As it became apparent that the President had called an unexpected address to the nation to announce the death of Osama bin Laden, social networks erupted with jubilation. Shortly after that, ground zero and grounds in front of the White House, with their 9/11 connections, became gathering places for the raucous crowds.
For a night, so many of this mostly divided nation were united… over a death. Not just united, joyfully so.
“He’s won,” I thought. One of bin Laden’s primary goals was to cause terror in the US and he has. Not buildings collapsing terror. Not dirty bombs exploding terror. What happened was more diabolical than that. We lost our humanity…or we lived vengefully into it, whichever way you care to see it. We gave into our primal instinct. We answered blood-lust with blood-lust, vengeance with vengeance. We solved the problem of murder with murder. As Dr. King once noted, “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.”
I know that is not a popular point of view and I fully recognize that this post will probably evoke more negative responses than positive, but in looking at the teaching of Jesus, I do find it to be a solid biblical point of view. I do not ask you to see it the way that I do. I just need to give voice to it.
I was even more bereft in watching so many of my dear Christian friends quote the Bible in order to justify their understandable need to rejoice that this man, who seems to be the devil personified for most people, was brought to his end – violently. I even sort of understand why they sought out Bible verses: because there was a part of them, the part that is a reflection of God, the part placed in each human as God metaphorically breathed the very breath of God into each of us, that knew this was wrong in the eyes of God. Their humanity needed to overcome the piece of divinity that was trying to speak out.
That piece of our humanity that so easily gives into hate, vengeance, anger, retribution, and blood-lust is the most powerful weapon that a man like bin Laden has. It divides not only nations but the world. It divides not only communities but it also divides individuals against their better selves.
People who would never intentionally cherry pick Bible verses were using text out of context to justify their actions rather than using the verse to guide their actions. Saying things like, “live by the sword, die by the sword,” to give vengeance a biblical sounding edge, never realizing that those kind of swords cut both ways. It divides nations. It divides our very spirits. That is a powerful weapon.
Worse yet, (at least from a Christian perspective), seeing the death of anyone as redemptive reduces love to a trite keepsake, a bauble, a plaything of convenience. Even on the cross it was not the suffering that was redemptive, it was the love of the one who laid down his life for his friends and the love of God that was redemptive. When we try to make violence redemptive (and we can only try, because it never will be), we make violence the end all be all. We elevate it above love… and when we do that, we elevate it above God who is love. We make it a religion unto itself.
It was good to see cooler heads begin to prevail in Christian communities the day after, but this isn’t the first time we have lived into that human instinct to try to make violence redemptive. I am left to wonder, will we resist the urge the next time? Because there will be a next time.
I agree with Rob Bell, love wins. Hate begets hate. Fear begets fear. Violence begets violence. Love begets love.
“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” -MLK
(UPDATE: As expected, I’ve received many more negative responses than normal. The largest majority of them actually proved part of my point by being mostly hateful and verbally violent. The ones that were primarily name calling have been deleted. Negative responses that do not leave their real name and email will also be deleted. For now, I’ll leave the comment section open. If necessary, I will switch to approving comments before they are posted. I welcome negative feedback. I do, however, insist it avoid name calling and that it is a response and not an attack.)