For their religious leaders, it was sometimes hard to know just what to say.
There is at least some dissonance between the values they preach and the triumphant response on the streets of New York and Washington to the death of a human being — even one responsible for thousands of killings.
“Justice may have been served, but we Catholics never rejoice in the death of a human being,” said Fr Stephen Mimnaugh.
He did not mention bin Laden during Sunday’s Mass at Manhattan’s St Francis of Assisi, the church of the late Mychal Judge, chaplain of the Fire Department of New York and the first recorded victim of the September 11 attacks in the city.
After Mass, he cited comments published in America, a weekly Catholic magazine. James Martin, a Jesuit priest, wrote that “no matter how monstrous” a person is, “as a Christian, I am asked to pray for him and, at some point, forgive him.”
Other religious leaders felt compelled to say at least a few words about bin Laden on the first weekend since he was killed.
The Rev David Howard shouted his approval from outside his church in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
“Osama bin Laden, Satan and the Final Victory of Jesus,” read the marquee outside Brook Baptist Church, publicising the sermon Howard planned.
Howard has no doubt that bin Laden was an instrument of Satan brought to justice with the aid of God, who answered the prayers of millions.
“We should pray for bad people, evil people, that when we pray to God he will change their lives. But if he won’t change their lives, especially those who have a lot of power to hurt a lot of people, you pray for their end because they’re causing so much pain. You pray somehow God will take them out. The Bible is very clear that God is in control and every person in power is because God put them there.
“He can put them there, he can keep them there or he can take them out. That’s his prerogative.”
The leader of one of the nation’s largest mosques was equally direct.
“There is no doubt that this man was a thug, he was a murderer,” Imam Hassan al-Qazwini told worshippers at the Islamic Centre of America in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn. “His hands were stained by the blood of thousands of innocent people — Muslims and non-Muslims alike.”
Qazwini, who delivered his sermon in a hall filled to capacity, said the Koran is clear that someone who kills one innocent person “is doomed to hell forever.” And he was incensed that bin Laden “committed atrocities against innocent people ... while he was calling ‘Allahu akbar’, or ‘God is great’.”
At Armitage Baptist Church in Chicago, Pastor Charles Lyons told his congregation Sunday that sometimes “evil must be stopped.”
“We do not rejoice in the death of the man named Osama bin Laden (but)... truth provides a platform for justice.”
Church member Angelia Parker said bin Laden’s death should have been a time for contemplation, not cheering in the streets.
“I think that was kind of weird,” said Parker. “It was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ We are celebrating this person’s death? We didn’t celebrate in the streets when Saddam Hussein was killed.”
The Rev Bill Kelly, priest at Saint Mary of the Assumption in Dedham, near Boston, said he was taken aback because he detected bloodlust. But he added that the emotional reaction is understandable.
At Congregation Neve Shalom, a Conservative Jewish synagogue in Metuchen, New Jersey, Rabbi Gerald Zelizer said that according to the Talmud, if someone is trying to kill you, “you are obligated — not permitted — to kill that person before he kills you.”
“But that obligation does not carry with it at all the privilege of rejoicing.”
As services ended, a heated debate over how to respond broke out. Kathryn Zahler said that taking delight in anyone’s death feels un-Jewish.
But Mindy Epstein disagreed. “I don’t care if that makes me a non-Jew or not,” Epstein said. “Put it on pay for view for the (September 11) victims.”