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.
To the gun owners of America,
the next steps are up to you.
Pragmatically speaking, anti-gun people don't have any material influence here. We have wanted to rid ourselves of this scourge for years but nothing has changed because you didn't want it to.
What steps are you willing to take to reduce mass killings by firearms?
Would you support:
1. A ban on the sale to the public of newly manufactured semi-automatic rifles?
2. A national, comprehensive background check and mandatory reseach/waiting period for ALL gun sales, commerical and private that checks against a database of known ineligible gun owners. This would include serious penalties for ANY gun sale, commercial or private that did not follow the procedure and resulted in a deliberate, non-suicide firearm fatality?
I have a better question for you gun owners..
What features of the guns that you love would you know you can part away with?
–The size of that easy exchange clip magazine?
–The quick exchange clip itself?
–The semi-auto feature?
Just what are those features for you and what do they mean to the killers that are out there that you want to thwart?
I have simple fix to gun control nonsense, impose SIN Tax, like tobacco and liquors, make guns expensive to buy, and start suing gun manufacturing goons for all gun related violence
The guns in question were purchased legally and the gun owner is dead. So, how would any of this helped?
My head will not bow and my knee will not bend. Where are we? North Korea
nah. but a point well proven by Jane :)
Where was God?
It seems that with each tragedy that our country experiences the question gets asked, ‘Where was God?’ ‘If God is love, or if God even exists, how could He allow such horrible things to happen?’
The same people who question the goodness of God concerning these kinds of tragedies never seem to question God’s interest in their own affairs. God never enters their thoughts while they are off happily living any way they choose, but once a tragedy occurs the wonder why God allows such horror.
Where was God when you yelled at your spouse? Where was God when you said mean words to your child? Where was God when you drove 75 in a 65mph zone? Where was God when you rolled through that stop sign? Where was God when you lied? Where was God when you gossiped and slandered?
Why do we only bring God into the equation when it involves the actions of others, but not our own actions? Why does God allow you to live the way you please but you feel He should stop others from their negative actions?
What most don’t realize is that God allows men to choose their own destinies and He will not violate our ability to choose. If He were to eliminate the free will of some, He would have to eliminate your free will as well. Humans were created with free will and sadly have chosen to ignore God in their lives…….until a tragedy occurs and they feel empowered to even question His existence.
God’s love and mercy is available to every human on earth. His protection, provision and health can be had by all. The choice is ours. God is near to all who call upon Him. Don’t let the evil of broken men keep you from the love of the Father.
Well, you can SAY all that about what God is and isn't. But you don't KNOW if you're completely wrong, now do you?
The spiel of the righteous.. so many words that are so useless.
Your relationship is the problem for you. Get it diagnosed. And treated.
sbp, you couldn't be more wrong! we know what our God and what he isn't for we have the most truthful book called the "Bible". :)
The bible and a happy face.
So adorable. XD
@16yo: your god is imperfect. want proof?
1) created angels......................then angels turned on him in a plot to take power.
2) created adam and lilith.....................lilith flipped them both off and disappeared into the garden.
3) created eve from adam........................eve was tricked by a "talking snake" which tricked adam into eating a forbidden fruit.
4) flooded the earth in an attempt to purge evil...................left one incestial family alive on a boat to start everything all over again.
5) impregnated a human female with his spirit to save all of humanity.............................guy was betrayed and ki11ed, nothing has changed thus far.
6) created not one but thousands of versions of "one holy book" that permits various "religious" groups to hate others not like themselves.
yeah your god is a great............................................................................................................................................ ..
Are you actually implying that running a stop sign and/or speeding are somehow sins that woukd and should be punishable offenses by God. That is one of the funniest things I have heard all year. Thanks for the laugh.
Prothero is an offensive and insensitive b@st@rd who uses such terrible tragedies to mock and attack people's faiths and beliefs and CNN obliges him with a platform to do so.
So what is your background and achievements in religious writing for comparison?
I'm sorry, Mike, but your comment is cr*p and your god doesn't exist.
Mike, why are here? You aren't required to read this. And if you read it and it bothers you SO much, then stop posting sh!t no one at CNN will ever read. Write a letter to the editors.
I think what a lot of people are missing is that God (and/or Jesus) does not pick and choose who lives and who dies, or who is a victim of something senseless or not. He is not a wizard who can make good luck or bad luck. The way I was raised (and I'm an Irish Catholic) and what I choose to believe is that God is there for you for strength, courage, inspiration–all the things you might need to do the best you can in the time you have on this earth. God can't control where and when evil happens....that is what free will is all about. So by saying that if God was in the schools these things would have happened, or that something like this was God's will, or by saying that Jesus called these children to Heaven, that is just insane. God doesn't want children killed. God doesn't want anyone killed. But there is no magic involved, there is no favoritism.
But if god is all powerful, he CAN control free will. He chooses not to. Even when dead babies are the result. What a jerk.
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.
I know the seriousness of this tragedy but lets not make this about religion, Allah has control over all things. May ALLAH MAKE IT EASY ON THE PEOPLE ON NEWTOWN CONN. ameen <3
Thanks Abdul. Amen (Aamin)!
What a idiot.That all i going to say.
Truth hurts doesn't it?
Indeed yes. One of his best I think.
Kudos to Prof. Prothero.
Yeah – he really made us think of things we couldn't have thought of for ourselves....not.
No, he called B.S. on people who mouth meaningless plat!tudes and don't have the courage to do anything meaningful about firearm deaths.
God doesn't want for us to kill each other but he gives us an option to choose and the more and more we keep those commandments in the fore front we can stay away from making the wrong choices. Granted there are good people in the world that may not believe in God and have no desire to harm ithers...but one thing i can say is that a persons religious beliefs influence the choices they make. So if Gods way will prevent the tragedies that we as humans create what's wrong with acknowledging, serving, God? Let's not forget the choices we make are judged by God and he sees all and knows all, I'm not saying God wanted those kids to die but he gave the killer a choice to make the right decision and he choose otherwise.
Yea you keep on being that slave and serve.
How do you know what god wants and doesn't want? Awfully presumptuous of you.
Beware of introducing the rights and/or wrongs of religion into events such as this. You say a belief in God would prevent such horrors? Ask the Taliban if their faith prevents murder.
I have no idea if there are any gods or not ... and nor does anyone else. Many people choose to believe, and I respect and defend their right to do so, but here on Earth WE are solely responsible for the good and evil humans render. What happens in an afterlife, should there be one, is out of our hands.
The solution to violence will come from mankind, and mankind alone. Any gods will stand back and observe.
Cant have it both ways... If it wasnt Gods will, there isnt a God.
Learn what God's will actually is and what Free will is, God is perfect and does not break his word.
16yo, you don't KNOW that god doesn't break his word or is perfect, you don't know what god's will is. You choose to believe that you know.
Psalm_14:1 "The fool has said in his heart, There is no God."
@sbp, Did I state that I knew God's will. "you don't KNOW that god doesn't break his word or is perfect" but that is just the thing! I DO :D the Bible is very helpful :).
@16YO: isn't running on the logic hamster wheel fun? XD
Another brilliant religion editorial on CNN. Well, here's mine: Warning: mockery alert." Stephen Prothero, a religious intellectual whose cleverness has outrun his intellect, does not like "evangelicals". So he picked a prominent one, Mike Huckabee and, unable to process his comments, caricatured him.
Putting in the two-term governor's mouth six tired, juvenile cliches which were a universe away from Mike's articulate, balanced remarks, Prothero then presented them as "SIX THINGS I DON'T WANT TO HEAR AFTER SANDY HOOK."
That was all fine, except in the process this pastoral & theological lightweight painted himself into an even worse clown figure than the straw man he had propped up. Here are, apparently, the six things HE'D rather say. I for one like his preferred alternatives a whole whale of a lot less than the original informed, balanced, reasoned commentary he had the misfortune to thoroughly misunderstand & mischaracterize.
But here they are...and read his article to see if he's really offering anything but a smug, cheap, cynical mockery of "evangelical" (read: traditional) Christian beliefs.
1. "For all practical purposes, there's no God." Ok...that's helpful.
2. "The children should've had longer lives." Good point...genius.
3. "Don't forget what you should be doing-grieving." Yeah, 'cause that's real hard to keep a fix on. Thanks for the reminder.
4. "I don't know what judgment of God would provoke the killing of innocent children." Not sure why you're bringing it up, because Huckabee sure didn't.
5. "Make darn sure you don't force (fringe) Christian values into our schools." Good time to protect diversity & political correctness. We were all thinking about protecting children.
6. "It's time to shake our fists at heaven and demand answers." Instead of quietly, carefully sorting out the hysteria and starting the work of finding actual, not magical, solutions? OK, Prothero. I think we got it.
Think I'm being unfair? I'm a lot closer to what he said, than he was to Huckabee....
Well you have your post. Nice read.
you clearly need to read this article again.
The ONLY reference to Mike Huckabee is this one:
5. “This happened because America is too secular.”
And Mike Huckabee's words are quoted directly. Why does this confuse you so?
Did you read this article with blinders on?
Mr Prothero, 1) as an atheist stop pretending to be a scholar on religion, 2) everytime you write you expose your ignorance in the area of faith and spirituality, 3) CNN should fire you immediately
He is not what I would call a mental giant but he is hired ot be thought provoking and create 300 pages of comments from angry atheists and misguided believers
Prothero is a professor at a major university. He has written several books and had articles published in most of our top newspapers.
Please tell us your background to understand why you PRETEND to know more about religion than he does.
Just too funny.
You're not either one of them yourself. XD
Hilarious. A person who isn't of those two comments wants to infer himself as better than both because he simply wants that as his own truth. Only in your dreams dude.
Did anyone see that troll go by here? I keep going from page to page but its good at following everyobe and mocking.
Oh that ignoring is just too terrible.. everyobe? LOL
So what he wrote a lot of books does that give him a right to say there is no God and for you to be offended when someone takes a stand for God...please don't think that education makes you superiorthan the existence of God.
God is superior when you have evidence for it. So good luck on you providing it.
Thanks in advance.
Bravo – I couldn't have said it better. You need a bigger platform, the biggest platform there is.
You just missed one thing: What I don't want to hear is "life goes on". If we all move on without serious action toward solutions after something as tragic as this, then we are a failure as a species.
-You're ignoring me very well. XD
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.
It is funny how man is blaming GOD for their own mistakes! Stop it. Repent, the land and time of today is becoming more and more like the time of Noah when God gave the people then plenty of chances to repent and did not heave the warning. So he wiped the Earth clean with the Earth's flood and killed everyone and everything outside of Noah, his wife, his 3 children and their wives. also 2 of every unclean animal and 7 of every clean animal and 7 of every bird of the air. This shows God is a just God and that sin will not go unpunished. (God did not create sin, for he is holy and sin is the opposite ). The killing in NewTown was very tragic and I can say that it was probably more than likely not in God's will that Adam was to kill the innocent children and women ( for God does not contradict himself ). But to sum it all up, blaming God is the wrong answer to this, he does not control us like we are Sims 3 or SimCity where you control everything, we have freewill and the right to choose what is right and what is wrong, Adam chose to follow the Father of lies, and not the God of Love.
( did he goto heaven or hell ) to be honest, NO ONE KNOWS IF HE GAVE HIMSELF TO OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST BEFORE HE KILLED HIMSELF AND FULL HEARTILY ASKED FOR FORGIVENESS OF HIS SINS AND BELIEVED THAT JESUS IS THE ONE AND ONLY REASON WE CAN GOTO HEAVEN!!!!!! ( which is another reason why God and Jesus is sooooooooo Great! ) :D
@16yo: if your god is real he had a plan for all humans before he ever created us and knew that instant that this 20year old would massacre those children, thus it was your god's plan to have those children die horrible deaths.
long story short, your god is one sick puppy.
Ha Ha! I was trying to make this point through various discussion forums; CNN will take out my comment. Here you go Stephen Prothero! ...."Do I really have the right to bear a nuclear weapon? Or a rocket-propelled grenade?"
My favorite is "Guns don't kill people..."
I happen to agree with that one. I own a few guns, and have never had the slightest inclination to kill, maim, or even harm anyone. I was also taught gun safety at an early age, and I learned to respect the potential of the weapon.
The NRA has over 4 million members, and I am not sure of the count, but I'd have to say that owning a gun, or supporting the idea of owning guns has not turned 4 million people into murderers. They are not necessarily linked, just like owning a vehicle, or driving a vehicle does not necessarily lump you into the group of people that have committed vehicular-homicide.
Now, the real issue that needs to be addressed is mental health.
You can say what you want about "guns making it easier to commit a crime", but people who commit crimes are CRIMINALS. They have little regard for laws. The root of the issue is that these people divorce themselves from morality or humanity to the point where they have no regard for anyone but themselves (and sometimes not even that). This is not sane, well-grounded behavior.
So many people are quick to slap a bandaid on a problem, and think that they can return to a normal life. Until we treat the actual cause (not the act) of this violence, we are fooling ourselves.
Agreed. Taking guns away from sane people is not going to stop insane people from doing bad things. If someone wants to be bad they will find a way.
Until we can identify and incarcerate all people with severe mental conditions or who MIGHT "fliip out", you are dreaming. We can control weapons of mass-killing however.
T, "Guns do not kill people" BUT they are designed and used to kill people & animals; whether it is in self-defense or else is a different question. Sandy Hook couldn't have happened with a GUN.
The main argument that you gun lovers have is just this..
"Please don't take away my guns because I love them."
You love your guns. Plain and simple. You love the fast clip exchange. You love the magazines – the size of it.
You can put it in burst mode. You can lay waste. but do you need those features?
For what? LOL
You can't defend those features but you can only defend your love for your guns.
And we shouldn't work on treating these ill people? Let's leave them to find other, maybe more destructive means to accomplish their insanity.
We give them another, healthier option. Instead of making these people feel isolated, let's promote education and treatment of mental illness.
If my point was to defend guns, then you would have an agreement. I am not a "gun-lover". I am a gun-owner. That's it.
My point was to deal with the cause, not the conveyance.
" Instead of making these people feel isolated, let's promote education and treatment of mental illness."
Everyone supports that. It still doesn't solve the problem. Stay on topic.
You realize you have just deflected the topic now onto "let's help those poor mental people".. a subconscious reaction on your part because you know inherently that the guns are at fault. I see that reaction is common. You're not interested on the topic of your guns. You're better off for others to stay off this topic aren't you?
That's a sad excuse, T. There will always be unstable people. As we've seen time and time again, these guns come into the wrong hands. There is no excuse whatsoever to own weapons that can do that kind of destruction so quickly.
@T: i agree with the right to bear arms, what most gun control advicates don't believe in is peoples right to bear military grade assault rifles or full automatic weapons; no people don't need a 50 caliber anything to hunt unless it's a fracking rhino they are targeting.
one hunting rifle, one pistol 45 cal or lower and one shotgun will be more than enough fire power to protect any home.
let's just add in the biometrics scanner on all firearms for child safety and to protect the owner also seeing most gun owners are shot by their own weapons by the criminals that discover them.
An interesting side note to this discussion would be the fact that mass shootings have spiked since about 1980, about the time President Reagan took much of the mental health safety net away.
Evil is in this world. God blessed this country very much but we have turned our back on Him and said there is no God and we've banned God from almost every part of our society. It was not God who DID these evil deeds, but He has allowed it. Why? Because as a country, we've told God to go away! When God leaves, what are we left with? Pure evil. If this country does not turn back to God, expect things to get a lot worse.
So are you delusional enough to claim the children were evil?
How can you believe such utter nonsense, Jane? You are totally biblewashed.
jane you are delusional....keep making up excuses for your fairy tale
Dont be ridiculous, of course I am not calling the children evil.
Thank you all for helping me to prove my point as to the state of our society. Based on some of the comments, its clear that there is lots of evil in the world.
I'm still waiting to hear why the children deserved to be IGNORED by God during the slaughter.
Jane I full heartily agree with you! Just look at now and the time before the flood and Noah's Ark.
Your god is a pr1ck.
And you know this...how? Did god meet you at the local bar and tell you all this? Or are you just putting words in his mouth, you blasphemer you....
So you are saying the country was honoring God when we were obliterating Native Americans, possessing black people as property and depriving Hispanic immigrants of a decent wage, etc. Should I go on? God helps those who try – governemnts don't try – they constantly fail.
Observer, you are really uneducated on God, stop trying to learn from others and learn for yourself, there is a real reason why things happen on Earth and blaming God is the wrong answer.
I am not God. I do not have all the answers. God allows things to happen for a reason. Perhaps our prior wakeup calls were ignored, as usual. You have to look at events in this life through the eyes of eternity. I dont know why i am wasting my time right now, throwing "pearls before swine." There is nothing I can say that will make you believe in God. You already have the answers and you just want to argue. God has given you over to your blindness and frankly, I feel sorry for you. I wont be responding again.
Jane, I am in complete agreement with you. God helps those who help themselves. This country has turned into a utter disgrace! People don't want to be held responsible for anything or to anyone. Especially our Lord and Savior. The meek shall inherit the earth in do time and every knee will bend and every head will bow and the ones that chose the narrow gate will become free and the ones that turned their back on our creator will reap what they have sown.
Sorry you had to run away and hide from answering questions.
You really don't have a clue about how things really work, do you? Those children have just inheritated a pain free hate free enternity in Heaven. They I am 100% certain, feel sorry for you! right about now. Do yourself a favor and pick up a bible( they're usually free at churches). Then go home pray to God to open your eyes to the truth (mean it) and then start reading your bible. If I were you I would start with 1 John. Love, a disciple of the Lord.
As a Jesus Follower myself i want to agree!, but if your in Heaven I doubt we will have any knowledge on the wickedness or feeling sad for someone hear on Earth since we will not have any pain or sorrow :). May God be with ALL of us!
Must resist urge to channel Dan Akroyd circa 1970's SNL . . .
Maybe so. However< I know the Lord cries for the lost souls. Maybe I mistake sorrow for pity?
Atheist here.you want an argument? Go talk to the other guy across the street in the other church.you need a shoulder to lean on? I'm right here.i don't believe in religion.i do not accept lying,stealing,cheating nor killing innocent people.atheists are not bad people.most are rather intelligent and capable of creating their own life.we don't exactly have to rely on an outside presence to cover our tracks.i take full responsibility for myself my family and those who I am capable of helping.rest easy you lovely ones.im sure you would have really made a difference in this world just like those leaders of all who protected you that day.and to anybody readings this let me say that crazy lookin mfer in Colorado needs a good hard death by torture.set an example.but the powerful leaders who make those decisions are to incapable of doing so.cowards do what is right and stop going to sleep at night knowing you had the oppurtunity to do it.
You are correct in that many religious people blame God when He is not to blame. On a side note, most of your comments speak towards independence from Him, when the true strength of a relationship with God is the fact that we choose to give up our independence for interdependence. We are stronger together exponentially, that we are alone. This is what those who believe receive if they are humble enough to accept it.
Further, I do find your anger quite sad. Torturing someone who suffers himself does not stop poor behavior; it only tortures a broken individual.
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.