N.T. Wright’s Reflections on Osama bin Laden’s Death


Found below is a complete copy of N.T. Wright‘s reflections on Osama bin Laden’s death. It is taken from Kurt Willem’s blog (The Pangea Blog) in its entirety. For those who don’t know, N.T. Wright is considered one of, if not the, world’s premiere New Testament and Early Christianity scholars. He has written an amazing amount of books and articles, which has resulted in his influential voice being found across the world. Not only is he a scholar, but he recently left his position as the Bishop of Durham in the Anglican Church. Feel free to comment below.


N.T. Wright comments below on the recent situation with Osama bin Laden in light of the Myth of Redemptive Violence.  I think we Americans need to listen to relevant evangelical Christian voices from across the pond.


Former Bishop of Durham Dr Tom Wright has sent us this:
By Tom Wright

(Rt Revd Prof N T Wright, formerly Bishop of Durham, now Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of St Andrews)

Consider the following scenario. A group of IRA terrorists carry out a bombing raid in London. People are killed and wounded. The group escapes, first to Ireland, then to the United States, where they disappear into the sympathetic hinterland of a country where IRA leaders have in the past been welcomed at the White House. Britain cannot extradite them, because of the gross imbalance of the relevant treaty. So far, this is not far from the truth.
But now imagine that the British government, seeing the murderers escape justice, sends an aircraft carrier (always supposing we’ve still got any) to the Nova Scotia coast. From there, unannounced, two helicopters fly in under the radar to the Boston suburb where the terrorists are holed up. They carry out a daring raid, killing the (unarmed) leaders and making their escape. Westminster celebrates; Washington is furious.
What’s the difference between this and the recent events in Pakistan? Answer: American exceptionalism. America is allowed to do it, but the rest of us are not. By what right? Who says?
Consider another fictive scenario. Gangsters are preying on a small mid-western town. The sheriff and his deputies are spineless; law and order have failed. So the hero puts on a mask, acts ‘extra-legally’, performs the necessary redemptive violence (i.e. kills the bad guys), and returns to ordinary life, earning the undying gratitude of the local townsfolk, sheriff included. This is the plot of a thousand movies, comic-book strips, and TV shows: Captain America, the Lone Ranger, and (upgraded to hi-tech) Superman. The masked hero saves the world.
Films and comics with this plot-line have been named as favourites by most Presidents, as Robert Jewett and John Shelton Lawrence pointed out in The Myth of the American Superhero (2002) and Captain America and the Crusade Against Evil (2004). The main reason President Obama has been cheered to the echo across the US, even by his bitter opponents, is not simply the fully comprehensible sense of closure a decade after the horrible, wicked actions of September 11 2001. Underneath that, he has just enacted one of America’s most powerful myths.
Perhaps the myth was necessary in the days of the Wild West, of isolated frontier towns and roaming gangs. But it legitimizes a form of vigilantism, of taking the law into one’s own hands, which provides ‘justice’ only of the crudest sort. In the present case, the ‘hero’ fired a lot of stray bullets in Iraq and Afghanistan before he got it right. What’s more, such actions invite retaliation. They only ‘work’ because the hero can shoot better than the villain; but the villain’s friends may decide on vengeance. Proper justice is designed precisely to outflank such escalation.
Of course, ‘proper justice’ is hard to come by internationally. America regularly casts the UN (and the International Criminal Court) as the hapless sheriff, and so continues to play the world’s undercover policeman.
The UK has gone along for the ride. What will we do when new superpowers arise and try the same trick on us? And what has any of this to do with something most Americans also believe, that the God of ultimate justice and truth was fully and finally revealed in the crucified Jesus of Nazareth, who taught people to love their enemies, and warned that those who take the sword will perish by the sword?

Osama bin Laden’s Death: Reflections and Questions (Part 1)

Sunday night was an interesting night. My wife, mother-in-law, and newborn daughter were about to go bed when the news of something big was about to be announced by President Obama. The suspense was heightened by the fact that they couldn’t tell us what was going to be announced. The combination of this huge news coming so late in the evening with its secrecy was enough to keep us up. Then without warning, the channel we were watching decided to leak the info that it was in regards to Osama bin Laden and his death at the hand of our government.

My initial thoughts were rather mixed. I was pretty surprised by the matter. Surprised that they actually found him. Surprised that we were actually still looking for him. And even more surprised that now we seemed to have an “ending” to the search that apparently has continued since 9/11. I thought of the people and places that were greatly affected that fateful day. I remember, like most people of my generation, where I was and what I was doing. I remember the fighter jets flying over Philadelphia, where I lived during college, and wondering what was going on. Just like JFK’s assassination was a turning point for my parents’ generation, 9/11 would be a day marked for the rest of my generation’s life.

So I began to wonder if this would bring any resolve to the turmoil across the world. Would this now bring any peace to our country? To the Middle East? To the people suffering under bin Laden’s regime? Is the level of evil really lower now?

Soon thereafter celebration began to erupt across the country. Americans affected by the events of 9/11 seemingly had the justice they were after. Facebook, Twitter, and every news outlet were flooded with the news. Interestingly, it seemed as if there was a satisfaction in his death, even it was fleeting.

Personally, I felt satisfaction, curiosity, and, to be honest, worry and sorrow. For those I know who were personally affected by 9/11 I wondered if this would end a chapter in their lives. Would this be the end they were seeking? Is this end we all are seeking? Justice (who’s justice, is another question) seemed to carried out and bin Laden had now received what we all, myself included, had hoped for since 9/11.

But then I began to worry and feel sorrow in the fact that I should probably not feel and accept the satisfaction that came with his death. Is life really about vengeance? Is life really about getting back? Does death bring an end to evil? I also wondered about the call Jesus sent forth and to which I have answered. Regardless of anyone’s religious affiliation, we all must wrestle with and think through Jesus’ words of how to deal with evil and retaliation. Do they have any bearing on our world? Are they just words or do they produce anything worthwhile? Is the point just to “believe” in these words or do they produce something? Could their be a community in which peace brings reconciliation between enemies?

These are just some of my initial thoughts. Honestly, I have more questions than answers, but I really do believe that this event has the potential to be another watershed moment. How we react to Osama bin Laden’s death could be the event that pulls back the veil a bit, that points to our stances on the deeper realities of justice, violence, love, and reality.

So, how did you initially react? Did, or do, you find that how you did react conflicts with how you should react?