Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Conflicted Thoughts on the Killing of Osama bin Laden

Dear Parish Faithful,

Christ is Risen!

You either heard the news late last night, or woke up this morning to the announcement that Bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaida, had been killed by an American operative strike. I was informed last night, so we turned on the television and, after a great deal of analysis, we heard President Obama make the official announcement of Bin Laden’s death. The speech was concise and very rhetorical in reminding us of just how Bin Laden has been perceived in the minds of the American public since 09/11/01: as a cold-hearted terrorist and mass murderer who was the mastermind behind the death of almost three thousand Americans on the infamous day. This allowed the president to make the statement that most Americans – including many Christians – would agree upon: justice was served in the intense manhunt and killing of Bin Laden. This, in turn, serves as a full vindication and justification of the operation itself.

Yet, I received two emails this morning that were both negative reactions to the images of people openly celebrating the death of Bin Laden. Is such a reaction even Christian was the basic question that was posed; and that is a good and legitimate question. In trying to think through a reaction and response, I then received a third email from Andrew Hill, one of our parishioners. Andrew’s reaction was a fine articulation (Andrew teaches philosophy at Xavier University) of some of the moral and ethical issues raised by the manner in which Bin Laden was killed; the celebratory atmosphere mentioned above that has clearly troubled some; and the Christian response to his death. Especially helpful were his comments of the balance of mercy and justice that we find in God’s activity toward the world – a perennial theological dilemma that is difficult to resolve. And, of course, Andrew mentions that most difficult of all Christian virtues: love of the enemy. Instead of writing up a commentary of my own, I am content with allowing Andrew’s “conflicting thoughts” and his balanced response serve as a good guide for trying to formulate a Christian reaction to the news of Bin Laden’s death. Please read what he has to say.

I would be willing to share any further comments about the issues outlined above, but I would like to avoid an exchange of more-or-less political comments/commentary on Bin Laden’s death (we will be able to hear and read endless analysis on that front for days to come).

In Christ,
Fr. Steven

From: Andrew Hill
Sent: Monday, May 02, 2011 11:46 AM
To: Fr. Steven Kostoff
Subject: Conflicted Thoughts

Good morning Father,

Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!

I've had a lot of conflicting thoughts this morning about the death of bin Laden. If you've got a few minutes, I'd like to vent them to you.

It seems terribly inappropriate for a Christian to delight in death, especially during this Paschal season, when we celebrate the victory of life over death. But it also seems that a Christian ought to love justice, and that rejoicing in justice is an entirely Christian reaction. So it seems that a Christian ought to be able to rejoice in the justice of this day, while at the same time mourning the tragedy that justice required death.

And it seems that for Christians, mercy must always be loved more than justice. And it would be terribly hypocritical for me to want mercy for myself, but justice for others. But it also seems that God primarily (though not exclusively) extends His mercy where there is repentance, and justice everywhere else. So if a Christian thinks that bin Laden should have been spared justice, then it seems that he is trying arrogantly to set a "higher" moral standard for men than the one we find in God Himself.

And, as Christians, we are commanded to love our enemies. Christ died for bin Laden, and every Christian should love bin Laden and pray for his salvation. But I can't help but think that he has a better chance of working out his salvation in death than he did in life.

On a normal day, I find it very difficult to take on the mind of Christ. But on days like this, I really worry about whether I even have the slightest idea of what it means to follow Christ.



  1. Thank you for sharing Andrew's thoughts - watching the "celebration" of Bin Laden's death really bothered me. What was claimed as "Justice" certainly looked more like vengeance - and the behavior of those that celebrated was a sad example to the world. Bin Laden was an evil man and his end may have been justifiable in the eyes of warfare - but to cheer it, I think, is a sad reflection on us for the rest of the world. - Martin Davis

  2. We are all miserable sinners. The death of Osama Bin Laden has provided much needed "closure" of a decade of terrorism- closure for the poor souls who were lost, and closure for a nation that has been ever changed. Although it may not be appropriate to celebrate the death of even a murderer, wasn't most of our first reactions "Finally... they found him".... and a sense of relief that he was dead? Loving your enemy can only come if christ is truly in the heart... but we all backslide and take on the sinful nature of our true selves in light of situations such as this. I felt unusually sorry for this man.. almost pity.. but would never state this to anyone in casual conversation for fear of sounding like a moron. My heart went out to all of the victims at the hand of his murderous ways as well. Possibly our reaction should be that of pity...pity for most of our fellow citizens that see themselves as more pious than they are, pity for the victims at the hand of terrorists and pity for Osama Bin Laden for not being able to find the peace of mind only christ can provide.


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