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.
You so had me until number 6. My daughter was killed by a drunk driver. Based on your thoughts it was the beers fault as much as the driver’s... The driver is sitting in prison for 13 years for killing my daughter. If I remember correctly (which I certainly may not), I believe the cans in his truck were Natural Light. If so, then is Natural Light responsible for my daughter's death? Should those NL Senior Executives be sitting in prison with him?
The beer affected the driver’s mind and his ability to think straight. Mental illness affects a person’s mind all day, every day. Beer, guns, cigarettes, knives, saturated fats, fertilizer, you tube (where you can find videos to build bombs and guns), the list goes on and on – let’s get rid of it all so we don’t have to hold ourselves accountable for anything.
Those poor babies lost their lives at the hand of a mentally ill person. The Firefighter’s in New York lost their lives to a man who had already killed his own Grandmother and was released from prison… Gun control laws didn’t stop the madman in Norway from killing those children on that island… Mexico has some of the strictest gun control laws on the planet and also has one highest annual death tolls as a result of gun violence.
Its such a bigger picture than restricting the sale of a fire arm, but like normal – let’s not tackle the hard problems of helping f
families with their mentally ill, let’s blame something that has no fault.
I can't wrap my mind around your comment at all, but please notice I didn’t call you an idiot. AND it’s not this keyboards fault for any misspellings or grammatically incorrect sentences, it’s my fault as it’s the driver’s fault for killing my daughter.
Kim, I am very sorry for the loss of your daughter, but the beer was not sitting behind the wheel driving the car, a person was. A person used a car as a weapon. In the same sense neither alcohol, nor drugs, nor mental illness, nor poverty or privilege shoots a gun; people shoot guns and kill people with guns.
Steve, your argument doesnt hold for me. I just moved to Oklahoma City when Timothy McVeigh killed 19 small children, 149 adults with a bomb he built himself in the back of a moving truck with directions off the internet. I worked in a hospital those babies were transported too. It’s tragic and heartbreaking but people always find ways of doing harm to themselves and others when it’s their intent. That’s the difference between my daughter’s death and this situation.
The facts remain the same though. A mentally off mind can’t be expected to work properly. Timothy McVeigh had a pattern and history of mental illness. He’d been reported in but their hands were tied, he’d done no harm.
A normal minded person does not commit acts like this. You’re blaming the object and in doing so you will never stop the intent or future damage. It will never stop – look at history.
In my opinion, MADD is one of the greatest tools in our country – this conversation could learn from them. They tackle the person. They educate us, our children, bartenders, police officers, bystanders and friends all in an effort to stop the inebriated person from getting behind the wheel. If our mentally ill had that many people watching out for them, then we might have had a chance at stopping all this death. If I haven’t made my point, MADD didn’t remove alcohol from our country, they gave us the tools to watch out for each other.
Madd also works with the government trying to stop the drunk from getting behind the wheel and it’s working. We as a country aren’t lobbying to help our mentally ill on any organized manner. We’re only talking about taking away the tools they use to kill us – which is just about everything – including this tool, the internet.
Thank you for the kind words on my daughter. You are clearly a kind guy. You give the mentally ill too much credit in being reasonable.
I'm always saddened to hear of anyone's loss, for no matter what their individual situation, for those left behind will miss them in some way, even the mentally ill.
Most mentally ill people are not violent, and those that are usually get noticed and treated, but some fall through the chasms in health coverage quite easily, since for most of them there is no health care at all.
Consider all the different reasons why no one helps the mentally ill. The political reasons are as bad as all the rest combined, but over arching all of them is RELIGION.
Religion is the worst because it is so widespread, yet it is a form of mental illness. Religion is a delusional belief system, a type of schizophrenia, and it can literally make sane people insane.
The smarter con-artists running the show know this and do not want to see any threat towards their cash cow and prefer to gather in the mentally ill for their own purposes anyway, so you will not see any effective legislation anytime soon.
Once an effective program to treat all mentally ill people and to restrict their movements, it is only a matter of time before all the religious people are diagnosed – but they will fight any "treatment" tooth-and-nail to the death....because they have been programmed and manipulated to do that very thing.
Religion is the closest to a perfect scam as you can get. Free money, s.ex, wealth, and POWER!!!
Power to escape any accountability for your crimes no matter what they are.
Power to murder, to do any psychopathic thing, any crazy stuff that can possibly be hidden behind the religion is fair game.
The RCC owns trillions of dollars worth of assets worldwide, yet they spend none of it if they can help it.
Religion is a madness on the face of the Earth, and the lack of accountability protects those who hate and want to hurt others within a religion much better than outside of one.
And prohibiting objects, whether drugs, guns, or rock n' roll, usually means someone doesn't want to actually deal with the actual roots of the problem, like mental health. It has been this way so long it is the basis for many people's reactions.
Okay, off the soapbox now. Carry on.
Rational Human and Steve, seriously thank you for being kind to me. I’ve watched some of these comments and was worried to post but I’m passionate about this issue and follow most everything I can on cnn.com. The beer and truck became the tool that killed my daughter, just as the gun became the tool to kill those sweet babies. The difference is that it wasn’t the driver’s intent to harm my little girl, he was just out of his mind (and illegally here so the years of MADD in our schools didn’t help his decisions).
I have three very important life experiences that bring me such passion in this topic and will absolutely join any organized group which forms to seriously help our mentally ill. 1) I lost a child in a senseless act. 2) I worked the Oklahoma City bombing. 3) My mother is full blown diagnosed schizophrenic for the last twenty five years and I can get NO help with her. There is no safe place for her, no help because she doesn’t believe she has a problem and refuses her medicine. My mom believes she is God. Could my mom do something like this mass murder? I would like to think NO, but there is violence in her diagnoses and just like so many she is excellent at telling the doctors what they want and need to hear to let her go freely and they cant talk to me no matter how hard I have tried. Does she own a gun, NO but her IQ is very high, she could make it happen whether we had gun control laws or not AND PLEASE KNOW I DON’T THINK SHE WOULD, I really don’t – she’s well into her seventies now, I’m not trying to alarm anyone. I’ve just lived my adult life so frustrated with our mental health programs here in the United States. I understand other countries incorporate mental health in their National Health Care and PERHAPS that’s why some don’t have these mass shooting issues (not because of their gun control laws but because their help to their mentally ill – JUST A THOUGHT.)
Rational Human, you are like my husband. My Christian beliefs have changed since my daughter died. I pray every day. I believe in every peaceful religion on this planet and try so hard not to pass judgment on anyone. If there is a chance to see my little girl again, I want to make that happen at all cost. And maybe all these people are using the words religion, and God, and Christianity in place of a peaceful higher power. I really want to hold my daughter again someday… I don’t know, but you’re right, its fanaticism and single mindedness that keep us from ever really moving forward or finding a good solution to our problems.
AGAIN, thank you for your kind words and letting me put my thoughts out here without bashing me!
The guy who wrote this article is stating an opinion that is clearly shared by a lot of people and most people commenting. The only thing I would like to point out is the fact that there are people going to the extreme to take God out of a lot of places and those same people ask where God is during catastrophes. Whether its rhetorical, mocking, or just a question, it presents an interesting double standard. If you truly are atheist, why shake your fist up to God and demand answers? Acknowledging a being not there? This was a horrific crime and my prayers go to the victims.
Wow, you are so clueless about atheism and those of us who hang out here that all I can do is laugh.
god belongs in homes, or at church. kids can still pray at school. they just cannot have school sponsored prayers. why is this so hard to acknowledge?
atheists are shaking their fists at god?
how does one have any anger (or love, or fear) toward a being in which they do not believe.
i am an atheist. i do not blame god anymore than i blame bugs bunny, the flying spaghetti monster, leprechauns, zeus, rocky balboa, etc
If we are a nations under God,as we say we are,under God means God comes first,so the second Amendment is not sacred–God is sacred,and nothing is equal to God.The Bible warns about the worshiping of men,putting men first,in this case it would mean putting guns and men first,and not God first.And if you say guns can be added on after putting God first,the Bible says in Isaiah 2:4,God will Judge nations and men,and will beat swords to plowshares,and men will learn war no more,even a Militia falls under this.And God is here now in the person of the Holy Spirit,Jesus left him with us,and the Holy Spirit is as much God as the Father,and the Son.God will end all wars,and God doesn't end what is Holy,so wars are not Holy,and so are not of a Holy God,the God of the Holy Bible,the same Bible the politicians swear upon taking public office.
HUH??? What on earth are you rambling about???
That made absolutely no sense at all.
I think the people on the extreme edges of both sides need to sit down and be quiet. The 2cnd Amendment allows us to own guns, so there is no point in going on and on about banning all guns. However, I don't see why people outside the military or law enforcement should be permitted to own sophisticated weaponry that can fire off 100's of rounds of ammunition in a matter of a minute. Does that mean I can tell my neighbor: "I see your fully automatic assault rifle and I raise you 2 grenade launchers. One for me and one for my husband."? That doesn't make sense. If anyone in my family had to have a semi-automatic assualt rifle to take down a deer, they would be mocked right out of the family! There is no skill required with those assault rifles. Use a normal hunting rifle, go to the shooting range and stay there until you know how to shoot properly. Our children are too important to risk their lives so that some Rambo wanna be can feel like a man.
A semi auto sporting rifle is a normal hunting rifle. In fact, an AR 15 isn't even a good deer hunting rifle because it isn't powerful enough. It's a decent small game and varmint rifle and that's it.
So, all we need to do is make every gun in the nation magically disappear and all murder will end.
If thats the case then let me be the first to offer up my guns.
But i will need some assurances that people with evil intent wont just start using Knives, Bats and bombs and cars etc to do their evil bidding.
See how illogical the whole gun ban stuff is?
At least with a knife or a bat he's got to come right up to me, where I have a chance to defend myself.
jdeck has a point. there are only so many drive by stabbings
I find it interesting, although not surprising, the outcry his piece has generated. While I don't necessarily agree with everything he has to say, he's exercising his 1st amendment right to say it. Name-calling and other derogatory comments tends to indicate that everyone expects their right to freedom of speech be upheld – but are far less consideration is given to the author's same right. Some of these reactions are a good indication of how uncivilized our society as a whole has become.
One of my biggest annoyances is with religious people that state that person X is in a "Better Place". Depending on the stance and relationship to the individual someone always says this about EVERYONE. You could be the murderers family and you say it about the killer, you could be the family of a person who did nothing but sinned all of their life and yet you say it. The truth is, people say this because it is what they hope is the case not because they believe it. The fact is, IF God exists, it (versus he or she) is by default responsible for the good and the bad things. God is as equally evil as it is good. God is the devil is the savior is the creator. If God doesn't exist, then humanity is on its own and the evil done is an act done by one individual determined to be evil from the perspective of other individuals. Evil is a perspective and a diversion from what is considered normal.
Well we know were you stand you are a non believer. 5 of the 6 things are religion based. God does not do bad things He does allows them to happen to teach all of us. Those kids are in a better place than you or me, of that I am sure. Just take a look at headlines after the incident, and you can be sure it will get a lot worse in these final days. Read you poor men, learn accept Jesus and pray for the families of those taken. The bible is the instruction book left to us by His mercy, praise be His name above all names Jehova
God doesn't do bad things, really?
How about that big flood myth you cling to?
Everyone else on the planet was drowned, including many newborns.
Since Noah built the ark because god told him to, then god must have made the flood thus killing millions of people.
There is so many other instances of god smoting peeps in the bible that I think you might want to rethink that whole logic you have of god not hurting people.
I am now a "true believer" that I am glad to have a license and firearms to protect me and my family against the increasing number of nut-jobs in the country. After all, the Good Lord helps those who help themselves.
And who is going to protect your family and us from you Jose?
So niknak believes that EVERY gunowner in the country is a killer.
If that were the case, all non gunowners and whiners such as yourself would have been eliminated long ago.
and that flood "myth" seems to be supported by science too.
Maybe some education before you post is in order.
There is no scientific evidence to back up a global flood.
There is evidence of a regional flood though which at the time would have seemed to the inhabitants as a global flood.
Water as far as the eye could see in all directions etc...
So much for an inspired word from an all-powerful being. Can't even convey that the world is bigger than this small area of the middle east.
Then that would bring up the question of the plan for salvation or moral living for all the other cultures of the world. Or did your god just not care about them enough to give them revelations?
@t-bone: If you are in the middle of Lake Erie, you have water as far as the eye can see. Does your bible say that it was a regional flood? Would this regional flood kill people in China too?
Your downgrading of the flood incident from a CATEGORY 5 FLOOD (global destruction and death to all living things, except anything that can swim or fly, but that is another conversation) to a CATEGORY 2 FLOOD (a regional issue that may cause your sump pump to kick on) not withstanding...... You still have presented no verifiable evidence to support your claim.
You Sir, are a bubble headed ninnymuggin.
What in the blue holy hell is a ninnymuggin?
True Believer: So, god let all those kids be killed to teach us a lesson? What sort of pr1ck do you worship?
Yeah, I read the Second amendment, too. They don't mention anything about muskets either.
Nor does the First say anything about bad internet blogging, or the Fourth about GPS trackers and cell-phone triangulation.
Your arguments about nuclear bombs and muskets are borderline ridiculous and neither of them have any bearing against the current situation. The Supreme Court has repeatedly and explicitly defended the individual's right to own whatever sorts of small arms they care to. Get over it.
As per the rest, the First guarantees the individual's right to say whatever they like to whomever they choose – what were you looking for from publishing this commentary? Your right to be a public atheist? Congratulations, you've got it. Just as others have the right to be publically and vociferously Christian or Islamic or Sikh or Buddhist. That's America, Jack.
I don't get that he's an Atheist from reading this article. I get that he's a reasonable Christian. Just because he doesn't believe the same as you doesn't mean automatically that he's an Atheist.
Tragedies like this prove that God doesn't intervene. Christians always say that he does. They'll have an excuse for this one too.
Yeah, all Christians everywhere... sure...
Sure they say god interviens.
Just look at all the people and kids who were NOT shot.
See, that is evidence that god did intervien and saved them ;)
Do Christians always say that? Funny that everyone i ever talk to says God gave man free will and will judge each person on the day of judgement.
The shootings were not the actions of the Almighty. Evil did this action. The evil did have to pass through the hands of the Almighty. God allows such evil. More than likely, He is letting sin run its course.
Lot of things I don't like hearing either. I'd like to hear some reasonable solutions. I wish ALL people truly followed Christ philosophies but that is not going happen. Prayer is not coming back to school. Not only is that not happening. Violence is not going decrease. Children are not going start behaving better. Teachers are not going improve. You can put down whatever solution you want, we have freedom to write and read all kinds of jaded, biased and agenda based information. That's what we do, we find an excuse to believe and feel the way we do and alienate others that don't agree. Far left, far right, atheist or theist. Doesn't matter. We are selfish and spoiled. Be nice if we loved our neighbor as ourselves. We don't and we won't. Won't be viable tough solutions because agenda gets in the way. We can't please everyone and improve. Trying to please everyone will lead to failure and it has failed us. Takes humility to change. I wish I had better answers for the betterment of our society. We are political correct, our politicians are great on saying things like "I misspoke". That really means I lied! What can we do?
"Guns don't kill people, people kill people" Although the author finds this revolting statement, he uses a form of logical fallacy while refuting it – hyperbole among other non sequitur ... Misses the point of the comment altogether. Pointing the issue back on the quality of people first- and formost. Gun law talk is a finger pointed in the wrong direction, and is a knee jerk reaction. Knee jerk reactions are "revolting" at a time like this.
who is this god? can anyone post a direct link please...
The article was offensive on many levels. I agree we do not know Gods intent, but many who lose children including myself, find comfort in the idea that there is an afterlife and that our children or loved ones are being taken care of. I do not expect anyone else to believe this. I will not push my beliefs on anyone else. For somebody to try and tell me that this rational is an excuse has his own agenda but he should not be pushing it on me or anyone else.
Perhaps its six things YOU dont want to hear Stephen Prothero...
However, it only took watching ten minutes of news coverage in the aftermath to see where most of Sandy Hook's residents were gathering – CHURCH.
Whatever YOUR opinions are, dont take faith away from the people of Sandy Hook who had to live thru it. If I'm not mistaken, wasnt it the very first parents to come forward whose daughter was killed that said most of your list? Not all of it was in your exact words but it was said.
And if that makes THEM feel better, then so be it. You're lucky enough to shut off the tv, walk away from your computer, turn off your radio and be out of its circle. Some people are NOT so lucky.
how can you take faith away from someone?
I would add this to the list: "Everything happens for a reason."
Spot on! Susana – you are the fool! These 6 statements set us back 200 years and don't do the human race much justice. Believe in yourself!!
Why on earth would we shake our fist and demand answers? God gave us the answers long ago. He gave us a set of guidelines to live by – but he also gave us free-will. This is not God's will – this is the will of man. Man wanted to cheat on his/her partner. Man wanted to steal, Man wanted to kill. Man uses Freedom of Speech in order to verbally abuse others, Man is constantly wanting more and more and more. Then you dare to ask why? God didn't kill those children – a man killed those children. God didn't call them home – they were sent home by man. Don't break the rules he gave – fully advising you what the consequences would be – and then blame him – this is not his fault – it's ours.
sharon: how is free will compatible with an omniscient god?
also, man wrote the bible. this is not the words of god, this is the words of man (translated and edited hearsay)
Sharon: If god is omniscient, he knows what all of us, including the Newtown, CT shooter, will do even before we were born. Yet he allowed it.
Why is it that your god gives free will to only the shooter and rapists? Why are the victims never allowed a decision in these matters? You're such a fucking idiot as you try to safeguard your delusions.
You could fight back but the government has stolen the right of the average citizen to do so with laws that only make it easier for the bad guys.
Gun Free Zones, etc.
Children deserve protection, idiots like you would rather cry about the gun than arm the adults who could protect the kids.
You are part of the problem.
A LARGE part!
You are such a fool my dear....such a fool!
I too am sick of hearing those six excuses for senseless murders. There is no rational justification for these horrific acts.
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.