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Paul Brandeis Raushenbush Headshot

Celebrating a Death

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It is a strange and conflicting emotion to celebrate a death. My professed beliefs include the redemption of evil and the potential good in all humanity. Yet I felt a sense of exhilaration when I read the headline "DEAD" about Osama bin Laden.

For the last 10 years Osama bin Laden has exemplified the absolute worst of religion. He was a fundamentalist and a zealot in his own belief and willing to kill those who believed differently; he recruited young people into his ranks by preying on their despair; and he carried out violence in the name of God. Through actions and belief, Osama bin Laden profaned the name of God and denigrated all people of faith.

Osama bin Laden never felt any remorse for his murderous ways and the heartbreak that trailed behind him. He viewed his actions as part of a struggle that allowed him to transcend any moral concerns. He and his followers routinely slaughtered the innocent. He was ruthless in using faith as a means to the very worst ends. To reiterate what the President said in his announcement of bin Laden's death: "Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader, he was a mass murderer of Muslims." His death is satisfying not only because of what he did, but because it prevents him from doing any more violence in the future in the name of religion.

When I think of bin Laden I think of evil.

But I have to be careful in my celebrations of bin Laden's death. I was a chaplain at Columbia University during Sept. 11, 2001. Two days after the attacks, some of my students put on an art exhibit in response called Peace Kitchen. In one piece a student had put a film of bin Laden's face over a mirror so we saw our own face staring back at us through his. The point was not that there was equivalency between bin Laden and us, but to acknowledge that evil is not something that only exists outside of us that we can point to and kill once and for all. Evil doesn't work like that. All humans have the potential for grace, but we also all have the potential to sin and do evil. It is a tempting yet dangerous practice to look around the world for evil people and target them. That is just what Osama bin Laden thought he was doing. We must be vigilant that we do not become what we despise. We must be careful in the way we use religion and the name of God to further our own causes or to ever manipulate people into hate.

So, let us mute our celebrations. Let any satisfaction be grim and grounded in the foundation of justice for all who have suffered at bin Laden's bloody hands. And also justice for crimes against God -- for using God as an instrument of terror and and promoting distrust between peoples of different religions and nations. Let us put bin Laden's body in the ground, and in doing so bury his disastrous and blasphemous religious legacy.

Ultimately, judgment is not ours to make. But I believe in a just God and I believe that Osama bin Laden, for all the talk of rewards in heaven, will not be enjoying his meeting with the God of Creation.

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