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.
This is by far the most rational and logical editorial I have read on the 'Belief' section of CNN. Thank you!!!!!
I will quote the theologian Carl Truman as a response to those who want to use this sad event as a hammer to break down the Christian faith.
"This is one reason why I find atheism so implausible. If (Bertrand) Russell could dismiss Christianity in part because he had met so few Christians who seemed to take the faith seriously, I consider atheists to be much the same. Do not tell me that we are a random bunch of atoms and then try to impose your myths on me. Do not create a morality in your own image and then try to give it some objective, transcendent status. A random world does not give privileged status to the moral myths of an upper class English proto-hippy. Do not tell me that serial killers are morally worse than aid workers. At best, you might say that you find them personally more distasteful."
Truman was not speaking about the murder of the children in Conn. but about a recent debate he had with an atheist over fullfillment in life. I think his point still holds. On what rational basis does a man (or a society) tell us we are at base a collection of random atoms and then cry afoul when one group of atoms does something to a bunch of other groups? Inconsistency is the only reason and that is at least one case I am glad you atheists are so inconsistent otherwise you would end up sounding like Nietchze and have no compassion for those who were murdered by a "distasteful act by a bag of atoms".
This critique I believe strikes at the heart of atheism- a faith founded on two basic beliefs- 1. There is no god. 2. I hate him. This also points at the problem with most atheists- they simply are terrible at acting like one.
carl truman – like most theologians predicates all his sermons on presuppositions.
virtually everything he posits is just rubbish.
atheism is simply a lack of belief in imaginary men in the sky – nothing more.
as for "hating" gods – that's absurd – as gods do not exist.
hating religion on the other hand is the hallmark of anti-theism.
i approve of anti-theism – wholeheartedly.
cha cha cha
The Universally-Formed Multiple Cosmos of the Living Triune Manifestation
We all live amid two chasms of cosmological orders. We have the inner-cosmos and the outer-cosmos. The inner-cosmos is atomically made and is the universal construct of the outer-cosmos. One could not have an outer cosmos without there being an inner cosmos. Both are synonymously of the same natures. It stands to reason the inner-cosmos was made first and the outer-cosmos came into being only after the passive finalization of the inner-cosmos was made near complete. The inner-cosmos is transcendent and fixed while the outer-cosmos is ascendant and malleable in their dualities natures.
The third cosmos is of life itself made from the inner-cosmos living upon the terrestrial planetary faces of the celestial outer-cosmos. This third cosmos is the celled cosmos or the cellular cosmologic orders duly ordained of and by and even for all life forms to be made anywhere cellular life can gain a foothold to evolve and gain in the abundant natures toward the evolution of its structures ever evolving in base pairings. Without the two main Cosmos coming into existence; living cellular cosmologies could not ever exist.
The trinity or threefold nature of chasm cosmologies is being one of the greatest and grandest gestures ever to have been formulated! To say God had nothing to do with such a feat of cosmologic inter-dependencies seems an infallible congruency inconsistent for one to say or think otherwise. To say the nature of God is to keep inflating the physical elements of the outer cosmos while deflating the essence needs for the inner-cosmos leaves one to wonder about the third cosmological construct’s real nature for having been created. Why then is there cellular cosmos of living cosmologies and when did such life become established?
The history of multifaceted cosmological expansionism within celestial symmetries comes from the terrestrial complacencies of planetary regularities and solarized objectivism wherever the abundance of inner cosmologies coalesces to form stars, planets and moons among many other fragmented structures within the spatial confines of a universally formed Cosmos.
Life, upon the celestial shorelines of the terrestrially compliant are as a biologic ‘cellularistic’ cosmological constant, and were ever formed and are continually forming seemingly unto forever as well placed living conglomerations in naturalisms arcades of wondrous cavalcades marching in steps of melancholy tributes to God upon the most high cosmos of universally formidable formations on the highest of unimaginable grounds!
Anvil You never clearly addressed the central issues stated by Scott. You simply called it rubbish. From where does the atheist derive their morals. Is it selectivity picked and chosen from the Judeo Christian ethic system? (Without the God) Stoicism? On what grounds would you want to say that Religion is evil is there are no absolutes? It seems to me that you advocate a 'soft' form of atheism rather than a 'hard' form that really takes into consideration the implications of there being no God or ultimate reality.
Your tributary to self and selfishness words in cha cha cha is not only rancid but is also a travesty of idiotic individualism!
AnViL As an atheist myself I must state your ability to get to this issues stated by Scott fail. Atheists are supposed to be critically minded and able to clearly understand another's position before making critical evaluation. I find your responses rather embarrassing. Simply resorting to insults smacks of immaturity. Maybe you need a few more birthdays to realize this. – Peace
Oh my gosh. Educate yourself. Start with the evolution of altruism. Are uou saying the only humans with morals are Christians? There was morality long before christianity.
For the atheist fools. Are you looking for the reason why these things happen? Simple. We are not in heaven, we are on earth. If earth was heaven already we would be all gods, right?
Ah yes they are fools for not drinking your bat-s*** crazy kool-aide magical man in the sky nonsense. Yeah, they're the crazy ones.......keep telling yourself that........
Nice try for the easy answer there. It's wrong. But nice try.
I am an athiest, but I am no fool, and before I die, I'm converting.
Just imagine: one goes to heaven, where there are maybe 1 million teenage virgin chicks that unfortunately (or fortunately) died before being able to enjoy the 'fruits' of earth.
There are NO NFL games as distractions, and NO LAWS. And NO ONE gets married. And God Himself enjoys watching a little hanky-panky (see: Adam/Eve).
I am no fool, and I will break Wilt the Stilts '10,000' record within a month.
So, athiests, it's easy to understand being an athiest while we're allive, as we are not the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz. BUT, once you get nearer to death, remember Wilt the Stilt, and remember: NO LAWS! Hee haw!
Seems the author considers himself to be so rightous that he should threaten God and demand an accounting for allowing freewill. The same freewill that allows the author to convey his own hate in this commentary. Evil is a privation...go look up the word.... a lack of doing what is good. And that lack, in direct disobediance to the will of God , is called evil. How far from God and the obligation to do good is not even conceivable in this act of evil.So the author is so consumed by his own hidden guilt that he blames God rather than man for our own actions. None of us are responsible for our own actions, God should stop us shoudln't he. Let us thak God that He is there to comfort the parents and hopefully revoke the freewill of this moron to keep him a far from their grief as possible.
Thank you, Stephen Prothero, for uttering so many of my feelings much better than I ever could.
clueless and arrogant points, mr Protero
I agree...I am soooo tired of people looking for a reason for this other than the fact that we have some (actually a lot) of lame a $ $ legislators bought and paid for by the NRA.
God is a laisse fairist. He created the universe and left it alone to evolve to where it is today. God does not control our behavior and does not have a plan for us. The gunman did not do God's work. I do believe in hell, however, and believe everyone will be judged by their actions on earth. It will not be sufficient to be a "beleiver" to escape one's after death judgement. Mr Huckabee should be more concerned by his salvation and let me and others be concerned by their salvation. The world may need more belief in God, but it definetely needs less religion
I stopped reading at: 'Abraham was 175 when he died.'
Common Sense fail.
Well, in all fairness, he is quoting scripture there, rather than claiming he actually believes it himself. It's kind of the point he's making.
This sick, disturbed young man kills 20 innocent little children. That is an act of almost unimaginable evilness. But, it is NOTHING compared to the hundreds or thousands of beautiful little first born Egyptian children that the Christian god murdered during the Passover. Not only that, he did so to punish the Pharoh, over whom these poor murdered first born had no control. AND after he himself had hardened Pharoh's heart. What an evil bast.ard the Christian god is.
What a sick, pathelogical, murdering bast.ard!
That’s the problem with still trying to believe Iron Age mythology and its attendant morality in the 21st Century. Your faith is so marbled with inconsistencies as to be rendered nonsensical.
If it's in a book full of imaginary stories then you have nothing to worry about. The event never happened.
you should be careful and respectful how you talk about God. He is alive and He owns it all. you live because He gave you life and sustains it all. Be reverent towards Him and towards believers. i dont call you b...d for what you think or write or say.
Everybody on earth is here to be tested.These unfortunate kids will be back to be tested in some other place.Since they were on this planet they will be back becouse they had not enugh time to be tested.
Why do you think we are here to be "tested"/ Don't tell me it is in the bible because men wrote the bible.
My question to you is, why do you think there is a reason we are here?
The bible in the most important parts is absolutely precise.When adam and eve eaten the apple that was forbiten to them imotions of the God and aditute of Him passed to them.It was like they took LSD wich lasts for ever.So God who is not allmighty find the way of the earth test and jesus and the revelation.Everybody on earth has a servant of God that holds his book of life.Life on earth is random.God interfiars only when it is important for his plan ,the day of judjment.
I just watched Dr. Drew on CNN in an interview with Wolf Blitzer (4:25 p.m., December 18, 2012), and he said he heard "the most beautiful thing" as an explanation of how to talk to kids about this tragic event. And it was pretty much exactly what is in Item #2 above of what not to say. He is such a quack.
This is joke of a column. "Covering faith angles". Beeyess. This guy is face is here because he doing the dirty job for antichristians. Guess what, Christians will take care of themselves. We woul dnot want your two cents.
Everyone who keeps quoting the Bible, you realize that proves you have not one original thought in your head. Walked away from religion when I realized how controling and how much you have to conform to be accepted. I would rather see God in the people I meet than in a backbiting twofaced congreation in a church.
That's why I am a 'closeted Christian' and will not set foot in a manly built church! The true churches are all our bodies that God and His kinds did build and take residence deeply inside our body made churches.
You miss the point. God has put us all here to grow and learn. Sometimes, things that are negative happen and we grow and learn through those negative human experiences.
Death isn't a horrible bad thing according to the bible or it would seem to God. We as humans are the ones who put such a negative conotation with death...as "the end". We as humans have made this conclusion up.
Believing that their is nothing after death, that there are no consiquences to our actions and how we treat one another...that there is no one we have to answer to ...is the easy way out. Its a very childish, immature approach to life, and really a selfish one that sounds like something a child would come up with "No one is the boss of me!"
Just remember...we are not being tested, but deal with good AND bad in our lives to grow and learn. You are not the person you are because of adversity, you are the person you are because of how you DEAL with adversity in your life. That is what makes us different as human beings...how we REACT to good AND BAD.
The God of Creations did make all things known,
All the animals and us and even all plants ever are so grown.
Creations evolve and thru distances t r a v e r s e d,
Life in its abundances can never be r e h e a r s e d.
Love God and to all life, be ever gentle and kind,
For you see life of the living God, in nurtures, can never rewind.
Our God knows of all our pains,
Our God loves yet He refrains.
My God is your God too,
Your God is my God ever so true.
Their God is our God one and the same,
God cares for all creatures even the lame.
Argh-mazing! What about India, where majority of the population are Hindus? What about China, where majority of the population worship money? Why God cried and shed a tear or tears after the shooting rather than doing something before this happens? I've seen Huckabee with this outfit talking about this shooting somewhere on the Internet. In it, he said God turned up in the form of shedding a tear or tears (I don't care how many drops he shed.) and sending police and ambulances AFTER THE SHOOTING. With an intelligence like his, he should live the rest of his life as a farmer in Somalia.
It was the tooth fairy's will.
No, don't say that because there is no such thing as 'god'.... otherwise, he would come down and intervene when something like this happens.
Except a lunitic with an assault rifle can kill 27 people. A lunatic with a knife cannot.
Why not? It might take him longer but it can still happen, can it not?
It soo true hearing this crap. This isnt gods will it was the will of a crazy man. Just wish people would saying all the crap!! If it was your family would you be saying that??
Agreed Prothero. Well said. Now, just tell me who exactly was talking to you about the above mentioned items? truely? dis someone came and told you these things? Did you really get a "report" that some pastor was saying these things? No, definitely no. So , now what is the matter? You are creating a non issue to start pounding on Christians. Looks like you dodn't have any problem subscribing to "Jewish" belief, but is very disrespectful of Christian belief? What kind of column is this/ All you do is sit and write provacative information on a rather benign religion. In many countries they would have taken you to court.
let us see if your theology works Mr Prothero, your tongue and fist must be very strong.
The absurdity of the comments posted here make me as sad as hearing the news of the shootings last week. Somewhere in our attempt to find someone to blame, we have forgotten the reason we are reading this website today. Your selfishness and ignorance is alive and well in each and every one of these messages posted here today. I believe in God and you don't. Fine – thats your choice and your right but it's also my choice and my right. You will live your life accordingly and so will I. In the end, we both get what we deserve from the live we led here. Spend it being hateful and ignorant or hopeful and faithful. Again your choice, given you by a wonderful creator and redemmer.
My choices in life have nothing to do with your god – for it is not my god.
The personal god you believe in doesn't exist. If there were an "all powerful" deity, 20 first grade students would be alive today. All of humankind's religions are based on mythology. For example, not one of the 27 writing in the NT were written by an eyewitness. They were written decades after Jesus death by people that lived outside of Palestine. None were even written in the language Jesus spoke.
BBolton, please have the courtesy to not force your God on the rest of us.
You -start- with the assumption that you are right and everyone else is wrong, then complain that our responses sadden you? Seriously. Epic Fail.
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.