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.
Another phrase that annoys me occurs after natural or man-made catastrophes. When rescuers find a victim unharmed, it's always God who gets the credit, the very same deity who allegedly permitted the catastrophe to happen, or was powerless to do anything about it.
The runner-up nominees in the nuisance category are those people who, at the scene of a tragedy, say, "Why, it could have been ME!"
The columnist apparently doesn't know that God gave every last one of us free will. Without free will we would be nothing more than God's puppets. That kid used his free will to kill. When people commit atrocities there is always some columnist who uses it to spout nonsense. They just expose their ignorance. I know there will be some atheists weighing in, but they surely understand that, without even bringing God into it, free will is a fact.
How do you know God gave us free will?
Easy sbp, just like all the other believers who think that because they were indoctrinated into a specific belief structure that means it's true. That's how they "know".
You have free will only because no one can stop you from having it, evolution has left us all autonomous individuals.
If an omipotent God gave us free will, then he is barred from intervening and acting in our world. By revealing himself you have no choice. Otherwise what point is there if he can just answer our prayers, wave his magical hands, and constantly meddles to change the outcome of sports scores, natural disasters, a better job, a cure from cancer.....
If you want free will, there is no God. If you want God, you have some uncomfortable questions to answer. Your "free" choice. But any God who is indifferent to such atrocities doesn't deserve to be worshipped. I prefer to place my moral strength in my humanity that seeks to always do better and acknowledges that there is no grand cosmic scheme to life's a* *holes who go around shooting up primary school kids.
JB, one day soon when you've breathed your last breath, you will find yourself face to face with the GOD of all creation. What will you say to Him then? Your mocking and disbelief will leave GOD only one option for you and that's eternal punishment. I hope you consider the only other option...eternal life. Learn who GOD really is. Open your Bible and start reading the book of John. GOD will change your life forever.
Is this a reply, Tom??
How do you KNOW the Bible is true? You're like the girl in the insurance commercial. "They can't say something on the internet if it's not true..." "How do you know that?" "Says so on the internet..."
Yep. They don't really want to know what is real truth. But they love throwing that comment out that whatever the bible says must be truth because it says it is. Pitiful religious people and their dogma.
Does it smack of arrogance and self-righteousness to anybody else that people like this genuinely think that if everybody simply read the bible they'd all get the exact same thing out of it that he does?
I don't need to learn about "god"....I learned everything I need to know at the ripe old age of 6 when the same rationale that led me to logically conclude for myself that Santa wasn't real led me to conclude the same about any of the countless versions of "god".
That will only happen if your brand and model of religion turns out to be the One True Faith, which is unlikely given the prevalence of other religions in the world. Whose followers, by the way, know that *their* religion is the One True Religion, and Christianity a one-way ticket to ignorance and perdition. You could call it the religious theory of certainty: where you're born determines what creed you'll adopt, if any, and immediately all the other religions become bogus from your point of view.
Many religious people make the mistake of assuming that atheism is a one-way ticket to hell. The fact is that God cares very little about a person's religion or non-religion as revealed by some of the NDE accounts profiled on this website. The only thing that really matters is the spiritual condition of the heart. My experience has been that when an atheist tells me they don't believe in God, they really mean they don't believe in the Christian God or any God from any religion. From the NDE perspective, I can agree with this. Many atheists reject a spirit world for one reason or another and they generally do so because they have a strict scientific perspective of reality. Many scientific atheists devote their entire life studying the laws of nature and, to them, this may be their form of divine devotion whether they know it or not. In fact, because of this, I submit to you that a large percentage of such scientists are closer to spirituality than many religionists.
And they say, "Everything happens for a reason." Complete and utter BS.
As to the article? One person's opinion... worthy of a quick read. But...
Good grief, people! Go out and do something constructive instead of parsing each others' words into oblivion! Not one thing has been accomplished in all of your collected ranting. I read the posts thinking I would find a something thoughtful and insightful. Instead, just a collection of sad backbiting and hatefilled rants.
I am pretty sure a ton of atheists and Christians (a proper noun should be capitlized, right?) would agree. Probably some Muslims and Hindus, too...oh what the heck... I guess I should say 'theists'.
30 minutes of my life I'll never get back.
The other question is what did you take away with you from this 30 minutes that you are not regretful about?
You people that make these silly -uppity remarks are just the hall monitors looking for civil discourse when religious people do not like civil discourse. Religious people love to have their way and have their pitiful emotions remain intact. But alas they're wrong.
So are you going to tell everyone to "behave"? Mommy?
Ignore Answer – it likes to get people angry – so unbecoming. Ignore the troll. Answer – just remember that even the Nazis called for truce during Christmas. I think you can do the same, we believe in you not to be a Hitler.
If you're ignoring me.. ignore me.
Too funny. XD
I have to agree with Answer here. If you don't find the comment section to your liking, don't comment. And especially don't comment that you can't believe you are commenting because the article was so beneath you....then why are you commenting at all?
You may not find the back-and-forth very enlightening, but that may just be because you are like so many others that simply accept the status quo when it comes to religious nonsense being touted as fact and truth instead of taking a stand against it.
Dear Mr. Huckabee:
I kind of agree with you, that prayer should be allowed in schools. I am in a bit of quandry though.
1. What religious prayers should be/not allowed?
2. Is The Bible the only scripture that will solve the problem? If so, which branch of Church should own this privilege?
3. Should the teachers/students be allowed to say prayers in their own respective religions/scriptures, or should everyone follow a leader who is reading off the Bible from the pulpit?
I call myself spirutual, not religious. I believe in the power of medidation and prayer, but refuse to give God a name or believe that another person is lesser to me if he/she does not have the same beliefs as I do.
Perhaps, introducing a minute (or two) of silence in the morning, where everyone can ruminate/pray in their own private thoughts & as per their own beliefs, would be an option worth pursuing.
Prayer is not prohibited in schools if someone wants to pray silently. It just cannot be mandated that time be set aside for that. I think if there is a lack of moral instruction at home for a child, then trying to add a special "quiet time" a school will do little to help the situation. And it would be a huge uphill battle to try to overturn a SCOTUS ruling.
mama k is correct – if I were in school today and my teacher or school insisted that I participate in a moment of silent prayer every morning I'd either be getting sent to the office, or I'd be excused from the class for that period of time because the school could not force me to participate.
There are enough religions and sects available so that every day in the school year could be dedicated to a different one. Persian fire worship might be a little iffy, although you could get around that by having a fire drill instead of a service....
Chuck, spiritual religious.
If you're religious, you've made a decision about what you believe. Do you believe in GOD? Do you believe in Jesus? If so, then you're a Christian. Christians believe the Bible is GOD's word. The Bible says that Jesus is the only way to GOD. It really is pretty simple to learn who GOD is and what He can do in your life. But you have to read your Bible to learn about GOD. If you do, He will change your life forever.
Its better to return to the Lord God sinless.
Eve is very sinful.
The ultimate convenience of religion – regardless of what you've done throughout your life, as long as you repent you can still get into heaven.
just sickening. it hurts my heart to hear these religious fanatics say these things.
They don't like hearing the negative comments about their love for their god. It is their personal feelings that are being hurt by the words, but it must be heard.
Guns don't kill people, lack of cellular respiration kills people. Ban the lack of cellular respiration.
Couldn't agree with you more, Mr. Prothero. Shirley and onemorehere, I pray that you learn proper English!
To Megs: Amen!
Beleiving in god in this day an age is an outrage and total lack of common sense. Your god was invented by for-profit salesmen who saw a quick way to make a buck from the ignorance of peasants.
Religion is the snake oil of our times.
The sky daddy is in heaven and too busy to eat Mc Donald.
M., where did you get so much hatred toward GOD? Did anyone ever discuss with you the promises of GOD, His eternal purpose, His Bible, or His eternal punishment? It's so easy to get to know GOD if you make the effort. Don't trust your own intellectual 'common sense'. If you read your Bible, you'll learn who He is. He'll change your life forever.
I see why god made a hell for people like your who would call him names. This is why there earthquake, hurricane and event people need to turn away from their wicked ways.
Want to try that again, Shirley? But use English this time.
IF you were God, would you have sat around and done NOTHING while 20 children were slaughtered? Yes or no?
Don't forget lightning also.. oh and all the other natural events too.
Wouldn't want to miss out any event that you may want to see your god's handiwork. XD
Just name everything you want and put the tag on it as from your god. Alrighty?
You make me laugh. XD
God is a coward for sitting idlely by.
At minimum, god is guilty of accessory to murders since he is a witness and did NOTHING.
God needs to stand trial and be jailed for his crime against humanity.
you make me feel like your god does FART.
I can smell your god's old FART.
Your sky daddy is a psychopath.
I posted almost the same points as this writer, and CNN yanked my post! So an opinion on death and grieving that is not mainline Christian isn't allowed here unless it comes with a writer's fee? Ridiculous.
"yanked your post"? or did not post because you used a prohibited word fragment?
Well if you did make similar comments.. congrats.
It is too bad that the flow of information in today's society can be the 'works' of some other writers the next day and you aren't paid for that input. Hope you have your own say in the future and hope you get paid for it. Good luck.
It seems strange to me that a person identified as a "religious scholar" seems to lie on the spiritual spectrum somewhere between athiest, agnostic–or perhaps in the extreme doubter category. His comments about "There may or may not be a God", or "Today is a day to shake your fist at heaven" seem to suggest that. If Mr Prothero is actually a thinking scholar, he seems to be pointing out only the shallow thinking that people have about why tragedies happen in this world, and arguments why we should not believe in God. Why not discuss some of the deeper thinking too? Of course what happened was a great evil–almost without exception we can agree on that. I have been horrified by what I've heard about this tragedy. And shed some tears for the families that lost loved ones–especially those that lost a child–those who are most innocent among us. Why does God allow such evil to happen? Is this proof that He doesn't exist? Or at least is not all powerful and all virtuous? I think not. I think that God allows bad things to happen to good people in many cases. That's not because he doesn't love us. It is becasue he lets people make bad choices and do bad things–he allows it, but doesn't instigate it. He allows choice and the consequences of choice to happen, because within that framework, growth can happen for all involved. That is hard for us to relate to maybe. But I think that God's wisdom and perspective are better than ours. I think that the purpose of our mortal lives here is to experience, learn, and grow. We need to experience pain and difficulty along with joy. We all have our own package of problems, obstacles, and suffering–along with happiness that we experience here. It is designed by a loving God for us to learn what we need to learn while here. Yes life is not fair for all of us. Some have wealth and others poverty. Some live long, and others short. Some have health, and others disease. Some experience much love, while others feel lonely. Most of us are somewhere in the middle. Why is this fair? Well it doesn't seem fair to us if our perspective is only this short life that we have here on Earth. But if our perspective is longer–if we believe that our lives are really eternal, and this is just a phase of learning and growth in that eternity–then it can make more sense. I don't see why believing in a resurrection should be offensive to anyone. To me, death of a loved one is a little like having them go away for a long time. My father passed away this year and I miss him very much. But I know that I'll see him again, and that will be great when I do. I believe God when he said that in the end our suffering in this life will be but a small moment, and if we endure it well he will provide a place for us where our earthly suffering and learning will only help us in the longer scheme of things.
My invisible pink unicorn told me she is praying that you get a clue.
"He allows choice and the consequences of choice to happen, because within that framework, growth can happen for all involved."
Tell the victims. Get serious.
One doesn't have to be religious to be a religious scholar.
Great post. I don't know where CNN finds such religion "scholars."
There is no God. People are the sole controllers of their own destinies. Take away your knowledge of the existence of a book known as the "Bible" and you would agree with me because you would know no different, unless you worshiped one of the countless other Gods that have been followed over the years, perhaps you could then pray to Zeus or the sun?
Maybe you could think of him like this guy:
The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature; and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this event as an era in their history. It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses.
Thirteen governments [of the original states] thus founded on the natural authority of the people alone, without a pretence of miracle or mystery, and which are destined to spread over the northern part of that whole quarter of the globe, are a great point gained in favor of the rights of mankind.
(John Adams – A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America [1787-1788])
@ Confused...the fact that you think this is a great post scares me. Go away and talk to your imaginary friend.
People can be deeply, profoundly spiritual and take a very dim view of all religion. Why can't someone be a religious scholar and be a non-believer? Religion and religious people are fascinating but I have zero patience for religious thought. I've learned alll that I can about Christianity and that study has only strengthened my conviction that it's a man-made tool whose principle purpose is to control the masses. What the author of this opinion piece is saying is that people make some utterly ignorant statements in the name of religion and they need to be called out on it and he hit the nail right on the head. Anyone who tells you what god wants is either a charlatan, a lunatic, or a raving egomaniac and probably all three.
The 2nd amendment is open for discussion. I open with: adopted in 1791 at a time when men wore wigs and the meanest weapon out there was a single shot flintlock. Those men in wigs sought to give the right to bear arms to the "well organized militias" to protect the new nation, from within and without . Relevance to today? Next to none. I don't care how many rifles are out there, you're not gonna stop the US army from breaking down your door if they want to nor are you gonna keep the Chinese from lobbing a nuke. The POINT of the 2nd amendment is gone....guns are for sport and hunting and should be limited to that and that alone.
I agree with you 100%. The 2nd amendment is entirely moot and should be repealed.
We have had a standing army since 1814. The myth of the militia is just that – a myth.
You said "the last thing we don't want to hear is the Founding Fathers this ir the Founding Fathers that...."
Surely a discussion of the intent of the 2nd amendment – pointing out that it was solely about defending the new nation of the United States (something we now do with the finest professional army navy and air force in the world) and is not about self-defence from criminals, is an important discussion, no?
OK, now I think I'm understanding you, Johnn, and I agree 100%.
While we're at it, can we also amend the portion of the 1st Amendment regarding freedom of religion to still allow for the freedom to worship as you see fit, but to remove any and all potential business and political aspects from the current religion corporation as to not allow any tax-exempt religion to donate or contribute to our elections?
Personally I think that part of the 1st Amendment may have been one of the worst ideas the founding fathers ever had.
Think about it, they fled their home country due to religious intolerance, tyranny and persecution, came across the sea and nearly wiped out an indigineous people in order to establish their own country....and then promptly give virtually limitless discretion to religion to continue discriminating against any and all that are deemed unworthy.
The Lord did give all of us the Freedom to Choose and this man Chose to Kill. God has no blame whatsoever in this incident. God is here for our never ending love and our spirit. Jesus The Lord my God cried when all these poor children popped up in heaven but as a believer he made no one do anything. So keep your mouths closed when blaming someone like God for what someone who was given the freeom to choose DID.
My invisible pink unicorn is blaming the leprechauns.
Zeus loves you.
So you are saying god is really useless?
Ah, OK, but can we blame God for wiping out 150,000 people with a tsunami? Or didn't he have control over that, either?
Take away the Bible and there is no God, because that sole book is the only "proof" we have of such an existence. Scientology was created 60+ years ago through a book and has hundreds of thousands of followers, imagine what you can develop in 3000+ years with one book.
What choices did god give the children?
You are stone cold f*** nuts.
Did those kids made the wright or wrong decision?
Why didn't your god give the poor children any choices but gives the shooter choices? You sick fuck.
How about the kids? Do they get to decide or what?
Your god appears to be an empathetic spectator. If he has the power to change outcomes why would he choose to allow these things to happen to innocent children? If he can't (or won't) change outcomes why pray to him? If he is all-knowing he already knows the outcome and the choice for the shooter was predestined. If he chose to have the shooter kill children just to prove how neglected he feels he's a monster with the temperament of a spoiled child. His involvement is no more logical than the belief in his existence. You quote a book that was edited, compromised, and finally written by men with an social and political agenda. You worship a god that hasn't really made a visit (except in the delusional minds of the zealots) for over 2000 years. His whole history is simply a composite of other gods the preceded him in religious history/mythology. This shooting had nothing to do with a god – it had to do with a deranged kid shooting children with guns that are too efficient, effective, and too easily obtained. His behavior was most likely encouraged by interaction with a society that accepts violent behavior as a virtue. It's not about some "God"... It's about the people we have allowed ourselves to become.
what is the seventh thing you don't want to hear after the Sandy Hook massacre?
my seventh thing is.......schools are lacking prayers
How would they implement that, Mo? You know, to be fair to all faiths, including none?
Ya.. prayers from the Spaghetti Monster!
I would definitely go for that.
There is nothing to stop anyone from praying silently to themselves in any public place including schools.
Yep, huckachuck is right.
If we would all just believe exactly what he believes, then god would prevent any and all murders in america.
Makes perfect sense.
And my invisible pink unicorn agrees.
Your wit has expired
Interesting that CNN's religion scholar is admitting to being an agnostic ("there may or may not be a God"). That's like hiring a Darwinian scholar who says he doesn't believe in evolution. Seems a little strange.
I also think Mr. Prothero needs to get off his intellectual high horse and stop criticizing people for how they deal with grief. If it lessons the pain for some of these parents to think that Jesus called their children home, who is he to tell them not to say this. I mean, who really cares what Steve Prothero does or doesn't want to hear about these children. When people grieve, they deal with it in different ways. Let's try and be a bit more supportive instead of looking down on them for believing in things we think are silly.
Why does a religious scholar need to be religious? I've heard priests admit that they're 'not sure', should they be removed immediately?
He is a scholar of religions, not a proselytiser for one.
Even a simpleton would understand that the article is not aimed at the parents of victims of the Sandy Hook school shooting, but rather at the larger set of apologists.
Damn why are jebus followers so stupid?
Thank you for your even handed response to Prothero's remarks. It is faith which guides so many in times of joy and grief – not a perfect knowledge of why things happen. Of the latter, no one has the answer.
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.