Processing bin Laden’s Death in a Spiritual Context

Osama White House celebrationThe Rev. Bernard Poppe, my priest and friend, is more liberal than I am.  (Ditto for 98% of his flock at St. George’s Episcopal, in the deep blue town of Maplewood, NJ.)  So when Bernie started his sermon on Sunday by indicating he had mixed feelings about the death of Osama bin Laden, I was prepared to sit politely in silent disagreement.

But I found I had no quarrel with anything he said.

He said he was pleased at the news bin Laden had been killed — but then appalled by the tenor of the celebration in front of the White House and elsewhere.  He questioned his own motives: “I’m not supposed to rejoice  at anybody’s death.” He was unpersuaded by the notion that bin Laden had been “brought to justice,” because justice implies due process and an opportunity to mount a defense.  The celebrations made it seem more like vengeance than justice.  I hope I am accurately reflecting what he said — Father Poppe sometimes posts his sermons online, but this one was delivered without notes.

Father Poppe

I also reject the “brought to justice” formulation, although my reasons probably differ from Bernie’s.  The idea that the fight against Islamic jihadism is a war, not a law-enforcement issue, is a well-established conservative meme — I’ve written about it here, here and especially here.  Bin Laden declared war on America in 1996, but our government did not acknowledge that we were at war until that awful day in 2001.  Much of the Left still has not acknowledged it, although President Obama, to his immense credit, has.

My faith teaches me that Osama bin Laden was a child of God and a sinner — and that he shared those traits with me.  Few people in recent history have more fully earned a double-tap to the forehead, and yet hatred and the lust for vengeance are ugly emotions that lead to bad places.  It’s appropriate for a minister to remind us of these things.

But if we are not to celebrate death, and if we reject the law-enforcement model, I still believe there is reason to rejoice in the success of the Navy SEALs.  We cheer not for vengeance or justice, but for victory.  We did not start this war, and it is not over, but our side has won an enormously important battle.  I think we can celebrate in good conscience.

7 thoughts on “Processing bin Laden’s Death in a Spiritual Context

  1. Clap–clap–clap…

    Very well put. This subject was very hard to separate, the WWJD, and (I guess) mans natural desire to smell a little blood.

    We did deserve a victory, and God Bless the warriors and intel. community that pulled off this particular battle in a very long war.


  2. Don, thanks for the comment. I know from your blog that you are no more a fan of Obama than I am, but I would add, God bless President Obama for having the courage to make a difficult choice that could have ended very badly for him.

  3. Kirk,
    Your blog has a fair rendering of what I said and is an interesting read. I take your point about being at war and how that puts a different slant on the proceedings. I was reminded by these events of the execution of Mussolini. He was captured, quickly tried, executed and hung upside down in a public square in Milan. Again it was war and he was a monster. Justice? Perhaps. Victory, definitely. A cause for celebration…. yes, but what is appropriate?
    How do Christians celebrate the death of an enemy? “What would Jesus do” (where have I hear that before??) I can’t picture Jesus cheering over the suicide of Judas. In fact, Good Friday is all about submitting to an enemy knowing that the enemy’s victory is illusory. However, I don’t want to submit to Jihad.
    Perhaps it’s a Liberal’s fate to be unsettled by such things. Perhaps I immodestly thought we were better than our enemies, until last week we looked very much like them in their celebrations over 911. Winning at the cost of our humanity is a strange victory.
    I saw last week as a grim necessity. I can’t quite say “Hooray!”

    Thanks for posting it.

  4. We are at war… with whom? When you declare war, it is against a country as it is a political declaration. Al Qaeda is “the group”, it’s not a country or even an enclave, and not even certain individuals… but a franchise. I shared your and Bernie’s feelings. But I liked Jeff Greenfield’s comments that OBL is better dead (not that the commandos on site had a choice, they didn’t) because he would have radiated terrorism in life regardless of his venue, possibly increasing his number of followers and perhaps even activating them. And if he was a commercial then for some mistaken belief of invincibility or immortality against the US, then now he is an example of the silence in death and of having made the wrong enemies. Strategically it is easier to think of what was done, much easier than morally or politically, but isn’t that always the case. This was a police and strategic action, not a political one.

  5. Bernie, thanks for stopping by, and I’m glad you liked the post. Your comment connects with some thoughts I’ve been developing for some time about how the rules are, and in some cases should be, different for individuals and nations. As individuals we might heed Jesus’ call to turn the other cheek, but for a nation to do that would be disastrous.

    Dan, I agree with much of the middle part of your comment, but I reject the idea that “war” necessarily pits one sovereign country against another. That artificially narrow definition has now been rejected by presidents in both parties.

    To answer your question, we are at war against what I’ve tended to call Islamic fascism, although I’m starting to favor Islamic jihadism, which I used above. Islamic supremacism is another term that makes sense, and political Islam is the term favored by my favorite anti-jihad Muslim, M. Zuhdi Jasser.

    By whatever name, it is a global movement of many Muslims with diverse opinions and backgrounds — Shia and Sunni, violent and non-violent, culturally assimilated or not. It is much bigger than al Qaeda, although of course it does not include all of the world’s billion Muslims. The movement is loosely organized in some cases and entirely unorganized in others, making it much harder to defeat. Its ultimate goal is a world governed entirely by Sharia, the barbaric religious and social code spawned in seventh-century Arabia.

  6. Well, Iran has been tyrannized by a minority Islamic fascist party and we aren’t at war with them. And they enable and supply Hezbollah…best regards, I’ll keep my opinion!

  7. Dan, we’ve been at war with Iran since 1979. But by all means keep your opinion, and join me in being grateful that we live in a society where we can express our opinions freely.

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