As crowds cheering bin Laden's demise last night illustrated, revenge is a natural reaction. But a natural impulse isn’t necessarily a good one. Our key religious scriptures and greatest political leaders warn us against this dark desire. Indeed, we are at our most human when resisting it.
“Do not rejoice when your enemies fall, and do not let your heart be glad when they stumble.”
So says Proverbs 24:17, in a book that millions of Americans hold sacred. The Bible also says that you should love your enemy as yourself, and that vengeance is the Lord’s alone.
But all of that went out the window Sunday night and Monday, as news spread that American forces had killed Osama bin Laden. At Ground Zero in New York, site of the World Trade Center attacks that bin Laden masterminded, crowds sang the “hey, hey, good-bye” song that sports fans use to taunt their defeated foes. Borrowing another sports metaphor, one reveler held up a sign that said, “Obama 1, Osama 0.”
President Obama himself struck a solemn note as he announced bin Laden’s death, in a televised address from the White House. But outside, on Pennsylvania Avenue, the mood was merry. An estimated thousand people danced, waved flags, and chanted “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” They carried signs, too, including one which read, “Ding, Dong, Bin Laden is Dead.”
There is something deeply wrong with this picture. By celebrating death, even of someone as evil as bin Laden, we let our worst impulses trump what Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.” We look petty, juvenile, and small. And we should all be worried about that.