Perhaps I'm just a colder fish than usual, but it's hard for me to get all that worked up about our final success in taking out Osama Bin Laden. There's a completeness to it all, but it's hardly something that would inspire me to grab a flag and rush out into the streets cheering.
If this meant that "the war is over, and everyone can come home" it would be different, but that was the kind of victory one used to see when organized modern state fought one another, not when fighting against a diffuse guerrilla organization. Hopefully, in the long run, this causes problems for Al Qaeda, but I would tend to fear that it is, by now, the sort of organization which can survive the loss of its totemic leader pretty easily. It's not as if people will stop shooting at out troops in Afghanistan today.
At the same time, I can't help feeling rather put off by come of the "How can we be such an unforgiving country as a celebrate someone's death" and "We should all be praying for Bin Laden's soul," commentary that I've seen in a few Catholic quarters. I'm ready to agree that allowing oneself to be sufficiently consumed with hate to celebrate death is problematic -- at the same time, this particular death is perceived (perhaps simplistically, but still) as a victory that will end terrorist attacks, which is something worth celebrating. And frankly, I think it would be the rare person who would have the right disposition to pray honestly for Bin Laden's eternal repose: too often "forgiving" or "praying for" some global scale bad guy is simply a gesture of high mindedness, a sort of spiritual showing off. I can forgive bigger than you can forgive.
This is not to say that forgiving those who do huge wrongs is never honest, but I think when we make a point of "forgiving" people who did big spectacular wrongs far away from us, it's very had to do so honestly. John Paul II showed his true sanctity when he forgave his assassin. He was, after all, the one affected, and the one able to offer forgiveness in some real sense. Some random TV news watcher half a world away could refrain from filling with hate at the pope's assassin, refrain from speculating loudly on how he should be punished, but it seems to me it would be spiritual self indulgence for him to announce, "I've forgiven the pope's assassin," and similarly for me to go around saying, "I forgive Osama Bin Laden."
Perhaps I'm thinking about this wrong. It's certainly quite normal for us to pray for people we don't know when we hear about some tragedy half a world away, affecting people we'll never know or see. Yet somehow that seems different. When we pray for the victims of some attack or natural disaster far away, we do so in part through a sympathy in which we imagine such an event happening to ourselves to to those we know. We identify, thus, with their suffering, and this helps us to pray for them.
I'm not sure that many of us this side of sainthood are all that good at doing the same when it comes to forgiving wrongs. Not to say that we shouldn't try to forgive wrongs, and refrain from hate, but that it's far to easy to make a big deal about forgiving those at a distance, while scorning those near by who have different (and more human) reactions.
Perhaps the more human check on the urge to celebrate an enemy's death would be to temper any glee at the idea of Bin Laden prematurely reaching his moment of judgment before the Almighty with the knowledge that we may, each one of us, find ourselves snatched away to that final judgment at a similarly unexpected time.
Evening Note for Monday, April 24
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