"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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