Monday, May 02, 2011

Godwin's Law and Osama bin Laden

If you've read or participated in any long-winding and contentious internet debates, you've probably seen Godwin's Law invoked.  For those who don't know what I'm talking about, the basic idea is this: "Eventually someone brings up Hitler or the Nazis."  Many groups have developed a corollary to this law, which is basically "whoever brings up Hitler loses the argument."

The reason the law "works" is because most of us have a widespread belief that, whatever else we may disagree on, we can all agree that Hitler was evil.  For example, his name was invoked a few times in the recent Rob Bell/universalism debate.  If anyone doesn't deserve to get into heaven, Hitler doesn't. Even universalists generally agree on this (to the extent that "deserving" matters).  The problem is, that widespread agreement exists because Hitler's actions were so beyond-the-pale horrible.  Very little else that might realistically occur in the world even comes close, so using Hitler/Nazism as an example is often of little productive use to the argument.

Now that we're officially living in a post-bin Laden era, I predict that Godwin's Law will expand to include bin Laden.  To some degree, this was already happening when Osama bin Laden was still alive.  I don't think that even Saddam Hussein was as universally reviled the world over as bin Laden was.  The man was nothing short of a monster, responsible for the deaths of thousands, and who destroyed the lives of countless others.

While it bothers me to see so many people (and, even more, so many Christians) express such unbridled joy at bin Laden's death, it is by no means hard to understand why.  To see such an evil person as in some way "human" is beyond most of us, myself included.  This world is undeniably better off without him.

But I can't help but think that God wants better of us.  Rejoicing over the death of another human being, however evil, just doesn't stand up to my "What Would Jesus Do?" test.  Does it stand up to yours?
"Do not rejoice when your enemies fall,
and do not let your heart be glad when they stumble."
Proverbs 24:17
Whatever bin Laden's eternal destiny, and fully recognizing that few people could be more safely assumed not to have ever committed his life to Jesus Christ, I expect that God will show him far more mercy than I would, were such a decision mine to make.  I am extremely glad that justice has been done, and that future deaths will be averted as a result (potential terrorist retaliations in the short term notwithstanding), and I believe that God (being a God of justice, as well) understands these feelings.  I also believe that God's sense of justice will not be lost in the determination of eternal destiny, either.

I have no objection at all to seeing Godwin's Law expanded to include Osama bin Laden, or failing that, a similar "bin Laden-specific" variation created.  He has been perhaps the most evil person of our time, and I expect to have nearly universal agreement in that assertion.  But I stop short of rejoicing at his death.  A tragic story has reached a tragic end.  It is the end that inevitably had to happen, and I do not suggest that the US should have responded differently.  I merely recognize that this story—a story marked by death countless times over the past couple of decades through to the end of his reign of terror—remains tragic.

Thanks to Dr. David P. Gushee of Mercer University for his post on a similar topic, which reminded me of the Proverbs quote.

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