Osama Bin Laden: High-Fiving His Death

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Some Americans took to the streets to celebrate when Osama bin Laden was killed.  When I saw this celebration I was initially troubled.  Should we celebrate the death of anyone?  Doesn’t the Bible say to love your enemies?  Isn’t it okay to celebrate the death of someone who lived to kill as many innocent Americans as possible?  These questions have been debated in university classrooms, Sunday school classes and sports bars throughout the community of Columbus. 

It’s a fallacy to compare the celebration of Americans with the celebration of Middle Easterners when the Twin Towers were destroyed in New York City.  The special ops team that took out bin Laden was destroying a terrorist, a fanatically evil man who didn’t blink an eye or feel even a twinge of guilt when he destroyed 3,000 innocent men, women and children.  Fanatical and disillusioned Muslims celebrated the murder of innocent children.  Americans were celebrating the murder of an evil terrorist. 

Emergent Church leader Brian McLaren expressed concern that our celebrations proved we were “simply spinning harder in the cycle of violence.”  Is he insinuating that we are no better than the terrorists and that the taking of all life is weighed by the same laws of morality?  Not so.  We have not stooped to the level of the Islamic terrorists until we drop a bomb on the mosque in Mecca.  Can it not be likened to a man who breaks into your house and murders your mother?  That is pure evil.  If you pick up a gun and defend your mother by killing the intruder are you and the killer equally guilty of breaking the moral code that protects the sanctity of life?  Is it not acceptable to take a life to protect multiple innocent lives?  Isn’t that actually what a just war is about?

St. Augustine of Hippo was echoing Cicero of ancient Rome when he taught the four elements of a just war (1):

  1.  The damage caused by the aggressor must be lasting, serious and certain.

  2. Every known possibility to end the conflict must be explored before picking up arms.

  3. The prospect of success must be a clear and likely possibility

  4. The use of weapons must be limited to eliminating the targeted primary evil.

Taking out Osama bin Laden was a just act of war.  He was identified as the aggressor and the master mind behind the fall of the Twin Towers.  The damage he caused was serious and lasting.  He had nearly a decade to turn himself in and face justice thereby saving the lives of hundreds who have died in the wake of 911.  The mission was planned well and obviously the prospect of success was promising and the assault was limited to bin Laden’s compound. 

Dennis Prager (2) addresses what seems to be a contradiction of Judeo-Christian teaching regarding our rejoicing over death.  There is a Talmudic teaching that reveals a God whose love for his creatures prevents him from rejoicing when they are destroyed:  “When the Egyptians were drowning in the Sea of Reeds, the angels wanted to sing.  But God said to them, ‘The work of my hands is drowning in the sea and you want to sing?’”  Prager points out that God was reprimanding angels, not humans.

But the book of Proverbs says, “When the wicked perish, there is joyful song.”  (Proverbs 11:10) In another place in Proverbs we read, “When your enemy falls, do not rejoice, and when he stumbles, let your heart not exult, lest the Lord see and be displeased…”  (Proverbs 27:14)  It may sound like a contradiction but Prager points out that “the vast majority of the truly evil are not our personal enemies.”  When Americans celebrate the death of a truly evil enemy like Osama bin Laden are they not actually rejoicing in the victory of good over evil.  How can that be wrong?

Perhaps there is confusion over this matter because most Americans have never experience true evil.  Corrie ten Boom survived Hitler’s death camps.   Many years later she was confronted with one of the men who perpetrated the deaths of millions including some of her family and friends.  Corrie described her struggle: “Even as the angry vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him.”  Who would know whether this man had repented of his evil?  What is known is that he had ceased participating in these evil deeds.  Corrie ten Boom took the high road by seeking the forgiveness that originates only in the heart of Christ.

In contrast, holocaust historian Saul Friedlander tells of a Jewish prisoner from Auschwitz named Arie Hassenberg.  Arie saw the aftermath of the Allied bombing of Monowitz and said, “To see a killed German; that was why we enjoyed the bombing.”  Both ten Boom and Hassenberg experienced horrendous evil at the hands of evil men.  Corrie ten Boom forgave a man who had ceased from his evil practices.  Hassenburg rejoiced to see a dead German because he embodied the present evil he was experiencing.

Osama bin Laden had not ceased his evil ways nor had he expressed any remorse.  In fact, evidence gathered from the wolf’s lair suggest he was more active than ever in planning future attacks on innocent American women and children.  To see a killed terrorist is why Americans enjoyed seeing the killing.

  1.  The Just War Theory of the Catholic Church   By Scott P. Richert

  2. http://www.jewishjournal.com/dennis_prager/article/can_we_celebrate_the_death_of_evil_people_20110524/
  3. www.kpprobst.blogspot.com
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