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Doomsdays throughout time
March 6th, 2011
12:01 AM ET

A look at the ways the world could end

By Jessica Ravitz, CNN

Think you’ve got a prediction for when and how the world will end? Get in line.

A caravan of RVs is now touring the country to warn people about the end of the world (they say it will happen May 21), but they're hardly the first ones to embark on such a mission.

Throughout time, and across continents and belief systems, humankind has dished out enough end dates to fill a doomsday menu.

The backgrounds of the people who serve them up may differ, as might the details of what will unfold, but the general apocalyptic worldview is nothing original, says Lorenzo DiTommaso, an associate professor of religion at Concordia University in Montréal, Quebec and author of the forthcoming book, “The Architecture of Apocalypticism.”

“It’s a philosophy that explains time, space and human existence,” DiTommaso says. And by buying into this sort of outlook, a person can find comfort in a “comprehensive answer.”

Having studied apocalyptic movements for nearly 12 years, DiTommaso has strong opinions. He calls the apocalyptic worldview “adolescent” because it’s “a simplistic response to complex problems” and one that “places responsibility for solving these problems with someone else or somewhere else.”

As a result, there are dangers to this thinking, he says. Why care about protecting the environment, curing cancer or stopping poverty and violence against women, for example, if you believe it’s all going to end soon anyway?

The imminent doomsday date that’s gotten the most attention in recent years is the December 21, 2012, prediction gleaned from the Mayan “Long Count” calendar.

But not to be outdone by those pesky Mayans, there are some Christians who claim the Bible teaches that Judgment Day will come on May 21 of this year. They say those who are not saved in the Rapture will endure great suffering up until October 21, 2011, when the world will be kaput.

“There’s competition,” DiTommaso says. The Mayan calendar prediction “has gone global, and in the ecology of apocalypticism that’s the big tree right now. So the 2011 prediction has to fight for a bit of the sun. And the supreme irony is no matter how big the tree, it always gets cut down.”

Both predicted ends “will come and go – quote me on that,” DiTommaso says. “Unless the apocalypse we’re bringing on ourselves happens first, it’s not going to happen.”

Author and professor Lorenzo DiTommaso has studied apocalyptic movements for more than a decade.

Those who’ve dedicated the next few months to warning people about the May 21 date, however, hold that they understand what others – including, for instance, DiTommaso – fail to see. They accept the Bible as the undisputed word of God, and they find within the carefully studied scripture “infallible proofs” that the end is not only near but firmly scheduled, says Harold Camping, the force behind the Christian broadcasting ministry Family Radio and the biggest proponent of this doomsday date.

“What happens if nothing happens on May 21? I’m asked that question again and again,” Camping says. “It’s a question I don’t even entertain because it is going to happen. It is going to happen.”

So how do staunch believers, including those who quit jobs, bail on families and give away possessions in preparation for the end, bounce back if these fateful dates they think will bring massive destruction amount to just another ho-hum day?

Surprisingly, they don’t all feel duped, DiTommaso says. Some may fall away or slink off to something new, but when your worldview is apocalyptic in nature, a failed doomsday doesn’t leave you easily shaken, he says.

Instead, what religious people generally do, he says, is write off the end-that-wasn’t as an interpretation hiccup. With deeper study and prayer, they’ll be lucky enough to find another doomsday around the corner.

- CNN Writer/Producer

Filed under: Belief • Bible • Christianity • Death • End times • Faith • Jesus

soundoff (666 Responses)
  1. LoneZero

    That doesn't make sense to me, why would a all loving, knowing, powerful God want to bring forth the end of the world? If all this is true, why bother creating everyone and everything just to destroy it one day (or multiple times, floods ect.)? If Justina is correct and it will come like a thief and without prediction why would anyone want to serve that kinda God willing to destroy everyone and everything on our planet, believer or not at a moments notice? Just on a slight whim and flick of the wrist? Or is this something man-made to keep us in a constant state of fear and panic of the unknown day to choose a religion that promises the best possible afterlife?

    March 6, 2011 at 6:43 am |
    • Grace

      This is how I understand God: That man was given a perfect world in which to live, but man chose to defile it through disobedience. Simply put: We chose our will over God's. We continue to choose ours over His. Look around at the pain and the suffering, the chaos and the disorder and the loneliness and the despair. Whenever we choose wrong rather than right, we disobey, whenever we choose to hurt rather than to heal, we disobey. Some of us choose imperfectly out of ignorance, since none of us is perfect, we will all continue to make hurtful wrong choices that separate us from goodness and joy and from each other. God knew this and loved us and saved us. He plans to restore His world, not destroy it. He will gather us, his children, those who love him and stumble before him and want to be more like him and who humbly turn to him to be changed and matured and enlightened, those who seek him and know He will comfort and heal them. He wants us to live with him forever so He prepares us day by day if we allow Him. We have been given the choice! He even sent himself as Jesus the Christ, not to harm us but to give us hope and a future, knowing that He would suffer and die at the hands of those He came to save! Jesus, by dying and then resurrecting exposed the lie that our lives do not matter. He overcame our greatest fear: death and eternal separation from love and our loved ones. He is the Lover of Life and the Giver of Life and He offers it to us unconditionally. We can align ourselves with God through Christ and receive the life He originally intended for us, full of friends and fellowship and a future, by choosing His will for us. But it comes back to obedience. Giving our brokenness to God to be fixed, recognizing that even the best laid plans of man fail. Trusting God to teach and reveal how He would have us live in this world racked with confusion and inhumanity and senseless evil. Sometimes this means minute by minute handing over our helplessness, our vanity, our strivings, our urges, our fears so that they can be exchanged for His power, His wisdom, His peace, and His patience, His spirit, His Holy Spirit given to us when Christ – Emanuel/God among us – left this world. You can see the fruit of those living with His Spirit: They are not perfect, but practice kindness and self control and offer forgiveness knowing that they have been forgiven. They also exude a joyful strength. Christ promised to return to set things right, but even He did not know when. Evil will be destroyed. Goodness will reign. Earth as it was meant to be will be restored. And all those who choose God will be blessed to live for eternity with Him. To me that choice has gotten easier and easier. I continually choose Christ – letting God live within me – and experience an awesome freedom, freedom to grow and learn from my mistakes, freedom from fear of annihilation. I trust Jesus to share Life with me abundantly now and eternally. God will welcome me into His world/Heaven because I choose and want to be a part of it. And He invites ALL to come! You as I, have a choice. God created us to be free and does not impose His will. Yes, He has the power to destroy us with a "flick of His wrist", but as the Bible has revealed to me, as His people, His church, and His Spirit have shown me over and over again, God is a redeemer and a builder, not a destroyer. May you discover the Truth and may it set you free!

      March 6, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
    • SadieSadie

      Amen Grace! I wish I could be this eloquent!

      March 6, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
    • TrueGodIsLove

      Well, said, Grace! Praise God! It is my sincere prayer that this well written explanation of the very nature of our God will begin to minister to the hearts of some nonbelievers reading, and place a desire so strong in the them to get to know our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I tell you what, if by some crazy chance our christian faith just so happens to be wrong, but of course I don't believe it to be, I still wouldn't want to live any other way. A life full of hopelessness, despair, confusion, anger, you name it...it's just not worth it to me. I'd rather live in abundant peace and joy, praising my God, and helping to bring others closer to Him. Exemplifying the true love of the Father. Again, if that's wrong, I don't want to be right.

      May 19, 2011 at 10:15 am |
  2. Mel Johnson

    Claiming to know the date of the End of the World identifies a certain brand of heretic. In itself, heresy is not so great a problem, but the blasphemy involved in claiming to know the mind of God DOES bother me.

    March 6, 2011 at 6:41 am |
    • ThemBones

      I hear ya. This is the same thing as some crazy muslim acting as a self appointed spokesman for God.

      March 6, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
    • Maybe

      "...blasphemy involved in claiming to know the mind of God DOES bother me."

      Hmmmm, I'm just betting that you claim to know a thing or two about this "mind of God", though, don't you?

      March 6, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
    • Cliff Vegas

      @Maybe – more likely, he's pointing out his regret that the people who SAY they know God's mind are the ones people identify as "christian."

      March 6, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
    • Justina (Christian)

      @Them-, Maybe, and Cliff-: You guys are all wrong. Mel is saying that claiming to know God's mind in the extent of predicting the date of Jesus' second coming is a blasphemy and he is right from the Biblical viewpoint. Both heresy and blasphemies are grave problems of pseudo-christians.

      March 7, 2011 at 12:54 am |
  3. Justina

    Nothing major is going to happen on May 21/October 21 of 2011 or on December 21, 2012. More people rant the date/s, more guaranteed nothing happens that on day/s, according to the Bible. The Day will come like a thief, without prediction, according to the Bible. Fathful people should serve God always as usual.

    March 6, 2011 at 6:09 am |
    • ThemBones

      Agreed. Not to mention I have a late summer vacation planned so it's gonna have to wait.

      March 6, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
  4. Justina

    Oh no, not again. Anything will happen on anyday but not on May 21 this year or December 2012 or whatever date set. I think the day is hidden to capture us mankind being true ourselves, both believers and non-believers for that matter. It's good to be reminded again that the Day of the Lord is coming, but specific prediction of date will NEVER come true. Guaranteed. According to the Bible itself.

    March 6, 2011 at 5:53 am |
  5. Ramon F Herrera

    I am sure the Westboro Baptist Church began this way.

    March 6, 2011 at 5:21 am |
  6. Ramon F Herrera

    I blame Sarah Palin.

    March 6, 2011 at 5:20 am |
    • ICEMAN

      LOL

      March 6, 2011 at 5:44 am |
  7. Woody

    The end of the world is coming May 21st? Are tickets available? I'd like to have a front row seat. I guess it's about time I ordered that Ferrari I always wanted.

    March 6, 2011 at 5:17 am |
  8. Dea2

    I'll just continue to try to be the best Christian I can be everyday, because I don't know the day or hour of "the end" of the world, or my own existance. And we are not supposed to know. Matthew 24:36

    March 6, 2011 at 4:54 am |
    • Justina

      Amen. People need to listen to authentic Bible scholars. Any evil spirits or human fools can come up with any specific date.

      March 6, 2011 at 5:55 am |
    • NL

      Justina-
      "authentic Bible scholars" like professors of religion such as John Dominic Crossan recently featured here, or 'authentic' in that they happen to agree with what you already believe?

      March 7, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
  9. Elaine

    The world could end with you "thinking/doing what you did what was right", or you "living what you felt was right" The choice is yours. I hope I picked the right judge, but if I didn't I'm happy in hell.

    March 6, 2011 at 4:22 am |
  10. robby rotten

    and their preaching this because......how much yea wanta bet this guy is making $$$$$$$ naaa hes tryen to help the people

    March 6, 2011 at 4:04 am |
  11. ICEMAN

    TI- TLE LOL REALLY

    March 6, 2011 at 3:14 am |
  12. ICEMAN

    moderation, awwwwww

    March 6, 2011 at 3:11 am |
    • ICEMAN

      LOL i'm a man with a heart that loves God, i threw away my christian ti-tle. it's funny that they are putting a date on what some little nut job girl's vision, RAPTURE!!! ALL WHITE MAN LIES JUST LIKE THE BIBLE, don't get me wrong i believe most of it but when the RCC, then EUROPEANS got control of it "that's where the problems started, man interfearing with his word. I have to listen to Yeshua's voice, and it's telling me that 95% of what we see with christians today is a load of crap!!!!! along with their dooms day!!!! I had to think Y would a father have sons and daughters just to BURN them forever..not a day or a year, but forever, i can see why they was going to take revelations out of the bible in 1611

      March 6, 2011 at 3:13 am |
    • HeavenSent

      The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. (Jeremiah 17:9) without learning the truth of Jesus as written in his letter He wrote all of us (the Bible) to read, comprehend what He wrote, and apply His wisdom to our lives.

      Who has made the heart? The Lord Jesus Christ has made every heart (John 1:3; Colossians 1:16-17). "He fashions their hearts individually." (Psalm 33:15).

      For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:36).

      Amen.

      March 9, 2011 at 8:26 pm |
    • Susan

      @Heaven Sent
      Proverbs 23:15
      My son, if thine heart be wise, my heart shall rejoice, even mine.

      Your version of the heart is warped. You really need to seek counseling.

      1 John 4:18
      There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.

      1 Thessalonians 4:9
      But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another.

      1 John 4:7
      Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.

      HeavenSent you do not have love in your heart.

      By the way if anyone is interested you can play this posters game by going to a bible verse website type in a word and all the scriptures related to the subject will appear. It's easy to make it seem like you know the bible even if you don't take it to heart.

      March 9, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
  13. Wiki leaks

    Somebody tell these ppl who have a notion of wasting their time with this type of nonsense to relax breath slowly and look in islam to see what it says about t end of the world, christians get it wrong every century, i am an atheist and think islam makes the most sense of all the other wack job religions

    March 6, 2011 at 2:27 am |
    • Justina

      @Wiki-, Muslims also knows Jesus is coming back to judge the world. They just need to believe that Jesus the Son of God died for their sins and rose from the dead in order to save them.

      March 6, 2011 at 6:15 am |
    • nik

      Why would muslims believe a prophet of god died for there sins before they were born or even commited any sins, babies are born innocent not in sin duh winning

      March 6, 2011 at 9:58 pm |
    • Justina (Christian)

      Nik, babies are exceptional as they commit no sin practially. They are in God's good hand. But the beings with moral responsibility must repent and accept Jesus' atonement in faith in order to be saved.

      March 7, 2011 at 12:49 am |
    • HeavenSent

      Oh, really Wiki leaks, the Book of Revelation means to reveal. End of days started in 1948. Check your sources to what happened in 1948. Then find out what the acronym for ISRAEL means. The find out what birth pains is pertaining to coming faster and faster, since 1948. Then find out that this generation is those of the famine, prophesy in the Bible.

      When you figure all this out, then you'll understand what Christians know already because we read, comprehend and abide in Jesus' truth.

      Amen.

      March 9, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
  14. Ceekwon

    I would love to laugh at their faces when i see all of them in hell.

    March 6, 2011 at 2:27 am |
    • ICEMAN

      Ceekwon, REALLY? i don't think you are going to be doing any laughing while that hottness is touching you on your backside.

      March 6, 2011 at 3:15 am |
    • yeshua1

      So if you believe in Hell and are convinced you will end up there, does that mean you believe what the religious folk are saying when they are annoying you?

      March 6, 2011 at 4:22 am |
  15. Eddie Haskell

    I have a 15 year old daughter, and anytime some boy does not call her or her hair isn't perfect in the morning, it's the end of the world. I have experienced a great many end-of-the-worlds in the last few years, and really, it's no big thing.

    Apocalyptic religions are like 15-year-old girls: very dramatic and irrational, but very little actual carnage.

    March 6, 2011 at 1:32 am |
    • Wally Cleaver

      I took your daughter out last weekend. She was hot. For a few minutes there it was sure feeling like the end of the world.

      March 6, 2011 at 1:48 am |
    • Eddie Haskell

      Wally, the beaver you did last weekend was The Beaver. The reason it felt like the end was that you were doing him in the end.

      March 6, 2011 at 2:04 am |
    • HeavenSent

      "I tried to think, but nothing worked"! whoo, whoo, Moe Curly, 3 stooges.

      March 9, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
    • Tony

      ""I tried to think, but nothing worked" I think you misinterpreted it isn't it "I try to think but nothing happens" if you are going to quote the 3 stooges at least do it right.

      March 9, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
  16. Viz

    Any catastrophe on a planet-wide scale actually narrows down the possibilities. But what do people mean when they say "the end of the world"?
    Is it an end to humanity? An end to our biosphere? Destruction of the planet?
    One massive meteor blasting into the Earth's crust would pretty much wipe everyone out – and it could happen anytime at all.
    But humans have fragile bodies, so there are many way to wipe out the human race.
    We could even get zapped by a massive gamma-ray burst from a supernova or black hole many light-years away.

    But homicidal attacks by fellow humans are the most likely, as they happen everyday. Religious reasons would be one of the most likely scenarios for weapons of mass destruction being used to wipe out humanity.
    One virus, properly designed, would kill 99 percent of the people on this planet. But it takes an extremist or fundamentalist to be that vicious and monstrous to fellow human beings. Or crazy in a different way. The odds are pretty bad, I must say.

    March 6, 2011 at 1:15 am |
  17. T-party

    great posts...too bad religious id-iots will have to reply with some cra-p.

    March 6, 2011 at 1:03 am |
    • yeshua1

      Yeah, too bad people have their own crappy opinions that differ from your crappy opinion, eh?

      March 6, 2011 at 4:19 am |
  18. NL

    Like religion, most science fiction also paints a gloomy future for humanity. It's no surprise then that Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, was an atheist.

    Some Roddenberry quotes:

    "I condemn false prophets, I condemn the effort to take away the power of rational decision, to drain people of their free will–and a hell of a lot of money in the bargain. Religions vary in their degree of idiocy, but I reject them all. For most people, religion is nothing more than a subst.itute for a malfunctioning brain."

    "We must question the story logic of having an all-knowing all-powerful God, who creates faulty Humans, and then blames them for his own mistakes."

    And, most importantly

    "There is a tomorrow – we humans are going to make it – we're something. To any young-minded person, that's a very important statement."

    March 6, 2011 at 1:02 am |
  19. NL

    May 21! I have to wait for May 21 before the Rapture carries away all those judgmental people? That is disappointing!

    March 6, 2011 at 12:41 am |
    • Mr. Sniffles

      Yeah, but won't May 22 be a really nice day for us seculars who remain?

      March 6, 2011 at 1:07 am |
    • Justina

      NL, those judgmental people are the only good people on earth and you'll miss them so badly because atheists like you are such lonely people you must talk to Christians all the time. It's good to have those angelic Christians around to attack all you want who always only love you back.

      March 6, 2011 at 5:59 am |
    • Burned

      "only love you back"
      What a complete and utter lie.
      There are so many christian "haters" out there, I do not associate the term christian with much else.
      Christians are just a big ole hatin' party of self-loving, smug, arrogant people drunk on their own self-importance constantly regurgitating mindless bible quotes and doing their best to destroy our country in the name of their pompous arrogance.
      Hypocrites, every single one of 'em.

      March 6, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
    • Cliff Vegas

      A great day for Koolaid, I'm sure.

      March 6, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
    • NL

      Justina-
      Being judgmental isn't universally considered to be 'good' trait.
      Atheists aren't any more lonely than the average person. It's sometimes difficult to find people to talk to about religious issues precisely because believers do tend to be judgemental, but we get along with others just fine otherwise. You probably have some atheist friends already, but just don't realize it.

      Regarding our missing judgmental believers, I'm sure that the Libyan people will also someday miss having the Kadafi family around to attack because they always only 'loved' them back as well.

      March 6, 2011 at 11:03 pm |
    • Justina (Christian)

      @Burned and NL, you guys are wrong. Christians are the best, most enduring and comassionate humans who possess and spread God's truth and love in God's Spirit. You are not seeing the whole or correctly or fairly. You wouldn't have anything good without Christianity in your civilization. By the way, after Christians are taken into the sky, the world will be in a war inferno. You really should repent your filthy sins now and believe in Jesus for the remission of your sin and for salvation.

      March 7, 2011 at 12:46 am |
    • NL

      Justina (Christian)-
      Throughout history there have always been oppressive regimes that have put down and even tortured large sections of the population while benefiting an elite. Within all of those elite groups there have been compa.ssionate members who objected to the preferential treatment that they received over the oppressed members of their society. Some, like members of the abolitionist and civil rights movements, were actually Christians who opposed the unfair treatment of some people. They actually opposed other Christians who believed with all their hearts that they were the ones actually following God's word. These Christians were condemned for their 'liberal' views and told that they were headed for hell as well, but they accepted the risk to their own salvation for what they believed was right. I consider them to have been compas.sionate Christians.

      You may not see it, but the exact same thing is going on today with the Christian response towards gays and same-$ex marriage, for example. There are the compas.sionate Christians who see the unfairness of the traditional position and do not condemn gays or oppose their right to marriage, and there are the others who prefer their privileged status. There are those Christians who are willing to risk their own salvation by going against what is traditionally held as being God's position, and there are those who are either too afraid to risk their own salvation, are too afraid to risk having their piety questioned by others, or who just enjoy the feeling of being part of the elite. The ones who wouldn't want heaven if everyone were allowed to enter. Honestly, I see more compa.ssion in the 'liberal' Christians than in the fundamentalist variety. Sorry, but that's how I see it.

      March 7, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
  20. Don

    The world will end in about 4.5 billion years when the sun's growth due to the physics of overcoming its own gravity from the fuel its consuming means that the Earth will be consumed by the sun.

    March 6, 2011 at 12:13 am |
    • Beopstra

      I thot the sun was due to expand after only a million or a few million years. Maybe you have gotten the 4.5 billion mixed up, since that is nearly the current postulated age of the Earth??

      March 6, 2011 at 12:41 am |
    • NL

      Don
      "The world will end in about 4.5 billion years"
      Can you use this to frighten, exploit, control and bilk money out of people? No? See, now you understand why it wasn't mentioned by the professor of religion.

      March 6, 2011 at 12:50 am |
    • nosp

      No, beospra, the sun is about halfway through it's life span. Things might start to get dicey after about another billion years, though, due to increasing brightness, but the sun will continue to degrade for a few billion years longer.

      March 6, 2011 at 4:35 am |
    • The Truth

      If we aren't careful the world will end when these religious zealots here and abroad go to war and hit the nuclear button in the name of their God. Hopefully younger, future generations will stray away from this unhealthy behavior and weed religion out of our human gene pool for the betterment of all mankind.

      With regard to 2012, let me tell you what will happen for 100% certain: The week of Dec 21, 2012 Christian Churches will be PACKED with people praying just in case the world does indeed end.

      The irony will be hilarious watching people who believe in something COMPLETELY different than the Mayans praying for salvation from their God, especially considering that the Bible states that people shall have no other gods. No hypocrisy there. So what will they be there for? They'll be there because they are religious fanatics who just make up whatever they want to in their own minds and justify it using the Bible (which can justify anything from beating children to murder to slavery),

      In any event, if something does happen in 2012, the Christians will say, "You should have repented. I told you so" (despite it not being their religion predicting the end) and otherwise people will be packed in Churches several days later on Christmas where the message from the pulpit will be: "See... Jesus saves, not the Mayans."

      They've got all their bases "conveniently" covered as usual.

      Peace!

      March 6, 2011 at 6:16 am |
    • Don

      No Beopstra, it's billion. The sun is slightly older than the Earth, and the sun is about halfway through its expected life. So it's billion.

      March 6, 2011 at 11:59 am |
    • NL

      Don-
      It's all kinda academic because few people seriously imagine that we'll still be around on this planet in a billion years, right? Something likely would have hit the Earth, or some disease, or just plain old overpopulation would have killed us off long before then. Maybe we'll have moved on by then to some planets orbiting younger stars. Who knows?

      Whatever the future of 1,000,000,000 AD holds I wouldn't bet that there won't still be Christians around, and that they'll still be claiming that Jesus' return will be any day.

      March 6, 2011 at 10:45 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Jesus, inspired men to write His truth regarding the sun and light, His light:

      Genesis 1:2-5
      Genesis 1:16
      John 1:1-12
      John 9:5
      Acts 13:47
      John 1:7-8
      John 3:16-21
      John 14:6
      Isaiah 9:2
      1 Peter 3:19
      1 Peter 4:6
      Isaiah 49:6
      Isaiah 60:1-3
      Hosea 6:3
      Malachi 4:2
      Matthew 4:14-16
      Luke 1:78-79
      Luke 2:32
      John 12:35
      Acts 26:23
      John 19-21

      Amen.

      March 9, 2011 at 8:14 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.