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.
"The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero", which he should have kept to himself. it doesnt matter what brand it is either and if the gov't took all our guns, criminals would still have them as they do now. An honest law abiding citizen wouldnt but if criminals can get illegal guns now what difference would it make. we wouldnt be able to protect our home from intruders, like if that kid decided to shoot up your house. as far as your feelings on guns dont kill people, law abiding citizens dont kill people except in defense, criminals do. the second ammendment doesnt specify on weapons, so there can be limits but the gov't cant take them all. freedom of speech didnt say you could spread your unwanted opinion on the internet because internet didnt exist then.
I agree to an extent but most people neither need nor are qualified to handle weapons typically issued to the military. I think those types of weapons should only be sold to those that have experience in the armed forces, because very few others have as much experience. I own a rifle and two pistols, and shooting is one of my favorite recreational activities, and I carry for defense as well, so I am with you on most points. However, lunatics like this would have a much more difficult time killing masses of people strictly with shotguns and pistols than with assault rifles.
... hmm the only problem is the killer in Conneticut and in Aurora WERE law abiding gun owners up to the point that they killed people. A law abiding gun owner need literally a fraction of a second to become the criminal. I don't see the difference.
as a muslim the koran tell us that everything that happens is the will of allah. i would like this writer come to pakistan and tell us that nothing is the will of allah.
the reaason us muslim countries do not help other contries that have a disaster is because it was allahs will.
why would we help a country that had an earthquake because allah was punishing them?
To reply to Hassan's comment ...
My God , Hassan, you should remain back in Pakistan. Stay there and everything that happens there, just attribute it to the will of Allah. People like you make me SICK !!!!
If everything is allahs will, what's the point of being here, to be a puppet?
Stephen, If you were the leader of a community and that community were reeling from a tragedy such as the one that took place in Newtown... what words of comfort would you offer them as an atheist. Clearly something needs to be said to comfort these grieving parents, spouses, friends etc. You comments indicate what you don't want to hear... what alternative words of comfort do you offer for each of the 'Six Things You Don't Want To Hear?'
Did you actually read the article? Prothero is not an atheist. He is not against people finding comfort in faith. He is against pompous, self-satisfied Pharisees like Huckabee saying God caused this tragedy to happen to punish innocent people for not agreeing with fundamentalist politics. Real Christians know God loves all children, grieves for their loss and gives comfort to their families. Huckabee and the other fundamentalists are not real Christians. Jesus preached against people like him.
Shake your fist at WHO?
People tend to forget that God gives man free-will,God does not kill people,man does that.God judges man AFTER he passes away.
This is not an argument about the existence of God. It is about what is proper to say and not to say. So, for those who believe, Great. For those who do not believe, fine. Do not insult the other side because their beliefs are different. Who is to say who is correct? I doubt few people know enough about everything to have this answer. Let get along, at least with ourselves.
What happened to the free will of the people killed
God & Freewill cant coexist. If God already knows what you're going to do, you never had the choice in the first place. If God doesn't know what you're going to do, he's not God.
So you admit it. Your god does nothing to intervene in this world. His actions are exactly the same as if he didn't exist.
Just another incident proving there is nothing up there in 'Heaven' that cares a bit about us. We are on our own, so stop looking for the tooth fairy/Santa/Jesus/Zeus etc to save us from ourselves. Look in the mirror, it's all we have.
I'm not sure how you make the logical jump from "God is indifferent to human suffering" to "God does not exist." The former is much more logical here.
Stephen, your bio says you're a religion scholar, yet you start off by questioning if there is a God. I'm pretty sure you disqualify yourself at that point as a spiritual authority. Atheists who write books or articles about God........hmmm like my accountant writing a book on particle beam theory.
patrick.. many atheists and agnostics got their start by being believers. i myself have been baptist, catholic, lutheran and non-denominational christian over my years. i've studied the bible. in time ive come to realize that the bible is little more than well meaning-ed fiction, and that there is no logical reason to believe in "God".
Being a religious scholar does not mean you have to necessarily be a man of faith, it just means that you have studied religion and it's history. The author was not implying that he does not believe in god, more that it would be more just to say that than to say it was the will of god that this happened.
This act of murder was gods will. Jesus called the children home because after death there is resurrection. This is gods judgement because america has become too secular. Stephen Prothero is correct in saying all these things. Amen.
Unfortunately, many priests, pastors, and ministers are not really learned in the teachings of Jesus, they repeat church teachings w/o reading the whole Bible itself. As an example, during WWII, there were Lutheran ministers praying and blessing the guns and arms and planes to accomplish there intended purpose of destroying the enemy of the state. german soldiers, American soldiers, etc. Which side was God on? They seem to overlook the instance where Jesus told his followers when the
soldiers came to arrest him, and Peter took the ear off of 1, "he said his "kingdom was not from this(earthly) source" And many other verses showed that 1st century Christians were non-secular, not hailing Caesar, not being in the army, but subjecting themselves to the arena to face death rather than violate there christian neutrality. Same with the majority saying "God" needed another angel, Humbug. What an affront to the Loving God the Bible really pictures. What a cruelty to those parents. Nothing is stronger than the bond of mother & child, to say that God some how took there child is preposterous. Yes He does have a plan to reunite families separated by death, the resurrection hope, But the Bible tells us the real culprit, is the Devil, he is the god of this system according to 1Cor, 4:4- He alone is responsible for sin, death, and evil. The Bible says that plainly and many times. The parents need the comfort of the Bible, not mistruths.
If you want to believe in a god who lets innocent 1st graders get rounded up in a closet and get shotup and butchered one bullet at a time you have every right to do so. Not so here! My religious friend told me that god gave the shooter freedom of choice... either evil or good and he chose evil as all murderers do. However, when I asked him... when the gun was aiming at each child, where did their freedom of choice go to say I want to live? Or there freedom of choice to live and go home to see their parents, have fun at Christmas? Where was there "FREEDOM OF CHOICE" to live and not get shot??
He could not answer! So go ahead all you religious people of all faiths....... give me the answer! But when you do.... imagine the innocent look that each child must have given as the bullets tore through their tiny, innocent bodies! Prothero is 100% correct!
It's often interesting to hear a would-be athiest's logic about God. The basic formula goes something like this: If there were a God, he would behave like ABC, and since XYZ is happening instead, there is no God. Thus, it is only true that there is no God by your definition. Some day you might find your own definition to be lacking and so a new definition may emerge. Some better day you may find your ability to define the unknowable lacking; then you are on the road to true freedom from worry over such things. How you define God doesn't change what God is or isn't. Painting a picture of him with a loving face doesn't make him loving, and painting a picture of him hurling lightning bolts doesn't make him vengeful. Not painting a picture of him doesn't affect his existence just as believing in him doesn't make him exist. He is (or isn't) whatever he is (or isn't) and no belief on our part can change that. Just do what is in front of you and do it to the best of your ability, and both you and the world will prosper. If God is watching, his spirit might just smile a bit. After all, he is humanity's biggest fan.
Freedom of choice does not imply freedom of any choice, just a choice of available options. The shooter removed their choice on whether or not they were going to get shoot, but he did not remove their choice in how they reacted to this knowledge. Many truly amazing people chose to shield children in an attempt to save the children lives, instead of trying to flea, hide or just freeze. They chose to become hero's, as the act, not the result determined that. There were truly amazing teachers there that day and great people. it is just such a sad and horrible tragedy
My only comment is that God didn't give us "freedom of choice"....he gave us "free will". There is a difference. The 20 yr old "child" used his "free will" to reak havoc on innocent children, and adults. I would imagine that every time someone uses their "free will" to do harm to another, that God just shakes his head and is sadly disappointed.
Less than a half a percent of guns are ever used in any sort of crime while a much higher percentage of cell phones users and texters cause much more pain and suffering on our nation's roads and I still don't see the fervor over those killers that I see here.Our govt and it's wars are more deadly than anything especially since the politicians kids never seem to be on the front lines and where's the outrage over that ?
Agreed, a consistent anti-gun person would think like this: "Guns are used to kill people, so let's ban guns." then they must agree, "alcohol is involved in a far greater number of deaths and child abuse, let's ban alcohol". Oh wait, they have a use for alcohol, self satisfaction. Just to be clear, I don't have either of the above views. The idea that we should ban something because of the possible abuse, is asinine. And to all you atheist out there, why are you so angry at a god that doesn't exist?
"And to all you atheist out there, why are you so angry at a god that doesn't exist?"
LOL not atheist, but I am not angry at a man made god, I am angry at christians that think they can use their religion to discriminate against populations. Which unfortunately is most of them.
"Agreed, a consistent anti-gun person would think like this: "Guns are used to kill people, so let's ban guns." then they must agree, "alcohol is involved in a far greater number of deaths and child abuse, let's ban alcohol". "
the only problem is that is NOT what so called "anti-gun" people are saying. I have no problem with people hunting with guns. I don't want to ban all guns. I want to ban .. or at least regulate guns that are specifically designed to kill another human.
As to your alcohol analogy. Alcohol IS regulated. You cannot go into a bar drunk off your ass and purchase a drink. In Utah alcohol is STRICKLY regulated. You must be 21 to purchase alcohol.
While I find much to agree with you on, you seem to be as biased in your obvious gun control mentality as those who are extreme in their 2nd amendment mentality.
I pray that you be careful in how you inspire or even lead God's lambs, the people.
5 of the things you don't want to here are 5 things God teaches his children throughout the Bible. Your comment on the reserection alone just attacked 1.1 billion Catholics creed since the original apposles of Jesus. You would have singlehandely swiped the meaning out of the Pope's support without understanding what the resurrection is.
God's will? God, though He leads with free will for His children... Is the writer of history. He shapes it. You want to know why we haven't been attacked by terrorists here in the US in the last 12 years since 911? Let me give you a hint... It's not because our security forces are THAT good. There good... But not that good. God says to keep his decrees and he will protect you from the sword. Psalm 91 is why we haven't been terrorized by countless terrorists after blowing up their hives. We would have been attacked countless times by now. Think.
Becoming too secular isn't something you want to hear? Our secularism has lead to laws that just recently forced the Catholic Church to disobey God's laws concerning contraception and abortion. It's been a stifling attack to the Church. Do you think God is going to allow His children to be forced to support sacrilege? You will see worse things in the US happen if the government doesn't remove these laws.
42 million children have lost their lives due to abortion supported by secularism since 1973. I've cried for these 20 children... Imagine how much more God has cried for his 42 million children not given a choice. God says "thow shall not kill."
...thow shall not kill.
Did you know the babies limbs are known to be torn apart as they are sucked from their mother's womb? Heart beating and all.
... Thow SHALL not kill.
Stephen did you know the first place these people sought consolation due to the horrific loss of the 27 people was the churches. Did you know you likely countered the pastures words shared in consoling the families. Athiests are coming out of the wood works to thank you.
I could think of worse that would like to pat you on the back and tell you... Good job son. You don't want his congrats though... Trust me.
So I say this to you. Be careful in how you inspire and lead God's lambs. You think you are right now but times are about to change and you will soon enough find you were dead wrong. Then you will face your creator with what you've done.
Bless you! Think first if you speak to the masses.
"Think first if you speak to the masses." Oxymoran?
It is this kind of irrational thinking that defies all logic and a good example of what common sense is up against.
I think its great that you refer to supposedly thinking people as gods "lambs". People that allow themselves to be influenced by ancient stories of myth and magic are truly nothing more than herd animals. Amen.
This argument is at least as goofy as the original article. Just try to be respectful and let people in pain mourn and use whatever slogan they need to use to get through this ordeal without judging their logic or motives. To sit and say that someone else isn't mourning correctly or that someone else isn't giving good mourning advice is only self-serving – much like my post here.
It's hard to take a comment left in a public forum seriously when you can't even spell correctly or use proper grammar. Aside from that... Anyone who chooses to follow and believe in a "God" who would allow innocent children to be brutally murdered is an idiot, or perhaps a satanist.... "Gods will," allowing children to die isn't Gods will. That's a show of someone who went against Gods will perhaps. Ask the parents of those children if they think it was "Gods will," hell, ask them if they think there even is a God. The only "will" a situation like this can be attributed to is Satan himself. And as for this whole blame gun control..... what the hell good does making more laws do? You know who doesn't care about laws? Criminals. You know who gets guns to kill people? Criminals. Are Americans really so blind that they think making more laws and trying to restrict gun control will have ANY effect on stopping these situations from happening? No. Because criminals break laws. Pretty sure they don't have a limit on how many they are willing to break at once.
So sad that people in 2012 insist on accepting these dated fairy tales as fact. It won't be in my lifetime, but I long for a day when people finally can get past all of this "eye in the sky" silliness, and realize that it is up to US to make the one place we know for a fact exists – our planer Earth – the absolute best place it can be. There is no "God's will", there is ours.
Evil exists. And, Evil has a name.........Satan. There will come a judgment of that evil at the point God Himself has determined. It is futile for us to speculate about things that rest in the thoughts of God, but we can accept our personal moral responsibility by expressing love and compassion to those hurting and in need because of the inherent evil in the world. By loving others we express our personal love for a benevolent Creator and our appreciation for the great and unwarranted blessings of God. Those parents were blessed with the precious gift of love that God gave them in their children. Evil took it away, not God. To blame the composer of a symphony because someone plays the music out of tune is ridiculous. To blame God, the giver of life, for the deaths of these children is even more so. Each of us is given the free will choice to play the symphony of life as God has written it........with love as it was designed by the Composer. May God grant peace and comfort in the raging storms that will surely come into each and every life.
Proto hero hasn't heard yet about washington's plan to limit his nonsense to a thirty sentence clip.
The families did not go to their churches to hear some smug fundamentalist tell them God wanted this to happen, or some idiotic nonsense that their child's death was righteous retribution for gay marriage. Prothero is not an atheist. He is not arguing against God. He is arguing against abusing religion to promote a phony political agenda.
I agree with pretty much everything here, but lets not forget, that guns have been illegal for citizens in Mexico to own for over 100 years, and look what that did for the private citizens. Now they have no means whatsoever to protect themselves against criminals who get the guns illegally. Obviously gun control within moderation, but this was not the fault of an AR15.
Our fadder who art in washington, hollow is his name, sells em guns. He aims to please.
Prothero is an idiot; Huckabee is right; there IS a God and HE is called FATHER (not she or it). Muskets? Does that mean we are not to use cars or cell phones, or the internet? It astounds me that this guy is supposed to be a credible journalist.
You sir are a M0r0n
I bet you can't wait to get on your knees and start pleasing Jesus.
John: You're just a little bit brainwashed.
People are evil. That has nothing to do with God. God doesn't 'make' people do anything just like the devil doesn't 'make' people do things. Humans are inherently evil. In the the book of Galatians we see how the we as humans are constantly in conflict. Galatians 5:17 says "For the sinful nature desires what is contray to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contray to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want"... So those evil desires your not supposed to do them. When you know somethig is wrong don't do it! But I'm sure many of you even the ones that don't believe there is a God can atest to the fact there have been times you did something that you knew you had no business doing. We do it everyday as humans, all of us.
And I've learned that prayer is not telling God what you want. It's praying that God helps you to manage what we deal with in life. If God did what we wanted, he wouldn't be God, we would! He is God he does as he pleases, we can't make demands to him. I'm not one of those people who say 'everything happens for a reason', sometimes to me things happen for no reason at all they just happen. There is nothing I can do about. We have to accept we are not in control of this world. The only thing or person we can control is ourselves. God is not controlled by man, just like man is not controled by God. (ps I'm sorry for any mispellings, I work overnight and have been up for over 24hrs at this point in time. I don't have the energy to proof read)
LOL you admit that humans are inherently evil, yet you fail to realize that the book you call the bible was written by humans.
It is normal to question where is God in situations of tragedy, sadness and fear. But why do you only seek him out in these situations? For in all the good there is his beauty but in darkness you will also always find his light. I'm sorry that your heart is closed but in times like these each and everyone one of us needs to stand up and show compassion and love to the one right next to you. That in itself is God in motion. Why do you hold yourself back?
Princess, I prayed to God every day after Virginia Tech murder that there be no more mass murder like that. My prayer was ignored. So, I'm not seeking God in bad times. I totally seeked God in good times. You are as foolish as the people who preach about the all loving God.
"Is life here so cheap?" Perhaps you should ask the 3000+ babies who are aborted in the US each day? This "article" is nothing more than a load of hogwash. I pray that God opens your eyes to the ignorance in your heart and mind.
You are so right.
This shooting was the Almighty God's plan, according to his purpose. So is abortion.
This shooting was the Almighty God's plan, according to his purpose. So is abortion. Jesus just couldn't wait to get those fetuses to sing in his heavenly choir
very true when people say this was Gods will or he was calling them home, what a terrible thing to say, also about this word closure, there is no closure in these matters these people can never forget not one single day of there life what happened that day. You can take away all the guns you want and pass all the laws you want it won;t stop this, I don't have the solution or pretend to have but being more aware of what and who is around you maybe a start
Reading through the comments here on this "Belief Blog", I have yet to find a comment made by an obvious Christian to not be repulsive, insulting, ignorant, self-serving and/or ridiculous.
Thank you, Christians, for strengthening my atheism each and every time you argue for your "beliefs".
SO, important question here. I prefer my babies to be honey glazed before I eat them. How do you prefer to eat babies, fellow heathen baby eater? :D
Not only did your dog eat your homework, but your drive crashed.
As I look through these responses there is a lot of hatred on all sides, so please don't just single out one group. In my opinion the two biggest problem I see in our society are the fear mongering that exists in religion, politics, advertising and the media to motivate people to join, elect, tune in or buy and the hatred that is being pushed by everyone if you are on a different side or have a different view. People who have faith have a right to their views and beliefs as do those who choose to not have faith. As someone who has suffered the loss of late term twins I can tell you that for me and my wife faith was critical in getting us through, however when you are dealing with that grief there are no words that ease your pain or suffering. Stephen Prothero has a right to his opinion but faith based or not I can't think of any words that will ease the grief of those families and friends suffering when you are dealing with a random act of violence. All words fall short.
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.