Forgiving Bin Laden

All week, we have been thinking about bin Laden’s death and our reactions to the news. Emotions have ranged from joy to outrage; there have been celebrations as well as concerns about the legality of the action. Andrew Sullivan and the readers of his blog have been struggling to understand their responses to the death of Osama bin Laden.

This, from a reader, may be the most moving of all. But following the whole conversation, beginning with Sullivan’s original statements is testimony to the complexity of the question.

Eric Reitan, a Christian universalist, explores our need for cosmic retribution and concludes:

So, is Osama bin Laden in hell? Yes, absolutely. But I will not be at peace, I will not believe that justice has been done, until he is redeemed.

His essay puts me in mind of the piece by Jonathan Jones I read this morning. It’s an appreciation of Dante’s Divine Comedy.

Initial reflections on the death of Osama bin Laden

After turning in early last night, I learned the news this morning. Like many, I was troubled by the celebrations that broke out spontaneously. Many of those most affected, whose loved ones were killed directly or indirectly bin Laden or Al Qaida had a natural emotional response to news of his death. But I wonder why a celebration of this sort turned into what one commentator called a “Frat Party.” And there were other comments and actions that put this event on the level of a sports team’s national championship. We haven’t won by any stretch of the imagination. The wars that were unleashed in response to bin Laden’s actions continue; terrorists continue to plot attacks, and our freedoms diminished in the name of these wars.

About rejoicing over the death of one’s enemies:

Susanna Brooks has some brief comments

Rabbi Schmuel Herzfeld asks: “Is it wrong to feel joy at Bin Laden’s death?” and points to the talmudic story that God rebuked the angels for excessive joy when Pharaoh’s army was destroyed while the Israelites crossed the Red Sea.

My Facebook newsfeed was filled with friends posting verses from scripture about loving one’s enemy or Proverbs 24:17: “Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice.” There were also prayers for peace and prayers for our enemies.

I’ve been thinking again about just war theory–Nato’s actions in Libya have raised the issue again. The use of drone aircraft raise significant questions about the exercise of war. Paul Zahl asked whether their use was just in the context of Afghanistan; that they are now being used in Libya as well is perhaps more troubling.

Osama’s death will overshadow the news that Nato made a targeted attack on a site where members of Muammar Qaddafi’s family were staying, resulting in the death of family members. As numerous commentators have pointed out, this is a significant step beyond the original UN mandate.

One of the things that concerns me most, both about the bin Laden attack and the events in Libya is that we continue to abrogate human rights and the rule of law.

An appropriate, Christian (or even human) response to bin Laden’s death is difficult to gauge in light of our competing loyalties to family, friends, nation and Jesus Christ, and the real emotional responses we have to the news. James Martin, SJ, writes on America’s In all Things:

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.

For this is a “life” issue as surely as any other.  The Christian is not simply in favor of life for the unborn, for the innocent, for those we care for, for our families and friends, for our fellow citizens, for our fellow church members or even for those whom we consider good, but for all.  All life is sacred because God created all life.  This is what lies behind Jesus’s most difficult command: “I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

The whole thing is well worth the read.