Osama Bin Laden and Our Culture of Death

I might be the only person on Earth besides a terrorist to feel sad when I found out Osama Bin Laden was dead.

It wasn’t because I liked the guy. It was because I woke up at around 1am last night to shouting, chanting, and even some illegal fireworks outside my window. Groggy and annoyed, my husband and I wondered what it was about and then went back to sleep (we were REALLY tired).

When we got up in the morning, we found out the celebration was because a man had been shot in the face.

I lived in post 9/11 New York City, and I hate what happened that day. Like many people, the images from that morning are still off-limits for me because of the emotion they bring up. Osama bin Laden was a hate-filled man who did horrible things, and it’s very good news that he is no longer a threat to anyone.

But mass celebrations in the street over death is just weird to me. It’s unnatural, no matter how evil the person. If terrorism had been defeated, that’s one thing. But terrorism lives on, and is arguably just as threatening now as it’s ever been. No, what happened was a man was shot in the face. A man who Christianity claims was made in the very image of God – and yet our “Christian nation” wanders the streets in jubilee along with everyone else. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you is void, on-hold, forgotten for a moment’s guilty pleasure of chanting “USA” with the crowd.

My friend Josh wrote on Facebook:

“When I eventually have a three-year-old, I hope I can explain complicated and difficult things such as why people are happy about Osama bin Laden’s death.”

A friend of his wrote back:

“Try explaining to him or her why someone like Bin Laden has killed so many innocent people, or why he has specifically targeted American troops.”

Explaining either sounds impossible, because children should never be capable of wrapping their minds around our culture of death, nor should we want them to. For a few fleeting years they don’t have to know what it’s like to revel in the idea of hell.

In my writers’ group last week we were talking about children having faith crises. A friend of mine told a story about how, when he first found out about hell, he would lie in bed at night and pray that God would take him instead of all of those people who didn’t know.

If that’s how a child deals with hell, Lord, make me a kid again.

I’m afraid that the only real winner here is the Devil.

I’m afraid that in our glorying we are revealing a side of ourselves that is twisted and rotting. We have lost all sense of justice when we – a people in the middle of 3 undeclared wars in nations not our own – ask God to shoot fireballs from heaven on our enemies and don’t feel a little bit afraid for ourselves that God might not be too happy with us either right now.

We depend on death like a mother to its child. It follows us around like a close friend. Something has to die for every bite of food we eat, and something has to die for every piece of clothing we wear. We fill up our own news with drive-by shootings, domestic abuse, death tolls from recent storms, and obituaries, because that’s what’s happening and what people will watch. Internationally, we are plagued with multiple wars, rape as a weapon, mass grave discoveries, thousands dead from natural disasters.

The point is, death is our always present moment, and our always-enemy. Death is what makes Osama bin Ladens.

We are wrong to celebrate it, because celebrating death celebrates what makes us into a kill-or-be-killed human race.

May we become a people who light fireworks and flood the streets with chanting about radical life lived well.

9 Responses to “Osama Bin Laden and Our Culture of Death”
  1. While Bin Laden did some terrible things and one might easily say that the world is a better place without him, it certainly does feel strange that people are so openly celebrating a man being killed. I understand why people are relieved and I too feel that the world is a little bit safer today but I cannot bring myself to celebrate a killing. At this time I find myself thinking about those whose deaths he was responsible but I also find myself thinking about those who were killed in Afghanistan in an attempt to catch him. To many innocent people have died.

  2. Claire says:

    Important thoughts. I am trying to find a word for the emotion. I guess I am glad that he has been found, but it feels odd and as you’ve pointed out, rather wrong and ungodly, to be glad he’s dead. The war isn’t over, terrorism still exists, and we have to grapple with death. That won’t end any time soon.

    I’ve been talking with friends returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan about the emotions they feel for the people they encounter. There is so much… let’s call it negative sentiment… in the wake of serving in these countries and working with the people. This is deeply saddening to me, and I don’t know what to do about it. Many of them say distance helps, but what happens when they return, and return again? And what is the solution to this? If we can’t simply LEAVE and get out of Afghanistan and Iraq, then what can be done to combat hatred and prejudice? What can stop the feeling that certain people deserve death, and others don’t?

    What is hardest, in many ways, is what you’ve pointed out. Osama, too, was made in the image of God. Christ died for Osama, too. I don’t like that. I don’t like to have to acknowledge that people I deem as evil are covered by God’s grace if they will (or He wills… but that’s not the point). But then, when that simply means I’m ignoring the reality of my deeply fallen state and continually sinful choices.

    Thanks for the reminders and thoughts.

  3. Megan says:

    FWIW, when I heard the news this morning I, too, wondered at the jubilation. I think that the impulse to rejoice because justice has, in a sense, been done is a good and natural impulse; God is just, too. But my predominant reaction to the news this morning–especially to the news of celebrations that bin Laden had been killed and that justice had been done–was the thought that if this is justice, it’s incomplete. The death of bin Laden can’t restore the lives of the people killed in the Twin Towers; it can’t restore the lives of all of the soldiers who have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it can’t restore the lives of the civilians who died as “collateral damage.”
    So, I guess, I’m thankful that ultimately, justice belongs to the God, and that the resurrection of Christ means that death has been defeated, and that God will deal justly with the world. And, that Christ bore the just wrath of God against sin, so that we can look to the Day when there will be no more death.

  4. Bobbi says:

    I, too, find it unsettling that some are celebrating death. How does that make us any different than the images we see of those who celebrate the death of an American, say a journalist, when killed in the Middle East? Sure, from a human perspective, one was evil, the others “good”. But I still find something wrong about it. Plus, if anyone thinks that Bin Laden’s death eradicates terrorism, they are mistaken. I’d say, more than ever, “watch out!”.

    There is something very unsettling about all of this.

    • Joanna says:

      I’m glad to find out I’m not alone! I felt alone this morning, being in DC and hearing only the celebratory side of things at first, but a ton of people have spoken up similarly since this went out, and that’s nice. I think those of us who were sad or uneasy were a little later to react, but there’s strong support for our point of view.

  5. Elisabeth says:

    I’m really glad you posted this, Joanna – I’m totally feeling the same way. It was so odd to be watching the news last night and the coverage of people out on the streets celebrating in Times Square, Union Square, and outside the WTC. I’m one on hand relieved and empathize with those who lost loved ones as a result of this man, but am at the same time so conflicted. Yes, this man epitomized evil, but celebrating someone getting shot in the face is glorifying the killing of another human being, and there’s something not right about that. The idea that justice should be served is conflicting, because I feel like it’s not man’s place to serve justice in the form of death. For all intents and purposes, wouldn’t locking him up in solitary confinement in a maximum security prison been just as effective in removing the threat that he was? Do we as a nation really want to be people who rejoice at death?

  6. Darrell says:

    Well I saw my first post death bin Laden video late yesterday. Official sources said that it was made many years ago but one wonders. Now the pictures of the dead bin Laden are admitted to be false. DNA testing on the body were at first complete but now are “underway.” Bin Laden was said to be dead of kidney failure in 2001 but now he’s dead of Navy Seals. Who knows with this or any government? Perhaps celebrations are premature but more likely just late.

  7. Sam says:

    Joanna, I really enjoyed your post. Here in collegetown in Ithaca there was celebration in the streets and fireworks and the whole deal and it struck me as a really strange response to someone’s death. I saw this Bible verse quoted in an article and I think it sums up the proper response.
    ‘As I live,’ says the Lord GOD, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.’ – Ezekiel 33:11.
    Thank you for your courage in saying what is right, even if it goes against the grain.

  8. Leah Thomason Bromberg says:

    Thank you for this post. I’ve found it difficult to watch so many celebrations of a death, especially when death has obviously caused us so much pain already.

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