The Killing of Bin Laden and the Myth of Progress

By this time blog pages have already hosted virtually every comment that can be conceived in the wake of Sunday night’s announcement of the death of Osama bin Laden. Is there really anything else to say that hasn’t been said numerous times already? Probably not. But after taking a hiatus since the end of the Lent season, the week’s news provides a good point for re-entry. So forgive me for jumping into the overcrowded pool. What I’d like to offer is a set of observations from the perspective of some ten days since the announcement.

One observation is that there isn’t all that much buzz remaining. Think of it–a ten-year mission finally successfully concluded after thousands of thousands of lives cut short, many more forever disrupted, billions of dollars, straining of international as well domestic relations and yet ten days later it is old news. After a few spontaneous celebrations and a bit of posturing and anti-posturing, it seems we have returned to the business at hand, which is finding ways to lower the price of government and gas, not necessarily in that order.

Another observation is that we seem to get it–even though the stated objective of all those lives and dollars was to “take out” the terrorist mastermind responsible for the 9/11 attacks, having done so does not make us feel so much safer after all. There are so many more waiting to take up bin Laden’s mantel, and still another generation who will be motivated to do the same out of revenge for his killing. If anything, we may have succeeded in thwarting some plans for mayhem in the short run, and perhaps will find information leading to the identification of other key figures in the organization. But the level of hostility has been raised, not lowered. One wonders whether mankind will ever learn that vengeance is never complete; and because it is not, there will indeed be wars and rumors of wars until the kingdom of our Lord comes in its fulness.

There are those who continue to be committed to the myth of progress. In spite of the ever increasing numbers of people being killed at the hands of others, secular thinkers in protected ivy covered buildings on pristine campuses, surrounded by upper middle class neighbors continue to spout off about how morality is a genetically based reality if it is anything, and that since evolution is always in a forward direction, we are getting better as a race. The thesis, when measured against real life, is laughable; yet it continues to find more and more life on the campus of virtually every institution of higher education because–well, because the alternative is to acknowledge that the true, the good, and the beautiful have a basis outside of randomly occurring carbon-based life forms. And for Dawkins, Dennett, Singer, and company, that will never do. The fact that our sophistication has to do only with the means we use to abuse one another is painfully obvious, not only in the world of terrorists and international espionage, but in the manner in which internet crime has become so widespread. This, folks, is not progress, no matter how much data our computers and phones (which is it?) may transmit and receive.

A final observation is with regard to Christians, who seem divided between rejoicing over bin Laden’s defeat and trying to respond with sadness over the passing of another soul into a Christless eternity. Inevitably, this involves the perpetual dilemma of living in two kingdoms simultaneously. We are citizens of a national entity which bears the sword for a reason, that being the protection of the citizens and their interests. Yes, we can and perhaps should engage in a discussion of just how widely those interests extend; but in a world of wars both real and rumored, the sword is there for occasions precisely like the one which resulted in the pursuit of bin Laden. But neither the United States nor any other nation is to be identified with the kingdom of God, which is where our “real” citizenship is located. That indicates to me that the kingdom not of this world–though present in it where Christ rules–has a higher claim on my allegiance. We would all like for the USA, or whatever nation we recognize as home, to be patterned more closely to the kingdom of God. Yet until the Lord of the universe returns, evil will continue threaten shores and stores; and the government must continue to offer its protection. And that means that those who do and intend to do harm must be dealt with; and it is cause for gratitude when it happens. But it isn’t progress; it is marking time while the true progress is that of the kingdom of God gaining its claim over more and more lives.

So much more could be said–but I’ll invite readers to say it.

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5 thoughts on “The Killing of Bin Laden and the Myth of Progress

  1. Since you have covered many of my critiques of the last 10 days, i’ll up the ante as a neo-anabaptist (the non-peace contingent, reminding the anabaptists that they have a theology beyond peace even if they have forgotten it) and say that much of the postings by whining Christians on this subject are essentially upside down.

    When the State stepped in and imposed its crude but effective justice under one of its four federal justice systems (this one being the rules of land warfare) it was doing something probably in the Pauline line of argument. At the same time (ala Milbank) there continues to be zero discussion of the trillions of dollars spent in the social system as the State continues to exercise its theology of salvation in saving people whether from their choices or others (in the here and now because that is all there is), creating fairness and equality (making the plains straight) and preaching the eschatology (with the partnership of science) of progress/wellness/affluence “coming soon”.

    Since you make the big money and know how to pronounce theodicy and more, how do you integrate the “the poor are with you always”, the person handicapped at birth (John 9) is “so that the acts of God can be revealed in him..”, and it is really hard for a rich man to get into heaven, into our wonderful Statism?

    Meanwhile we pray to our new messiah Loyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs who is doing God’s business…states without end, Amen.

    Btw, I disagree with you about Osama, no one will take his mantle up, in Zizek land the irruption was in the past, the Militant is dead, AQ’s time is over, only a faint shadow will continue on. Our State needs a new ‘object petit a’ to construct a mythos to further its impassible (without feeling) emulation of the Holy and construct omniscience, omnipotence, and omnibenevolence for us all.

    • I wish I could be as optimistic about bin Laden’s continuing legagcy; even among his own sons, however, there is likely to be a revenge motive strong enough to ensure an unsafe future. With Arab Spring now turning full attention toward Israel, we will be caught up in that attention, I suspect, as Israel’s perceived or real ally. Never mind the overt and covert assistance rendered to the overthrow of the Arab governments; we will never be welcomed by Arabs.

      Having the poor always with us is a statement of fact, not a statement of the way things ought to be. We are caught in the position of already having ceded such concerns to the state, and I really do not know how to transition out of that condition without creating more suffering in any such transition. I do not believe that the concentration of more and more wealth into fewer and fewer hands is a good thing; and I know of no other instrument, horridly ill-suited as it may be, than the will of the people to enact a change that is not itself unjust. Neither I nor anyone else is paid big enough bucks to figure the way out of that conumdrum. So we do what is right and just in the decisions actually before us as persons interacting with others each day God has been gracious enough to grant us.

  2. I think you are ready to join the Radical Orthodox, or at least neo-anabaptists.

    The concentration is horrific, and has gotten more horrific in the last 36 months, but it is an ignoble end to the singular focus of progress and the attendant empire. In that creation of the mythos/mythoi were many supporting mythos/mythoi including “college education”

    While I agree that the poor issue is a statement of fact, one has to wonder given the
    amount of canon dealing with it across a couple of thousands years, if it is not an
    unalterable fact. In fact in my ETS “theology of money” course there was substantial
    discussion of that and why, God has a very specific purpose in poverty.

    Can we not consider that the hubris of the 60’s and the great society simply didn’t work?
    That the State simply has no efficacy here? I agree that what is before us is what we do, but I do remind you that the will of the people generated the guillotine as well.

    • I’ve been ready for radical orthodoxy since before there was such a thing. But it’s a daunting task for which evangelicals are ill-suited, other-worldy as they are.

      Both the hubris of the great society program (Aka New Deal II) and the deregulation of unbridled greed in the 80s overlooked the unarguable fact of human depravity. Taken together, they should show to anyone paying attention (like the RO crowd) that self-interest untethered from responsibility breeds disaster, even with otherwise reasonable assumptions. But only the Christian story can provide a framework within which both concerns can be accommodated for a provisionally stable social order. If that story has been hijacked and changed into something else, we are out of resources. Other than an old-fashioned Holy Spirit revival, that is, which is never under our control or timing but always a fitting matter of prayer.

      When the Christian college makes that its reason for being, it deserves our support and our youth.

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