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Is It OK to Cheer Osama bin Laden’s Death?

c. 2011 Religion News Service

(This story was reported by Daniel Burke, Adelle M. Banks, Nicole Neroulias, Omar Sacirbey and Alessandro Speciale.)

WASHINGTON (RNS) Jesus said “love your enemies.” If only he had said how we should react when they die at our own hands.

After President Obama announced that al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden had been shot dead in Pakistan, ebullient crowds gathered outside the White House and at Ground Zero to cheer the demise of the world’s most wanted terrorist, smoking cigars and breaking into chest-thumping chants of “USA! USA!”

Watching from her home in suburban Virginia, Christian ethicist Diana Butler Bass felt a growing sense of unease.


“What if we responded in reverent prayer and quiet introspection instead of patriotic frenzy?” she posted on Facebook. “That would be truly American exceptionalism.”

At the Vatican, too, where church leaders had just wrapped up joyous celebrations elevating the late Pope John Paul II to one step below sainthood, officials urged caution.

“A Christian never rejoices” in the death of any man, no matter how evil, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said, but instead “reflects on the serious responsibility of each and every one of us has before God and before man.”

For many Americans, bin Laden’s death was quite literally an answer to prayer. Muslims who saw bin Laden as an apostate breathed a quiet sigh of relief. Ethicists and pastors searched for the appropriate space between vindication and vengeance.


U.S. special forces did what they had to do. How everyone else is supposed to feel about it is a little less clear.

“As Christians, we believe that there can be no celebrating, no dancing in the streets, no joy, in relation to the death of Osama bin Laden,” Christian ethicist David Gushee said. “In obedience to Scripture, there can be no rejoicing when our enemies fall.”

Indeed, the Hebrew prophet Ezekiel warned that our enemies are not necessarily God’s, who takes “no pleasure in the death of wicked people,” preferring only that they “turn from their wicked ways so they can live.”

The questions around bin Laden’s demise tended to break into two different camps: Were we right to kill him? And is his death something to cheer?


For many, what set bin Laden apart was his defiance, unrepentant violence and coldly calculating designs to rain destruction upon Americans, innocent civilians and even fellow Muslims.

“While vengeance is not a responsibility of us mortals, the pursuit of justice is,” said a statement from Agudath Israel, an Orthodox umbrella group. “As believing Jews, we see in bin Laden’s demise the clear hand of God.”

In a larger sense, removing the singular threat of bin Laden can also lessen the violent threat of radical extremism and terrorism. Put another way, taking one life can save countless others.

“It is a sad truth that one man’s death can represent a step forward in the progress of human relations,” said Zainab Al-Suwaij, president of the Washington-based American Islamic Congress.


For many people, bin Laden’s guilt or innocence never needed to be adjudicated in a court of law, and an American bullet to his head was judgment enough. Scholars cautioned, however, that there’s a difference between judging a man’s actions and judging his soul.

The Rev. John Langan, a Jesuit professor of Christian ethics at Georgetown University, said killing bin Laden to prevent future attacks is morally valid, but cautioned that vengeance is ultimately a divine, not human, right.

“I knew people who died in 9/11,” Langan said. “I feel deeply the evil of that action. But I am part of a religious tradition that says that we don’t make final, independent judgments about the souls of other men. That rests with God.”


Which all leads back to Americans’ response to the death of a madman.

“You have to have compassion, even for your enemies,” said A. Rashied Omar, a research scholar at the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies.

“The Quran teaches that you never should allow enmity to swerve you away from compassion, because without compassion, the pursuit of justice risks becoming a cycle of revenge.”

Others said there is a difference between rejoicing in bin Laden’s death and finding a certain degree of satisfaction — a “subtle but important difference,” said the Rev. Jay Emerson Johnson, an Episcopal priest who teaches at the Pacific School of Religion.


“I’m not sorry Bin Laden is dead,” Johnson posted on Twitter. “That’s not the same thing as celebrating his death.”

And that, perhaps, is where Americans will live in the coming days and weeks, caught in the gray space between satisfaction and celebration, glad that bin Laden is finally gone but not wanting to dance on anyone’s grave.

“Without apology, we all sleep better in our beds knowing that Osama bin Laden is no longer a threat,” said R. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. “But celebration in the streets is something that falls short of the sobriety that I think Christians should have on our hearts in reflecting on this event.”

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment pagansister

    You’d better believe it’s OK to be glad for ObL’s death! 10 years is a long time to finally be rid of him. (tossing him in the water to dispose of the body was great—he can’t be buried as a martyr.) The man has caused the death of not just Americans during the horrible events of 9-11, but lots of others in his misguided quest. Congratulations to the men and women who carried out the mission and to President Obama for authorizing it—after being given proof that Bin Laden was where he was.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Binks

    You should be more than happy, you should be partying in every building in the U.S. CHEERING HIS DEATH!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment cknuck

    It is never okay to cheer killing weather it be by your own hands or by the hands of others. It is more worthy to grieve the life wasted driven by the very hate we seek/pray not to sink to or model to our kids.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Henrietta22

    Ethicists weren’t evident during World War 2 or World War 1 either. We were still a young nation of very patriotic Americans. We cheered when Hitler and Co. were blown up in their bunker, and said they deserved it when the bodies of Mussolini and Co. were strung up along a village St. in Italy after they had been killed. Every Island we won in the Pacific, we cheered for. All the battles in Europe we cheered for! The Atomic bomb was solemnly accepted as necessary, and we celebrated that the war was over and our relatives in concentration camps, at least what was left of them, would be coming home! Justice was served and won. The college students had it right, last night, they got out of bed and cheered and partied all night, the American spirit at least is still in them! I’m proud of my President Obama for making the right moves to find Osama, and proud of the C.I.A., The Navy Seals, and all other service men and women who completed the ten years of the hunt that President Bush and President Obama led. I can’t remember my Lutheran Pastor jumping up and down in glee during the war but he never sounded so mammby pammby as these Ministers and the Catholics in this article.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Valerie

    I don’t know.. I didn’t cheer his death. I was shocked, I think. I’m not sorry he’s dead, though. If 9/11 had never happened, and we had never known his name, the loss of innocent life connected to him wouldn’t have happened either.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Jyl

    First of all America is not a Christian country and as an America I have the right to celebrate the death of someone who enjoyed killing Americans because they thought of us as Infidels. They are not the only religion in the world…they had no right to kill people because they hate other religions and hate others right to make free choices.

    They put a woman in front of them to get shot first…women are not valued. They have the right beat their wives and kids. They are not like us, they have a culture of violence against their own families.
    Children’s Services won’t save their kids, they can’t call the police to protect them from their abusive husbands. No wonder they hate…they hate themselves. They practically castrate young girls. They hate the West.They don’t have the freedom to even choose a husband. Perhaps they are secretly jealous.

    So today I hate back…by being happy a killer died.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment cknuck

    Obama did nothing, military men did it all even though they might not get paid because of Obama’s mismanagement. Jyl proves my point with all of the “they” talk, happy killers today and sorry tomorrow when it comes back, the enemy’s memory is every bit as long as ours but we easily get distracted.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Faith Defender

    cknuck, I worked at the World Trade Center. A friend’s brother died that horrible day.
    How dare you try to take this time when Americans of all political parties should be coming together and turn into another chance to bash our President.

    You should be ashamed of yourself, but I doubt you have such capacity for self-awareness.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment jestrfyl

    Yesterday I focused some fo th service of worship on Holocaust Memorial. As part of that service I told the children, fairly bluntly, that they ought not to let people convince them to do anything violent or harmful. They should use their brains and not their muscles and might.

    Then the news of binLaden’s death came and the celebrations began. I am conflicted.

    Today the president of my seminary sent this over facebook, a scriptural reference that is Proverbs 24:17-18 that says,

    17 Do not rejoice when your enemies fall,
    and do not let your heart be glad when they stumble,
    18 or else the Lord will see it and be displeased,
    and turn away his anger from them.

    To this i would add the next two verses:

    19 Do not fret because of evildoers.
    Do not envy the wicked;
    20 for the evil have no future;
    the lamp of the wicked will go out.

    binLaden’s lamp has indeed gone out, and that is blessing. Also I recall Joel 3:9-10
    Prepare war,
    stir up the warriors.
    Let all the soldiers draw near,
    let them come up.
    10 Beat your ploughshares into swords,
    and your pruning-hooks into spears;
    let the weakling say, ‘I am a warrior.’

    The ambiguity of scripture makes it harder to know what to think and how to feel. My only thought is to turn to Ecclesiastes 3, “To every thing there is a season…” God blesses us not as we dance over the dead, but when we counter the pain and fear they caused with hope and peace. This is the dark season, and may it pass soon so we can return to life and light.

    Peace and hope to us all, as we begin to make a new future.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment cknuck

    FD this act will not bring one day back to the dead of whom there were many unjustly so, don’t get me wrong my friend I am relieved that OBL was found and brought to justice, I have never thought it is in good form to celebrate killing. You don’t know me to judge me I’ve seen more death than you can imagine guilty or innocent I never see reasons to treat killing as anything other than killing its nasty business. No joy, I’ve seen enough and been around long enough to know that joy is something else all together.

  • Pingback: U.S. Jewish Groups Welcome Bin Laden’s Death, But Urge Continued Vigilance - Belief Beat

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment HisGraceisAmazing

    Brothers and sisters remember who created everything and everyone. GOD is love! I can truly understand we feeling some sense of relief, but joy and celebration. Do you all see what is going on all around this earth? It definitely is a time for uniting, praying and earnestly seeking our Heavenly Father why He can be found. All fall short of His glory. We must all repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus to be saved by His abundant grace. His precious blood was shed thousand years ago for me and you. A wonderful gift but so many refuse. Again repent for the kingdom of God is near! Hallelujah!

  • Pingback: Osama bin Laden on our minds

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment nnmns

    “As believing Jews, we see in bin Laden’s demise the clear hand of God.”

    They see badly. It’s the clear hand of the US intelligence services allowed to do their work and the US special forces allowed to do its work under the leadership of President Obama.

    ObL was an enemy of freedom and we’ve lost a lot of freedom since 9/11 because of fear. I hope some of that freedom returns soon, but for now the terrorists won that round.

    What’s not being said in the mainstream media, of course, is that US policies toward the Middle East with our tilting way, way over toward Israel, made ObL’s recruiting ever so much easier. And we still have that same policy. I hope the Arab Spring blooms and its results take a lot of our influence in that struggle away. Our influence in the Middle East has not been positive on balance. And it’s cost us dearly.

    A bad man who longed to cause more evil and might have is dead so I’m quietly celebrating.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Concerned Citizen

    Hell Yes!!! I’m glad the bum is dead.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Loretta S. Hickman

    My country The United States of America, is a country to be proud of and it has had its negative background and done all it could to correct its negative. We are not like the people who danced in the street when the US citizen where murdered by Bin Laden and his hate filled followers. We do not dance in the street we walk with dignity and power and send a message that we will not tolerate attacks against our citizens or our country. But we dignity and strength we stand talk and let our enemies contemplate what we are capable of as we congratulate our men in uniform and our leaders for making sure that our way of life and beliefs are kept and honored.
    WE ARE A PEOPLE OF CLASS AND INTELLIGENCE WITH STRENGTH AND DIGINITY we do not behave in the manner of those who hate and kill.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Loretta S. Hickman

    My country The United States of America, is a country to be proud of and it has had its negative background and done all it could to correct its negative. We are not like the people who danced in the street when the US citizen were murdered by Bin Laden and his hate filled followers. We do not dance in the street we walk with dignity and power and send a message that we will not tolerate attacks against our citizens or our country. But with dignity and strength we stand tall and let our enemies contemplate what we are capable of as we congratulate our men in uniform and our leaders for making sure that our way of life and beliefs are kept and honored.
    WE ARE A PEOPLE OF CLASS AND INTELLIGENCE WITH STRENGTH AND DIGINITY we do not behave in the manner of those who hate and kill.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment pagansister

    jestrfyl: As always, a well written post. The Bible is indeed contains lots of contrdictions—

    cknuck, President Obama did NOTHING? Hello! He gave the final OK for the job to be done. That is something only our President can do. So, he DID do something.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Valerie

    Thank you, FD.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment jestrfyl

    Obama did nothing, like the coach of a winning team does nothing or the conductor of a great musical performance does nothing. You are so filled with venom you don’t allow anything good to heal your wounds. I am sad for you.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment cknuck

    jest, a coach knows how to play the sport he coaches because they once have played it a conductor of a great musical performance makes it great because they are a musician, it’s not venom that disturbs you it is the truth.

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