Osama Bin Laden — a man whose purpose in life was to inflict death and suffering on as many innocent people as possible — was finally killed, and much of the Western world’s religious and secular elite have expressed moral objections to those who celebrated this death.
Pastor Brian McLaren, named one of Time magazine’s “25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America” in 2005, expressed this objection. Reacting to television images of young Americans chanting “USA! USA!” the night bin Laden’s death was announced, the pastor wrote, “I can only say that this image does not reflect well on my country. … Joyfully celebrating the killing of a killer who joyfully celebrated killing carries an irony that I hope will not be lost on us. Are we learning anything, or simply spinning harder in the cycle of violence?”
And CNN reported the objection of an Episcopal priest, Danielle Tumminio, whose Long Island neighborhood lost scores of people in the 9/11 attacks.
When she saw images of Americans celebrating, “My first reaction was, ‘I wish I was with them.’ … My second reaction was, ‘This is disgusting. We shouldn’t be celebrating the death of anybody.’ It felt gross.”
Likewise, many Jews, including rabbis, have cited traditional — though seemingly conflicting — Jewish attitudes regarding how to react to the death of evildoers.
One frequently cited source is a famous one from the Talmud: “When the Egyptians were drowning in the Sea of Reeds, the angels wanted to sing. But God said to them, ‘The work of my hands is drowning in the sea, and you want to sing?'”
Also cited is the biblical Book of Proverbs: “When your enemy falls, do not rejoice, and when he stumbles, let your heart not exult.”
On the other hand, the Talmud also states, “When the wicked perish from the world, good comes to the world.” And the Book of Proverbs also states, “When the wicked perish, there is joyful song.”
So what is one to make of this mixture of sentiments?
I do not see them as contradictory. God may chastise angels for singing at the drowning of the Egyptian army.