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.
Apparently the author has yet to read the Book of Job when Job questions God's will and motives.
God bless those who lost their lives, those who are praying for them, and this author.
And your telling me that a God with the greatest power of all would let these defenseless children and adults be sacrificed, mudered, slain in such a way. Get real. This was a mentally deraged person that unfortunatley had access to guns to easily, nothing else.
None of this had anything to do with God. It was a disturbed meathead that went wild. God had nothing to do with it. We should be glad this doesn't happen every day (although it has been happening a lot more) with the crazies and the amount of guns out there.
OK. How about this? Inshalla.
The Devil is dancing. He really enjoys this.
Oh, but wait, the chorus of fools that claims that there is no Devil, no God and no Christ raise their collective voices in protest, "There is no such thing."
To the fools, congratulations, you have contributed to this tragedy by taking the one source of morality out of our schools and our public square. This is a by-product of your self-centered, blind and deceived efforts.
And, thank you Hollywood, violent video game makers, rappers and pop-media crowd that speak out of two sides of your your mouths. You glorify violence for a buck, and then try to "educate us" that violence is not good.
You all have your reward.
Laugh at me, bash me. The facts are the facts. Irregardless of what you believe, what you feel, what you claim, or the current public sentiment, the truth stands.
Religion and morality have nothing to do with each other. Some of the most moral people I know are not religious, and many of the most immoral people are religious. How many priests have abused children? How many popes have ordered the deaths of others. Check your history.
Maybe God killed those children so He could bring them up to Heaven. It was a good thing – think how nice it must be up there ...
God made the Devil just to amuse us all. Without the Devil, life would be truly boring, because everything would have a happy ending.
What would we do during a Red Sox-Yankees game if there was no Devil? Huh? Answer me that Smart Guy? 0-0 tie every time? BOOOORRRRING
If you believe in God (as in the Catholic religion in which I was brought up) then you believe man has free will. You also believe the innocent do go to heaven (or at least purgatory, then heaven). A young, troubled man (barely a man, and evidently not mature, with mental illness) used his free will to kill. I doubt those searching for answers will find them via mental health reforms or gun law changes. These things periodically happen – a random break in humanity – as numbers increase, they increase (and get a lot better publicity now days). I've been lucky, no random strikes against me or my family. I hope to stay that way.
Why would more God in schools lessen violence? The Bible is one of the most violent books ever written.
True. And more people have died in the name of religion than for any other cause.
Why is it that the party of personal responsibility is the first group to pronounce something as "God's will"? If everything is God's will, then there is no personal responsibility. If God determines everything that's going to happen, then who am I to do anything other than what he commands? Therefore, if a man kills 26 people, it's not his fault, it's God's. And yet they complain when someone says it's not his fault. Can someone explain this dichotomy?
Religion is the root of all evil.
That's probably the 7th thing Prothero doesn't want to hear, Bob W.
We are the ones who invented those concepts of a God playing with the destiny of "His creation".
There are plenty of ways we might have avoided this tragedy but one seems to stand out.
What in the world was Nancy Lanza thinking?
Why, is there something wrong with teaching mentally ill angry kids how to use WMD's?
Our schools will not be safe until we allow all children age 10 and up to carry WMD's.
2nd amendment dude: The right of all households to own RGP's and mini-nuclear bombs. Don't take my guns away!
I'm not sure why religious people care about the issue of death. If I believed in an afterlife I would try to find some noble way to lose my life by helping others. The afterlife is supposed to be better, right? So why not get on with it. It seems to me no one actually believes in an afterlife, or at least to the degree that they profess. The reason life is cherished is because it may be all you have.
Opinions are just like !@#holes...everybody has one, this one is just larger than most.
Don't forget "they" took GOD out of our schools, out of the pledge of allegiance and want to yake it off our money.
Who wants to take it off the money? There's no such bill or intention in place. That's an email spam that has no basis in reality.
And yes, there's no place for religion in public schools. Non-Christians should not be forced to partake in prayers that they do not believe in. The First Ammendment says so.
If you get rid of every gun in this country, you are still going to have pscyhopaths who blow up buildings with fertilizer or kill innocent children in other ways ( see the chinese grade school hatchet/knife attacks over the past few years.) This flippant article about being angry at God does nothing but demonstrate the cynicism that exists in our society. Guns, knives, bombs have been around for decades; however only in the past few years as we have figured our ways to make God a smaller part of our culture, have we started to see these sort of attacks. Go ahead and be be flippant, Prothero, I'm sure your words will help.
That was a well written piece. The most level headed thing I've seen in a while.
I wanted to suggest also to stop playing the song 'It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas'. I think it just has lyrics that play close to this tragedy.
To the author, gun control shouldn't be the focus here. The focus should not be how he did it but why he did it. Sick people will find a way to kill, using guns or other weapons. The goal should be to alleviate the urge to kill because you simply cannot take away every tool that someone can use to perpetrate these acts. You gotta work from the bottom up and not top down government intervention.
"Boston University religion scholar " Qualified to pump gas...maybe
"Religious scholar" is an oxymoron.
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.