Theological Reflections on the Death of OBL, part II

Hopefully Miroslav Volf’s online piece for the Christian Century will appear later today. (On FB he has posted the first and last paragraphs.) In the meantime, lots of good reflections have appeared, including those listed here by Church of Christ minister David Smith, as I commented last night.

Two main, interrelated thoughts have struck me since yesterday. First, the common theme in Congress, in the media, and on the streets seems to be that this event has pulled the diverse and factious body of people called Americans together like nothing else in a very long time.

That should give everyone, Christian or not, at least a little ethical hiccup. How sad is it when the killing of a human being is the chief cause of human unity, even for a day or a week?

But wait–and here is the irony–for us who call ourselves Christians, the killing of a human being actually is the cause of our unity, only for us it is the being killed rather than the killing, the heroic role of victim not victor, that is the source of unity.

Which leads to my second main point. The values that are drawing Americans together at this point are not, as some have tried to argue, the high moral values of justice (in a philosophical or theological sense) and commitment to the good of the world. No, they are the old-fashioned values of nationalism, retaliation, vengeance, kick-a** power (witness the Naval Academy plebes’ video), and “American” justice, complete, in some cases, with a strong dose of civil religion. That these are not gospel values should go without saying, yet many Christian Americans are blinded to this truth by this powerful, seductive nationalism.

I conclude by quoting (as a Methodist) the Vatican’s statement issued yesterday by Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman:

Osama bin Laden, as we all know, bore the most serious responsibility for spreading divisions and hatred among populations, causing the deaths of innumerable people, and manipulating religions to this end. In the face of a man’s death, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibilities of each person before God and before men, and hopes and works so that every event may be the occasion for the further growth of peace and not of hatred.

This is relatively minimalist, but good. Would that American Christians could at least take this statement as their starting point.

7 Responses to “Theological Reflections on the Death of OBL, part II”

  1. Aric Clark says:

    Can’t wait to read Miroslav Volf’s article, but we’re pretty proud of our contribution to this discussion:

  2. Lee Wyatt says:

    Thanks, Mike for these thoughts. My own brief reflections are at my blog under the title “Gollum, Bin Laden, and God”.


  3. Josh Rowley says:

    I’m not Roman Catholic, but I appreciate the Vatican’s statement–it seems to me to be just right.

    On the news yesterday, a reporter in NYC said some of the people on the streets were talking about “revenge,” but that most of them were talking about “justice”–as if there is a difference between the two. Is there really a difference between revenge and retributive justice?

  4. Josh Rowley says:

    Aric’s piece, linked above, is excellent.

  5. [...] – Kevin DeYoung shares some thoughts on the death of Bin Laden here. Daniel Kirk does the same here. Rachel Held Evans here. Ryan Collins here. And Michael Gorman writes a second post on the subject here. [...]

  6. MJG says:

    Thanks, Aric and friends. There’s a lot of good theology there, but this is especially important: “That brings us to a consideration of who is our enemy. The majority of responses from Christians in America to the killing of Bin Laden have uncritically assumed that Osama is “our” enemy. That is the position of a citizen of the United States of America. Just as President Obama assured us that Bin Laden was not a representative of Islam, Osama was not an enemy of the Kingdom. We recognize that this is a scandalous thing to say, but Osama Bin Laden was a beloved child of God for whose sins Jesus the Christ died. To conflate the enemy of the nation-state in which we live with our spiritual enemy is to participate in the idolatry of the powers and principalities, which tries to convince us that our security rests in military might and economic advantage rather than the grace of God.”

    Thanks to you, too, Lee.

    Here’s the link to Miroslav’s piece:

    It’s not a stellar piece of writing, as he cobbles together the ideas of others and some of his own, but he makes one important point that has not been previously made, as far as I have seen:

    “Osama bin Laden was killed through an action that instantiates American exceptionalism. We will never consent to grant other nations (China, as an emerging superpower?) the right to intervene in other sovereign states the way we just intervened in Pakistan. As believers in the one God, Christians are universalists. We should not ourselves exercise rights we are unwilling to grant to others. This basic principle of morality should apply to international relations as well.” (Or, more pointedly, from a British church leader he quotes: “How is God’s justice advanced by foreign troops acting as vigilantes in someone else’s sovereign territory?”)

    I would not word this exactly as Miroslav does, but he is certainly right about the exceptionalism.

  7. MJG says:

    Sam Wells, dean of Duke chapel and professor of Christian ethics at Duke Divinity School, has this to say:

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