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Is It Right or Wrong to Celebrate Osama bin Laden's Death?

Why so many of my co-religionists got it wrong

There are times when I am tempted to despise some of my co-religionists, like Sunday night when spontaneous celebrations broke out across the country after the president's announcement that Osama bin Laden had been killed.

Followers on my Twitter feed and friends on Facebook (mostly those who aren't natives of New York or New Jersey) began expressing their concern that Americans were celebrating the death of Osama bin Laden. The longer it went on, the more irritated I became. On Monday, when the scolding didn't stop, I began unfollowing people on Twitter.

Proverbs 24:17 was one of the most abused Scriptures scrolling through my social media feeds. "Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice," it says. Verses 19-20 were conveniently ignored: "Do not fret because of evildoers or be envious of the wicked, for the evildoer has no future hope, and the lamp of the wicked will be snuffed out."

This is called proof texting, or pulling a verse out of context to affirm one's position. It was as if these friends and followers came down with collective amnesia about all the expressions of God's wrath in the Bible.

Lenny Bernotas, pastor of Trinity Bible Church in Allenwood, delivered a moment of reprieve to my Facebook feed when he wrote: 

"Proud to be a Navy Vet today. Congratulations Navy Seals. To God be the glory: 'You went out for the salvation of your people...You crushed the head of the house of the wicked, laying him bare from thigh to neck.' (Habakuk 3:13). As to ministry: 'Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.' (Ezekial 33:11.)

I can live with this paradox of justice and mercy, for it describes so well the grace of God that allows us to suffer the temporal consequences of our actions, but offers mercy to all who will receive it.

Why is it that so many Christians feel compelled to instruct people in how they should feel about and/or react to events? I asked my Facebook friends, many of whom are Christian authors and religion journalists. None of these experts responded.

"Assuming Godlike knowledge of good and evil, therefore being everyone else's judge is as old as Adam and Eve. ... Balance and perspective, it takes time, thought, and prayer to receive these virtues," wrote Pastor Lenny. 

Lenny's first wife Karen was a friend of mine. When she was dying of ovarian cancer, another friend, Jean Peterson, selflessly took care of her and her family in ways that none of the rest of us could muster the nerve or the strength to do.

On September 11, 2001, Jean and her husband Don arrived at Newark airport early for a flight to San Francisco. They boarded United Airlines Flight 93 instead. 

Don's Bible was found sometime later amidst the debris in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. It was reportedly open to 1 Corinthians, chapter 15, in which the Apostle Paul lays out an argument for the resurrection of the dead based on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The passage includes this comforting statement: "For [Jesus Christ] must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death" (v. 25-26). 

God has enemies too and one of them is death. Whether or not God hates the death of Osama bin Laden, I don't know, but I do know that God hates what Osama bin Laden and his cohorts did to all of the victims of 9/11, including a generation of children who came of age in a decade over which terrorism and war hung like a dark, imposing cloud.

Andrew Sullivan wrote about these young people in a post at The Daily Beast. Many of them signed up for war "to find, capture, or kill Osama bin Laden," he wrote, and far too many were killed in action.

"The only sane thing to feel right now, I think, is both great sorrow and great joy," wrote Sullivan.  

"The reason for the sorrow is obvious: that this one figure was capable of inflicting so much pain on so many people, that he distorted so many minds and souls, that he killed so many human beings. And that he did it all in the name of God.

The reason for the joy is actually less obvious. It is, at its best, I think, not vengeance or relief -  although they are within us all, at various levels of suppression. The joy comes because somewhere we feel for the first time in so long that this hideous, bungled, tortuous, torture-filled decade of war and mass murder might, after all, have some smidgen of emotional closure, some sliver of justice in its long arc, some core thread leading to something we can call victory," he concluded.

It is a cruel thing to tell people not to celebrate the apprehension of a mass murderer, and it is an especially debased thing for people who claim to represent a just God to do. 

"There is no deeper pathos in the spiritual life of man than the cruelty of righteous people. If any one idea dominates the teachings of Jesus, it is his opposition to the self-righteousness of the righteous," wrote theologian Reinhold Niebuhr in An Interpretation of Christian Ethics.

We don't often think of condemning celebrations of long awaited justice as self-righteous, but that's exactly what it is.

Christian Church May 04, 2011 at 08:34 PM
If we mourn and honor the death of evil it makes mourning the righteous moot. I don't recall Israel feeling shame or regret when David took down Goliath and sliced off his big, fat, giant head.
79 May 04, 2011 at 08:35 PM
"game over" or whatever screen name you are using today too fit the occasion, why don't YOU "crawl back under the rock that YOU came from".
Christian Church May 04, 2011 at 08:38 PM
Ironically many Amish are pacifists and wouldn't even kill the man in self defense or to save the lives of these young ladies. Our enemy is as a roaring lion seeking who it may devour, and too many of God's lambs are unwilling escape. You are a true patriot and Christian 79.
Swift Loris May 04, 2011 at 11:28 PM
Thoughtful post on forgiveness on your blog, Christine, thanks for pointing to it. I liked this in particular: "Forgiveness that does not take seriously the offense against an injured party is fraudulent and cheap." Which means, I take it, that authentic forgiveness is *costly*, requiring inner struggle for reconciliation. Where bin Laden is concerned, I'm honestly not sure I'm up to it.
Spooner May 05, 2011 at 03:06 AM
Bin Laden was a prophet promoting a religious ideology called "sharia law". . . a religious code for living, in the same way that the Bible offers a moral system for Christians." 1 It is used to refer both to the Islamic system of law and the totality of the Islamic way of life. Sharia is derived from the teachings of the Qur'an(the Muslim holy book, which corresponds to the Jews' Torah and the Christians' Holy Bible. Muslims believe that the Qur'an is the Word of God, as dictated to the prophet Muhammad. He and others felt that Muslims were being influenced by the West against their cultural religious up bringing in following the path of their founder of Islam. He and others took it upon themselves to punish the "infidels" for their perceived transgressions. In our eyes he's evil. In their eyes( Sunni Muslims ) they think he was their savior. You want to promote forgiveness. . .well I don't think that's applicable in their belief system. . .It is my opinion that they are bent on eradicating Jews and Christians(the Western moral law) as you quote, first from the Middle East and other Muslim dominated countries, then the rest of the World . . .
Swift Loris May 05, 2011 at 05:26 AM
Spooner, first, I wasn't "promoting forgiveness," just noting that it's required of Christians, that it's very difficult, and that in bin Laden's case I didn't think I was up to it. But for those required to forgive, it doesn't matter in the slightest whether the folks they're forgiving recognize or appreciate it. Also, I don't believe all Sunni Muslims by any means think of bin Laden as their savior or want to eradicate Jews and Christians. That's a radical, extreme, and perverted strain of Islam, not the mainstream.
Mare May 05, 2011 at 11:54 AM
Christian Church, he's a very sick man, you don't know him. All one needs to do is say something he disagrees with and you'll find out real fast, Vicious attacks, name calling, cut and pasted mis-quotes from other writers. Judge not or ye will be judged.
Matt Eckert May 05, 2011 at 11:56 AM
Joy is what every American should feel. I only wish it wasnt so fast, should of made him suffer with a couple in the knee caps first!
79 May 05, 2011 at 12:08 PM
Replying from the bar or just picking one of your multiple personalities too respond today Mare ...... who are YOU today at this time? The only "sick" person here is .... you got it, one of the many "YOU". MPD is just part of your disorders and you have way to many to mention.
Mare May 05, 2011 at 12:09 PM
My son is currently serving in the military and my husband spent nearly 30 years in service to our country, including 18 months in Iraq for no reason. For our family, this is a major coup. A very sinister evil has been removed from the landscape of our earth and that lessens the chance of another 9/11 type attack. Naturally they will come at us again, for their "revenge" is a constant against any freedom or joy driven society. We feel that in the vast world of terror organizations, a small and evil menace has been permamantly eliminated. It is hard I'm sure for some to understand this "joy (I think it's more a feeling of triumph)," so if you cannot, thank you for at least trying to understand and not judging us. We actually have a personal and dutiful claim staked in the demise of this type of evil. May God bless my son and all of our military personnel.
Mare May 05, 2011 at 12:14 PM
John, while we love the Lords prayer, try telling that to a fanatical Islamic Jihadist. They don't quite get the gist.
Mare May 05, 2011 at 12:17 PM
See what I mean C.C. Next time, I'll send a private message.
Mare May 05, 2011 at 12:18 PM
My husband and son would concur!
79 May 05, 2011 at 12:27 PM
Mare responding to a person making a from the heart statement ..... huh Mare 8:27am on Thursday, April 28, 2011 (DELETED BUT NOT FORGOTTEN) Regina you may be old, but you're brain is undeveloped. I was born and raised right here in Brick, so speak for yourself only! This had nothing to do with the police, they police were being used as pawns. We are all glad for the wonderful job our police are going, however even the "police" are a little angry at the way they've been used. You're the reason a lot of original residents move away. We're embarassed of the people like you. As stated earlier, speak for yourself. If you really cared about the town, you'd have voted against the crook running it. and Mare 8:32pm on Saturday, April 23, 2011 I've got news for you 79, when you wrote this, I was getting snookered in the American legion with my husband! LOL Happy Easter anyway!
79 May 05, 2011 at 12:51 PM
Now I lay me down to sleep...one less terrorist this world does keep...with all my heart I give my thanks...to those in uniform regardless of ranks...you serve our country and serve it well...with humble hearts your stories tell...so as I rest my weary eyes...while freedom rings our flag still flies...you give your all, do what you must...with God we live and God we trust....Amen.
80 May 05, 2011 at 01:21 PM
8o is stronger than 79.
BP May 05, 2011 at 01:33 PM
Thank God he's dead.
Mare May 05, 2011 at 02:04 PM
79, please don't neglect to mention that this visit to the Legion took place after a rather grueling cancer treatment. Nevermind, I'll be the better person and mention for you, after all it was you who said "If you even DO have cancer!" Showing once again, what we are dealing with.
Ken Grosso May 05, 2011 at 03:27 PM
Bottom line “Justice Was Done”. God bless the men and women of the United States Military that defend and protect the God given rights and God given freedom of the citizens of the USA and the people all around the world. You know, and many might not like to hear this, but there is always a chance that as Bin Laden heard the helicopters coming for him, he sincerely bowed his heart to Christ and asked for forgiveness. I hope that he did, because if he did not he’ll be disappointed when he finds out there are no virgins waiting for him …. and hell is hot!
Ken Grosso May 05, 2011 at 03:28 PM
There is only one living God and he gave us His son, Jesus Christ who died on the cross and shed his blood for us so that when we sincerely bow our hearts to Him and ask for forgiveness, we are forgiven. You can be as tolerant as you want to other religions, but there is only one way to eternal life (Heaven) and that is through Jesus Christ. So yes I think we pray for our enemies but that does not mean justice is waved. We also need to pray for people that are lost including but not limited to the majority of our miss-guided federal politicians that sell their souls to the devil just about every day for the sack of themselves rather than the good of the people. And we need to pray for other Christians so that they find the strength to put Christ first in their life and to share Him with others. So to lead their neighbors to salvation rather than be tolerant and let their neighbors struggle in a peace-less existence here on earth only to find out when they die it’s too late because Jesus Christ is, was and always has been the only way.
Doug May 05, 2011 at 04:02 PM
66 years ago the people in the US and around the World celebrated the news of Nazi defeat and the suicide of Adolf Hitler. How would this be different? The death penalty is not illegal in every state, so there are those that believe that death is righteous for crimes committed against others. Bin Laden killed almost 3,000 US innocent citizens, not military, in less than 2 hours. I celebrate the fact that he will no longer be able to plot these mass murders against anyone, especially US!
Doug May 05, 2011 at 04:06 PM
I forgive myself for being happy that he got wasted with a shot to the head.
Rosie May 05, 2011 at 04:34 PM
I think ultimately God knows our hearts & knows we are creatures of emotions & we will succumb to them time to time. Is it right to rejoice the Death of a Man? No Right to Rejoice the end of a man ridden with evil? Maybe still no BUT each of us have our emotions and if any of those emotions were unjust GOD will discuss that with each & everyone of us -Individually! I am an empathic person to people who are wrongly hurt & I personally think that his Death was done WITH Mercy-because I don't think I would have let him off so easy-Now thats between me & God & I personally dont care what anyone says about it because in the end its between God & Me. Now I do have faith that "God says vengeance is mine" so I'm thinking God's plan is far more detrimental than mine or anyone elses could ever be. BUT I sure am proud that an EVIL force was eliminated from this planet. As a Firm believer in God-I know all of us have screwed up along the way one way or another & no matter how much we try to decipher God & his Scriptures-We really aren't going to know anything till the day we stand before Him! And I have a smile on my face because My FATHER is judging him now-and Bin Laden realizes how small he is before GOD!
Mare May 05, 2011 at 05:19 PM
Bin Laden killed military personnel in the Pentagon, but he never will again.
Eric Thomas May 06, 2011 at 01:28 PM
I celebrate the moment of his execution. I curse the moment of his birth. A monster has been sent to its' just deserve.
nan May 06, 2011 at 08:54 PM
It is not right to celebrate. We celebrate those innocent souls who lost their lives on 9/11/2001. We celebrate all good human beings who go to their heavenly reward. However, we do not mourn the end of the earthly live of a truly evil being who was executed as a self confessed killer of innocents. It is human to be glad he will kill no more. It is far different from celebrating. Nan Coll
Val May 07, 2011 at 11:13 AM
I for one am glad he is dead. Could care less he had no weapon nor do I care if it was legal. Tell all those thousands of people he killed that he should be forgiven and that is the Christian way. Oh please, how many of you buried a family member? He changed my life forever and my childrens lives as well and it was not in a good way. So yes celebrate, he took away all the joy in so many of our celebrations we have a right to feel justice has prevailed and we celebrate his death. Good riddance. Sorry....
Mare May 07, 2011 at 12:30 PM
Amen Val! The nay sayers need to tell all the children growing up fatherless and motherless and all the mothers who've lost their children, no matter how old their children were, that they should not rejoice in Bin Ladens Death! It is human to rejoice in the death of evil when we watched the evil deeds committed before our eyes! Every person in uniform, whether military or emergency services is rejoicing and rightly so.
tedac May 10, 2011 at 06:45 PM
One needs to ask ourselves whether or not their would have been the same celebration if we had just captured Bin Laden instead of killing him. My guess it would have been the same. With that; I think most people were celebrating the finality of this disgusting waste of a human being and that he finally got what most everyone thought he deserved; and the fact that the U.S. Military were the ones that did it was even better. My son is a cadet at West Point and one of the reasons he is there is because of 9/11. He celebrated because his fellow servicemen who enlisted to protect and serve this country were able to fulfill one of their duties. My question to the writer of this article is the following: Now, who are you to question that? I say you just stand down and give him a salute.
Julie Larralde May 18, 2011 at 11:45 PM
This just blows my mind!!!

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