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.
Sir, your commentary is both cold and uncaring. Would you really take, from those that need comfort, the only thing they have. Which is their Faith. I understand your anger. We are all angry. What we need now is empathy. Not a religious debate. If you denounce God do not speak of him. If you do not, please pray for your words before you write your next article.
We can denounce and criticize all we want the concept of your imaginary god.
Those that use that "faith" as a way to avoid reality also often use that faith as a way to avoid serious attempts to address the problems. I don't really care what people do or believe in their private lives, but insofar as those beliefs impact their actions, it _is_ of concern to the rest of us.
Prothero, I applaud you. More people, including myself, need to speak up about this. I don't know if you are an atheist or not but its sounds like it. I know dozens of atheists here in the South that don't speak out for fear of losing their job and being shunned by 75% of the locals. I am 45 years old and looking back on my life I can't remember another time when there were so many complete lunatics in our country. Maybe I just wasn't paying as much attention in my younger years or maybe the media is just reporting on it more? This country is going to hell (if you buy into that nonsense). But it's not because of the Liberals. Not by a long shot. Thanks again for the contribution.
Excellent article, excellent points. My the memories of their loved ones bring some peace to the families. May the love being sent to Newtown bring some peace to the families, school, town and emergency responders.
A lot of optimists on this board, as usual . . my mission today is to help you understand one fact: typing "There is no God," or, conversely, "God is REAL AND LOVES YOU!!!!" or something similar with lots of exclamation points doesn't convince anyone of anything. I don't think a human in the history of the internet has changed their religious views because of some random post. It's like those Jesus bumperstickers or billboards . . who in the world is influenced by these?
You are saying that advertising does not work. I have some news for you . . .
"The Force can be a strong influence on the weak minded." So can the internet and billboards. It's why people spend so much on advertising. People can be influenced by the right slogan or even by an image. With regard to religion, many people are looking for meaning. Some cannot feel secure in a godless universe, so they seek gods. Gods are supernatural by definition, and belief in the supernatural is irrational by definition. Some see irrationality as the bane of mankind, so they seek to encourage rational belief systems. Whether the appeal is to atheism of religious belief, in each case the motive is to help others find a better way to live. The difference is that some belief the path to that is spiritual and some believe it is intellectual.
it is God's will, to allow us to exsecise our free will, there for it's 'God's will" God gave Adam free will to act...Adam is the one responsible, and is judged for his lack of good judgement by all and God himself...but it continues to be God's will to allow us to have free will to repent, and accept God as our savior...God let's us know the price well in advence, evil hides the price to be paid and many fall when they can't pay and their soul is taken from them...Adam, didn't know what the price is but will find himself short when he comes to judgement by men, and God in heaven.
You are a very special kind of stupid aren't you???
This is real & happening now. Open your eyes please
IF "GUNS DON'T KILL PEOPLE" THEN NOBODY NEEDS TO HAVE A GUN TO PROTECT THEMSELVES WITH.... BECAUSE.... "GUNS DON'T KILL PEOPLE...." RIGHT?
What I take away from these comments is that we are all to prideful to put our petty differences aside and work together. Is it really that surprising that it's happened? We can't even be civil with one another on a comments page. We're all so damn sure that we're right that we're taking it upon ourselves to not only judge everyone else, but in many cases resort to name calling. Well keep on at it. Meanwhile, there are 26 families that have been destroyed. 26 families who will not get to see their loved ones again in this life. Can you imagine what they are going through? Is it sinking in? How terrified those innocent children must have been in those last few moments of their lives. Teachers shielded their students to protect them. And what are we doing? Proving by our actions and words that we're part of the problem.
@tjbeck1973.. agree with all what you said. It cuts my heart to think how terrified thsoe innocent beautiful kids must be in those last moments. I cant stopt thinking about that and makes my heart heavy.
Well said. The theme on all of these comment pages the last few days has been name calling and insults to anyone who disagrees with your point of view. How can we as a nation hope to have a meaningful conversation about any of these issues when we cant be civil to one another. I have been stunned and disappointed by the vile and nasty comments. We should be mourning the loss of these 26 lives and supporting their families, not trying to "outshout" those who dare to disagree with us. If we learn anything from this tragedy as a nation maybe it can be a little more tolerance for our fellow Americans and their points of view.
Read John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11, 1 John 5:19, Rev. 12:9, Matthew 4:1, 8-10. Satan is the ruler of this world, not God. But, God will soon end Satan's reign, and all wickedness: Ps. 37:8-11, Re. 21:3,4. God does not cause suffering: James 1:13
Yeah – you go with that. The rest of us who live in the real world will try to actually solve problems.
Wow you certainly got all the bible beaters up in arms on this one. They are so darned touchy when it comes to their "faith" in a spiritual being. Kind of like a house of cards that so frequently comes crashing down in cases like this. Time to wake up people, God has no "will" over people actions. Keep your faith in God to yourselves while the rest of us live in the real world. Hehe at least I was respectful enough to capitalize God. I'm sure hell will be nice and warm.
We will have a hell of a lot more fun there.
Well sir you will hear it time and time again because as humans we are nothing more than programs repeating... and repeating... and repeating... and repeating... and
And we continue to wonder...
God was where he always is when all his worldly followers are in need of help, assistance, guidance, safety......NO WHERE. HE DOESN'T EXIST YOU FOOLS. If there was a god, he would have stopped this somehow. So go ahead and ban assault rifles....just what our treasonous, corporatist government wants now that they have legislated all the wealth to the very top in the country (and don't act like those are not facts). Now let's make all the desperate people unarmed as well. Easy pickens for this government then. BAN GOD
he has to exist. I just saw a football player thank him for catching a touchdown pass the other day.
It is interesting how you so-called God has time to see to Tim Tebows touchdowns, but not the time to save these children. 'Ooops, sorry, i was watching the game! Duh'
The problem with this angry piece is not the pet-peeves that the author expresses. I agree with many of those. The problem is that he has set up a straw man to attack. Almost no one believes the kinds of beliefs that he is attacking. Let me go through points 1-3. I agree with many of the points in 4-6, so I won’t take those point by point. All I will say about the final 3 points is that the author, a university professor, should know that many Christians' faith is much more sophisticated and thoughtful than that of Fox News commentary or of the most radical, right-wing fundamentalist group. I am sure the author would be annoyed if all Islam were judged by radical, fundamentalist, extremist groups. So he should be careful not to paint with too broad a brush when describing Christian beliefs.
1. It was God's will. While some might believe this, they don't believe that God wanted this to happen and that he was cheering it on. Some might believe that God allowed it to happen for some greater reason. While it is impossible for me to imagine what that reason might be, no one thinks that God was happy about the means that was necessary to bring about that end. For example, imagine the president that decides to go to war. The war may be just. It may be necessary. This doesn’t mean that the president sits at his desk cheering on the bombs and laughing over the casualties. He may spend every night crying over them. Now, I understand that many will say, “I don’t buy it. There is no God and no greater purpose that could justify this.” I get how you would arrive at that conclusion. But don’t mock the belief that there is a greater purpose behind everything, even tragedy, by setting up a foolishly oversimplified argument. Argue with the real belief, not with a parody of it.
Personally, I have no idea why this happened except that a deranged man did a terrible thing.
2. The author is right to point out that everyone desires a long life. I think that Christian writing consistently affirms that the death of any child is a tragedy. Again, when people use the trite phrase, “Jesus called the children home,” it doesn’t mean that these people are happy that the kids died. On the other hand, for those who believe there is an afterlife and that that afterlife is a happy place, they can find comfort in the belief that the children were not condemned to torment or to nonexistence after death. Rather, after a death caused by this human attack, Jesus called the children to a happy place. Sure, it would have been better that they stayed on this earth longer. But that doesn’t mean one can’t believe the afterlife is also a place of peace. Again, I understand why many people don’t believe in life after death. But for those who do, it makes no sense for them to pretend not to believe it and find comfort in it.
3. While I agree that people talk much too often and listen much too little in these kinds of situations, I again think that this author is being irresponsible. The author cites the Jewish tradition of not mentioning the afterlife in the presence of death. Ok. I am in no way saying that Jewish people should talk about afterlife in this situation. But why does the author think that Christians shouldn’t talk about the afterlife? Why can’t the Christian have their tradition of comforting one another with this belief? I understand why one might not talk about life after death even if one does believe (like the Jews). On the other hand, I understand why some do talk about it (like the Christians). It is part of the Christian tradition both to mourn wholeheartedly and to seek comfort in the faith. Why does the author think Christians should act like Jews? I wonder how this guy would react if I told Jewish people how to properly mourn? I understand why those who don’t believe in the afterlife don’t want to hear anything about it. I agree that Christians shouldn't shove it down their throats. But why does this author care what those who do believe say to one another?
or maybe we should be better than all of that by suspending judgment all across the board out of respect for the loss of lives.
Thank you, very well said. Unforunately I predict that soon everyone will forget the victims and start pointing fingers and begin the name calling again. Because it seems in American that being right is more important than compasion.
Bravo..your commentary was right on ....anhy other contiinued conversation is just spinning wheels and blather ( mostly right wing gun loving blather)
There is NO God.
most suicide bombings are done in the name of Allah. most wars raged in previous centuries and millenia had religious motivations. Israel and Jordan are still fighting because of religion. are you really going to feel better by rationalizing this one incident?
For believers death in all its forms happens because of our original curse called sin, to also remind us how precious life is and not take each other for granted !
To rationalize the arguement "to know God's thoughts on things... turn to HIS words and not the philosophies of humans", the writer seems to forget that the Bible was authored by humans, and that the texts have been translated, revised, juxtaposed and generally crafted, by humans, to suit the needs of humans throughout the millennia. Is that not the definition of "philosophies of humans?" So until "God" speaks directly to me, the words of the Bible are exactly that; words.
Our culture has no word that describes a person who has lost a child. To the question, do you have children, an awkward explanation is necessary. The families of the murdered children have had their lives destroyed, not interrupted. I know from experience that words like "it is God's will" and others along these lines are very painful to hear. A heartfelt "I'm so sorry" is all that is needed, or appropriate. The grief of losing a child never goes away. We "heal" on the outside to comfort our friends.
There is no other side of the story.
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.