National Values

On May 2, 2011, Osama Bin Laden was killed in Pakistan during a raid by U.S. Special Forces. The wide range of reactions to his death—particularly public celebrations—sparked lively debate: Should the death of one’s enemy be celebrated? When and under what circumstances is the killing of such a person justified? How should we react, as individuals and as a nation?

It was interesting to me that most of these discussions were framed primarily in religious terms. Priests, rabbis, and imams were asked to weigh in. Polls that assessed attitudes toward particular responses did so largely in terms of religious belief.

This was wholly appropriate and not surprising. Scripture, theology, and each of the world’s great faiths have much to say about the moral complexities of justice, revenge, and reconciliation.

What struck me, however, were the relative absence of a civic debate and the silence of secular leaders on the very same moral questions being discussed so thoughtfully among theologians and religious leaders.

In the absence of a lively civil as well as religious discourse on the ethical and moral questions raised by the events of May 2, and our nation’s reaction to them, I wonder how young people can judge well the moral dimensions of government action, their own reactions, and those of their fellow citizens relative to such action—now and in the future.

The 21st century has ushered in new geopolitical realities that private citizens and world leaders struggle equally to translate into moral and ethical action and understanding. We turn to ancient and modern thinkers; to scripture and faith; to history and political science; to reasoned inquiry and scholarly debate. At times like this, Episcopal schools are truly called help young people explore fully the breadth of the ethical and moral questions that emerge from such events, and their implications for civic as well as religious life.