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
(CNN) – There are a lot of things I am sick of hearing after massacres such as the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Here are six of them:
1. “It was God’s will.”
There may or may not be a God, but if there is, I sure hope he (or she or it) does not go around raising up killers, plying them with semiautomatic weapons, goading them to target practice, encouraging them to plot mass killings and cheering them on as they shoot multiple bullets into screaming 6- and 7-year-old children. Much better to say there is no God or, as Abraham Lincoln did, “The Almighty has his own purposes,” than to flatter ourselves with knowing what those purposes are.
2. “Jesus called the children home.”
I don’t want to hear that Jesus needed 20 more kids in heaven on Friday – that Madeleine Hsu (age 6) or Daniel Barden (age 7) were slain because Jesus couldn't wait to see them join his heavenly choir. Even the most fervent Christians I know want to live out their lives on Earth before going “home” to “glory.” The Hebrew Bible patriarchs rightly wanted long lives. Moses lived to be 120. Abraham was 175 when he died. Madeleine and Daniel deserved more than 6 or 7 years.
3. “After death, there is the resurrection.”
In the Jewish tradition, it is offensive to bring up the afterlife while in the presence of death. Death is tragic, and deaths such as these are unspeakably so. So now is the time for grief, not for pat answers to piercing questions. “There is a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,” says the biblical book of Ecclesiastes, and now is not a time for laughing or dancing or talk of children raised from the dead.
4. “This was God’s judgment.”
After every hurricane or earthquake, someone steps up to a mic to say that “this was God’s judgment” on New Orleans for being too gay or the United States for being too secular. I’m not sure what judgment of God would provoke the killing of 27 innocent women and children, but I certainly don’t want to entertain any theorizing on the question right now. Let’s leave God’s judgment out of this one, OK? Especially if we want to continue to believe God's judgments are "true and righteous altogether" (Psalms 19:9).
5. “This happened because America is too secular.”
Unlike those of us who are shaking their heads trying to figure out what transpired in Newtown, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, an evangelical icon, apparently has it all figured out. We don’t need fewer guns in the hands of killers, he said Friday on Fox News, we need more God in our public schools.
“Should we be so surprised that schools have become such a place of carnage? Because we’ve made it a place where we don’t want to talk about eternity, life, what responsibility means, accountability,” Huckabee said in an astonishing flight of theological and sociological fancy.
Just keep plying people like the killer with Glocks and Sig Sauers. As long as we force Jewish and Buddhist Americans to say Christian prayers, then the violence will magically go away. The logic here is convoluted to the point of absent, leaving me wondering whether what passes for "leadership" in America can sink any lower.
6. “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”
If ever there has been a more idiotic political slogan, I have yet to hear it. The logical fallacy here is imagining that people are killed either by people or by guns. Come again? Obviously, guns do not kill people on their own. But people do not shoot bullets into people without guns. At Sandy Hook and Aurora and Columbine, people with guns killed people. This is a fact. To pretend it away with slogans is illogical and revolting.
The question now is: Are those of us who have not yet been killed by guns going to allow these massacres to continue unimpeded? Are Americans that callous? Is life here so cheap? I have read the Second Amendment, and I find no mention there of any right to possess any gun more advanced than an 18th-century musket? Do I really have the right to bear a nuclear weapon? Or a rocket-propelled grenade? Then why in God’s name would any U.S. civilian have the right (or the need) to bear a .223-caliber assault rifle made by Bushmaster?
If you believe in a God who is all powerful and all good, then covering up for the Almighty at a time like this is in my view deeply unfaithful. Today is a day to shake your fist at heaven and demand answers, and then to shake it harder when no answers are forthcoming. To do anything else is in my view to diminish the idea of God, and to cheapen faith in the process.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.
A shame you choose to slam Huckabee. I have read previous blogs where readers attacked you quickly and without thorough thought and you chastised them for not being informed. Now you have done the same. Read Huckabee's very intelligent reply and then respond again if you have any integrity.
But the responses of most Christians have been accurately portrayed by this article. That's what 90% of it is about and not Huckabee
Actually most Christians I know have welcomed Huckabee's statement as it accurately states in a clear manner what we believe. Maybe it is what YOU think Christians believe because the majority of current media attempts to contain Christian's beliefs is a simplistic yet inaccurate form.
So many idiots (bilbo, Steve, Tiggo) so little time.
5. “This happened because America is too secular.” I'm gonna guess that most people who claim to think this also think that "Old" Europe and it's public schools and society are much more secular than the United States...why then wouldn't *they* be the ones to have the punishment meted out in this way more often? Wouldn't it be much clearer to actually punish the most secular ones for being secular? Or, hey, how about the Muslim infidels? They are certainly as bad as secularism (depends on the day, I suppose), shouldn't there be more school shootings in majority Muslim countries?
There's no reason to think God caused all this unless you hold to a Calvinistic view of the world. It makes no sense. God does not meticulously control everything on Earth. We are not all robots that follow a predestined track. We can either do God's will on Earth, or we resist it. The force that causes us to resist the will of God (defined foremost by agape Love) is anthropomorphized in Satan. That will is against God.
God accepts reality as having genuine, open possibilities... full of people who have genuinely free wills. This is why God - in the Bible - over responds with suprise when he *thought* his people would go one way, when in fact they went another way (Jer 3, for example).
Do not blame God for what is evil in this life. Blame the forces of chaos and evil that gave rise over the centuries to violent technology, violent hearts and mental instability. God did not cause this event to happen... but his will is for us to bring good out of it. Hopefully we all decide to follow God's will.
God does not exist. Reality is what you see, not what you imagine. The sooner religion is relegated to the dusty shelves of history, the better off we all will be.
As humanism carries ever onwards the cards being held during mankind's gameplays will ever mark the highs and lows of card-held gamesmanship. I shudder as my mind wonders onto this world's future realities many plausible outcomes. Still my hope abounds the mankind will see things ever more clearer then time's passing ways.
God exists and on this thought I am certain. My long drawn out imagination tells me so. I will not let the unimaginable atheists harden my mind's imaginable essences to dare dream of places unknown and yet to become! Atheism seems duty bound to shun everyone's imaginative desires and severely lay wasted all those who dare to dream!
The point people miss is that something bad happening is not automatically evidence of God not being there. He never promised us nothing bad would ever happen to us if we believed....
What can be against God's will,.... nothing. This was God's will or it wouldn't have happened! Stop being stupid!
Evil is against God's will. If you think that God meticulously controls everything, that means you also think God controls evil. I surely hope you don't think that.
From a die hard Christian, Thank God Mike Huckabee was unsucessful on his run for President a few years ago. Wow this guy my have mental issues!
Kudos, Stepen, on an insightful and clear analysis. The time is now to put an end to the gun madness afflicting our nation; and not to distract from the issue by the rediculous pronouncmeents of the religious right.
Religious right? it was Obama who said that "god has called them home".
Question for the writer: Did you blame the bathtub when that mother drown her 5 children? Did you blame the car when that woman strapped her children in and pushed them into a lake? Did you blame the knife when a woman last month in Illinois stabbed two children over 100 times a piece?
In any of these tragedies that don't involve guns, do you people EVER blame the tool?
The fact is PEOPLE KILL PEOPLE...not the objects they use.
Wow....I hope I never have the opportunity to read the words of Stephen Prothero again. He is one sick dude....
Really??? And what part made you come up with that conclusion? Did you even read any of it? Think about it? Digest what he had to say? No you just spouted off some stupid cliche...
Forced you to confront your own stupidity and brainwashing, did he? Must be uncomfortable.
Thank you to the author for pointing out those ridiculous and offensive explanations. I can't believe the crap being posted. IF there is a God, he has left us to live our own lives and make our own choices. If God were powerful enough to have created the universe, Earth, and life, I don't see him being an egotist, expecting people to WASTE their limited time on this planet reading and rereading silly religious books, and praying to him. I think that's an insult to God, if anything. There is nothing moral or good about praying and doing whatever you can to try to guarantee an afterlife in Heaven for yourself. That is simply self-centered and self-serving. All you care about, then, is your own pitiful soul. IF there is a God and a heaven, I would think the way to be a GOOD person would be to do whatever you can to help your fellow man, to treat EVERYONE with respect, and to raise your children to have the same values. No fair and intelligent God would inform just one small group of the "right religion" and let everyone kill each other over differing beliefs. Fundamentalist Christians and Muslims are the most evil, hateful, judgemental people on the planet. The least judgemental folk, like Atheists, Agnostics, Buddhists, and Jews, are always the ones being blamed or attacked by the self-righteous, yet they value life and their fellow man more than the fundies. As for Hell, it's a myth. Jews don't believe in hell, so Jesus didn't. Christians made-up/borrowed all the crazy ideas to enhance their religious power. Muslims took the ball and ran with it. As for this tragedy, nobody'd be dead if that kid's mom didn't have assault rifles. Who needs a 15-bullet mag rifle? Only a killer. Stop defending assault weapons before another massacre happens! Stupid NRA!!
Bravo, well said. I could not agree with you more. Thank you for sharing your comment
100% agreed on every point!
Well said, sir. And may I add a comment to the following quote:
Theological? Sociological? I think "Scatological" better describes Huckabee's remarks.
There is no need to demean the scat fans by associating them with huckabee.
Your most humble excrements of laudable civilities make puke look like something worthy to be fed to those of your wretchedness ways! Peace though and may my kindness show you I am but a selfless wordage carrier of posited generalist congruencies!
Well said,iIts about time some said something like this. Because god only makes athletes do great things...
How about stopping the "they were in the wrong place at the wrong time" nonsense, too.
Proof this massacre was orchestrated:
All these are what we call "insensitive religioun-based remarks". I believe in God and I know he does control everything. He's God. I am not religious. AND...I don't say stupid things people really don't need to hear when they are already hurting. It's common sense. Stephen Prothero does not believe in God and wants people to know that.
"All these are what we call "insensitive religioun-based remarks".
"I believe in God and I know he does control everything."
Pot, meet kettle!
God points the way. It's up to you to go in the direction He's pointing.
That is quite likely the dumbest thing ever written in the history of language.
In my experience, those insisting I should follow who they say I should follow have only made me turn and run as fast as I can away from them and whatever it is they are insisting I do, say or believe.
Conformity is so boring!
I believe that 95% of you folks on here crying about 20 children did NOT cry when several hundred thousand Muslim children were killed by our bombs to help hunt Bin Laden and WMD's in Iraq.
Sorry folks, but your tears and mourning are crocodile tears. You are all for it when little dark children are murdered: "thats the Christian way" y'all said during Shock and Awe.
Thank goodness for you 5% who stood againest American's during both Vietnam and Iraq. As we know, 10 years later the 5% againest those wars had grown to 80% ... after several million children and women were murdered by Americans.
So get over this tragedy and enjoy NFL football next week. And stop faking your compassion – we've seen how fake it is.
You, sir, should just kill yourself.
Maybe not a bad idea: there are millions of teenage virgin chicks in Heaven, and no laws, no marriages, no football, and a God who likes to watch a little hanky/panky (see: Adam/Eve).
And yes Brian, there are about 1 million Vietnamese and Iraqi children up there compliments of US Bombs to steal Oil for our God.
Truth hurts doesn't it. And Brian, I'll bet you were cheering during Shock and Awe ... as were 95% of Americans.
Agree with most. Particularly "guns do not kill people....."; that IS idiotic. Let's carry that further: chemical weapons don't kill people, people kill people; nuclear weapons don't kill people......you get the idea. Its a simple statement embraced by the simple minded.
And don't forget, cars don't kill people, people kill people. More people die each year in car fatalities than all deaths by guns for the last 20 years. So I guess it is a ban on cars and it is back to horses. Do horses kill people ?
Not so much. People kill horses. Dogs and Frogs (french) then eat them.
Ok opinions are like ___________, everyone has one....
The afterlife, God calling them home is an attempt to comfort the grieving, not to explain away WHY it happened. I think you (author) are confused. The others like America is too secular are trying to explain why this happened... they are inappropriate.
As for guns don't kill people, THEY DON'T. Bad people will continue killing... as humanity has done since the begining of our species. Are you better off dead from a knife slashing your throat? Also, don't forget that CRIMINALS by the very definition BREAK LAWS. The laws already bar people with prior convictions from buying guns... how do you think they keep getting them? They go to the ILLEGAL SOURCES. That's where we should be focusing. There's no need to take a cherished right away from people who have done no wrong and normally act very responsibly about their weapons. (legal gun owners).
Banning assault weapons (which are not AUTOMATIC weapons, they just have a modern rifle design) will not solve the problem. Crazy murders will still get it done. As my example..... PROHIBITION. Because that worked SO well...
It's funny how many people think that banning guns will stop death itself. Reactionary governing is NEVER a good idea.
I see you didn't let logic or facts get in the way of your drivel.
Here are some facts for you... I only do logic and facts.
Feel free to post when you have something useful to say.
I particularly get frustrated when religious people say “It was God’s will.”, “Jesus called the children home.” and “This happened because America is too secular” it makes them sound delusional and irrational. God planned to bring his children home or to send us a message by having them die tragically. Are you serious? Thanks for addressing this issue.
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.