Skip to main content

Why must the nation grieve with God?

By Lawrence M. Krauss, Special to CNN
updated 9:07 PM EST, Wed December 26, 2012
President Barack Obama speaks at a memorial service for victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on December 16.
President Barack Obama speaks at a memorial service for victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on December 16.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Lawrence Krauss: The horrific shootings in Newtown were a senseless massacre
  • He says the nation grieves with the families in Newtown who experienced tremendous loss
  • Krauss: Why should the framework of national grief be focused on religious faith?
  • He says clergy, asked by media for comment, have often fallen short

Editor's note: Lawrence M. Krauss is director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University. His most recent book, "A Universe from Nothing," will appear in paperback next month.

(CNN) -- The horrific events in Newtown are unfathomable. Asking "why?" is natural at times like this, but intuitively it is clear that there cannot be any good reason for what was truly a senseless massacre.

It is impossible not to grieve with the families in Newtown, Connecticut, who have experienced such tremendous loss, just as it is impossible to not hope for anything that can provide some comfort.

All of us who have had children in primary school at one time or another stopped in our tracks when we heard the news, just as President Barack Obama did, as we tried to imagine how we would have coped had something so horrendous happened in our own child's school.

Lawrence M. Krauss
Lawrence M. Krauss

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.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Let me be clear that there may be many grieving families in Newtown and around the country who have turned to their faith for solace in this difficult time. No caring person would begrudge them this right to ease their pain. 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?

Since this tragedy, cable TV networks have been flooded with calls to faith and have turned to numerous clergy as if, as a matter of principle, they have something special or caring to offer. Often what they provide is quite the opposite.

On CNN the other day, Bishop Robert Wright of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta suggested that people who don't have faith in his deity can only go so far in our emotional capacities to love and forgive, that without faith "we lack the strength to take us the full way of ourselves, the best of ourselves."

Besides being offensive, this is nonsense. We don't need faith to empathize with the grieving in Newtown. We can feel real connections, whether we are parents, or neighbors of families, or simply caring men and women. And we can want to help simply because of our common humanity.

Helping Newtown heal
The challenge of reporting on tragedy
One week later: 'Newtown is rallying'

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.

It gets worse. Television host and former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee suggested that because we are keeping God out of schools, the Deity chose not to stop the slaughter of these young innocents. (Or, to put it more bluntly, "If you don't invite me to the party, I will kill your kids!") If this were remotely believable, who would want to pray to such a fickle and pompous deity?

I feel particularly sad for the grieving parents who might not be Christian, Jewish or Muslim. Besides learning that they are somehow lacking in empathy or goodness or the ability to heal, little guidance is being provided to those who among them have decided that they cannot believe in a sometimes violent and irascible God or who in fact have found their faith in God in question as a result of this tragedy. For these people, as for me, the thought that God has "called their children home" is simply offensive.

Why can't we as a nation focus on consoling the families in their grief by focusing on the most important realities, the lives of the children they have lost, celebrating their memory and sharing our common love of family, of children, and of our common humanity and perhaps most importantly arguing that this tragedy may one day not be completely in vain: That a shocked nation might rationally decide that assault weapons are meant to kill many people in a short time, not to hunt for deer or defend one's home.

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.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this documentary are solely those of Lawrence M. Krauss.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
updated 3:38 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 04: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell walks the sidelines prior to the game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers at CenturyLink Field on September 4, 2014 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Martha Pease says the NFL commissioner shouldn't be judge and jury on player wrongdoing.
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
It's time for a much needed public reckoning over U.S. use of torture, argues Donald P. Gregg.
updated 8:25 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Peter Bergen says UK officials know the identity of the man who killed U.S. journalists and a British aid worker.
updated 7:28 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Joe Torre and Esta Soler say much has been achieved since a landmark anti-violence law was passed.
updated 4:55 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
David Wheeler wonders: If Scotland votes to secede, can America take its place and rejoin England?
updated 8:41 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Jane Stoever: Society must grapple with a culture in which 1 in 3 teen girls and women suffer partner violence.
updated 4:36 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
World-famous physicist Stephen Hawking recently said the world as we know it could be obliterated instantaneously. Meg Urry says fear not.
updated 6:11 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
Bill Clinton's speech accepting the Democratic nomination for president in 1992 went through 22 drafts. But he always insisted on including a call to service.
updated 6:18 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
Joe Amon asks: What turns a few cases of disease into thousands?
updated 1:21 PM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Sally Kohn says bombing ISIS will worsen instability in Iraq and strengthen radical ideology in terrorist groups.
updated 6:31 PM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Analysts weigh in on the president's plans for addressing the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
updated 9:27 AM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Artist Prune Nourry's project reinterprets the terracotta warriors in an exhibition about gender preference in China.
updated 9:36 AM EDT, Wed September 10, 2014
The Apple Watch is on its way. Jeff Yang asks: Are we ready to embrace wearables technology at last?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT