New on NewsReal – Justice or Revenge? The Morality of Celebrating Osama bin Laden’s Death

My latest NewsRealBlog post:

Most of the nation is still celebrating the elimination of Osama bin Laden, the monster behind one of the worst days in American history. Some are relieved bin Laden can no longer aid the jihadist cause; others take pleasure in knowing the suffering he caused us has been partially repaid.

But at least one voice is having none of it. At the Huffington Post, “specialist in transformational change” (whatever that means) Dr. Pamela Gerloff writes that celebrating bin Laden’s death is mentally unhealthy and geopolitically dangerous:

“Celebrating” the killing of any member of our species–for example, by chanting USA! USA! and singing The Star Spangled Banner outside the White House or jubilantly demonstrating in the streets–is a violation of human dignity. Regardless of the perceived degree of “good” or “evil” in any of us, we are all, each of us, human. To celebrate the killing of a life, any life, is a failure to honor life’s inherent sanctity.

Plenty of people will argue that Osama Bin Laden did not respect the sanctity of others’ lives. To that I would ask, “What relevance does that have to our own actions?” One aspect of being human is our ability to choose our own behavior; more specifically, our capacity to return good for evil, love for hate, dignity for indignity. While Osama Bin Laden was widely considered to be the personification of evil, he was nonetheless a human being. A more peaceable response to his killing would be to mourn the many tragedies that led up to his violent death and the thousands of violent deaths that occurred in the attempt to eliminate him from the face of the Earth; and to feel compassion for anyone who, because of their role in the military or government, American or otherwise, has had to play a role in killing another. This kind of compassion can be cultivated, as practitioners of many different spiritual traditions will attest […]

It is hard not to think that some of the impulse to celebrate “justice being done” may also contain a certain pleasure in revenge–not just “closure” but “getting even.” The world is not safer with Osama Bin Laden’s violent demise (threat levels are going up, not down); evil has not been finally removed from the Earth; the War on Terror goes on–so any celebration must be tempered with the sobering fact that much work still needs to be done to establish peace.

There’s a lot to unpack here, most of it awful. But first, for the sake of fairness and decency one fair point must be acknowledged: If we truly recognize the intrinsic worth of all human life, we have to recognize that even the worst among us have souls, warped and polluted though they may be, and be careful not to think casually of any killing—even just and necessary killing, as bin Laden’s death clearly was. Now, I’d be lying if I told you I haven’t found some satisfaction in the confidence that Osama now knows the afterlife isn’t quite what he expected, but I also have to admit those thoughts don’t live up to the standard my Savior has set for me.

So we shouldn’t take pleasure in exacting bloody vengeance, but there is another aspect to the celebration that is entirely appropriate.

Read the rest on NewsRealBlog.

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