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.
Mr Prothero .... what about Obama who addressed the gathering in Newtown CT as follows, "God has called them all HOME"? Why showing only Huckabee's photo and picking on him?
Looks like nutcases like Prothero only have issues when the Conservatives talk about God but no issues when a liberal Obama says exactly the same thing, "God has called them ALL HOME".
Just a bias and hatred of conservatives ... that's all! Just a visceral & irrational gut reaction!! JUST IRRATIONAL HATRED!
After all, Obama is saying the EXACT same thing? Is he not? Hypocrisy much?
So it seems that when Obama talks about God it does not offend atheists but when Conservatives talk about God it somehow offends atheists? What hypocrisy?
Is it because you think Obama is God and he is talking about himself when he is talking about God? You just cant take it because conservatives talk about the real God and not a false IDOL? Is that it??
Obama's faith bothers the hell out of me. I think he was wrong to use his position as our secular leader to deliver a religious response to this tragedy.
Obama and Huckabee _did not_ say the same thing, not in word or spirit. Not even remotely. And when you understand this, then you will understand why he mentioned Huckabee and not Obama.
at kokopelli, funny you say that,
god didn't want to withhold knowledge from anyone. if you have little children you don't show them all kinds of
pictures of the opposite s-ex nak-ed and teach them all about se-x before an appropriate age. well the tree of
knowledge in the bible goes far beyond our limited minds. you are dealing with eternal laws and gods eternal mind
and wisdom. like lex luther said in the movie superman about his pallace of ice home, " it goes far beyond any
known architecture to man " , well it's the same way with gods tree of knowledge of good and evil in genesis.
you can not fathom things that have been around for eons when trying to understand scripture with the human mind.
god would not withold good from his people but we have not the wisdom by far to understand what was unveiled to
eve when she took from that tree. if we did , we would not be in the situation we are in with respect to this world.
you can only begin to comprehend eternal things with the holy spirit and even then some things go beyond our
comprehention here. the apostle paul heard words in heaven that man is not even allowed to speak. so don't
confuse your human mind with gods eternal intentions.
And the appropriate response is eternal damnation? Seems a tad hash for a bit of curiosity. Also, adam and eve didnt seem that much worse off after getting some knowlage, besides the punishment god admimistered....
I'm sure Adam and Eve were thrilled when Cain murdered Abel. Please note sarcasm.
see? Some smarts would do us good!
kokopelli, the punishment wasn't eternal damnation for that transgression, you need to read more carefully.
god created hell for satan and his angels and said cursed are you above all things for deceiving the woman.
god also gathered with the angels who had not followed satan in respect to the human and her husband who had
fallen from grace and said we can not leave them in this state of being. if they were to be given eternal life at
that point their fate would surely be as satans. that's why god caused the flood in the old testament because
angels married the daughters of men and had illegitamate offspring. instead he limited our time on earth and
seperated us from his presence in heaven and the whole plan of redemption on the cross is what was offered
to restore us to our first estate. what more can he do besides come here 2,000 years ago and say i'm offering
a way back for the human race who fell because of satans lies. the humans who reject this grace here are the
ones in danger of damnation because there will be no more hope for them if they can't understand the truth of
what satan has done. all you need do is believe JESUS IS WHO HE SAYS HE WAS , you tell him that and
he will show up. things may not get rosy for you here but when you die, you will be where the thief on the cross
I don't believe this fantasy at all, but just for discussion - so, what happened to the millions (billions?) of people who lived and died between Adam & Eve and Jesus? No redemption? What about the millions (billions?) all over the rest of the world who didn't hear the tale for 1500 years?
i wonder ~~~~~~~~~~~~~
if you put your self back in that time before christ came on the cross, they had the prophets and sacrifices had
to be offered frequently for gods people and their sins. every year the high priest would go into the holy of holies
tent to offer up sacrifice for the people. if there was unconfessed sin the priest was struck dead when he stood
in front of the ark of the covenant and they pulled him out with the rope attached to his ankle. then they would seek
to find out what the unconfessed sin was and send in another priest. people in the surrounding nations of israels
people or even the romans when the jews were in captivity knew of the god of abraham by word of mouth and
from their own encounters with this god and by way of scribe keepers from generation to generation. so they
could believe in the god of moses if they wanted to. people who have never heard still have a witness to god as
it says in the bible, this witness is nature and all that god has created and they will judged according to this witness
in their hearts. the reason we preach the gospel is because christ tells us to fight to reclaim the hearts and souls
of men and fight against satans kingdom in this world. that's why we send out missionaries to other parts of the world
and desperately try to get bibles into countries like china. people have risked their very souls and lives to accomplish
this and still do today. people wouldn't neccessarily know this unless they are involved with the underground church
there or you could read a copy of ' TORTURED FOR CHRIST " , by richard wurmbrand who was a romanian jew
and spent 16 years in prison for preaching the gospel when the communist invaded romania. god's no fool and
he knows people don't have access everywhere in this world and in the past, but he's as far away then and now
as your knees are from the ground and asking for his help. he's real. because we are human we lose faith every
day and have to reclaim it everyday in prayer. we keep fighting for the hope that is to come. AMEN JESUS.
Thank you, gblog. I do not know how you can think that those fantasies of old, superst'itious Middle Eastern Hebrew men are real.
Fear drives the actions of many, who trust in firearms, to shield them from harm. This may not work for you, Mr. Prothero, it works for me....I trust in my religious faith to protect me from harm. My friend has acquired thousands of rounds of shotgun shells because of the propaganda from the National Rifle Association. They have polluted his feeble mind to fear the roaming hoard that will soon breach his fortress. Both my friend and his wife carry licensed concealed weapons. I refuse to live in fear like that. I choose to trust my religious faith. I sleep well at night...without a gun by my side..
Enjoy being a victim when the purple pie man in the sky doesn't save you. As for me, should it ever come to a life or death situation, I'm fighting for my family's lives. And I'll be armed. Bullets fend off evil much more effectively then whatever magic powers you think your "faith" is going to give you.
I think this writer was somewhat angry when he wrote this. Ya think??
In the Christian faith, the Resurrection is incredibly comforting. A dear friend died at the age of 93 on Saturday. He was a Christian pastor, and we all enjoyed the thought of his homecoming in heaven.
Besides, we don't actually think of it as Resurrection, because that's an event that will happen AFTER the return of Christ. But when we die, we do live on. Whether in Paradise or Heaven, who knows: but the Bible does say that to be absent from the body is to be Present with the Lord. That's our promise and we know it's a wonderful promise!
Our relationship with Jesus is so personal and He is so dear to us, that OF COURSE we talk of the afterlife. Why would we not? The purpose of true discipleship in Christ is to forsake the things of THIS world, in favor of what Jesus offers us in the next world. Maybe the Jewish religion doesn't offer such a personal relationship with God? I'm a little surprised at that because Abraham was a friend of God, and so was Moses... and many others.
If this writer is a Jewish believer then apparently his faith is more in the Now rather than Later? Which shows that he has not understood what Father Abraham actually DID. Abraham believed in God's promises, even when he didn't receive them. Abraham's FAITH is why God was pleased with Abraham. His son Isaac believed the promises too, and so did Jacob who wanted the blessing so badly he stole it from Esau. Joseph, in turn, believed what God had spoken to Abraham and ordered the Israelites to keep his body with them until they returned to Canaan and the Land that God had promised. Each of these men was righteous before God because of their faith: they believed God, even when they themselves did not receive the promises. And so they were rewarded for THAT. It was faith that was the key.
Christians, too, believe that our rewards are not HERE: our rewards are THERE. So, when an elderly saint died on Saturday, we rejoiced along with the angels who welcomed him into heaven.
But we do not rejoice when children are taken before their time. It is not God's Will, I agree with that. But the comfort of knowing those children are safe in the arms of God, in God's care: that comfort is very IMPORTANT to Christians. Especially when the situation is so horribly tragic.
I think this writer did not understand that about Christians. In fact, I don't think he made much of an effort to understand it. He was annoyed with what seemed to him to be the typical Christianese fluff-off. But actually, the vast majority of Christians are very grieved by what happened, and very sympathetic toward those poor families who lost loved ones. I don't think most of them would call it God's judgment either, I certainly wouldn't. This was a horrible, awful tragedy.
Ten children died when a landmine blew up in Afghanistan last week, too. Ten little girls. There is tragedy around the world. Life is unfair for MOST people. That's why Christians look to the afterlife for answers: we believe it all turns out OK eventually, but not here, not now. We just need to look around us to see the truth of that.
That's all fine and dandy, anyone can belief anything they want....but why are religionists obsessed with inflicting their fantasy coping mechanism on others, incessantly?
When your child dies, I'll force the comforting ideas from my religion onto you.
"You don't have to worry about his soul. There is no chance of him going to hell for his sins. There is no afterlife. There is no such thing as a soul. There are no sins. He won't suffer because he longer exist. I hope you get through this.
What kind of ghoulish "god" harvests children's souls in such a gruesome manner? And what kind of ghoulish person rants and gushes about such a "god" as soon as a tragic event happens, while sounding like they're gloatingly thrilled? Please keep your ugly fantasies to yourself for a decent length of time instead of preying on the grief and confusion.
Why exactly does Prothero think it is OK to offend the faith and beliefs of others? Hateful loser!
Because your beliefs are incorrect. The truth is that there are no gods or magic in this rational world.
"This rational world" Really? This world is rational? Which part? Science? Religion? War? The cities? The suburbs? Murder? Please tell me what of this world is rational so that I too can make sense of it all!
why does the Church think its ok to hate on people like gays?
That is quite s stroke to paint upon the whole church. I am a part of the church and I think being 'gay' is just as biblical as not being gay.
This world is rational. You may not like or understand the reasons why things happen, but there are always reasons. When this boy pulled the trigger on that gun, nothing stood between the bullets and the children besides times. This world is controlled by physics and ideas, not by magic. The reason 20 kids died is because someone decided to kill them. Simple as that.
dont tell it to some random guy on the internet. tell it to the pope
Does that not appear a little simple, or perhaps simple minded? I am not trying to offend, but perhaps everything is not so black and white? And perhaps, just perhaps God created a world and in the process created this physics? Anyways, I would not be so quick to such a 'rational' answer.
I'm not catholic.
There is no way to critically deconstruct the behavior of Christians that you wouldn't think was "hateful", right? If Christians can inflict their fantasies on anyone anytime, as they do obsessively, then why shouldn't people who have no such fantasies be free to to discuss Christian's judgmental, overt, and even aggressive behavior and beliefs?
I am not implying that one should not be able to speak against Christianity. I simply do not understand how one can make broad statements in support or in denial of Christianity with such broad strokes. We've seen where stereotypes have gotten this world in the past, and we'd be wrong to use stereotypes to point us towards the future. All one can really say is 'some Christians do this... some atheists do that." NOT 'Christians do this... atheists do that.'
Mike, Because he chooses to deal with reality rationally.
Why is it that every time something like this happens come of the religious types blame it on their enemies? This is just as bad as Jerry Falwell blaming 9-11 on Atheists, Feminists, Abortionists, Secularists, Gays and Lesbians, Pagans and Witches.
He's not. He's just asking you to shut the fu(k up.
Thank you Chris. Newtown is my home, and I have been destroyed. It would nice to see more support than the constant bickering. Every little bit helps.
Shameless Prothero waited exactly 3 days before launching yet another lame attempt to exploit yet another tragedy to mock and attack the faith and beliefs of others.
...while hoards of religionists didn't even wait an hour before offering up preachy, irrational, frothy rants...feeding on the tragic situation.
including Obama who said, "God has called them ALL HOME".
"God can haz children's souls?"
That is what you religious people sound like when you talking about your deities after a tragedy like this. These people don't need your fairy tales and imaginary friends to get them through this. They need their real friends and family. They need professional counseling. Some might need monetary assistance.
So... Gawwwwwd was taken from schools? Was it suspension? Is this Tinkerbelle Jesus that Huckabeelzebub promotes vain like a movie-star? Does he pout and refuse to come out and perform unless we CLAP REALLY LOUD? Huckabee, I know the kind of church you want all our school kiddies to follow has so little dignity that it has special Patriotic Christian services for July 4th and similar tacky, trailer-trash stuff, but at least show enough respect for the spiritual side that you CLAIM to promote to at least shut your pie hole until these innocent children are buried. What a JERK... trying to use this moment for your OWN political gain. Creep.
Huckabeelzebub... that cracks me up.
Kokopelli-Sounds like you just might get your wish.
Alright! Chillen with Satan! see yah there!
@ zipheb, yes it seems insane when we have been schooled all our lives in a secular society to not believe in god
in the first place or have grown up with parents who didn't know christ. but if you accpet christ then he shows you
eventually how inward we are in our thinking and the fact that man gave up paradise for satans lies is the truth.
it's painful to accpet this when you see the carnage here on earth but what god said to eve is surely true. when
you eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you will surely die. she listened to satan and immediately knew
she was naked. the problem is we want god to act on our time table with restoring paradise but he's eternal and
set in motion a plan already. we are just playing it out. the best you can do is really search your heart and ask him
to show you how true his word is and how you can fight for him and eternal reward while you are still here on
think about it , a man who claimed to be god in the flesh came and was beaten willingly without mercy
and went to his death without flinching to pay for our sins. who would do that ? only christ.
jesus was god in the flesh , restoring our inheritance to us.
If you remain stupid, you can stay in my paradise, but if you get smarter, you and all your descendants are cursed with suffering and death
I wouldn't mind if these posting would show a little respect for the families directly affected by this catastrophe. Correct me if I'm wrong, but to those who are showing their maturity and/or lack there of in mocking Christians and Christianity, it would kind of you to refrain from doing so at this time because so man of those families whom are affected are definite believers in the God revealed in the Bible. I think it wise for the debate to be continued during another time. Thanks
If you are asking self-appointed 'authorities' like Huckabee to shut his pie hole until these innocent children are buried instead of using this moment to grab media attention to further his own cult empire, I strongly support your wishes...
Isn't this the same Mike Huckabee who released the killer from prison who then went on to kill all those cops in a cafe in cold blood? Which I have never forgotten.
God told him to, obviously.... so it's OK. See how it works?
Boy the froth-mouth Christian mob sure is nailing Prothero to the cross!
All because he said something thoughtful and humane.
Prothero is a HYPOCRITE !!! What about Obama who addressed the gathering in Newtown CT as follows, "God has called them all HOME"?
Just a bias and hatred of conservatives ... thats all! Just a visceral irrational gut reaction!! JUST IRRATIONAL HATRED!
After all, Obama is saying the EXACT same thing? Is it not?
So it seems that when Obama talks about God it does not offend atheists but when Conservatives talk about God it somehow offends athiests? What hypocrisy?
Is that because you think Obama is God and he is talking about himself when he is talking about God? You just cant take it because conservatives talk about the real God and not a false IDOL? Is that it??
Well that proven my point nicely.
CNN – if you can have an atheist like Prothero write for you as your "religious scholar "then I would also like you to see a creationist write for you as your scholar on evolution. Does that expose your plain bias and hypocrisy?
DIppy, I don't think you even got the point of gblog's comment before you made your pointless insulting one..
Besides the Christian faith is not the only thing that teaches that humans are emotional animals. To be truly rational you must be able to control your emotions rather than read books. If just reading books could change people then Christians would be far happier than Atheists. No it is checking your emotions and cultivating a positive thought-life. The Bible can teach this and so can many human resource management books.
Great article. Well written. I wholly agree with all points.
Let's repeal the 2nd amendment.
for all you athiest out there,
picture yourselves taking a baseball bat or some weapon and beating up a person as violently as you can.
then you find out that he's innocent and it is you that are wrong. that's what jesus did for you on the cross.
gblog, you need to work on the rules of capitalization. It would improve the quality of your posts up to, maybe, fourth-grade level.
Jesus was a member of the Baseball Furies?!?
yes i don't pay attention at all or check my spelling nearly as much as i should. but i just wish to keep in line with
what jesus said, " i tell you assuredly , unless you become as one of these little children , you will not enter
the kingdom of heaven " . so thanks !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1
If that's the Fairy Tale you'd like to believe in, feel free. We suffer believers of all kinds in the US, it's part of our tradition. Though it doesn't mean we can't dislike or poke fun at them.
@gblog "i don't pay attention at all"
Explains your idiocy perfectly.
Fools use God to justify anything.
Why did God make it so that he had to send himself to die on the cross just to save the people's souls he made in the first place? Why didn't he just save us in the first place? That story is just so asinine, any critical thinking person over the age of 12 can see how bogus it is–which is why so few people after the age of 12 convert to Christianity and why so many Christians after the age of 12 convert out, because they grew the hell up.
to matt , you are lucky to have people who still care enough to speak the truth, these things that are happening
are only the beginning of satans work to bring ultimate control to his authority. look how quickly the gun control issue
came up because of this. pretty soon speach won't be free anymore either. the worst nightmare you can imagine
is about to unfold before christ returns. then you will be ruled by one who cares not what you think or who you
are. unfortunately people will be here to suffer that when it happens and will have no choice at all then.
He's higher than capital, Jesus Amen.
I would much rather go to hell than hang out with a jerk like God
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.