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.
Furthermore, I am impressed with the theological shallowness of the author. Can't CNN do better? Apparently not.
Can you? Probably not.
Actually, careful theologians speak of the will of God as presented in the Bible in two senses. You might not like it, but this is how the Bible presents God. The first sense is the revealed will of God, by which He tells us what is right and wrong. It is His will to do what is right and to do wrong invites His wrath. James tells us that God leads no one into sin and causes no one to do evil. People make thier choices and are entirely responsible.
However, is another sense God is completely in control of everything, and thus it is accurate to say that everything that happens is His will... it takes place according to His secret sovereign will. God not only knows what will happen, but decrees it to happen... even tragedy. Frankly, there are many Biblical examples of God sending or carrying out terrible tragedy. We don't understand why, or what He is doing but have His promise that, if you trust Him, it is for your best.
Of course, to fit the two wills of God together is difficult and, at times like this, impossible for even the most thoughtful person. But, there is not shame in recognizing that we do not understand God completely. Of course we do not. However, to not understand something is not to say it is wrong. That sort of thinking would be foolish.
So, for a Biblical nderstanding of God's will, you have to begin with something like this.
You are more eloquent then I am so I'm glad you wrote this
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
LMFAO! That's a godamn good one!
Wow would you dare do that with the Koran? No cause you know you'd start an international blood bath. Are you stupid all the time or just on line ( said with a wink, not a middle finger)
Uh-oh.... Now you've done it... This will find its way to the crazies and you will be responsible for riots and hundreds getting killed . Islam is so awesome!
I agree with this guy. We need to seriously stop with the blame that God wasn't schools and such. Its a load of crap really.
how can anyone seriously try to rationalize god's existance vis-a-vis something like this ?
there is no god. how much more obvious can it be ?
Welcome to 'MERICA the land of the christards.
Steve, thanks for your comments. With all due respect your opinion about what God did or did not do is absolutely meaningless. You may be a religious scholar but you don't know the workings of God in our world apart from what God's Word, the Bible says about them. Our nation should repent as a starting point, and seek God's direction. We are much like Israel in the Old Testament in that we are sorry when something bad happens, but we have short memories when things are OK again.
Citing plagiarized works of fiction written by early marketing geniuses as a "reference"? Very convincing. NOT
It doesn't really matter what we think of God, or what we ask God for. There's never been any answer and there never will be. God is unable to grant requests simply because it puts God in an untenable position, a logical trap if you will. God created the Universe. The laws of that Universe are inviolable even by God because God cannot cheat. So, there are no miracles and prayer doesn't do anything with respect to making something happen that otherwise wouldn't. We pray to change ourselves not God, as C. S. Lewis said. I also believe that most people do not have souls, but we can be endowed with a soul only by super-human exertion. If you want to be immortal, live an exemplary life.
A voice of calm and reason in the crowd of hysteria.
Where was God when this carnage was happening. Why pray to a God like that?
Loads of criticism and the only solution you offer is to shake our fists at God? Sure, some evangelicals are a bit confused about God's role. This is neither His plan, nor His fault. It's our fault, it's all of our faults. Because of our sin we are separated from God. Christ died on a cross and was raised from the death so that those who believe Christ is Lord and live for Him will be saved. Evil stuff is going to happen in a broken world. Could Adam Lanza have been saved? We'll never know, but I am certain that if he had been living for God, this would not have occurred. And I think that's the point Huckabee is trying to make. We are so politically correct and afraid of offending anyone, that most of us have forgotten that it is more important to be bold and speak the truth than avoid offense. I like when atheists curse at me and act like I'm from another planet. It let's me know I'm on the right track.
Regarding anger towards God, I'd say almost all of us have been angry with God at some point. Why didn't He intercede?? He certainly had the power to. But ultimately, we don't know everything about God and His purpose. We only know that one day, the saints will live with God and won't feel this pain anymore. And ultimately, that is why Christians have hope and can continue on after they've mourned. I honestly don't know how a Godless person who put all their faith in friends and family could recover from something like this, II really don't. It takes something bigger than us.
Evangelicals are not just "confused"... many, like Huckabee, rush to defend their cash flow and maintain the addictions of their customers. All are either brainwashed or deliberately pretending for power and wealth. No god, buddy... and I think you know it.
Plus or minus a bunch of nonsense at the beginning....you essentially just said #1...it's god's will.
A god is fictional. As fictional as a cartoon character. Instead of allowing a fictional god to run your lives and then throw it in our faces, let a cartoon character run your life...as fictional as your god, but more interesting...
Yeah... Superman is awesome! And he never demands to be worshipped and adored...or else!
Things I don't want to hear: pompous self-righteous opinion columnist who talk down to people telling them how to express their grief ..... Like say.... Oh I don't know.....STEPHEN PROTHERO.
You don't have to read it. Use your back button.
Steve ... all I can say to your essay is Oh my God! .....
There are TWO culprits to this massacre ... Nancy Lanza and Adam Lanza her 20 year old emotionally disturbed son. I put blame on the mother because, inexplicably, she tought her disturbed son how to use guns – pistols and rifles, for WHATEVER reasons, and she enabled him to have access to these deadly weapons.
And Adam obviously had issues with his mother, since he killed her BEFORE going to the school.
If there is a god, he clearly has no plan.
You are correct. There is no plan.
Along increasing gun regulations and the like, can we also talk about putting extra curricular activities, such as art and music, back in schools. Not every kid is going to be on the football team. So maybe, just maybe, if we were to provide the rest of the kids with other outlets to express themselves or something that they can feel a part of, they won't feel compelled to do something so horrific.
This was NOT God's will, nor did He want 20 more children in heaven, although He welcomed them with open arms. There is evil in this world and it is called satan. He's out to destroy us and doing a very good of of it. Most of you people have no understanding of who or what God is and I am so tired of the bashing. Believe or don't believe, but don't speak of things you know nothing about. The confort we have today is these children ARE in the loving arms of Jesus. It's us left behind that are worse off.
You should practice what you preach. You know nothing about god yet you tell us what he does? Stop lieing in public.
More circular logic from the delusional christards.
"It's us left behind that are worse off?" So what should I hope for now? Some maniac with a semi auto to come after me so that I can be welcomed into the arms of Jesus?
Yes, this is the best an All-Knowing, All-Powerful diety can do. This evil in the world, satan, was created by this great loving god. Way before there was an earth the All-Knowing knew this tragedy would come to pass. Must be intended by god to occur or the All-Powerful would have interceded since god is also All-Merciful and compasionate and stuff.
No, of course this is not God's will. Man has free will and is responsible for these atrocities. Yes, I believe in the right to bear arms, but I don't think it's necessary to have weapons designed specifically for war and to inflict the most human destruction in the least amount of time. It's illegal to own a nuclear bomb, or any other type of bomb. We don't need assault weapons in the streets either, even though I know, they will still be available to those with a strong enought desire to obtain them. What this columnist and all like him refuse to recognize is they are a major part of the problem. People who commit these atrocities do so for some peverse desire for publicity even though they may not be around to enjoy it. I think if the media, instead of digging into every aspect of this creaps life and making it a front page story, would reamin silent, we would see an end to this type of tragedy. I think it would be more beneficial to simply state "a failure of a human being commited this unspeakable act today. His life and anything he did gave no value to society. His name will not be published; those who didn't know him will ever have to speak his name, and it is our hope his memory by those who did know him, will be lost for all time."
But you can't let God off with the free will argument on one side and then claim constant intervention by God in peoples' lives on the other. There are 2 logical explanations. Either there is no God, or that God simply doesn't interfere in the activities of Man. The second one could be because we just don't matter to God. The universe may have a meaning and a purpose that just doesn't include us. There are yet other possibilities.
You say "man has free will." How do you know this? When you say man has free will, you are really saying that our decision to behave one way as opposed to another way has no cause, i.e., has no basis and, instead, is random. The truth is we don't have free will. We behave according to the way our brains are wired and influences on such wiring by internal and extenal stimuli.
If there is a deeper meaning beyond brain wiring and stimuli, then that meaning (whatever it is) is causal with regard to decisions we make. So, still, there is no free will.
Your points were well made except number six. You seemed to fall off the cliff on that one. I dont own an semiautomatic assult rifle in fact none of my guns are assult rifles until the point I assult someone. FYI in the 18th century a musket was an assult rifle. Poor parenting was the direct result of this unspeakable act period!!
"poor parenting"? Then surely you must agree that there are just some people who should not be allowed to have children or even be around children.
Let's start from there as we seek to protect children better in the future.
former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, an evangelical icon, apparently has it all figured out
Great article. I especially enjoy the humility he displays by NOT telling us all how it is.
What a stupid article! OK, we get it. The author does not like God, nor people that think in terms of God. I found this shallow and filled with political adjenda. The author did everything short of saying, "I am going to create a straw man and try to smack it in as many ways as I can."
Mr. Prothero: You must be so proud of yourself that you didn't waste a tragedy like this. Instead, you used it as an opportunity to bash people of faith and Christians in particular. This is neither the right time nor the right forum to display your ugly prejudice. You are a shameful man.
Mr. Prothero is not cashing in on the tragedy. He is making genuine and realistic points that we all need to address – we, as Americans, who seem to accept more of gun ownership, availability and use than virtually any other nation on earth.
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.