In the days since word of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden's demise hit the news, celebrations have become a source of unity and of division.
Differing opinions have surfaced about what is or isn't the appropriate reaction to the death of the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against the United States.
Megan Self, a teaching fellow at the University of North Texas, said she was put off by the celebrations.
"I just don't feel that is conducive to anything we're trying to do over in Afghanistan," she said. "I support our troops, but I don't feel that type of reaction is going to make a difference. I don't think the way people are expressing their emotions is the best use of their energy."
Adam Briggle, a professor of philosophy and religion studies at UNT, said the celebrations struck him as odd.
During a discussion, he said, his students presented two perspectives. One likened the terrorist's death to capital punishment, which usually is not celebrated in the streets, he said, and the other likened the atmosphere to the celebration in the streets after World War II.
"Maybe what people are celebrating isn't the death of the individual, but the end of a war," he said. "It's analogous to a victory."
Briggle said that celebrating bin Laden's killing as retribution seems to make a mockery of justice and puts the U.S. under the same spotlight it shines on other countries it deems barbaric.
Gabriel Ignatow, a professor in UNT's sociology department, said the terrorist leader's death offered a moment of clarity.
"He was bad and now he's dead. The war on terror … what has happened the last 10 years has had a lot of ambiguity," he said. "[Bin Laden's death] was seemingly an unambiguous thing every American can celebrate. It's hard to celebrate Iraq or the Afghanistan War or torture, but here is something many people were waiting for and is meaningful to a lot of Americans.
"It's powerful for nationalist reasons, whether everyone is comfortable or not. Ten years of ambiguity for a brief moment of clarity."
Jim Mann, pastor of New Life Church in Sanger, said the question of the appropriate reaction to bin Laden's demise is a hard one to figure out.
"What it does for me is it shows the simpleness of the world. It shows what kind of a strange existence we have and no wonder why it's so hard to find peace in the world," he said.
A lot of evangelical Christians saw it as something that needed to happen in the world, and Mann recalled Scriptures that add a wrinkle to that line of thinking.
"Scriptures talk about, in Romans, the authority of the state God has given to protect people. If you read the passage, it talks about punishing the people who do wrong to keep peace. God has established authority structure," he said. "On the other hand, you have several places, Old and New Testament, where the Lord says vengeance is mine, I will repay."
Thus, Mann said, you have two conflicting ideals - that government can bring about justice with God's permission and at the same time the Lord says don't go after vengeance.
"That is the challenge," he said. "Was this justice or vengeance? Most people look at it as justice and not purely vengeance. But there was some of that in there, too, I imagine."
The Rev. Kent Miller, former pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Denton, who led an interfaith worship and prayer service at the Islamic Society of Denton after it was firebombed on Sept. 13, 2001, said Americans seem to be struggling to find an appropriate response to Bin Laden's death.
"He was a perpetrator of evil. But in that response of being thankful it is ended, we have to turn with humility and a prayer for forgiveness," he said.
The next step is to figure out how to end the enmity and suspicion aroused since Sept. 11, 2001, that pervades the country and the world, Miller said.
"To me, the more important war is not being fought in Afghanistan," he said. "That is significant in its cost, but look at the war fought in the cities of America. Neighbors suspicious of neighbors, the color of your skin, what you do or don't wear on your head; that's a terrible conflict we're caught up in.
"Can they now turn to their neighbor and say let's sit down and have a meal together? Will your rejoicing lead you to ending the strife that tears us apart within our own cities and neighborhoods? That's what has to follow."
BJ LEWIS can be reached at 940-566-6875. His e-mail address is email@example.com .