Comments: NT Wright and American Exceptionalism

The ex-Bishop of Durham does little to clear the fog in the air about the propriety of the demise of terrorist Osama bin Laden. The fact that it has been an American team that has had the guts to perform the deed should not blind us to the fact that it needed to be done - if only to save the lives of people - both the misguided suicide bombers themselves and the victims they have been taught to hate.

Most civilised countries have longed for the capture of this particular terrorist and, let's face it - without hypocrisy - most will be glad that the world is freed from his ghastly influence over the sort of young people whom he has discipled to do his dirty work for him.

Further, the consequences of taking him captive would prove most difficult for any country that agreed to find and detain him, pending a fair trial. To expect the Americans to take that added responsibility might just be asking too much of them. Perhaps America's detractors should have been more ready to share in the tricky task of bin Laden's apprehension and trial.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Saturday, 7 May 2011 at 10:56am BST

Wright is right!

Nice to see the C of E adding to the reflective voices of Europe.

Posted by Spirit of Vatican II at Saturday, 7 May 2011 at 11:09am BST

+Cantuar's comments were carefully nuanced, and, I share his view. I wished that a proper trial had taken place. I wish that the international community had tried him and determined his fate. We in the USA are not his only victims. But, I believe this surgical attempt to capture/kill him was the right effort to bring him to justice. No drones, absolute minimum risk of "collateral damage", the dehumanized term we use for real human loss, and acceptance of risk to our own human loss. No, we don't have all the facts and I wish that they had not dribbled out the way have. They do not meet the "seem" criteria that +++Rowan has stated. That said, I feel that this is not N.T. Wright's finest day. His analogy is poor. If, for example, US authorities knew or even suspected that an IRA "high value target" was hiding out in Southie, they would certainly extradite him to Britain. But apples to oranges aside, Wright comes across as more anti-American than thoughtful and his dislike for the cousins across the pond gets much in the way of his presenting what, from him, could have been thoughtful and helpful,-- a biblical perspective on what has happened. He could have taken this sorrowful event and brought some good out of it as a teaching moment that all of us, UK, Canadian, Australian, Ugandan, Nigerian, New Zealander, Belizian, American of the English speakers alone might have learned from. He didn't. I, and most of the people I know, were not celebrating in the streets with our ATV's and American flags flapping behind them. We were glad that Osama was gone and he could not continue to inflict his form of "justice" on others and we were also fertile ground in which N.T. could have sown important thoughts as one of the world's great theologians and religious leaders. From him, there should have been a homily in this. What we got was a political statement. EmilyH

Posted by EmilyH at Saturday, 7 May 2011 at 2:25pm BST

Does Wright honestly believe that the SAS never took out terrorist assets overseas?

Posted by JPM at Saturday, 7 May 2011 at 4:51pm BST

While I am happy to hear Bishop Wright's theological and biblical musings on this event, it is laughable that a Citizen of a realm whose claim was that the sun never set upon it to chide us in any way for our attitude in this manner.

He needs to be careful that the world doesn't look to closely at how his realm suppressed freedom in Ireland for centuries and used opium in China to undergird it's empire of Tea.

Only those free of an exceptionalist past should feel free to cast aspersions.

Posted by Michael Russell at Saturday, 7 May 2011 at 10:44pm BST

Fr Ron, I'm no Biblical scholar, but I'm not sure the Gospels lead us towards a morality of political utilitarianism. Even assuming that assassinating Usama bin Laden did save lives (a highly doubtful claim), I don't really see how any Christian could condone it. That said, I don't see how any political leader could possibly follow the Gospel, either. The Sermon on the Mount is clearly insanity. No rational person could be expected to take it seriously. Only Christians have to do that.

Posted by rjb at Sunday, 8 May 2011 at 7:20am BST

Yes, Bishop Wright's anti-Americanism is showing through, and yes, it did spoil what might have been an important reflection. But he's been anti-American for a long time. It was the foundation of his drive and desire to have the American church "disciplined." He was furious because the Americans refused to do what he told them to do: see his screed "The Americans Must Know This Will End in Schism."

Now that it hasn't, quite, and he's gone (thankfully) from Durham, I question what mattered most in all this to Bishop Wright: Was it his belief that men and women are beings of entirely different kinds, psychologically and spiritually, who require what he thought was "Biblical marriage" to complete themselves? For that reason, homosexuals must obviously be anathema, since they willfully refuse to act their proper role as man or woman. (What nonsense! But I think he believed it.) Or was the whole thing founded on his hatred of Americans, pure and simple? Or was it just that they wouldn't do what he told them to do when he told them to do it?

Posted by Charlotte at Sunday, 8 May 2011 at 4:59pm BST

"But now imagine that the British government ...sends an aircraft carrier ...two helicopters fly in under the radar to the Boston suburb where...They carry out a daring raid, killing the (unarmed) leaders...'

Are we supposed to take this kind of simplistic and contrived analogy seriously? What was The Obama administration to do? Perhaps send a couple of marshals to Pakistan, kick down the door, and read OBL his rights and then handcuff him and fly him to D.C. on the next commercial flight? My God man! This is a combat mission. It is more like finding Hitler and "en circle" moving to an end game. Thank heavens there were no deaths among the Navy SEALs charged with conducting this very dangerous mission. Besides, you may want to look more closely at how the SAS dealt with IRA operatives before getting too sanctimoniously anti-American.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Monday, 9 May 2011 at 1:46am BST

Well, however high feelings run outside Europe, I think that not only are the ABC and +Wright's comments right, they reflect very fairly opinion in Europe. We understand this action, but that does not make it acceptable by Christian standards.

Posted by Rosemary Hannah at Monday, 9 May 2011 at 7:23am BST

Tom Wright's naivete and rabid anti-Americanism is too obvious to take seriously. (international courts and justice! I mean let's get real here.) Williams comments on the other hand deserve rebuttal. No one can be happy about the death of anyone, but that is not the issue. To argue there should have been an arrest and some trial is again ludicrous. Why? Because decisions here are being made in a political context, while the Archbishop is up to the old moralists game - lift the event out of its context and measure it against some abstract moral value. Voila! The Commandment says not to kill, so he should not have been shot. Everybody in this fallen world, living and acting among things which each day are perishing (a wonderful concept used often in John's Gospel) operates within a morally ambiguous field. In this there are few if any pure options given any of us. Obama had very few options before him - none of which were unambiguous. He chose one and I think the best one. Why do I credit him? Because all the others would have been worse, and involved more injustice, more confusion, more mayhem, more loss of necessary authority. A trial? How would you get a fair jury? The outcome would have been foreordained, leading to charges of a kangaroo court. What of life imprisonment? Bin Laden would have killed in prison, leading to more outcries of injustice. Let us get real here. Moral choices can only be seen in terms in the context of choices of lesser evils. When our leaders come out with their blather about vague moral values this means no person in the real can operate and the church remains a laughing stock. Tom Wright has been doing this for some time, to our embarrassment. Why Rowan should be doing the same thing is beyond me.

Posted by William R. Coats at Monday, 9 May 2011 at 1:40pm BST

One American's view. I do not cheer the death of Osama bin Laden, nor did most people I know in this small southern city with a large military base. On 9/11 when my sister-in-law survived the attack at the Pentagon, my college English class had 5 Pakistani Muslim students. As I witnessed my Muslim students' grief and attempts to explain "This is not Islam," one of my American students dropped out to go to NYC to search for her father and brother. As Christians, my partner and I wrote to the President and Congress opposing the invasion of Afghanistan. Then we protested the invasion of Iraq. We continue to protest the demonization of Islam by fellow parishioners.

Nevertheless, my brother leaves for his third assignment in Afghanistan next week after three in Iraq. We watch helplessly as the troops rotate in and out of A and I, while Republicans deny them proper care for the physical & psychological trauma of war. The hell Bush and Blair expanded in Iraq and Afghanistan reaches deep into the US hinterlands and will live on after the troops finally come home, as it will in A & I.

Americans are well and truly punished for the arrogance and willful ignorance shown by so many in the pursuit of these wars. We don't need Tom Wright sneering at us or Rowan wishing for what could not be. Their opinions merely show how removed from it all they are.

Posted by Susan at Monday, 9 May 2011 at 2:26pm BST

My experience is that the English are still informed about America via Fanny Trollope. On my visits to the UK I find myself the object of the strangest projections and assumptions.

Posted by Tobias Haller at Monday, 9 May 2011 at 3:29pm BST

Hmm ... well, perhaps as someone who has served in the US armed forces I won't be accused of being anti-American for saying, despite by abundant lack of fondness for OBL, my deep lack of sympathy for his demise, and my large sigh of relief that the world is rid of a dangerous individual, that I still, like Rowan Cantuar, find the manner of his going somewhat troubling? What's even more troubling is that so many seem to think you have to like someone in order to think they deserve a fair trial before you take them out and hang them. How you treat those whom you and the whole world despise is the acid test of a justice system. In trying to judge the appropriateness of the actions in this case we have to forget that OBL was the target.

Posted by Fr Levi at Monday, 9 May 2011 at 4:34pm BST

The issue is not what happened to bin Laden, but the ugly, bigoted and, frankly, hypocritical pure hatred being exposed for anyone who happens to be a citizen of the U. S. It's the same mindless us/them as it ever was, to make Wright, and Williams and their hangers-on feeling morally superior.

They are not. They are a part of the same world that made all this possible, just as I am, just as you are. That, however, is not terribly pleasant - to realize that we are all humans and equally culpable for the allegedly-human condition. Far nicer to point at that animal "American" (or German, or Russian, or Chinese, or Japanese, or Muslim) as opposed to "us" - who, of course, are actually human.

It's disgusting, it's shameful, it's idiotic and it's business as usual.

Posted by MarkBrunson at Tuesday, 10 May 2011 at 6:13am BST

I am astonished at some of the replies here. I am not in the least anti-American. It is possible to think friends have faults and have made mistakes and still to love them and to appreciate their good qualities. I do it all the time.

Posted by Rosemary Hannah at Tuesday, 10 May 2011 at 8:13am BST


If that were what was being expressed by Wright, that would be fine.

It's not. It's simply self-serving, self-righteous partisanship.

It's not about those like you. To find fault with a friend, you have to know them as a friend - to broad-brush an entire nation is hardly "knowing" them in any sense. Wright treats "Americans" like he does "liberals" or "gays" - they are simply a sinning Other which he and his groupies transcend.

Using an action by an administration or the reaction of the mass herd of unthinking "public response" as a gauge for an entire nation of *individuals* is not legitimate criticism; it is opportunistic attack; a violence of words. It feeds on fundamental ignorance in Europe about Americans, and that, in turn, feeds the possibility of groupthink amongst Americans saying, "See! They don't get us, they *do* hate us, and it's because we're . . . " better, richer, stronger, freer; take your pick of self-congratulatory descriptors.

The maturity of non-American commentators clearly does not extend to an understanding of basic group psychology! At least, I hope not, or these commentators are simply manipulating *your* prejudices, as it is manipulated by unscrupulous people in America toward a sense of superiority.

If this is not what you've done, the comments do not reflect on you, and your amazement is misplaced.

Posted by MarkBrunson at Wednesday, 11 May 2011 at 7:51am BST

One good thing that might come of this is that conservative American Anglicans might now begin to realise how their liberal fellow-Anglicans feel about Wright. it's not that he's necessarily wrong: it's the intemperance, the flatulent rhetoric, the general tone. Compare Rowan Williams' public reaction: the difference in quality speaks volumes about the whole difference in quality between the two.

Posted by John at Thursday, 12 May 2011 at 8:10pm BST

Yes, I think its a personality thing. Wright has to tell us his opinions. He expresses them in a forth right way....and he expects you to accept them. The wagging finger whilst preaching says it all. Not a man who expects critical questioning ..just agreement.

Posted by Perry Butler at Tuesday, 17 May 2011 at 9:16am BST
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Please note that comments are limited to 400 words. Comments that are longer than 400 words will not be approved.

Cookies are used to remember your personal information between visits to the site. This information is stored on your computer and used to refill the text boxes on your next visit. Any cookie is deleted if you select 'No'. By ticking 'Yes' you agree to this use of a cookie by this site. No third-party cookies are used, and cookies are not used for analytical, advertising, or other purposes.