A CNN research poll from May 4th gives us a sobering look into the mind of the average American. Across most political and gender lines, six out of ten Americans believe Osama bin Laden is being tortured in the worst imaginable way, and will continue to be tortured trillions of years after our universe has died.
I don’t want to make light of the atrocities committed by and in the name of bin Laden. He wasn’t a good guy. Many Americans are still suffering as a result of the attacks on 9/11 and the American military retaliation. I’m glad he’s dead and we can put an end to this horrific chapter.
Even so, there’s something sinister lurking beneath our collective righteous joy. Six out of ten Americans report believing that their god — the One True God, not like the one true god of the Muslims — was not happy enough that Osama bin Laden was killed. Not happy enough by a lot. Jesus, the god of love and mercy, has begun torturing bin Laden with flames unimaginable to even the worst burn victim on earth. He will continue torturing him until well after our sun goes nova and destroys the earth. When the Milky Way is a trillion year old memory, Osama bin Laden will be screaming and pleading for mercy as the loving hand of Jesus continues to pour on heat upon heat upon heat, burning without destroying every non-corporeal cell in his body. There is no hope for him. No redemption. No point at which Jesus will say, “Ok. Your punishment is now proportionate to your sins. You may go.”
And six out of ten Americans are OK with that.
The emotional hyperbole is disturbing enough on the face of it, but let’s not forget our theology. Osama bin Laden’s sin wasn’t the orchestration of 9/11. It wasn’t that he was responsible for thousands of deaths and years of human rights violations. His sin was disbelieving the magical story of Jesus’ death and resurrection two thousand years ago.
Osama bin Laden committed the same sin as my father. Several years ago, my father passed. He was a photojournalist, and died of injuries from a plane crash — the unintentional kind. He was a kind and loving human being who frequently sacrificed for others. He didn’t take life. Instead, he brought joy and laughter into the lives of those who loved him. He did his best to be a loving husband and father, and to live life well.
My father was not a believer. This has been an uncomfortable fact for some relatives and friends, but it’s true. He rejected the story of the resurrection of Jesus and salvation for all of mankind. And for that, he is laying on a plank beside Osama bin Laden, being tortured with the worst kind of flames imaginable. He will continue to be tortured for trillions of years after the universe has died.
This is the unadulterated theology of Jesus’ love for humanity. It doesn’t matter what you do. Osama and my father and Ghandi are together in hell. They are not receiving separate kinds of punishment — and frankly, how would that make it any better? What could it possibly mean to me that my father is receiving “a bit less” eternal torture? That his flames aren’t quite as hot as bin Ladin’s?
This is not about my father, though. His life and death are just my own personal window into the moral depravity of Christian theology. We have all cared for someone who didn’t buy the story, and Christianity offers no justice to any of them.
As a non-believer, I have a less bombastic view of things. Osama bin Laden is dead. He is dead because he committed a crime against America, and we sent our military to kill him. Cause and effect. Did he deserve more? Possibly. If I had a magic wand, and could revive him from death to kill him again, would I do it? Maybe. Maybe he deserved to die five deaths, or ten, or three thousand, or ten thousand. It is not mine to say. He was punished for his crime, and for that, I am glad.
However, I will not allow myself to fall victim to the false sense of justice perpetuated by Christian theology. I will not celebrate with the millions of believers who are rejoicing — those righteous masses cheering not because bin Laden is being punished for 9/11, but for disbelieving their particular religious myth. I will not think myself superior because my god punishes everyone who rejects him regardless of their actions on earth. This is not justice, and it is not morality. It is zealotry, and I cannot abide it in my ethical framework.