US Catholic Faith in Real Life

UPDATE: Is Osama bin Laden's assassination "justice"?

By Bryan Cones | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

UPDATE: I did not expect this to be a popular blog, though I don't think many commenters have bothered to pay attention to what I am saying. I did not say that bin Laden should be alive, or that he was misundertood, only that using virtue of justice to describe his killing is a pretty anemic understanding of justice, and, I would argue, not a Catholic one.

Nor is it Catholic to "celebrate" the death of any human being. Bin Laden's death may have been necessary for many reasons, but it should not be cause for rejoicing, as the Vatican also pointed out. We should all grieve that this is the world we live in, indeed the world of our own making. As the Vatican statement puts it: "In the face of a man's death, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibilities of each person before God and before men, and hopes and works so that every event may be the occasion for the further growth of peace and not of hatred."

Commenters are quick to disavow any complicity in the creation of men like Osama bin Laden, but if you pay taxes in this country, buy gas, or otherwise participate in our petroleum based economy, as we all do, then you are. There is no way around it: The American way of life is petroleum-based, and we have used our power to control those parts of the world that have it. To keep control, we have empowered dictators, and a great deal of that petroleum happens to underneath the holiest ground of the world's second largest religion.

Deny it if you want, but both as citizens of this country and as Christians, we must take responsibility for our role in the world's violence if we are ever to approach anything like a Catholic vision of justice, which means a world in which every human life has a chance to flourish.

ORIGINAL POST: "Justice has been done," said President Obama last night, announcing the assassination of Osama bin Laden, a couple of his aides, and a woman used as a human shield in the attack. Is that what "justice" is?

I say that not because I don't think Osama bin Laden should have escaped punishment for his crimes. The man was guilty of murder thousands of times over. But I wonder if the president of the United States, a nation that has committed terrible and grotesque acts of grave injustice in these past 10 years, should be so bold in invoking "justice." I wish in some way the president had called the action exactly what it was: revenge for the attacks of 9/11. No need to paper it over--in fact, I think many Americans would be completely willing to acknowledge it.

I do not know what "justice" in the war on terror looks like anymore. As a nation we have strayed far from anything I might call a "just" response to the attacks of 9/11; indeed, if there is a devil, I think he must rejoice that the evil unleashed on 9/11 has borne such fruit: the destruction of two countries, the full blossoming of government-sanctioned torture, more than 100,000 further deaths, and new seeds of distrust and even hatred among members of the world's two largest religions.

As a Catholic, I can only say that I am uncomfortable with the celebration that is accompanying this death, and with the way bin Laden's body was dumped into the sea. I was happy that the Vatican today asked people not to celebrate bin Laden's death. Even if he deserved it, we are all responsible for the world that produced him, and true justice demands that we admit it.