How We Respond to the Death of Our Enemies

As Americans celebrate the death of Osama bin Laden, I find myself torn.

On Facebook this morning I asked: “Can’t we find a way to break this cycle of violence once and for all?”

My question prompted a lot of thoughtful replies, but some that just make my consternation grow deeper. My more conservative “friends” informed me, rather matter-of-factly, that “the cycle of violence will never end and there are very few options except trying to kill them.”

Well, certainly, if this is our mindset — and it seems to be the prevalent one in our world — then yes, the cycle of violence will never end. But, why can’t bin Laden’s death be the catalyst for deeper thinking about how we either sink or swim together?

Because, one of my Facebook naysayers said, we can imagine a world where we recognize the humanity of all, “but throughout history people like Hitler, Mussolini, Saddam, Bin Laden and others will not let that world exist.”

Really? They will not “let” that world exist? It seems to me that statement gives the “bad guys” far too much power and responsibility. Isn’t it really all of us who have not “let” that world come into being? Instead of heeding the calls to nonviolence that figures like Jesus, Gandhi, and King have beckoned us to, it’s so much easier to give in to our baser natures and kill anything that seems to threaten us, especially if we perceive that they hurt us first — our violence is somehow “justified” when theirs was “unprovoked.”

One might hope that would-be followers of the aforementioned Christ might lead the charge in not celebrating the death of bin Laden, but a gander at Christianity Today only affirms my belief that it is we, ourselves, who “let” the violent win. Many responders touted the American supremacy line and cheered on the jeering crowds. Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), sums up the madness:

“All persons of good will can rejoice that the U.S. military has successfully ended Osama bin Laden’s career of terror. Sadly, since 9-11, many church voices have insisted that Christianity mandates pacifism. Hopefully there will be greater appreciation for The Church’s historic stance that God ordained the state to punish the wicked.

Author Rachel Held Evans, however, indicts us all: “Trying to keep in mind that how I respond to the death of my enemies says as much about me as it does about my enemies.”