In the aftermath of Bin Laden's death, reflections, judgments and prayers

The killing of Osama Bin Laden by U. S. forces has sparked an outpouring of reaction, and reaction to the reaction, which we will try to keep up with for you this morning here on Episcopal Cafe.

From a spokesman at the Vatican:

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 for this purpose.

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 the further growth of peace and not of hatred.

From Brian McLaren, who is in England:

The news here showed President Obama making the announcement, and then shifted to American college students reveling outside the White House, shouting, chanting "USA" and spilling beer. I flipped through channels and saw the same scene repeated.

I can only say that this image does not reflect well on my country, especially in contrast to the images that have been so strong here in recent days ... revelers celebrating a wedding.

Joyfully celebrating the killing of a killer who joyfully celebrated killing carries an irony that I hope will not be lost on us. Are we learning anything, or simply spinning harder in the cycle of violence?

From Paul Raushenbush at the Huffington Post:

It is a strange and conflicting emotion to celebrate a death. My professed beliefs include the redemption of evil and the potential good in all humanity. Yet I felt a sense of exhilaration when I read the headline 'DEAD' about Osama Bin Laden.

For the last ten years Osama Bin Laden has exemplified the absolute worst of religion. He was a fundamentalist and a zealot in his own belief and willing to kill those who believed differently; he recruited young people into his ranks by preying on their despair; and he carried out violence in the name of God. Through actions and belief, Osama Bin Laden profaned the name of God and denigrated all people of faith.

Osama Bin Laden never felt any remorse for his murderous ways and the heartbreak that trailed behind him. He viewed his actions as part of a struggle that allowed him to transcend any moral concerns. He and his followers routinely slaughtered the innocent. He was ruthless in using faith as a means to the very worst ends. To reiterate what the President said in his announcement of bin Laden's death: "Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader, he was a mass murderer of Muslims." His death is satisfying not only because of what he did, but because it prevents him from doing any more violence in the future in the name of religion.


The blogger at Dating God: Franciscan Spirituality for the 21st Century reminds us of some Scripture ( Proverbs 24:17-20: Do not rejoice when your enemies fall, and do not let your heart be glad when they stumble, or else the LORD will see it and be displeased, and turn away his anger from them.) and writes:

As I have already said elsewhere, this is not a moment for “triumph” or “celebration,” contrary to what so many television pundits and so-called patriots will suggest. It is indeed an important moment in our national and global history, something to take seriously and reflect upon, but the celebration of the death of a human being is not what Christians are called to do as Jesus makes quite clear above.

God does not desire vengeance and this is not God’s form of justice.

It is a sad day, the most recent in many sad days over the course of the last decade. May we take this moment to recommit ourselves to peace and raise up to respond to Jesus’s invitation for us to follow in his footprints, living the life of the Gospel. The Gospel of forgiveness and peace, the Gospel of life and humility, the Gospel that calls for the end of all violence.

In an impromptu speech at a fundraiser last night Chris Hedges, who covered al Qaeda for The New York Times, said:

The language of violence, the language of occupation—the occupation of the Middle East, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—has been the best recruiting tool al-Qaida has been handed. If it is correct that Osama bin Laden is dead, then it will spiral upwards with acts of suicidal vengeance. And I expect most probably on American soil. The tragedy of the Middle East is one where we proved incapable of communicating in any other language than the brute and brutal force of empire.

And empire finally, as Thucydides understood, is a disease. As Thucydides wrote, the tyranny that the Athenian empire imposed on others it finally imposed on itself. The disease of empire, according to Thucydides, would finally kill Athenian democracy. And the disease of empire, the disease of nationalism … these of course are mirrored in the anarchic violence of these groups, but one that locks us in a kind of frightening death spiral. So while I certainly fear al-Qaida, I know it’s intentions. I know how it works. I spent months of my life reconstructing every step Mohamed Atta took. While I don’t in any way minimize their danger, I despair. I despair that we as a country, as Nietzsche understood, have become a monster that we are attempting to fight.

Joanna Brooks at Religion Dispatches remembers words spoken at the Passover Seder:

Raucous crowds are massing outside the gates of the White House.

My Twitter and Facebook pages are full of folks--Mormon, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, atheist--recoiling from pictures of frat boys dancing in the streets wrapped in the American flag.

My husband and I take our seven and five year old daughters away from the television and tuck them into their beds.

"Remember how at our Passover Seder last week we spilled a drop of your grape juice for every plague that struck the Egyptians?" my husband tells the girls. "We do not take pleasure in the suffering and death of others--even bad guys."

Rabbi Menachem Creditor says:

We do not rejoice at the death of our enemy. The implementation of justice is not a joyful celebration. As Rabbi Cohen writes of watching the recording of Eichmann's trial, "In this man's eyes are reflected the ghosts of his uncountable victims...and also nothing at all." I am riveted by the face of Bin Laden. I do not want to look into his eyes. Those eyes witnessed the snuffing out of so much life; those eyes remained willfully blind to the pain and loss he caused. I believe justice has indeed been served today. Joylessly, as is appropriate. May America know a measure of comfort after these almost 10 years, and may we redouble our efforts to rebuild our Nation in a more unified way, knowing that this incredible pain has been felt by members of every political persuasion.

And "Pilgrim", an Episcopal seminarian offers this:

Over the past few months, the people of the Middle East have risen up in several countries and demanded release from the oppression of their governments. Many, too many, suggest these folks are in some way not capable of democratic and republican forms of government. Mostly such comments seem to me to be the manifestation of an irrational fear of Islam. It seems ironic that people who argue for a greater inclusion of their own religous beliefs in the political realm would argue against other peoples desire for the same. People are driven to violence because of the brokenness and sinfulness of human nature, not because of the inherent tendencies of their religion. There's a story about a guy named Jesus who was executed at the behest of his religous authorities that speaks well to this.

In some ways, Osama Bin Laden is already a figure of the past. his death will not end the long American wars in Southwest Asia. But in the uprisings of the Arab Spring, it seems the Islamic people have already rejected his vision. His way is really of the past, when, as alway,s the only available path is forward.

We'd be interested in hearing your thoughts. For myself, I hope to avoid judging people for expressing emotions that they come by quite legitimately. That should keep me busy.

Comments (3)

Here's another good meditation, from The Rev. Chad Holtz.

http://chadholtz.net/2011/05/01/american-or-christian/

As I've said to friends, I think that (for me), the appropriate response is to stop, think, and pray.

No one should ever rejoice at another one's death. But those who, like bin Laden, live by the sword do indeed often die by the sword.

I don't buy Raushenbush's gloss of the President's words: "Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader, he was a mass murderer of Muslims" because it casts Bin Laden as a man of no faith when it might be argued he had too much faith, so much that he would kill for his values and die for them as well. He was a Muslim leader who killed Muslims. Like Abraham in Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling, whom Jacques Derrida reads as both a saint and a terrorist, Bin Laden is an undecidable figure. Bin Laden did not simply act in the name of religion/faith. He didn't have to work hard to exploit elements in religion which seem to encourage violence.

Faith teaches people to accept things without evidence, which can also justify prejudice. As William Temple said, the distinction between a prejudice and a conviction is not always clear.

In any religion or conviction, there must also be a testing of the spirits lest one become like a terrorist in spirit or even an actual terrorist. Perhaps this is why Nietzsche said that it is best to have no convictions.

I agree Islam should never be singled out for blame because no tradition is exempt from violent elements or killer texts. (Christianity enslaved people of color for centuries, mistreated Jews, and carried out the Crusades.) There are many kinds of Islam. But it is a simplification to try to get religion off the hook. Religion does not do just good.

Gary Paul Gilbert

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