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.
When our six-year-old daughter was killed 22 years ago by a recklessly driving priest whose license had been suspended, on his way to mass, we heard the first two of those (the second in a slightly different form - that God needed a little angel). What utterly stupid and insensitive things to say to grieving parents!
Isn't pretty much anything utterly stupid and insensitive to grieving parents.....why do people feel the need to say anything at all.
It's hard to imagine going through that, even moreso with the stupid comments on top of it.
I am very sorry to read about your loss. Jim
It is terrible to hear of any child dying.
That your daughter was killed by a drunk priest is adding insult to injury.
I wish that priest could have been lynched immediately or otherwise executed.
I get real angry about children being hurt or killed, so excuse me if my words are not very comforting.
I am not good at thinking of things to say and so agree with JG above as far as that goes, yett I want to protect all children regardless, so I am always looking for ways to protect them and react quite strongly to any threat to them.
Okay, getting off my soapbox now.
depends on where those words were spoken, I mean inside the church or at the funeral home? Nothing wrong if someone said those things inside the church.
Mohammad – so saying something in a church makes it somehow less stupid or hurtful. What the hell is wrong with you?
ccarlssson – church is a church, and people some time think it's appropriate to say those words, not intentionally, why keep a wake or ceremony in the Church, if you are an atheist?
BRAVO! Excellent article! All points needed to be made, but what has been especially sickening to me lately is all the "God needed angels in heaven" and other such tripe statements to explain away the massacre of little children.
Stephen Prothero, the acts this young man committed where not from God! And to be a religion scholar and author, you should know that God didnt choose to place sin in the world! And I feel sorry for you, that you would state to know anything about GOD, at this time you should allow the family and friends, class mates to grieve. It is not up to you to say or to suggest why this happen, And I will pray that God will forgive you for comments in the article. To the person as blogo, I will pray for you also, you must be a very said person to think that God is only a delusion in peoples mind. God is the rising savor, he is alive and he will return for us. John 3:16 God Bless
This article was a big "SHUT UP ALREADY!" to the most callous and cruel commenters on CNN. If you are offended by what he said in that article, then that tells me you are one of the horrid people the article is directed at.
Why do so many people feel Stephen Prothero wrote an anti-Christian piece? I am a Christian, and I believe in much of what he said. I agree that Jesus did not "need" 20 more children or angels in heaven. The Bible clearly states that all of the angels were already made in heaven before the time of man, and are a completely different creature. Nowhere does the Bible claim that people become angels when they die. For Christians to make statements to the contrary is presenting a false impression of God and Jesus.
Prothero did not say it was wrong to speak of these victims being resurrected. He said it is the wrong time. I agree. As Christians, we can draw comfort from the idea of resurrection, but the grieving process must be allowed to happen as well. We can't heal unless we are allowed to grieve, and to push the idea of resurrection in someone's face at this time is denying them their moment to grieve.
I disagree with those who say this happened as judgement for some bad dead. Hogwash! The whole purpose of Christ coming, dying, and rising from the dead was as the ultimate sacrifice so wholesale punishment as a judgement would not have to be used again. It will not be used again until the end of times.
While I do agree that many of the problems facing our country are due to an overzealous and overreaching understanding of the separation of church and state, I do NOT agree that it has any bearing whatsoever on this situation. This is clearly the result of someone with severe emotional and mental troubles.
Finally, I agree with Prothero that we all should be raising our fists and crying or screaming to God. I feel that God wants this too. Through Christ, we are each brought to a deep and personal relationship with God. How could we call it a true relationship if we feel God does not want us to express our grief and anger? It is our ability to do so, and God's ability to answer with comfort and solace that makes our relationship with the heavenly Father stronger.
Stephen said "...shake our fists AT heaven and demand answers..." I do not interpret this to mean crying out to God in lament as I believe you mean. He is saying we need to ask God why this happened. If this is how this statement is to be understood then I disagree. We have been given free will by God. Period. Why blame heaven? I too am a Christian and do agree with some of what Stephen has said. I do not however agree with number 6- it's true and needs to be said- people kill people.
What a shame that Mr. Prothero believes it is appropriate for him to smack down people who, in most instances, are simply trying to understand what has happened, and are likely blurting out things they wouldn't ordinarily say if they weren't so upset. In fact, it is acts and articles like this one by Mr. Prothero that make people reluctant to attend visiting hours, speak to the family of loved ones, and attend funerals. Desperately afraid of saying the wrong thing, and without the training Mr. Prothero believes qualifies him to judge, they avoid the very things that help them AND family members. As a chaplain, I'm well aware of MANY cringe-worthy comments, but in nearly every instant the heart is in the right place...and nobody remembers anything other than the fact that the person was present. Mr. Prothero may well be processing and blurting in this article, so I'm reluctant to write even these words, but his wide swath of criticisms, likely aimed at public voices he thinks will net him cheers and approvals, is instead embarrassing people who are saying these things because they don't know what else to say...and they long to let the victims know they're not alone, so they risk blundering. I wish Mr. Prothero had just cringed...because I can assure him he's hurt people he never intended to hurt by his own blurts.
This post is a waste of time, there is no doubt to me that secularism and the fall of our country's moral education is a large factor of the violence and insanity of many of its inhabitants.
This country has always been violent. Even in decades past, when you believe this country was a Christian nation, our lovely "Christian" country was partaking in unjustified wars, and using atomic bombs. Go back even further than that and you had wars here over human slavery.
You are making a mistake generalizing Christianity with the behavior of a few influential personalities in our history that do not represent the love that God brings in the Christian life, also it is not correct to compare old times with modern times where we are supposed to be more "civilized" and "conscious" of our actions. This is not about unjust wars, it is about the decay of our society, our moral principles, our family values, and ultimately the respect for life. Secularism, and I shall add relativism are two ills of our times that need to be corrected before it is too late.
This argument was doing fine until the last section.
The only way I could see the hand of God in this if it was Wayne LaPierre identifying one of his children in the morgue.
Banning everything because it can possibly hurt you is not a good idea either. For instance "zommgggg alcohol kills people everyday.".
Um....Well since you obviously have something against the Lord, or something against people who believe in the Lord, or just something against the simple logic that a gun is nothing but plastic and metal (inanimate material), I offer you this.
You did this, I did this, everyone in this country did this.
We can claim whatever we want to help us sleep at night, but the simple fact is that if we didn't have guns then it would be knives, bows, sharp sticks, whatever instrument that the human race has used to committ acts of violence against itself throughout the years.
By pretending that we are outraged now because it happened in a school when innocent children die everyday, funny how your not writing in outrage about them, due to this type of violence. For school budgets continually being cut, for even pretending that we are "safe". Is there truly such a thing?
We in this country lead such sheltered lives compared to the rest of the world, I'm guessing if you got out and saw more of it you would have some perspective on what is "safe" and what isn't "safe". This is a terrible tragedy, no more, no less than the innocent children being killed in their homes, addicted to drugs, or just random acts of violence. You sit in your florescent lit office and believe you have the right to feel outrage at this senseless violence yet you still sit idly by and do nothing but give meaningless words of anger. Next time you think you are "safe" look around you, you could be looking at the person who will turn you into the next statistic.
Save your outrage and your beating fists for yourself.....your part of the problem.....we are all part of the problem
"if we didn't have guns then it would be knives, bows, sharp sticks, whatever instrument that the human race has used to committ acts of violence against itself throughout the years". Umm...did you ready about the attack on school children, the day before the Sandy Hook attack, by a madman with a knife? 22 were attacked and injured, some seriously, BUT NONE DIED. ZERO. Your arguments defy reason.
Thanks for this comment..I agree!!
By the way, the knife attack was in China.
When I was a teen in the 60's, my 10 year old nephew died in a tragic accident. The Catholic Priest, who loved God very much, told us it was not God "calling him home." He said for us it remained a mystery. For you to assume you know how God's mind works is a sin of pride.
You've missed the point on this....over the head and under the knees....just move on
JG, you should understand that the vast majority of Americans have absolutely no say in government and so your accusations against society in general are baseless.
I have done nothing to cause this, so I reject your accusations as being wholly without merit and suggest that you consider the overwhelming powerlessness of the vast majority of Americans to effect any change in this country whatsoever and call on you to stop making baseless accusations at innocent people.
This is horrible! Show Some Respect!!!! Not the time, and certainly the words either... If you don't have faith which I got pretty clear after reading this piece of "Article" you don;t need to use this moment to try make people dislike God, or believe that you are right... God, how we spent all this years believing in you if this man has all the answers we needed to know... ??? NOT!!!
In the name of God, nothing like this tragedy wouldn't happened.
With our kids knowing this, practicing what we should have be preaching at home and schools wouldn't have been no room for evil in this society.. God Bless you!!
And people shouldn't use God due to the deaths of the children to justify their stupid ideology
God doesn't owe us any explanations if there were explanations for what happend last Friday, and we certainly have no right to shake our fist at God. He createud us all with a free will and if someone chooses to exercise their free will by massacring 27 innocent people, then that's their choice, not something to hold God responsible for.
Your 'god' let 20 kids die that day!
If it's as all-powerful as you obviously believe, it would have been nothing to it to save 20 lives. IT DID NOT.
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?
There is a certain amount of self righteousness invovled when we ask why God did not intervene to stop the CT tragedy. Why would God intervene in this situation, but not in equally horrific incidents in Serbia, Syria, Somolia, Africa, etc. We are given free will, the ability to choose. Hopefully we know the different between right and wrong, but for some their thinking is so convuluted that they take into the equation their own self interests, whether it is wealth, power, fame, all of the above, etc. When people ask "Where was God?" I answer that he was with the teachers who tried to protect the children, with the first responderes trying to get to the school on time, with the community shouldering support, with the therapy dog owners who travelled 900 miles with their pets, with the people from around the country and from around the world who are supporting them with prayers and contributions. These are things God has taught us and we incorporate. God is with us through all of those rallying around the Newtown community. Christ taught us to love one another and that is what you are seeing right now. God is here, he is present, and He is very much alive working through everyone for the benefit of the community. What we can do next is rally our voices as one to find a solution to end violence such as this. The NRA will put up a fight, but there are many logical and practical members of the NRA who concede that semi-automatic and multi-round magazines have no place in society. There are people who have been marginalized in our community and we need to find them and work with them. There is a lot of work to be done, but God working through us is a powerful voice of One.
"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."
You've, quite obviously, not read the book of Job. If you have read Job, then you've entirely missed the point.
Brian, this author has forgotten more about religion, than you know about religion.
The church has been struggling for at least a thousand years how a loving god allows evil . There has never been an acceptable and logical answer, except one--there is no God. Millions of children were killed by the Nazis. Is that evidence of God? How any rationale human can believe there is a God is beyond my comprehension.
Or if there is one, either he doesn't control every aspect of our lives (like tiny brained religious zealots imagine), or he is not the "loving God" they speak of.
There are good things in the world as well.
It was the free will of a crazy man. There is good an evil in this world.
Insane people are not capable of free will. You must be totally sane to understand things well enough to choose for there to be free will. Insane people are unable to properly comprehend their environments.
Similarly, you actually have to have total knowledge of all relevant factors to have free will in a situation. Otherwise your choice is distorted by incorrect understanding.
Let me show you:
A machete-weilding madman runs into your house saying "kill! Kill!" and runs at your children. You shoot him. However, you are insane, and you shot the babysitter. You thought you were doing right, but insanity prevented you. You cannot have free will.
Another example: numerous shots are fired, and an ordinary man runs towards a school with an M-16. You have a gun. You shoot him. But he was an undercover policeman, and the gunman inside kills everyone because you shot the only guy who could stop it.
Lack of perfect information, or lack of sanity nullifies any possibility of free will.
We'll skip the "where was the free will of the victims or their surviving loved ones" part.
think a bit more~ I agree with most of what you say, however, to say that the insane lack free will is not always true. They are people like all of us, and cannot be lumped into one group. I think that what most people label as insane or not insane needs some work and education in our society. I do believe that most people with mental health issues are responsible to, when they are able, to be well. I do like your description of what one understands to be reality, however. This is very true. I do not believe that this man did this because he had Asperger's. This does not meet the criteria in any diagnostic level I know of. I think he did this for some unknown reason, and I am not wrong in admitting that I just simply do not know the answer.
God's will is to allow us to exsercise our free will, there be no sin if God didn't allowed as to have free will, but then there'd be no freedom to choose what is right from wrong, Adam made his will known agaist the rest...God doesn't force his will on others there for his intention isnt' to harm the innocent. if god was to force his will on the eathist they would exist...but if the eathist choose to believe in God by choice they are reborn in Christ leaving behind a live of enptiness...
Thankfully God grants everybody free will, not just a chosen few. What they do with that free will can sometimes have tragic consequences. Don't blame God for that.
"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?"
There have been school-related mass killings using explosives (multiple times), knives (multiple times) and even vehicles (multiple times). No guns? Fertilizer and diesel. No fertilizer and diesel? Butcher knives. No butcher knives? Trucks. The fertilizer and diesel didn't kill anybody. The person who mixed it did. The butcher's knife didn't kill anybody. The person wielding it did. The truck didn't kill anybody. The person driving it did. Just as in these cases, the gun also didn't kill anybody. The person shooting it did. People who are going to mass kill are going to mass kill with or without guns. We see that both here and abroad. Denying THAT is idiotic.
There is no such thing as free will, Mike. You only have the illusion of free will.
"I would that NONE would perish, but that all would come to repentance."
"I came that you might have life, and that more abundantly."
I agree, God didn't have anything to do with this.
Timothy McVeigh did not use a gun, he simply just blew everyone up.
What's your point?
Probably the standard tripe that gun control won't solve anything. In reality we put measures in place after the OKC bombing to make it harder to procure explosives and to make it easier for law enforcement to trace bomb making materials. No such luck with respect to guns, thanks to the NRA and their legions of paranoid, tiny brained members. Guns do not need to banned (if that was even possible), but PART of the solution is to eliminate the more dangerous weapons that are not needed for hunting or self-defense, and make it harder for the mentally ill to obtain them.
After reading the article I didn't think that Stephen hates God....this wasn't what this article was about at all. He's tired of hearing phases like he used above to explain this or any other terrible event. People say the strangest things when tragedy happens and think that it's comforting, I suppose to some people it is. God's will, really? I thought that God gave us free will. Huckabee is just looking for another 15 minutes.
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.