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.
You believe what you want, but as tragic to us humans as this is , death is a small part of our lives and eternity is a lot longer then 100 years , yes we should mourn , but to say there is no God , or where was God because children died is ridiculous. death will come to all, Love and yearn to follow in Jesus footsteps and he will guide you , taking God more and more out of this countries peoples lives is going to have an affect on society in a bad way . Yes their are predetors that use the church for thier evil advantage bu thtos e truly folowing the word of God are not going to commit these tragic things that happened here...teaching Gods love is more important than ever now ecspecially after a tragidy like this , God does have his own reasons , he loves us though even though we die...His one and only son died too , tortured and crucified ..remeber that.
Jesus was a punk azzed beotch.
If he died for our sins and then came back to life does that mean that the deal is broken?
"Love and yearn to follow in Jesus footsteps and he will guide you , taking God more and more out of this countries peoples lives is going to have an affect on society in a bad way."
Huckabee, is that you?
People like you cheapen life. You view this world as a cosmic waiting room, and events that happen here as trivial, in the grand skeem of things. This life is all you get, and it is the greatest thing you, or anyone, will ever have. Don't cheapen it.
why is claiming there is no god ridiculous?
"His one and only son died too , tortured and crucified ..remeber that.'
Yeah, we "remeber" that
God had an opportunity to forgive without the blood sacrifice, but did not.
God is omniscient, and knows who will or will not accept his son as a savior before they are born
Yet he continues to allow those who will not accept his son to be born.
For what purpose? To torture them?
Mythology is false in every regard which does nothing but lead to false hope and undermines reallity that people really need to understand and deal with the Truth.
If you are tired of memorials and tears, change the laws, and make people actually responsible and accountable for their actions!
Start with the Congress, that is what they are elected to do, produce effective Law for THE PEOPLE..
What is the opposite of PROgress? CONgress!
God gave us "Free Will" or as I think of it the "God cop out." So God gave us free will and then like Elvis, left the building. And next time you hear the words free will think about these three words, "Children's Cancer Ward". Perhaps God is too busy watching sporting events. At least all of the athletes seem to think he is watching.
I am proudly Christian and I KNOW this couldnt be God's will. He gave us free will and how we individually use it is our doing (thinking of the monster) and not because of any other reason. There is evil in the world. Some people embrace it and do things like this. It is not God's will at all. This is a broken creation filled with broken people.
God will do something. He spelled it out in the Bible. So let the scoffing begin and when you personally attack me for my love of God, remember,...i have free will and i chose not to read anyone's reaction. God Bless and He never wills evil.
How do your reconcile the idea of free will with the idea that everything happens according to God's plans?
You're an idiot and your god is a POS. If he didn't stop what happened then he isnt a god worth worshipping.
Proud Christian? Wow. That's different. Is that what you become when you attend the biggest church in town?
Folks, which of these is your favorite oxymoronic: Proud Christian, Patriotic Christian or Prosperity Christian?
What would Jesus eschew?
Other ridiculous things heard:
1. God isn’t responsible because of free will.
2. It is because of the fall and sin, not because of god.
3. God is supremely good, just, moral, etc…
It isn't so ridiculous to attribute evil to the existence of free will, even in the presence of an all powerful, all good God. Without the agency to do evil, there is no free will. If God cannot create creatures with the agency to do evil, then he is not all powerful. If he is not all powerful, then why blame him for not intervening? Perhaps he was simply not able.
Pandora Doggle, you said "Perhaps he was simply not able." sounds like the All-Powerful ain't. You found there are limits to god's abilities.
Mixed up angry religious kid found Mom's guns easily accessible and blew her away and a bunch of kids.
Happens all the time.
Nothing else more to this story – no, God isn't at fault, or Obama, or Muslims, or Colin Kaepernick.
Just a dumb angry American kid who worshipped guns and decided to live out his fantasy.
Keep politics, religion, sports, Twitter etc... out of this news story.
Really enjoy reading all the hateful comments towards the author by all these true "Christians".
GOD gave man free will. Everyone born was given free will. IT was the will of the perp to do what he did in the school in CT.
No gods gave anyone anything. It is up the each individual to choose as they will. There are no gods.
So you admit it. Your god does nothing to intervene in this world. His actions are exactly the same as if he didn't exist.
Why did only the shooter have free will? Why did the children have none? Why did the parents have none?
Can an insane person have free will?
If god cannot act due to free will, then he has never saved all the people who claim he has rescued them. Free will would be violated. None of the wonders god is claimed to give could happen – violates free will. If there is free will, then everything you think god did, god could not do, or you would not have free will.
Theologically speaking, free will is a Catch 22, a self-excluding paradox. Scientifically speaking, your free will is very limited, by genetics, intelligence level, education, life experiences, and so forth. You really cannot have free will without having perfect knowledge, and humans are nowhere near that.
Free will is nothing but a cop-out, a way to say that God is not responsible when all other claims about what he does WOULD make him responsible.
All academic, for there is no god. It happened because the guy was insane. His biology malfunctioned, apparently before he was born. You did read that he physiologically felt almost no pain if injured – that is a malformed neurological system. Other behaviors confirm it. He was born that way.
Charlie: How does free will jibe with the concept of an omniscient god?
Agreed Stephen....however, based on your article from yesterday, this one seems to be a bit hypocritical since the one yesterday was essentially praising President Obama for being what you called our "Pastor-in-Chief".
Either this is part of the contradictory nature of religious people, or it's simply more evidence that religious people are seemingly unaware of their own contradictory nature.
What I can't fathom is that Mr. Prothero is a "religious scholar." From this missive, I'd say he is akin to a member of PETA being on the board of the National Pork Producer's Council.
Secularism did not cause the massacre at. Sandy Hook. The violence was caused by an empty soul who had a semi-automatic weapon. Maybe the home was too secular and resulted in the purchase of a litany of guns that were ultimately used to kill the purchaser and innocent children and women. It was not a lack of prayer in school but a lack of prayer in the home and the heart of an individual that contributed to this reality. Now is not the time to religionize our schools like the Taliban.
Mr. Prothero certainly has it all sorted out. I happen to believe the Bible. It tells us that evil is real. Newtown is empirical evidence. It tells us that people who reject God will be judged. It tells us that He is the God of all comfort. It tells us that He loves and that he sent His Son to save. Evil is awful. It happens. Want comfort? Turn to the God of the Bible. Want the evil to be vanquished? Turn to the God of the Bible. And... Mr. Prothero, you may be a brilliant scholar, but as Psalm 14 begins, "The fool says in his heart that there is no God."
Every con man tells the suckers they would be foolish not to listen to him.
weren't all of the parents of those innocenst children good christians? Didn't all the innocent children believe their bible stories? Why were they hurt so? What a crock of sh1t you Christians dish up!
You are one sick phuck!
Mike, you forgot to capitalize one of the 'h's' for he. You are going straight to hell.
The Bible also says to "beat your swords into plowshares and your spears into pruning hooks." Are you ignoring that part?
The vitriol in the replies to my post sure show that we are a culture of peace....c'mon. The Bible also says God is love.
"Mr. Prothero certainly has it all sorted out."
He is expressing an opinion
"I happen to believe the Bible."
Bully for you
"It tells us that evil is real."
Wow, what a flash out of the dark
"Newtown is empirical evidence."
Not it isn't
"It tells us that people who reject God will be judged."
You do realize that people cannot fear retaliation from beings in which they do not believe, don't you?
"It tells us that He is the God of all comfort."
Bully for the bible
"It tells us that He loves and that he sent His Son to save"
Yet he could have done it without the blood sacrifice, but chose not to.
"Want comfort? Turn to the God of the Bible."
If it comforts you, have at it?
" Want the evil to be vanquished? Turn to the God of the Bible."
Evil is still around, and has not been vanquished by the god of the bible.
"Psalm 14 begins, 'The fool says in his heart that there is no God.'"
Good for Psalm 14
The true fools are those who purport to speak for god, including through iron age comic books
"Mike, you forgot to capitalize one of the 'h's' for he. You are going straight to hell."
"She didn't say 'God Bless You'" – Dogma
So those 20 innocent children rejected God and Lanza was the judgement? I gave up on organized religion along time ago but still believed in God. But I would like to know where HE was on Friday. Or anywhere along the way of this mans life. If God is all knowing he knew this would happen and allowed it . Makes it hard to believe Hes very loving.
relax... you aren't impressing gawwwwwd....
RE: "The Bible also says ..."
The bible is a book. Books don't talk. What you exhibit is Bible worship. It is common among fundamentalists. It stems from having self-appointed 'authorities' who pick and choose or twist scripture however they need in order to sell their dogma. I'd suggest you try another church.
To Dyslexic doG - At least one of the children was Jewish - so let's assume his parents were not Christians. What difference does it make? God does not will the death of anyone, no matter what their religion.
God is not the author of tragedy or evil . In order for us to experience love, God bestowed on us free will. But unfortunately, we humans have abused our free will by rejecting God and walking away from him. And that has resulted in the introduction of evil into the world.Someday we'll see with clarity, but for now things are foggy. We can't understand everything from our finite perspective. And frankly, the people suffering from the tragedy don't need a big theological treatise right now; any intellectual response is going to seem trite and inadequate. Many of you are parents. Even before you had children, couldn't you foresee that there was the very real possibility they may suffer disappointment or pain or heartache in life, or that they might even hurt you and walk away from you? Of course—but you still had kids. Why? Because you knew there was also the potential for tremendous joy and deep love and great meaning.Though suffering isn't good, God can use it to accomplish good.
If God was taken from schools, don't expect him to be there.
so God let people take him from schools. He's a weak little thing isn't he?! Feeble and timid? Easily pushed around?
What a laugh!
So God really isn't omnipresent?
So your god does not follow you everywhere, only where everyone believes exactly the same as you?
ask Job if God was there with him during his difficulties.
Well God must not be in cars because tens of thousands die in traffic accidents every year! I know, let's stop traffic deaths by have pastors, rabbis, and priests bless cars on the assembly line.
In the past 11 years there have been 18 shootings in churches in the U.S. .(google it.) 55 dead...35 injured.....
You sir should quit talking about God. You clearly don’t understand the Christian faith. I don’t go out blogging about how morons like you think you should share your opinions on a news site. Your first 4 statements are clearly from an Atheist. I will pray to God that he changes your heart so that maybe you’ll pull your head out long enough to read a Bible and perhaps understand why people say those things. I have a list for you and its short. Things I’m tired of after massacres, people who share their dumb opinions and think they are actually the correct ones.
Well said. Thank you.
I concur. Well-said. I can only surmise that Mr. Prothero must have gotten his degree from some mail-order mill.
So you agree that Huckabee is a numbskull?
@DCBuck ... maybe he got his degree from one of those Christian Colleges where you can study a bronze age story book and sit around talking to an imaginary friend and walk out with a degree. What a laugh!
Spoken like the true christian hypocrite.
You sir are truly the person that fits the description.
@DCBuck spewing insults about where you think someone got a degree make you look silly.
RE: "I don’t go out blogging ..." Well, you just did the equivalent.
"...about how morons like you ..." And then, stoop to the childish way of dealing with people you disagree with.
So you are dishonest and childish. Is that a fair assessment?
To use this as an opportunity to take your own personal back slaps at Chritians is shameful. Enough said.
Well said, Paul. CNN never fails to find an opportunity to blaspheme Christianity. It is shameful.
I agree. It seems like the article is more to push hot button statements rather than do anything really positive. If you don't like these statements, number one don't repeat them. Make sense to me.
blaspheming christianity is fun
To SingAPsalm - The article does NOT blaspheme Christianity. If you think it does, you do not understand Christianity.
This is Journalism. It reads like you had no reason to write anything until you thought real hard.....and then you came up with this? Sad! Really sad.
The article is clearly labeled as an "opinion" piece.
Speaking as a Christian, I can honestly say that I understand (and even feel) the anger in this column. I'll join my hand in shaking a fist at multiple sources of "religious information" in the aftermath of this event, and even look to Heaven with the same questioning and angry eyes that many others do.
That said, the unfortunate thing is that we have to accept that EVERYTHING in this life, the good with the bad, was already written and known prior to the annals of time. An all-seeing, all-knowing, omnipotent, omniscient God knows these events before they occur. I don't think it necessarily means He wants them to happen, nor does it mean that He cosigns on everything that happens in this world, but believing in the Christian God does come with that caveat, that one believes He's not up there thinking, "What? What in the world is going on here?!" every time a tragedy occurs down here.
I don't know His plan any more than my fellow Christians or any of the atheists, agnostics, or countless other views that may be landing on this post. And I'm as saddened by this incident as anyone. But I have hope that all will be made right, and whether it's blind faith or something more in your eyes, I wish anyone reading these words the best in your own dealings of this terrible, terrible occurrence. May all around you that comforts provide comfort in this time, and may Newtown, CT feel the brunt of the prayers and good wishes wished upon them by the world today...
So you believe you have no free will? Alrighty then.
so God has long planned to have these little children slaughtered. Great.
If God knew in advance that Eve would eat of the forbidden fruit, what was the point of His test?
Your comment reeks of decades of blatant brainwashing and I pity you.
Go jump off a bridge. There are a lot of sick people out there in which society has created and now we are stuck with them.
Pretty sure that free-will was given to man after the epic disaster that was the Flood. God did say that he would no longer interfere in the day to day affairs of man. Technically Jesus did involve himself with the affairs of man. However he was very specific in which ways he involved himself. Nothing too fancy and overblown like the Flood, but more subdued and down to earth showing that God still cared, even if he didn't involve himself in the minutiae of everyday life.
so god, being all-knowing, knew it would happen. Being omnipotent, he had the power to stop it. He didn't.
In what way is that different from him co-signing it?
Its like saying "I didnt hit the pedestrian, my vehicle did. I set the car in motion, I saw that he was in front of me, I had the ability to avoid him. I knew that if I didnt take action, he would die...... I just chose not to. It's not the same as willfully killing him."
Well, some of those things you listed have been said by the victims' families themselves, so maybe you should shut your mouth and let them deal with this however they see fit.
Keeping God in schools would have prevented the shooting?
That sure has prevented a lot of molestation cases in the Catholic church.
Google church shootings. There are more there than in godless schools.
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.