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Jesus or Ayn Rand - can conservatives claim both?
Author Ayn Rand stands in New York City in this 1957 photo. Her criticism of religion outraged some, but her books remain popular.
June 29th, 2011
10:22 AM ET

Jesus or Ayn Rand - can conservatives claim both?

By John Blake, CNN

(CNN)– Can a person follow Ayn Rand and Jesus?

That’s the question posed by a provocative media campaign that claims that some prominent conservative leaders cannot serve two masters: Jesus and the controversial author of  "Atlas Shrugged," Ayn Rand.

The American Values Network, a group of political activists and pastors, sparked a debate when it recently released a video challenging some conservative and Republican leaders’ professed admiration for Rand,  an atheist who saw selfishness as a virtue and celebrated unfettered capitalism.

Eric Sapp,  AVN’s executive director, said the Republican Party cannot portray itself as a defender of Christian values and then defend the worldview of "the patron saint of selfishness" who scorned religion and compassion.

Sapp singled out Republican leaders such as Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, and talk radio host Rush Limbaugh after all of them expressed admiration for Rand.

Ryan,  architect of the GOP’s propsed budget and Medicare plan, once said that Rand’s philosophy was “sorely needed right now,” and that she did a great job of explaining “the morality of capitalism.”

Sapp sees little morality in Rand's worldview:

Rand said religion was ‘evil,’ called the message of John 3:16 ‘monstrous,’ argued that the weak are beyond love and undeserving of it, that loving your neighbor was immoral and impossible…

Sapp cited conservative leader Chuck Colson who released a video condemning Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” as a silly novel that “peddles a starkly anti-Christian philosophy.”

Sapp added:

Hard to reconcile leaders of ‘God’s Own Party’ praising someone who is about as anti Christ as one can get, huh?”

Onkar Ghate, a senior fellow at the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights in Washington, said the philosophies of Christianity and Ayn Rand are incompatible.

Jesus taught that people should love and serve others, including their enemies. Rand taught that people's fundamental focus should be on their individual happiness, he said:

 I don’t think what Ayn Rand advocates in 'Atlas Shrugged' and what Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount are compatible. She’s an egoist and therefore an individualist.  Jesus is advocating altruism and collectivism.

Rand died in 1982, but she remains polarizing. The great recession has triggered new interest in her novel, “Atlas Shrugged.” The book depicts a bleak future where the U.S. government has seized control of private industry and discouraged innovation.

The book may have been rooted in Rand's childhood trauma. She was born in Russia in 1905, and saw the Communist Party come to power in a violent revolution. Her family was left destitute after party officials seized her father’s business.

She immigrated to the United States where she eventually became a screenwriter. She ultimately made her mark through her novels. Critics say Rand’s characters were stilted mouthpieces for her philosophy of  Objectivism, which insists that individuals should be driven by “rational self-interest.”  Still, "Atlas Shrugged" is now considered one of the most influential books of the 20th century.

Rand's philosophy didn’t say much good about religion. In a 1964 Playboy interview posted on the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights site, she said that religious faith is “a negation of human reason” and charity wasn’t a virtue.

Rand told Playboy:

There is nothing wrong in helping other people, if and when they are worthy of the help and you can afford to help them. I regard charity as a marginal issue. What I am fighting is the idea that charity is a moral duty and a primary virtue.

Defenders of Rand say that a person can adopt elements of Rand’s philosophy and reject whatever clashes with their faith.

Yaron Brooks, president of the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights, also defended Rand’s philosophy in a recent CNN.com commentary.

He said while people call Jesus or Mother Teresa heroes, they should use the same description for people like 19th century oil tycoon, John D. Rockefeller and inventor and businessman, Thomas Edison.

Their pursuit of personal profit is a virtue because it enriches society, not just individuals, Brooks said.

Brooks wrote:

It is they, not the Mother Teresas of the world that we should strive to be like and teach our kids the same.

Elections, some say, are ultimately a contest of ideas. It’ll be interesting to see if those political leaders who admire Rand continue to talk openly about her philosophy as the 2012 presidential campaign escalates.

Or will they deflect a question I suspect they’ll hear again and again:

How can you invoke Jesus and follow Rand?

- CNN Writer

Filed under: Belief • Books • Business • Christianity • Culture wars • Economy • Ethics • Politics

soundoff (1,025 Responses)
  1. b4bigbang

    There's not enough words in Webster's Dictionary (nor an orator skilled enough) to make Ms Rand's message truly Christ-friendly.

    May 5, 2012 at 9:13 pm |
  2. Mark

    “Their [John D. Rockefeller and Thomas Edison’s] pursuit of personal profit is a virtue because it enriches society, not just individuals, Brooks [sic] said.”

    Though Yaron Brook (of the Ayn Rand Insitute) does generally misrepresent Objectivism - mostly in the personal freedom and foreign policy areas (see ARIwatch.com) - I don’t think he would make a statement so at odds with the Objectivist idea of Capitalism.

    You don’t justify the good by appeals to “society.” Edison, Ford, E. H. Harriman and the like (I’m not familiar with Rockefeller) were virtuous because they worked and created. If others benefited from their work and creations so much the better. It’s certainly worth pointing out, but it’s not the basis of their virtue.

    If it were, then if what you do doesn’t benefit “society” you are not good.

    April 30, 2012 at 10:09 pm |
    • David Bauer

      Mark, first of all, the author of this piece fails to use quotation marks for anything, thus making it very difficult to tell whether or not he's using direct quotes or not. The only statements which would be blatantly non-paraphrased quotes are the ones after colons.
      Secondly, if one actually goes and reads the article the author is supposedly quoting Brook from, one discovers that Brook never said that, and it was obviously a misguided, contradictory paraphrase by the author.
      Yes, even I, who tries to read everything I can find by Brook, finds he sometimes misspeaks or says something eyebrow raising. But, in general, he is very precise and one of the best defenders of Objectivism we he have today.

      As for that ariwatch.com website you mention. I went through it and the person who is doing all the attacking (the creator of the website, I presume) has flawed logic, quotes people I've never even heard off, and seems to be more anti-war than anything, while still wanting to be an objectivist. Take his attacks on Peikoff on the issue of torture. He makes it clear that he is not an objectivist, but simply someone who is angry that objectivism supports national defense. He ignores the fact that in war you kill people and capture enemies, and then drops every context (while accusing Peikoff of that), and simply argues that we should not torture our enemies in war because it is (somehow) unethical–he offers no real argument as to why it is immoral, and only tries to make Peikoff look like a buffoon. In an earlier attack he argues that (for some reason) using the "if, then" argument (if torturing a man will held defend our troops, then we ought to torture him) to support the use of torture by government officials on our enemies, isn't legitimate, because (crazy logical leap) many interrogators say torture doesn't work(!?). There is no instance in all my memory, where the ARI has blatantly said that torture is the right course of action, but always have stated basically "in war, if a method works to either defeat the enemy or prevent our civilians or soldiers from being killed, then it is completely moral, since the government's moral duty is to protect the individual rights of its citizens."

      To conclude, Brook didn't actually say what the author of this piece says he does, and the website referred to in Mark's comment is simply an attack on Objectivism which seeks to discredit all the Objectivist intellectuals, while still supposedly clinging to the words of Rand.

      May 5, 2012 at 8:59 pm |
  3. Leah

    I see that people have a hard time accepting Ayn Rands views and God. People portray God and Altruism as synonyms I challenge that. I am willing to state that God is an Egotist. We were created in "his image" and God defines himself as "I am". We were created to never need God; but for it to be a relationship between equals. Problems did not start to arise until "they began calling upon the Lord."

    I invite you to consider the fall of man. Ayn Rand had viewed Adams pursuit of knowledge the reason he was punished by God but look closely. It was not the pursuit of knowledge but the first time man looked outside of himself for the answers that took him there. The serpent knew that the fall of man would result by only giving them another option: altruism. And once given that man would do the rest in their self destruction. All misconceptions and contradictions can be resolved when one stops viewing God as an Altruist.

    After they ate of the fruit the first feelings were shame of nakedness. If you look at Ayn Rands Fountainhead Steven Mallory's statutes were that of the nude Egotist unashamed; as God created. After shame followed blame and betrayal. Adam claimed God it was the woman you gave me; and the woman blamed the serpent. They refused to own their actions as Ayn Rands "second hander's" do continually. Then God says to the serpent "he will bruise your head but you will bruise his heel." I take this to mean it will never be beyond mans reach to be an egotist but it will forever be a battle. GOD said "man has become one of us". You notice it says one of us this was a step down for man not up we had been already complete. Finally God closed Eden forever less man eat also of the tree of life and live forever. This is an act of mercy. An Egotist would not bare mans current condition and if he had eaten of the tree of life there would not be any motivation to change.

    There are many examples throughout the Bible where God upholds and is the Egotist. Christs life does not have to be viewed as a self sacrifice he wished not to forfeit his life and he found no joy in it. I believe he did it as mans final example of what we are able to conquer. GOD AS egotist is concerned with life and for that matter the life of the individual. Howard R. said to Gail in Fountainhead "I would not live for you but I would die for you." This is how Christ death should be viewed. And the resurrection as the ultimate show of mans ability to conquer nature.

    God did not create us to need him nor did he create us to make him our existance.

    I say God and Ayn Rand have a lot more in common. They are not parrallel lines but two parts of a whole. A choice between the two is unnecessary.

    April 27, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
    • Thomas M. Johnson

      WOW...this is so true. I rarely take the time to respond to someone I agree with...but this was too good to pass by.

      It is amazing how so many people criticize Ayn Rand's teachings without ever reading her. (In fact, I doubt whether our so-called brilliant President, Ivy League educated, has ever read one word from Ayn Rand...and thus has little understanding of capitalism.) One of the distinctions that people fail to understand is the distinction between what an egoist is and what an egotist is.

      The President is egotistical. Hitler was egotistical. They derived their value from being loved and being served by others.

      An egoist derives value internally based solely on one's own personal self-worth.

      So, it is true. Jesus and God are EGOISTS.

      July 4, 2012 at 8:21 am |
  4. josh benser

    This post is interesting. A guy named Jonathan Edwards in South Carolina wrote a really, really similar one. http://summerville.patch.com/blog_posts/the-conservative-dichotomy#comment_3164510

    April 27, 2012 at 10:30 am |
  5. Duke

    Peace be with the reader.

    FRANK LIN is right.
    Read my tribute to Ayn Rand at: http://marques.co.za/duke/prophetess.html

    Christ

    March 6, 2012 at 4:14 am |
  6. SourPea

    I had read and studied Bible philosophy and prophecy for 12 years before going through a contested divorce battle that left me broken and penniless. As I was commiserating with a friend about the nonsense of what happened, she pointedly asked me if I had ever read anything by Ayn Rand...I replied "No."

    She then handed me copies of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged and told me to read them...and assured me that I would ""get it"....and I did!

    Ayn Rand brought the Bible alive to me. I suddenly understood that Jesus wasn't speaking of "concretes" but of "abstractions" and he split his ministry between the Pharisees (government) and the general population (citizens). Some of His guidance is for the individual and some is against big over-bearing government. So it is with Ayn Rand. The Fountainhead IS Mark: Chapter 4. Atlas Shrugged epitomizes why Jesus adjured us: "Don't throw your pearls before swine." and taught that "The kingdom of God is within you."

    February 9, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
    • keith

      Very good points in your response. The bible seems to argue different things at different times and sometimes it supports elements of objectivism and other times it doesn't. You cleared up some things for me.

      February 15, 2012 at 10:18 pm |
    • Isaac

      That's very similar to what happened to me. I grew as a protestant, studied the Bible in depth since very young age. I didn't pass through a divorce, but conflicts when I started my scientific career (geophysics). Someone introduced me to some of the nonfiction writings by A.Rand, and then Atlas Shrugged, and I started getting it finally.

      I know this is not always the case, but the principles I learned in the church were later refined by the fire of Ayn Rand. Thus, even though I don't go to churches anymore, I look with simpathy those years.

      April 12, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
  7. MarkinFL

    With the creation of the United States the line between people and government was not just blurred, it was shattered. Our government is of and for the people. It is not separate from us at all. And if WE the people wish to help those that are less fortunate then it is completely legitimate to use the government to do so.
    Most of those piously talking about individuals helping others are simply those that are already the most stingy and balk at the idea of any tax dollars going to someone less fortunate.
    One thing to keep in mind. A huge number of us that pay a lot of taxes DO want our government to get involved in helping those that need it. We also want the best possible public education system since that is the single best resource for a successful future.
    No one likes ALL the ways their taxes are spent, but there is not one tax dollar spent that is not supported by some portion of the electorate and we all pay taxes. So if you do not like social programs, then the defense industry can quite easily absorb your portion of the tax base. If you hate military spending, then Social programs are also quite large enough to absorb your small contribution to the tax base.

    We get the government we vote for. There is a good reason for the three arms of gov't. Its called balance. None of us can have exactly the gov't we want because we do not all want the same thing. However, we better relearn the art of compromise if we wish to survive much longer.

    January 5, 2012 at 8:44 am |
    • A

      "If WE the people wish to help those that are less fortunate then it is completely legitimate to use the government to do so."

      Had you said,"Might makes right," you would have saved about 100 key strokes.

      March 28, 2012 at 1:55 am |
  8. Isaac

    If you want to enter in the Heaven, follow Jesus.

    If you want to live on this Earth, follow Rand.

    What's so hard to understand from it? Of course they have many overlaps in their views, and they have also lots of incompatibilities. But that's it, you CAN follow some of both.

    Generosity? Yes, to whom I care of.
    Sacrifice? Never.
    Capitalism? Yes, why not? Even in Christmas which is great, but maybe not in the church.
    Government -directed morality? Never, that's even a contradiction, and even Jesus didn't preach such a monstruosity.
    Give the other cheek? I might try that only few times if I care about the person in conflict with me. I'd never offer my other cheek to my enemy.

    January 5, 2012 at 8:18 am |
    • Leah

      Can't do things halfway. For it all to make sense one has to either intergrate the 2 completely or not at all.

      April 27, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
  9. Mo Racker

    In Luke 19 we read where Jesus tells a parable about three servants who were given charge over some money. In the story, Jesus says that two of the servants wisely invested the money while the third buried it in the ground. In His story, the one who simply buried it in the ground was called "lazy and wicked."

    In Proverbs we're also told that, "A good man leaves an inheritance to his children's children" (13:22)

    God gave man a free will. We do see where charity is preached throughout and taking care of your brother but there is no evidence that Jesus wanted a government to come in and enforce these preachings. As I said, God gave everyone a free will to do what they think is right.

    January 4, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
  10. Kat Ulrike

    Well... Rand herself is undemocratic the way Nietzsche said of women belonging to an inferior world. Id rather read Jack London over that girl...

    December 2, 2011 at 4:23 am |
  11. Cuppycake

    There is no such thing as a completely selfless act. Everything we do is essentially in our own self-interest, even if we are sacrificing everything we have for the sake of someone else. If someone considers themselves to be a Christian, and accepts all principles of Christianity, then they would essentially be looking toward the afterlife, or achieving salvation with God as their end goal. According to Ayn Rand, The pursuit of man's own rational self-interest and of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life. For Christians, this happiness would be achieved by living your life according to the principles of Christianity and achieving salvation. Therefore, dedicating your life to others or giving everything you have to charity is in the rational self-interest of Christians. It is impossible to make a decision without considering your own self-interest even if you are not consciously doing so.

    If your end goal is that of Christianity, achieving salvation or Sainthood, then it is in your own self-interest to act selflessly and dedicate your life to helping others.

    October 17, 2011 at 10:03 am |
  12. Leon

    It feels as if Ayn Rand has been brought into this election campaign like Reagan was in the previous Republican run for President. It should be obvious to to everyone to take the candidates' idolisation of Rand or Christ with plenty of salt.

    I would encourage everyone who reads this comment to have a read through some of her writings with an open mind and without anyone else's opinion. If any message can be gained from her philosophy, independent thought would rank fairly high.

    There are a few similarities between her and Marx, ironically. Both had extreme views that made sense in a theoretical setting, but were often misquoted in real politics. So if you hear a candidate praising Rand while calling for lower taxes on the rich, don't forget about Enron, or Fannie Mae, or the greed of many CEO's. Not all rich capitalists are wealthy due to their abilities to create.

    September 15, 2011 at 1:17 am |
    • Todd

      There are no similarities between Rand and Marx. Rand did not theorize. Her ideas always hold up to honest intelligent debate. Marx's policies have always proven to fail eventually. Even if they succeed in the short term they violate individual rights. Furthermore, imposing punitive taxes on all successful (wealthy) people for the crimes of a few is unjust, insulting, and irrational.

      September 15, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
  13. wezz

    rand's philosophy is a defensive wall about her treasured works: her novels.

    It was also built to defend reason, morality, capitalism and creators...ie man. It also can be used to defend America. And it can be used to defend those who are faith based or religious or belong to religious sects or churches....even if it is all irrational. I [believe!!] she would have liked 1770 philadelphia.

    Rand never attacked churces and sects directly nor preachers personally; only their underpinnings and premises. [check this if you like].

    It is not an issue of tolerance [as both sides are arrogant] but of the right to exist for one's own life and happiness.

    Attacks by religious ideologues on Rand's works and philosophy will fail. How many of such ideologues will defend her works and philosophy? Are there any philosophers, politicians, econo-mystics, artists or journalists who will do the same – attack or defend?

    I suspect many religious folk have jesus genotype but rand phenotype. We shall see how far it gets them. There will be few converts from rand to jesus. Sorry, old chum.

    September 7, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
  14. Gerald Fanning

    I am a fan of Ayn Rand and agree with her assessments of religion.I was raised in a strict catholic family and the lack of reason instilled accordingly takes a long time to rid oneself of.The only area of Rand,s view of politics I found difficulty with was her obsession with popular culture and so called drug addled persons.This great lady died of lung cancer,undoubtedly linked to her heavy smoking habit.We know nicotine is addictive but the prevailing culture at the peak of her fame was smoking was a certain style thing.Notwithstanding,the woman,s writing has assisted me in my life immensely.

    August 29, 2011 at 6:22 am |
  15. Duke

    Peace be with the reader.

    "We started with no time limit in view, said Galt. We did not know whether we'd live to see the liberation of the world or whether we'd have to leave our battle and our secret to the next generation. ...... But now we think that we will see, and soon, the day of our victory and of our return." Ayn Rand in "Atlas Shrugged"
    The time has come.
    See: http://marques.co.za/duke/prophetess.html

    The faithful witness

    July 31, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
  16. AndreLinoge

    fuguewriter,

    I've read nearly all of Ayn Rand's books, fiction and non. I used to buy the seminars and leaflets from Second Renaissance, waiting eagerly for the mail to come. I even have an "A is A" tattoo. Formerly an adherent, I now dismiss her ideas as two dimensional and extreme to the point of absurdity (just like the Tea Party - and we can all see how much good they've done since invading the House.) But specifically, I want to address what you raised in your 4th paragraph:

    I think the reason people assume that if you've bought into Atlas Shrugged you've embraced Rand's entire philosophy is as follows: That's how SHE felt about it. Ayn Rand believed that a straight, logical, and unquestionable line could be drawn from "A is A" to any one of the ideas found further down the path of her philosophy. Her view was that every single part of her philosophy not only could but HAD to be tied to the rest of her ideas or the whole thing would be erroneous. "Check your premises," she would always challenge. And if you disagreed with her, you were ousted from her inner circle and from the Objectivist community at large. The woman didn't bend and she was ruthless.

    Anyway, Atlas Shrugged was conceived by Ayn Rand for the purpose of selling her philosophy to the public - by her own admission. And before Peikoff's O.P.A.R. was published, she referred to the Franscisco and Galt speeches from Atlas Shrugged as the clearest written declarations of her philosophy at the time.

    My point is this: Atlas Shrugged IS Objectivism. Ayn Rand called Objectivism "a philosophy for living on Earth." She never realized that it was actually just a philosophy for living in the 20th century.

    July 28, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
  17. CARL K

    who in the heck decided the repubs. are "GOD'S OWN PARTY" especially when the cations of thier leadersare anything but Christian(that includes several so called religious leaders as well) We have to remember Jesus was the first non-violent revolutionary and he was anything but a capitalist. hsphilic, you in particular, and some of the other folks might want to reread some of your scripture and not cherry pick what you want to see. if you don't believe generosity, giving freely of yourself "without expecting anything in return" are not mandates of christ's teachings you are fools. unfortunately folks use the bible as a weapon instead of a guide for living. if we, myself included, truly followed the teachings of Christ and other spiritual leaders we wouldn't be having this discussion would we.

    July 18, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
  18. bbuudd

    Jesus spoke about the Kingdom of God more than anything else – with the Kingdom of God being at hand. Even the most casual of reading will make it clear that Jesus was NOT talking about becoming an escapist, retreating to find an inner peace. He was almost totally about reversing the values of the world, tilting the playing field away from those that have in favor of those who have not. This is totally at odds with Rand.

    July 17, 2011 at 4:02 am |
    • FRANK LIN

      No.

      January 18, 2012 at 8:46 am |
    • Leah

      On the contrary; Ayn Rand gave these attributes to Creators/Egotist:

      A man who disagrees
      stands alone
      concerned with only life
      lives for his work
      independent

      looking into yourself as you say is not a retreat but a deliberate form of action. If you look at Christ's life you'll find these attributes being the strongest.

      April 27, 2012 at 4:24 pm |
  19. Matthew Holmer

    I read Ayn Rand years a ago when neighbors of mine contacted me, devastated by their children being brainwashed by
    some philosophy students at the local staterun university.
    A systematic crackdown on the catholic faith, targeting womenhood within catholic families.
    I do not belong to their religion, but I did read Ayn Rand and her admirers.
    She has extracted some pseudoaristotelian thoughts and then reorganized them in a thoughtsystem that has many seroius
    shortcomings.
    However, large catholic families are at risk because she targets pastoral implementation of a doctrine that she herself,the thought being at the core realist aristotelian, would not object to.
    So, to summon it up, serious scientific philosophers have to give a clear answer to thought-systems that fail the normal philosophical scientific standards.

    July 16, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
  20. hsphilic

    There is obviously a difference between Jesus and Rand when it comes to belief in God. However, when it comes to collectivism, e.g. socialism/communism, Jesus and Rand are in harmonious agreement. Jesus advocated that INDIVIDUALS be cheerful, generous givers and good samaritans, NOT THE GOVERNMENT. When the government thinks it should have this role, you have the huge mess of the Soviet Union & the like. When Jesus gave the golden rule and the sermon on the mount, he knew his audience, and he was not talking to the politicians – he was talking to THE PEOPLE – ordinary individuals. He was encouraging INDIVIDUALS to do good, by their own free choice and of their own free will; he NEVER encouraged forced, mandated thievery by a collectivist government. Saying Jesus was a collectivist, as in a socialist or communist, is decided error. Rand is quoted as saying, "There is nothing wrong in helping other people, if and when they are worthy of the help and you can afford to help them." Here, I think Rand is talking about one's own free choice based on their own assessment of their own ability to help someone if they want, which she apparently doesn't object to. She also says,." What I am fighting is the idea that charity is a moral duty and a primary virtue." Here I think she opposes a governmental public policy that IN THE NAME OF VIRTUE turns charity into a DUTY that is forced, or imposed onto people. This poses no conflict, whatsoever, with Jesus.

    July 13, 2011 at 12:31 am |
    • Daryl

      This comment is totally correct. Jesus is talking about finding the good and worthwhile in others and encouraging them to grow in those areas. All help to others is totally at one's own free will and never done by government force. I say, leave people their money and they will find others to help with their own reasoning ability. The ten commandments show what rights we owe to God and man: don't kill, don't steal. There is nothing there about feeding the world, but there is plenty about recognizing their rights. That is our only duty. The rest is open to free will. Help anyone you want, but anchor yourself first!

      December 26, 2011 at 8:23 am |
    • FRANK LIN

      Yes.

      January 18, 2012 at 8:47 am |
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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.