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.
Why would anyone say this was God’s will. That is just insane. Just like saying that not praying in school had anything to do with this tragedy, Huckabee your statement is just as insane.
Everyone wants to cash in on the tragedy. It happened because someone's agenda was violated.
To everyone saying the solution is to arm teachers: Do you really think a fire fight inside a school is a good thing?
To all of those who utter the phrase, "Guns don't kill people. People kill people": Are you okay with Iran getting a nuclear weapon? Nuclear weapons don't kill people...
Someone has to push the button. Ban people they make the weapons.
I respectfully disagree! Liberals like you are the cause of decay in the American society.
Liberals like you are the foundation of American society.
There I fixed it for you.
The blame game all over again.
Don't be ridiculous. Liberals have done more good for this country than conservatives ever dreamed of. The fact is, conservatives often stick their head in the sand when a difficult problem arises and solutions obvious to everyone else is rejected should it conflict with their rigid ideology. Bringing God into public schools probably won't hurt anyone, but it will not address the plight of the mentally ill. The shooter in Newtown Ct was quite mentally ill and his Mother (God rest her soul) inexplicably allowed her very troubled son access to her legally purchased weapons which included an assault wepaon with large capacity ammo clip. All the religion in the world would not have stopped this kid...but had the Mother been prevented from legally purchasing the assault weapon, the number of deaths would very likely be lower.
How is it possible to "respectfully" say what you just said?
The balance of beliefs and views are really the foundation and the very core of this country. It is what brilliant men and women thought to create when they made this country. To say one side of this balance is wrong or evil would be the most an American thing to say every. Listening respectfully, hearing another's point of view, and being grateful for the right of free speech is what my brother died for defending our country in Afghanistan. I must respectfully disagreee, sir, that liberals, or really any political group is damaging our country. Indeed, I believe in America, and that the right to speak, the right to be heard, and the right to believe as you wish illustrates what is beautiful about our country better than anything other. Anything less than this is not a democracy.
If you knew how to make a rational argument, you'd do so. You don't, so you didn't.
Reading the vast majority of these comments just leads me to one conclusion: the Newtown assassin was not the only individual with major mental problems.
Sad but true. Aside, when I read comments like "the killer could just as easily have used his car" in a feeble attempt to justify owning assault weapons, well at least I have a better understanding on why so many U.S. jobs are sent overseas. In other wordfs, we are mass producing halfwits in this country.
People like to say what they think God's will is, but the bible makes it clear. If you want to know God's thoughts on things shouldn't you turn to HIS word and not the philosophies of humans? Even humans who claim to serve God?
James 1:13 says: When under trial, let no one say: “I am being tried by God.” For with evil things God cannot be tried nor does he himself try anyone.
1 John 5:19 says:We know we originate with God, but the whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one.
Psalm 37: 8-11says: Let anger alone and leave rage;
Do not show yourself heated up only to do evil.
9 For evildoers themselves will be cut off,
But those hoping in Jehovah are the ones that will possess the earth.
10 And just a little while longer, and the wicked one will be no more;
And you will certainly give attention to his place, and he will not be.
11 But the meek ones themselves will possess the earth,
And they will indeed find their exquisite delight in the abundance of peace.
1 John 4:8 says:8 He that does not love has not come to know God, because God is love.
If God's main quality is love, then why would he use an evil/wicked means and bring misery to these parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, friends and others so that he can have more angels in heaven?
God's greatest act of love was when he sent his Son to die for us, John 3:16: For God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, in order that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life.
-He wants us to have life. Speaking about Jesus 1 Corinthians 15:25 says: For he must rule as king until God has put all enemies under his feet. As the last enemy, death is to be brought to nothing.
Death is our enemy, and God, through his son, Jesus, will bring it to an end.
To know where the dead are read: Ecclesiastes 9:5 & John 11:11-14.
To know the hope for the dead read: John 11:25, Acts 24:15, John 5:29 & Rev. 21:3,4. Ps.37:29, Matt. 5:5.
If anyone tries to discourage you from looking into God's word for yourself, how could he really claim to serve God? Look up these scriptures in your own bible and decide for yourself what the truth is and what you should believe.
Here's what your so called truth means to me.
The Bible is nonsense. Christianity needs to abandon the Bible.
More like Christianity needs to disappear all together as well.
Anon~ the minute you become disrespectful, you lose any power, any voice, any impact. You did this, please understand that your input will not be heard or have any kind of impact when you disrespect this way. You become a person they can point to, and say, see? One of those... Then they will feel justified. You lose any good you might do. I apologize to seem like I am being critical, I just think that respect and basic human decency is integral to make our world better. My brother died in the war, I think it is important to honor and protect the rights he fought for.
What"s the point. Even when you present evidence that contradicts their beliefs they still ignore it (ex. creationists).
By the way f-ck Yahweh/Jesus/Jehovah/Allah/Satan/etc.
"Because we’ve made it a place where we don’t want to talk about eternity, life, what responsibility means, accountability"
Where the heck does any part of that statement say anything about Christian prayers? Wake the hell up Prothero!
I completely believe that the downfall of American society is directly attributable to the failure of parents to take their children to church. Parents have quit teaching children that their are consequences to their actions; and they have quit teaching respect. Respect for the person, or property of another person. Church will do that.
You have an extremely romanticized idea of what church actually does.
Church is not needed to teach your kids the examples you mention.
Please point us to solid statistical evidence that childhood church attendance correlates with adult wrongdoing.
Hogwash – Europe is far more secular than the U.S. and yet they do not suffer from his curse. Our neighbor Canada is probably on par with the U.S. on religious beliefs and yet they do not suffer from this curse either.
What makes the U.S. unique? Easy – 300 million guns in circulation, enough for every U.S. household.
And your parents failed to teach you how to spell. It's There not Their!!
Timothy McVeigh did not use a gun.
And your point is?
But he was and is a Christian. QED.
Thats your comeback in the aftermath of 27 human beings mowed down with an assault weapon? Count the number of yearly U.S. deaths due to firearms and then do the same for fertilizer bombs – and then report back.
If you believe in a God that is ALL powerful and ALL good, the you MUST believe that this tragedy is the will of that God. Anything else is heresy.
It's ironic that the Westboro Baptist Church are probably the only Christians that are actually trying to follow to the tee.
That's part of the major problem with religion in general – it tends to make people think in absolutes....as in there are only two choices – believe as we do or suffer the wrath of our cult.
When we talk about God's will, we ought to understand Him and His attributes. We cannot just say this incident is God's will rather we should call evil as evil. The Notion that nothing goes without God's foreseen knowledge doesn't mean to say that its God's will. It simply says we as people started to act on our own understanding and will.
^ This is what I got from this
Ud – "The Notion that nothing goes without God's foreseen knowledge doesn't mean to say that its God's will. "
Actually, that's precisely what it means. If you, Ud, had absolute knowledge that this was going to happen and did nothing about it, you'd be complicit and will have willfully allowed it to happen. But I'm sure there's a special pleading for god...right? You can't have it both ways.
Is god willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he's not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he's malevolent.
Is he both willing and able to prevent evil? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither willing nor able? Then why call him god?
I respectfully disagree! Liberals like you are the cause of decay in the American society!
That second sentence didn't seem too respectful...
Is respectfully disagreeing the same as disrespectfully agreeing?
Bill, you appear to be a very close minded individual.
Opinions are like... well, like you.
Conservatives can't solve a problem where the solution conflcts with their rigid ideology.
One of the clergy speaking Sunday at the memorial in Newtown said the deaths release the victims from sin and suffering. Maybe that applied to the sinning and suffering assassin, but to offer that thought to the families of massacred innocent and health children was cruel. And stupid.
it was Adams will to disregard others will, and become the judge cause for sure he didn't believe there was a God to judge the wicked, or those he will to judged in one day...Adam did place judgement and even the children were judged guitly of capital ponishment, we all could disagree, but Adam had the power to harm and no God of his own to judge for him...God has more mercy over our sin then Adam or others like him do...
Ah ... What?
The shootings had nothing to do with God's will, but it did have everything to do with ours. Do you remember anything like this forty five years ago, when morals in our society decline to the point that that have today, evil replaces the Christian values that our country was built on. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, love one another are words that fewer people live by. Television, movies, and the video games of today are creating people who have no respect for the lives of others. I see and hear all about gun control but what about all the things in society that program the minds of the young of which will produce people who will bring tragedy to our world in the future.
Could you buy military-style weapons at your local WalMart 45 years ago? How many people even had an automatic handgun back then? Even the cops only carried revolvers.
You're right, it was a completely different America.
How about August 1, 1966 Austin TX?
45 years ago we were still fighting for civil rights and equality for women. Back then plenty of people saw these things as a sign of our society falling away too.
In spite of the horriffic events at Sandy Hook and other shootings, violent crime in America has been on a steady decline for about 30 years. People like you, James, tend to generalize things as being "down hill" because you disagree with them rather than having any empirical information to demonstrate that a particular thing has gotten worse.
Forty-five years ago?
"Charles Joseph Whitman (June 24, 1941 – August 1, 1966) was an engineering student and former Marine who killed 13 people and wounded 32 others in a shooting rampage located in and around the Tower of the University of Texas in Austin on the afternoon of August 1, 1966. Three persons were killed inside the university's tower, with 11 others murdered after Whitman fired at random targets from the 28th-floor observation deck of the Main Building."
OK, so Whitman's rampage was 44 and a half years ago. Is that close enough for you?
This is a great article! I agree wholeheartly. I am sick of people making tragedies like these out to be some sort of plan or retribution dealt out by some god. If there is a god and this was his line of reasoning, he/she is no god I would want to worship. I think people become mentally unstable through depression and anger and events like these are sometimes the result. I certainly dont want to think some god, (who one one hand says you have freewill), has manipulated a human into commiting atrocities like mass shootings in order to execute some grand plan. There is no plan that "works together for good" that involves anyone, anywhere dying as a result of violence.
It's all part of "the devine plan"?
He could have stopped it but didn't?
This is why it's bogus, because you have to believe that the natural order is suspended...and in your favor.
THANK YOU SOOOO MUCH!!!!!!!! I wish you had been at the ceremony Sunday night! I was so hoping someone would have the courage to stand up and ask any one of those "religious leaders"-"Just where was your god when these innocent children was haveing the life blasted out of them by this sad freak with his assault weapon?" I was also angered when the jewish rabbi told everyone to stand up! I thought it was yet another demand by the religious to conform to their conventions.
I get what you're trying to say... but reverting to anger, frustration, or despair is at the heart of what this discussion is all about. Don't do it. The people are looking for for leadership, not demagoguing.
OK GOD did not kill those children, or shoot up a mall, or shoot peoples inside a movie theater. It was human beings. So stop blaming others, stop blaming our great lord, and get your head out from underneath your ass, and cope with the issues at hand. All we can do is offer our condolences those who were lost or have lost others and pray for them.
Of course it wasn't God. It was obviously the Flying Spaghetti Monster's evil twin, Chef Boyardee.
I commend you for writing this article. It is about time that we hear from a religious scholar who is also sensible and logical. Unfortunately, all too often we only hear the sound bytes that come from "those of faith" who use the trite and illogical phrases that you referenced in this article.
I find it interesting that someone identifing himself as a religious scholar would begin by putting limits on actions God is allowed to take. I would not want to worship a God of my own making.
In other words, you prefer a God whose behavior is absolutely, rather than only partially, insane. Gotcha.
All people who worship a God, worship a God of their own making.
I agree with all but the author's points 6 and 3. Though I will say 6 is half true.
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.