions with the Rosary were encouraged.”

    St. Pope Pius V established October 7th as the Feast Day of Our Lady of Victory (later changed to of the Most Holy Rosary) to celebrate the victory at Lepanto. I wonder if he realized how un-Christian he was behaving.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Indeed, Brian—and consider how very un-christian Don Juan of Austria was, in leading, and rallying, the Christian forces! Didn’t he realize that violence never solves anything? :)

    (Have you read the poem by G.K. Chesterton about Lepanto? I think you’d like it!)

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    And speaking of Pakistan and sovreignity. . . before they criticize us, Pakistan might want to settle that little problem they’ve got with India, vis-a-vis the Mumbai atrocity, which their secret service seems to have been involved with.

    They’re in no position to lecture us about anything.

  • bill stephens

    Great writing, great comments. But please do not link me to Salon. Joan Moran seems like she might have been a nice person, but now she is so, so sad and dreary. She appears to have great problems.

  • Brian English

    “(Have you read the poem by G.K. Chesterton about Lepanto? I think you’d like it!)”

    I am not a big poetry fan, so I have never read it, although I probably should.

    A few years ago Niccolo Capponi wrote a great book on Lepanto called Victory of the West, which I highly recommend.


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