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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.

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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. Barry G.

    God was right where he was when they crucified his son, Jesus.

    God was right where he was when humanity (Adam and Eve) were given freedom of choice, and they decided to rebel and disobey the very commandments, which make life good for all.

    July 26, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
    • Casandra

      So God was there when Hitler killed all the Jews? and Stalin slaughtered his own people?

      So you are saying God is a worthless piece of garbage that enjoys watching people get hurt?

      July 26, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
  2. matt kingsford

    God was likely with the hundreds of people dying in Syria right, or in other parts of the planet.

    July 26, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
  3. Dyslexic Dog

    Stephen Prothero - non believers are up near 20% of the US population! Where did you get your 2% number from?

    July 26, 2012 at 4:45 pm |
    • Romans

      No, they're actually not.

      July 26, 2012 at 4:47 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @DD,

      You are incorrect sir. From the Pew Forum:

      Unafilliated ....... 16.1% (including)
      Atheists ......................................... 1.6%
      Agnostics ....................................... 2.4%
      No particular organized religions ... 12.1%

      July 26, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
    • Romans

      Define unaffiliated......you're assuming that the unaffiliated 16% have no spirituality. That's a false assumption. Statistics dont lie, but some lie using statistics.

      July 26, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
    • A Frayed Knot

      For many years on surveys such as these I would check the [ ]Christian box... out of habit, and embarrassingly, a bit of superst'ition and a bit of paranoia that they weren't really anonymous.

      July 26, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
    • Romans

      And what about that other 12.1%. They're also automatically non believers?? Sounds like these statistics are severely lacking in specific information regarding the supposed non-belief of 16.1% and 12.1% in this survey......

      July 26, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
  4. rAmen

    Higgs Boson: "Don't call me God. Only one of us is imaginary"

    July 26, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
    • Romans

      So the Higgs Boson is God now? Funny stuff

      July 26, 2012 at 4:49 pm |
    • rAmen

      lol, i suggest you read more science article... Higgs Boson, or commonly mislabeled as "the God Particle" by non science population, is a recently discovered elementary particle in the Standard Model. and yes, this is a joke. science class over

      July 26, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
    • Romans

      oh thank you ramen. I dont know what humanity would do without you. We're all in debt to your enormous intelligence

      July 26, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • rAmen

      you're welcome. now go read up "Sarcasm for Dummies"

      July 26, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
  5. The Engineers

    We've been watching, and we're p*ssed. We're sending a space jockey with a special payload.

    WWRSD?

    July 26, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
  6. lisa d'angelo

    God was where he was during any act of violence......letting the devil control the world....and ppl letting him.....freewill....and unfortunately the masses has chosen Satan....so he is letting him reign down......when He is ready....U will b the first to know....no worries

    July 26, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
  7. Rob R.

    Where is CNN's journalistic integrity? "Where was God in Aurora?" has the stench of those Westboro Baptist Church terrorists all over it.

    Please get back to reporting factual news before you slip to the sensationalist tripe that TLC wallows in.

    July 26, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
    • Anonymous

      Just so you know, Westboro "Baptist" is an independent church that calls themselves "Baptists". As a true Baptist myself, I can tell you that no other Baptist church that is part of the true Baptist denomination shares not one single view that those at Westboro "Baptist" present. The message that the true Baptist denomination brings is peace and love through our Savior Jesus Christ and His sacrifice for all of humanity. Are there some that don't live this belief? Yes, of course, people are human and hypocrites and none more fits this criteria than Westboro "Baptist" and their message of hate.

      July 26, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
    • Rob R.

      Anonymous:

      Fair enough.. I appreciate your clarification and I respect all religions.. however, I was trying to point out the irresponsible of CNN's decision to jump headlong into tabloid/sensationalistic 'reporting' and calling it responsible journalism.

      Sadly religious zealots and perverse splinter groups spring from most religions and I view the Westboro Baptist Church as terrorists -no better than Al Queda or the like.

      July 26, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
  8. John

    I'm glad to be part of the 2% that are more evolved than the other 98% of America.

    To the 98%:

    If you weren't afraid of death, would you still be religious?

    July 26, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
    • Gingeet

      Nice! That's what it really does come down to.

      July 26, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
    • Dyslexic Dog

      non believers are up near 20% of the US population! I don't know where Stephen Prothero got his 2% number from?

      July 26, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
    • Love

      Im not afraid if death because of my beliefs... So I guess my answer is, yes

      July 27, 2012 at 10:53 am |
  9. AB

    If there is a god, he's more akin to a kid with an ant farm. He's just watching what everyone is doing, but he himself does not participate.

    If you guys really feel the need to have some omnipotent being lower his hand down through the clouds, point at you and save you... then I have a bridge to sell you. No, really I do.

    July 26, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
  10. Geraard Spergen

    >1. There is no God.

    We're NUMBER ONE!

    Though I find it distasteful to use tragedies like this either to proselytize or to rationalize. The proof of God's nonexistance is all around us and a better topic for a slow news day than a day of horrible news.

    July 26, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • Greg

      I with Mr. Prothero were more specific about where is his "Self-professed atheists may make up only 2% of the U.S. population" figur is coming from... A 2008 Gallup poll showed that 6% of the US population believed that no god or universal spirit exists, and, to the best of my knowledge, the trend is upward. On the other hand, what can you expect from a "religion scholar".

      July 26, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
    • Casandra

      Well, I am not sure how you "prove nonexistence". This statement is wrong in so many ways. God's existence is just assumed with zero proof. Great claims require great proof! So far RELIGION HASN'T PROVEN ANYTHING!

      July 26, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
  11. Jason K

    Define evil
    Define sin
    Define good
    Define righteousness

    July 26, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
  12. DNC

    In the head of his believers.

    July 26, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
  13. Tom

    Love or God will come about as we choose to Love and not define God in terms of a completed being that our small minds must do and have done in history. If we must define God it is usually for our own purpose as history has shown. Why not say the only God that will ever exist is the God that we create as a collective being called Man. Outside of natural disasters caused by science that we have not been able to control, all tragedy is the result of our collective wishes toward our fellow man who we should love without reservation. How easily we see 12 deaths as a tragedy, and it is, but do not see the deaths of thousands every day due to the decision of 'civilized, non -convictable killers" such that we do each day that one of our fellow man suffers.

    July 26, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
  14. Gingeet

    Let's just get serious here people. There are no gods period. Man created the gods not the other way around. I mean seriously.... adults talking as if there is such a thing and I'm sorry to say to dumb to realize this. Never has there been proven a god that exists and never has there been any evidence to believe such silliness. To believe in things where there is no evidence or prior experience is just gullibility. Many when asked what's the problem with the country respond that "God has been taken out of our schools". The real problem is that people are too dumb to get it out of their brains. Grow up and face the facts. Get over it and learn something.

    July 26, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
    • Kristen

      I believe in God and I also believe you need to use correct grammar.

      July 26, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
  15. Athiest

    There's still no god.

    Use the free will and intelligence you have and stop being a puppet for money shakedown organizations who perpetrate hoaxes on you.

    Until you morons realize DERRRRP, ITS JUST US ON PLANET EARTH, and we better all WORK TOGETHER TO MAKE LIFE BETTER, you will go on blaming god, or blaming the devil, or blaming muslims, or whatever.

    Take CONTROL of your lives.

    There is no GOD. There is no Heaven. There is no hell. There is no devil.

    THERE IS ONLY US ON THIS PLANET.

    July 26, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
    • DNC

      If they did that then there's no eternal life. That's all it's about. They think they'll continue on to another place. It's actually all quite a desirous sinful lustful attempt to 'live' forever.

      July 26, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
    • The Muslim

      I am a Muslim but I always tell people that my faith is by choice only. I like your comment because it is true. I have never seen God so I don't keep my life on hold for it. Do good because it is in our nature. Choose to do good because we have the power to do so. Faith is just a personal choice to me.

      July 26, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
    • Romans

      @ the muslim: Doing evil is also in our nature

      July 26, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
  16. Chuck

    Why do people continue to make excuses for God? If we did that for an abusive father, we would be given a DSM IV diagnosis.

    July 26, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
  17. sieg

    It was evident to an ancient Greek, but it's still not clear to most. There.is.no.god.

    July 26, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
  18. dsix

    Without God, you have no justification for your outrage against the massacre. Dog-eat-dog, survival of the fittest. The definition of evil also becomes relative...

    July 26, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      No. I have every right to be horrified by a crime.

      July 26, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
    • Adam

      Sooo.... you believe in a supernatural agent NOT because you ACTUALLY BELIEVE one exists, but because you believe one is required for you to you preserve that which you seek to preserve?

      You are abusing the English language and your own consciousness. Stop it.

      July 26, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • Athiest

      We have something called society pal. The non-existence of god means morality is on us, and not some ficticious set of clay tablets in the desert.

      I help an old lady across the street or protect the young because it's the moral thing to do. Not because I'm afraid of some lake of fire.

      Which makes me morally superior to you christians, I do it by personal choice, not fear.

      July 26, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
    • Romans

      @ atheist: And if there were no society? No Laws? What defines morality then big guy?

      July 26, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @Romans,

      if there is no society, you still have your own conscience.

      Morality is the collective consensus of conscience.

      It is not handed down on graven tablets by voices in a burning bush.

      July 26, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
    • Romans

      Ok, so where do we get our conscience???

      July 26, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
    • Athiest

      I like your comment not a GOPer.

      The questions Romans ask seem rhetorical, what would we do without society and where does conscience come from. We have society, and we have a conscience. We can make decisions for ourselves. We don't need some imaginary guy who will throw you in a lake of fire to treat each other well.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
  19. Stanley C. Hopkins

    God was probably watching us use the 'free will' he granted. Who knows what the end results will be from the Aurora tragedy? Sometimes good comes out of evil, its all mental masturbation anyway. It goes along with the 'Blame America first' crowd to question God and his motives. In my humble opinion we flatter ourselves thinking we posses that kind of brain power.

    July 26, 2012 at 4:38 pm |
  20. fungus_amungus

    “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?”
    ~ Epicurus

    July 26, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
    • Barry G.

      Wasn't Epicuris the father of hedonism?

      Didn't he teach: If it feels good, it must be good.

      Do you really want to follow the philosophy of such a depraved mind?

      July 26, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Not exactly what Epicurus said.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • A Frayed Knot

      Barry G.,

      Guess what? We learn to figure out what can be verified before we accept the words or philosophies of *any* man.

      - Aristotle had some great ideas which have been verified to be useful and beneficial to us, but you should read how he thought that human conception occurred and believed that thinking occurred in the region around the heart and not in the brain.

      - Isaac Newton was heavily into alchemy, numerology and the occult.

      - Brilliant Nikola Tesla thought that a pigeon was his wife.

      Verify, verify, verify. There is not a whit of verified evidence for any of the supernatural beings or events told about by men in the Bible nor anywhere else.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
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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.