Sunday, May 1, 2011

Bin Laden's Death, Turning the Other Cheek, and Justice

Another terrorist bites the dust. Another man is dead. Another father is lost. Another family feels justified. Another flag is waved in celebration. Another Facebook status is updated.

I am an amateur religious philosopher. An amateur political idealist. An amateur adult. But I do know that although a man who has done almost unimaginable evil has been assassinated, I feel a pinch of unease as I see people cheering about his death specifically. No, I certainly have not been affected quite like the families of the 9/11 victims and the many more who have been victimized in the Middle East (whom we often forget) as a direct result of his actions. I hope to never have to feel that degree of grief and loss. But there is something about taking pleasure in the death of a man that reminds me of the victory that Al Qaida expressed when the World Trade Centers were hit. When the Westboro Baptist Church protests at a soldier's funeral. That I sense in the Facebook statuses of this fast-paced world.

Here are a few Facebook statuses that I have seen on Facebook in the past few hours:

1. "No better place to celebrate Bin Laden's death than AT THE WHITE HOUSE!!!!"
2. "not to be redundant or anything...but heck yes!! Osama is dead!! It took is ten years, but we finally did it :)"
3. "Osama is dead!!"
4. "that guy is in for a big surprise... sorry homie, no virgins. Just a bunch of other guys that you promised virgins waiting for you."
5. "we got that piece of s***, f*** yea!"
6. "Ding dong Bin Laden's dead!"
and the ever popular nationalistic saying:
7. "greatest country in the world, proud to be an American"

Now, I'd like to take a moment to reflect on some Bible verses that come to mind that I have seen on Facebook statuses in the past few hours. Thanks to all those Lipscomb students who have been putting them up:

Matthew 5:38-48
"You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

Now, I am by no means suggesting that turning the cheek should be interpreted as not seeking justice for those who attack innocent people or not trying to protect the innocent. BUT I do think these versus teach us that there is a respect for humanity that is to be understood for all people, and perhaps that means not rejoicing at the death OF ANYONE. While bin Laden did many terrible things that he will have to answer for, and while I am no judge as to whether or not his life needed to be ended (I have seen that many of you question the necessity of spending so much time and money on killing a man who likely has little influence anymore on Al Qaida's actions and whose assassination is more likely to cause harmful retaliations), let us not forget that God created him. That there are people hurting right now in his absence, and we are not going to improve our relationships with those who have been wounded by taking pride or pleasure in their loss. That is not the higher law.

I'm writing this, not just because I believe in it, but because I struggle with it. To all those who have read this, I ask you, how should we react to the news of a man who has been killed in ANY situation. How do we react to the news of the death of a man who has committed horrible atrocities towards other human beings? How do we as good Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and atheists avoid desiring our personal ideas of justice over compassion?


  1. I don't feel a "pinch of unease" at the celebrations. They make me downright sick to my stomach.

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  3. I am really glad you wrote this. I agree that it is rather disturbing to rejoice in the death of any man. I have been turning similar thoughts around in my mind since I heard the news. I think that his death has been more of a symbol of good triumphing over evil. I hope that is what people are rejoicing for. I like your reminder that there are people mourning his death, though few they are. One person's joys are pains for another. No matter how terrible a man can be, he is still loved by someone, especially God. Thank you for saying something.

  4. I agree completely. When I think of how hurtful it was to Americans that others around the world rejoiced after 9/11, I find it hard to digest that we could turn around and be guilty of the same thing. Is it really a blow to terrorism? Possibly; only time will tell. Is the death of anyone a cause for celebration? I think not. One can be relieved at what it potentially represents without jubilating at the blood spilt.

  5. My friend, sheryl garner, posted this great quote today on her facebook:
    "I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that." -Martin Luther King, Jr.