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.
The author is spot on. We don't need political slogans. We don't need bumper stickers. We don't need these nonsensical statements that are better served being on tee-shirts at the carnival or boardwalk. I would also add the following:
7). Oprah is fat, so why not criminalize forks. Nonsense. Please stop. The determinants of obesity and/or over-eating do not correlate with gun violence. Same for drunk driving. Leave these out.
8)If we allow the government to take away guns, soon the government will take away additional freedoms/rights. Nonsense. Stop with the paranoia over a tyrannical police state. Not going to happen.
The blame game works and the easiest thing to do id blame God. The NRA will say we need more guns: arm teachers, but that would be the same as saying NUCLEAR WEAPONS are a deterrent so let all nations have Nuclear Weapons for protection. Ridiculous! We live in a sick world and the biggest losers are our kids. They cry out for help, but we keep denying assistance because we don't want our tax dollars to go for their need. We let our youth grow up in darkness and when disaster strikes, we blame everyone but ourselves when in reality we REAP WHAT WE SOW.
Arrogance and ignorance go hand in hand.
You're too late. People like you have not only ignored the rights we have guaranteed and have lost, through the Patriot Act, you probably applaud it. I wish all the hypocrites would stay silent, THAT would be a public service. These babies lost their lives because we, as a country, have ignored some wrongs and have felt little or no concern for the harm done to the innocent through violence. Its time to fix what is broken and if whatever we do saves one child's life, or anyone's life, if will be worth it.
Let's get real about the government taking away gun rights. There are tens of thousands of gun deaths in the U.S. every year. What other right do we have that results in those numbers without serving any other purpose? There are tens of thousands of auto deaths every year, and yeah, our leaders should be doing something about that, too. How about effective law enforcement of automobile rules, etc. Too much lethargy, intransigence, entrenched special interests, etc. We are all to blame. I don't see much changing, so expect more mass shootings. It's in the culture. All of you who love your guns, you share in the responsibility for this tragedy!
I agree that this is a disgusting thought...that these poor kids faced their last moments in horror and anguish because J needed company.
At the same time, using the mythological longevity of Moses and Abraham is irrelevant at best. If these to figures ever existed at all, what use is it to impart an impossibly long life span on them to contrast the lives cut short in Sandy Hook except to exaggerate the unbearable?
He was making a point about uninterrupted lives..he wasn't saying we would all live as long as Moses if we changed our behavior. Besides, the time frame in the Bible is not a 365 day year.
You should be ashamed Mr. Prothero.. for trying to take away even the little hope for thr families that they will see their beautiful children in one day in heaven. You are positioning yourself above everything. This is the actual problem with America .. People like you think that your brain is above everything.
If you're crazy and you know it clap your hands.
If you're crazy and you know it clap your hands.
The fallacy is guns fire themselves. And by the way, "“Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”
But it's a hell of a lot harder to put a bullet in someone without a gun.
It's also a lot hard to make a bomb without fertilizer.
or a mustard like gas without chlorine.
How many people in the U.S. are killed by homemade bombs every year? How many are killed by guns?
Hint: for guns it's over ten thousand.
It doesn't matter, people will find a way to kill. Your argument is get rid of guns and people won't die. That's BS, people will still die, they'll just die another way.
No, that isn't the fallacy. Nobody in their right mind actually believes that, it's a straw man argument. The fallacy is that while people obviously are the catalyst for all weapons, the destructiveness of the chosen weapon plays no part. The weapon of choice is what determines the level of carnage. BTW, fertilizer, automobiles or kitchgen knives (or any other specious argument you want to come up with) all have primary uses other than as weapons. Guns don't.
That isn't my argument at all. My argument is get rid of guns and FEWER people will die.
haha – that's pretty far fetched to call it a strawman argument. Either you don't know what it means are you are too narrow fn minded to believe that if no guns were available, people would be safe from these freaks. With your mindset we should ban rocks, too, since they're used to stone people. You and your ilk saying that getting rid of guns will save lives is utter BS.
If Adam Lanza had a kitchen knife instead of a semi-auto rifle he would not have been able to kill as many people. So yes it would have saved lives.
Get rid of gun, and yes, fewer people will die "to guns", but watch the homicides increase in other areas. And with these high IQ killers, the death tolls will become higher as they figure out how to make their home made weapons of mass destruction.
If Adam Lanza knew the recipe to make pseudo mustard gas, the whole school could've died, and anyone who would've tried to enter. And by the way, the ingredients can be found in any town.
If someone wants to make a WMD they will make a WMD. The U.S. has the highest homicide rate of any developed nation, we are also the only developed nation with such lax gun control laws. If you give people highly efficient weapons they will kill each other at a faster rate.
The problem is, people will find a way to kill. Whether it be with rope, drugs, pushing someone off a cliff, holding hostage. All Adam needed here was a single weapon in a single classroom to hold student hostage. He could have offed a teacher with a knife, then methodically did the same to each student. It doesn't take a gun to do a mass killing, all it takes is someone with a sick mind, precision planning and patience. You can take away one tool, but there are other tools to get the job done.
But he didn't Scott he used a gun, several guns in fact. Guns are low effort and high efficiency, and they are the reason for our countries comparatively high homicide rate? If you can name another possible reason I'm all ears.
Hue, I hate to break it to you, but we're hardly the most laxed on guns, take a peek at Sweden. The problem is not our laws, it's the amount of freaks who are bred here.
The type of gun also maters. Most of the weapons in Sweden are hunting rifles. In the U.S. Hand guns and as.sault style weapons are the most prevalent, you know, the ones designed to kill people not animals. Also Sweden still has a lower gun ownership rate than the U.S.
It sounds like your opinion piece was more political than religious. Perhaps you should stick to religion and leave the politics out of your opinion editorials. Thank you.
Stephen Prothero, thank you for an article that was completely on target.
There was no God in that young man's heart, that's for sure. No God. No hope. Only despair.
I don't think that we can pretend to know what was in his heart. We do not know so much now, whether or not he had a psychotic break due to an undiagnosed condition, a reaction to a medication, or something else. Good people have done horrible things. I think it lacks humility to be able to say where God is. I think we should just try to understand what the pathology is, not judge.
This even only continues to disprove this childish, ridiculous notion of some all loving, all powerful sky fairy that is there for us. What a bunch of BS. You people that still believe this nonsense are as crazy as this Adam Lanza guy was.
sorry...."event" I meant to say
If a teacher would have had a gun and blown the shooter's brains out and saved those kids, this article wouldn't be here.
Biggest "IF" going, I'd say. If Lanza had gotten the help he needed...if his poor mother had secured her firearms better...if she never purchased them at all. Teachers have enough on their plates being teachers. Now they need combat training? You'll find that most if not all law enforcement agencies disagree, BTW.
Yeah! Let's forget about expecting teachers to know math or science and just require them to be proficient with semi-automatic rifles. And, while we're at it, why not have them teach the kids to use guns and equip all first graders with guns. Then someone, for sure, would have blown this guys brains out (and maybe countless others in the process).
OK. Answer this: Who pays for the guns? Who pays for the training necessary for teachers & staff. Many school boards are already strapped for cash and now you are asking them to re-direct funds away from educational needs toward guns. Are you serious? Also, discuss the liability insurance issue. If I have a gun in my classroom and I shoot at the perpetrator and miss killing a child, what about the lawsuits that ensue?
DO YOU HAVE ANY EVIDENCE WHATSOEVER THAT TEACHERS AND/OR STAFF WILL BE ABLE TO RESPOND IN THE MANNER YOU SUGGEST DURING A CRISIS SITUATION? REAL EVIDENCE. PROOF. STUDIES. STATS. NOT MADE-UP NONSENSE. CITE YOUR SOURCE!!!
Amen Jay, Amen........
Maybe not, but have you any idea how stressful teaching is? If we armed all teachers, I give it a month before we have the first school massacre BY a teacher on their own students.
REAL EVIDENCE. PROOF. STUDIES. STATS. NOT MADE-UP NONSENSE. CITE YOUR SOURCE!!! Why aren't you asking this to those religious goofballs? And whose is paying the price for those kids right now?
If Adam Lanza didn't have a gun this article wouldn't be here.
The question stands for them as well. I'm not a bible-thumper either. This is a complex issue that needs real solutions. The gun rights nuts as well as the bible thumpers both serve to inflame. The rhetoric is stale. Let's move past simplistic concepts and actually deal with this.
There is a lot of anger here. There is a lot of lashing out at one another. This tragedy has turned friends against friends and family against family for how they handle and explain something as saddening and disturbing as what happened to those children. I am not a religious person. I am not sure if it's because I am not fully convinced of a God or if it's because I view religion as being something driven by men with their own agendas, but whether you are a religious individual or a non believer the reality is we all want to know why this happened and how to prevent it. We are split when it comes to stronger gun legislation (I am in favor of it) and we are divided in how best to explain this tragedy. But don't we all want the same thing in the end? Don't we all just want to live in a safer country and a safer world? I like this article because it addressed some of my personal feelings towards how things are being explained at the moment. I had a religious friend anger me recently when his sole explanation for why this happened was that it was related to "End Times". It angered me because I find that type of reasoning takes away so much hope. It takes away so much enthusiasm to work hard and build a better life for ones self and those around them. But at the same time I lashed out at a good friend who has always been kind to me just because I didn’t agree with him. We all need to come together and discuss this as civilly and as logically as we can. We all need to think before we speak. If you believe this is Gods will that’s fine, but please understand this might anger those who don’t share that belief and for those who don’t share that explanation, don’t mock those that do with insults and anger. It doesn’t help and it’s tremendously rude and unkind. I think we all need to step back for a moment and just take a deep breath and relax. Then we can come back to the table with collected thoughts and calmer demeanors. You can’t solve a problem when your emotions are so high that it clouds sound judgment. Unity is the only way to solve this problem and prevent it. We need to come together and make things right.
Nice idea, but not terribly helpful. What we need is some effective gun control legislation, and good mental health services. I would add that we need some common sense. I read that this killer's mother had guns around the house and used to take him to target practice with her. What could be more stupid than that?
This is definitely the best post I have ever read. Though you and many of us may share different beliefs, we all want the same thing.
You sir, hit it right on the head.
Comments like this give me hope that there are stil decent people out there who are willing to discuss things in a civilized manner regardless of beliefs.
As long as Human Beings continue to espouse the belief that there are valid reasons to kill other Human Beings. Human Beings will continue to kill Human Beings. We grieve because most of these victims were so young, But young or old, innocent or Guilty, They are just as dead. Truth is , There is No GOOD REASON to kill anyone, But until we get that simple fact through our heads, People will continue to find GOOD REASONS to kill other people. This shooter; YES part of me wants to bring him back to life and kill him over and over again, But that won't bring those children back,So I'm wondering what Good Reason this guy had to justify, in his mind, this massacre?
If only every one agreed to keep and follow the ten commendments life and things would be so much easier for every one, and those children as well as so many people would have lived a long peaceful live...and Adam Lanza would have dealt with his anger in a more constructive manner but i am sure Adam heard too many say there is not God so he attempted to be one himself judging other accoring to his will...living the rest of us on disagreement...
I agree. Thinking one is, or has god on his side is one of the most consistent cause of tragedies like these. ;-)
What good are the ten commandments or any other creed to someone who's mentally disturbed? Your prescription is not very helpful.
Waco..you're probably sitting in your room, the one in mom/dad's house, with the curtains closed, the Stars and Bars hanging on the wall, picture of McVeigh on your nightstand...you are immaterial, with no credibility.
It's really very simple. There are no gods, no demons, no heaven and no hell, and prayers dont get answered. There is just people. And some of them are sick and do horrible things.
Congrats on knowing what no one else does.
Scott – Care to provide evidence for the existence of any of "One one"'s examples...we're all watching.
I agree. This incident exemplified at once the worst in humanity and the best. This is us.
Yeah, go outside and breath, there's your evidence.. I hope you're still watching, that is also evidence.
^ Creationist IDiot alert.
I don't remember hearing anyone say it was god's will. This was an act of the devil NOT God!
God created satan, according to the myth.
“Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” f that. dont give guns to people and see how less people kill people
You're stupid and narrow minded.
All such responses are callous and ignorant. God had nothing to do with this – plus or minus. Well said, Mr. Protheroe. It is difficult for anyone to understand such a tragedy, if understanding is even possible. You did not bash any people of faith. This is an act of a deranged person. We need to provide as good mental health care as we do physical care. Assault weapons have no use in any civilized society. We must no act, not just talk emptily about gun control. We must act, for we are alone as a society which accepts such wide gun ownership and use. Let us honor these who died with meaningful legislation and better treatment for mental health issues.
But isn't god omnipresent? Does he not have an ineffable plan?
Is he both willing and able to prevent evil? Then whence cometh evil?
You are an idiot.
Is it not ironic that people will say it was God's will, while there is a commandment that says "Thou shalt not kill." So are they implying that God contradicted himself? There is something to be said about the kind of individual you are, rather than the religious individual you CLAIM to be.
I am sad at the very same time to read this commentary. I am very sorry that having a relationship with God, and understanding that life with God offends you. You are right this is not Gods will, But God did give each and every one of us free will to choose our paths in the hopes that along the way we choose to have a relationship with him. I am truly very sorry that you feel so much hatred towards those in this world who have a personal relationship with Christ, and pray that one day you might know the relief and forgiveness that comes with knowing you no longer have to bear such anger and hostility.
Wow! Where did you get THAT from????
Have you seen or read "Children of lesser God?" I don't believe that it is God's will that innocent children are slaughtered by a mad man. It is the free will of some maniac that caused this tragedy and not God.
those in this world who have a personal relationship with Christ
Hi Holly. Can you describe the details and dynamic of your personal relationship with Christ? I know it's personal, but I am curious as to the nature of the relationship, and what that looks like. I have relationships with family, friends, and my wife. I'm curious how this compares. Cheers...
I see you missed the point of the article entirely. Some how that does not surprise me.
Gee, a Christian's mind is so dazed and confused by religion that they totally miss the ENTIRE POINT of an article. Who'da thunkit?
You are absolutely correct. It is about choosing to have a relationship with our Lord.
Which requires forced childhood indoctrination if you didn't know.
Whoa – the writer never said anything about hating God. Where you did you get that from? Frankly, I found his comments totally on the mark.
Perhaps if you spent more time reading than being offended then you would not have confused this with an attack on Christianity. His article specifically asks to refrain from the same tired old cliches and excuses that are run off every time a tragedy happens – as if the speakers have any better insight to gods will than anyone else. Rest assured they do not -and that includes Huckabee. To turn this into a discussion on secularism was about as opportunistic as it gets.
Leave them alone, let them find their peace. you have found yours, that's great. They do not have to love Christ. I do, it's my choice. But I believe that there is one God, and I don't pretend to know the face of my God. It could be Buddha, it could be Christ, maybe it is the Lakota Great Spirit. I am a humble woman, I will not pretend to have knowledge that there is not any possible way for me to know. Pushing religion on one another is a form of abuse in times like this. Anger is a part of grief, and has its place to be worked through. Leave them alone, let them speak there truth, and let them work it out. Offer hope and love, understanding and healing, not judgement. It is what I imagine Christ would do.
Except Jesus is a complete myth.
I suppose there is someone on this thread to whom your angelic rant applies. But from everything I see here regularly it's theists who bring up the "H" word. We disagree or disbelieve your position....therefore we hate you?
Holly, I think you may have missed his point all together. Perhaps re-read the comments, and maybe even his credetials, before you feel sorry for him. Come down from your lofty place and sit among the rest of us who are asking questions. I do no tthink he has any hated towards those who have faith. In fact, it may, just may be an area of some expertise. Just sayin.
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.