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.
Reblogged this on The World Outside of Yourself and commented:
Very interesting perspective....not quite sure if I agree, but thought provoking perspective nonetheless.
All of the above are true. In fact #1 alone explains every tragedy known to man. Offended? Too proud for heaven. Do consider the absolute sovereignty of God.
CNN .... Are you serious? Is this intelligent blogging? Do you see the respondent comments? Your a news agency. Your responsibility is to report and possibly encourage comments that enrich or help people understand the world we live in. Not support a rallying cry against God or Christians.
I'm sorry, "1234". CNN is, in fact, serious.
Where did you come up with THAT mission statement? Since when is it CNN's job to stroke your ego?
Don't you know the media's job is to sell add space? You don't realize these bloggers line CNN's pockets. They don't care about what is being said on here, just as long as it drives traffic.
And the village idiot has just been allowed to write this for CNN......
Perhaps the three greatest movements in history, which, in the cu.mulative, mark the emergence of the Western World from the Dark Ages are the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Enlightenment. All three are defined by their rejection of religion and religious dogma in favor of science, free thought and reason.
If religion (as opposed to morality) was anything other than empty promises meant to sate human insecurities, would we not expect movements TOWARD greater religiosity to be predominant in World history and viewed in a positive light?
But no, the Christian sky-fairy is in full retreat. Science and knowledge have flushed it out of all the unknowns it used to inhabit. Our telescopes have driven it back to the Big Bang and our paleontologists back to the origins of life on Earth. It exists now only in the few dark corners science is yet to illuminate. The mind of the unthinking Christian is probably the darkest.
I pray for you that you come to know. One day you will know but if it is after you die, it will be to late and you will not have an advocate. It is truly sad how many are deceived.
It's "too," Holly. And you know nothing at all about what happens when we die. You believe. That's all.
The threat of eternal punishment for not believing coupled with the promise of eternal reward for belief works best on small children. It must be frustrating to people like Holly that this has no affect on free thinking adults.
Religion is the biggest scam humanity has ever concocted,no god had anything to do with the horrible tragedy that happened in newtown,just as no god decides if it rains or shines.People are responsible for their own actions.My deepest sympathy for the parents that were affected by this horrific act.
So glad someone wrote and published these thoughts. The six statements listed here are incredibly insulting to what people are going through, and just plain unhelpful from any point of vew. He's right, no matter what your beliefs, or lack of them, are, this article is simlple, to the point, unassailable logic.
CNN should use Facebook for comments, anyone can be a mighty Lion when hiding behind the Internet. Step up and show who you really are.
And why would that help?
I would just like to warn you all who post on here.
This site is full of Atheist who have no more common sense then to argue like bullies on a school playground.
They cannot have a thought based debate because they know what they believe is false.
Their beliefs are harder to believe than any major religion on this earth.
No matter what you write or say they will spin it to sound like you are crazy and make their selves sound smarter.
They are not even worth the time it takes to write out the comment(s).
These Atheist are suppose to be all smarter than everyone else and have all the answers to the world.
However they are all just scared little people that do not have the guts to even try.
It takes more time, and faith to believe in something besides your self.
That is just too much for them, they rather be lazy and try to attack other people with their stupid remarks.
Now please note that not all Atheist are like this, most believe in what they do, and live their lives.
They do not care if you and I believe in God or anything else.
I am a Christian and I believe every person should have the right to believe in anything they want.
It is when small minded people like these posters on here try to bully and attack others.
Most of the time they do not even have enough knowledge to even hold a job.
That is why they are able to set on here and post attack after attack, they have nothing better to do.
Also they have nothing good to give to mankind.
So don't waste your time with posting on here or any other forum where atheist lurk.
It is just throwing good thought and knowledge at less than knowledgeable people.
Shake the sand from your feet and move on to people who are worth debating with.
If yoiu were God would you have done NOTHING while the children were slaughtered?
Yes or no?
Amen, Tim! My thoughts exactly. There is a big war on God and they will use any situation to tear God down and Christians. It is like blowing in the wind to discuss things with them. All we can do is plant seeds and pray for them. In the end they meet their maker that they have denied and they will not have an advocate. They do not want to know God or the true God.
Well.....they believe in replacing school prayer and giving society Holywood's violent films or giving kids violent cartoons.
They believe in murdering millions of unborn children and then blaming guns.
They believe in spending other peoples money.
They are a bunch of liberal hypocrits, including CNN, CBS, ABC, NB and PBS.
I am sorry you are just trying to attack me and others with stupid questions.
God is God and he gives each person their own free will.
God was there that day, more could have died yet they did not.
Don't forget two people did survive.
If you have no faith, then you are unable to understand the way things work.
Sorry, but that is the truth.
So what is yoiur answer to the simple yes or no question? If you were God, would you have let the children die?
@Observer "If yoiu were God would you have done NOTHING while the children were slaughtered?
Yes or no?"
=>If God stopped every evil act, would anything at all happen on earth?
I'm sure you heard of Free Will and that this world is not heaven. Question for you: Should God intercede in really bad events like this OR all bad events no matter how big or small?
So you are still stumped?
I'd bet those "immoral" atheists and agnostics" would have a very quick answer. Ooops.
Why not ask this question about the 20 children who were killed that day in Africa because there was no food for them? What if God is bigger than our westernized human ethics? What if He is holy and decides to take life? Are you really going to throw stones at Him for it? What if what exists after this life, is better than this life? Then would God be so terrible to take life of the innocent? If you want life from Him, just ask Him. He will show you the truth.
Chad dodges the question again.
What an eel.
Chad- "If God stopped every evil act, would anything at all happen on earth?"
Which is to say God is willing to sacrifice a few children for the sake of a little action?
As I have said you are just trying to get a rise out of people by asking this question.
I would never put myself in the place of God.
God does not need me to tell him how to think or act.
It's pretty pathethic that Christians on here can't decide if they would save the children if they were God.
It's all hyoocrisy. Atheists and agnostics wouldn't hesitate to save the kids if there was a God and they were it.
Tim – I think you forgot one important characteristic in your statement below...imagination.
"It takes more time, and faith to believe in something besides your self."
Atheists have more faith than Christians and they have less hope. Doesn't sound like a good position.
So Tim, since as you say: "...I am a Christian and I believe every person should have the right to believe in anything they want." How is it that you're so obviously upset about atheists posting here? And that's "atheists", it's plural. You are nothing more than another so-called Christian who only wants to see, hear, and talk to those who would agree with you. Sorry, but that's not the Christian way as I understand it. It's the rhetoric of hypocrites.
This guy is a blubbering idiot. If he got paid to write this drivel they should get thier money back. Ironic, it may be his type of thinking that got society where it is today.
=>that is a really phenomenally incoherent statement, it makes no sense in the Christian viewpoint.
Because he is an atheist dedicated to destroying the moral fabric of this country, Prothero attempts to convince us that a grieving parent would rather believe (falsely) that their child is not simply ceased to exist, vs the truth that the child is now in a vastly better place being comforted by Jesus Christ.
The death of a Christian, or a person who has not reached the age whereby the God of Israel holds them responsible for choosing/ignoring salvation, is enormously difficult on those left behind, but not so for the person themselves.
once again I have to ask. How is it possible to become a "religion scholar" and not understand basic Christian theology?
Nothing eternal awaits anyone.
Prothero is the one getting paid to write books and articles and to teach at Boston U. You? Not so much.
Gee, I wonder why.
"that is a really phenomenally incoherent statement, it makes no sense in the Christian viewpoint."
That's ok...the christian viewpoint makes no sense
What a pompous ass you are, Chad. If a better place awaits children why isn't it your mission to send them there too?
No kidding. Why are you so opposed to abortion, Chad, if the souls of all the fetuses go straight to heaven anyway?
@Some assembly required " If a better place awaits children why isn't it your mission to send them there too?"
@Chad "spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ does exactly that."
Chad- "spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ does exactly that."
But that's not even necessary by your logic, Chad. Send them on to Jesus before they are accountable.
@Some assembly required "But that's not even necessary by your logic, Chad. Send them on to Jesus before they are accountable"
=>God is sovereign, not me. It is His creation, not mine. They are His children, not mine. It is His universe, not mine.
Even though I do believe that children go to Heaven if they die before the age of accountability, I have no right whatsoever to take it upon myself to end a human life that God started.
It's not your right you think, Chad. But surely it is the best thing you could do for children. Once they pass the age of accountability quite a few will ultimately go to hell.
And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being. Genesis 9
Nobody's saying that YOU have to have an abortion, Chad. Just that you shouldn't be so worried about anyone else having one.
Understand? Not really, Chad. Your lifeblood is more important than the eternity that awaits our children? Chad, you could save maybe 20 or more.
Ah, there's Chad. Chin up, Chad. We'll get you over this God of Abraham thing. Put down that knife and step away from your son. There's a ram in the thicket if you need it.
Dont get it yet? Not that I blame you, as an atheist you probably have absolutely no exposure to the bible at all.
God has told us not to murder anyone.
That's an interesting statement, Chad. The reason I have not killed anyone is that I don't want to. Your reason is that God said something to you?
@Some assembly required, LOL. You need better bait :-)
This is poetry.. you read my mind and spoke for me. Thank you :)
i think god put us here to live the best we can for him and some day he will be back to judge..if we was for him did the things he ask us to do..then we will be saved..all kids will go to heaven. just remember. the devil is on the lose to. and he puts it in people.s head its ok to kill..but god says no... all i can say is..live for god and some day you will go to heaven. just do gods will.
I believe I have figured it all out. We can solve a lot of our problems with these simple acts. First we cut out all defense spending and let the patriots with the .223 and .other caliber guns keep all the bad guys away because they say that is what the right to bear arms is about. Without all the money we waste on defense we can pay off the national debt in a few years. We also wont need all the Police and Sheriffs and other lawmen because the bad guys will all be dead. We wont need as many churches because our prayers will all be answered when the bad guys are no longer a threat. When we get to heaven we wont have to look at all the little children floating around on bloody clouds because by the time we all die of old age or boredom all the blood will be dried up and the clouds will be snow white once more. The sale of AK-47s and other guns and the ammo needed to shoot those guns will create millions of jobs and we will have everything we could wish for. Isn't that a wonderful idea or what.
You only believe in prayer to your particular god, which was chosen not by study of all the thousands of gods, but merely by the accident of your birthplace.
My reply seems to have been entirely mis-located by the system
You have it all figured out, don't you pal? You've got a lot to learn about appropriate context to use when writing articles. People are burying their children today. Do you think they want to hear you describing the pre-crime scene as "shoot bullets into screaming 6 and 7 year olds". Besides that, maybe you're not into religion at all. Your article clearly displays your animosity towards any reference to god. But have some respect to the people that are relying on faith to get through an extremely sad situation, such as the one as Sandy Hook and other tragedies that occur everyday. And lastly, get a new profile picture. You look like a total creep.
I think he's right on. Hurts huh.
I agree Brian. I too think he looks like a creep. He has that worldly anti-God look. There are many that look this way these days.
Why don't you post your picture, Holly? I'm sure you're a real beaut.
When faced with a destructive incident of this magnitude, it's no surprise at all that people either embrace or reject God, question humanity, debate gun laws, or review and reconsider their own beliefs. This is an earth-shattering, life-changing event for many people. This article's dimwit author declaring what others should or shouldn't say or feel is pathetic. People should say or feel what they want. So sorry, Stephen Prothero, for you having to listen to people grapple with this nightmare in their own ways. But hey, its a self-serving journalistic opportunity to create a list of your own rights and wrongs with regard to human response to this tragedy. Never mind the atrocity, just see how you can criticize human response to it. Nice job, tool.
Bravo, well said.
Just know that God is all knowing and powerful. To fear God is wisdom. Jesus died on the cross having no sin. These kids were innocent but they died because of someone else siN not cause of heaven.
You can sure tell this author does not understand what most Christians are saying and definitely does not know God. It would be like blowing in the wind to debate this with atheists or professed seculars believers (people who profess their belief but are not a child of God the Bible speaks of. Those who are not His will not "hear". The word hear in the Bible means to understand.
These are hard words. Who can hear them?
these are soft words... can you hear me now?
Nonsense. I've heard Christians utter these same things time and time again. Prothero is right. You don't like what he's saying because you're one of the people he's pointing to.
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.