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.
Hear are my responses to these trite slogans:
1. “It was God’s will.” – No it wasn't, it was the will of the killer. Human made problems deserve humans based blame.
2. “Jesus called the children home.” – First, that assumes that they were all Christians, which they may not have been. Second, I would think Jesus would rather children be with their parents than dead. Lastly, what terrible self soothing stuff [gag.]
3. “After death, there is the resurrection.” – Prove it. Personally I prefer living.
4. “This was God’s judgment.” – Why would God judge children to be worthy of death. If God is punishing children for the actions of others, then that speaks volumes about God doesn't it?
5. “This happened because America is too secular.” – More violence has been committed in the name of different religions over the centuries than nearly anything else. Schools in Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel are theological and everything is just dandy over there.
6. “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” – And people with guns can kill more people more quickly. I don't trust people to plug in a computer correctly, so why would I trust people with the ability to take away life in the blink of an eye?
5. “This happened because America is too secular.” – More violence has been committed in the name of different religions
That is actually false.
Heuristic_Obese, cite your proof or shove off, fatty.
How quaint, personal attacks. I see you didn't ask for the same bit of information from the original poster. Why is that?
Why is a man who obviously has NO RELIGIOUS BELIEF WHATSOEVER, allowed a comment here on Belief Blog? Go spew your doubt and despair and hopelessness over on some Atheist web site.
How dare he have a dissenting opinion! We all need to believe in fairies and goblins to post here!
Fabjan, he makes good points in this article. Open your mind a bit and give them consideration.
1. You don't know he does not worship God
2. Even if he does not worship God, his atheism is still a belief.
"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. "
("About this blog" above on this page)
Believe it or not, the religion and belief of others impacts the non-believer's life as well.
Heuristic_Obese, atheism is no more a belief than not collecting stamps is a hobby.
And get over your intellectual pretensions, fatso.
Surely atheism is a belief. It is an affirmative belief that God does not and/or cannot exist. It IS a belief.
"It is an affirmative belief that God does not and/or cannot exist."
No, it is a disbelief
It's not that I believe that God does not exist. It's just that I don't believe that God exist. Much like I don't believe that dragons or gnomes or magic exist.
this is by no means God fault, the gift God gives is life not death, the answers are in the Bible if people have true faith, it is mans fault , they have distorted views of what the bible really teaches. Those that have died will get a resurection. Satan enjoys all the confusion and these evil acts he is to blame, the bible says that God can do no wrong or wish badness on anyone, Jehovah is merciful and loving and kind and knows the pain that people suffer, that why true beleivers in gods word know that the life of those childeren will not be forgotten and they will be resurected in to a new earthly paradise where Satan will no longer be and evil people that kill inocent childern, Jehovah promises that the wicked and there ways will be destroyed, I know people want answers now and are demanding them from God, open the Bible and get the answers , find the truth, pray for it and if one of Jehovah's witnesses knocks at your door listen to them, they are seperate from all the world religions and have full faith that all evil and injustice will be handled by our heavenly father.
all the world religions are misleading and cause people to loose faith like the idea " God took 20 more angels" he needed. He has millions of angels already, and he has a set number of people that will go to heaven, 144,000 to rule as kings and preists over a the earth, and in that paradise earth the will be those children that lost there lives to that evil man, and they will learn Jehovah's ways and be truely happy because there will be no evil and someone to take there lives and they will be reunited with there families and not have someone take there children away from them.
That's quite the rambling, steaming load of bullshit, Jamie.
Um, Zeus never said nor did any of those things. All this time you've been worshiping the wrong guy! Isn't that frustrating?
Jamie, how come your god needs a book to get his message out? Like somebody else here asked, how come he can't get with the times and do his own website or get some tweets out? Heck, even the pope, that defender of molesters, can do that much.
The reason behind all that is obviously that your god does not exist. Stop referencing your stale old book of myths already.
"the answers are in the Bible if people have true faith,"
That just means that what the Bible says isn't any obvious logic, but requires an act of blind trust to accept it as true, right?
So the answers are in the bible right next to the stories of your loving god killing masses of people and slaughtering babies?
I just lost IQ points by reading that.
The "gun happy" minority in the US believes that the rest of the civilized world is out of step. Now it is time for the "silent Majority to speak up.
Any guy who begins with "there may or not be a God" should not be in theological studies....why use agnostics to pontificate about someone they don't know?
Thomas – Would I need to be an author of French Literature to study it? Your assertion is baseless.
Fundamentalists, eager for simple answers to make THEM feel comfortable, but at a cost to others. When awful things happen, that creates a dilemma for those believers(for you fundamentalists who can read this, that means no good choices) ; they have to find an explanation that justifies their dogma AND their idea of a god. They can only doing this by blaming the victim. That's right folks... in their mind, these kids somehow 'had it coming' or their parents did or their community did. It's a sick dogma that has nothing to do with love. It is all about THEM. Selfish, cruel and spiritually dishonest. Look at the faces of Westboro Baptist members (who saw this as an opportunity to proclaim what I have just pointed out while the families of these innocent children are grieving). What do you see in their eyes? It isn't love. They don't know what that is. What they sell is pure hate.
embrace a simplistic doctrine that cannot hold up to examination.
If anything is simplistic, it is your thinking process on this issue. By no means is it necessitated that these children had it coming.
A terrible thing happened. Evil took place. What does the atheist say in the face of evil? "Tough luck"? At least in the Theistic frame of reference there is something more to the situation. Left to atheism, there is nothing to say about the incident beside "too bad".
Heuristic_Obese, that is an insulting statement and is unfair to atheists, who obviously have much more to say about the issue. So stow the insults or keep quiet, fatty.
Phul, what do you say at the bedside of a dying child? Bertrand Russel was honest about this situation from the atheistic perspective. He was clear that you can't even consider the death of a child an evil act on atheism.
So, what do atheists say at the bedside of a dying child?
All I can say is yea verily brother, you have hit the proverbial nail on the head! Buffoons like Huckabee are certainly part of the problem in our country, where supernatural belief systems are all too pervasive in my humble opinion and proponents use them like shields to keep us mired in ignorance and mediocrity. God is not one of the things that made this country great and though I wouldn't tie the almighty to senseless and tragic shootings like this, I suspect that this would NOT happen in a nation where we believe that this life is all we have. All lives are precious and wonderful.
Read the bible-God did terrible things to people. Luckily I don't believe in fairy-tales.
On what basis are they terrible? Do you know that they were not justified and necessary? Often times I see individuals like you, not you necessarily, make claims like the one above only to then call for the death of an individual they do not like.
It is very strange when the very people who complain about God interacting in the lives of human beings in order to judge and condemn their wrongs, then complain "Where was God to stop this..." when something happens.
Either you want God to deal with evil in the world, or you want God to stay out of it and give everyone more chances.
Heuristic_Obese has just presented a false dichotomy. He is an overweight lump.
Thinking clearly will render that one either wants God ti intervene or does not want God to intervene. Either you want him to deal with evil or you don't want him to deal with evil. It is the law of excluded middle.
You said, "It is very strange when the very people who complain about God interacting in the lives of human beings in order to judge and condemn their wrongs, then complain "Where was God to stop this..." when something happens."
You seem to have failed the "reading for comprehension" part. That question may be asked of a believer to prod him or her to examine the irrational beliefs he or she holds. It doesn't require a belief in the fairy tale.
Asking the question how Santa can visit every house in one night, doesn't mean imply that the asker believes Santa to be real. It is a question to show how silly a belief in Santa is.
You said, "Either you want God to deal with evil in the world, or you want God to stay out of it and give everyone more chances."
Those are merely options for believers in the fairy tale, but there are actually rational options, too.
Adults that have outgrown the infantile beliefs, tend to want those that haven't to keep those beliefs to themselves.
You teach people they are APE'S who swung out of trees and learned to stand up straight so they could see Prey and other Predators and then act surprized when they act such. What reason have apes to be good?
If you are required to have some invisible nonexistent sky god to keep you from raping and murdering then please, whatever you do, don't lose your faith/delusion.
That argument makes no sense what so ever. Belief in the theory of evolution has no bearing on behavior. Similarly, religious affiliation is no predictor of kindness.
Billy, people just need to learn to deal with the truth (I'm talking about evolution being the truth here). Perhaps the mistake is in first teaching them that they aren't apes, which might make it more difficult, a kind of a let-down, when they learn that they are. Comforting or not, we should strive for truth and understanding.
Same reason man has to be good. Cultural cohesion
And, the plural of ape does not call for an apostrophe
Billy: Do you always capitalize words needlessly?
If we are really striving for truth and understanding, then we must admit that there is no purpose, no end, no teleology, no good, no bad, no right, no wrong, based on evolution.
What is, simply is. What some one does is as justified as what some other chooses to do. Because you don't like something is not justification to consider it wrong.
Evolution itself supplies no means of any rational system of judgement, legislation, morality, etc. What a terrible state. According to evolution, the act that took place in Sandy Hook cannot even be, rationally, considered as evil since evil does not exist in Evolution.
Humans evolved as a social animal. We find strength in numbers and ingenuity. People don't have claws or teeth that can easily be used as weapons. We don't have built-in tools to kill. We are not built like predators. We also don't have the speed and agility (anymore) to avoid being easy prey.
We rely on others in our group for protection. Killing our offspring, or those that produce the offspring, threatens the survival of the group.
To function as a society, everyone has to abide by agreed upon rules. The need to stick together to survive in combination with our ability to communicate and think (a quality far stronger in some than others) has led to written and unwritten rules for our societies. Our morals flow from evolution.
But there is no easier way to justify a power grab and immoral rules on the group than to claim divinely inspired rules. To really fuck up society, there is no easier way than religion.
Why is it so hard to understand that God endowed us with free will....the right to choose good or evil ourselves? And that he lets us exercise that free agency to our blessing or condemnation? If he intervened, or forced us to be good, we would be just robots, and unable to grow and progress. Freedom to choose....and with it the possibility of making horribly wrong choices......is part of this earthly school. If this life is all there was....if there was no eternal afterlife far glorious than this life....than we would have a valid point in being despondant and without hope. So. Make your choice. Hope for something better, as taught to us by prophets and apostles for centuries. Or give up and believe this hell is all there is.
"Why is it so hard to understand that God endowed us with free will..."
Because it is inconsistent with the concept of an omniscient god
So what is your god's role in all of this then, if we are here making our own choices? Why even have a god?
Fabjan – "Or give up and believe this hell is all there is." What makes you think this life is "hell" ? It could just as well be your "heaven", if you allow it to be so! It ALL depends upon your point of view...
Thank you Stephen Prothero for putting into words, things I've thought myself. After the first shaking and asking questions, which I do agree with, can we please just do something kind for one another?
Who decides what is kind toward another? What if the person you are doing something, "kind", for does not think that thing being done is kind?
Sometimes people take "kind" things as unkind because they don't appreciate or want those things. Sometimes people have a desire to harm other peoples. The "kind" thing to do, in their mind, is to allow them to harm other people.
What dictates your definition of kind? Is it subjective or objective? If it is objective, where does that objective come from?
I don't know what would be considered kind in oh, let's say a foriegn country. I have a better idea of what would be considered a kindness to my neighbor. I have a very good idea what would be a kindness for my children. It's common sense and simple really, If I am hurting myself, it's not kind. If I am causing someone else to feel hurt, pain..those kind of feelings then it's not kind. We don't always know what the kind thing to is but that shouldn't stop us from trying.
That is a rather simplistic description. So all pain is bad and unkind? I don't think so. Sometimes when you do what is best and "kind" for your children it brings about emotional or physical hurt.
Kindness does not equate with painlessness or lack of discomfort.
Where does your idea of "kind" come from? if it is subjective, it is purposeless and ineffective. If it is objective, what is the grounding for that objective?
Why doesn't he want to hear, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people"? Is it inconvenient for him? To focus on the guns in this issue is to miss the real cause of the event.
These children were not killed because guns exist. These children were killed because of a human being. Human beings are the problem in this situation. Human nature causes things like this to take place. The human condition is such that we have the propensity to murder, steal, lie, etc.
Until we start dealing with these issues by dealing with, and managing, the human condition, there will be no real change taking place.
The "do something" approach is not effective when the things being done do not address the core issue. The core issue in this situation is the human condition. Human beings have the propensity for horrible acts. That is what must be addressed.
There is no one simple thing to fix. But taking weapons out of the hands of those incapable of making good choices would be ONE start. Addressing the problems of mental illness would be another. And as far as the state of humanity today.. I have to ask myself, what am I doing to promote peace and kindness in the world? There is no peace for someone who carries a weapon, only fear. There is no love unless I show love. Have you hugged someone today?
"These children were not killed because guns exist." BULLSHlT! YES THEY WERE INDEED! ONLY GUNS will allow a person to force his way into a locked and guarded school and then proceed to kill 26 people in mere SECONDS!!!! IF GUNS did NOT exist, those children would be ALIVE TODAY! Stop kidding youself! THIS IS INDEED ABOUT GUNS!!!!!!
They said no God in his school...so why r u asking for Him now?
I know this is reaaaaly difficult to understand, so I'm going to type S L O W L Y. Nobody, ever, ever, said that you CAN'T pray in school. The fact is that you can't be FORCED to pray in school.
But I realize you might not have a full deck, and you'll probably just keep on repeating this nonsense.
Prothero is missing the intention behind "guns don't kill people. people kill people". as most of us already know, that saying is meant to say that even if you take away guns, people can (and unfortunately probably will) still kill others, just by different methods. the problem lies with people, not the instrument they use to bring harm.
I see your point, but I think he implies that the impact of guns is more severe than other kinds of weapons. His comment on nuclear weapons seems to be saying that this kind of killing (with non-musket guns) is too easy. Maybe I'm reading him wrong but that's what I see him saying.
Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.a
This is so much smarter than anything I have read onthis. Thank you.
Mr. Prothero, your level of buffoonery is quite astounding.
Really? Based on what? Rather than simply offering your editorial insult (with cowardice, I might add), let's hear your insightful take on the matter so we can judge your own astounding level of buffoonery...
People have free will, God does not intervene in every human act.
Here we have an irresponsible gun owning parent who taught her behavior challenged son [forget "Aspergers", remember home school] to operate and fire at least 3 different weapons, and left them accessable to him. Her evil, not God's.
Reality, for those who got their weapon information from cowboy movies, is not more guns, not guns in schools. Reality is friendly fire incidents, bystander deaths, stolen guns. NRA, and other manufacturer sponsored organisations, pretend otherwise, to sell more of their products.
And to those who claim USA was founded on Christianity, learn history, The founding fathers, with one exception, were Diests and Freemasons, not Christians. See the Tripoli Treaty, drafted under Washington, passed and ratified under Adams, which says the USA is NOT a Christian nation.Lincoln was not a Christian either.
Your God has never intervened in anything, ever. You need to stop making excuses for this wacko.
Stephen...here's another thing you may not want to hear: "Evil exists."
"Evil" does not exist, except in the intentions of people! So-called "EVIL" is nothing more than human decision to purpetrate selfish and malicious acts! There IS NO supernatural "force" that "makes" people do bad things!...
Your fluffy-headed comment is incongruous with your lofty screen name, o sage one...
Cant believe contemporary media, but ever ready to believe accounts written by Apostles 20 yrs after passing of the Christ?
Either the shooter was born south of the Mason-Dixon line or he spent a lot of time there. On weekends he hung around the gun & ammo. department at Walmart. He lived in a trailer park, drank Everclear and had intimate relations with his sister. He was a rabid nascar fan, a card carrying member of the Tea Party and he always voted republican. There you have it. His profile in a nutshell.
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.