May 6, 2011
N.T. Wright Slams 'American Exceptionalism' in Osama bin Laden Mission
New Testament scholar calls President Obama out, alleging cowboy vigilantism.
Popular author and New Testament scholar N.T. Wright has accused the world of giving America a free pass for violating Pakistan's sovereignty and killing an unarmed man during the recent attack that killed Osama bin Laden.
The former bishop of Durham sent a short statement to The Times' religion correspondent Ruth Gledhill in which he pointed out that Americans would be "furious" if Great Britain's military had staged an unannounced raid against hypothetical Irish Republican Army terrorists and killed them, unarmed, in a Boston suburb.
The only difference, Wright says, is "American exceptionalism."
"America is allowed to do it, but the rest of us are not," said Wright, who is now the research professor of New Testament and early Christianity at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. "By what right? Who says?"
President Obama, Wright says, has "enacted one of America’s most powerful myths," the vigilante hero going outside the law to execute "redemptive violence" against an enemy who has rendered the legitimate authorities impotent. "This is the plot of a thousand movies, comic-book strips, and TV shows: Captain America, the Lone Ranger, and (upgraded to hi-tech) Superman. The masked hero saves the world."
While this myth may have been a necessary dimension of life in the Wild West, Wright says, it also "legitimizes a form of vigilantism, of taking the law into one’s own hands, which provides ‘justice’ only of the crudest sort."
"What will we do when new superpowers arise and try the same trick on us?" he asks. "And what has any of this to do with something most Americans also believe, that the God of ultimate justice and truth was fully and finally revealed in the crucified Jesus of Nazareth, who taught people to love their enemies, and warned that those who take the sword will perish by the sword?"
Wright, a prominent figure in the Church of England, has gained fame on both sides of the Atlantic for his academic and popular writings on the New Testament and the historical Jesus. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams also commented on bin Laden's death this week, admitting to "a very uncomfortable feeling" about reports that bin Laden wasn't armed when he was killed "because it doesn't look as if justice is seen to be done."
"When we are faced with someone who was manifestly a 'war criminal' as you might say in terms of the atrocities inflicted, it is important that justice is seen to be observed," Williams said.