When Your Enemies Fall

Pumping our fists in victory or celebrating in the streets is probably not the best Christian response to anyone’s death, … Continued

Pumping our fists in victory or celebrating in the streets is probably not the best Christian response to anyone’s death, even the death of a dangerous and violent enemy. The world can be relieved that a leader as evil as bin Laden can no longer plot the death of innocents. We can be grateful that his cynical manipulation and distortion of Islam into a message of division and hate is finally ended. Even if we sharply dissented from the moral logic or wisdom of the failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan of the last decade, we can be glad that a mass murderer has been stopped and brought to justice. And we can be hopeful that the face of the Arab world might now become the young non-violent activists for democracy rather than a self-righteous smirk of a self-promoting video character who tells us he is going to kill our children if we don’t submit to his hateful agenda.

But book of Proverbs clearly warns us to “not rejoice when your enemies fall.” And, in the hardest words of the gospel, Jesus tells us to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Neither of those texts have been very popular pulpit texts during the years since 9/11. So as people of faith, we don’t celebrate the death of other human beings, regardless of how twisted or evil they have become.

The chants of “USA, USA, USA” are also not the best mantra for believers who should know that they are meant to be Christians first and Americans second. It has not been an attractive feature of Christians’ response to terrorism that we have too often valued the innocent lives of Americans who have been lost more than the innocents who were in the way of our wars in response to the attacks against us. Christians are simply not allowed to so selectively value human life.

The violence of terrorism, the violence of war, and even the violent reprisal against Osama bin Laden on Sunday should all be causes for our deeper reflection and even repentance for how we have allowed the seeds of such destruction to take root and grow in our hearts and in our world. Neither does this successful action vindicate all the other violence we have committed in the name of our “War on Terror.” If anything, Sunday’s success showed the effectiveness of what were good intelligence and “policing activities” more than the endless prosecution of wars of occupation, as some have pointed out. More innocent civilians have become the “collateral damage” of our wars than than from the direct assault on civilians undertaken by bin Laden and his Al Qaeda assassins on September 11. This fact, by the standards of Just War Theory, which is at least given lip service in most churches, is a grave moral failing. Violence is always more a sign of our failures than our successes and is not easily exorcized from the world by the killing of one man, no matter how dangerous or symbolic he may be.

As long as Osama bin Laden remained at large and able to launch his hateful rhetoric, we seemed stuck in failed wars as our best response to terrorism. But perhaps with bin Laden now gone and rendered irrelevant, we can turn the page on the ten-year trauma of 9/11 and find better ways to settle our conflicts, defend ourselves, and undermine the threats against peace. I believe one of our most hopeful ways forward is to now unite across religious lines and learn again together “the things that make for peace.”


Comments are closed.

Read More Articles

Fundamentalist Arguments Against Fundamentalism

The all-or-nothing approach to the Bible used by skeptics and fundamentalists alike is flawed.

The Three Most Surprising Things Jesus Said

Think you know Jesus? Some of his sayings may surprise you.

How to Debate Christians: Five Ways to Behave and Ten Questions to Answer

Advice for atheists taking on Christian critics.

Heaven Hits the Big Screen

How “Heaven is for Real” went from being an unsellable idea to a bestselling book and the inspiration for a Hollywood movie.

This God’s For You: Jesus and the Good News of Beer

How Jesus partied with a purpose.

God’s Not Dead? Why the Good News Is Better than That

The resurrection of Jesus is not a matter of private faith — it’s a proclamation for the whole world.

An Untold Story of Bondage to Freedom: Passover 1943

How a foxhole that led to a 77-mile cave system saved the lives of 38 Ukrainian Jews during the Holocaust.

Friend or Foe? Learning from Judas About Friendship with Jesus

We call Judas a betrayer. Jesus called him “friend.”

Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.

Dear Evangelicals, Please Reconsider Your Fight Against Gay Rights

A journalist and longtime observer of American religious culture offers some advice to his evangelical friends.