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.
Christian here too. The shooter had free will and used that to slaughter. The author has free will and has used that to disrespect God with his ill chosen words. I've followed CNN for years. This has me pushed to the edge and ready to delete all bookmarks to its pages. My free will helps me chose intelligent encouraging peaceful people to want to get my information from. These families need to know their children and mine are in heaven with a loving compassionate heavenly father. What is this article offering in hope? Nothing!
I guess the blogger hasn't lost a child and doesn't need the reassurance that some of us do.
Freewill? So, that means god is powerless? If he knows what's going to happen, and supposedly he does, but allows someone elses "freewill" to be carried out, instead of his will...that renders him powerless. And, what about the freewill of the children, their parents...their freewill to live their lives as planned, has been crushed.
The author is giving an opinion. This isn't a news article, as anyone with a lick of sense would know. I happen to agree with him; I heard people say some of these awful things when I lost someone. It was NOT comforting. It was hurtful and demeaning to my grief, as if I shouldn't be sad someone died because he was no longer suffering and was "in a better place."
If you don't like what he said, then write to CNN. Nobody is reading your comments here, and I doubt anyone will care whether you read here or not.
Proto hero is the offspring of the educational governmental complex. Much social intercourse happens at their parties.
This business of freewill being the excuse for god's inaction is pathetic. God could have had the gun jamb, and that would not have interfered with the killers freewill, as freewill only refers to the ability to make decisions, not what happens afterward. God supposedly kept the sun from setting to allow the Israelites to continue with slaughtering their enemy, so why hold back for this?
Exactly, to a poster here. The evil is the result of sin. It is not God's will for man to sin and to be evil but he allows us free will. This is the church age to bring people to Christ. There will be a time where there is no evil. You have to also realize that God himself has taken life on earth. What do you say to that? No one has a right to question God. God is who determines what is just not man. Man has to humble themselves to want to no the true God, not create their own God.
What sin did the children commit? Did God have a hissy fit about others and so killed 20 kids?
Obsurd!! We have no right to question god? So why pray then? I mean...if he already knows what's going to happen, why do Xtians ask him to change his mind all the time via prayer?
I think writing this article may have been a good way to help you to begin the healing process. As much as expression of the ideas refuted in the article is, for those making them.
The same fiction writers who created the christian god created the devil. They are a tag team, one could not exist without the other. The devil absolves one from responsibility – he made you do evil. Then if you pay up and follow what the church tells you to do, you are saved by god. Until the devil makes you sin again. Wash, rinse, repeat. Humanism is the only way to break free of the cycle.
A very simplistic characterization of highly-complex theological ideas and, i.m.o., an inappropriate time to bring this up. This seems very opportunistic to me. Find some other news event to bring up the theories of your faith in Atheism.
The evolutionists claim mankind is 400,000 years old. Isn't humanism a little late in the game? You are just grasping at straws.
I dont know anyone who is not angry and upset right now. And if you are a Christian (as I am), God is perfectly capable of handling the anger and frustration expressed. Most of the points Prothero makes, I am in total agreement with. I am disgusted with sanctimonious "christians" that make absurd claims of God's judgement or punishment. There are disasters and events across the globe – not centered on any country or location. This was an evil act carried about by a mentally ill young man and enabled by his access to guns. A virtually exact attack occurred in China this month and about 20 children were stabbed but none died (some were still in the hospital, last I read). That is the difference that guns make. It is time for all of us to accept that we need to address mental illness and access to guns in this country. I will pray for everyone that lost a child or friend that they find the strength to move forward and find a way to live.
This is attack first mode. This godless writer knows very well that the person who committed the heinous crime w ould not have thought about Jesus for a second. If at all his heart should have been darkened like Judas after Passover. Talking very respectfully of Jewish custom (and putting down anything Christian) Prothero should know what he does is a sin as well ie using your gods name in vain.
"2Cr 11:14 And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light."
Osama and Taliban killed in the name of religion . They made that clear but the west has tried hard to believe it was about politics .
also for everyone that doesn't know this an "Assault Rifle" is a firearm with a selector between Fully Automatic/3-shot burst, semi-automatic, and safety. I think that you also forget that almost all these people screaming for this and sending American Soldiers to die each year and return home with no jobs and a huge psycal cliff looming right now should just all forfeit their saleries and travel expense funds this coming election. You want to keep people safe if you have a Mentally Ill/Mentally Handicapped Child have a gun safe that they don't know the combination to as well as trigger locks. If we had less magazine capacity He'd have just brought more magazines. I think you should all know that the percentage of victims killed with AR-15's, SKS's, AK-47's, AK-74's, is the lowest the highest amount of people each year killed with guns are by 1 caliber of gun the .22LR be it pistol or rifle counts for almost 70% of people killed each year. While the rest just make up a short percentage since there are hundreds of calibers of firearms this is just laughable. I find the Media Sensationalizing this repugnant! I find the Parent/Parents that put their kids on tv knowing they knew those children and adults lack of care, corcern, and well-being of the child disgusting. Geez my bestfriend lost his little brother or sister or teacher or principle but jeez let's just slap a camera in their face and a mic in their hand. You disgust me highly you truely honestly do. Also look at the weapons that surround all out officials if they can have automatic weapons with high capacity magazines in fully automatic than so can I in semi-automatic. I've found and have used these guns in day to living applications for hunting. Isn't that amazing. You need to grow up American's stop acting like the spoiled children your parents made you into to and it's time for us to give jobs to returning soldiers by having them guard our schools the police trap them inside where they kill people if you have soldiers armed stationed inside they see a gun or a knife. Executed and save the tax payers a lot of money and a lot of lives. Israel had 1 school shooting/hostage situation and they armed their teachers they didn't blame the guns they blamed their efficiency to act as well as not having people trained to handle weapons with them inside the schools! To those that lost People I'm,sorry but a gun is a tool nothing more it's intent is nothing more and nothing less than the intent of the person that has it in their hands at the moment. Also you took away our "Assault Rifles" in the 1930's without a special stamp and benefits we can't have them which is unjust.. If we had less magazine capacity they'd have just carried more. These sick people thrive off the fact that they know that they will be remembered forever now by doing this so please ARM OUR TEACHERS LIKE ISRAEL DID!!!
Asinine. Completely asinine.
How can a parent trust a teacher with their children and not trust them with a gun?
This is NOT true. Israel has very restrictive gun laws and does NOT allow guns in schools. This is an internet myth. In fact, their gun laws are for more strict than America and gun ownership is a fraction of the ours.
School shootings occur with low probability. Teachers jumping the rails and attacking students are somewhat more common events. Now arm the teachers. Are the children safer now?
Wow. Do all gun owners write this poorly? That's scary. We have low-IQ people with guns out there?
I'll admit I wasn't writing a litterary masterpiece I was writing fast cause the 1 I wrote before was to long. All I know is scoff at me but I'll admit I'd like to see returning US Soldiers with no jobs protecting our schools as long as they don't have PTSD ofcourse. But still there is good and bad this is my view and I don't particularly care what anyone thinks of it. I think that the whole "OMG GUNS ARE BAD" is the most stupid thing on Earth. They are tools intent is with the person behind it. I see no one took on how he could have used a hammer and knife and done the same thing, Intellectuals you can pretend to be. I live threw the year hunting and fishing and what goes in my freezer and get's canned by me is what I eat each year. So I'm not going to waste my time with gramatical errors and if I misspelled a few words I think I can live with it. I also love how you all don't know the statistics on the gun type and calibers used in murders/mass-shootings in the US. So I'll live with it call me whatever you want because I could careless what any of you do!
Observer who ask the question what we would do if we were God. God is God. We have to understand that there is sin in this world and until God conquers it in His time there will be sufferings. You have to understand that you are looking at it through human eyes and a human with no belief in God and who He is. Even Christians can suffer at the hands of evil. The good news is, there is salvation and guess who paid the price for that....God Himself. There is life after death and we are to look to that. Many will not be saved but God has offered salvation to us. This is the church age but once Christ returns he will conquer satan and all evil. I suggest you read scripture to understand who God is. No one should question God. He is the one who determines what is just not man. There is no way you will ever understand unless you want to KNOW HIM.
So, if he died for our sins, but 3 days later came back to life...did that break the deal?
Blah, blah, blah.
SInce yoiu were completely stumped by a "yes" or "no" question that atheists and agnostics can easily answer, how about an answer. Yes or No?
You forgot one Stephen....7. What do you expect in a country that permits abortion.
Read the Bible sometime. NO mention of "abortion".
So if humans allow abortions, then god just shrugs his head and says..."ok, I approve the slaughter of 20 kindergardener's while you're at it"? Your reasoning is bizarre.
i Dave you brought up a very important subject and i have not heard any one else talking about this thank you
This agrument is nonsense. There are numerous countries around the world that outlaw abortion that have had massacres and huge disasters. Does that mean God is punishing countries that outlaws abortion?
dave's one of those people who give all Christians a bad name. Just like Fvckabee.
No religious pontifications should diminish the horror and anger we feel about this terrible event. The victims, like everyone else who no longer breathes, will be cremated or buried underground forever to decompose. And that's all folks. Don't try to soften the blow. Let's expend all our words and ideas to prevent this from happening again.
Truer words were never spoken. I was raised in believing in Jesus Christ, a compassionate and loving soul, who we as Christians should try to emulate. I've never understood those that believe in a punishing God, since I've always thought that that was the devil's role.
Great article. Couldn't have said it better myself. Nice god you've got there, great guy.
This is not God's will. God's will was a sinless world of life, joy, and peace. Death, murder, hate, sickness, and pain are fruits of sin. There are certain questions and things that happen that our finite minds cannot comprehend. We cannot understand or have an answer to everything an infinite God allows or is in control of. All things can work together for good if we trust God.
"This is not God's will. God's will was a sinless world of life, joy, and peace."
So this "God" cannot even do his own will, eh? If that were his will, it would be.
If your scenario were true then he created a shoddy being... and knew it would fail before he did it.
It wasn't God's will but rather Satan's will. Forces of evil exist and are alive and well.
Isaiah 47:5 "I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things."
Your god is the creator of all things...therefore, he created evil. That is not even debatable. The bible is very clear on that.
I am a christian, and I do not think that the slaughter of little children was God's will. Good things come from God. Evil things do not. I think a very sick individual committed a heinous crime, and for that he will stand in judgement before God. God is a loving god, but it was never promised that our lives would be easy here on this earth. I believe that the innocent and the good go to heaven to be with our Lord when their lives end here. People always want to blame God for the bad things that happen in life.
Garbage article dude. The whole point of religion, although some may say control, is that there is a higher power that people can turn to for comfort in times such as this. You are using scientific rationalization to something people may say to a loved one to offer condolences. Yes, this may be a bad way to make sense of this but it is the only way. I understand taking action after such an incident, but some of these statements are knee-jerk reactions...kinda like what you are doing in this article.
No, it ISN'T "the only way" and those ridiculous plat itudes are not comforting to people who have lost a loved one. They are insulting, rude, and thoughtless, like many zealots.
If someone told me that my child was in a better place because their god "called them home," I'd want to strangle him.
Tom Tom is 100% spot on...Those meaningles, thoughtless statements are cruel.
I agree with Tom and Edweird on this one on both views!
Things I don't want to hear from ignorant individuals like this author:
"If God is all-knowing and all-powerful, why did He let this happen?"
Everything that happens is God's will, not because he wants it to happen, but because he gave man the ability to choose their course. He does not force your hand. The point of sending His son to die on the cross was not to take evil out of everyone's lives. It was to give you the option to know Him. People who think humans are capable of being the kind of spiritual/enlightened being without God should be questioning their beliefs. You mean the same kind that shoot children? Or how about the young girls who have babies only to dump them in the trash? Yeah, I'd say we live in a real enlightened society.
"Everything that happens is God's will, not because he wants it to happen...."
Excuse me? I'm stunned by the illogic of that statement; it's one of the stupidest sentences I've seen in this thread, and that's saying something!
Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition and we'll all stay free. halleluha brother. let er rip.
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.