Can you kill ideas?

I awoke this morning to the breaking news that Osama bin Laden has died as a result of a United States of America targeted security forces operation in Pakistan. The BBC were showing scenes of jubilation in front of the White House.

This event has enormous symbolism world-wide. Exactly what the significance will be only future history will show. It feels like a landmark, but a landmark on the road to what?

I'm wondering why I feel so uneasy, particularly about statements and reactions coming from the USA.

I think my unease centres around 3 areas:
Obama made a reference to justice having been done. To me, justice in relation to a crime involves apprehending the alleged criminal, giving them a fair trial, weighing the evidence followed by a judicial decision about guilt and punishment. In this case the alleged criminal, who may well have been guilty of being behind apalling murderous crimes, has now been killed, but without trial. So, is this justice? Or does this reinforce the idea that 'might is right'.


The problem with creating martyrs, whether deliberately or as 'collateral damage' is that it often inspires more people to be willing to die for what they believe to be a just cause. You cannot kill powerful ideas by suppression, book burning or murder, you just push the people who hold those ideas underground to emerge stronger. One thinks of the burning of Tyndale's English translation of the Bible a few centuries ago, because the authorities feared the revolutionary power of the Bible's ideas if people could hear it in their own tongue. That book-burning back fired in a big way. You can also see this in the history of the attempts to suppress Christianity in totalitarian states under communism. (Which to me also illustrates my belief that you can't kill God, even if you don't believe in God's existence).


There is something about this that feels distateful and potentially dangerous.  Later this morning I will meet with a family to prepare for their father's funeral, a person loved by God, as every person is loved by God - yes even Osama bin Laden. God's love is not restricted only to those who deserve it. Jesus demonstrates this in his dying words, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do".

As the news of Osama bin Laden's death reverberates around the world, should this be a cause for rejoicing? Or used as an occasion to reflect on the violent deaths of many others such as those who died in the Twin Towers, or in the London bombings, those dying in wars today including at the hands of their own unjust governments? And to reflect deeper on the underlying causes, that lead people to commit such atrocities? And a time for all who value human life, peace and justice to use every peaceful and just means available to work to create a world where no-one lives in want or fear, where every person is accorded the dignity and respect due to all persons made in the image of God. And a time to pray for renewal, so that all life flourishes in the way Jesus described in the Sermon on the Mount - a picture of the 'kingdom of God' where God's love, peace and justice reigns.

"Our Father...your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven..."

Words about a man's death written by the 17th century English priest and poet John Donne come to mind. Usually quoted as a poem his original words were part of a prose meditation (Meditation 17: Devotions upon Emergent Occasions). Here they are with original spelling:

"No man is an iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy frineds or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee..."


  1. Well said, Nancy. I share your distaste for the celebration. It would be good today to pray for peace as we reflect on the hatred and violence in the world.

  2. Thanks Penelope. Yes - a good day to pray for peace.

  3. I was pondering on this same question while watching the images of people rejoicing outside the White House and at Ground Zero. Such images will only serve to stoke the fires of Al Qaeda sentiment. I think you are right to suggest that today is a day to pray for renewal.

  4. Thanks for commenting Chelliah. I read your post on the same topic with interest. The trouble with making a celebatory out of a personifed 'enemy' is that when that person is killed there is the illusion of having dealt with the 'evil' and seeing 'evil' as primarily 'out there' rather than a dreadful potential within each of us.

  5. I share very much your misgivings, Nancy, although when I first heard President Obama's statement I noted with relief that much of it seemed sober in language and tone.

    Like (American) Brian McLaren I found myself comparing the jubilant response of some of his fellow countrymen with that of the crowds celebrating Friday's Royal Wedding:

    Rightly or wrongly, I find triumphalism (as in the response of many Americans interviewed afterwards) distasteful in any circumstances. I know all about feeling contempt and about imagining taking vengeance on others, so I understand these in others. But they are not (in my view) of God

  6. I agree, lot's of it was very distasteful and America might regret showing such an attitude. What has it solved? Do any of those families who lost loved one's feel closer at all? Does it take away the pain or loss? An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth is not always the answer, and I hope that it doesn't end up being the beginning of worse violence to come in retaliation. Will we humans never learn?

  7. Graham - thanks for the link to Brian NcLaren's post - one of the best I've read on the subject. Like you I almost always find triumphalism distateful, and for me in religion as much as in politics.

    Technogran - I've seen and read some interviews since yesterday with those bereaved as a result of the Twin Towers destruction - relief seems there and a sense of closure with some, but what is lost can't be replaced. I hope not too much is lost as a result of the killing of Osama bin Laden and the reactions to it.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Mary Sumner, Founder of the Mothers' Union

What is a holiday?

Maximilian Kolbe (1894 - 1941)

Clare of Assisi, Founder of the Minoresses (Poor Clares)

The Transfiguration of our Lord