I remember the day they announced that Osama Bin Laden had been killed. I was still in college, and much of the nation, including many of my classmates, was swept up in a patriotic fervor. I remember seeing my fellow students running around campus yelling and screaming about how happy they were that our military finally got him. They were proud to be Americans, proud to belong to the country that you don’t mess with without facing the consequences.
The Death of the Wicked
And when I saw that, I was mortified. See, on that day, people weren’t just glad that a blow had been struck against the world’s most infamous terrorist organization; they weren’t just happy that our country had taken a great step towards freeing the world from violence and hatred. Those things may have been true, but in addition to them, people were also happy that a man was dead. Yes, he was a terrible man, one who had orchestrated numerous atrocities, but he was a man nonetheless. And on this point, Scripture has a very clear teaching:
I have no pleasure in the death of any one. (Ezekiel 18:32)
I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked. (Ezekiel 33:11)
God takes no pleasure in death, not even the death of the wicked, and since we’re called to be perfect as he is perfect (Matthew 5:48), we shouldn’t like the things he doesn’t like. Consequently, death should never make us happy.
The Basis of Our Dignity
And why is that? Why can we never rejoice at someone’s death? Simply put, all human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, and for Catholics, that’s supposed to mean something. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains:
Every human life, from the moment of conception until death, is sacred because the human person has been willed for its own sake in the image and likeness of the living and holy God. (CCC 2319)
When the Church says that every human life is sacred, she means that every human life is sacred. There are no exceptions. Even the worst sinners and criminals, even terrorists and pedophiles, have this dignity because they’re no less human than anyone else. See, human dignity is based on what we are, and no matter what we do, no matter how badly we act, we can never literally stop being human. As a result, we can’t lose the dignity that belongs to us simply by virtue of being human.
And why is this important? There are many reasons, but let’s just look at two. First, it explains why we’re called to love everybody, even our enemies (Matthew 5:44). Jesus commanded this because everybody, no matter how they may have wronged us, has basic human dignity and deserves to be loved. Rather than hating people who do terrible things, we should instead earnestly pray for God to show them the error of their ways and bring them back to Him (Matthew 5:44), and if we ever interact with them, we should give them the same love we give anybody else.
Secondly, if we deny that everybody has basic human dignity, then we undermine our opposition to abortion (and all other practices that are against human life). Fetuses can’t do anything to earn their right to life, so it has to be based on what they are. They have to be valuable simply because they’re human, but if we say that certain human lives aren’t valuable, we are denying that basis. If we can lose our basic human dignity because of our actions, we can’t have it simply by virtue of what we are. Consequently, if we’re against abortion, we also have to be against rejoicing over the death of another human being.
The Basic Principle
In a nutshell, if anybody has dignity simply by virtue of being human, then everybody does, and this includes the worst people we can think of, such as terrorists, serial killers, and pedophiles. They’re all humans made in the image and likeness of God, and nothing they do can ever change that. As a result, we have to love everyone, no matter how bad they may be, just as Jesus taught us. Anything less is simply not Christian.