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 wasn't God's will, it was the Devil's will....
So your saying that God can't stop he Devil?
Our Christian Right is nothing more than a Taliban wannabe. It's a case study in cognitive dissonance. Narrow-minded self-righteousness masquerading as piety. They put God into a tiny box of their own making and then try to crush the rest of the world so that it fits into the same box. And blaming the slaughter of innocents on mental health issues does not fit into that box. There are shades of grey in that assessment that pull the underpinnings right out from under their simplistic religious world view. They can't believe in God AND in science at the same time. This is a weakness of mind that the rest of us need not buy into. Who could argue that this young man was sane when he killed his own mother, 20 innocent children, 6 faculty members, and then himself? It may be morally satisfying to call it evil. That allows them the self-satisfaction of putting themselves squarely on the "good" side. But this us vs. them mentality is rooted in territoriality, a survivalist trait left over from an evolution they don't even believe happened. More cognitive dissonance at work. But calling it evil leaves us with no path to a solution. Mental illness can be treated. And it doesn't take much research to recognize the appalling state of mental health treatment in this country. A path is there for us to follow to at least a partial solution. But we need to take of the Jesus-colored lenses to see it.
God does not will evil, but we are in a world of sin and with sin comes suffering and tragedy with the human experience. 2 completely different things to say this tragedy was God's will and chalking it up to living in a fallen world.
Some Christians live their life to be close to Christ and God. Others don't. God sees it all. I know what you are saying. There are many whom God says he will judge more harshly because they cause others to stray through their actions and falsities. Nonetheless, there is nothing wrong with Jesus Christ. The world changed because of him. God gave him to us to die, so that we could see how much God loves us. All we have to do is acknowledge that and let the love of Christ into your soul brotha.
No Barney, I really don't have to acknowledge it. If God's primary test for us on this Earth is to choose the right Holy Book and/or Messiah, based on ancient text written by men without character references, then He's not a just or loving God at all, but an immature bully playing a complex game of solitaire with our souls... and cheating.
I absolutely respect your right to find your own path to God. But I have to assert that a much more sensible and moral test would be whether you make the world a better place or not by being in it. Not whether you've been "saved," or mumble the correct dogma on the right day of the week in the right-shaped building.
Mikerooni, I don't disagree with your last paragraph for sure. I respect what you are saying. But it really is much deeper than that. Everyone wants to set their own rules, but really, when it all comes down to it, I believe there is one truth. We are all searching for it. My point is maybe this: Think of the one person that means everything to you. You love them to death and they really fill up your heart. OK. Now, prove it. I can be just as cynical as the rest because it's very easy to poke random holes in everything. What isn't easy to do is escape the life-changing power of Christ in your life. But you have to look into who this Jesus guy was and his ministry. Try doing some of the things he asks in the Bible. Let him in. He already knows we are all major screw-ups, but that's central to Christianity: the admission of imperfection. And again...that's why it's amazing that God loves us anyways. All I'm saying is, I'm not going to comment on rocket science unless I've been schooled in it, been around those who know about it, and have worked in the industry and gained experience in it. I'm not necessarily saying this is you, but many folks comment on things they haven't really given a fair shot exploring. You seem like a bright person and I respect what you are saying because it's thoughtful. God Bless.
Abraham Lincoln was 100% correct. But think about it. This world is ripe with evil. Always has been. God is here to see us through, and to walk with us, so that we can grow. Suffering, service, and sacrifice are central to Christianity. I firmly believe Good always triumphs over evil. No matter what evil does, good will come from it. It is of course difficult to see what good could possibly come from evil such as this. But God is a marathon runner. He sees beyond what we think we see. Maybe gun laws will change. Maybe those directly and indirectly effected by this will love more and treat every day as a gift, because that's precisely what it is. Not one of us is guaranteed another day on this earth, but we are guaranteed the unconditional love of God and the gift of Jesus Christ. That means everlasting life. That is good.....very good. One thing is also clear: Jesus's absolute love for children. He speaks of children and having the heart of the child often in the Bible. Why? Because those hearts are pure and full of unconditional love and faith. Then he said to them, “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me also welcomes my Father who sent me. Whoever is the least among you is the greatest.” In my faithful opinion, those children are in heaven with God. Whether it was God's will or not is not something we can discern. I know these things: God is not evil. God is not fear. Nothing having to do with either of these things is what God is. However, the Bible is clear that there is evil on this earth, and that HE will be the avenger and everyone will be judged. But, we should not judge but continue to love with all our hearts. God Bless.
Barney – Very well said. Stand by for the attack.
Sorry, I meant "can't discern". And I also meant to elaborate that everyone effected that looks at life differently, and doesn't take anything for granted anymore, and spreads that kind of unconditional love every single day is a powerful thing. Unfortunately many times it does take us tragedy to see this. That isn't a knock, as we are all flawed in this way. But the kind of love I pray that eventually comes from this will be a powerful force for good in this world. Good always defeats evil.
It is bad enough that parents have to go through the unthinkable. Now tell me, how would having prayer in schools change the events which took place on 12.14? The person who commited this unspeakable act was not a student!!!
I appreciate your thoughts on this. I believe prayer strengthens us in a world filled with evil. If it was perfect, we would never grow with God. We'd never suffer and know Christ. And we would certainly never have a servants heart. God said he would be the final avenger and the final judge. For us, he asks to continue to love in the face of evil with everything we have. Love God, love your neighbor through thick and thin. That is what we must pray for, love and peace to get into the hearts of all those in pain over these evil events. Many times folks ask why as they should. Why would God? Etc. But it wasn't God, it was the devil at work here. And the layers of the onion always lead somewhere unbelievable, but a reality of this life. Prayer can move mountains. Prayer changes lives. It is powerful when two or more are together. Would it have stopped the killings? I'm not going to judge that. I just know that Jesus constantly asks us to believe as if our prayers are already answered. With faith you can move mountains. That kind of faith is the faith that children still have, which is why Christ loves them the most. They are pure of heart, and full of trust.
Believers...stop arguing and fueling the fire with those who don't believe. You know why you believe and you will continue to live for God. Continue to pray because you know that one day all of this will not matter and all of this pain will be no longer! We know that we have our doubts as Christians too, that is normal...just continue doing what God has tasked you to do and pray for those nonbelievers as one day they too will know the truth.
My dad's faith was a rock, and he was also the best human being I ever knew. The day he died, he was the strongest person in the hospital room.
It's just that sometimes I wonder... maybe if people would quit trying to convince themselves it will all get sorted out in the next life, they'd put a bit more effort into sorting it out in this one.
Thank you, Stephen Prothero, for saying exactly what I'd like to have said, given a media forum!
If there is a god, I hope he has an excuse for being such an ar se hole
For all you believers: If we all accept that this massacre of innocents was not God's will, will you all please stop thanking your God when you win Wimbledon or the Super Bowl - because that is not God's will either.
The more penetrating theological question for all believers is this: Why does Jehovah ALLOW mass killings to happen? And does he really give a crap if Serena Williams juices and wins Wimbledon?
I agree. God should be thanked in ALL instances of success, suffering, and an average day. It IS the walk, the growth, the strengthening and the light that comes through us as we start seeing, feeling, and knowing God. Yes, the question is why does God allow this type of thing to take place. We cannot answer that. However, God does say to continue to love in the face of evil and to hate evil at the same time. He also says that HE and he alone will be the avenger and final judge, not us. This is why he asks us to keep shining His light in this world. Maybe so he can find lost souls that He continues to wait and allow humans to move forward in their lives? In the Old Testament, God somewhat tries to forces us to love Him. When Christ came, it changed. He no longer forces anyone to love HIm because He knows that nobody can be forced to love. But examples can be set. Lives can be changed, and that spreads like a nice smile you see from a stranger in the morning when you are in a bad mood. Good comes from evil. Good always wins because Good is in the truth. The truth can never be anything but. Often we hear of the Shepherd celebrating when he finds one of his lost sheep. I think God wants to bring His people back from the brink and save those who open their hearts. In the end, we aren't guaranteed another day on this earth. However, we are guaranteed the free gift of the love of God through his son Jesus Christ...
stop blaming this on secular culture===we need reasonable gun control. This would've never happened
if the NRA would have allowed reasonable gun control. To also blame this on well wow they would have
found something to use as a weapon. .. .the fact is he didn't use something else as a weapon–he used
This commentary is right on target, as Stephen says after any tragedy there is always some religious idiot who will come forward and blame Godless America, Heathen New Orleans or schools because they don`t say prayers any more. And there are still people who will lap this pablum up as devine truth. America for all it`s fantastic accomplishments over the years still clings to a belief in dieties that most other developed countries have long since moved on to more realistics challenges. Like caring for the poor, universal medicare and being our brother`s keeper. As they say "God bless America".
What if it was? Who are you to question God? Your pressuposition is putting God into a box that you'd like him to be.
who are you not too?
Kudos to you Stephen Prothero!
I sense that deep inside you there is an atheist just waiting to get out....at LEAST a deist.
Pretty sure Jesus would be a gun control advocate who was a pacifist. He probably would supported gay rights and Obamacare. They promote love and support and equality. Loving your neighbor. And would be appalled at the divisiveness and hatred brewed over the past 2000 years in the name of God. I thought he taught acceptance and loving kindness and compassion. Not power over others or the ability to be self righteous and judgmental. Too many of us buy into the message that we need to preserve the status quo as the chosen people, the chosen race, the chosen way to live. All it has bred is hatred and war and violence. How can we as humans stand for this? How many wars and shootings will it take until we realize we are going about this all wrong?
This is the most clear-headed article I've read all week, and the author should be congratulated for telling it like it is. This is just common sense stuff, and I don't understand how anyone can argue with it ... but since religion and common sense are mutually exclusive, I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Bottom line, it is obscene to make statements like Huckabee's when all of Newtown (not a community of atheists, I'm willing to bet) is in deep grief. There is a fine line between his statement and the actions of groups like Westboro Baptist. I dare you to tell me how they're different.
I am a believer that God is in control; however, "THIS WAS NOT GOD's WILL." God recognizes sin and we have free will to act for good or for evil. What happened to these innocent Children, Men, and Woman was just that, "EVIL" and God does not "Will" Evil against us. Anyone who would say such has no understanding of who God is. I am pretty confident that God felt the fear and sorrow of all those affected and wept with us.
Only a gigantic steaming pimple-covered a$$ would say that slaughtering children is the will of the Imaginary Sky Fairy.
As for the idea that 'guns don't kill people, people kill people' ..... ok, how about this: people with rapid fire high capacity guns kill LOTS MORE people, quicker, than people with box cutters.
"A sword by itself does not slay; it is merely the weapon used by the slayer. "
Seneca the Younger (4BC – 65AD).
So "guns don't kill people, people do" goes back quite a ways.
Guns don't kill people, people kill people.
It is a true statement, but it is really hard for me to put a bullet in your head without a gun.
Excellent point. But then I ask this "righteous" people..........
Fine, you want God back in public schools. Ok fine lets bring Him in. But then I ask you, which God? Who's God? Which Name? Because last time I check, this country is made up of different people with different religious beliefs. And not only that, but they choose FREELY to follows their own beliefs. Are we bringing then all in it are we just bringing YOUR God?!
You want religion back at schools, then you better allow ALL RELIGIONS at school.
So, you people saying we need God back, you willing for Muslims, Judaism, Hinduism, Catholics, Protestants, Lutherans, Johova Withness, Gnosticism, Confuciasm, (ohh so many to list) pray at schools?!!!!
And of course, God hasn't been vanquished from schools, because no one is prohibited from praying whenever they wish, to whomever they wish. What you can't do in a public school is sponsor one religion over another, so the best policy is to remain neutral.
This tragedy cannot be explained away by reason,because this has no reason. All that can be done is offer support and condolences to these families who's lives have been torn apart. Help them heal if you can, respect their space and give them time, the realization of this deluded individuals act, is here but it will come again and again for the survivors.
God bless and peace be upon you.
All Canadians share your pain and sorrow.
Any God who would slaughter 20 first-graders, just because he was in a bad mood about some political issue, isn't worth worshippnig anyway.
It was the flying spaghetti monster's will.
Does that make you feel better puddin'?
It was God's will I responded with this.
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.