Several readers have sent me this (thanks!), so perhaps you’re all aware of it already. But if you’re not, do read Lawrence Krauss’s CNN Opinion piece on the pervasiveness of religion after the Newtown school massacre, “Why must the nation grieve with God?” I was appalled at the official faithfest that followed the killings, with one person after another, including Obama, trying to console the grieving by assuring everyone that the murdered children were in heaven. Even Obama, whose talk was otherwise very good, had to end with these words:
“’Let the little children come to me,’ Jesus said, ‘and do not hinder them – for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.’
“Charlotte. Daniel. Olivia. Josephine. Ana. Dylan. Madeleine. Catherine. Chase. Jesse. James. Grace. Emilie. Jack. Noah. Caroline. Jessica. Benjamin. Avielle. Allison.
“God has called them all home. For those of us who remain, let us find the strength to carry on, and make our country worthy of their memory.
“May God bless and keep those we’ve lost in His heavenly place. May He grace those we still have with His holy comfort. And may He bless and watch over this community, and the United States of America.”
We all know that the little children are not at “home,” nor with Jesus (and were all the children Christians?), and I deplore the ritual prayer for God to bless the U.S.
Krauss’s call for reason was something that badly needed to be said, with few people bold enough to say it.
I swear that as time passes, Krauss gets more and more “strident,” as the accommodationists put it. He once seemed mild, almost conciliatory, on faith and science, but that all ended with his book, A Universe from Nothing, which spent a lot of time going after theologians (in fact, too much for even my taste). Krauss’s naturalism has become uncompromising now, and is eloquently shown by this timely piece. A few excerpts:
But why must the nation grieve with God? After Newtown, a memorial service was held in which 10 clergy and Obama offered Hebrew, Christian and Muslim prayers, with the president stating: ” ‘Let the little children come to me,’ Jesus said, ‘and do not hinder them. For such belongs to the kingdom of Heaven.’ God has called them all home. For those of us who remain, let us find the strength to carry on.”
Why must it be a natural expectation that any such national tragedy will be accompanied by prayers, including from the president, to at least one version of the very God, who apparently in his infinite wisdom, decided to call 20 children between the age of 6 and 7 home by having them slaughtered by a deranged gunman in a school that one hopes should have been a place of nourishment, warmth and growth?
We are told the Lord works in mysterious ways but, for many people, to suggest there might be an intelligent deity who could rationally act in such a fashion and that that deity is worth praying to and thanking for “calling them home” seems beyond the pale.
. . . But the question that needs to be asked is why, as a nation, do we have to institutionalize the notion that religion must play a central role at such times, with the president as the clergyman-in-chief?
. . .Why does television automatically turn to clergy for advice on how to meet our needs, spiritual or otherwise?
Later on television, I saw media Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who used to claim to be the personal spiritual guide of Michael Jackson, until that presumably became less sellable. I also once had the displeasure of debating him on the subject of evolution, which he essentially rejects, offering admonition to those who, with very good reason, may question a God who could willingly allow the slaughter of children. I would argue that times like these are very good times to question your faith in deities. . .
If instead of automatically assuming that prayers to a deity callous enough to allow this sickness, or worse, to encourage it out of divine retribution, are what families in grief need from their president and from the media, that we focused on rational grief counseling and community support, including better mental health care combined with sensible gun control, we as a society might ultimately act more effectively to stop this madness.
Indeed. I had a conversation last night with a friend, and we discussed the problem of evil. Although she questions the existence of God, she maintained that the free-will explanation for evils (i.e., “God gave humans free will, and with that came the possibility that they would do immoral deeds”) was a good one. But of course that defense cannot apply in the case of sufferings not caused by human action, including the sufferings of children with cancer and the mass slaughter of people by tsunamis and earthquakes.
There are 6402 comments, a good cross-section of American conversation on faith. And it’s heartening that there are many nonbelievers among those commenting (of course, this is CNN). Here’s one exchange: