Thursday, May 5, 2011

Discussing Bin Laden

Yesterday, on the way to swim practice, we passed a sign that read something to the effect of "Bin Laden is Dead, Praise Jesus, God Bless America!"  My oldest daughter (age 10) knew that Bin Laden was dead, but she pointed to the sign and started asking questions:

"Why would we praise Jesus for someone's death?"
"What does God blessing America have to do with someone being killed?"

... and so on. Good questions, really. I don't typically have many moments where I hesitate to answer, but with a car full of young children I was a bit tongue-tied. I've read many stories and watched the footage of people celebrating Bin Laden's death. It made me feel awkward, because while I didn't know how I felt about the matter, I knew I didn't feel like jumping up and down. "Why not?!?!" is the incredulous response I've received from several people with whom I've discussed this issue in person. Why, indeed? I know I am not sad in the least to see Bin Laden go - that's for certain. But nor do I feel like setting off fireworks and having a parade.  I explained to the girls that there are groups of people all over the world that do terrible things, causing many innocent people to die - as in the 9/11 attacks. And that Bin Laden was the famous leader of one of those groups, so people are glad to that he is gone. And I told them that because of the 9/11 (and other) attacks, many Americans feel that Bin Laden's death is a victory for America and are celebrating with signs, etc. I also had to touch on the fact that many people feel their god is on their side - we talked about the myriad of wars, conflicts, etc., from history and how in each instance the parties involved (be they Ancient Greeks praising Zeus or modern-day Americans praising the Christian God) feel that their deity is on their side, so they pray asking for help in bringing them victory or a positive resolution. But I tried to make clear that for me, personally, while I felt a sense of what can only be described as a type of relief (?), I did not experience elation, probably because when it comes down to it, I support nonviolence. It would be hard for me to jump up and down over any violent solution.

As I told them this, a part of me whispered, "You're sounding very un-American..."  But that's only the part that is surrounded by signs like the one we passed. Part of being American is having the freedom to choose your beliefs and life philosophies.  So I explained that to the girls as well. I told them that my view is probably not the popular choice (especially given where we live) but that it is my right nonetheless to have it. I explained that I don't have a solution to the problems Bin Laden and his group pose, but I do have questions and asking questions is an important first step.

We ended up having a very interesting discussion and in the end I think that is the best I could have done. They probably walked away with more questions than answers, but I felt I could sleep at night because I ignored my first instinct to gloss over the difficulty of the situation. Initially, I felt they couldn't possibly understand so complex an issue - I mean, I can barely wrap my head around it sometimes. But keeping it relatively simple and focused allowed them to think, process, and ask questions. It felt like the beginning of a new level of discussion (with my oldest specifically) as the questions coming at me were quite mature, and I'm looking forward to the next phase.

"The important thing is not to stop questioning.  Curiosity has its own reason for existing.  One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. "
~Albert Einstein


  1. You couldn't have said it better! I think I will just have the boys read your post because it says much better then I could about my feelings about OBL! (ok is that cheating?)My heart goes out to all the people that were killed on his watch here and there! THANKS so much for sharing this with me!

  2. I also agree,we shouldn't be happy about any person dying,whether that person was good or bad....they will be judged by god and god alone.I didn't feel comfortable at all watching the people celebrate like that at the White House...I just thought it made our country look bad,it's one thing to feel relief but to celebrate it is another.At least you are teaching your children great morals. :)

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  3. Shared url to this entry on my fb and twitter with a big AMEN.

  4. Good job! It's hard to answer those types of questions sometimes, esp when they're politically or religiously charged - or in this case, both. You handled them very well; helping them think without telling them what to think. Well done!