Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Reflections on death, Bin Laden, human nature, and thanatology

A week ago Osama Bin Laden, probably the most infamous and likely the most dangerous terrorists in the modern world, was killed during an assault/raid on his lush Pakistan compound.

Shock and unbelief were my first two reactions. Could this be for real? We hunted him for near a decade. I guess I just never expected he'd be found, caught and/or killed. Millions of people across this country and many others celebrated. Parties, drinking, music, all manner of craziness let loose.

President Obama was quoted saying, "Justice has been done." Not trying to nit-pick, but I believe the proper words would actually be, "Revenge has been done." I mean, don't we Americans believe that justice includes a trial, witnesses, a judge and all that mess? Of course, everybody and their mothers know that had Bin Laden been tried he would have been quickly convicted and swiftly killed by the death penalty (costing the state mucho dinero in the end, I might add).

I heard one report that Bin Laden was unarmed and shot in the face. Don't know what is true, though.

In my almost two years as a hospital chaplain I've seen a fair amount of death. Dead people, people about to die, actively dying, and some dying so slowly and subtly that you cannot pin-point the moment when they actually died. Some families are relieved, but most are grieved. Some reminisce on the good times, and some painfully admit that because of the person's addictions/character-flaws/etc there were few, if any, 'good times.' I've seen graceful death, horrific death, painful and peaceful deaths.

Never have I seen death celebrated.

And so, when I heard that Bin Laden was confirmed dead, and it was time to 'partay,' I hesitated. Yes, I felt a sense of relief to hear this terrorist was no longer a threat. I was glad. The revenge in me got a sense of satisfaction. I thought about all those families of the 9/11 attacks and what they must be feeling. I was sad that we lived in a world where we shoot one another in the face. I was sad that we celebrate such things. I was a bit shamed that I too wanted to celebrate. I wondered (and still wonder) what this might mean. A mix of emotions, and I don't know what to make of it all.

I wonder how God receives Osama bin Laden. There are those who believe that only Christians will experience God's grace after death. There are those who believe all people will be welcomed by God after death. I'm sure most Americans would balk at the thought, even the minute suggestion, that it is remotely possible that God might welcome Osama bin Laden (a deeply wounded and broken human) lovingly. I want to believe in a God who can do, who would do, who is capable of, this. Is Bin Laden in hell? Perhaps he lived in a form of hell? Is he now sentenced to endure unending conscious torment in a firey hell? I strongly question whether such a place actually exists. Whether God could tolerate such a place.  

The opposite of judgment is compassion. Both judgment and compassion are natural human responses to differing situations. Is it possible to find any sense of compassion for bin Laden? I struggle to. Would Jesus have compassion for him? So many questions. And, we want answers to them all. So many feelings of joy over a persons death. Revenge, solemness and satisfaction wash over me. A mix of emotions and thoughts so tangled they'll never be unwound and understood. But, isn't that human nature?

I wonder what your reactions are to Bin Laden's death. To this blog post?


Audrey said...

I'm currently struggling with the idea that all human life should be valued equally. Some people make mistakes and feel remorse and deserve second chances. Some people meticulously plan a massive hit against the US and have no remorse and continue to make violent plans. I think we all probably have the capacity for evil, but some people nurture it. Should we not be relieved when evil is taken out of the world?

I admit i am biased in this case. I am an American, and i feel that any hatred bin Laden or his followers have towards me is unjust. I wish i could understand, just a little, why the hatred is there, why he is so certain that we do not deserve to live.

My reaction can be summed up as: relief. Relief that this chapter is over for the US. Relief that Al Queida does not have very clear leadership now that bin Laden is dead.

I do think it is just. Trials, witnesses, a judge, etc, all exist to make sure a person has a fair trial. Fair trials allow a person to defend themselves, to present evidence to prove their innocence. It prevents the government from just handing out verdicts b/c it thinks you are guilty. It is important, in general. That Osama did not get one, though, does not make his verdict (death) unjust. We know he was guilty.

One other thought - is getting shot in the face any worse than getting shot in the heart? Being shot in the face is probably less pleasant and more jarring for those who witness it, b/c our faces are the most recognizable parts of us. But, dead is dead, and by all accounts it happened quickly so it was not inhumane.

Anonymous said...

I have had to think about this one. I too felt relief, but I also must admit I have feelings of anxiety because I know there are further attacks planned and the threat is not gone.

As far as a trial, jury, etc ... and I think about the incredible expense our country has already incurred because of him ... and about the fact that he had already "plead guilty" ... I believe we showed him far more mercy than he showed the thousands of Americans in the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and those in the plane that went down in Pennsylvania.

Revenge? Perhaps .. justice .. not yet .. not really for those family members who lost someone that day or in the 10 years that have followed with our military putting their lives on the line continually. There will only be justice when the threat is gone ... but I doubt that will be in our lifetime .. if ever.

Heaven or hell? bin Laden reportedly was not a very religious man. I know he hid behind a religious ideology, but I doubt he was committed to anything but his own way of thinking and unfortunately has a multitude of loyal followers. So I think about the thief on the cross who was promised heaven in that eleventh hour because of the remorse (or at least he owned the things he had done wrong) so I too want to believe that bin Laden as well was able to conjure up some remorse for what he did and likewise ask to be remembered in paradise, but I have my doubts.

Do I think he was a broken man? Absolutely .. I feel like it was only because of his hatred and brokenness that he was able to order such atrocious things against other people. But just because he was broken doesn't mean he is excused of the evil. As was previously mentioned, he nurtured it and showed no remorse.

Just a few thoughts ... Momma T

Robert L said...

I agree with most of your post whole-heartedly. Compassion is what keeps the world from going up in flames.

I don't know that we should have put our people through the humiliation of having to bathe and honor such a person when he would probably cut their heads off and tape it? Hopefully they took volunteers and someone was selfless enough to rise to the occasion.

I don't know that a trial would have been appropriate, unless it was a military tribunal. Our Constitution and Bill of Rights protect citizens of America and guarantee them a trial so the people in power can't just have citizens beheaded, jailed, framed, etc.. Bin Laden, however, was not a citizen who went off on a killing spree. He declared war against America and therefore was dealt with as a soldier of a foreign army.

If he was in fact unarmed, then shooting him in the face was probably not the best action, especially if they were going to broadcast all over the news the same night. Maybe he was going for an AK or a detonator and they stopped him.

Should we even know that he was killed? Probably not yet. They call it black ops for a reason and now all the terrorists know that we have all of the hard drives and intel from the "mansion" (large dump). It doesn't seem very strategical to let the enemy know exactly what you are up to.

I could expand on this but for the sake of keeping the peace, I will refrain. Have a great day.