In aftermath of Colorado shootings, religious perspectives are hard to find

We don’t talk about religion much in the news, unless it has something to do with a political issue. The work of religion writers in the nation’s newsrooms is mostly relegated to Sunday.

It’s an odd situation considering that nearly 9 out of 10 Americans surveyed say they believe in God.

In the aftermath of tragedies like that in Aurora early this morning, we often hear God evoked as we did today from both President Barack Obama, and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

“I hope all of you will keep the people of Aurora in your hearts and minds today,” the president said. “May the Lord bring them comfort and healing in the hard days to come. … I hope that as a consequence of today’s events, as you leave here, you spend a little time thinking about the incredible blessings that God has given us.”

“The reason this is so deeply felt by all Americans is that, but for the grace of God, the victims could have been any one of our children, in any one of our towns,” VP Joe Biden added.

“We are praying for the families and loved ones of the victims during this time of deep shock and immense grief,” Romney said.

Given the large number of people who believe in God, and the invocation of God in the aftermath of the tragedy, we are, nonetheless, left on our own to try to answer the unanswerable and, frankly, unspeakable question: “What’s the deal, God?”

At a time like this, there’s a role for religious leaders to play, but they’re not playing it or they’re not getting the opportunity to play it.

At the Religion News Service, for example, the editors are merely compiling Twitter comments that mention Aurora, God, or prayers.

The Washington Post’s once-robust On Faith blog, is now just a collection of religion-themed stories. The Boston Globe’s Articles of Faith blog was closed more than two years ago. The last time the AP’s religion writer moved a story, was a week ago.

The Huffington Post’s religion section carries only a feature on fasting during Ramadan, and a link to the Twitter feed from religious people, none of which is saying anything in 140 characters to help the faithful work through the questions.

We look to blogs like the Velveteen Rabbi, Texas Faith, Get Religion, Mark Silk, Saints & Seekers, and Church Mag — these are considered among the nation’s best religious blogs — and they are all — all — silent on the day’s events.

According to the Catholic News Service, Denver prelates are offering counseling and offering “their ears to listen.”

Only, it seems, does the Christian Post provide any reaction — an explanation, if you will:

But, in times like this we have to hate someone, and the best person to hate is the worst…Satan himself. I hate him for the deception he unleashes in the hearts of so many. I hate him for the destruction he has been directly or indirectly involved with since the beginning of time. I hate him for his hatred of everything God and everything good.

Let’s face it: There are people who are going to agree with that explanation, and people who are not, and that might explain why news coverage doesn’t include a religious perspective. It’s for the Sunday sermon.

The problem is in the absence of widespread religious leadership, people like Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert step forward to fill the vacuum.

“We have been at war with the very pillars, the very foundation of this country … and when … you know … what really gets me as a Christian, is to see the ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs and then a senseless, crazy act of terror like this takes place,” he said.

On a day in which the fundamental underpinnings of faith could be challenged, the religious perspective at a time of nationwide grief has mostly been delegated to politicians.

  • todd

    God gave us free will. Sadly, one man misused his. Prayers will help comfort those left behind. Good and evil have been, are, and will continue. All things work together for the good of the Lord for those who live according to His will.

  • kennedy

    This shooting is a tragedy, a personal tragedy for the friends and family that have had a loved one injured or murdered. Counseling, including religious counseling, is a deeply personal matter. A relationship with God is the same in that it is personal, and different for each individual. One person may find comfort in hearing,”God loves you” while those are empty words to another. One person will find comfort in prayer while another needs to scream and wail.

    The facts of what happened are easy to present in the news. Making sense of what happened takes more than that. Expecting a one-size-fits-all religious statement is unrealistic.

  • Bob Collins

    // Expecting a one-size-fits-all religious statement is unrealistic.

    Couldn’t agree more but who’s asking for a one-size-fits-all? We — well at least those of who aren’t rabidly partisan — aren’t asking for one-size-fits-all politics. But in this case, any discussion is a healthy discussion and a warranted discussion.

    Like any other good discussion, people can pick the value they see in it, and pass the plate to others if it doesn’t suit them.

    Otherwise, there’s no real explanation for invoking God in ANY capacity in ANY discussion in the United States if there can’t be discussion at a time when people in the nation may need it most.

  • Bob Collins

    // God gave us free will. Sadly, one man misused his.

    Thank you, Todd. I appreciate your thoughtfulness. What I’m about to ask is not a rhetorical question: When we are asked by the nation’s leaders to pray for the victims, the families, and, yes, the shooter, are we asking for divine intervention?

  • Minn whaler

    “a personal tragedy for the friends and family that have had a loved one injured or murdered.”

    I need to interject that this is also a tragedy for the parents and family of the shooter.

  • Jim Shapiro

    While I’m all in favor of a general societal move away from organised religion and superstitious, fear-based beliefs,

    in terms of relieving individuals’ pain and suffering –

    whatever gets you through the night.

  • Dave S.

    “When we are asked by the nation’s leaders to pray for the victims, the families, and, yes, the shooter, are we asking for divine intervention?”

    Not sure what you mean by “divine intervention”. I think of it as God preventing something from happening, which it’s clearly too late for in this case. But whenever we pray for something or someone, we are asking God to move in that situation, which I think is what our leaders are suggesting.

    No one knows how the Lord will choose to move in this situation. Maybe he’ll bring comfort to those who are mourning. Maybe people who don’t know him or have turned away from him will turn to him now. I do know that prayer changes things. I’ve seen it many times.

  • Bob Collins

    The reason I ask is because of the conflict that arises in these situations when it’s pointed out that we have free will, which suggests to me that it’s out of God’s hands.

    But when we pray for God to have some effect, it is in God’s hands.

    If he can affect the course of events of they occur, can he/she affect them before they occur and, if so, then what is free will about.

    As I said earlier, these are not rhetorical questions I’m raising.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Bob – in that the concept of a supreme creator with the power and desire to grant humans free will is based on beliefs rather than facts, ( a belief which I share from time to time),

    There can be no definitive, rational answer to your paradoxical question.

    Another position, of course, is faith-based: God works in mysterious ways, and because we are imperfect beings, we can never truly understand.

    And ultimately that faith grants us comfort in times of stress to the extent that we don’t even need to address those difficult issues.

    Careful. Keep asking good questions like that and you’re likely to end up being the guest of honor at a heretic bbq.


  • Bert Amdahl

    I believe God gave us Freedom so we could LOVE Him or Her and our neighbor. Love does not come from robots…there can be no coercion. We know that God does intervene in ways of comfort and courage in ways that do not violate that freedom or violate the laws of nature that have been put in place. So wevpray at times of tragedy that God will intervene in that way. Also, our prayers strive for that connection with God that can help us deal with our grief and that of others.

    Peace, Bert A.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Bert – Very nice.

  • Troy Homstad

    In the light of tragedy, we must resist the temptation to view God as a metaphysical puppet master, pulling strings to bless those here, and neglecting others over there.

    Religious people have stayed mostly silent on this subject (other than to offer worn out platitudes) because we simply do not know what to say. We have no answers for when bad things happen, and we revert to metaphor in an effort to reinforce our own doubt and questions.

    Is God a kid with magnifying glass, and are we his ant farm, subject to his pleasure, good or evil? Most of us would say no, but events like this shake the core of what we understand God to be…

    Unless, we begin to look at God in a new light; not as the grand puppet master, but as Love in its perfect form. Love cannot stop pain, but offers hope, comfort, and peace in the midst of it. This is shown directly in the community support, the memorial services, the neighbor helping neighbor that we’ve seen in this city over the last few days.

    God’s grace was present in Aurora early Friday morning, not elsewhere as Vice President Joe Biden seems to suggest. It may look differently than we’re expecting, but it does not mean that it is not there. It exists in the way people are caring for each other, holding vigil together, and trying to make sense together.

    Tragedy such as this gives us the opportunity, wherever we are, to love more deeply, to extend grace more freely, and to comfort more readily. We have but to stand up and begin to do it, and God will be there right in the middle.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Troy – Where do I sign?

  • Jim!!!

    The simple answer is that there is no god. Never was, never will be. The evidence is consistent and 9 of 10 people are deluded in this respect. It’s magical thinking to think that some magical being cares or doesn’t care about this tragic event. There is no such magical being. To understand that this life is all we have accentuates our sense of responsibility and the sense of loss. The power is in our hands and intellect to prevent many but not all tragedies, praying is not the answer. In this case, being mindful of the mental health of those around us and making available mental health care for those in need may help prevent a future event such as this.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Jim!!! – Your argument is based on rational thought.To continue that line of reasoning, another obvious way to help prevent these tragic events is to restrict civilians from owning combat weaponry.

    But then you run into the Cult of the NRA loonies and their belief in the “If I let you take away my machine gun, next thing you know you’ll be taking away my baseball bat” doctrine.

  • Jim!!!

    @ Other Jim, I agree on gun control.

  • jamie

    “God’s grace was present in Aurora early Friday morning… It exists in the way people are caring for each other, holding vigil together, and trying to make sense together.”

    No, Troy, those things have nothing to do with a god. It’s just a sort of rationalization, a way to say a god has something to do with what happens in the world, and a way to try to feel better.

    I agree with “Jim!!!” It’s magical thinking.

  • Pat

    “I agree with “Jim!!!” It’s magical thinking.

    Posted by jamie | July 24, 2012 4:39 PM ”

    That is a sad existence ms jamie.

    Have you ever heard of the saying, “Energy flows where the intention goes?” (of course it can get complicated when you add a few different paramenters but that’s the basic recipe)

    What is that energy and where does it come from? What is the generator?

    “Unless, we begin to look at God in a new light; not as the grand puppet master, but as Love in its perfect form.”

    I like that and I’ll sign on too.

  • Jamie

    ” That is a sad existence ms jamie.”

    And that is extremely arrogant and presumptuous for you to say that, Pat. Who are you to say that just because someone thinks as I do, s/he has a sad existence? I’m guessing that you’re coming to that conclusion because I don’t believe what you believe. One doesn’t have to believe in myths and magic in order to be happy. This is a stereotype many people have about atheists. There are many others, like that we don’t have an ethics or moral code. We don’t need to believe in myths and magic and gods to live ethically and morally. The very best people I know, in terms of their ethics and morals, are atheists – and we live that way because it’s the right thing to do, not because a “holy” book tells us to do so, or in order to get into a mythical place after we die.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Pat – As you have clearly connected with the power of love, I bet what you really meant to say to Jamie was “I would feel sad….”, rather than project your own feelings and risk being misunderstood as judgmental.

    Because of course it’s in part the inherently judgmental nature of proselytism that has driven so many of us running and screaming from organized religion.


  • pat

    “Pat – As you have clearly connected with the power of love, I bet what you really meant to say to Jamie was “I would feel sad….”, rather than project your own feelings and risk being misunderstood as judgmental.”

    uh, no. I meant what I said the way I said it. Ego much? : )

    About your comment on ‘organized religion’ yes I agree with you and prefer to experience my spirituality unorganized but grounded.

    About those families of the victims, I don’t know how they could feel forgiveness or compassion for the guy. (And what’s with the Ronald McDonald hair? was that deliberate? Is he representing the Masons?)

    Maybe understanding where he was coming from, the fact that he was losing touch with reality would help and maybe shifting the anger towards the fact that he didn’t get necessary help that he needed. Who or what prodded him to follow through on the act? Was it a matter of existing an atmosphere of bad ideas floating around where he happened to be more receptive of them. Just like that father who cut the throats of his 3 daughters. Where does that come from? A bunch of misguided irishmen/women trying to break someones neck or damage their spine through malevolent intention and it landed in the wrong destination? Why would a young girl, who may have depression jump off a bridge into the middle of oncoming traffic?

    I’m rubber your glue your nasty thoughts bounce off me and stick on you.

  • annie, will, liz and brick and don’t forget about ho

    The secret is to get close to the perpetrator (victim) and manipulate them into thinking certain things, create an illusion of ill will.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Pat – I was standing up for you thinking that you weren’t in fact really being so blatantly arrogant and judgmental, because you had referred positively to the “power of love” thing.

    Seems I was wrong. Best of luck.


  • Jeff

    “God’s grace was present in Aurora early Friday morning…”

    Was God’s grace there? Or was it Allah’s? Jesus’? Buddha’s? One of the gods or goddesses that symbolize the one abstract Supreme Being or Brahman? Someone else’s? Were they all there? Just one? Which one? Why not the others? How can you say that and your religion is right and the others are wrong?

    Has there ever been a NewsCut comment with such a high question to sentence ratio? 🙂