Thoughts from my “Journeys Home” blog…. The reactions to Osama bin Laden’s death have ranged from joy and jubilation to relief, to an interesting and appropriate soul-searching about whether celebrating the death of a human being, even a vicious and hateful one, is proper. A large celebration happened at University of Missouri, for instance, where students waved flags, drank champagne, tossed toilet paper, and lit sparklers. Another celebration at Webster University, though much quieter, featured 3000 American flags arranged around campus. (http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/education/article_bea4f3dc-74f2-11e0-8ec0-001a4bcf6878.html) The Webster U. president (my wife) issued a statement affirming the diversity of the university and its values as “a welcoming institution that values differences.”
A good United Methodist news story expresses some of the emotional and theological responses to the death: http://www.umc.org/site/apps/nlnet/content3.aspx?c=lwL4KnN1LtH&b=2789393&ct=9380133 And still another story highlights theological challenges for pastors, imams, and rabbis: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rabbi-justus-n-baird/the-bin-laden-sermon-imam
At the Christian Century website, Yale theologian Miroslav Volf quoted a friend who had cited Proverbs 24:17, Ezekiel 33:11, and Matthew 5:44. The friend said, “After 9/11 I found it very hard to bring myself to pray for Usama [sic] bin Laden. but by God’s grace I did because Jesus said I must. And though I am tempted to rejoice today, I will not because Jesus said I must not.” Another friend had written Volf, who worried about whether “God’s justice” is achieved when foreign troops carry out a mission in another country. “All my instincts were, and are, to sigh with relief, even, in a measure, to celebrate. But my mind warns that this is a dangerous precedent in principle and an extremely dangerous action in terms of possible unintended consequences.” (Quoted from: http://www.christiancentury.org/blogs/archive/2011-05/fear-and-relief )
It’s true that the Bible says love your enemies—the living Christ helps us to do so, many times painstakingly and over the long haul—but the death of an enemy elicits a normal emotional process, including relief and joy. 9/11 was a national tragedy of horror and grief, and some of the emotions of the past days (though certainly not destructive feelings like hostility toward Muslims) are part of a healing process, if not “closure.”
Like many people, I struggle with a sense of Jesus’ vision in combination of (as Reinhold Niebuhr put it), “what kind of world we are living in” (quoted in http://www.tnr.com/blog/the-plank/obama-niebuhr-and-us-politics ). Patriotism, religious values, and emotions mix in my mind and heart.
When writers worry about the use of violence to combat violence, and the problems of American exceptionalism, I wonder what specific alternatives they would offer toward someone like bin Laden that would bring him to justice and save people from further menace from him….
True, Jesus teaches us to love enemies, but what about enemies who are mass murders who caused untold grief and misery? Jesus showed (and shows) care and compassion on the suffering and grieving, after all, and disapproved those who imposed burdens of suffering upon others …
And I feel grateful for soldiers who sacrifice so much. Just a couple years ago I chatted with a man (at the mall) who was wearing a Korean War Veteran cap, and I thanked him for his service. His eyes grew misty….
And yet…. I agree that the use of violence against violence is a hellish, endless treadmill of destruction….
Somehow, something approximating world peace must be achieved, and the Lord shows us the way….
And yet I wonder how is God’s justice carried out in the world, given Romans 13:1-7 (which I haven’t seen quoted in these discussions, although I haven’t done any kind of thorough web search)….
And then… I think how complicated are historical trends, resisting easy solutions. For instance, some of the Middle Eastern situations of today have historical roots in international relations, and decisions both good and bad, going back over a century (e.g., the United States’ traditional support of the State of Israel has helped Jews have a homeland and yet perpetuates an Arab sense of humiliation and hostility in the Middle East)….
And I agree with my wife’s statement that our diversity of voices and opinions must be honored and preserved. Getting along and honoring one another’s viewpoints begins at home….
And….I wonder what are real, workable alternatives to international relationships, more helpful for the long term than American (or anyone’s) military confrontation. For instance, for a curriculum chapter on global security that I wrote last year (1), I read portions of John Steinbruner, Principles of Global Security, Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institute Press, 2000. Steinbruner notes that an “[a]ctive confrontation is an ingrained American inclination,” and having a “designated enemy” has been an “organizing focus” for our own security policy.(2) But, again, the present possibility of “diffuse violence” is too widespread for the U.S. and its allies to address solely through confrontation and intimidation.(3) Altogether, he argues, “One of the most fundamental implications of globalization is the shift in the balance of reliance in security policy from deterrence to reassurance, from active confrontation to cooperative engagement.”(4)
…. And all these things are ways my head and heart go back and forth. “Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say,” says Edgar in King Lear. But that’s not quite right. We need to speak both: how we feel, and what must be said, our real emotions (including the shameful ones) and more excellent ways to which God guides us. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations (Rev. 22:2).
I do very much appreciate these words from the same source by Miroslav Volf: “We are right to feel a sense of relief that a major source of evil has been removed. But we should reflect also on the flip side of that relief: the nature of our fears. As the King hearings and state-level anti-Sharia bills indicate, many people in our nation find themselves under a spell of a ‘green scare’ analogous to the red scare of the 1950s. But fear is a foolish counselor….”
Brian McLaren, who quotes this paragraph of Volf’s, also notes (alluding to the work of Rene Girard), that “We can unite our party, if not our nation, around common aggression against shared fear—even if we can’t unite them around a common vision around shared values. This trade in the currency of fear sets us up for a boom-bust cycle not unlike our economic cycle, ad not unlike the vicious cycles of agony and ecstasy known by addicts.”
He goes on: “At what point do we Americans temper the celebration of our victories with concern about what we are becoming? At what point do we notice that for us the word ‘justice’ is harder and harder to distinguish from ‘revenge’?” He expresses respect for those who took risks “to end bin Laden’s reign of terror” but warns again about the subtle and long-range destructiveness of fear (http://brianmclaren.net/archives/blog/who-will-be-the-next-monster-for.html). I think I’ll reread portions of Steinbruner’s book (published in 2000) and think about some of his suggestions in light of our current struggle against terror and the difficulties of our national debt.
1. The curriculum “Faithful Citizen” will be published later this year: see http://www.congregationinpubliclife.org/DVDCurriculum.html
2. Steinbruner, Principles of Global Security, 225.
3. Ibid., 229.
4. Ibid, 18.