What a night.
We turned on the TV to play some Wii, just a quick study break. And we heard.
Osama bin Laden is dead.
The news announcer kept repeating it, saying “Can you believe you are saying that sentence? Osama bin Laden is dead.”
We were shocked. I had assumed that bin Laden was long dead in a cave in a desert, the news hidden by Al-Qaeda. Or that he was still plotting terrorist missions in some cave in Afghanistan. Either way, I think we all assumed he was in a cave.
I have written before how I am staunchly against the death penalty, so my first reactions to this nwes were mixed. I felt surprised, then sad, then guilty I felt sad, then happy, then guilty I felt happy. So first, let me clear up a few things regarding my opinion on the death penalty.
I believe all death is regrettable. We were meant for life, life to the full. When people’s lives take them in directions that ultimately result in death, that is a tragedy. (Okay, I realize we all die at some point, so I guess we can exclude people who live a nice long life and die quietly in their sleep, happy to go home.) But this message is especially true in the Easter season. Catholics celebrate Easter for the 50 days after Easter, so this past week and the next several are all focused on this message of life.
We celebrate life, we do not celebrate death.
I believe there are times when people need to die. There are times when one person’s death is necessary for the benefit of the greater world. A gunman in a shoot out needs to die, a dictator who remains in power despite all other attempts to thwart his reign needs to die. But those deaths are still regrettable. Necessary, probably, but the path that lead them to this point where they needed to die is nonetheless tragic. I don’t believe that the death penalty should be used as a punishment, which is what happens in most death penalty cases, rather, it should only be used when everything else has been tried and that person’s existence is still posing a significant threat to life. (I also believe it’s a right that should only be reserved for federal governments, not states, but that’s getting off topic.)
Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live? Ezekiel 18:23
So what should our reaction be? I think it’s normal for us to fill a mix of emotions, gratitude towards those who are serving their country, hopeful that this might be a step towards peace, sadness for the deaths of others involved, sadness in remembering the deaths of people who have died from terrorism.
I am hopeful that bin Laden’s death will result in a change in the Middle East and in the world. I think it will take time to tell what the real significance of the death is other than vengence. If his death does not prevent more terror, if it does not weaken al-Qaeda, if does not liberate some, if it only serves to bring more hate and violence – then the death is pointless. There may be some symbolic significance to it, but for his death to be truly “worthwhile” it needs to bring about real change and hopefully peace.
So I don’t know if I feel happy or relieved. Emotions are just emotions; they aren’t right or wrong, and we can’t control them. I don’t want to celebrate death, but I will use this as a reminder to always be praying for peace and working to cultivate it in whatever ways I can. Peace does not come from military actions, from government, from new laws or policies. Those things can serve to make environments which are more ammenable to peace, but they do not create it. Rather, peace is created within and shared.
Celebrate life. Be hopeful for peace.