December 14, 2012
My God Died in Newtown
I had been humming Christmas carols in the car driving back home through New England. I had just finished a business trip in the early afternoon on December 14, 2012 looking forward to a busy holiday weekend.
Once inside, I turned on the computer to check my email.
“Breaking news: massacre.”
What? I clicked the link. It was a horror story. An entire first grade elementary class in Newtown, Connecticut had been killed. 20 sweet children and several dedicated adults had been massacred by a madman with a machine gun.
All other thoughts left me. This news was so horrible – so terrible. Pictures of the children with their families rolled across the banners. I may have actually screamed, “No!”
Stunned and shaken, I wept like millions of other people at this news.
I didn’t know these children. But in a way, I felt so close to them. I had a 4 year old niece near Newtown. I had visited similar elementary schools as a teacher – so this felt very personal. All my previous questioning about ‘faith’ had been in the back of my mind. But until Newtown it had not taken shape.
And God’s lack of relevance this time had a kind of weight of its own, as when Malala Yousufzai had been shot but much heavier. But these little children! Such a deep unfairness of their loneliness as they died; for the tragic, needless, permanent loneliness of their parents as they confront this horror. The depth of the unfairness and cruelty was unbearable.
I was so angry, so sad and so lost in the sorrow of the story, I had a sudden powerful need.
In this horrible moment, alone in my house with pictures of dead children
I desperately craved honesty
Through tears I asked aloud, ‘What good have you done here, God?’
I gave myself this permission to ask this because I craved an honest answer to the question – not just for me – but for those children above all in their horrible moment, their horrible day.
Where was their Savior when it mattered? “Where were you, God?”
I remember the anguish of trying to empathize directly with those children in my mind. How God must have watched and done nothing to intercede. But what sort of loving God could do that? It is impossible.
The shooter had arrived at the school in a car. In my mind’s eye I wondered about what his car looked like. And what it probably looked like parked outside the school.
I thought of how my aunt always said a prayer to find a parking spot in busy lots. She said it always worked, and God would get her one. Even though I was skeptical, her faith was true.
But in Newtown a young man drove up to this school with a gun. And the question arose.
Why God, did you let this killer find a parking spot?
But who am I that God should answer me, if he cannot answer the children first?
And in that instant I saw the immorality of a god who would listen to me, but not listen to little children as they are being shot.
I could not square the immoral circle, and I could not justify the immorality of a God that would attend to my prayers while children were dying!
Desperate for an honest answer, an answer not for myself but a true answer for those dear children – I allowed my thoughts to cross over some invisible line in my head – a line I hadn’t quite known was there. And I found myself on the other side!
The clarity rang like a bell.
“There is no god.” It startled me.
Of course. That was the answer. The truth at long last!
And my faith ran through my fingers like sand. I could almost feel it happening.
“There is no god” I said again. And I fell into my couch, lost in tears for those little kids in Newtown – as if each was my own.
It was the most emotional, heartbreaking day since September 11, 2001.
I looked into my living room through watery eyes
and in my mind’s eye, a big wave rose up and washed away the sand castle
that had been my religion.
Just like that; the churches, scriptures, communion, the Bible, prayers and priests of my life – it all crumbled and spread out in foam and disappeared.
I could almost see the empty spot where it had washed away!
I immediately wondered how the castle could be rebuilt. But how?
I had a momentary impulse to shore it up!
Then I thought how the wave would only return. There was nothing to do.
God was gone.
And, somehow… it was okay.
Because finally here was a truth.
God had melted as if he had never really been there.
As if He had always been a nothing.
Yet how could this illusion have been with me all my life?
The quickness of His disappearance and the obviousness of his nonexistence – was amazing. Shocking.
How could so many people have been duped by this idea of gods?
It is worldwide! This con is everywhere!
I went back to the internet to connect with friends and family – to read the posts on social media and the news in hopes that some child had possibly survived. Everywhere people were making comments and sharing their pains about Newtown.
It was going to be unbearable to read.
So many people suffering unconscionable losses at the hands of another madman. The sweetness and innocence of these little victims just before Christmas. Too cruel. Too jarring for a person to process.
Platitudes were everywhere. God never gives you anything you can’t handle? Bullshit.
And a Christian wrote this blurb on social media,
“God took them to heaven so Jesus could be with them for Christmas.”
Oh, no you don’t.
This glib lie stung with a new electric zap to my now unbelieving brain. The coldness!
This Christian was using this unconscionable horror in Newtown to comfort HIMSELF!
In his Christian world view, the mass murderer was merely God’s plan, an angel of death had to mercilessly carry out an act of unrelenting terror to send little children to a Christmas party with Jesus in the sky.
So cold! I felt a new kind of rage.
The rage was not against God – for God was gone. And my rage was not against these Christians who uttered such empty things. After all, I might have said a similar thing not many years ago!
This anger was taking shape. Welling up in me. And it was against the religion itself which had played with me. These profoundly false consolations. So brutally dishonest. Not only a corruption of reality – but worse, a willful, cold blooded refusal to face truth.
And I immediately saw religion as a roadblock to real love. Religion is glib and easy – a wall; a defense mechanism – a refusal to deeply embrace the burden and responsibility of empathizing and reaching out to fellow humans in agony. Religion is the refusal to face death and pain, to instead wish them away.
For what sense could it make? God wants children in heaven so he sends someone to slaughter them? Disgusting on every level.
If it was true that God wanted these children in Heaven, why couldn’t Jesus (who can supposedly do anything) have just waited in his timeless and infinite way, for these children to grow up and allow them to live full lives first? Then he could change them back into children if that is what he wanted. Why demand that they be executed in that horrible way as children? It made no sense.
Is Jesus real? Why say so? He isn’t protecting anyone.
If so, he dropped the ball on December 14th. And if he dropped it on those children, those particularly dear children, there wasn’t the slightest reason he would help others. It would actually be immoral for him to do so!
No. Jesus couldn’t be real. Not possible.
The claims of prayer, intercession and miracles can only be nonsense.
That afternoon I started looking for information in books and debates online and for the first time following my doubts wherever they went. I found an endless supply of clear thinkers regarding religion – many of whom I had never heard before.
And these Atheists were not evil, they were wonderful and loving
and they offered hope to someone like myself – they understood and had similar stories of faith falling through their fingers, too.
I quickly learned what it meant to NOT believe.
“So, now I’m an Atheist?” That is scary.
No god. Wow.
I could no longer believe, nor pretend to believe. But I was also very spooked that my life was going to be upended by this.
I had discovered I was an ‘Atheist,’ a word I was a afraid of.
But I felt so relieved, too. As if some weight had been removed from my shoulders.
The weight of repeatedly justifying claims about God which never had any detectable support.
But I was still the same person, with the same loves and the same amount of caring about others – maybe even more.
So, the world is GODLESS! But what does this mean?
So much needed to be re-examined. I had to figure it all out.
I had so much work to do.