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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. Beppy

    This is not an appropriate question for CNN to be asking. In fact it is rather stupid. Why not ask: Where was Allah in Aurora or Buddha or some of the Hindu gods? What was going on in Aurora was human nature. Some people are just sick and unbalanced. The way some people handled the situation shows how heroic others can be. If you believe in Jehovah, then you know that humans are given the right to "choose". Some people use it to the betterment of humanity and some don't unfortunately. My heart goes out to the friends and families of the victims.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:41 am |
    • MarkinFL

      "God" is a rather generic term and does not specifically refer to the Christian god. Personally, I thought of Thor because he would have kicked that guys but. I figured he was out drinking as usual.

      July 27, 2012 at 9:58 am |
  2. kingsley

    We can't blame God for what we created. He gave us rules to abide, and also gave us free will, so it is up to us to mold our lives and future. God has nothing to do with how we decide to live, he is there to advice and guide us to life if we abide in him and listen to him. We are to blame for bad things that are happening to us, we chose this path, God didn't. It is true that he is Omnipresent, Omnipotent, and omniscient, but he is obliged to interfer with how we live day to day, if he did we will not like it because it is taking the free will away from us, nobody wants to be bossed around. The commandments, laws, and salvation is there, it is up to us to accept it. when something good happens in our lives nobody mentions God, it is only when bad things occur that people start blaming God.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:40 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Well, according to your post, god obviously has nothing to do with the good that happens either. At least your belief is consistent, no miracles.

      July 27, 2012 at 9:51 am |
  3. Jame C Mexico Jr

    God protects those that protect themselves. Where were the Responsible Armed Good Citizens prepared to take out the bad ones that threaten those that they Love? We do not teach that anymore. Too bad. We live in a dangerous world. It is about time people realize this simple fact.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:40 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Yeah, then we can save hundred of billions of tax dollars a year by disbanding the police and the court system and leave personal protection up to each individual.

      July 27, 2012 at 9:49 am |
  4. Adam

    Please, CNN, stop with this inane waste of resources that is the "Belief Blog." It's absurd, idiotic, and a breeding ground for the most deluded people on the planet to post. This nonsense has to stop.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:39 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Piffle, it is a lot of entertainment for an incredibly tiny use of resources.

      July 27, 2012 at 9:47 am |
  5. shipwreck73

    I got an answer to where god was.... NOWHERE! Stop asking stupid questions people, god... ANY GOD does not exist. Never has... GROW UP!

    July 27, 2012 at 9:39 am |
  6. SSE

    I think the "2%" figure is way low for atheists in America. Many of the people I know are atheists and scoff at the idea of god and religion. I have more friends who are believers, yes, but I would say that 40% of the people I know openly mock the idea of god. And I have had two friends leave their church to become atheists in the past five years. It seems to be a growing segment of the American population.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:38 am |
  7. Jimbo

    It's weird how they get the statistic that only 2% of americans are athiest. If I was to take a poll from 20 of my friends I would bet at least half of them where athiest. I'm just a normal guy with normal friends also, we are all good to each other and trusting people. That percentage is skewed badly, there are way more athiest in the US than that.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:38 am |
    • MarkinFL

      The poll skews toward answering with whatever religion you have ever identified with, irregardless of current belief.:

      According to a 2011 survey from the Pew Research Center, 1.6% of Americans self-identify as atheist and 2.4% self-identify as agnostic. However, significant numbers of respondents who identify with a religion claim to either not believe in God or consider themselves uncertain – beliefs that are by definition atheistic and agnostic, respectively.

      According to this survey of more than 35,000 Americans, 4% of orthodox Christians, 1% of Catholics and members of mainline churches, 5% of Muslims, and 10% of Jews do not believe in God. A further 5% of orthodox Christians, 4% of Catholics, 3% of mainline church members, 11% of Jews, and 1% of Evangelicals, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Muslims consider themselves not too certain or not at all certain of God's existence. This discrepancy between self-identification and personal belief indicates that the actual number of atheists and agnostics is far higher than the statistics indicate by self-affiliation alone.

      July 27, 2012 at 9:56 am |
  8. Bryant

     Astonishing the number of people who lack faith. The country itself was a religious experiment, for God meant to be a city on a hill. Faith helped the country reach super power status through manifest destiney.  We don't even acknoweledge that and sit thinking logic and science. we all think we are so smart when  we only use things other smart people have invented and theorized. God exist, but dont put blame on him and responsible for everything that is wrong in the world. Non believers its in your own free will to believe this..  

    July 27, 2012 at 9:38 am |
    • Lee

      Thanks for the chuckle.

      July 27, 2012 at 9:46 am |
    • MarkinFL

      You actually bring up Manifest Destiny? That sick excuse for genocide has long been shown to have been created by people that did not believe in it for the express purpose of convincing our ignorant citizens that it was OK to steal land and murder those already living there.

      July 27, 2012 at 9:55 am |
  9. apple

    #6 is really interesting to me. I'm not religious at all, but maybe a twinge spiritual.
    I wonder..is it even appropriate for me to say 'I don't believe in God?' because it seems like everyone has their own personal 'God'. What percentage of Christians believe in a human-shaped God that has a consciousness, will, omnipotence, omnipresence, etc.? (the whole God created man in his image thing). The 'Ha you believe in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy' comments are probably directed towards those kinds of believers.
    And what percentage lean more towards what #6 suggests, a more Conceptual God? If that's the case I might say that I believe in God. I can see myself believing that God is the universe, that there is a reality in the passage of time, and that life exists and should be cherished. I'm just attaching a name to the existence of the universe as 'God'. Does that count? Or does my belief have to be structured around the Bible? (followed word for word or... again, doing a personal metaphorical interpretation to glean the meaning I want to see?)
    Another thing I wonder about– do some people believe in their 'God' as a psychological crutch? Several of my family friends have converted to Christianity over the years after some misfortune befell them. I suspect they turned to belief in an omnipotent power as a coping mechanism to deal with their thoughts and emotions. Like 'why is this happening to ME? Why? Why? Why?' So as not to have a mental breakdown, they rationalize that 'God works in mysterious ways' to feel like there was meaning/reason to their problems, and then they manage to move on with their lives. Plus there's the communal support of the church they attend.
    If only belief in God ended with that–spiritual support that makes you a better, stronger person. When some try to justify their hateful personal philosophies with their religious beliefs–and try to insert it into the law (laws that need to be obeyed by nonbelievers and believers alike), I kind of have a problem with it.
    Just to make it clear– I have several friends that are devout Christians and they're really wonderful people. If they choose to believe in their God as the platform for their thoughts and actions then so be it. And if I want to simply believe in people, that as living things with consciousness we can aim towards happiness for ourselves and others– so be it.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:37 am |
  10. Ron from Jersey

    God loves all people but that doesn't mean all people love God. We as a society can choose to love Him back or ignor
    Him and His written word (the Bible). When WE choose to ignore the Bible, we end up with people like the Movie murderer.
    WE ignored the decay goin on in this guys life just like WE as a society chose to ignor Osama Bin Ladin's uncountable warning signs prior to 9/11.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:37 am |
    • shipwreck73

      Grow up.

      July 27, 2012 at 9:40 am |
    • Lee

      That still doesn't answer the question of the victims. Yes, the shooter had free will but it was the victims who suffered. Where is your god then. This whole concept of free will in this type of horror is absurd.

      July 27, 2012 at 9:49 am |
  11. LGMARTINEZ

    WHERE IS GOD? EACH DAY THAT WE WAKE UP AND LOOK AT OUR SURROUNDING WHETHER ITS GOOD OR BAD. REMEMBER WE ARE HERE ON EARTH TEMPORARY, EVIL SURROUNDS US 24-7.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:33 am |
    • SunGod

      Stop yelling at me

      July 27, 2012 at 9:36 am |
  12. The Asian Atheist

    @evinar (posting again because the other discussion is a few pages back)
    How about the betterment of society, the development of a place that we can be proud to leave our children. If you assume that this life is all we have, then it is that much more beautiful and precious. You wrote that attempting to be profound, but you just come off as a peddler of the same ambiguous drivel that all people of faith have in common. For me, society improves when we have more young people that have a chance to grow old, to discover new things and contribute them to our society as a whole. But if you want to just write off every early and untimely death to the fact that we don't know "god's" end game then you should be ashamed.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:32 am |
  13. Sha Ming

    James 1:13

    King James Version (KJV)

    13 Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man:

    July 27, 2012 at 9:32 am |
  14. baboonworksfine

    It is you, individual, decide who is God, what is God, why is God.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:32 am |
  15. Occus McGillicutty

    Easy question to answer: There is no god, nor can there be. A god (which ever one you choose, as there are hundreds) were invented by man to control man. As humans lost control over the violent actions among other humans, a "god" was invented to force people to either behave or face "wrath in the next life". The Egyptian pharaohs went as far as aligning themselves to their gods, then when that didn't work, actually convince their people that THEY were gods. Now we have a pope (lower case intended) who does the same thing, and look what became of that – moving pedophilic priests around the globe to hide their "indiscretions" (makes Sandusky look like a nice guy). So stop asking your god where he was during the disaster in Haiti, Dachau, Jonestown, the Inquisition, and the Bush Administration. Blame man for the works of man.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:32 am |
  16. Observered

    More than 2% of the nation is atheist. The polls are push-polls that force a denomination, almost always. A large portion of the population are atheists who would be classified as agnostic. An agnostic, to a missionary, is merely a Christian waiting to become religious.

    I live in a religious town and have lived in religious parts of the nation. The number of people going to church and openly living the lifestyle is the lowest Ive ever seen. The active religious, especially Christians, are extremely vocal and noisy, just like any other group in America. As the religious missionary movement decreases, the remainder will get louder and louder, and claim there are more of them than there are.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:32 am |
    • MarkinFL

      According to a 2011 survey from the Pew Research Center, 1.6% of Americans self-identify as atheist and 2.4% self-identify as agnostic. However, significant numbers of respondents who identify with a religion claim to either not believe in God or consider themselves uncertain – beliefs that are by definition atheistic and agnostic, respectively.

      According to this survey of more than 35,000 Americans, 4% of orthodox Christians, 1% of Catholics and members of mainline churches, 5% of Muslims, and 10% of Jews do not believe in God. A further 5% of orthodox Christians, 4% of Catholics, 3% of mainline church members, 11% of Jews, and 1% of Evangelicals, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Muslims consider themselves not too certain or not at all certain of God's existence. This discrepancy between self-identification and personal belief indicates that the actual number of atheists and agnostics is far higher than the statistics indicate by self-affiliation alone.

      July 27, 2012 at 9:37 am |
  17. Brian Hartman

    There is no God.

    Know how I know that?

    If there's a God, The Jersey Shore wouldn't be on the air.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:31 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Actually, I think god is the producer. (If the responses here are any indication)

      July 27, 2012 at 9:38 am |
  18. Elliot

    Only 2% of the US is athiest? That is incorrect, only 2% of americans are willing to openly admit to being athliest becuase we are surrounded by bigots who will think less of us, the remaining possibly 30-40% of athiest just remain silient or don't even care enough about the topic to even talk about it.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:31 am |
    • The Asian Atheist

      We call those folks 'apatheists', or apathetic atheists.

      July 27, 2012 at 9:50 am |
  19. Paul

    The Flying Spaghetti Monster works in mysterious ways.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:31 am |
  20. child of midian

    The first Atheist statement "God is within us all" meaning, if you believe in him then he is real to you. So where was God during 10,000 natural disasters in history that killed millions of people? Where was god we dropped the a-bomb? where was god while 6,000,000 Jews where slaughtered?

    Why is it we thank god for all the good things but never lay horrors at his feet and say "why?" Such backward thinking. What is good is our reward what is bad is our punishment?

    July 27, 2012 at 9:29 am |
    • MarkinFL

      One has to accept logical absurdities in order to hold onto an archaic faith. Luckily for the religions of the world, superst.ition is ingrained in animal behavior. Humans have the ability to shake off superst.ition through the use of logic and reason but we find it very hard to go against early indoctrination, and frankly, a large percentage of us are just plain illogical.

      July 27, 2012 at 9:45 am |
    • mikey

      If you read the old testament prophecies you'll see that God warned His people many times of the things that would come upon them if they went astray, and yet they always did anyway, to blame God for anything you've listed is ridiculous. People worship themselves instead of God, yes, even you atheist practice worship everyday, it is the way you live. Hedonism is your religion, it is in your bones. We have brought such judgements upon ourselves because we have turned our backs to our Maker. I'm not here to get into a "heated" debate over CNN, but blaming God is your nature because you HATE Him. There is no other reason, you are inclined to every evil desire, sure you may shake off the "radical" one's but Mr. Holme's did not.

      July 27, 2012 at 10:25 am |
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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.