My Take: Why partying over bin Laden's death made me cringe
People celebrate the announcement of the death of Osama bin Laden at the White House.
May 3rd, 2011
06:16 PM ET

My Take: Why partying over bin Laden's death made me cringe

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

Today in my “Death and Immortality” course at Boston University we were supposed to be discussing suicide and euthanasia. Instead we spoke of the death of Osama Bin Laden, the celebrations that followed in its wake and the Facebook war that broke out later concerning the propriety of “celebrating death.”

Many of my students partied in the streets and on nearby Boston Common after President Barack Obama announced to the world that bin Laden was dead. Others found those celebrations not only inappropriate but morbid - fit for Mardi Gras, perhaps, but not for the demise of a fellow human being, however odious.

When I polled the class, my students were split almost precisely down the middle on this question. Some felt “uneasy” and “uncomfortable” with the parties (which one student insisted were actually patriotic "rallies"). Others thought what was being celebrated was not death but justice; finally, America had a victory in the war on terror: “Mission Accomplished.”

When I turned on the television on Sunday night and saw the impromptu partying, I cringed. I wasn’t sure why, but I didn’t like the optics.

A student today helped to clarify my reaction. It looked to her - and to me - like images we had seen before: people celebrating in the streets in the Muslim world after the 9/11 attacks. Have we become, she and I thought, like them?

Another student said that all the liberal hand-wringing about the propriety of the parties (including my own) was rooted in an inability to face up to our shared humanity. It is human to get angry. It is human to want revenge. It is human to hate your enemies, and to throw your hands in the air in exultation after they are killed.

Still, I couldn’t help noticing that the contingent in favor of the partying seemed farther removed from the events of 9/11. Students from New York City who had lost friends or family members on 9/11 - including one who said she went to 15 funerals in the days after the attacks - were in general more somber and reflective. Instead of celebrating bin Laden’s demise, it seemed, they were reliving the horrors of that day.

I didn’t lose any close friends on 9/11. But I thought that the visuals of drunken Americans chanting mindless (and often vulgar) slogans were not in American national security interests. There are lots of people around the world who hate America, and this was doing nothing to make us any more likeable.

But the key reasons for my disquiet were more psychological than strategic. I just don’t feel comfortable celebrating anyone’s death.

I think it comes down to an awareness of our shared mortality; the death of another human being reminds me of my own. And that is not a cause for celebration.

But the main reason I felt uncomfortable watching the bacchanalia in front of the White House and on Boston Common is because when it comes to death –anyone’s death - I feel I am in the presence of a great mystery, perhaps the great mystery of human life. And at least for me the appropriate response to that mystery is awe.

One of my students (she was in the anti-partying contingent) said that moments like this should lead us first and foremost into reflection. That is precisely what my students did for me today.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Death • Islam • Opinion • Osama bin Laden

soundoff (1,428 Responses)
  1. for justice

    We kill one terrorist and people say we celebrate just like them, sorry but from the stand point of a soldier we celebrated a victory in justice. One less terrorist trying to kill my brothers and sisters who sacrifice to protect this great nation, yes I will celebrate this victory.

    May 4, 2011 at 8:43 am |
    • Superchik

      Call me crazy, but I thought Americans found justice in our legal system, not at the point of a gun. And all of your bothers and sister volunteered to be where they are today. Keep in mind, they're also trying to kill someone else's brother(s) and/or sister(s) – on their land.

      May 4, 2011 at 8:49 am |
  2. ejwejw

    I can't say I was happy or felt like celebrating the death of Osama Bin Laden, but I was greatly relieved that this chapter in history is over. I will, however, definitely celebrate when all our fighting young men come home.

    May 4, 2011 at 8:43 am |
  3. Anonymous

    I'm in agreement with those that say that what was being celebrated was not death but justice.

    May 4, 2011 at 8:42 am |
  4. concerned citizen

    Wake up people, human beings killing other human beings is not cause for celebration, but for us to ask ourselves, how in this day and age have we not figured out a better way to solve our differences?
    The first thing a preschooler is taught is not to hit but " use your words", and yet grown ups with huge amounts of responsibility are not held to the same standard?
    CELEBRATE the fact that human beings are still barely more than animals?
    I don't think so.

    May 4, 2011 at 8:42 am |
  5. Susan

    While I am grateful that Bin Laden is gone and applaud the bravery and excellence of the Navy Seals, I find it disconcerting that others are celebrating so loudly the death of another. In my opinion, he was evil. But, he was a person. Rejoicing in another's demise, feels like we have lowered ourselves to the "lowness" of the other.

    May 4, 2011 at 8:41 am |
  6. 2011judgment

    Osama deserved being put to death, but I would not have went into the streets and celebrated.

    May 4, 2011 at 8:41 am |
    • Dustin

      You hit the nail on the head. He did deserve it but celebrating makes us no better then those who did this to us. Let's show the world that we have learned a thing or two since that horrible day.

      May 4, 2011 at 8:53 am |
  7. Laurie

    This is a great article & I agree with your feelings 100%. Celebrating anyone's death to me is not humane at all. In a perfect world I wish they would have only captured him. Now torture I would be fine with... that's another story. I heard a comedian say something funny: They should have captured him and made him go through airport security for the rest of his life. LOL

    May 4, 2011 at 8:41 am |
  8. browntree

    I can see your point, but to call that terrorist POS a human being is an insult to everyone that actually is one, so your point is moot.

    May 4, 2011 at 8:40 am |
  9. Patricia

    At first, I too cringed. Then I just tried to figure out what all the partying was about. I think it's because UBL had been elevated to mythical figure status, and people didn't really see him as a person any more. Also, the whole thing took on the character of "Ding, dong, the witch is dead," to me, so I think people were celebrating the death of evil, not a human being. With that being said, all the celebrating still seemed a little creepy to me, and I chose to turn it off whenever it came on.

    May 4, 2011 at 8:39 am |
  10. Steve

    This article made me cringe. I'm still mad about 9/11 and I always will be. This showed the world that if you attack us, we will never stop until we get you even if it takes 10 years. I thought it was great to see Americans actually celebrating over a victory for a change instead of seeing our enemies celebrate.

    May 4, 2011 at 8:38 am |
  11. Superchik

    "Thou shall not kill."*

    (*Unless they're really, really bad and they killed first)

    Nope, I don't see that asterisk anywhere in here...

    May 4, 2011 at 8:38 am |
  12. Beth

    Any one who thinks the war on terrorism is over is crazy. The death of one man will not end this war. Terrorism is bigger than any one person and the death of one of their leaders will only fuel their fire.

    May 4, 2011 at 8:38 am |
  13. Tim59

    I guess that I'm in the minority here because I also found these celebrations somewhat distasteful. Eliminating bin Laden was a great thing but it comes under the heading of a necessary evil. It's like when a surgeon has to amputate a limb to save a life. Not really cause for celebration. To me these celebrations represent some of the negative aspects of human nature. BTW, I'm not religious.

    May 4, 2011 at 8:37 am |
    • fuzzy

      Completely agree. I certainly let out a "Wow!" when I saw the news the next day, but I cringed when I saw the celebrations, and I'm not a religious person. And then I looked more closely and noted that nearly everyone celebrating was young. Granted, if this had happened back when I was in college and all of my friends were partying.....I probably would have been right by their side taking part. But that was back then, 20 years ago, when I didn't know any better. So, I don't fault those who celebrated all that much. By and large they were just kids, looking to party, and at that age they just aren't thinking clearly.

      May 4, 2011 at 8:54 am |
  14. Henry

    How dare you suggest that we have become like those who celebrated after 9/11! Don't you think that it makes a difference that they were celebrating.the deaths of thousands of innocent people while we are celebrating the death of the person responsible for that act of terrorism?

    May 4, 2011 at 8:34 am |
    • sammy

      What about the thousands of innocent lives lost in the so called operation of restoring peace in Afghanistan and Iraq..??

      May 4, 2011 at 8:50 am |
    • Dustin

      This doesn't make us any better then what those people did to us, plain and simple. two wrongs don't make a right

      May 4, 2011 at 8:51 am |
    • GeorgeKcnn

      Exactly!!! Theologians sitting in ivory towers never get the message correctly.

      May 4, 2011 at 8:54 am |
    • gingersrule1

      Interesting how our leaders have lost the hair on their packages. I can't believe this guy is American the way he's so upset about the death of the leader of the terrorists. You'd think he'd like to give OBL another chance. I've got an idea. Lets rebuild the twin towers and clone OBL. Give him some weapons and ammo and a new jet and lets see if you can convince him to make a different choice while insuring plenty of civilians are vulnerable. That is the kind of American this pastor is.

      May 4, 2011 at 9:00 am |
  15. La, La, La

    We are human and thus, not perfect. Didn't we all celebrate the death of Hitler and the destruction of Nazi Germany? Didn't the Iraqi people celebrate the hanging of Saddam Hussein? Aren't the Cubans in Miami hoping for Castro to die so they can celebrate?

    I am glad that the citizens of our country went out to celebrate the destruction of this man and I am glad the our President had the gall to give the order to take him out.

    I would love to take your class in euthanasia, of which I am 100% in favor of!

    May 4, 2011 at 8:33 am |
  16. Steve

    Seems pretty simple: WWJD? As with much of life, we find it hard to follow His example, but he is clear on what how we should act.

    May 4, 2011 at 8:33 am |
    • Bill

      He would touch kids

      May 4, 2011 at 8:47 am |
  17. I_Mean_For Real

    I will never understand why some people like this guy can wonder around the world with blinders on.
    This world of made up of many different types of people, and some of them bad.
    No reason, good home or bad home, good parents or no parents, they are just bad.
    They have hatred for something or anything, and in this case this creature had a hatred for anything that he could not control. The world is truly a better place with him out of it.
    Also those that are AFRAID of reprisal from muslims, GUESS WHAT PEOPLE, That is why it's called TERROR!!!!
    They gain power by making you AFRAID!!!!!

    May 4, 2011 at 8:33 am |
    • Dustin

      He might be bad but celebrating makes us no better then those who did this to us. Want to know why this attack happened and why others will, its because of things like this. A "better" country would have stood their ground and felt good but not have celebrated.

      May 4, 2011 at 8:48 am |
  18. Muneef

    An Arabian Proverb states that "The worst of all disasters is the One that makes laugh...admit many might have laughed out first out of disbelieve that such kids  is said to have pulled such unbelievable act to such A Country with such tight Security ...then again have laughed in disbelieve of what might happen as a reaction for that pulled act which serves no Arabian nor a Muslim country but rather it served those who want certain accounts or references to burn down or to shake the trade for certain immediate gains or for gains that might result out of the reaction that will follow...

    To find out the truth you have to find out who had benefited from those attacks against the twin towers....?! It would never be by any ordinary men but it would rather be by those on the tiptop of (Finance&Power) to pull such act either towards making immediate financial or political gains or for hiding their crimes by making another crime....       

    The biggest proof to that was killing him with any chance of court hearing to his words of defense or finding him guilty of all charges they made us hear over the years...so they chance to close the chapter....

    [40:44] "Some day you will remember what I am telling you now. I leave the judgment of this matter to GOD; GOD is the Seer of all the people."

    May 4, 2011 at 8:33 am |
  19. Mattie

    I don't give two flips about Osama- All I know is that I haven't lived a full life unless someone somewhere is willing to celebrate my death.

    May 4, 2011 at 8:33 am |
  20. fuzzy

    As a 43 year old watching the celebrations on television, I too cringed. To me, it looked like 18-24 year olds looking for any excuse to party. It looked like they were celebrating what they saw as "their VE day" (I saw that commented on by one of the revelers), when to anyone over 30, it looked like just another excuse for college students to get wasted. It was in poor taste. And I'm not concerned so much with what the rest of the world thinks, but how those who actually lost loved ones felt. I can imagine the millions of tweets that went out something like this..."Dude, you've got to get down to the commons....we're partying over Bin Laden's ass getting taken down.....it's sick!!" Really, pretty immature

    May 4, 2011 at 8:31 am |
    • k10d24

      I think you're squarely on point...a bunch of college kids looking for any reason to party. Anybody with half a brain knows that Bin Laden's death changes nothing. It doesn't bring back the ones he killed, it doesn't bring back the civil liberties we've lost since 9/11 and it doesn't make us any safer moving forward....so what's there to celebrate?

      May 4, 2011 at 8:41 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.