May 02, 2011
Reactions to the Death of Osama bin Laden: A Digest
Apparently this is what happens to a blog when your life is too busy to be interesting, your motivation to write is sapped by a thesis and funneled through a second blog with a more focused topic than "life in general," social networking is sucking all of the air out of the (chat)room (see this insightful post by a friend whose link in my sidebar has gone dark), and you've just begun a somewhat ambitious multi-part series (which I still think about continuing . . . fairly often).
So, what brings me back here once more? Well, it's in the title, I guess; a momentous historical event has occurred, and I am struggling to understand the reaction and formulate a response. How do I feel about this? How should I feel about this? What does it all mean? 24 hours after the first announcement, the internet has run through the full spectrum, but a minor debate is building around the spontaneous celebrations taking place across the country (both on and off-line).
This is basically a victory, and victory makes people happy, but a great deal of the jubilation seems to center on the fact of Osama's death itself. And, while we could discuss whether these kinds of emotions are "natural" to feel or "appropriate" to express, I think it is at least clear that some elements of what we are seeing are decidedly lacking in Christian charity.
Consider two video clips: one is nearly 10 years old, the other was taken last night. Maybe you think it's in rather poor taste to correlate or compare the people in these two clips, even by merely placing them in proximity with one another. Is cheering the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians the same as cheering the death of one mass murderer? No, it isn't at all. But there are perhaps certain similarities that ought to give us all pause. Perhaps. Personally, I think there is something even more significant going on here that we aren't really discussing yet, but I'll get to that in a moment.
Meanwhile, while you are (I hope) paused, here's a little light reading that has popped up on my Facebook wall feed during the past several hours. I find much of what is said in these pieces insightful, and all of it thought-provoking. A few of the authors are friends of mine, but I'll let you tease out which if you care to.
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.
Celebration over a death, in other words, is closely related to the bloodlust that leads to the death of innocents. It is human; that does not make it right.
In the end, the Bible tells us that God is unwilling that any should perish, that God loved his enemies so much that he died for them, that we should mourn those who do not live, even if they are our enemies.
And as much as Osama was “our Hitler,” we need to be better people than this.
Violence is not the hero. Christ is the hero. Love wins, it never fails.
This death is not the depiction of God's justice. The cross is that portrait. This death will unite us in mourning and love or in revenge and hate. We can not be a people who support endeavors which consist of top priorities such as killing a particular man.
The tragedy of our world is the evil into which we are drawn, even when we hope to remain aloof. This is why we as Christians cry for divine salvation. Human action is not enough to combat the evil that persists in our world and in our own hearts. As one commentator on Bonhoeffer has said, "Tyrannicide is sinful even if it is the least sinful option remaining."
Whether or not we can consider the murder of bin Laden as one of these extraordinary situations is certainly up for debate. But whether you believe it was necessary or gratuitous, Bonhoeffer would say to us all that "ultimate ignorance of one's own goodness or evil, together with dependence upon grace, is an essential characteristic of responsible historical action."
But what's interesting in situations such as the murder of bin Laden is that we are so sure of the goodness of our actions.
For most of us (myself, at least), when historic events like this happen our first reaction is to head to Facebook or Twitter. Part of this reaction seems to be a natural and healthy desire to share an important experience with those we love or to use our online community to learn more about the event. But these gatherings on social networks that occur right after a historic event seem to also encourage us to use the event to promote ourselves. Instead of sharing a historic moment with our community, where the focus is outward towards the event and around us towards our community, we can easily shift our focus to drawing our community towards ourselves–our wit, intelligence, spirituality, politics, etc–using the event primarily as a means to our own ends.
But it’s a very measured relief beyond the momentary catharsis. The sudden, unexpected elimination of the perpetrator of the 9/11 crimes looks very different in the shadow of the past decade than it would have in 2002. The sudden surge of patriotism Americans are expressing so loudly and in some cases crassly tonight suggests they feel as if that decade has been somehow wiped away, as if the troubles are gone now that we’ve accomplished what we set out to accomplish in the very beginning.
I saved that one for last because, while it has a truly terrible title, I think it cuts straight to the heart of what is really going on. We just got the guy who screwed up the first decade of our bright, shiny new millennium, and now we think we can pretend that the last 10 years never happened . . . or at least like it was somehow all worth it. Because we've won now, right?
The Taliban. Afghanistan. Saddam Hussein. Iraq. The Patriot Act. Guantanamo Bay. Water-boarding. Threat levels. Airport security. And on and on and on . . . But none of that crap matters anymore, because Osama bin Laden is dead now. It's simple, it's unambiguous, it's something they can be unequivocally happy about. Except we already let him change the world.
Maybe for some people, this news turned back the clock for one night, or a couple of nights, to a time when terrorists only bombed American soil in movies and they could still walk onto a plane with a bottle of water and a Leatherman. But tomorrow they're still going to wake up in America, 2011, where our soldiers still fight and die off in the Middle East for vague and complicated reasons and children and little old ladies (and everybody else) have to get invasive pat-downs before they can go visit their relatives for Christmas.
Pardon me if I'm not filled with elation.Posted by Jared at May 2, 2011 09:05 PM | TrackBack