The Unsettling Response to Osama Bin Laden’s Death

Within me is a miniscule part of my heart that hoped Americans would have responded differently to the news of Osama Bin Laden’s death than they did. But I knew it wouldn’t happen. Instead, what is ironic is how we’ve mirrored things nearly ten years later.

When September eleventh happened, citizens of Middle Eastern countries shot guns in the air and burned American flags. They did this in the streets where they cheered and danced and sang.

When Osama Bin Laden was killed, Americans shot their fists in the air and waved the American flag. They did this in the streets where they cheered and danced and sang. Some outside of the White House were singing “We Are the Champions.”

We are no different than our enemy. We are just as bloodthirsty.

If the rivers continue to run with blood it is only because we, too, seek to keep its waters freshly supplied by slicing open our adversary’s veins.

Many will say we are excused, that this was necessary to prevent more death—a modern-day Hiroshima/Nagasaki or Hitler assassination plot. That merits discussion. Perhaps it did, in fact, “need to be done.”

But the reaction is uncalled for. It is outrageous. We are never to exult over a man dying. “But they cheered when our towers fell,” they’ll say. Yes, they did cheer, but that doesn’t mean we should do the same.

Some will say, “He deserved it.” By whose standards? Are we now the judge of who is to live and who is to perish? Are we to deny a person’s humanity by applauding when he dies?

“But he had no humanity. He didn’t even view other people as human beings.” That does not change that he was a human being, nor allow us to dehumanize him. But we do, and we give ourselves license to say whatever we want. Even in jest.

We do not encourage the juvenile jokes spawning out of this. Someone put the following as their Facebook status: “The new Bin Laden drink: two shots and a glass of water.” That is shameful and pitiful.

Because, as hard as it is to get into our heads, the terrorist was a child of God just as much as you and I are. While his actions did not align with the Maker’s, it does not change the fact God’s heart ached for Osama to know him. I would be flabbergasted to hear if churches were praying for such a thing to happen.

I know I never prayed for Bin Laden. That bothers me.

While I was not upset to hear the news, I was not filled with joy, either. Perhaps because it’s not like this covers over the sins of the past. As one father of a Twin Towers victim said, “This doesn’t bring my son back.” Nothing can bring him back. Only moving forward is left for us, and that can only be done with forgiveness.

Christ, while still hanging on a cross and being made fun of by his executioners right below his impaled feet, said to his distant Father, “Forgive them. They don’t really understand what they’re doing right now.” It is in the face of this forgiveness that life is altered, that foundations are shaken, that curtains of separation are disintegrated.

But people will say that would never work today. And especially on the macro level—forgiveness can’t operate in such an arena as culturally diverse and geographically wide as our planet. This is what we tell ourselves.

Perhaps, then, we are a godless nation after all. Perhaps we’ve been godless for some time. This bloodlust is not new. It has defined our country from nascence.

The systematic genocide of Native Americans, Puritan-led killings of Quakers, and scalping and slaughtering our way across the Western frontier all amount to what Richard Slotkin termed “the religion of violence,” and it is this very quintessential American modus operandi that is searingly captured in our nation’s literature by such authors as Hawthorne, Melville, Faulkner, and McCarthy. Those writers hear “Manifest Destiny,” but see barbarism.

It is also seen time and again in our cinematic culture, supported and upheld by audiences who have no problem whatsoever with violence, but rather, see it as the answer for conducting “society.” It’s cool, it’s entertaining, it’s badass, and we love it.

BBC’s Mark Mardell observed in the wake of all this that the cheers of America are typical for such a situation, given how we are “inculcated with the Dirty Harry message that arresting villains is for wimps, and real justice grows from the barrel of a gun.” Revenge is just second nature.

And we continue to try and regenerate ourselves through that violence, when in reality the most life-giving source of renewal we can find is when we wash our enemy’s feet, even while knowing that one of those twelve will still help kill us after we perform our act of service and love towards him.

To us, doing such a thing brings the words “insane,” “ludicrous,” and “foolhardy” into our heads. We do not see it as brave or even noble; we see it as submitting to the chopping block. We believe it’s completely unreasonable to do such a thing. And so we don’t even try.

As a result, there remains a wide gulf separating our current circumstances from ones hopeful of peace. We can not love our enemies when screaming our approval over their demise. We can not pray for those who persecute us when we take delight in their death. We can not effect and exemplify holiness when playing the wretched game of retribution.

Murder does not remove or balance out past murder. It only heaps up a higher body count, more grief, more anger, more wrath, and more murder in the future—that is, unless an intervention of grace occurs now. The death of Osama Bin Laden is a turning point, yes, but not in the way everybody else is using such a term. It is a crucial juncture in that mercy and understanding is needed now more than ever.

People ask, “How many more will have to die before we realize the pain we’re causing each other?” But that’s the problem: More and more deaths won’t eventually give us such an epiphany. They only move us further away from it. Only grace can bring such revelation, and these are opaque times we’ve constructed for ourselves and our future children.

I’m tired of Americans believing the Stars and Stripes are so sacred that any action taken against this country opens the floodgates of permission for us to lash back and settle the score with our weapons.

We can believe our country is about “justice for all,” but when we rejoice over men dying, the last thing we appear to be is just.

Is the death of Osama Bin Laden a “good” thing? I don’t know. Regardless of the man, I always hesitate to label the death of a human being as “good,” even if he did conjure up a long litany of grievances.

Is it too much to pray for your country to learn how to forgive? It could seem like it. But then again, we do serve a big God. Either way, America will remain a world changer; the only question is whether she will steepen hatred or be a frontrunner championing reconciliation.

Much love.

  1. Amber said:

    My parents and I were just discussing this. I love Shane Claiborne’s thoughts on this subject. He talks about what he terms “extreme grace” in Irresistible Revolution. He begins by discussing Saul’s conversion, and he notes that if we forget that terrorists are people and believe they are beyond redemption we may as well rip out half of the New Testament, since it was written by a converted terrorist.
    But, one of my favorite quotes from that chapter says, “Our world is desperately in need of imagination, for we have spent so much creativity devising ways of destoying our enemies that some folks don’t even think it’s possible…to love them.”
    I was greatly saddened by what I observed in our country after Bin Laden was killed. We desperately need extreme grace and forgiveness in our own lives; we need not be so stingy in giving it to others.

    • Nelson Shake said:

      I’m glad you brought up Paul. Our code of “ethics” today would demand he receive the death penalty before he ever could’ve started his ministry.

      I think it’s also important, too, to note how Jesus said, “Love your enemies,” without any sort of conditional quality applied to their existence. Jesus’ statement wasn’t warm and fuzzy in the sense that he admonished us to avoid having enemies (though we are to live in peace), but he very plainly acknowledged that in this life we will have enemies. Upon realizing that’s unavoidable and accepting it, we can then ask the question, “Well, now what?” and Jesus had a ready answer for that.

      • Amber said:

        I agree. I think we assume that living in peace is the same as not having “enemies.” However, Jesus does use that term unconditionally. It’s difficult to admit to having enemies if you see it as unloving; I don’t think we’ll be able to truly understand what it means to love our enemies if we can’t admit their existence to ourselves.

        On a different note, I realized (from your next entry) that you are leaving Nashville today? or tomorrow? I’m sorry I wasn’t able to say goodbye, but I am assuming I’ll see you again someday. I wish you all of God’s blessings in Georgia. I think grad school is going to be an amazing experience. It’ll be interesting to watch your writing develop, as well.

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