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Last Tuesday evening, I saw ‘Of Gods and Men’ at the only theater in Cincinnati showing the excellent French film, based on a 1995 true story. There were only three other people in the theater with me, and none of them cried like I did during the latter half of the movie. The monks’ triumphs over their own desires, and their overpowering love of God through darkness and desert, brought true grace to flow in a desperate situation.

‘Of Gods and Men’ is about a small group of Trappist monks who live in Algeria, serving a mostly Muslim village by providing health care and friendship. Their very familiarity with the people is what prompts more disruption in the community when radical Muslim terrorists begin inflicting terror and killing Croatians, Muslim women not wearing the burqa, and those who protested against their regime. The scene of Christmas night, the fateful night when the terrorists went to the monastery, showed the true caliber of the monks. In an effort to reach common ground, one monk referenced the Qu’ran to remind the leader that Christians and Muslims are brothers under one God, not enemies.

The monastery’s relationship with the government was significantly less cordial, and the “might makes right” attitude pervades the actions of the overly aggressive military force against the peaceful monks. When one monk prays over the body of one of the Muslim terrorists whom he is being forced to identify, the disrespect for the dead and human life is evident through the passive-aggressive anger of the government official. It cannot be surprising, then, that the monks’ lives were not respected either.

It is no coincidence, in my mind at least, that Osama Bin Laden was killed on May 1, 2011. In the Roman Catholic Church, May 1 was Divine Mercy Sunday—and who can be more in need of God’s divine mercy than the mastermind behind the ruthless attack on September 11, 2001, affecting thousands of souls? The celebrations of the man’s death prompted P. Fredrico Lombardi, the Director of the Holy See Press Office, to release this statement:

“Osama Bin Laden—as everyone knows—has had the gravest responsibility for spreading hatred and division among people, causing the deaths of countless people, and exploiting religion for this purpose.

Faced with the death of a man, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibility of everyone before God and man, and hopes and pledges that every even it not an opportunity for a further growth of hatred, but of peace.”

osama bin laden speakingWhat saddens me more than people carelessly declaring their glee for another human’s death are the pronouncements that they hope he is burning in Hell. At least in America, a country which prides itself on being highly tolerant, this is perhaps one of the most ostentatious and outrageous displays of our truly fallen nature. For Christians, it is an even more despicable action, because we know and accept Hell as a very real place; not just a landing spot for the evilest of the evil, but for the everyday rejecters of God and his commandments. Are we really so far from the gates of the garden?

It occurs to me that the readers of The Imaginative Conservative may have a more humane way of looking at this death, long anticipated since the manhunt began almost a decade ago. Does it not sadden any of you that Osama Bin Laden did not have the chance to repent before he was killed? Does it not hang on your hearts that this man was not really brought to justice? After all, death is not justice. Death is not even final.

One may say, I am sorry he is dead, but I cannot help feel relief. Surely you think the world is a safer place now that Bin Laden is dead?

Which begs the question, what are we even protecting, that we need to make the world a safer place? The obvious answer in my mind is the undebatable sanctity of human life, and the ever pressing discernment of what it even means to be human.

So, now, thanks to America, Bin Laden is dead—but still our country persists in publicly funding and supporting abortion providers and embryonic stem cell research. A physical manifestation of evil is dead, but evil ideas rage on, turning even the best of intentioned people into the very monsters they deplore abroad.

dantesinfernoThis year’s Divine Mercy Sunday was another special event in the Roman Catholic Church as well—the beatification of Pope John Paul II, officially making our beloved JP II now Blessed JP II. I do not think there could there be a more obvious juxtaposition than the recent earthly celebration of a soul who is surely arriving at sainthood in Heaven, and the readily acceptable and earth-bound condemnation for another soul.

If we conservatives are to claim the high road—if we truly believe humans have dignity and that our civilization is worth preserving—then we must walk it. We must preserve our cause out of caritas, love, and not the brutalized force of popular opinion, remembering “ubi caritas est vera, Deus ibi est” (“where charity is true, God himself is there”). When we celebrate one death, we discredit all other pro-life efforts. When we give way to hate another person, even one so culpable of hate himself, we allow hate to manifest and grow in ourselves and in society. And if we ever truly wish another person’s soul to go to Hell, we’re halfway there ourselves.

Books mentioned in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.

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6 replies to this post
  1. Thank you for articulating the feeling of repugnance that (hopefully) many of our brothers and sisters have been experiencing regarding the responses to this event but have struggled to put into words.

  2. Dear Julie, thank you for this post, so well-written, deeply moving and wholly true. I let out a small cheer when I read your remark about abortion, which puts all other humanitarian-speak into stark perspective.

    For those of us who do not keep abreast of matters Algerian, a brief bit of background here. Propped up by the West (chiefly France), Algeria's cruel leaders suppressed democracy for 20-odd years until elections were held in 1991. The only organised challengers had been driven underground where they flourished, the Islamists, and lacking legitimate opposition parties of their own the middle classes had to choose between radicals and the regime, which was so despised that the moderate majority voted for the Islamists who won. The regime, Europe and America ignored the results (as the US did later when many Palestinians voted for Hamas). This hypocrisy drove the children of many middle-class Algerian moderates into the arms of the radical underground and began the bloodbaths.

    The oppression of moderate middle-classes through supporting dictators has been core US policy across the region, such as in Egypt, where satellite television and independent Arab broadcasters are much of the reason why the young protestors in Tahrir Square demanded democracy and not Al Qaeda. Had Mubarak not been toppled by popular protests, and had some power forced elections there, as in Algeria in 1991 the only organised opposition would have been the repressed Muslim Brotherhood, which struggles to get 15% approval ratings in Egyptian polls. Voters who loathed Mubarak would have nowhere else to turn, thanks to $3 billion in US aid a year helping the strongman to repress the doctors, teachers and tradesmen who would have built moderate parties of their own.

    Such oppression is still US policy for Saudi and Bahrain, while Washington mildly supports what looks to be unstoppable change in Yemen and dithers impotently over Syria. I have little doubt that such Western meddling causes so much local animosity against small harmless groups of Christians who lived in these places for 2,000 years – were the Christians not seen as being somehow linked to the West (incorrectly), there would be far less reason for them to be purged across the Middle East as seems to be happening now. Looking at this confusing and self-destructive behaviour by America, it is little wonder that so many Muslims conclude that America and Al Qaeda are somehow in cahoots: why else, they think, would the superpower destroy Christian communities and build power for the Islamists by helping dictators suppress middle-class democratic opponents? They don't appreciate stupidity, I guess.

  3. Julie, you beautiful person. Helen and I just returned from Mass where Bishop Mengeling baptised Maximillian Mark Maier, the fourth son of Kristy and Mark. Of course the Gospel today is the road to Emmaus, and this child began a journey that so many of us are on, unless we get off the road with triumphalism that Jesus would never, ever bless. Thank you.

  4. Thank you, Julie, for articulating a far better response than that of the triumphalists. The moment I heard Osama Bin Laden had been killed, I reflexively prayed for his soul out of a habit of heart, and hoped for him against all likelihood that he might have had even a millisecond of repentance. I do not rejoice at any death, even if deserved, but can only regard it somberly as a soul passes into the realm of the Maker of us all. Yes, we are relieved that this man will no longer lead plots against our nation. But this jubilation lacks dignity and as you so beautifully point out, merely underscores our fallenness. John Paul knew that a better response to tyrannical and hate-filled ideologues was to "overcome evil with good." Yes, Ubi caritas, Deus ibi est.

  5. My goodness … an imaginative, contemplative, even daring, conservative thinker! I thought Rush Limbaugh had rounded up all you guys & had you shot & buried in a mass grave somewhere in the countryside.

    Maybe someday the conservative movement can look at itself in the mirror again without shame, thanks to thoughts like yours. I'm not saying I *agree* with everything you wrote, but the quality of thought is so high … it takes me back to the '60s & '70s, when some conservatives were actually smart, & proud to be so.

  6. This is exactly what I have been thinking for two years, but I just have not been able to articulate effectively why I felt somberness at his death. I was not against the mission, but our response to his death has troubled me for quite some time.

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