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The False Atonement of Osama Bin Laden

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. – Galatians 3:28

[In Bin Laden’s death there are] …no red states or blue states, just United States; no MoveOn progressives or Tea Party conservatives, just Americans. – Eugene Robinson, The Washington Post


After months of preparations, a small detachment of US commandos entered Osama Bin Laden’s high-security compound in Pakistan and put a bullet in his head. Bin Laden’s body was quickly evacuated from the scene, to be buried at sea. President Barak Obama soon appeared on television to announce to the nation and the world that the mastermind of the September 11thYouth Celebrate Bin Laden's Death attacks and spiritual leader of Al Qaeda had been killed. “Justice has been done.”

I first got word of Bin Laden’s assassination just before going to sleep on Sunday evening. I also learned that crowds had gathered in front of the White House (and, I would later learn, in New York City). Hundreds of people – mostly the very young – took to the streets to celebrate the death of the perpetrator of the most devastating foreign attack on the United States in living memory. For many of those celebrating Bin Laden’s death on Sunday night, the 9/11 terror attacks took place before they were in high school.

While the youngest generations were the most visible celebrants late Sunday evening, jubilation seems to have swept through all generations. Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post crowed the following morning, “Triumphalism and unapologetic patriotism are in order. We got him.”(1) In perhaps the most extreme example of said triumphalism, the New York Daily News trumpetedCelebration Outside the White House the news, saying, “the message of the Bin Laden killing is this: We are still here. And he rots in hell.”

It is clear that the youth gathered outside the White House and on the streets of New York on the evening of Bin Laden’s death were not merely isolated demonstrations of adolescent bluster. Much of the nation, led by our news media, has found a delirious national unity in the death of our chief enemy.

From everything I understand about the man, Osama Bin Laden was devoted to murder and fomented hatred and death throughout the world. He worshipped a false God of violence and coercion, taking pleasure in the deaths of his enemies. And for almost a decade he served as the arch-enemy of the United States and the Western world in general. Now, through his assassination by the United States government, the process of scapegoating is Rot in Hellcomplete. The United States has spent ten years piling the sins of the nation on top of this man, and his death promises an opportunity for redemption. A ragged, divided nation looks to Osama Bin Laden for atonement.

Thanks to the death of Bin Laden explains Robinson, there are now, “…no red states or blue states, just United States; no MoveOn progressives or Tea Party conservatives, just Americans.”(1) A new national myth is being forged: Through his death, Bin Laden has united us. We are all one in his death. This is the blood atonement of Osama Bin Laden.

Clearly, this is a monstrous falsehood.

Where is the Church of Jesus Christ in all of this? Where is the Body of Christ in the United States? How did Osama Bin Laden become our savior, cleansing us with his blood? How did we come to substitute our own violence for the saving power of God? How is it that we now find ourselves standing in the place of Pilate, nailing Bin Laden to a cross of our own devising and engineering a manmade atonement?

Bin Laden was no Jesus, but we are acting like Romans.

Far from being a day of national celebration, this should be day for repentance. Like the people of Nineveh long ago(2), far from gloating and cheering the death of our enemy, we should put on sackcloth and ashes. We should mourn the horror and destruction that comes from human greed, fear and lust for domination. This is a time for us, the Church, to repent of our involvement in Empire and to call our fellow citizens out of it as well. We must not swallow the lies of nationalism and militarism that have replaced the cross with an American flag. Lord Jesus, have mercy on us – we know not what we do.