(By the way, it's curious, but oddly reassuring, that even in these postmodern timesyea, even among the most devoted pomos themselvesthere are still a few rigid literalists who act as if words are capable only of a single, narrow, woodenly literal meaning.
That's OK with me. I'll just work harder to be clear.)
In the hypothetical example I concocted, when I indicated that I wouldn't hesitate to kill Osama bin Laden, I was not actually condoning "vigilantism."
From the beginning, the statement carried the assumed-but-unstated understanding that if I were actually in such circumstances, it would be either as a soldier whose duty it is to track down the guy and bring him to justice (or bring justice to him); or else as a civilian faced with an opportunity to try to halt some immediate threat of terrorism. That's what we were discussing in the original context of the remark. It didn't occur to me that I might need to spell out all those qualifications every time I returned to the illustration to clarify a point. However
- Of course if I saw Osama at Costco buying milk and riding one of those scooters for disabled people, I wouldn't wantonly and unnecessarily crack his skull with a chub of frozen meat.
- The imagery of beating him into unconsciousness with a tube of Costco ground beef was 1) partly for humorous effect, 2) clearly exaggerated, and 3) likewise loaded with a few unspoken but rather obvious assumptions, including the theory that he would most likely try to resist arrest (in which case the same principles would apply whether I was a military authority or a regular Costco shopper trying to make a citizen's arrest.) Only if he resisted would I hit him with bovine products. (Are we clear on that?) If I could reasonably and easily subdue him peaceably, I agree that killing him would be an unjust and unjustifiable act of vigilantism.
- I would not, however, first invite Osama to a Backyard Bible Club, a week of VBS, or an evangelistic meeting. I would indeed want him to hear the gospel at an opportune time, but that will most likely come only after he is subdued and imprisoned. (Unless he meets a more immediate form of justice, in which case I would feel no personal responsibility for the failure to evangelize him. That will be true even if by some amazing and unlikely turn of events I become the one who ultimately has to beat the life out of him with a frozen Costco chub, or whatever.)
I realize there are those who will judge me guilty of an unloving and overly-harsh attitude toward our terrorist neighbors who need to hear the gospel, and a few tenderhearted souls might even henceforth boycott the blog. But I gotta be honest with you: At the moment, I want to see Osama out of commission. After that, if the opportunity arises, I'll help map out a strategy to evangelize him.