Wolf Blitzer is reporting today that 61% of his viewers believe that Osama bin Laden is in Hell. I have not heard rejoicing on this count, but I have heard some distress over the fact that his unredeemed soul went to a burning Hell. I offer these options for comfort:
- Osama bin Laden is Muslim, and there is no reason to assign him a Christian afterlife. Consult instead the afterlife of his faith, and be comforted.
- Mormons have recently re-branded themselves as Christians in a rapprochement that facilitates movement into the political mainstream in the United States, and comfort is available from them in the practice of baptism for the dead. Referenced in the New Testament in 1 Corinthians 15:29 and adopted by Mormons in 1840, post-death baptism would extend salvation to Osama bin Laden and all of his wives. Many souls have been rescued in this way, including the U.S. founding fathers and Adolf Hitler.
- Catholics, historical guardians of faith who brought Christianity to power in the western world, have Purgatory, an intermediate state from which a soul can be redeemed by the prayers of the faithful and the saints. It is a good idea and most comforting, and we could assume that Osama bin Laden is in Catholic afterlife and pray for his soul.
- Also firmly in the Christian tradition we could label Osama bin Laden a virtuous pagan — a person who died without being born again, but who was a hero in his own non-Christian culture. Dante assigned these souls to the outer circle of Hell. Saladin, the Muslim who finally defeated the Christian Crusaders, is in this outer circle, along with the Greek and Roman heroes and philosophers and unbaptized infants. This circle is similar to and possibly derived from an older Hebrew tradition. It is not hot or unpleasant, but rather is peaceful, as reported by the prophet Samuel — 1 Samuel 28:15 — to Saul at Endor.
So we can within western Christian scripture-based tradition rest easy about the final disposition of the soul of Osama bin Laden. People concerned about the loss of a soul to the Devil can easily adopt one of these means of consolation. All of the options except the last one wrest that soul right back out of the Devil’s clutches, and in the last one the Devil doesn’t inflict himself on them unduly.
Birds sing on in a world without Osama bin Laden, and both Christian and Muslim children who might have followed his instructions into their respective afterlives are entitled to rejoice. Christian and Muslim mothers and grandmothers are looking at the same sky above their children at play, and I imagine that most of them are praying we will choose peace. We can do that.