Timbrels for Bin Laden?

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There’s been a certain amount of distress about the celebrating Americans did at news of the death of Osama Bin Laden, not least on the part of scrupulous Christians mindful of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:

You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven…Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Of course, as Benedict Carey reports in today’s New York Times, “taking revenge and glorying in it” is natural and even socially beneficial. According to University of Miami psychologist Michael McCullough, “Revenge evolved as a deterrent, to impose a cost on people who threaten
a community and to reach into the heads of others who may be
contemplating similar behavior.”

That, however, is cold comfort to the likes of the Rev. J.C. Austin, who in an Abrahamic trialogue at Auburn Seminary earlier this week confessed, “Christians would agree it’s normal human behavior. But our doctrine of
sin makes us very suspicious of ‘normal’ human behavior; Paul says that ‘in Christ we are a new creation; the old has passed away, the new has

Indeed, what Jesus had to say was clearly meant to stand in contrast to the Jewish status quo ante. After Pharoah’s troops were drowned in the Red Sea, Moses and the Israelites sang a song of triumph, with sister Miriam leading the women with timbrels and dancing. At the end of the Book of Esther, the Jews proclaim “a day of gladness and feasting” to commemorate the destruction of Haman and his sons. And then there’s the celebratory line in that most beloved of all psalms: “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.” Eat your hearts out, enemies!

The flag-waving patriotism that greeted Osama’s end may have been unseemly. But according to my segment of the Judeo-Christian tradition, the Christian perfectionist critique is not merely unnatural; it’s, well, ungodly.

  • John Barton

    I am having trying to decide what I find most sad and depressing about this post. Is it that you chose as a role model a people who lived thousands of years ago in a primitive, tribal world where war was accepted as the norm? Is it that your perception of God as warrior-king mirrors that of those same people who sang the Shirah and who would soon, according to the Book of Joshua, show no mercy by committing herem on their enemies? Is it that you don’t think that human beings have evolved since those ancient times and have failed to develop a higher sense of justice and fairness? Or, perhaps most depressing, is it that you imply that such thoughts are normal, that we are stuck with them and there is no hope to break the endless cycle of violence and revenge which they bring about? Such sentiments are not godly; they contradict the highest teachings of all faith traditions. I give thanks to the creator God who sent Jesus, the prophets and Buddha (amongst others) to teach us that there is another, better path, a path that leads to leads to peace.

  • Stuart Mitchell

    I agree with John. When we celebrate bin Laden’s death, we give in to our basest instincts, living as individuals and as a society at what Integral Philosophy would call our mythic level. Our mission is to move beyond those instincts into a higher, more loving state. I actually think the fact that we are having this discussion shows that
    many people are realizing this. We should be encouraged.