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On rejoicing, or not, when an enemy falls

On rejoicing, or not, when an enemy falls

Continuing our coverage of the religious world’s reaction to the killing of Osama Bin Laden…

Sarah Posner of Religion Dispatches reports:

With all the rejoicing in the streets, some conservative religious figures are offering cautionary notes from the Bible. Both Michael Brendan Dougherty, who is Catholic, and David Gushee of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, cite Proverbs 24:17 (“Do not rejoice when your enemies fall, and do not let your heart be glad when they stumble.”)

Dougherty, at his blog:

The media is making a lot of these spontaneous demonstrations this morning. I found them slightly unsettling. That kind of enthusiasm seems more appropriate for a cessation of hostilities, and the surrender of the enemy. But we don’t fight wars like that anymore. Perhaps this is the only event in the War on Terror that can be celebrated: better not to miss it. We’re desperate for good news, aren’t we?

Gushee, in a statement:

For those of us who embrace a version of the just war theory, honed carefully over the centuries of Christian tradition, our response is disciplined by belief that war itself is tragic and that all killing in war, even in self-defense, must be treated with sobriety and even mournfulness. War and all of its killing reflects the brokenness of our world. That is the proper spirit with which to greet this news.

Potential Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee took a somewhat different tack, welcoming Bin Laden to hell:

It is unusual to celebrate a death, but today Americans and decent people the world over cheer the news that madman, murderer and terrorist Osama Bin Laden is dead. The leader of Al Qaeda— responsible for the deaths of 3000 innocent citizens on September 11, 2001, and whose maniacal hate is responsible for the deaths of thousands of US servicemen and women was killed by U.S. military. President Obama confirmed the announcement late last night. DNA tests confirmed his death and his body is in the possession of the U. S.

It has taken a long time for this monster to be brought to justice. Welcome to hell, bin Laden. Let us all hope that his demise will serve notice to Islamic radicals the world over that the United States will be relentless is tracking down and terminating those who would inflict terror, mayhem and death on any of our citizens.

Conservative Catholic blogger Jennifer Fulwiler is also meditating on sin and forgiveness in a piece called “The Shocking Truth That God Loves Osama bin Laden, too“:

It wasn’t until I came to believe in God and started learning about Catholic teaching that I would look back on that awful day and have my mind reel as I tried to absorb one of the most difficult moral truths I’d ever heard: That God not only could, but wants to forgive Osama bin Laden. That even someone who was responsible for a terror attack that slaughtered thousands could ask for God’s forgiveness, and receive it.

Jesuit priest James Martin writes in a similar vein:

Christians are in the midst of the Easter Season, when Jesus, the innocent one, not only triumphantly rose from the dead but, in his earthly life, forgave his executioners from the cross, in the midst of excruciating pain. Forgiveness is the hardest of all Christian acts. (Love, by comparison, is easier.) It is also, according to Jesus, something that is meant to have no limit. No boundaries. Peter once asked him how often he was supposed to forgive. Seven times? “Not seven times,” answered Jesus, “but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” In other words, times without number. “Forgive your brother or sister from your heart,” he said. Judgment and punishment, says Jesus, is up to God.

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.

A. K. M. Adam thinks Americans need to examine both their culpability in the tidal wave of Middle Eastern violence, and the nature of their reaction to the announcement of Bin Laden’s death:

Second, however brutally cold-blooded bin Laden’s tactics were, the principle of due process has been integral to Western claims to political integrity for more than two hundred years. Summary execution of an accused — even a publicly-acknowledged — criminal does nothing to support the claims that liberal democracy offers a fundamentally different, fundamentally superior way of national government. Jubilant mobs and jingoistic chants don’t burnish the public stature of any nations, either.

Third, there have always been terrorists and criminals; bin Laden and al-Qaeda are not sui generis phenomena, but examples of a recurrent response to particular sorts of economic and political conditions. Assassinating bin Laden doesn’t change those conditions; it attacks the symptoms, not the sickness.

Fourth, even the most firmly convinced just-war Christian has no business expressing anything other than penitent relief at this turn of events. The litany of biblical texts and theological principles that speak against revenge, warfare, and unilateralism should not need repeating, but the atmosphere of exceptionalism and self-justification that suffuses the aftermath of the NYC terror attacks probably requires that belligerent avengers revisit some pertinent texts.

The Rev. Joel Hunter, a mega-church pastor in Orlando, who is quoted in this CNN story, sees things differently:

“There is a scripture, Genesis 9:6, that says, ‘He who sheds man’s blood, by man his blood be shed.’ There is a certain kind of sense of relief that that has been accomplished,” Hunter said. ….

Hunter also cited the verse promising that “those who mourn will be comforted,” saying they might “find some sort of solace in this event.”

Those verses are much more relevant than Jesus’ admonition to “turn the other cheek,” he said.

“That particular scripture has to do with insult and not with self-defense,” he said.

Meanwhile, Petula Dvorak of The Washington Post attempts to assess the particular impact of Bin Laden’s death on American youth:

One of the first people I met was Mohsen Farshneshani, who was fist pumping in a U.S.A. chant amid a huge crush of college kids.

“When 9/11 happened, I was in fourth grade. It changed everything,” said Farshneshani, a 19-year-old freshman at the University of Maryland. “The way people treated me, my family, the mean things everyone began saying to us.”

A Muslim who grew up in Olney, Farshneshani watched his religion get hijacked by the man he often blamed it all on: bin Laden. ….

So in the wee hours of Monday morning, with the biggest boogeyman of his young life gone, Farshneshani felt like everything might change.


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Jim Naughton

We linked to Hedges’ statement in the item posted just before this one.

Murdoch Matthew

Chris Hedges, a former reporter for The New York Times, made a very

balanced statement on the killing of Osama Bin Laden. He spoke as a seasoned reporter of Arabic affairs, but his perspective would do credit to a religious leader.

I’m intimately familiar with the collective humiliation that we have imposed on the Muslim world. The expansion of military occupation that took place throughout, in particular the Arab world, following 9/11—and that this presence of American imperial bases, dotted, not just in Iraq and Afghanistan, but in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Doha—is one that has done more to engender hatred and acts of terror than anything ever orchestrated by Osama bin Laden. And the killing of bin Laden, who has absolutely no operational role in al-Qaida—that’s clear—he’s kind of a spiritual mentor, a kind of guide … he functions in many of the ways that Hitler functioned for the Nazi Party. . . where you hold up a particular ideological ideal and strive for it. That was bin Laden’s role. But all actual acts of terror, which he may have signed off on, he no way planned. . . .

In the days after 9/11, we had garnered the empathy of not only most of the world, but the Muslim world who were appalled at what had been done in the name of their religion. And we had major religious figures like Sheikh Tantawi, the head of al-Azhar—who died recently—who after the attacks of 9/11 not only denounced them as a crime against humanity, which they were, but denounced Osama bin Laden as a fraud … someone who had no right to issue fatwas or religious edicts, no religious legitimacy, no religious training. And the tragedy was that if we had the courage to be vulnerable, if we had built on that empathy, we would be far safer and more secure today than we are.

We responded exactly as these terrorist organizations wanted us to respond. They wanted us to speak the language of violence. . . . So while I certainly fear al-Qaida, I know its 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 the monster that we are attempting to fight.


“Welcome to hell, bin Laden.”

Ridiculously above Huckabee’s paygrade to decide (as it is for all of us).


Rev. Joel Hunter: Those verses are much more relevant than Jesus’ admonition to “turn the other cheek,” he said. “That particular scripture has to do with insult and not with self-defense,” he said.

Hello, rationalization!

It’s not human nature to practice this command of Jesus. Fess up, and don’t try to make Jesus conform to our sinful natures.

JC Fisher


I understand the emotions of many but I have mixed feelings about the spirit of celebration and jubilation exercised by so many. One is to hope that American Christians, whose lives are informed by their faith, will of all people show restraint. The death of anyone should not be a cause for celebration. If it is we are not much different from those fundamentalists in some other parts of the world who always celebrate whenever something bad happens to the people of the West. This is a moment when a Christian America could demonstrate a better witness to the rest of the world of the values of their faith, than to join in the celebration over the death of their enemy.

[Editor’s note: Thanks for the comment. Please leave your name next time.]

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