God’s Role in Tragedy

Jesus in Schools

My heart aches for the victims of the recent school shooting, as well as for the direct and indirect victims of any such violence, which includes each and every person on Earth. Unfortunately, this event has triggered many people to blame the secular movement, posting and saying things like, “The reason this happened is because we took God out of our schools.” I would appreciate your consideration while I explore this horrible notion. If I have left anything out or said something incorrect in your opinion, please feel free to let me know. I could be wrong.

First of all, if you believe in God, then you first have to ask yourself if you believe:
A.) That God has a direct influence on events here on Earth, so that he can make certain things happen or prevent certain things from happening (at least some of the time). Or,
B.) That God created the Universe with certain physical laws and moral guidelines, but then he stepped out of the creation process and does not have a direct influence on events.

Now, if you believe that God just created us with certain potential and now he just sits back while the game of Earth plays out, then the shooting did not happen because we took God out of schools, but simply because God created us with violent tendencies and mental illness, and these things will continue to happen no matter what until we figure out how to best deal with that.

If, however, you do believe that God, by virtue of his willpower, his almighty hand, mental influence, or angels and demons, does in fact have a direct influence on events, then God could have prevented this tragedy, but did not. So let’s look more closely at what that means.

If the claim that “removing God from schools caused the Newtown tragedy” is true, then that means that either:
A.) God caused or let this tragedy happen because it was part of his divine plan, or
B.) God caused or let this tragedy happen as punishment for removing religion from schools, or
C.) God caused or let this tragedy happen because we asked that His presence be removed from schools, and therefore he politely obliged by removing his protection.

If you believe the first option, that this violence was part of God’s plan, then frankly I find that sick. Why would God kill so many innocent victims and cause so much suffering just to suit His own needs, or to make more people believe in Him? In the Bible, God realized that people wouldn’t believe in him unless he performed miracles to bend the laws of physics or to instantly heal suffering (Exodus Chapter 4, John 20:24-31), so he made sure that his prophets, like Moses and Jesus, could perform such miracles to convince the masses of His existence. Why doesn’t he just allow these types of miracles to be performed today (he could even put it live on liberal media TV just to convince everyone), instead of using the death of children to promote Himself?

If you believe the second option, that God used this mass murder of innocents as punishment for taking religion out of public schools, then again, frankly that is sick. Why would God punish innocent people to pay for the sins of others? He could have simply caused mass shootings to happen only to people who supported the separation of church and state, which would have sent a clear message, but he didn’t. He killed Christians along with everybody else. And if God used this event as punishment for Christians who sat by and allowed religion to be removed from schools, then why didn’t he send mass murderers to kill only adults who are old enough to actually make those kinds of choices, instead of murdering children who can’t?

If you believe the third option, that God simply let this happen because we removed his protection by taking religion out of schools, then that doesn’t fit with the evidence we have about how the world works. First of all, Christians are critical of the secular community for asking that things like set times for public prayer, religious symbols, and religious acts like songs and plays be removed from the shared school property and curriculum. The secular community has adopted this position, because doing so would ensure that no religious belief is favored or marginalized, including not believing in religion. The idea is that school is for learning about things like math, science, history, literature, etc, not religious worship.

God not allowed in schools

It is important to note that removing a set time for communal prayer in school does not forbid anyone from praying on their own. In fact, the Bible discourages people from praying in public just to be seen by others, (Matthew 6:5), so I see no problem with individuals praying in private or silently in public during school. It should also be noted that not teaching the Bible at school doesn’t forbid people from reading it on their own time. And just because there is a lack of crosses on the walls, or because the school play is about winter and not Jesus’ birthday, that doesn’t mean that children and teachers can’t live and act according to Christian principles and values, even during school time. Additionally, it should also be noted that by removing public prayer and religious activity in school, no one is actually asking for God to remove his protection. Or are Christians insinuating that learning in a secular building creates some kind of “force field” that somehow blocks the prayers of Christians from getting to God? I can’t see the logic or love in a God who would remove his protection from an entire school with faithful Christians in it, simply because there’s no pictures of Jesus or no prayer over the speaker system.

Also, if communal prayer, reading the Bible, and putting up crosses afford buildings God’s protection, then why do priests abuse children in churches, and why do churches full of good people succumb to lightning strikes, fires, explosions, tornadoes, hurricanes, and, tragically, violence? Sadly, one of my own family members was killed in a church shooting a few years ago.

Now, there is also another group of thought regarding the reasons for this tragedy. Some Christians say that God does not literally cause or allow these types of tragedies to happen. For this group, they see God as having less of a direct influence on events, but rather that he influences the minds of humans through his Book, his followers, and as a presence in human minds. Some of these types of Christians also believe that taking God out of schools causes school shootings and other bad things to happen. However, they attribute this to the fact that children in secular schools are influenced by other things besides religion, and that being in school without worshiping or learning about God causes them to be sinful and violent, or that they eventually grow up to be so. These Christians are asking us to believe that children who are not constantly having religion crammed down their throats while learning Algebra and American History cannot be good Christians, or have less of a chance of being good Christians.

This is obviously not true, because secular schools produce both faithful Christians and non-believing atheists, and turn out both well-behaving and misbehaving kids, just as religious schools do. However, even if it were true that keeping God out of schools negatively influences Christian behavior, then I would see it as the responsibility of families and churches to be even better at religious education when kids are at home and at church. And if you believe that a religious school produces better kids than public school, then there are plenty of private religious schools that your children can attend. If these schools are too expensive, then maybe you should be an advocate for making more affordable religious education available, instead of blaming the secular community. All we’re saying is that public money shouldn’t be used for religious purposes in public schools. It should also be noted that children will unfortunately be subjected to bad things no matter what their upbringing– religious or secular. I personally think believers and non-believers should be working more together to remove bad elements from society as a whole.

So to sum up my position: if God exists but does not have a direct influence on events, then tragedies like this cannot be solely blamed on secular schools. If, however, God does have a direct influence on events and allowed this tragedy happen as part of a greater plan, as a punishment, or because He equates secular education with asking Him to remove his protection of individuals, then God is obviously a sick monster, flawed in His ways, or of course as I see it, simply not real. Additionally, if you insist that constant religious education is essential to protecting children from the evils of this world, then I recommend private religious schools. I do acknowledge though that religious people need their religion especially at times like this to cope with the pain and fear that we are all experiencing, and I completely understand and respect that. However, if people are using this event to blame secularity or the non-religious community, I certainly feel the need to respond.

So why do I believe tragedies like the Newtown school shooting happen? In the aftermath, people will blame this on lack of gun control, and too much gun control, and the religious and non-religious will blame each other, and everyone will blame drugs, tv, movies, the internet, and video games. But the real reason things like this happen is because two people have sex, and then make a baby, and that baby grows up and isn’t taught how the world works and how to handle the complexities of modern life and how to responsibly handle the natural thoughts and emotions that we as humans have to deal with in this life. It also happens because some people, most through no fault of their own, have broken parts in their brains, and tragically they go unnoticed, ignored, untreated, or mistreated. Until we get these issues figured out, mass killings like the awful events in Connecticut will continue to happen, and with increasing frequency.

I’ll leave you with a post from Facebook that I actually DID think might be helpful during this time:

Mister Rogers on Helpers

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~ by christhehumanist on December 17, 2012.

18 Responses to “God’s Role in Tragedy”

  1. You forgot the forth option that God created man with free will and thought. Therefore man must take responsibility for his actions, not God.

  2. Hey Pat, thank you so much for taking the time to read my post and leave a comment. You make a very good point. However, I believe that I covered that in terms of the subject of the article, meaning that if God gives humans free will and doesn’t directly intervene in events, then making schools less religious does not directly cause violence. If people are killing other people because Christianity isn’t being taught in schools, then Christians need to be better at teaching Christianity at home and in church, or they can look at private religious school as an option. Regardless of any difference of opinion, it seems like we can both agree that people should take responsibility for their own actions, and I think that’s really the heart of the matter.

  3. Very thorough, polite and well versed response to a reactionary, insensitive, rude and not well thought out ideas coming from the Christian right. I’m all for religion if a person subscribes to it, but to imply that the being who Christians believe to be a “just, fair and merciful God” would have ANYTHING to do with either creating or not stopping innocent children (“Suffer Little Children to Come Unto Me”) from being slaughtered goes against the very words of the Bible…as well as logic and sheer common sense. To use such a loss as a divisive method weakens the positions of the Christian church; however in the wake of such a devastating loss for the entire country, I’m trying my best not to become quick to anger over what I believe to be ignorant and cheap views. Thanks again for your post.

  4. Thank you so much for reading and for your comments, Melissa. I was very hesitant to write this article, because I knew that it would be considered divisive by some, and because it is so soon after the tragedy. I posted it because we all have to heal now, and try to make things right, and I wanted to contribute to that conversation, since so many have been laying blame where I think it is unfairly placed. My overall message is that we’re all in this life together, and we are all responsible for making society a better and safer place for our children. I hope that message came across.

  5. Didn’t realize I was offending anyone by trying to agree with 99% of what was said. Wish I had the same capability as Melissa to see a person’s whole heart from just two sentences. Turning the other cheek.

    • Pat, I’m very new to engaging in blogging (in fact I never have participated before). If you thought that my response to Chris’s post was intended towards you, it was not in anyway. I was merely responding to the post itself.

      • Just a follow up, when I said that I am trying not to become “quick to anger,” I meant that in earnest (not as a smart a**), as I am absolutely the worst person I know when it comes to reactionary and emotionally charged responses. Me “trying my best not to become quick to anger” will, at best, hopefully bring me to the level of another person on their worst day.

    • I also interpreted Melissa’s comment as not being directed towards anyone in particular but towards certain vocal Christians in the media and elsewhere. Sorry if you felt targeted, Pat. I think we have it sorted out now though (one of the limitations of electronic communication), and again I appreciate both of you contributing to the conversation.

  6. I don;t see how this can be divisive unless someone is determined to spread hate and fear simply because someone writes logically and speaks the truth. But, as you probably know, there are plenty of people that do exactly that.

    For me, a hearty “well done” for posting something that is written without rancor or irrational attitudes.

  7. religious symbols should be kept as much as possible.*

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  8. This is an excellent essay. It’s so good I wish I had written it . You make rational points and back up your statements with readily verifiable facts.

    It is written in reasonable terms that should not offend anyone who is no “training their coats” as the expression used to be.

    I am tempted to copy the entire thing to use as a rebuttal to the theists that loudly and erroneously demand that we “put god back in the schools.”

    As an atheist since I was 13, I have had to deal with ostracism, threats, and even physical violence from theists for decades. Yet, I have never expressed my position so well as you have done here.

    • Thank you again for your kind words. Feel free to share this with anyone you like. As I always say, we can’t be afraid to have the hard conversations, because they are often the most important ones. I also think it is important for us to be civil. There is no need for bullying, name-calling or personal insults. We can’t forget that believers hold their beliefs even more strongly than we do, and it’s not so much that they are dumb, rather that they are simply “comfortably uninformed.” Now I’ve got Pink Floyd in my head.

      I’m sorry that you had to suffer so much hate and ignorance from believers. I’ve only had a small dose of that, thankfully, because of the times we are living in now. But I do understand what is feels like to be alone in your beliefs, since I realized I was an atheist before the internet and best-selling atheist books. I hope you have time to read some of my other posts. I welcome any comments, criticisms, and corrections.

      Have a great weekend.

  9. Very well written, my friend. I’m always glad to read your blogs and find a bit of logic when it seems so hard to come by these days. Not having been raised in a church or religious environment, I was simply taught that God is love and if I truly believe that, than I could never accept that a loving God would “allow” such tragedies to happen if He could prevent them. If there is a God, I would imagine that all life would be precious to Him and no amount of brick and mortor or govenment could keep God out of a school to protect the lives of innocents. I cannot imagine a God such as the one portrayed in the bible- one who is all loving one moment and vengeful the next. If we are all God’s children then he is the worst parent in history!

    • Hey Lisa, thank you as always for taking the time to read my blog and for your kind words. You make an excellent point about the Biblical God as a non-protective parent. The first question that led me down the road to atheism was “How does God answer everyone’s prayers?” The Bible says “ask and ye shall receive”, and it’s very clearly stated several times in different ways. I couldn’t understand why God wouldn’t answer a mother’s prayer, for instance, for just a little food to save her child’s life. A million times over. Every. Damn. Day. I realized very quickly, at the age of 12, that this God could not be real, and if He was, I wanted nothing to do with Him.

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