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"Moral obtuseness on a staggering scale"

Timothy Dalrymple is taking on the notion that celebrating Osama bin Laden's death is the moral equivalent of celebrating the deaths of those who died on 9/11:

I want to respond to an equivalency I've heard a handful of times today:

"The celebrations over the death of bin Laden were just like when terrorist sympathizers celebrated the 9/11 atrocity."

Although this may sound like the attitude of a sophisticated world citizen, it is actually moral obtuseness on a staggering scale.  Let's set forth some of the more important distinctions:

  • To celebrate 9/11 is to celebrate the wanton mass-murder of nearly 3000 innocent men, women and children.  To celebrate 5/2 is to celebrate the death of a single individual, and precisely the individual who was most responsible for the wanton mass-murder of nearly 3000 innocent men, women and children.  There is a world of a difference between celebrating an atrocity and celebrating the death of the person who committed the atrocity.  Some will say: You think it was just to kill bin Laden, but bin Laden thought it was just to kill 3000 Americans.  To which we must respond: That may be so, but bin Laden was absolutely wrong in that belief.  What bin Laden believed does not particularly matter; what he did was objectively and horrifically wrong.
  • The 5/2 killing was authorized by an authority that is democratically elected and ordained by God to bear the sword of law and justice.  The 9/11 atrocity was carried out by a band of mad zealots who took upon themselves the right to determine the fate of 3000 ordinary citizens.
  • The 9/11 killing was calculated to kill as many citizens as possible, whereas the 5/2 mission aimed (at the cost of considerably more risk for the American soldiers) to minimize collateral damage.
  • Osama bin Laden could have surrendered in the midst of this operation, or at any time since 9/11, and gone before a court, or at least a military commission.  He determined his own fate.  I understand that bin Laden may not have been armed when he was shot; we are still learning the details.  But on many occasions after 9/11 he could have given up the fight and surrendered.  By contrast, the victims of the 9/11 attack were unarmed, they were not combatants, and they had no opportunity to appeal for justice.
  • 9/11 was an attack upon a state and the opening of war.  It was an attempt to destroy a nation, perhaps a civilization, and it was clear that many deaths of soldiers and citizens would follow.  5/2 removed a threat to peaceful civilizations, and over the long term it likely means fewer deaths for soldiers and civilians.  9/11 made the world more dangerous; 5/2 made the world safer.  Some acts of violence are actually creative.  It is unfortunate but true that taking the life of a person like Osama bin Laden actually makes the world a better place.

Unless we are going to abandon entirely our ability to make moral distinctions, or just to affirm the moral values that are affirmed in scripture, then we must be able to assert that killing 3000 innocent men, women and children is wrong and is the deepest possible perversion of justice.  It is not a matter of perspective.  To be clear, I have not yet said that celebrating bin Laden's death was right.  It's more complex than that.  But celebrating the 9/11 attacks, and celebrating the death of the individual most responsible for those attacks, are not remotely identical.

Yesterday I came across this quote on someone's Facebook page:

"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"
- Martin Luther King, Jr

I can't get my arms around this sentiment. I can't get my arms around the notion that Osama bin Laden's death was caused by hatred. Aren't we then stating that justice is steeped in hatred? Do we really want to go there? It's simply not logical to me.

In fact, I think it to be more moral obtuseness on a staggering scale to suggest that the pursuit and carrying out of justice is anything other than an expression of love for what is good and right and if we're going to attach the idea that hatred is involved, then let's fall back to the concept that it is hatred of what is evil and wrong.

"When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices, and when the wicked perish there are shouts of gladness." Proverbs 11:10

Jay Tea adds: Rick's too busy, but he's allowed me to add a correction: as commenter (and my fellow Granite State blogger) Paul Sand noted, the Martin Luther King quote is incorrect. It was posted on Facebook by a woman named Jessica Dovey, who wrote the first sentence, then appended the rest -- which is a genuine MLK quote. However, when her remark was repeated, they removed the quotation marks that Dovey used to indicate which were her words, and which were not. So, for the record, "I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy" are the words of Ms. Dovey; the rest is from Dr. King's book "Strength To Love." And at no point did Ms. Dovey attempt to portray her words as from Dr. King; others attributed her words to him.


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Comments (22)

I did not celebrate to deat... (Below threshold)
Sky Captain:

I did not celebrate to death of Osama.
I noted it with a quiet satisfaction.

However, I do hate the man and all he represented.
I hated him because I still remember a beautiful September morning when we all went about our normal lives, and 3000 people died.

I will never forget.
I will never forgive.

Megan McArdle did a little ... (Below threshold)

Megan McArdle did a little detective work on that MLK quote and found that the first sentence (the really off-putting one) wasn't actually from him:

Not sure how much that affects the argument though; people are passing the bogus quote around in validation of their beliefs.

Breathing things like Osama... (Below threshold)

Breathing things like Osama, Hilter, Pol Pot, Stalin and various serial killers ARE NO LONGER HUMAN. DO NOT COMPARE them to us. They gave up their humanity by their chosen actions. Therefore we are rooting out pure evil. And yes, this is cause to celebrate. They chose the dark side and the dark side is just what they got.
But I would love to see the expression on Osama face when he saw that American point the gun at him just before he pulled the trigger.

P.S. They don't have to sh... (Below threshold)

P.S. They don't have to show me his dead body..but a picture of his face with the look in his eye just before an American send him to hell. Priceless. Make tons of copies and drop them all over the islamic world.

I do not celebrate Osama's ... (Below threshold)

I do not celebrate Osama's death. I think it a good and necessary and just thing, but it does not bring me any joy.

As I see it, it is just one small step in the long march of eradicating terrorism, and there is still a long way to go.

However, unlike the preening asshats who claim moral superiority, I do not condemn those who do celebrate, nor do I consider myself better than they are.

I suppose I will never fathom those people who have this overweening need to feel they are superior to others.

I can't get my arms arou... (Below threshold)

I can't get my arms around this sentiment. I can't get my arms around the notion that Osama bin Laden's death was caused by hatred. Aren't we then stating that justice is steeped in hatred? Do we really want to go there? It's simply not logical to me.

I do not regret the removal of Osama bin Laden. This was an indisputably just act. But, as a Christian, I recognize every human as created in God's image, which is the very premise for the sanctity of human life. Therefore, please do not ask me to celebrate his death. It's done. Shut up about it and move on.

Not celebrating osama's dea... (Below threshold)

Not celebrating osama's death, celebrating the USA's victory.

I guess people shouldnt hav... (Below threshold)
retired military:

I guess people shouldnt have celebrated when they found out Hitler had died. Or Mussolini.
Or Stalin.

Once you accept leftism for... (Below threshold)
Caesar Augustus:

Once you accept leftism for what it actually is -- an organic brain defect -- the deranged moral relativism of the left is not so incomprehensible.

@retired militaryI s... (Below threshold)

@retired military
I said that eliminating him was just. I believe the world is a better place without his presence. My theology takes into account that God has ordained governments and authorities and that these are used of Him to carry out justice corporately. We, as frail humanity, are vulnerable to the highly charged emotion of vengeance and are thus commanded to avoid participating in vengeance individually. That is something in which I will endeavor not to celebrate. Human life, even one as abhorrent as OBL's, bears the stamp of God's image and I won't rejoice in its demise. I am merely explaining the logic that was so lost on Rick and why I have been so appalled at the carnival atmosphere surrounding OBL's death. Perhaps, you disagree as is your right. I choose to celebrate life, not death, and I believe that's what separates us from the jihadists.

I regret my parting shot in my previous comment. A little abrupt that. Sorry.

Psalms 58:10The ri... (Below threshold)

Psalms 58:10

The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance; he will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked.

Even David, knew it was right to rejoice at the vengeance poured out by God, we're not celebrating the man's death we're celebrating the justice brought about by his removal from this earth.

Umm Clay... what exactly do... (Below threshold)
Rick Author Profile Page:

Umm Clay... what exactly do you think I'm so lost on? I thought I was pretty clear... but it sounds like you don't think my clarity is sufficient... and in what way am I contributing to the carnival atmosphere?

Reminds me of Montanan Jean... (Below threshold)

Reminds me of Montanan Jeanette Rankin, the first woman elected to Congress and a dedicated lifelong pacifist - she voted against the Declarations of War with Japan and Germany in 1941.

There's always someone - usually in a nice warm, safe place - who 'takes the moral high ground'.

I guess it's the "way" this... (Below threshold)

I guess it's the "way" this was celebrated that gets me. I remember the pictures of cheering crowds on 9/11 and I felt that these were savages celebrating our loss. I didn't like seeing us in that light. As for me, I ate bacon for breakfast and pork chops for dinner on Monday. That was my little way of quiet celebration. It was symbolic I know, but it was satisfactory none the less.

what exactly do you thin... (Below threshold)

what exactly do you think I'm so lost on?

You wrote: "I can't get my arms around this sentiment. I can't get my arms around the notion that Osama bin Laden's death was caused by hatred. Aren't we then stating that justice is steeped in hatred? Do we really want to go there? It's simply not logical to me."

I'm trying to say that it is not the removal of OBL that has people quoting MLK. I also don't believe it was hate that caused his death. I think I was clear that I believe justice has been carried out, as far as justice can be employed in this life. I rest in the satisfaction that bin Laden is no longer at large and that is as far as I care to take it. My principles make going beyond that uncomfortable. I'm merely offering my take on the sentiment or logic that you find difficult to grasp, but perhaps your failure to see it is volitional. In the meantime, I choose not to write "ding, dong, the witch is dead" on my Facebook status and I won't dance a little jig while gleefully pumping my fist in the air at the thought.

Now show me where I said you were contributing to the carnival atmosphere.

Actually this guy is right.... (Below threshold)

Actually this guy is right. We were celebrating. We finally in spite of all our enemies in the Muslim world hiding and protecting him got a Navy Seal in position to kill him. Bout time Osama drew his last breath. And I hope the Seal had time to tell him "Times Up" or "The American People say Goodbye"

Clay,So you agree ... (Below threshold)
Rick Author Profile Page:


So you agree with me that killing bin Laden had nothing to do with hate. Check.

But you have a problem with people rejoicing in the notion that, as you put it, "the world is a better place without his presence" and you'd rather we shut up and about it and move on.

Why should we, as God fearing people, shut up about evil being vanquished when God has put in place vehicles to get that job done and has in fact, as you put it, ordained the use of those vehicles?

And how do you reconcile your position with the Scriptural references that seem to me to endorse rejoicing in the vanquishing of evil?

Here's my bottom line. You can hold your position and I can respect it. But why tell me or anyone else to shut up and move on about it especially when Scripturally it seems that there's room to hold a position contrary to your own?

Color me curious.

"The celebrations over the ... (Below threshold)

"The celebrations over the death of bin Laden were just like when terrorist sympathizers celebrated the 9/11 atrocity."

BULLSTEIN!!! The left has inundated actual Americans with phony "moral equivalence" arguments for decades. This may be one of the most disgraceful.

How many times have we been... (Below threshold)

How many times have we been "treated" by videos from al jazira showing muslims joyfully celebrating the deaths of American soldiers and innocent civilians? Decapitations, American soldiers being dragged behind vehicles, bodies hung from bridges, persecutions and slaughter of Christians in muslim countries with no repercussions? These are demonstrations of the muslim attitudes toward non-muslims and specifically Americans. I certainly don't find fault with Americans demonstrating their joy at the demise of a terrorist muslim, knowing that the muslim world will see how Americans feel about them.
Selective moral outrage at the treatment of bodies puzzles me. If you remember, that started when US soldiers burned a couple of muslim terrorists because the ground was frozen and it would have been too difficult to bury them. For the POS, burial at sea was ideal as it provides no "shrine". One can only hope they cut his pecker off so he can hunt eternally for it to service his 72 virgins. The only thing enemy combatants fear or respect in an opposition that is meaner and more merciless than they.

Rick,Are you just ... (Below threshold)


Are you just selectively reading what I write? I said I regret writing "shut up". That was wrong of me. In fact, I always gave my children time out for saying it. To be clear: I apologize for saying "shut up" and it certainly doesn't foster much in the way of civil discourse. So, can we dispense with further discussion of my lapse, or shall I just continue apologizing?

And how do you reconcile your position with the Scriptural references that seem to me to endorse rejoicing in the vanquishing of evil?

With fear and trembling, Rick. When I consider the awesome power and majesty of our eternal, sovereign King, I prefer not to take such things lightly. If you want to quote Scripture, then I'm okay with that, since that is ultimately the final word on any matter. If I look at 1 Peter 3:9, "Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.", I may come away with a different interpretation than you. I believe Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit, warns us not to return evil for evil, or reviling for reviling; but, on the contrary, to bless our enemies and to soberly consider their eternal destiny in thoughtfulness regarding how horrible it is to be a sinner in the hands of God. To bear evil patiently, and to bless your enemies, is the way to obtain God's blessing. Returning evil for evil, or reviling for reviling, is sinful and unlike Christ. The military and civil authorities may punish evil-doers, and private individuals may seek remedy through legal process when they are wronged; but private revenge by violence, scolding, or secret mischief, is forbidden (Proverbs 20:22; Luke 6:27; Romans 12:17; 1Th 5:15). The laws of Christ oblige us to return blessing for reviling. Matthew 5:44, "Love your enemies, bless those that curse you, do good to those that hate you, and pray for those that persecute you. You must not justify them in their sin, but you must do for your enemies all that justice requires or charity commands." We must pity, pray for, and love those who revile us. Our calling invests us with glorious privileges, but it also obligates us to difficult duties by not thinking carnally and moving with the crowd. Undoubtedly, we will inherit a glorious possession of which we already have in abundance, but the full possession of it is not reserved for this world or even this state. Our weapons are not carnal. Evil is not eliminated by extinguishing flesh and blood, so please forgive me for not being excited and exulting over bin Laden's death. I don't find such behavior consistent with the fact that I bear His image. Again, I'm not disagreeing that his death is a good thing. But, I must temper that with the fact that OBL was also a bearer of God's image, albeit he may not have bore it as designed. Alas, there but for His merciful grace, stands a worm such as I. Sorry, no celebrating here just humble prayers that he continues to keep me, that He grant that I just touch his hem

Now how do you reconcile your view regarding the rejoicing over God's vengeance in light of loving our enemies by blessing them and praying for their good?

persecutions and slaught... (Below threshold)

persecutions and slaughter of Christians in muslim countries with no repercussions?

It's a difficult thing, no? Yet, I don't think we are intended to react in kind. I know a Man who was perfect and sinless in every way, but it didn't end up so nice for Him either. The funny thing - the thing that causes me to look at my own petty affronts with revulsion - is that He endured insults, mockery, beatings, scourging, and crucifixion while at any time during the torture He could have appealed to His Father, and He would have at once sent Him more than twelve legions of angels.

"Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man's sake. Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in heaven: for in the like manner did their fathers unto the prophets. (Luke 6:22-23)

I'm pretty much done on this topic for today. I really didn't intend to get everyone up in arms about this. I again apologize for telling evryone to "shut up". No excuses there. I do hope you all have a blessed day. I intended to explain why I wasn't celebrating and I don't think I articulated my position so well. I am truly trying to live out this life as I feel I am called. My convictions cause me to come across 'holier than thou', and I honestly regret that. But, believe me when I say that I am fully aware that within me is no righteousness except the righteousness that is on loan from Him.

Clay,I missed your... (Below threshold)


I missed your initial apology. My bad.

And I really don't want to get into Scriptural swordplay as I think it simply isn't constructive. My point is that there are lots of Scriptures, including some in the New Testament, that suggest that this isn't as black and white as you seem to say it is. In fact, I can't recall the exact Scripture in Revelation but it strongly suggests that Christ's return won't be as a toothless and pliable Gumby Jesus but as a kick-butt and take no prisoners Warrior Jesus... and that leaves me with thoughts of fear and trembling... may He have mercy on us all.

I just prayed a Rosary moments ago... and decided to force myself to consider bin Laden's soul during a number of the Decalogues... and I do mean force...

In the end, bin Laden is in God's hands... but because of what he wrought here on Earth, I think rejoicing in his demise and in the thought that he can no longer be involved in the destruction of innocents is a damned good thing... and if I'm wrong then I plead for God's mercy...






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