A Philosopher's Blog

God and Sandy Hook

Posted in Ethics, Metaphysics, Philosophy, Religion by Michael LaBossiere on December 20, 2012
Former Arkansas Governor, Mike Huckabee, speak...

. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The murders at Sandy Hook Elementary school brought the problem of evil once again into the media spotlight. While the specifics of the matter change with each horrible incident, the basic question remains the same: why does God allow evil to occur? I have considered this matter in various other essays, but here I will take a look at what two prominent members of America’s religious right have said about the matter.

Former governor and one time presidential contender Michael Huckabee said “We ask why there’s violence in our schools but we’ve systematically removed God from our schools. Should we be so surprised that schools would become 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.”

While Huckabee’s remark has been taken as claiming that God allowed the massacre because American public schools do not religious activities (such as prayer) and religious education (as opposed to teaching about religion), it can also be taken as expressing a slightly different view. Rather than claiming that God is being spiteful and allowing children to be slaughtered because He is experiencing a divine anger, Huckabee could be taken as asserting that the killings at schools occur because people do not have the proper religious education in public schools. Presumably Huckabee believes that if people received the correct religious education in public schools, then such killings would be less likely to occur.

The idea that the correct moral education will result in better behavior is an old one and was developed extensive in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics—although I am sure that Huckabee and Aristotle would disagree about the specifics of the education since Aristotle was not a Christian. As such, if Huckabee is simply claiming that the killings at schools are caused by a failure of moral education, then his claim has some degree of plausibility. Of course, whether or not bringing Christianity back into public schools would reduce the chances of violence in America is another matter. One interesting point worth considering is that as people like Huckabee claim that society has grown worse as it has allegedly “removed God”, Steven Pinker argued in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature that violence has been on the decline. While correlation is not proof of causation, this is a matter worth thinking about especially since Thomas Hobbes noted that one major cause of violence is disputes over religion.

Turning back to the problem of evil, Huckabee’s explanation does not really address this concern effectively. While it might explain why people do bad things in terms of a lack of proper education, this does not explain why God would allow the children and the faculty of Sandy Hook to be slaughtered. Bryan Fischer does, however, take this matter on directly.

Speaking about Sandy Hook, Bryan Fischer said “And I think God would say to us, ‘Hey, I’ll be glad to protect your children, but you’ve got to invite me back into your world first. I’m not going to go where I’m not wanted. I am a gentlemen.”

Fischer’s explanation is very straightforward: God is too polite to go where he is not invited and hence He allowed the slaughter of children. This seems problematic, to say the least.

On the face of it, Fischer seems to be claiming that God’s sense of etiquette trumps His morality. That is, He would permit slaughter to occur rather than act in a way that might be regarded is impolite. This certainly seems to be an implausible claim. After all, consider the following analogy. Suppose I was accustomed to stopping by a friend’s house to get a drink from his garden hose while on my long summer runs. But then he got divorced and his wife got the house. While she does not dislike me, she asks me to no longer stop by to use the hose. Now, imagine that I am running by one day and she and her daughter are being attacked in her backyard. While I could easily defeat the attacker and save the two, I just run on by because I am no longer invited there. Intuitively, that would be morally wrong of me—even if I elected not to engage the attacker, I should at least do something. Also, if my reason is that I am not invited, then there are two obvious responses. First, it seems intuitively plausible to hold that my moral duty to help people in danger outweighs my moral duty to not be impolite. Second, it seems reasonable to think that my friend’s ex-wife and daughter would be happy to invite me to help them in their time of need. Obviously, since I am a decent person I would rush to help the two people in danger. If God is at least as good as me, He would presumably do the same. Also, God has nothing to worry about—the attacker would pose no threat to Him.

Another point of interest is that Fischer certainly seems to indicate that God would be glad to protect children if he were invited back. If he were right about this, this would seem to indicate that God would protect children in such circumstances. However, he seems to be exceptionally wrong about this. After all, God has allowed people of faith to die. He even has allowed children to be murdered in His churches. As such, the idea that God would protect children if we only asked him seems to be absurd. People have obviously asked and God has done nothing.

Of course, it could be countered that people have failed to properly invite God—that is, God would have helped if they had asked in the right way. Going back to the analogy given above, this would be like me running past by friend’s ex-wife and daughter and refusing to stop because their cries for help were not worded properly or otherwise defective. However, I would obviously help them regardless of how they requested aid—that is what a decent person would do. As noted above, presumably God is at least as good as I am, so if I would help regardless of the wording of the invite, so would God.

Overall, Huckabee and Fischer do not give an adequate response to the question of why God allowed the slaughter to occur. To be fair to them, no one ever has and probably no one ever will.

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49 Responses

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  1. Nal said, on December 20, 2012 at 9:27 am

    The massacre at Sandy Hook was caused by:

    Removing God from public schools, or
    Society’s tolerance of homosexuality, or
    Video games, or
    Lack of guns for teachers,

    but not by

    Easy availability of AR-15s.

    Interesting reasoning.

    • magus71 said, on December 20, 2012 at 9:48 am

      Would you outlaw shotguns, too? Since many on the Left want to copy everything European countries do, and they assume that Europeans can’t own guns, they propose outlawing gun ownership here in the States. In fact, people can own guns in Europe.

      Can you give me an example of any gun laws in America that reduced violent crime? I’ve noticed a growing number of articles after Sandy Hook that say American gun violence is higher than anywhere else. The author’s conveniently ignore the fact that dead is dead, no matter how you got that way.

      I propose outlawing war.

      • biomass 2 said, on December 20, 2012 at 10:21 am

        I propose outlawing Super Straw Dog.

    • T. J. Babson said, on December 20, 2012 at 9:58 am

      Far more kids get killed by drowning in swimming pools than by guns. We should therefore outlaw swimming pools. If even one life could be saved…

  2. T. J. Babson said, on December 20, 2012 at 10:20 am

    I don’t understand the claim that Huckabee and Fischer are “politicizing” the tragedy. I remember some similar comments by Pat Robertson after 9/11.

    Exactly what political agenda do people think these guys are trying to advance?

    • T. J. Babson said, on December 20, 2012 at 10:24 am

      I think Mike is on the right track. These kinds of outbursts are more attempts to understand why their God would permit innocents to be killed rather than advancing some sort of political agenda.

      • magus71 said, on December 20, 2012 at 10:35 am

        “These kinds of outbursts are more attempts to understand why their God would permit innocents to be killed rather than advancing some sort of political agenda.”

        Exactly.

  3. biomass 2 said, on December 20, 2012 at 10:39 am

    Paragraph 9 (third from last) is worth a reread.

    Paragraph 10 presents the standard excuse. It works in many areas. “You know what I meant to say.” “You weren’t listening carefully.” “You didn’t try hard enough.” All the ineptitude falls on the shoulders of “You” and I slide out from under all responsibility. Of course, there we’re talking about interaction between two human beings. One may be right; one may be wrong; or they may share equal or unequal responsibility in failure.

    The interaction between man and God, as Michael points out, seemingly would be somewhat different. God, according to many accounts, knows what you’re thinking. So, if you don’t get it right, he can fill in the blanks. God has many empathetic qualities (perhaps all of them, in abundance) that he could apply when asked by mere man for assistance.

  4. Nal said, on December 20, 2012 at 12:01 pm

    Huckabee and Fisher are not Sophisticated Theologians ™. The Free Will defense would also get God off-the-hook. But Huckabee and Fisher want to promote their religion and the Free Will defense doesn’t help them in that regard.

    • T. J. Babson said, on December 20, 2012 at 3:32 pm

      Nal, how does a statement like “Get God back in the schools” promote “their” religion?

      • Nal said, on December 20, 2012 at 4:25 pm

        Because it’s organized prayers to their concept of God they want back into the schools. No prayers to popes or saints. No prayers to Allah. No prayers to Yahweh. Only prayers to Jesus would be allowed.

        • T. J. Babson said, on December 20, 2012 at 5:01 pm

          Maybe they are thinking that (I personally have no idea what they are thinking), but will you concede that no one is actually proposing anything of the sort?

          • Michael LaBossiere said, on December 20, 2012 at 5:30 pm

            Well, Fischer certainly seems to be claiming that unless God gets invited back to school He’ll keep letting children be murdered.

            • magus71 said, on December 21, 2012 at 12:42 pm

              Well Mike, I can’t speak for God, but would you at least admit that born-again Christians are less likely to commit violent crimes than others?

              “Without a vision of God, the people run amok.” Proverbs 29:18.

              TJ, I believe you like Penn Gillette. So do I. I appreciate anyone who is intellectually honest. Thus my appreciation for people that disagree with my religion, such as Gillette, Hitchens, and yourself. Richard Dawkins, however, is an evil little man who delights in crushing the hopes of others. I hope for nothing so I am immune to him, but he still needs a smack in the face.

              And perhaps your familiar with Gillette’s acknowledgements that our founding fathers were Christians, and it was their Christian faith that provided them with the moral strength to do what they did. I also find his comments on the differences between Christians and Muslims and why he constantly rips on Christians but not Muslims. “I have a family”, he quips.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on December 21, 2012 at 2:51 pm

              Presumably there are on statistics on that. However, I would say that true pacifists are probably the least likely to commit violent crimes. Hard core anti-gun fanatics are probably also less likely to commit gun crimes.

              I would agree that fear can people in check. However, accepting a proper moral code also helps keep people behaving well. Humans went a long time without Christianity and many people behaved well-some even behaved in morally exemplary ways. Now, some Medieval scholars claimed that Plato and Aristotle were “Christians before Christ” while some claim that Christianity is just Plato or Aristotle watered down for the masses.

            • magus71 said, on December 21, 2012 at 2:56 pm

              “I would agree that fear can people in check. ”

              Christians are no more motivated by fear than anyone else. I do not love my daughter because of fear. In fact, the Bible says that “Love is not made perfect in fear”. It also says, “God loves a cheerful giver”. It acknowledges that fear works but that it is an inferior form of motivation. I have found the same thing in the Army.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on December 21, 2012 at 2:57 pm

              Machiavelli would disagree.

            • magus71 said, on December 21, 2012 at 3:02 pm

              Fear works, so I agree with Machiavelli. It works best on barbarians, which is why Islamic fundamentalists should fear us.

            • WTP said, on December 21, 2012 at 4:41 pm

              Has mike actually read Machiavelli ?

            • magus71 said, on December 21, 2012 at 4:50 pm

              I’m sure he has.

            • T. J. Babson said, on December 21, 2012 at 6:33 pm

              I don’t like Dawkins, either. He is supposed to be a scientist, but he lacks the humility of a true scientist. He reminds me of the “Ask Mr. Science” guy that used to be on NPR many moons ago. “He knows more than you do.” “I have a master’s degree–in science!”

              http://drscience.com/wordpress/

          • Nal said, on December 20, 2012 at 6:42 pm

            “It’s far more than just taking prayer or Bible reading out of the schools,” [Huckabee] said, going on to suggest that America casting out God from the public square has led to a culture where mass shootings take root.

            In his book, Character Makes a Difference, Mike Huckabee wrote:

            I’ve heard that [society's moral decay] all started when we took prayer out of schools.

            Huckabee has called the “reinstitution of prayer and Bible reading in public schools” a “noble end.”

            • T. J. Babson said, on December 20, 2012 at 7:49 pm

              So who is proposing “No prayers to popes or saints. No prayers to Allah. No prayers to Yahweh. Only prayers to Jesus would be allowed” ?

            • biomass2 said, on December 20, 2012 at 10:33 pm

              A better question might be “Which prayer(s) and which (holy books) were removed from the public schools?”
              By answering that question, we might y establish specifically who is pushing to have the prayer(s) and the bible(s) returned to the public schools. . .
              And from there, we may be able to figure out which specific groups might then propose “No prayers to popes or saints. No prayers to Allah. No prayers to Yahweh. Only prayers to Jesus would be allowed”.

            • T. J. Babson said, on December 20, 2012 at 10:49 pm

              Before 1962 only some places permitted prayer in schools, and after 1962 prayer was no longer permitted in any public school in the U.S.

              Are you familiar with the phrase “beating a dead horse”? How much deader does an issue have to be before you stop beating it?

              Anything to avoid talking about the $1T/yr deficits the Dems seem determined to perpetuate, I guess.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on December 21, 2012 at 2:43 pm

              Those darn Democrats-always leading the country away from the deficit, the sole issue worth discussing. Ever. :)

            • magus71 said, on December 21, 2012 at 1:10 pm

              Again, TJ, there’s not much use in arguing. Liberalism is a psychological paradigm, not a philosophy.

            • magus71 said, on December 21, 2012 at 2:47 pm

              “Those darn Democrats-always leading the country away from the deficit, the sole issue worth discussing. Ever.”

              If only they’d talk about something that made sense….

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on December 21, 2012 at 2:53 pm

              Like the deficit?

              Speaking of sense, I’ll be playing Halo 4 Saturday, starting around noon. Ron said he’d give the big battles a try.

            • magus71 said, on December 21, 2012 at 2:56 pm

              Roger–I’ll look for you.

            • T. J. Babson said, on December 21, 2012 at 7:00 pm

              “Those darn Democrats-always leading the country away from the deficit, the sole issue worth discussing. Ever. :)”

              Actually, Mike, the problem is that the Dems refuse to discuss it. They change the subject as soon as the issue is raised.

              Apparently they think the problem will go away if they ignore it. And yet it is the only existential threat we face as a nation.

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on December 21, 2012 at 7:05 pm

              Obama was just on TV talking about it…

            • T. J. Babson said, on December 21, 2012 at 7:01 pm

              Only the little people need to have budgets and live within their means.

            • magus71 said, on December 21, 2012 at 7:19 pm

              “Obama was just on TV talking about it…”

              Did he blame Bush?

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on December 22, 2012 at 12:07 pm

              Nope. Congress.

            • T. J. Babson said, on December 21, 2012 at 7:52 pm

              Really, how does O propose to balance the budget?

            • Michael LaBossiere said, on December 22, 2012 at 12:03 pm

              Let the tax cuts for those making over $400,000 a year expire and by cutting spending. Seems reasonable.

            • Anonymous said, on December 23, 2012 at 2:05 pm

              Again, what spending cuts is he willing to make? Will they balance the budget? Raising taxes on the wealthy will not come even close to resolving the budget crisis, let alone the unintended consequences of doing so. This is obvious to anyone who takes an honest look at the math. Putting aside the fact, again, that economics is something beyond Mike’s ken, I asked Mike previously what specific programs he would deem worthy of cutting. No response, though of course he only acknowledges me with snide remarks whilst hiding behind the skirts of biomass. But this is typical of the political left. They scream that something must be done, but when someone steps up and responsibly speaks of what specific programs should be cut, they scream about how necessary that program is.

            • WTP said, on December 23, 2012 at 2:08 pm

              I suppose it goes without saying that that is me, WTP at December 23, 2012 at 2:05 pm…but I’ll say it anyway.

              BTW, the way wordpress handles comments sucks.

  5. WTP said, on December 20, 2012 at 12:26 pm

    And further more…

    “Chances of being killed in a mass shooting, he says, are probably no greater than being struck by lightning.”

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=167339702

    Of course lightning is another fear factor. A couple years ago school students here in central FL were kept after school until around 6:00 because of a policy of not letting kids out of school within a certain number of minutes of the sound of thunder. Parents showed up at the school demanding to see their children and take them home.

  6. Cynthia said, on December 20, 2012 at 11:31 pm

    Hi Michael just found your blog while googling about laptop battery problems and stayed as I am a former philosophy major.

    So. I agree that no one has ever convincingly explained the problem of evil if an omnipotent and benevolent God exists. Not that they haven’t tried. Just think of Thomas Aquinas. What a waste of a brilliant mind.

    A local pastor in Newtown remarked that a little girl survived by playing dead, and that this could only be a sign of God’s intervention. I won’t even go into the pitiful illogicality of his observation, but it has occurred to me more than once that religion, imparted to most people in their formative years, is responsible for an illogical mindset in one hell of a lot of people, which then spills over into other facets of life. For example, if one is raised as a Catholic, one is subjected at an early age to all sorts of improbable or impossible stuff. After that, believing in almost anything as an adult becomes much easier. The political and social repercussions are enormous.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on December 21, 2012 at 4:21 pm

      Cynthia,

      I hope your battery woes have been sorted out.

      Interestingly, Aquinas would agree that he had perhaps wasted his life. After all, after a mystical experience he stopped writing, saying that it revealed that his work was but straw.

      To be charitable to the Pastor, he was probably trying to give comfort to himself and others. But, you are right-the fact that the girl survived by playing dead certainly does not seem to be evidence of God’s intervention. If the bullets had turned to doves, had bounced off her skin, or if an angel had deflected the shots, then it would be reasonable to talk about some sort of unusual intervention.

      There is also a horrible aspect to saying the God saved the girl. This would seem to entail that He decided to not save the others and that implies that they were not worthy of His intervention.

      It makes more sense to say that God did nothing and that the girl saved herself.

    • magus71 said, on December 21, 2012 at 4:35 pm

      See my response to AJ: I believe God is neither what pop-Christians have made Him to be, nor what atheists make Him not to be.

      The logical conclusion is that He can do and allow what He wants, and this is perfectly in line with what the Bible shows. As AJ points out, God wiped out Humanity, ordered Abraham to murder Isaac, and commanded the Israelites to genocide the Amalikites.

      What of it? If it is the way God, is, who am I to argue? If God does or does not exist, how does that change reality right now? I think that believing that if people stopped being religious things would get better is a pipe dream. None of our recent mass killers were religious fanatics.

      In the end, Hobbes has the final word: A man cannot lay down the right of resisting them that assault him by force, to take away his life.

  7. ajmacdonaldjr said, on December 21, 2012 at 10:49 am

    This is hardly a difficult issue for anyone who studies the Bible. To begin near the beginning, of the biblical narrative, God himself, with his own hand, once drowned every living creature on earth, except for creatures living in the ocean, I imagine, because the thoughts of humankind were only evil continually. Noah and his family found grace in the eyes of God, who warned Noah of the coming deluge and the flood that would drown all living creatures, and commanded Noah to warn others of the impending doom, and to build an ark, which would be a means of escape for Noah, his family, and two of every living creature, so that the world could be repopulated after all other life had been drowned by God. Everyone laughed at Noah and thought him a fool…. until the deluge began, and it was too late. Noah and his family went into the ark, along with the animals, God himself shut the door of the ark, and it rained for 40 days and 40 nights, causing a great flood which destroyed all life on earth.

    It doesn’t get any worse than this. There is no mystery here. No need for theologians to begin speaking of secondary causes, providence, and free will. God himself, because humankind was only evil continually, drowned little children, kitty cats, puppy dogs, and all life on earth.

    Fast forward to Sandy Hook and what do we see? Another lone gunman patsy whose rifle was still in the trunk of his car shot dead by the real shooters whose rifles were used by them to slaughter the innocents in order to provoke new legislation (secret presidential directive?) that would bring about more violence and killing once implemented, our government knowing people living in rural areas will fight to keep their guns, which is exactly what they want: not to disarm Billy Bubba, but for Billy Bubba to shoot it out with police and military, for a long time to come, which will keep Billy too busy to focus on removing and replacing our criminal government, and which will allow our government to gain ever more power.

    The urban areas are already gun-free zones, so our government has other plans for Cindy City Dweller: the Occupy Movement, which is virtually identical to the so-called Arab Spring, and, as Occupy says, has been modeled after it. OWS and the Arab Spring are a CIA destabilization campaign deigned not to bring about democracy for the Arabs or the 99% but to cause rioting and chaos, which, without any means of self-defense, like a gun, will keep Cindy busy trying to survive and stay safe, and will keep her to occupied with these to worry about the government and how to change it, allowing the government to gain ever more power.

    Dr. King didn’t begin speaking out against our government until a conversation he’s had with black militant brought his attention to a matter he hadn’t previously considered. Dr King had approached these militants asking them to stop using violence, and to stop advocating violence, because he thought it counter-productive to their cause (=equal rights for blacks) and was told by the militants “Look at how our government solves it’s problems Dr. King: by using violence. So why shouldn’t we do the same?” Dr. King had no reply to this other than to say “You’re right…. this is how they solve their problems… just look at Vietnam.” King then began to address the greatest purveyor of violence on the planet at that time: the USA, and was murdered by the same purveyor shortly thereafter. The USA is still the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today. 25,000 people walk into the Pentagon every weekday morning in order to purvey more, and more, and more sophisticated violence that the world has ever seen, using our tax monied to do so and to create the most ingenious killing devices the world has ever seen, as opposed to using our tax monies to create programs of social uplift, and King desired.

    King warned us before he died that America was headed toward a national disaster if we did not begin scaling back the DoD and scaling up social programs, and we are today where he said we would be then: national disaster.

    During the last POTUS campaign our school children got one and only one message from our “leaders” and it was the worse message any school age child could ever get from their government, who is instrumental in forming the conscience: “Hey kids, look at Wall Street and look at Libya…. Cheaters win and violence works!”

    See: http://youtu.be/hQFE1wgx714

    • magus71 said, on December 21, 2012 at 1:28 pm

      AJ’s right. The Bible is full of violence and death. Just like the world I see. It’s also got an overarching good message:

      “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”~John 3:16.

      I’ve come to grips with the fact that I suck. Other people suck, too. Like Augustine, I’ve found that the more I ignore the fact that I suck, the more I suck. I’ve come to grips with my belief that God can kill me on a whim, and has the right to do so. I’ve come to grips with the fact that He leaves some things up to me. I’ve come to grips with the fact that living is better than dying. I’ve come to grips with the fact that I do not have the same authority as the God I believe in, that He makes the rules, not me. The Bible is clear on all this, and Christians who say otherwise ignore those parts of the Bible because they are ashamed of them. I’m not ashamed of them, because the world is what it is, be there a God or not. It is a place where bad things happen. I try not to let them happen to me or the people I love.

      Ultimately, the deepest, most advanced forms of Christianity come down to submission. I submit to the fact, like Job did, that I am a speck of dust in the universe, though I am a fairly important speck.. The Bible is clear on the roots of evil: Pride and rebellion against God. Lucifer was a rebel. There are some things worth rebelling against; God is not one of them.

      Evil in the world should not give pause to Christians, even if God allows it, thus distressing human philosophers.

      Jesus: “And what about the eighteen people who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them? Were they the worst sinners in Jerusalem?”~Luke 13:4

  8. [...] ARTICLE – A Philosopher’s Blog – “God and Sandy Hook” – http://aphilosopher.wordpress.com/2012/12/20/god-and-sandy-hook/ [...]

  9. magus71 said, on December 21, 2012 at 8:04 pm

    Tonight, I’m going to do what David Hume always did: Forget about philosophy and the unanswerable, and go have a beer at the pub. Few of us can do anything more.


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