Thursday, 5 May 2011

Osama Bin Laden & the vicious cycle of bad theology

There are many things that have troubled me this week. I still don't understand the AV voting system & I only have a few hours left to go to the polling booths! Spotify want to charge me for music which I have got used to streaming for free. The Turner prize nominations have been announced.....need I say more.

However, my most uncomfortable moments this week have arisen whilst watching the world press & internet feeding frenzy on the story of an older Arab man who was shot dead in front of his family. Osama Bin Laden also happened to be the most wanted terrorist in the world.

I'm uncomfortable about all of this on so many levels. Whilst not wanting to drop into a knee-jerk anti american conspiracy theory diatribe - I find the chanting, cheering crowds outside the White House deeply troublesome. I remember 9/11 - it was terrible. Is there a just reason for going after those responsible & bringing them to justice? Yes, absolutely.
However, has the link between these acts & Osama Bin Laden ever been firmly established? If so, is he still the kind of threat or aggressor which justifies an outright act of war against him & his family?

Arrest & justice yes - shoot him dead when he has no weapon, throw his body in the sea, take a few grainy photos on an iphone - it's all a bit wild west, wanted dead or alive. I thought we were propagating the kind of modern democracy which had left revenge killings behind & went in for fair trials. To follow it up with TV broadcasts of whooping celebrants is the sort of behaviour we despise when we see it in the flag burning, gun toting middle east - why is it any more acceptable in the USA?

Ultimately, I'm uncomfortable with the notion of hunting a man for almost 10 years in order to shoot him dead. For a society which tells the world they are 'one nation under God', these actions preach a different God to the one I know. Our theology really does shape us - the things we believe about God really do impact the way we behave in the world. If we have been raised on the God of anger, the God of revenge, the God of retribution, is it any surprise we act this way? We are totally sincere, but we are sincerely wrong. This is the way of the zealot, the religious bigot, the terrorist - the way of the Apostle Paul before he had a true revelation of who God is in Jesus Christ. Here the American Pastor who burns Korans & preaches hate is no different from his Islamic counterpart.

If bad theology has got us in this mess, what could some better theology do to break this vicious cycle? The bible presents us with God made flesh, the man Jesus who said love your neighbour as yourself. The radical God who says love your enemies, love those who persecute you. The extreme God who says when they strike you, turn the other cheek.

I'm not attempting to square the circle today, nor am I looking down from a high moral standpoint above our American friends - I'm aware of our own national faults as Brits! Perhaps if I had been in New York or known someone who perished in the Twin Towers I would be thinking differently.
However, the things Jesus said & the way that he lived, even giving himself up as an innocent man before His enemies - this example of extreme love should at least challenge our foreign policy positions & the outworking of armed strategies in dark & dangerous places. Imagine, if we allowed our home affairs to be governed by the same precepts that drive this kind of foreign policy? Our streets would be full of blood killings & long standing generational feuds between neighbours.

Is the world better off without Osama? Quite possibly. But is there a better way to live, a better way to understand who God is through the way we behave towards one another? Certainly.

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