Monday, May 2, 2011

On the Death of Osama Bin Laden

“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.”
Luke 6:27-33

I have been reflecting on our reaction to the killing of Osama Bin Laden.

This is not an easy issue. And this is not a day when many Americans are meditating on Jesus’ commandment (it wasn’t just a suggestion) to love our enemies.

It is only human to want revenge. Jesus would not have had to teach us that retaliation is wrong if we naturally avoided it. It is not surprising that we would want revenge for the killings on 9/11.

H. L. Mencken made fun of the Puritans for their objections to “Bear baiting.” They were not bothered as much by the pain it caused the bear, he said, as by the enjoyment it gave to the spectators. But I believe the Puritans were onto something. I would be much more concerned than they were about the pain inflicted on the bear, but from a moral perspective, it is also wrong to take pleasure in the pain of another being.

And that is how I feel about the celebration of Bin Laden’s death. I have no sympathy for him, but I am uncomfortable with the celebration of his death.

On the one hand, we cannot help celebrating the skill and bravery of the Navy Seals who carried out the operation. It was an impressive achievement. They deserve our praise and admiration. We have to oppose evil. And there are times when that opposition must be translated into the use of force. On the other hand, this isn’t like winning an Olympic event. People died.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer believed that he was called not just to resist Hitler’s theological grip on the German church, but also to stop him. To that end he joined in a secret assassination plot, and for that reason he was eventually arrested and imprisoned, and finally executed. He was convinced that he was walking in the path that faith required, and he had no regrets, but he also believe that killing, even killing a genocidal maniac like Hitler, was wrong.

He was doing the wrong thing for the right reason. If the plot had succeeded, his response would have been repentance rather than rejoicing.

In “Master’s of War,” Bob Dylan ends his bitter lament this way:

And I hope that you die
And your death'll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I'll watch while you're lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I'll stand over your grave
'Til I'm sure that you're dead.

In the end, the real enemy is war itself. That is the casket we need to lower into the ground. And that is a death that even Jesus would celebrate.


  1. Thank-you. I struggled all day with my feelings on Bin Laden's death. I felt relief but not celebratory. Thanks for helping me to understand my feelings.
    Judy Flock

  2. I too thank you and echo the comment made previously. I've added East Greenwich UMC to the sites I "like" on Facebook so I'll have access to your postings. -- Sue Smith