Editor’s Note: The article has been updated.
God was an “accessory” to the Sept. 11 attacks if such a deity exists at all, the head of a national anti-religion group told the University of Michigan-Flint in a lecture sponsored by an atheist-agnostic campus group.
The campus group is no stranger to provocative claims: In video posted last week from an earlier event, its president said that religious people must believe the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting to be a “good thing.”
Dan Barker, co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, told the campus crowd last week that that an omnipotent and omniscient God cannot be a loving one.
Barker gave a personal testimony-style discussion of his conversion from a “fundamentalist binary-brain absolutistic [sic]” evangelical Christianity to atheism, before saying that believers pray to an unresponsive god.
“How many people were praying desperately for God to bless America on September 10, 2001?” said Barker during a question-and-answer session. “How many people had children in that building that were praying for God’s guidance and protection?”
Speaking rhetorically, Barker asked, “Would you have respected the prayers of the people in that building who loved their kids and would you have honored their faithfulness and stopped that tragedy? If you could have and didn’t, you are something of an accessory. You’re just as guilty if you could have stopped it and you didn’t.”
Students for Free-thought, which hosted Barker’s lecture, was founded at the university in 2011 to promote a “welcoming environment” for nonreligious students and to “educate our fellow students of our viewpoints,” according to a description on the school’s student organizations page. The group’s Facebook page says it also advocates for “LGBTQIA+ rights, women’s rights, and racial equality.”
Despite the student government’s prohibition on funding activities that are not “viewpoint neutral,” Students for Free-thought petitioned and received funding for the Barker event. Approved activities get funds from student activity fees, which all enrolled students are required to pay.
Kevin Johnston, Students for Free-thought president, appeared to go even farther than Barker in a March 2013 debate.
The group only posted videos from Johnston’s debate on the “Problem of Suffering” with Elizabeth Arnold of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, an evangelical student ministry, last week.
Johnston argued in that debate, three months after the Sandy Hook shooting, that a benevolent and all-powerful God should prevent people from committing atrocities like at Sandy Hook.
Believers should not appeal to free will to explain such events, Johnston said, asserting that the concept is not compatible with belief in an all-knowing God.
“How can you say that it was wrong for that maniac to kill those children if you believe it was actually a good thing in the eyes of God?” said Johnston of religious believers.
“As a believer, all of what occurs is God’s plan, and God’s plan is ultimately a good plan,” Johnston told The College Fix in a phone interview in defending his debate remarks. “If God is a good God, than massacres and everything else that occurs by falling within God’s good plan must be good things under that paradigm.”
InterVarsity’s Arnold, who graduated from UM-Flint last year and now works in Christian ministry, disagrees.
“God does indeed have a plan of redemption and restoration for all individuals and the world at large,” Arnold told The Fix. “The problem is that not everyone wants to be part of God’s plan for the world because they have their own.”
“Christian or not, we will never be able to fully understand why such tragedies … take place because to fully explain it is to justify it, and there is no justification for such senseless acts of violence,” Arnold said responding to Johnston’s claims. “No explanation will remove the sorrow that is felt by the family members, friends, and our society.”
College Fix reporter Mariana Barillas is a student at the University of Michigan-Flint.
IMAGE: Jason Trommetter/Flickr