On the Killing of Osama bin Laden: A Statement by Rev. Anthony David

News of the killing of Osama bin Laden has affected Americans in different ways. Some are positively gleeful, like those who gathered outside of the White House after the news broke and chanted “USA! USA! USA!” People celebrating in the streets. “Ding, dong, the witch is dead!”

Others, who are more conspiracy-minded, insist on more proof. Where are pictures of the dead bin Laden? Where are the results of DNA probes? Where is the identification of the body by his family?

Still others are feeling deep ambivalence about the whole thing. The killing of Osama bin Laden closes the chapter on the bloodiest day on American soil since the Civil War, so there is a feeling of huge relief. A very bad man has been stopped. Our military has done their duty. But should the killing of any person, no matter how vile, be occasion for outright partying?

Echoing this ambivalence is a quote that is now making the rounds of the Internet, presumably from the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “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.” When I saw this quote on Facebook, I felt such gratitude. It said exactly what I was feeling.

Megan McArdle, a writer from the Atlantic, has exposed this quote as made-up; she asserts that Dr. King never said it. Yet I like to think that, in this historic moment, he would have. It’s what a great soul like Dr. King would have brought to this moment in time. “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.”

The key spiritual question is and has always been, “What do we love?” What we love we serve; what we serve we become. So we must carefully cultivate a love of what is good, in all things. To rejoice in the killing of Osama bin Laden may seem entirely innocent, but it teaches us to take delight in violence. It inclines our hearts to love what is unworthy. It puts us on a wrong path. What we love, we serve; what we serve, we become. To take pleasure in violence is to serve violence; to serve it is to become it.

“I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.”

**
POSTSCRIPT

I have come to understand that the made-up MLK quote is actually adapted from the following real quote:

“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. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction” (King, 1981, p. 53)

King, M. L. J. (1981). Strength to love. New York Walker And Co. (the original text is from 1963, this pagination is from the 1981 version)

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8 thoughts on “On the Killing of Osama bin Laden: A Statement by Rev. Anthony David

  1. I don’t think most people are rejoicing so much in the death of the man as they are rejoicing in a sense that a source of evil influence in the world has been silenced and “their country” silenced it. I think the reaction, for them, would have been the same if he had surrendered and been taken captive.

    With that said, I acknowledge that there are those who do rejoice in killing. Let me not be one of them, is my prayer.

  2. Russ says:

    The quote from Dr. King that has been munged into longer versions of the fake is taken from his work “Strength to Love” (1963), and reads (so far as I have been able to find) as follows:

    “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction… The chain reaction of evil – hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars – must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.”

    For my part, whoever wrote the fake version and then munged it with parts of Dr. King’s real writing missed the point. It was not necessary to appropriate, amend, or alter his words, and the fact that this was done by the fake-quote-author brings its motivations into question. By my read, the false quote uses language that serves to cloak the very self-oriented “hey, I find all this partying offensive” within ethical/logical justification; this is something that Dr. King, whether due to specific intent or side-effect of belief, did not tend to engage in. I and others in my circle picked up on this nuance, and though it did not occur to us until finding the Atlantic story to dig deeper, we knew that something about the “MLK quote” felt askew.

    Dr. King’s actual words – the real quote – are insights as to *why* violence is, in the end, unworkable. And in being insights, they are profoundly more instructive than the false quote’s simple positional declarativeness. In fact, what makes his real words all the more striking is that he would not need, were he here today, to declare in the style of the false quote – his ultimate position would be a foregone conclusion.

    The false quote sounds good, and maybe that is its point – to sound good and make one who agrees with it feel good – but I’ll take the real Dr. King any day of the week, first. The gift he gave to all of us came through careful examination, not from the throwing of moral stakes into the ground and declaring them sacred, as we unfortunately tend to in public discussion today.

    Thank you, Rev. David. A thoughtful piece, and one that was (and is) needed.

  3. Walter Broner says:

    I see I’m way behind y’all. Apologies. Indeed the original words of MLK Jr. are better and didn’t have to be “photoshopped” for the occasion.

  4. Kathy says:

    From what I understand, the person who originally posted the quote on Facebook had clearly delineated her comment (the first sentence) from the MLK quote that she had put in quotation marks. Others who posted after her used her entire post as the quote. So, it was just a perpetuation of a mistake that the original FB poster did not make.

    Anyway, thank you for the post, Anthony. I have been struggling personally with my reaction to the death of bin Laden, vascillating between relief that this evil man is no longer in this world, and sadness that once again the US is responsible for the death of a human being.

  5. Russ says:

    From the Roman Catholic Church in response to the news: “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 event is not an opportunity for a further growth of hatred, but of peace.” (Source: NPR). I am not a Christian – but I think this can apply, at some level, to all of us.

  6. Tracey says:

    Thanks for this. I’ve been feeling uncomfortable since Monday morning and been having difficulty articulating my feelings. I don’t feel comfortable rejoicing in the death of another human being, even if he was said to be evil and the cause of an event as tragic as 9/11. Frankly, I wonder when one society gets to play God and take away the life of another person that way. It makes me sad and scared for what’s ahead for us.

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