Last Tuesday evening, I saw ‘Of Gods and Men’ at the only theater in Cincinnati showing the excellent French film, based on a 1995 true story. There were only three other people in the theater with me, and none of them cried like I did during the latter half of the movie. The monks’ triumphs over their own desires, and their overpowering love of God through darkness and desert, brought true grace to flow in a desperate situation.
‘Of Gods and Men’ is about a small group of Trappist monks who live in Algeria, serving a mostly Muslim village by providing health care and friendship. Their very familiarity with the people is what prompts more disruption in the community when radical Muslim terrorists begin inflicting terror and killing Croatians, Muslim women not wearing the burqa, and those who protested against their regime. The scene of Christmas night, the fateful night when the terrorists went to the monastery, showed the true caliber of the monks. In an effort to reach common ground, one monk referenced the Qu’ran to remind the leader that Christians and Muslims are brothers under one God, not enemies.
The monastery’s relationship with the government was significantly less cordial, and the “might makes right” attitude pervades the actions of the overly aggressive military force against the peaceful monks. When one monk prays over the body of one of the Muslim terrorists whom he is being forced to identify, the disrespect for the dead and human life is evident through the passive-aggressive anger of the government official. It cannot be surprising, then, that the monks’ lives were not respected either.
It is no coincidence, in my mind at least, that Osama Bin Laden was killed on May 1, 2011. In the Roman Catholic Church, May 1 was Divine Mercy Sunday—and who can be more in need of God’s divine mercy than the mastermind behind the ruthless attack on September 11, 2001, affecting thousands of souls? The celebrations of the man’s death prompted P. Fredrico Lombardi, the Director of the Holy See Press Office, to release this statement:
“Osama Bin Laden—as everyone knows—has had the gravest responsibility for spreading hatred and division among people, causing the deaths of countless people, and exploiting religion for this purpose.
Faced with the death of a man, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibility of everyone before God and man, and hopes and pledges that every even it not an opportunity for a further growth of hatred, but of peace.”
What saddens me more than people carelessly declaring their glee for another human’s death are the pronouncements that they hope he is burning in Hell. At least in America, a country which prides itself on being highly tolerant, this is perhaps one of the most ostentatious and outrageous displays of our truly fallen nature. For Christians, it is an even more despicable action, because we know and accept Hell as a very real place; not just a landing spot for the evilest of the evil, but for the everyday rejecters of God and his commandments. Are we really so far from the gates of the garden?
It occurs to me that the readers of The Imaginative Conservative may have a more humane way of looking at this death, long anticipated since the manhunt began almost a decade ago. Does it not sadden any of you that Osama Bin Laden did not have the chance to repent before he was killed? Does it not hang on your hearts that this man was not really brought to justice? After all, death is not justice. Death is not even final.
One may say, I am sorry he is dead, but I cannot help feel relief. Surely you think the world is a safer place now that Bin Laden is dead?
Which begs the question, what are we even protecting, that we need to make the world a safer place? The obvious answer in my mind is the undebatable sanctity of human life, and the ever pressing discernment of what it even means to be human.
So, now, thanks to America, Bin Laden is dead—but still our country persists in publicly funding and supporting abortion providers and embryonic stem cell research. A physical manifestation of evil is dead, but evil ideas rage on, turning even the best of intentioned people into the very monsters they deplore abroad.
This year’s Divine Mercy Sunday was another special event in the Roman Catholic Church as well—the beatification of Pope John Paul II, officially making our beloved JP II now Blessed JP II. I do not think there could there be a more obvious juxtaposition than the recent earthly celebration of a soul who is surely arriving at sainthood in Heaven, and the readily acceptable and earth-bound condemnation for another soul.
If we conservatives are to claim the high road—if we truly believe humans have dignity and that our civilization is worth preserving—then we must walk it. We must preserve our cause out of caritas, love, and not the brutalized force of popular opinion, remembering “ubi caritas est vera, Deus ibi est” (“where charity is true, God himself is there”). When we celebrate one death, we discredit all other pro-life efforts. When we give way to hate another person, even one so culpable of hate himself, we allow hate to manifest and grow in ourselves and in society. And if we ever truly wish another person’s soul to go to Hell, we’re halfway there ourselves.
Books mentioned in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.