Monday, May 2, 2011

On the passing of Osama bin Laden

When I heard the news on the radio last night, my immediate response was to offer prayer for the repose of his soul. If there's even the slightest chance the man is not in Hell, he needs all the help he can get.

This is, I hope, a Catholic response.

On the one hand, it is right and proper to rejoice in the defeat of one's enemy. And Osama bin Laden, by his own description, was our enemy. His actions were horrific and without excuse, and his defeat is a victory not only for the USA but for all those whom al-Qaeda targeted.

On the other, every human death is a tragedy, albeit a tragedy laced with hope, as we know from our celebrations of our Lord's resurrection. Osama bin Laden, before anything else, is a human person, and is a beloved child of God.

My prayers also go up on behalf of the team that conducted the operation. From some of President Obama's comments, it sounds as if the goal was to capture him, and that Bin Laden was killed in the course of that attempt. But the statement, "After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body," makes it sound as if bin Laden was assassinated after the fighting had finished. This would not be a morally just action, even on a battlefield.

Now, it goes without saying that I am in no position to judge the morality of actions that I know about only from summary news reports. And I hope it is obvious that I consider this a day of legitimate and true joy for the US. But this joy is tainted with sorrow, and with a sincere concern that our joy will turn to arrogance or forgetfulness of our own sins, and of our constant call to charity.

Hence my prayers for his soul. I know only of his public acts of violence and aggression; I know nothing of the state of his soul. I do know my own faults, and I hope that people will pray for me at my death. The Golden Rule dictates I do to others as I would have done to me, so...

From the gates of Hell, rescue his soul, O Lord. Amen.


  1. If the man was acting in good faith, and as dictated by his Muslim conscience, I, for one, cannot believe he is in Hell.

  2. I do believe it is proper to offer a prayer for the repose of his soul. No matter how detestable the man's actions, the violent loss of human life is always regrettable, and we entrust each soul to the merciful justice of our God.

    That said, I do disagree that, "it is right and proper to rejoice in the defeat of one's enemy." Perhaps it would be more appropriate to say that it is right to feel relief that one's enemy is no longer a threat, but the book of Proverbs tells us, "Rejoice not when your enemy falls, and when he stumbles, let not your heart exult..." (24:17)

  3. Robert, I'm so glad you've got this out here already! I am also planning to put something up this afternoon, but this is excellent.

    I especially like your point about the way the statement was worded (e.g., "...after a firefight...etc.). I don't think it's ever moral to commit murder no matter who the "target" is.

    Certainly we pray for his soul as for the souls of all his victims. And there has been a type of "Catholic" response I find dangerous--that's what I hope to address later.

  4. @Left-footer: sadly, I think it all too likely that someone acting according to a poorly formed, or misformed, conscience could end up in Hell. It is what I fear for myself, which is why I do my best to form my own conscience and to challenge anything that is too comfortable.

    @LRJ: the Proverbs passage goes on to say, "lest the LORD see it, and be displeased, and turn away his anger from him." In other words, this scripture is saying, "Judgment and final victory belong to God, not to us." It is not wrong to be glad at the removal of an evil or the achievement of a good.

    But the removed evil that we rejoice in is the end of enmity, not the loss of the enemy himself. A person, as person, is not evil; only actions are evil.

  5. Wonderful post. It basically sums up my own view on that matter, though much better written than I would be able to do.

  6. @Left-Footer - Then what you are saying is that our actual, concrete actions have no consequences or meaning, either in this life or anything that might exist in the next, as long as we believe them (somehow) to be right? No, I cannot accept that construct.

    I believe that there are actions that are right and those that are wrong. God gave each one of us consciences to figure those out. There are plenty of Muslims, past and present, who do act in the way God asks, to the best of their circumstances and abilities. I don't think it's at all fair to lump them in with OBL as some sort of giant Muslim "conscience".

    About the article:
    I do understand the ending prayer - it is well meaning. But I worry that it is the other intent of the prayer is asking for a frail, imperfect human judgment to override God's. Only God knows the state of his soul. I'd only ask that God's will be done, trusting in His Mercy *and* His Justice.

  7. If the man was acting in good faith, and as dictated by his Muslim conscience, I, for one, cannot believe he is in Hell.

    Right. He's probably a short-order cook in a little breakfast bar in Heaven, condemned to serving bacon to kafirs for all eternity.

  8. @Amy - I suppose all prayer of petition or intercession can be seen, or even intended, as asking for human judgment to override God's judgment. It's part of the limited nature of human language and the human will.

    My intent is to follow Christ's example: "If this cup may pass from me ... but your will, not mine, be done."

    I'm nowhere near perfect in my practice, but that's the model that, for me, makes sense of both prayer that asks and prayer that receives whatever God gives.

  9. Amy - What I hoped to convey is that I hope and believe that God judges the intention rather than the act. I do not believe that concrete actions have no consequences or meaning. Clearly they do.

    C. S. Lewis was of the same opinion.

  10. @Left-footer: "intention" is often used in at least two different senses.

    On the one hand, the "intention" could be the idea of what one is trying to do, and so it defines the morality of an action, regardless of the outcome.

    On the other, the "intention" could be the goal one is trying to accomplish through acting; in other words, the end justifying the means. An evil action is never justified, even by the best of intentions.

    I blogged about this not too long ago at my Virtue Quest blog.

  11. @Left-Footer -

    There's a saying my father believed in: "The road to h?ll is paved with good intentions. "

    No CS Lewis, but there you have it. :P

    *grin* I don't completely disagree with you. I very firmly believe that God considers intentions. But I also think they are not (and cannot be) the only and final way we are judged.

    I think of the situation as in this example:

    I intended to mail my taxes on time but I didn't. I don't think I should get punished (via late fees, etc) because I really did mean to do the right thing.

    Given an extremely extenuating circumstances, deaths in the family, etc, a removal of punishments might be the correct course of action. However, if someone did that for 10 years in a row, basically due to disorganization and perhaps a feeling their life was harder than others, should they be looked at in the same manner? The intentions in the 2 cases are identical. If I were an IRS auditor who treated both cases the same, would I being fair to all those disorganized people who somehow managed to grind out their taxes by April 15th?

    I have no doubt OBL's intention was to praise Allah. However, I have some problems with his expression of it. I would sincerely hope that the God worth showing up for on Sunday would, too.