home
RSS
My Take: CNN readers' 7 answers to 'Where was God in Aurora?'
A man pauses at a memorial of crosses near the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, the scene of last week's mass shooting.
July 26th, 2012
02:49 PM ET

My Take: CNN readers' 7 answers to 'Where was God in Aurora?'

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

Over the last few days, CNN’s Belief Blog has received more than 10,000 responses to its question, “Where was God in Aurora?”

The underlying concern here has vexed theologians for centuries: How can evil happen in a world that is lorded over by a good and all-powerful God? As CNN's readers struggled to make sense of God's presence (or absence) in the Aurora, Colorado, massacre, I counted seven different answers to this question:

1. There is no God.

Self-professed atheists may make up only 2% of the U.S. population, but they are extraordinarily active online, and on CNN's Belief Blog. A commenter who identified as Jason spoke for them when he wrote, “Where was God? He was where he has always been. Nowhere because God does not exist.” Bob Dobbs agreed: “God is imaginary. The question is moot.”

Many in this camp also quoted the ancient Greek philosopher (and skeptic) Epicurus:

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?

2. Don’t blame God, blame Satan.

Many theists on the site described the world as a battleground between God, who is working for good, and Satan, who is working for evil. “As long as Satan is loose to promote evil, bad things will happen to good people,” wrote kat.

3. Don’t blame God, blame us.

Probably the most common response from Christian commenters was that evil is a result of free will. Do we really want to be “puppets” or “robots"? Of course not. So God has given us the will to choose either evil or good.

Watch: Survivor of massacre says he forgives gunman

Believer summed up this position well:

"It's been said that the only thing we can truly give God is our will because its the only thing we possess that is uniquely ours. Everything else was given to us by him, and is, in effect, not ours to give in the first place. As such, and despite his omnipotence, he cannot intervene. . . .  He only possesses power where power can be possessed - and controlling our actions is not within that realm."

Here Deborah also chimed in: “This act of violence was not God's will. I get so tried of people blaming God for evil acts. Humans of their own free will do evil things.”

4. God was behind the massacre, and it was just.

Some believers saw God’s righteous hand in the Aurora massacre, inflicting a just punishment on a wayward nation now run by secular liberals rather than conservative Christians.

Lenny wrote:

"We as a country have been telling God to go away. We told him to get off our currency, get out of our schools, get out of our Pledge of Allegiance, take your Ten Commandments out of our courthouses, get those Bibles out of hotels and no graduation ceremonies in our churches. How can we expect God to give us his blessing and his protection if we demand that he leave us alone?"

Read: The man who made Aurora’s iconic crosses

Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, took a similar tack in an appearance on the Heritage Foundation's "Istook Live" radio show, laying the blame at the feet of a nation that has turned away from its God:

"You know, when people say, where was God in all of this? Well, you know, . . . we’ve threatened high school graduation participants that if they use God’s name that they’re going to be jailed, we had a principal of a school, and a superintendent or a coach down in Florida that were threatened with jail because they said the blessing at a voluntary off campus dinner. I mean, that kind of stuff… where is God? Where, where? What have we done with God? We told him that we don’t want him around. I kind of like his protective hand being present."

5. God was present at the massacre but with the victims, not the perpetrator

One classic claim in the Abrahamic tradition of Jews, Christians and Muslims is that God is with those who suffer - the poor and the oppressed. Some commenters saw God’s miraculous hand in the midst of this suffering, not causing it to happen but bringing it to an end.  “This may sound crazy,” wrote Diana, “but I believe God had a hand in that the gun jammed so that more people weren’t killed.”

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

The most common claim in this category came from peacemaker, who wrote, “God is and was with the victims and s/he is weeping.” In a more explicitly Christian vein, Lauren wrote: “He was there in the theater, pierced by bullets with the victims. He was scarred by the shrapnel. His eyes were scorched with gas and then burned with tears as He mourned alongside the broken.”

6. Which God?

Some commenters interrogated the question itself, arguing that the knots it twists us into are rooted in what commenter Ego_Death called “a false idea of what God is.” After all, the problem of evil in a world ruled by a sovereign and good God only presents itself if you posit one personal God who is both good and all-powerful.

Follow the CNN Belief Blog on Twitter

Referring to "our idea of a human-like personal God" as "an ancient myth," Northstar56 wrote:

"But just because this kind of God does not appear to exist, does not mean that God, in fact, does not exist. I think many have developed a more mature and realistic perspective . . . in which God exists as a pure fundamental consciousness or state from which all of existence arises. This God does not control anything, but rather continues to perpetually emanate as reality . . . God was present in all of the victims, and everyone else. God was present in the killer as well. The tragedy is that the killer's awareness was so distorted and twisted that he could not see or be aware of the intrinsic priceless value of every person he gunned down."

Evoking something more akin to the “watchmaker” God of the deists, who makes the world and its laws and then refuses to intervene in its operation, Norm wrote: “God is not involved in our everyday mundane activities. How arrogant of man to think he’s the center of the universe and has God’s constant attention and every action is ‘God’s will.’”

Taking a different tack, "varun" invoked the teachings of the beloved Hindu scripture the Bhagavad Gita:

"Only the followers of Semitic religions have problem with understanding this - because they do not believe in rebirth and karma. As soon as you introduce these two concepts into (the) picture along with the eternal indestructible soul (something Semitic religions do believe in), everything makes sense. Read Bhagavad-Gita and everything would be as clear as daylight."

7. Who knows? It’s a mystery

Agnosticism is a rare virtue in the United States nowadays, but there were a few commenters who admitted to something less than the absolute certainty exhibited by atheists and evangelicals alike. "The answer," wrote Terry, "is we don't know where he was." Fluffy the Gerbil of Doom saw this "God works in mysterious ways" move as “ultimate cop-out/rationalization,” but I am not so sure.

In September 1862, in the midst of a much greater American tragedy, Abraham Lincoln wrote a private “Meditation on the Divine Will” in which he struggled to make sense of what God was doing in the Civil War. He later reworked those reflections into his second inaugural address, one of the greatest speeches in American history.

Surveying the corpse-ridden landscape of North and South, Lincoln observed, “Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other.” Clearly there was little good in slavery, he reasoned, yet equally clearly God was not giving a swift and sure victory to the Union. So what was God up to? In the end, Lincoln had to admit he did not know. Or, as he put it, “The Almighty has His own purposes.”

I suppose this is in a sense a “cop-out,” but it is a humble one, uninfected by the absolute certainties (either pro- or anti-God) that have shed more blood on earth than agnosticism ever will. It is also a classic example of answering a question with a question: What is God doing with this war? Who knows?

“Josephpusateri” also answered our question with a question. His comment was in my view the best of the hundreds I read, so I will end with it here:

"Oh, the blindness of such a question... as if only theodicy was a relevant question in white, American suburbs. Where is God in Afghanistan? Where is God in Gaza? Where is God in Syria? . . . Where is God, indeed."

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Atheism • Belief • Christianity • Culture wars • Devil • Ethics • God • Violence

soundoff (4,074 Responses)
  1. TOMG

    LOVE AND HATE AND THAT HOW THE KARMA ARE STARTING FROM , AMEN .

    July 26, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      I think it takes 10-12 people reporting this as abuse before it rises to the level where an actual person at CNN.com will pay attention. I've done my part.

      July 26, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
    • Smurfette

      I've been reporting every post of his

      July 26, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
    • yeahalright

      Same here, every one. Ban this guy's IP already CNN.

      July 26, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
  2. TOMG

    THE GREAT HUMAN WASTE AND THE GREAT HUMAN URRINE DOES HAVE THE ABILITY TO WALK AND TALK AND RUNING TO THE END 12 – 21 – 2O12 , AMEN . MAY BE AND MAY BE NOT , AMEN LOL .

    July 26, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
  3. uysfl

    ugh

    July 26, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
  4. lpgurl

    God was there.. He was taken off guard like everyone else. As soon as he realized what was happening, he jammed that AR-15 so Satan could not take any more of his people. He is mourning right along side everyone while holding those we lost close to his heart.

    July 26, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
    • Smurfette

      Taken off guard???? Pretty dense god you follow. May I ask – why would anyone follow such a screw-up of a deity? He should be fired for absolute incompetence!

      July 26, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      I thought God was supposed to be omniscient and pervasive.

      How can he be taken off guard. Did the holy spirit have the day off?

      July 26, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
    • Mike

      LOL. You are so stupid it's scary.

      July 26, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
  5. Grampa

    There is no God. That's the only answer that immediately makes sense and fits all the available data. The other answers are just silly dodges. Time to grow up.

    July 26, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
  6. Mike

    There is no god you simplistic morons. It's all man-made garbage created when humans were primitive. Nobody would buy into this crap if it were for generation after generation of family brainwashing.

    July 26, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
  7. Lemayripper

    Atheists and Agnostics make up 19% of the US population. I have no idea where this guy pulled that 2% number from.

    http://www.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.usatoday.com%2Fnews%2Freligion%2Fstory%2F2012-07-19%2Fno-religion-affiliation%2F56344976%2F1&h=LAQFo30Lq

    July 26, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      It's a matter of terminology. If you ask "What religion do you subscribe to, if any?", you'll get a lot of people answering "none" who nonetheless don't describe themselves as atheists. A lot of them think of themselves as "agnostic" or "spiritual" or "don't care" and may BE atheists but don't actually call themselves that. Prothero, a theist, tends to choose the lowest number available (people like me who self-identify as atheists) so as to minimize our presence in society — the same way a lot of deniers try to pretend that gays were a tiny minority before they started coming out of the woodwork all over the place.

      July 26, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
  8. TOMG

    CIVILIZATION WORLD IS NOT MORE THAN A PIECES OF HUMAN WASTE AND HUMAN URINE SOCEITY THAT ALL IN THIS TWENTY – FIRST THE MOST STUPIDED CENTURY ERA EVER , AMEN .
    IN THE END THE HUMAN WASTE AND THE HUMAN URIEN TRYING TO DESTROY ONE OWNSELF HUMAN WASTE FORM WORLD THAT ALL , AMEN .

    July 26, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
    • Rick James

      Why doesn't "report abuse" work?

      July 26, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      Check in your holy book to see if it has any instructions on the use of the caps-lock key.

      July 26, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
    • mark

      you are the main reason why I HATE religion and the idiots who follow it.

      July 26, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
    • Mike

      Dude – slow down and try to write something that people can actually understand. Have another beer and go to bed.

      July 26, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
    • TOMG

      I WAITING FOR MY MED. DOG , AMEN .

      July 26, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
  9. RichardSRussell

    Prothero keeps alluding to the idea that atheists are CERTAIN that God doesn't exist. His bias is subtly affecting the debate. You don't need to be certain that God wasn't present, all you need to do is (as always) point to the utter lack of evidence that he WAS. He also leaves off Category #8: that God was in fact there, but was the guy who put Holmes up to it.

    July 26, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
  10. TOMG

    ONE CAN STILL CONSTANTLY MAINTAINING THE CONSTANT BRERATHNG FROM THE INHALE FRESH AIR TO THE EXHALE DIRTY TOXIC AIR ARE THE GOD BLESSING ALREADY , AMEN .

    July 26, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
  11. bluesman1980

    as Tom Waits would say, he's away on business...

    July 26, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
  12. TOMG

    INHALE THE GREAT FRESH AIR PLEASE AND THAN EXHALE SLOWLY FROM THE DIRTY TOXIC AIR ON THE WAY OUT -TAKE OR BREATHING OUT , AMEN

    July 26, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
  13. TOMG

    HEAVENLY PLACE AND HELL PLACE ARE NO WHERE TOBE FOUND BUT CAN BE FOUND IN THE VERY OWN HOSPITAL PLACES , AMEN .

    July 26, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
  14. K Kim

    Questions for those who don't believe in God:

    Do you consider the shooter or his actions evil?
    If so, where does evil come from or how do you as a non-believer explain evil?

    July 26, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
    • Rick James

      Yeah I call him evil. Moral relativism doesn't mean there is not a distinction between good and evil. It's just all shades of gray, just like life. Evil comes from human nature, just like good does.

      July 26, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
    • Smurfette

      "Evil" is simply a label that people choose to apply – it does not "exist". Look at the theatre shooter's actions – where his actions "evil"? What if he was completely in the throes of a mental illness he had no control over – are his actions still "evil"? Is he "evil"? There is no stand alone "evil" – it does not exist. (Sorta like that god fella)

      July 26, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      "Evil" is an adjective, not a noun. It has no existence outside of the human mind, where it is purely a value judgment — an opinion.

      July 26, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
    • Smurfette

      Ok, TOMG is evil – how about that concession?

      July 26, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
    • A Kim

      i wouldn't say evil, as that word is hard to define. i'd use the word malicious instead, and say that it probably stemmed from a growing sense of failure or inadequacy in some facet of his life.

      July 26, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
    • Chuckles

      I agree with Rick James

      To go a step further though. Evil is a construct we use in society today. Keep in mind that it wasn't too long ago that we would be horrified if native americans killed a regimen of soldiers out on the plains, but at the same time would be completely fine when the tables were reversed and the soldiers went into a native american settlement and killed everyone. We call that evil in this day and age, back then they called it Tuesday.

      No matter how long the god of abraham has been around or not you can't exactly point out through history a culture that has the same shared values as present day Americans. God's morals change along with ours which points towards something, doesn't it?

      July 26, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
    • Smurfette

      @ Chuckles: Ix-nay on the ogic-Lay! you're onfuse-Cay the ristians-Cray!

      July 26, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
    • K Kim

      Rick James,

      Your "answer" that evil and good both come from human nature does not really answer the question, does it?
      Nor is it all that scientific for that matter.

      July 26, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
    • Smurfette

      Ok, Kim – Human are at the same time egocentric beings and also social beings. The wants, needs, desires, and actions taken by an individual for his or her own benefit (which that person can define as anything, being egocentric) can conflict with the wants, needs, etc of another individual, or a group of individuals, etc. What is evil to one may be entirely good to another. Maybe the shooter could see the future, and was actually taking out a bunch of people who – if they had lived – would have destroyed the entire world. Maybe he WAS on a mission from god. Who knows. From my personal perspective, what he did was horrific. We may never know why he did it, however. Malicious? Evil? Just words.

      July 26, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
    • K Kim

      Smurfette,

      You addressed only the possibility that the shooter was not evil because he was mentally ill. You did not address the other possibility that he intentionally shot all those people with every intention of killing them for sport no less.

      July 26, 2012 at 7:57 pm |
    • K Kim

      Thanks all for your reply. They are all very inetresting and I would love to continue to explore these issues but I gotta go now.

      July 26, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
    • lou

      Evil is when you feel you have the power to hurt or take from another human. This comes from the individual and what they perceive.

      July 26, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
  15. TOMG

    COMPASSION COMPASSION COMPASSION THAT ALL IT TOOK TO REALLY BEING SAW GOD , AMEN .

    July 26, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
  16. Satan

    I was in heaven today! It was great! Amusement rides, talking animals, all kinds of food, people from all over the world, different ethnicities....oh wait that was Disney world. Disney world is real. Heaven and God are not. Wha wha whaaaaa.

    July 26, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
    • angel

      I will pray for you my poor soul.

      July 26, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
  17. TOMG

    CAN ONE SAW THE VOICES THAT ONE JUST HAVING THE CONVERSATION ON EVEDRTHINGS THAT ONE MIND CAN THOUGHT OF BILLIONS THNGS , AMEN

    July 26, 2012 at 7:32 pm |
  18. Stan Johnston

    Though on the surface it appears Stephen is attempting to understand purpose in tragedy, he really is just assigning blame - in this case to God - and asking us to vote on the best way to do that. Unfortunately, all 7 points you make assume there is never value in human suffering. History is full of evidence to the contrary. Stephen, your entire perspective is based on the assumption that evil is the absence of human pleasure and comfort. What a narrow life view!

    July 26, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
  19. TOMG

    THE HUMAN MIND ARE MORE POWERFUL THAN JUST THE HUMAN WASTE AND SO DOES THE HUMAN URINE , AMEN

    July 26, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
  20. Idalis

    Wow! There sure is alot of hate for God on this site. It is actually scary that you people exist. I have no doubt though that should you be in a horrific accident/tragedy he'd be the first person you call upon. I'm not that good of a person, I'd watch you suffer

    July 26, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
    • Stan Johnston

      Idalis, this is CNN - not Christianity Today. I expect that perspective in this forum. Don't be intimidated. If what you believe is true, it will stand up to scrutiny.

      July 26, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
    • Jimmy Joe Jim Bob

      You cannot hate that which does not exist.

      July 26, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
    • Smurfette

      Idalis: do you "hate" Santa? Do you "hate" the Easter Bunny? How about Sasquatch? The Loch Ness Monster?

      July 26, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
    • Rick James

      I once got mad at Godzilla. Same as getting angry at God.

      And if I have a tragedy, I'd man up and not look for an easy answer.

      July 26, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
    • Jimmy Joe Jim Bob

      "I have no doubt though that should you be in a horrific accident/tragedy he'd be the first person you call upon. I'm not that good of a person, I'd watch you suffer"

      This is your problem, which by extension becomes everyone's problem: You are a cruel person. You probably have no redeeming qualities. Your statement proves that you are exactly the same as most theists, a flaming hypocrite.

      July 26, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
    • Jacob

      You would watch innocent people suffer because they don't have the same beliefs as you? Sir, it is scary that people like you exist. You understand it is called belief for a reason, and it is a choice. Because you choose to believe nonsense doesn't mean everyone else that doesn't is evil. You world view is very narrow minded and I hope someday you'll find compassion in your heart for people that are different than you. Maybe you can talk to god about it, I hear he preaches love thy neighbor.

      July 26, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
    • mike

      shut up turd

      July 26, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • lou

      Keep wishing your imaginary friend does us harm...I bet your deity hasnt answered many of you past requests of torment to others.

      July 26, 2012 at 8:10 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67
Advertisement
About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.