Everyone knows that he did heinous things during his time as a leader. But I am making an argument that religious people seem to be out of alignment with the way the God of us all would like for us to treat each other.
2011 has been a big year for bringing the malevolent influence of despots and terrorists to violent, bloody ends: Osama bin Laden, Anwar al-Awlaki and now Libyan tyrant Moammar Gadhafi.
It has also been a big year for people of faith to consider how to appropriately respond when bad guys get what, many feel, is coming to them. When Osama bin Laden was killed in early May, many Americans felt a sense of joyful triumph — some literally danced and celebrated in the streets. But others approached the news of bin Laden's death from the perspective of faith, citing the counsel of the Psalmist to not "gloat when your enemy falls."
"All people of good will should be pleased that bin Laden is no longer a personal threat, and that his death may further weaken terrorist plans and aspirations," said R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. "But open patriotic celebration in the streets? That looks far more like revenge in the eyes of a watching world, and it looks far more like we are simply taking satisfaction in the death of an enemy. That kind of revenge just produces greater numbers of enemies."
The recent death of Gadhafi has prompted similar introspection in the national faith community.
"Does Christian doctrine mandate that we make room for compassion even for one as villainous as Gadhafi?" United Church of Christ pastor Susan K. Smith wonders in her blog on the Washington Post's On Faith blog site.
"Just as when Osama bin Laden was killed, I am relieved that Gadhafi will no longer be able to terrorize the world," Pastor Smith writes. "But I also know that their deaths are not the end of terrorism nor are their deaths the end of corrupt leaders, who want power more than they want to be in a relationship with the God we all say we worship."
She referenced the Old Testament story of Moses leading the children of Israel across the parted Red Sea, and then the sea swallowing up their Egyptian pursuers. It would have been inappropriate for the Israelites to rejoice in the death of the Egyptians "because those Egyptians were God's children, too."
"This God of us all, whether we be Christian, Jew or Muslim, holds compassion for us all, and apparently weeps when any of us fall," Pastor Smith wrote. "But this God must also weep when we who say we are enlightened and are close to God so easily kill each other."
Pastor Smith made it clear that she is not making an argument for the "goodness" of Gadhafi. "Everyone knows that he did heinous things during his time as a leader," she wrote. "But I am making an argument that religious people seem to be out of alignment with the way the God of us all would like for us to treat each other."
As if to illustrate Pastor Smith's point, Kuma Games, the company that turned the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden into a video game, has announced that a computer game version of the death of Gadhafi should be available sometime this week.
Rachel Wagner, an associate professor of religion and culture at Ithaca College, wrote on Religion Dispatches that "Kuma Games' immediate impulse to create a video game about Gadhafi's death may be more than just a marketing ploy."
"The desire to translate events like Gadhafi's and bin Laden's deaths into video games is also part of what we might call algorithmic sorting: the cultural attempt to simplify complex historical and social issues into patterns that we can recognize and make sense of," she wrote. "Typically, this is accomplished by vastly reducing the variable and historical contexts involved and effectively transforming lived events into games with predictable rules, defeatable 'bad guys' and the hopeful celebration of an 'epic win.'"
Unfortunately, Wagner points out, "real life is, or should be, more complicated," and she concludes that games like this "are dangerous; less for any single political view they proffer than for the simplistic, dualistic, atomized worldview they promote.
"Some events," she says, "just aren't games."