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.
To Me (Dec 19th 8:49am) If he does exist and I have that talk with him, I will possibly be asked to explain why I ever doubted HIM. I will explain that I now KNOW that he exists (as I have no proof now), and that I simply doubted because HE gave me a mind, which creates doubt, love, anger, jealousy, sadness, and a whole plethora of emotions. There may be a GOD (and, I certainly hope there is); however, there is no such thing as fate or a predetermined destiny.
People can be ignorant of GOD. When we come face to face with him the Bible clearly states there will be no conversation on our part. On Judgement Day he will either say to us "Enter into the rest that I have prepared for you, thou good and faithful servant" OR "Depart from me ye workers of iniquity I never knew you". That is all...no arguing on our part, no conversation., just a judgement on our life, how we lived, and our belief in him.
Very well said. Thank you.
Yes, most people are ignorant of Gary O'Donnell. But I don't understand why you think he's special at all.
kevin....quoting the bible to those who do not accept the claimed authority of the bible is a bit absurd, no?
You know you are quoting from a pseudepigraphic (Forged) Letters assinged to Paul?
I say the more people who die, the better.
BTW, I have no problem with dying myself.
Of course you're not afraid of death. You can simply regenerate.
This blog is a rambling load of crap. Jewish propaganda in my opinion, and I have nothing against Jews. But, statement 3 is pretty blatant. This guy should fold up the laptop and head back to the sheep. Stop spewing your rambling beliefs and allow those who suffered and us who suffer with them suffer in our own ways. You are an idiot, Mr. Blogger...
Stevie, boy, you complain of the complainers of secularization, yet you ramble on like some confused lapsed Episcopalian. Truth is, this was a man's (actually, a subhuman coward) will, not God's. And if we take away all the weapons, the only people who will have them are Obama voters (you know, all the miscreants roaming the streets looking for free stuff). Oh, wait: maybe that IS the agenda. Such a rube, you are. And a poor student of history and tyranny.
And why don't you take a crack at explaining history and tyranny to us, instead of generalizations? Hmm?
Bruce – why do you gun nutters let common criminals steal 600,000 guns per year from private households?
You nutters keep claiming you need to buy all these guns to protect your "stuff". And then you turn around and let criminals take not only your "stuff", but the guns you bought to protect your "stuff". And then these criminals use your guns to go and steal "stuff" from other folks, along with the guns they had bought to protect their "stuff".
Do you nutters not see the idiocy of this?
Sure, Bruce...take this tragedy as an opportunity to take a cheap partisan shot. Bravo on getting them synapses to fire.
" And if we take away all the weapons, the only people who will have them....."
Logical fallacy. If you take away all the weapons, no one will have them. Go home, boy and get your shinebox
I am not smart enough to know the reasons for this type of carnage but realistically something has to be done. In the areas of guns, no man needs a weapon of war to hunt or to protect his home. Disturbed people need help and a watchful eye. Movie makers and Video design geniuses needs to think up better games than killing. God help us all....
I don't believe our purpose on this planet is to serve and worship a God. I believe it's to advance the human species and learn that we need each other collectively. I believe in God, but his job isn't to save us from ourselves. That's our job and that's how we learn to love unconditionally. Perhaps when we finally get it through our skulls that every human life on this planet is precious, then we'll be ready to know and understand more. Until then we will continue to destroy what is beautiful and let innocence be lost.
Tell me how in the world can be flawed human beings save ourselves? We do wrong things all the time no matter how hard we try. Don't fool yourself. Just because we have the iphone and know a lot about the cosmos, does not mean we all can collectively try our best to help each other... if only we were perfect.
Let me say first that nobody, and I mean nobody, knows why this happened to these children. It happened, and for whatever reason God Almighty did not interevene is not necessarily for me to know. I certainly wouldn't suggest that anyone, especially a believer, to angrily shake his or her fist at heaven and chastise God Almighty or even be arrogant in our questioning Him. Some of these educated Christians like Mr. Prothero need to really think about what he's saying. I question if he's really a "Born Again" believer. This is a tragedy that is sad and it touched us all. As for those who keep asking where was God, he was in the same place He was when He watched them crucify His son Jesus. It's funny how people never seem to be concerned with, "Where God Is" unless a tradegy strikes. Again, nobody knows why this happened, but what I do know is that God Almighty is still in control and He still affords His creation the opportunity to choose right or wrong, good or evil, He accepts our choices. Finally, all of us need to remember that God doesn't owe us anything, we are eternally indebted to Him, a debt that we can never repay. He will have the last say on the day he describes as the day of judgement, but for now I suggest that we all look to Him and ask Him to grace us with understanding and the strength to endure these type tradgeies and the power to hopefully diminish them, PRAY!
Kent Tucker... I couldn't have said it better! God is in control and He loves us so much that He gives us our free will! No one so far, that I have read, has said anything about Satan and his evil intentions. This is one of his tactics to get us to not look at him and his evil influences that cause people to do things like this, but to look up to God and "shake our fists" and ask him why, when God is not the author of confusion but of peace. This world is ruled by the Prince of Darkness and until we understand that the intent is to get everyone to get mad at God because Satan hates God, then we will never get it!
Yes we do... The young man shot and killed 26 people. You are also right we do not know why. Outside of that, adding a deity into the picture is fantsay. As for GOD telling you anything, just listen the voice in your head and it will work it self out. For they are YOUR voice and no ones eles.
"God is in control..."
But your all-powerful, all-loving god can't control the devil??
kent: people cannot fear judgement from beings in which they do not believe.
a: how do you reconcile free will with the idea of an omniscient god?
You wrote " He still affords His creation the opportunity to choose right or wrong, good or evil "
Those little young kids hardly had a chance to learn much right/wrong and certainly at that age had not decide to choose good or evil they were simply young children who should have been and still be learning, laughing, playing, growing.
Your "god" is at best incompetent and uninterested or at worst evil and arrogant to torture so much so often but at no point is it a loving "god"
How about your "god" try loving his creations instead of being so unhappy with what he made that he made a satan to torture his flawed creations he is so disappointed with.
It was twenty years ago today
That the coaches said we couldn't play
Our classmates called us nerdy geeks
Our pastors told us to be meek
You wonder why we're full of rage?
We need this electronic stage.
RICHARD DAWKINS' LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND!
We're Richard Dawkins' Lonely Hearts Club Band
We've got no bloody place to go
We're Richard Dawkins' one and only Lonely Hearts Club Band
The girls in high school told us "no"
Richard Dawkins', Lonely, RIchard Dawkins' Lonely
Richard Dawkins' Lonely (Harmony) Hearts Club Band
I don't really want to spoil the show
But I thought you'd all like to know
My daddy was a fall-down drunk
His uncle was pedophile monk
I don't know how to handle pain
My childhood prayers were in vain
Richard Dawkins' Lonely Hearts Club Band!
What would you think if I called God a jerk, would you stand up and walk out on me.
Lend me your ears and I'll sing you a song of why your faith bothers me
Oh I get by with a little hate in my heart
Ooh, and I cry with a little hate in my heart,
Yeah, I'm going to die with a little hate in my heart.
Mmm, I'm going die with a little hate in my heart
(Could you be more obnoxious?)
I just want someone to hate
(Don't you know you're obnoxious?)
I need somebody to hate
Oh I get by with a little hate in my heart
Oooh, and I cry with a little hate in my heart,
Yeah, I'm going to die with a little hate in my heart.
Mmmm, I'm going die with a little hate in my heart, a little hate in my (Harmony) Heart!
Genius. Absolutely genius. But not useful. We all have pain. I had a miserable childhood. Doesn't mean I spent the next 30 years killing people or making them miserable. I am responsible for my own life.
Ummm... You are a little sick. Please, see a psychiatrist, counselor... Or take your own life without hating anybody else.
It's me, Ringo! Eduardo is only my screen name.
This is a perfect article! Loved it!!!! I don't want to hear any of that crap.
The author is a confused rube. And his adherents are likewise.
You have yet to actually explain yourself, Bruce, other than lashing out. In other words, screaming doesn't solve anything.
@ Bruce – this "confused rube" has his extensive c.v. on-line. Why don't you do the same and we will easily see who is the confused one.
I can understand how you might feel that way JD and there is a description of it for people who think like you in the Bible "For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God." 1 Corinthians 1:18 To you it might seem like crap but for those who have a spiritual understanding of what is going on it gives us hope and even more understanding.
Those blinders can only be removed by God when we cry out to Him for wisdom and understanding and then it will all make sense. There is more to life than what you see with your physical eyes but when your spiritual eyes are open you will realize that what you think is valuable now it the real "crap" and the thing you consider "crap" now is a "priceless treasure" or "a pearl of great price"
You have a limited view of God. If God is all-powerful, and knows the end from the beginning, then certainly he could have prevented the tragedy. But it's no skin off God's nose, is it? I mean, if God can raise the dead and do all that, what's the big deal about Sandy Hook. The same day 10 Afghani girls were blown up by a landmine ... or a drone strike, depending who you believe. What happened there ... God asleep at the wheel? You said we shake our fists and demand answers but we get no answer. Actually, we do, and the answer is right there in the Bible: "Where were you when God created the world?"
Well if you don't want to hear these six things, what is it you want to hear? . That there is not God. If fact when something like this happens the first thing people like you think is, "Well, there is no God or He is not a just God", but let me ask you something when things are going good in your life with no so much going on do you think in that GOD to give him thanks for you being alive, for you having a roof on your head or for having food on your table? . It's easier to blame God when bad thinks happens instead of asking yourself Why am I in this earth? or what the purpose of my life? or how can i help those going through this pain?. Let's just pray for those in need and understand that the same way there is a God there also a Devil that make people things like this. Blessings.
No I will not shake my fists at heaven because we are free creatures who decide our own actions. Sadly some people choose evil and that's reality. So no I don't blame the Lord for evil committed by mad men but blame the evil people who commit such atrocities.
Another I hate is, "Everything happens for a reason." Christians always make some type of excuse when things like this happen. Or, when someone gets a heart for a transplant from another person that died in an accident, they'll say crap like, "this person died so someone else could live."
Number stop blaming God for things that happen Hannah and DB1977! God didnt have anythign to do with those evil acts, Humans did he gave us free will and directions on the best way to use it ( read James 1:13 and ) God is not on a break the problem is WE (humans ) have taken a break from morals that would keep things like this from happening. If the world did what God laid out in the bible and followed his son's (Jesus) example those kids would be alive and people like the shooter wouldve gotten the help they needed. Time to stop blaming God and look at the fact that we dont listen him THATS the problem. When we blame god we sound like idiot teenagers who dont listen to their parents but then want to blame them for not sheilding them from their decisions. If health care (including mental and emotional health) were not treated like a business but a service Adam Lanza wouldve gotten proper help but thats a moral way of looking at something that society as a whole doesnt do anymore. Hmmm whos really on break?
"There may be a GOD (and, I certainly hope there is); however, there is no such thing as fate or a predetermined destiny." Mr.Stephen Prothero" I am not trying to frustrate you but this is another example of you having the answers. I hope you understand the evidence of God could be and is all around you and you are wrestling with it much like a lot of other people. You cannot and will not have you cake and eat it all so. Please wait and become prayerful for the right answers. Too many people out there are depending on you for all sorts of answers because of your blog. Why then when everything is seemingly OK the atheist says there is No God. Then when things go this bad. We see things posted such as today "If he exist he was on a break or he is mean and no good. If he does not exist then all of this happened because of bad people and poor decision making. If he exist then should we play it safe and say I don't understand and then pray and wait for the right answers. And sometimes we may not like the answers. But please understand we something happens good or bad it is OK to say I don't know why that happened but perhaps God will tell me.
Mr. Prothero, there is a reason why people say"It was God's will" and obviously you do not understand it, may be it is your lack of knowledge regarding the bible, or your lack of faith, observe that I say "maybe" but if you read your bible you will understand why people say "It was God's will".
Please read your bible, but with a scholar eyes, not with a religious beliefs and you to will find how much of it is fantasy.
Stephen F Roberts: “I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”
Christians always make excuses for God. If someone dies from let's say terminal cancer you will say, "It's God's will". If they survive you call it miracle. I believe in God but I don't make excuses for him. I believe Sh1t happens whether you like it or not, there is no such thing as fate or destiny. Just live your life to the fullest and live it like God wants you to.
i do agree that there is a lot of fantasy in the bible, but what matters are the teachings of Christ. It is up to anyone to read the bible in anyway one wants, someone who is atheist could see the bible as a horrible story, however, someone who believes in God will find peace, sorrow, languish, and happiness, let's not forget as someone very wise said in the past "Faith in God is for the unexpected" and what happened last Friday goes under that.
For those of you stating god is a fantasy because there is no evidence, how can you be serious? All you have to do is look around you at the miracle of life. Look at the complexity of the human body. Of the complexity of life in general and the planet. How everything has to be perfect just for life to exist. This is not evidence for you? Its easier for you to believe that this just sprang up from nothing by accident? Since you guys are so smart, using your brains instead of being followers or sheep or whatever you think is cute to call christians, how about using those genius minds of yours and rethinking this one. Which one seems like more fantasy and which one seems more scientific and realistic? Pretty clear to me and not because I read it in the bible or heard it in church. I used my own eyes and brain for this one so you need to come up with a new theory...
I think a lot of people do actually look at the beauty of life and marvel. They just refrain from making up stupid stories about how it all happened. Man in Sky waved hands, said "Alakazam!" and it was so. Instant world. Then God took a nap, because that made it tired or something. Whatever you say, Jack.
To gaze upon the majesty of the Universe and respond to the awe it inspires with "Wow! Look what God did!" is childish.
Accepting dogmatic, rote answers to the great questions of life, the universe and everything is to betray that which most defines our species – our insatiable curiosity.
The conceit that while many things are unknown, nothing is ultimately unknowable is the faith that truly drives humanity forward. Maybe we'll one day find hard evidence that the God of Abraham did it all, or perhaps we are nothing more than fleas on the back of the god Pangu – but we should never stop questioning.
The God of Abraham discourages curiosity. After all, the Original Sin for which all of humanity is cursed forever more was knowledge and understanding.
Ignorance may be bliss, but it is not a virtue.
I've never in my life heard it said thats how life began, If I had, I would agree with you. Rethink back to who you heard say that. Was it a believer, or a non believer? I'm pretty sure I know the answer to that.
I have no problem with continuing to search for knowledge or the truth. I do the same. However, I believe with the evidence we have visually and psychologically at hand, it is more fantasy than not to believe its all an accident. Many write off religion as fantasy because they haven't seen god's image with their own eyes. I'm pretty sure if they did they would not believe what they saw anyway. To have doubts or to keep searching for answers is just human. To outright call believers nuts or childish or fantasy lovers is what I have a problem with. Truth is you don't have any more evidence to deny it then I do to believe it, so we should leave it to each his own.
If the One True Deity, shaper of The Universe, wishes their words to be transmitted and adhered to, they should have been a bit less ambiguous. Expecting people to select "The Truth" out of limitless possibilities on faith alone seems a sloppy way to run things – especially if the punishment for a wrong choice is eternal torment.
"How everything has to be perfect just for life to exist. "
This statement is a fallacy. Everything had to be just perfect for life to turn out this way, but this planet is not necessarily the only way life could turn out.
How many places other than Earth have we found life? Is this a coincidence? As big as time and space is, I'd say that it has to be pretty darn perfect to only be in one place... When/if we find life elsewhere, I might reconsider my words/thoughts...
It is indeed comforting to think that this entire universe exists as it does simply to have us in it.
God is anthropocentric, right? We are the predilect objects of Creation...
But nature doesn't work that way.
The Universe is not adapted to us – we are adapted to it.
The reason? This question can't be answered on a level you're referring, and I doubt it ever will until after the MINUTE time we spend on this earth is over (who knows after that?). This is a situation similar to Job's, and to the best of my knowledge, thousands of years later hasn't revealed a humanly explanation.
As far as 'a day to shake your fist at heaven' – life has been given to us as a gift, despite being overwhelmingly undeserving of it...and to be confused as to what the will of God actually is should be considered different than thinking we could actually understand God's will. I can't pretend to know the sorrow of being in a position like many are right now, but if you believe in a God that is attached to His people, you have to take a step back and realize that God has given us His children to take care of...trying to understand the will of an omniscient and omnipotent God will not yield results.
You know what's less desirable to hear by more people? A tired, generic, over-simplified list from a blog contributor.
No kidding Gandhus when did anyone give a damn what Stephen Prothero has to say about these issues, even if he is the "religion scholar" of Boston University lol. More people's lives have been touched but what Pastor Huckabee can say in a few seconds that all of Prothero's Blogs combined. The fact of the matter for those of us that actually have a faith a lot of what Huckabee says makes sense to us and is meaningful and it gives hope because we actually believe in the afterlife and take God at His word and finally that God takes us to a better place, a place where we are in perfect relationship with our Father God just like it was in the Garden.
So what if Prothero does not like what is being said, the fact of the matter is that we live in a fallen world Cain killed Able with a knife he didn't need a gun. Sin enterred the world through our disobedience to God and now more than ever we are teaching children its ok to not have a faith, we kick God out of schools no one is saying everyone needs to say Christians prayers and that human life is not valuable and then we wonder they they are turning out this way.
In the end we know that we are fighing a spiritual battle Ephesians 6:12 "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high." But we know how the battle will end and how God will wipe away every tear and how Jesus said I go to prepare a place for you so where I am you may be there too.
There are many times that God does bring judgement on a people like he did the Jewish nation everytime they rebelled he told told them many times to fight the enemies and gave them victory over them. We just don't know when it is Judgement and when it is the devil having a field day.
Stephen says he dare not position himself to think what God might be saying but that is exactly what he is doing when he gives his counter point like as if giving a neutral answer is any answer at all.
Here is as more fuller reading of the chapter on Ecclestiates :
1 To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:2 a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;3 a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 5 a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 6 a time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;7 a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;8 a time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.9 What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboreth?10 I have seen the travail, which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised in it.11 He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.
This guy doesn't make any sense. The fact is "Guns don't kill people, People, kill people". That statement is absolutely true. The gun itelf is perfectly harmless. It's only dangerous if used inappropriately.
Also – If Obama can have protection with guns, why can't I?
"Guns don't kill people, People, kill people" is not a fact, it is an unintelligent contribution in order to deflect that people with guns kill people. No need for mental illness. Give a gun to an angry person and he is likely to kill or harm someone. Sadly, no none from the gun lobby here has made a thoughtful contribution how to avoid tragedies.
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.