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.
If you're shaking your fists at the sky looking for an answer from god, the only things up there are planes and the international space station. Man made things.
I just want to shake my fists. It makes me feel better and I'm not hurting anyone.
because you can see it, that is why it exists. that is your line of thinking...
...does air exist?
think outside of the box....
Next time you want to post something like that, call me so I can 1) laugh and 2) try to talk you out of posting. Thanks.
If you believe in an eternal life after death, then this life is like a grain of sand on the beach if you live to be 6 or 7 or 100. I am not sure what I believe, but I do believe that the dead are not done and I find that comforting when the people I love pass away.
Jim, you might find it comforting but clearly the parents of these children did not. So your comfort is nothing. Keep it to yourself.
I really want to ask CNN why I or anyone else on this planet should care what "Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar" doesn't want to hear. The fact that he is a "religous scholar" means I'm supposed to assume he's an authority on God? Or on gun control?
Why don't you go write an article?
Steve Mann, why should anyone listen to you
its a space filling opinion piece. They post these to start conversations with readers because they know that half will hate what he wrote and shout out about it and the other half will either agree or disagree with the shouters or the author. Either way, it equals website traffic, website hits, pages loading and advertising revenue for CNN.
This is just beyond sad. It seems far to late to stop assault weapons in the US as there are millions of them already out there. But we can all do what we can and should do our part.
I've got an old M1 carbine rifle that I've had since the 70's in my closet. I may have fired 50 rounds through it in all the years. I live within two blocks of both a high school and an elementary school. I'm going to cut it up with a chop saw and get rid of it. Nothing is worth kids dying over if this was ever stolen.
I wish there were words I could say to those parents to help them, but....dammit there isn't. I'll do what I can.
This article is poorly written and makes no sense. I don't see where saying, "it was God's will" and “The Almighty has his own purposes" are any different from each other. You have mis-interpreted everyone of the things you list in this article. Saying that "Jesus called the children home" doesn't mean he couldn't wait to see them for his own purposes. How did you arrive at that? I think we are all dumber for reading your article.
Mr Prothero, what you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent article were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.
Which "God" did you have in mind? There have been so many it's difficult to figure out who is the object of your devotion...
what if all are the same one God, but humans have put their spin or opinion/interpretation into it from their different cultures and times. So...the God that people praise in one country is actually the same God as the one across the world that goes by another name.
We human beings have placed our own opinions/interpretations from info past down to us to create the image we personally have of what God is. They all could be one in the same.
So this all deity thought it would be great fun to let people have different interpretations of it because disagreements between believers are always resolved in a calm, rational manner usually involving high speed bullets and creative uses of household cleaning supplies. Fantastic.
you have to stop looking at things from a "have fun" perspective. We are hear to grow as a spirit. The positives in life give us an opportunity to share our love and blessings with others. When negative things happen, they give us the opportunity to help one another in love and grow throught the human emotions to be a stronger spirit. These opportunities also give us a prime stage to show Gods love though our reaction.
You are who you are not because of what you go though but how you react to it.
Don't look at the tragedy for answers, look at the response to the tragedy for answers. People spend all their time looking for someone to blame rather than focusing their attention on using the events to better ourselves and those around us.
Small example: Those children's passing may have made you think about how short life is and how much you love your family. See, something good already came out of the tragedy; you were reminded of what is actually important on our short time here on earth.
That is just one small example...but you have to think beyond the event and accept a bigger picture for why things happen on earth.
Are all you people nuts? Really? Really? God's Will? Maybe this is the problem. Chalking it up to God's will absolves everyone who acts not of God's will, and subsequently leaves us with moronic excuses in a violent and ignorant society.
I wonder how many of the people commenting on this editorial piece have actually lost children? As I read each of Prothero's points, I found myself nodding in agreement with all six of them, and even found myself in tears at some points.
I lost my daughter, aged 18, in April of this year. It was very sudden, very unexpected, and losing her utterly shattered me. In the aftermath of her loss, many, many people tried to "comfort" me with many of these pat and very simplistic "answers." Trust me when I say that there was no comfort to be found there. The tragic and violent loss of those 26 souls on Friday rips at my heart, simply because I KNOW what the parents of those children are going through right now. They don't give the first flip about "God's will," gun control, the debate on the separation of church and state, or anything else being tossed around on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, or comment threads like this. They are consumed to the point of madness with grief for their lost babies. They are angry; they are questioning; they are shaking their fists and cursing God's name for taking their children before themselves. I, personally, have a deep and abiding faith in God; that did not, however, stop me from feeling every single one of those emotions when I lost my sweet Meghan. I think that my faith is what kept me from giving up and following after her; still, though, I am just now at a point where I can talk to God again without ending by telling Him that I hate Him for taking her away from me.
I would advise those of you who are blasting Mr. Prothero for his very compelling and real post here to close their mouths (or still their fingers, as the case may be) and search their hearts for the truth in his words. After that, if you are a believer, send prayers to God for His peace and comfort at this horrible time in all of those parents' lives.
its very difficult....most things in life that have deep serious meaning or feeling are...
i am sorry for your loss.
I recommend you watch: The After Life Investigations: The Scole Experiments ...its available on netflix instant watch:
you may also find comfort at http://near-death.com or http://near-death.com/evidence.html if you believe science proves otherwise.
Steven prothero are you kidding me!!! First off mike never said it was Gods will and yes America is pushing God away
Which "God" did you have in mind? There have been so many...
Praying for, or against, ancient fantasy figures will not create or stop gun violence. You need to either stop the violence, stop the gun, or stop both. Its not rocket science and it sure as hell isnt spiritual.
IF I were a 'believer' I would thank God a guy like Huckabee didn't get to be president.
As a Christian, I totally agree with the premise 'DON'T BLAME GOD." Bad things happen, yet we should go to God each day for his help, his Peace to get through the difficult times. Scripture never gives the right for anyone to "Blame God" but to Go to Him at all times. I will be going to God each day for a long time for Him to come to the aid and assistance of each family affected.
What you really want to say is: "Don't talk about my god being a jerk" because your god is actually your feelings.
Feeling hurt because your delusional sky daddy that you -yourself- are is the most basic of defensive posturing.
May I also add the "Arm the schoolteachers!" crap I keep seeing on FB. The picture of the teacher in Israel or the principal in TX. Seriously, how many real school teachers will step forward and say, sure I will pack some heat in my classroom? It's ridiculous to take our need for guns to the extreme that instead of talking sensible gun control it's still pry my gun from my cold dead fingers and let's just arm school personnel.
How does anyone know whether or not this was God's will. Maybe God did will it, maybe he didn't. If you are a fatalist, then you would say that God willed it because fatalism is a belief that all of life is predetermined. The Amish are fatalists as are the Seventh Day Adventists.
best article I have read to date on CNN.
Well, it was God's will after all.
This happened because a crazy man decided to check out and take many with him. God had nothing to do with it.
This happened because a crazy man decided to check out and take many with him. God had nothing to do with it. And I despise that Huckabee moron.
I have said this before, this was not God's will, but the will of this sick, selfish young man who let himself become prey to evil. Is God responsible? Ultimately, yes, a portion of the blame is His own. Does God deserve to die? Perhaps so. Perhaps God felt His death would accomplish a great deal, if after He would conquer the finality of death itself. It is the redemption of salvation that makes death mean much less than people believe, in the long story of things. It is this choice to redeem us imperfect creatures that makes death and evil inert at the end of our story. Men like Gilles De Rais exist and in as much as our hearts burn against these men, how much more does God feel? Hard to say. God might still love ugly men such as them. I believe this mess we all make will be made new in the end.
Finally, someone writes common sense.
1. There can't be a God because He wouldn't let anybody commit such a crime.
2. I refuse to bellieve in a God that is omniscient and omnipotent and lets such a crime happen.
3. No God of mine would ever treat me as if I were a pupet on strings ... I have free will.
4. God can't exist because He let Adam Lanza have free will to act in a way consistent with his sinful nature.
5. Conclusion: God needs to let me have free will to do whatever I want ... but He needs to control all the rest of you and take your free will away.
No, God has a revealed will and a decretive (secret) will ... Adam Lanza was allowed by God to use his free will in a sinful manner ... but God's secret will was not thwarted by Adam. All things are in God's control ... he uses all things including man's sinful acts to unfold His eternal plan. Read about Joseph and his brothers. His brothers sold him into slavery but God used that sinful act to bring about much good for the People of Israel ... saving them and many others from famine during their time in Egypt.
Do you have any idea of how incredibly absurd that is? If God is omniscient, He can make anything happen. He created the universe (or multi-verse, according to scientists), including black holes, dark matter, quantum physics, etc. To suggest that He must cause (or allow) anyone, especially small children, to suffer horribly at the hands of madmen in order to bring about another later event is the height of lunacy. Unless, of course, you believe that God is sadistic. A being with the power to literally shape reality would not have to use such methods to bring about change or consequence.
There's no evidence that the Jews were slaves in Egypt. It's all made up.
It is in fact God's will ...no matter you believe it or not.
Just think calmly and deeply...you will feel that!
If you really believe that, then your God is not worthy of veneration. I hope he does exist, so I can tell him what an a$$whole he is for making these children suffer.
Besides God, I am shaking my fist at this Huckabee buffoon and all those Westboro "Baptist" psychos.
Oh, that those horrible people from Westboro would even think on protesting and capitalizing of the grief of these families is beyond the pale.
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.