Tuesday, May 3, 2011

To cheer or cry?

I got a text from a friend two nights ago as I was glued to the television, watching the reports come in that Osama bin laden had been killed.

"Is it okay to be glad that somebody is dead?"

I was wondering the same thing.

I understand that bin Laden was largely responsible for a number of terrorist activities including the tragedy on September 11th. I understand that to have a person like bin Laden no longer able to contribute to destruction and death is a good thing. I understand that for many who have felt the pain and loss from terrorism much more acutely than me, bin Laden's death may serve as some sort of closure.

But I have to say, to see my fellow Americans standing outside the White House, cheering, smiling, laughing about the death of a person was really difficult to swallow. It just didn't sit right with me. I'm not trying to say that these people were in some way morally wrong in doing this. I'm only saying that it made me feel not good.

Certainly the death of any person is a somber, sobering event. Even if only because bin Laden's death is a reminder of the deaths of those he killed. His death could never undo the damage he has done. His death does not build the two towers back up. It does not resurrect all those he killed. Perhaps if that happened, then we'd really have reason to celebrate.

You may have seen this quote from MLK Jr. floating around facebook:

"I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that."

Love, love, love that quote. When I first saw this in response to bin Laden's death, I recognized that this was how I felt. I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.

And yet...

I think it's fair to recognize that the circumstances are complex. When speaking of the dichotomies of darkness/light and hate/love, it's easy to say that hate cannot drive out hate. I like that statement and in an ultimate sense, I believe it's true. However, do things change when we speak of life and death? Can one death prevent many more deaths? And if so, does this make that one death good or right? Tough stuff.

Many people, religious and non-religious alike, tend to reduce life to a dichotomy of right and wrong, black and white. It's either one way or the other. There is no gray. I often fall into this mindset and I will defend it's usefulness and appropriateness in some circumstances.

However, if I had to choose whether or not to kill a terrorist in order to save the lives of those he is targeting, I would have a difficult time. This is why I could never be president (yep, the one and only reason). Sorry mom.

Sometimes, it's a little trickier than wrong or right. In the Bible, it says that God hates divorce. And yet there are circumstances in the Bible in which God commands people to get a divorce. To me, this is not a contradiction but rather an acknowledgement that maybe in a perfect world, the clear-cut dichotomy of right vs. wrong makes sense. But we don't live in a perfect world. We live in a broken one.

Sometimes, it seems, all the choices we are presented with in a situation are bad. We dig ourselves into an ugly situation, or someone drags us into an ugly situation, or an ugly situation materializes out of nowhere. And we may have hundreds of choices but they are all bad. They are all wrong. What do we do then?

I have no answers to this question, especially on a systemic, societal level. However, on a personal level, MLK's advice is golden: Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.