Bin Laden is dead and some are rejoicing. Freddie DeBoer has some wisdom to offer.
“That the good people in America want desperately to feel proud of the country again, I can understand, although “my country” is a concept I walked away from years ago. That people feel tremendous anger against a horrific person who committed inexcusable crimes, I understand. And that I am tempted to take up the flag and get with the communal program, I can’t deny. I’m human, after all. But I know how things start, and I know that, within the crowds of people crowing and whooping and letting forth with anger, hides the most dangerous impulse that ever resided in the human heart.”
I was turned on to DeBoer’s thoughts by the men of Patrol. Jonathan Fitzgerald had some good observations of his own.
“It is clear that, from all angles, the killing of bin Laden is understood as justice, but I am going to suggest that we’ve conflated our human understanding of justice with God’s justice. That Osama bin Laden is dead does not make the world a better place. It does not make us safer. It does not somehow magically remove a quotient of evil from the face of the earth. Russell Arben Fox, writing on the religious and moral implications of bin Laden’s death for Front Porch Republic says it well, “The moral plane of the universe is not somehow improved by the killing of a man.”
Death begets more death. Killing creates more killers. True, bin Laden will never again mastermind a plan to kill anyone, but someone else will. Someone else just did in the time it took to write that last sentence. And again. And again.
If we could accomplish God’s justice by killing people, if the death of an evildoer at the hand of another human is what would bring about justice, Jesus would not have come to die, but to kill…
But that’s not how God’s justice works. And it’s a good thing, too. If the punishment for evil was physical death, we would all be dead. In fact, death is the consequence of evil, but for saving grace in the person of Jesus. Death at the hands of another human is not God’s justice. It was Jesus himself who warned, “all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” This is not metaphorical language. This is a truism that was true before Jesus came, and remains true long after.
Thus, we don’t exercise God’s justice by issuing out the death we believe evildoers deserve. In fact, we hardly ever exercise God’s justice at all because it is so counterintuitive to our construction of the concept. I’ll be the first to say that I fail in this regard, so I’m not going to ask any readers to do better. But, I believe that what I can ask, what we can do, is understand the difference, and stop conflating the two.
Osama bin Laden was evil. I still twinge with pain when I remember the way I felt for months after September 11, 2001. Here on earth, he deserved to die. But, then, here on earth, so do I.”