This morning most Americans are feeling a sense of relief at the news that Osama bin Laden is dead. He was truly an apostle of hate, a dedicated purveyor of violence in response to every grievance, a manipulator and distorter of religion for political purposes, and a man responsible for the deaths of thousands of people. Nevertheless, it is never a Christian response to celebrate the death of any human being, even one so given over to the face of evil. Violence is always an indication of our failure to resolve our conflicts by peaceful means, and is always an occasion for deeper reflection.
A brief statement from the Vatican this morning says it well:
"Osama bin Laden, as we all know, bore the most serious responsibility for spreading divisions and hatred among populations, causing the deaths of innumerable people, and manipulating religions to this end," said Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, who released a brief written statement reacting to the news.
"In the face of a man's death, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibilities of each person before God and before men, and hopes and works so that every event may be the occasion for the further growth of peace and not of hatred."
The Bible takes evil seriously and clearly says that evildoers should be held accountable for their deeds, and the state has the legitimate and important role of bringing to justice those who perpetrate terrible crimes. Osama bin Laden was perhaps the most monstrous face of the monster of terrorism in our time. But killing bin Laden has certainly not ended the problem or threat of terrorism. And it also does not vindicate the decade of perpetual war, which has been the U.S. response to the horrible attacks on 9/11 that have also resulted in thousands of other innocent casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Indeed, the problem of war is how indiscriminate it is. And it is worth noting that the special forces action that resulted in the death of bin Laden was a very focused effort to bring one perpetrator to justice, rather than just another act of war. We didn't get bin Laden as a casualty of bombing raids or drone attacks on the city that harbored him; instead, this was the result of careful intelligence and a laser-like focus on the man most responsible for 9/11. Some of us believe that should have been the U.S. strategy from the beginning.
But the death of bin Laden must become an important historical moment of reflection. How do we best respond to evil and those who perpetrate it? What have we learned in the last 10 years about what truly is the best answer to the violence of terrorism? How do we change the conditions that have allowed terrorists to pull others into their agenda? In this fallen world we are often faced with imperfect choices in response to the clear dangers of evil. Religious wisdom always has us look also at ourselves and what opportunities we have to be makers of peace. As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn once said, "Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts."
What must be said, as was strongly stated last night by President Obama, is that America is not, nor has it ever been, at war with Islam or the Muslim world. As many have pointed out, many of the victims of Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network were Muslims, both in the U.S. and around the world. It is indeed time to unite with our many faiths around a serious strategy for building peace.
Before the news last night, it was clear that Osama bin Laden was already losing. The "Arab Spring" of young Arabs and Muslims through nonviolent democratic movements has been a repudiation of bin Laden and his radical terrorist agenda. The death of Osama bin Laden could be a turning point in our ability to both resist evil and seek good, to turn away from the logic of both terrorism and war, and, as the Bible says, to find the things "that make for peace."
Jim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: A Guide for Economic and Moral Recovery, and CEO of Sojourners. He blogs at www.godspolitics.com. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.