Skip to main content

Why must the nation grieve with God?

By Lawrence M. Krauss, Special to CNN
December 27, 2012 -- Updated 0207 GMT (1007 HKT)
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
December 29, 2014 -- Updated 0430 GMT (1230 HKT)
Les Abend: Before we reach a conclusion on the outcome of AirAsia Flight QZ8501, it's important to understand that the details are far too limited to draw a parallel to Flight 370
December 27, 2014 -- Updated 0127 GMT (0927 HKT)
The ability to manipulate media and technology has increasingly become a critical strategic resource, says Jeff Yang.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1617 GMT (0017 HKT)
Today's politicians should follow Ronald Reagan's advice and invest in science, research and development, Fareed Zakaria says.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Artificial intelligence does not need to be malevolent to be catastrophically dangerous to humanity, writes Greg Scoblete.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
Historian Douglas Brinkley says a showing of Sony's film in Austin helped keep the city weird -- and spotlighted the heroes who stood up for free expression
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Tanya Odom that by calling only on women at his press conference, the President made clear why women and people of color should be more visible in boardrooms and conferences
December 27, 2014 -- Updated 2327 GMT (0727 HKT)
When oil spills happen, researchers are faced with the difficult choice of whether to use chemical dispersants, authors say
December 25, 2014 -- Updated 0633 GMT (1433 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0335 GMT (1135 HKT)
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2115 GMT (0515 HKT)
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1811 GMT (0211 HKT)
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
ADVERTISEMENT