Thoughts on the Death of Osama bin Laden

May 2, 2011

"Normal Dan" Dan Liechty

The news this morning is that Osama bin Laden is dead. He chose to live by the sword, and so it has come about that he also has died by the sword. I have been avoiding further news broadcasts this morning because I know for sure that they will be chock full of celebratory, victorious high-fiving indistinguishable from a sporting event. I am avoiding these displays not because I feel myself better or above such celebration, but exactly because I know I am not. The desire for heroic victory over evil animates all of us, myself definitely included.

Yet it was only a few short days ago, as part of the Passover Seder (a ritual of Judaism increasingly celebrated in many Christian circles as well) that we reminded ourselves that even the death of an enemy of our people is nonetheless the death of a fellow human being, one of God’s own creations. This is the reminder of Moses, even as the people dance to Miriam’s Song of the Sea, celebrating the drowning of Pharaoh’s army.

Are we then wrong to feel relief and even elation in the vanquishing of an enemy of our people? Should be browbeat ourselves and feel guilty for such feelings? Can we demand this of ourselves and remain human beings?! If we demand of ourselves the complete abolition of such feelings, it can only be “achieved” by layer upon layer of denial, of refusing to recognize within ourselves that which is truly there.

This said, I do think there is great wisdom in the fact that our ancestors placed this reminder on the lips of Moses right at that celebratory juncture. It raises the question, does our sense of joy in this death, and the accompanying lack of mourning and indifference in our souls for the life of Osama bin Laden, reflect our highest nature and sense of self, not that which we are, but that toward which we strive to become? What should be teach our children, when they ask about this part of the Seder?

I frankly don’t know. But this is what I have tried to pass on to my child – that in placing this reminder on the lips of Moses, our ancestors meant to remind us that if we revel in, justify, and perpetuate soul indifference even here, in the death of our enemies, this plants a seed which grows into soul indifference in many other areas of our life. This soul indifference eventually becomes a mortal threat to our essential quest as ethical monotheists, well summarized in the “Mi-sheberekh,” the prayer for healing – “let us find the courage to make our lives a blessing.” Ultimately, soul indifference does not stand still. It is either spreading or being beat back in our individual and collective life. In deciding the direction we will go, our duty is to listen to this reminder of Moses, strategically placed in the Passover Haggadah, most especially on this day of nationalistic rejoicing.



  1. Agreed. Had no desire to celebrate and was initially puzzled by the reactions of others. That said, am glad that bin Laden died. He seemed a particularly bad influence on human society, leading his followers in the direction of destruction. While he freely encouraged others to commit suicide in the acts of violence, and while proclaiming his own willingness for martyrdom, putting one of his wives in front as a human shield is damning. Another example of Becker’s thesis.

  2. Thank you, Dan. You put into words the thoughts of many.

  3. Thanks Dan for pointing out the universal in the ongoing war.

    The tragedy and salvation of our being human is that we not only desire, but are driven to be more than we are just to be at all.

    Might I belatedly applaud your bringing to the blog another aspect of this topic in your earlier post on the use of the terms spirituality and religion. To me that post pointed out the futility and furiosity of our attempts to label ourselves and others.

    If a community can somehow abandon the attachment to projects of self definition and self analysis; self me, self you, self down the block, self over there, self in here, self living, self dieing and move to being simply the qualities that purify our existence of the pain we see and feel around us.







  4. Dan, thank you for the thoughts concerning the killing of Osama bin Laden. One would think that the matter is clear cut concerning his death, but it seems there is a large number of people who have expressed skepticism that he is dead at all. Or mostly that the government is lying to us. Guess I’m wondering how the works of Ernest Becker would explain conspiracy theorists?

  5. This last month of news…the Japan earthquake / tsunami…the killing of Bin Ladin….has caused me to read out of three Becker books, this last week. The collective “Fear” and “reaction / relief” of Bin Ladin’s demise has fascinated me..it’s like the “Boogie man” under the bed..completely based on fear, from very deep in people’s subconcious places..most opinions were pure instant “reaction”…very telling, and reactions were wildly all over the map. A few times, I was ripped into, for simply trying to get a dialog going about getting a little deeper, past the obvious “Celebrating” over Bin Laudanum’s death. It WAS NOT well received…lol…The gleeful, downright savage collective reaction was interesting…usually kind hearted little ‘ol ladies wanted to kick his corpse..that collective savagery that seems to barely be just below “civilized” behavior. BOY, have I been having some big time “Becker” moments, lately…so…I’m back reading from Becker’s books, and connecting the dots, that way. I don’t want any more angry reactions to my questions / observations…

  6. Oh, and Dan….It was timely, for me, reading what you had to say, here..thanks..

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