Monday, May 2, 2011

The Death of a Man, the Death of a Myth

I have no pleasure in the death (execution? assassination? can we call a spade a spade?) of bin Laden but I am immensely grateful that he is no longer able to provoke the ruination of lives, families, social systems and countries. I still have hope that he can find the redemption of God, however that happens.

I feel a wary relief in the face of ongoing political realities. But, also I feel a clean, fierce joy for the resolution of a chapter of grief for those who lives were destroyed by bin Laden's megalomania. I regret that it was required of us (us in the collective humanity sense, not the political entity of the US) to kill him to protect, respect, and accept the people he threatened. But sometimes that is necessary—we cannot honor the holiness of humanity in the one at the expense of the holiness of humanity in the many.

I can have no room to gloat—that is as irresponsible for me as letting an abuser continue abusing, it makes me as spiritually abusive as the dead one—but neither will I feel guilt for my terrible gladness nor condone guilt for those unable to separate gloating from a deep-seated satisfaction at a horrible job finally accomplished. 

Someone pointed out the contrast between these two verses: 

 Proverbs 11:10 (New King James Version) “When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices; And when the wicked perish, there is jubilation” and 

Prov. 24:17 "Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles lest the LORD see it and be displeased." I don't think there is necessarily a contradiction here. There can be jubilation at the cessation of the wicked one's evil machinations that is not a rejoicing in the degradation and humiliation of the enemy. Too often, I agree, the two are combined in one long, vicious scree of sadistic joy, but it is not inevitable.

I’m frustrated with both those who glory in the death of bin Laden, gloating at his assumed eternal torture in hell, and those who heap guilt on anyone not saddened and burdened by the death.   Those who gloat demonstrate that the line between good and evil runs right through each of us and that sometimes the good and the evil masquerade as the other.  Those who heap guilt make no distinction between gloaters and those who take grim satisfaction in a necessary gory responsibility to take life in order to preserve life.  When we preach about the sanctity of life of perpetrators of this magnitude (those who will not be socially redeemed by lesser means than death) and claim that it is not our place but God’s to order their death, we denigrate the sanctity of the lives he destroys.  When abusers are protected more than his victims, something is seriously wrong.

When, as is sometimes the case as it was here in bin Laden's, it is necessary to end a life in order to preserve, protect and cherish other lives, I am willing to accept responsibility for that killing—whether it requires my personal participation or my spiritual ownership. But along with that acceptance of responsibility—and no little satisfaction at its accomplishment—comes the responsibility to be creating a world where bin Ladens are universally unacceptable and unable to flourish and where the victims of bin Ladens (which all of humanity has been to some degree or another) are given the resources to grieve, to heal, to love. 

May this event be not only, as I heard someone report on National Public Radio, “the punctuation at the end of an old story”, the last gasping of a lust for reactionary radicalism, but also the end of an era marked by tribalism and parochial terror.  May we all channel our passions into compassion, love and service.  


  1. These are excellent, balanced thoughts Sandra. Thank you for sharing this with us. It has been interesting (and somewhat troubling) to read the reactions today of many of my online connections. I raised the following question on another page earlier today, though I'm not certain I phrased it in a way that provokes the thought intended: "Are we more satisfied that justice has been served than we are that the man won't be able to continue his dastardly deeds?" I posed the question as a result of so many people revealing such a strong interest in his demise as a means of justice being assured. Hmmm... I may be nitpicking, but to me there's a huge difference.

  2. DaveLou, yeah, that is a big part of my take on today's frenzy as well. The two can look so very similar but the difference between them is a vast chasm.

  3. This was so well written, friend. I am glad you are in the world.