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4 big myths of Book of Revelation
The Book of Revelation has terrified and confused readers for centuries. Few agree on its meaning, but many have opinions.
March 31st, 2012
10:00 PM ET

4 big myths of Book of Revelation

By John Blake, CNN

(CNN) – The anti-Christ. The Battle of Armageddon. The dreaded Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

You don’t have to be a student of religion to recognize references from the Book of Revelation. The last book in the Bible has fascinated readers for centuries. People who don’t even follow religion are nonetheless familiar with figures and images from Revelation.

And why not? No other New Testament book reads like Revelation. The book virtually drips with blood and reeks of sulfur. At the center of this final battle between good and evil is an action-hero-like Jesus, who is in no mood to turn the other cheek.

Elaine Pagels, one of the world’s leading biblical scholars, first read Revelation as a teenager. She read it again in writing her latest book, “Revelations: Visions, Prophecy & Politics in the Book of Revelation.”

Pagels’ book is built around a simple question: What does Revelation mean? Her answers may disturb people who see the book as a prophecy about the end of the world.

But people have clashed over the meaning of Revelation ever since it was virtually forced into the New Testament canon over the protests of some early church leaders, Pagels says.

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“There were always debates about it,” she says. “Some people said a heretic wrote it. Some said a disciple. There were always people who loved and championed it.”

The debate persists. Pagels adds to it by challenging some of the common assumptions about Revelation.

Here are what she says are four big myths about Revelation::

1. It’s about the end of the world

Anyone who has read the popular “Left Behind” novels or listened to pastors preaching about the “rapture” might see Revelation as a blow-by-blow preview of how the world will end.

Pagels, however, says the writer of Revelation was actually describing the way his own world ended.

She says the writer of Revelation may have been called John – the book is sometimes called “Book of the Revelation of Saint John the Divine” but he was not the disciple who accompanied Jesus. He was a devout Jew and mystic exiled on the island of Patmos, off the coast of  present-day Greece.

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“He would have been a very simple man in his clothes and dress,” Pagels says. “He may have gone from church to church preaching his message. He seems more like a traveling preacher or a prophet.”

The author of Revelation had experienced a catastrophe. He wrote his book not long after 60,000 Roman soldiers had stormed Jerusalem in 70 A.D., burned down its great temple and left the city in ruins after putting down an armed Jewish revolt.

For some of the earliest Jewish followers of Jesus, the destruction of Jerusalem was incomprehensible. They had expected Jesus to return “with power” and conquer Rome before inaugurating a new age. But Rome had conquered Jesus’ homeland instead.

The author of Revelation was trying to encourage the followers of Jesus at a time when their world seemed doomed. Think of the Winston Churchill radio broadcasts delivered to the British during the darkest days of World War II.

Revelation was an anti-Roman tract and a piece of war propaganda wrapped in one. The message: God would return and destroy the Romans who had destroyed Jerusalem.

“His primary target is Rome,” Pagels says of the book’s author. “He really is deeply angry and grieved at the Jewish war and what happened to his people.”

2. The numerals 666 stand for the devil

The 1976 horror film “The Omen” scared a lot of folks. It may have scared some theologians, too, who began encountering people whose view of Revelation comes from a Hollywood movie.

The Omen” depicted the birth and rise of the “anti-Christ,” the cunning son of Satan who would be known by “the mark of the beast,” 666, on his body.

Here’s the passage from Revelation that “The Omen” alluded to: “This calls for wisdom: let anyone with understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a person. Its number is six hundred sixty-six.”

Good movies, though, don’t always make good theology. Most people think 666 stands for an anti-Christ-like figure that will deceive humanity and trigger a final battle between good and evil. Some people think he’s already here.

Pagels, however, says the writer of Revelation didn’t really intend 666 as the devil’s digits. He was describing another incarnation of evil: The Roman emperor, Nero.

The arrogant and demented Nero was particularly despised by the earliest followers of Jesus, including the writer of Revelation. Nero was said to have burned followers of Jesus alive to illuminate his garden.

But the author of Revelation couldn’t safely name Nero, so he used the Jewish numerology system to spell out Nero’s imperial name, Pagels says.

Pagels says that John may have had in mind other meanings for the mark of the beast: the imperial stamp Romans used on official documents, tattoos authorizing people to engage in Roman business, or the images of Roman emperors on stamps and coins.

Since Revelation’s author writes in “the language of dreams and nightmares,” Pagels says it’s easy for outsiders to misconstrue the book’s original meaning.

Still, they take heart from Revelation’s larger message, she writes:

“…Countless people for thousands of years have been able to see their own conflicts, fears, and hopes reflected in his prophecies. And because he speaks from his convictions about divine justice, many readers have found reassurance in his conviction that there is meaning in history – even when he does not say exactly what that meaning is – and that there is hope.”

3. The writer of Revelation was a Christian

The author of Revelation hated Rome, but he also scorned another group – a group of people we would call Christians today, Pagels says.

There’s a common perception that there was a golden age of Christianity, when most Christians agreed on an uncontaminated version of the faith. Yet there was never one agreed-upon Christianity. There were always clashing visions.

Revelation reflects some of those early clashes in the church, Pagels says.

That idea isn’t new territory for Pagels. She won the National Book Award for “The Gnostic Gospels,” a 1979 book that examined a cache of newly discovered “secret” gospels of Jesus. The book, along with other work from Pagels, argues that there were other accounts of Jesus’ life that were suppressed by early church leaders because it didn’t fit with their agenda.

The author of Revelation was like an activist crusading for traditional values. In his case, he was a devout Jew who saw Jesus as the messiah. But he didn’t like the message that the apostle Paul and other followers of Jesus were preaching.

This new message insisted that gentiles could become followers of Jesus without adopting the requirements of the Torah. It accepted women leaders, and intermarriage with gentiles, Pagels says.

The new message was a lot like what we call Christianity today.

That was too much for the author of Revelation. At one point, he calls a woman leader in an early church community a “Jezebel.” He calls one of those gentile-accepting churches a “synagogue of Satan.”

John was defending a form of Christianity that would be eclipsed by the Christians he attacked, Pagels says.

“What John of Patmos preached would have looked old-fashioned – and simply wrong to Paul’s converts…,” she writes.

The author of Revelation was a follower of Jesus, but he wasn’t what some people would call a Christian today, Pagels says.

“There’s no indication that he read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount or that he read the gospels or Paul’s letters,” she says. “….He doesn’t even say Jesus died for your sins.”

4. There is only one Book of Revelation

There’s no other book in the Bible quite like Revelation, but there are plenty of books like Revelation that didn’t make it into the Bible, Pagels says.

Early church leaders suppressed an “astonishing” range of books that claimed to be revelations from apostles such as Peter and James. Many of these books were read and treasured by Christians throughout the Roman Empire, she says.

There was even another “Secret Revelation of John.” In this one, Jesus wasn’t a divine warrior, but someone who first appeared to the apostle Paul as a blazing light, then as a child, an old man and, some scholars say, a woman.

So why did the revelation from John of Patmos make it into the Bible, but not the others?

Pagels traces that decision largely to Bishop Athanasius, a pugnacious church leader who championed Revelation about 360 years after the death of Jesus.

Athanasius was so fiery that during his 46 years as bishop he was deposed and exiled five times. He was primarily responsible for shaping the New Testament while excluding books he labeled as hearsay, Pagels says.

Many church leaders opposed including Revelation in the New Testament. Athanasius’s predecessor said the book was “unintelligible, irrational and false.”

Athanasius, though, saw Revelation as a useful political tool. He transformed it into an attack ad against Christians who questioned him.

Rome was no longer the enemy; those who questioned church authority were the anti-Christs in Athanasius’s reading of Revelation, Pagels says.

“Athanasius interprets Revelation’s cosmic war as a vivid picture of his own crusade against heretics and reads John’s visions as a sharp warning to Christian dissidents,” she writes. “God is about to divide the saved from the damned – which now means dividing the ‘orthodox’ from ‘heretics.’ ’’

Centuries later, Revelation still divides people. Pagels calls it the strangest and most controversial book in the Bible.

Even after writing a book about it, Pagels has hardly mastered its meaning.

“The book is the hardest one in the Bible to understand,” Pagels says. “I don’t think anyone completely understands it.”

- CNN Writer

Filed under: Belief • Books • Christianity • Church • Devil • End times • Faith • History • Jerusalem

soundoff (8,460 Responses)
  1. The Esteemed

    At the end of the day you either believe the people who wrote the Bible or the people who wrote this review/book. Stop attacking each other and just put your faith in which one (if any) you prefer. When it's all said and done, we'll know who was right and who was wrong. But that won't be tonight and it will never be on a CNN comments forum.

    April 2, 2012 at 12:35 am |
    • momoya

      Faith is only needed for one position, not the other.

      April 2, 2012 at 12:37 am |
    • The Esteemed

      Sorry, that is incorrect, you have to have faith that the book you are reading is correct. Unless you personally do all of the research and experience all the facts, you must believe the other person is correct. Nice attempt at turning my completely neutral post into an aggressive one.

      April 2, 2012 at 1:26 am |
  2. Yeahsure

    More speculation by some unknown author being passed off as fact. Spare us this nonsense.

    April 2, 2012 at 12:33 am |
    • Oh Yeah

      Why is it nonsense? Just because it's different than what you were told about the Book of Revelation? Please tell me you're not so close-minded.

      April 2, 2012 at 12:35 am |
  3. paul

    Ta qifsha nanen who ever wrote this .

    April 2, 2012 at 12:32 am |
  4. Jeremy J. McCabe

    Well, it did describe the end of the world, the world of Rome. It also described the end of the Jewish world (although not as bad as the end of the roman world) and the beginning of the Christian world. 666 may well be Nero empyreal number but it also is the number of horses Solomon bought from Egypt after God told him not to it also is just fewer than 7 a holy number. And mystery solved read the book carefully (as if anyone just reads it for pleasure) but if you like making connection then you will find one with the Orthodox mass, The Roman Mass we see today is generally the same just a different look.

    April 2, 2012 at 12:31 am |
  5. Reality

    The insanity of Revelation only mirrors the other insanities of Christianity.

    To wit:

    ONLY FOR THE NEWCOMERS:--––>>

    JC's family and friends had it right 2000 years ago ( Mark 3: 21 "And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself.")

    Said passage is one of the few judged to be authentic by most contemporary NT scholars. e.g. See Professor Ludemann's conclusion in his book, Jesus After 2000 Years, p. 24 and p. 694.

    Actually, Jesus was a bit "touched". After all he thought he spoke to Satan, thought he changed water into wine, thought he raised Lazarus from the dead etc. In today's world, said Jesus would be declared legally insane.

    Or did P, M, M, L and J simply make him into a first century magic-man via their epistles and gospels of semi-fiction? Many contemporary NT experts after thorough analyses of all the scriptures go with the latter magic-man conclusion with J's gospel being mostly fiction.

    Obviously, today's followers of Paul et al's "magic-man" are also a bit on the odd side believing in all the Christian mumbo jumbo about bodies resurrecting, and exorcisms, and miracles, and "magic-man atonement, and infallible, old, European/Utah white men, and 24/7 body/blood sacrifices followed by consumption of said sacrifices. Yummy!!!!

    So why do we really care what a first century CE, illiterate, long-dead, preacher/magic man would do or say?
    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    April 2, 2012 at 12:30 am |
  6. Pipe-Dreamer

    OF REFLECTIONS' ABYSS

    The mirrored reflections of socialisms will ever hide many individual's oneness. "I am alone" when one looks passed socialisms' reflectives. You will never truly be united with me nor myself. I am myself and nothng more. You are the mirrored reflectiveness that keeps me wanting to learn. I am fearful oh God of my unleavened spirit. You oh God know my innermost thoughts and you oh God do see myself's pain to know you oh God. Without my always trying to know you oh God, I would be without much reason to want living and to be alive. You oh God are my Life's nourishing moments in Time.

    Shadows play in the lime of lights' refractioning. The motions of light do mix with the movements of self. Never able to see into the depths of darkness will ever be. Only the mirrored momentums of self may be one's shadowy fields of reflective monumentalisms. Oh God of my everness soul, You are my fields of Glory and personal redemption. Without individualisms being manifestations' consort, Life could not exist let alone become aware of its' Self. Oh God who is Creator of Creation and creations made manifested, you are Time's momentum and Life's essence. People are but refractions of reflectiveness oh God and your Godliness does outshine all celestial Life and its' many formations. God you are and will forever be!

    April 2, 2012 at 12:30 am |
    • Reality

      The Apostles' Creed 2011: (updated by yours truly based on the studies of NT historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

      Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
      and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
      human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven?????

      I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
      preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
      named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
      girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

      Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
      the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

      He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
      a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
      Jerusalem.

      Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
      many semi-fiction writers. A bodily resurrection and
      ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
      Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
      grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
      and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
      called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

      Amen
      (References used are available upon request.)
      ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

      April 2, 2012 at 12:32 am |
  7. The Ack

    Pagels' argument based on the above article is full of assumptions that build on assumptions. Her particular theological position comes out clearly in the four points she makes. She assumes a narrow reading of passages and history to develop an elaborate theory that would not hold water under close scrutiny. I don't have time to pick it apart, but you must always ask yourself on what basis an author makes an argument. There are a lot of historical assumptions made. Her interpretation is creative but not accurate.

    April 2, 2012 at 12:28 am |
    • Oh Yeah

      On what basis do you make your argument? She has to be wrong about this because, if she isn't, then I am wrong about it? Is it so impossible to conceive that you may have been following a false interpretation of this book?

      April 2, 2012 at 12:40 am |
  8. Brian Ritchey

    "And the relentless attack against Christians continues with CNN."......................................

    What do you mean? They are just quoting the Christian Bible. If you think this is bad try reading Ezekiel or Timothy II.

    April 2, 2012 at 12:27 am |
  9. sister of the faith

    just pray for the leaders of cnn to have a change of heart the Lord God can change there hearts

    April 2, 2012 at 12:27 am |
  10. Thetruth

    I am amazed that "scholars" have voice today. How can a person not understand the book of revelation? and how can a person mistake the warning written in the last words in the book of revelations. How can John being christian would utterly bear false witness against Jesus who was exposing the spirit of jezebel? Obviously, she is an agent of satan, spreading DISINFORMATIONS to divide the disciples and have them argue amongst themselves. Should you be a degree owner to understand famine? Many don't know history. You would be wise to shut up and find out how God delivered the Hebrew from Pharaoh using the Destroyer.
    She is spreading lies and does not understand because she is an outsider. No matter what degree she claims to have, unless she is BORN AGAIN which she is obviously not from her fruit, she will always be an outsider (dying like a cattle from lack of knowledge). How did she spend so many years without receiving wisdom and understanding from God?
    To whom does her writings benefits? For what purpose has she written her books? To inform or expose her utter ignorance? What benefit does CNN have in reporting this "revelations" unto the mass? Since when pagan degree owners began to inform christians?
    Must you be a scientist to understand that we are heading to an economic crash? Must you have a degree to see the alien deception being advertised all over the world? Must you be a known theologian to hear about the zombie propaganda? And who benefits from those absurd ideas of alien, zombie? What about the moon hoax? Gee, why can't people make a connection between the aliens with the locusts in the book of revelation? Gee why can't people make a connection of Moses changing the Nile river into blood with a star coming crashing into the earth/sea changing 1/3 of the sea into blood and yet they claim there is nothing new under the sun? I guess we need a teacher to enlighten us about that? Why does she go to church? Which part of Sodom is a fiction? Has she not meet people with obscure language throughout her life to see the consequence of the tower of babel?
    Gee, maybe David and Goliath is also a myth! But wisdom is always with the righteous and the sinners and mockers are always the first corpse in the day of war. It's a known fact that the earth was destroyed once and recreated after the flood. Why don't believe what is written? And if you don't believe why don't you read history instead of debating dates?
    You would think that the fear of God will enlighten her a bit. Disinfos and misinfos.

    April 2, 2012 at 12:27 am |
    • momoya

      The flood never occurred.. Fact.. Jesus referenced the flood.. Fact.. Therefore, Jesus was not god and the bible is not true.. Fact.

      April 2, 2012 at 12:29 am |
    • Oh Yeah

      I'll admit, you had me going until you started with the aliens. Funny, but also a clear example of Poe's law. There really could be believers out there who also believe in aliens.

      April 2, 2012 at 12:44 am |
  11. Fred

    Ezekiel 39:21 – “I will display my glory among the nations, and all the nations will see the punishment I inflict and the hand I lay upon them. "

    Daniel 8:19 – He said: "I am going to tell you what will happen later in the time of wrath, because the vision concerns the appointed time of the end.

    Matthew 24:37 – As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

    Lk 21:23 – How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people.

    2 Ti 3:1 – But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.

    These are just a few, the end times are discussed throughout the old and new testament. Not just Revelation. The Bible clearly states that man will get worse and worse, God will finally have enough of it and judge the world.

    April 2, 2012 at 12:26 am |
    • Oh Yeah

      How do you know these aren't just referring to individual deaths, and not to the end of the world?

      April 2, 2012 at 12:47 am |
  12. tony

    Crap cubed. Since the whole bible is massively updated fantasy, who cares that the last book was written by a madman? Long live Lord Harry Potter.

    April 2, 2012 at 12:25 am |
    • sister of the faith

      we will pray for you tony may one day the Lord Jesus christ his self take the blinders of your eyes as he did saul and use you to do his mighty works

      April 2, 2012 at 12:32 am |
  13. Ryan

    This is another piece in the puzzle of utter deception that Christians are warned about. This lady clearly does not know of what she speaks.

    April 2, 2012 at 12:25 am |
    • Oh Yeah

      Why, just because it's an opinion different than your's?

      April 2, 2012 at 12:48 am |
  14. b4bigbang

    0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

    Joshua, there is way more evidence for the Big Bang Theory than for any god. But that is easy 'cause there is not a bit of verifiable, objective, independent or factual evidence to support the existence of any god.

    You think The Babble has prophesised current events – please spell them out and demostrate how they unambiguously realate to current events. I bet you cannot!

    I'd love to see you say that to the originator of the big bang theory, a cosmologist who also happened to be a Priest.

    April 2, 2012 at 12:24 am |
    • Fred

      Read Ezekiel 38 and 39. The Russian/Muslim war against Israel will be soon.

      April 2, 2012 at 12:28 am |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

      I suppose that if there is a heaven (and I do not believe there is) and Lemaître is there with his Sky Daddy, he can read what I wrote, and make his thoughts known to me, but I expect silence. Regardless, I doubt that even Lemaître could have come with factual, verifiable, independent and objective evidence for the existence of his or any god, whereas he did put up a pretty good argument for what is now known as the Big Bang. So, I stnad by my claim – there's more evidence for the Big Bang than there is for any god.

      April 2, 2012 at 12:32 am |
    • b4bigbang

      Oh yes, i agree OG, even re the point that there is more evidence for big bang than God (that is, if we filter the allowance for evidence thru the materalists' lens, which, of course, is foolish), but the reason i posted it is because of the total irony of his being a believer in God when many of the atheists here have said that only a moron believes in a deity.
      lol!

      April 2, 2012 at 12:41 am |
    • Josh Jaye

      There is NO evidence for the "big bang"...it's merely a theory, conjured up by someone with too much idle time and a soul-less imagination. There is no 'order in chaos'. Life does not come from a horrific explosion (nothing would survive an event such as a super nova). Most everyone has an opinion; a theory is just that...an opinion. It should not be taught as fact. I'm not a court-jester expert, but I sure can spot a fool, when I read their nonsensical writings.

      April 2, 2012 at 2:37 am |
    • 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

      Josh Jaye, I suppose you would have preferred that Lemaître spent more time buggering little boys than contemplating the origins of the universe?

      April 2, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
  15. sister of the faith

    wow can't beleive it is so easy for people to just trash the word of God. you have to have faith in Jesus christ or else ...no Gods word is not going to make sense because it written in the spirit so no matter how hard you try to understand it you are not going to... it is revealed for his followers only..

    April 2, 2012 at 12:24 am |
  16. daniel

    why post this anyway , is cnn trying to upset us again , they know it is easter they would not post anything about the other holy months of the rest of the world cause they know it would cause a riot but pick on the bible and no body seems to say anything !!

    April 2, 2012 at 12:23 am |
    • Mark R

      " they know it is easter they would not post anything about the other holy months of the rest of the world cause they know it would cause a riot "

      hate to dissapoint but Oestre is a germanic PAGAN goddess and your celebration of the "Easter rebirth" is a pagan fertility right.. you christians couldnt even be bothered changing the name... lol

      "Ēostre or Ostara (Northumbrian Old English: Ēostre; West Saxon Old English: Ēastre; Old High German: *Ôstara) is a goddess in Germanic paganism whose Germanic month (Northumbrian: Ēosturmōnaþ; West Saxon: Ēastermōnaþ; Old High German: Ôstarmânoth) has given her name to the festival of Easter."

      April 2, 2012 at 6:13 am |
    • Mark R

      " they know it is easter they would not post anything about the other holy months of the rest of the world cause they know it would cause a riot "

      hate to dissapoint but Eostre is a germanic PAGAN goddess and your celebration of the "Easter rebirth" is a pagan fertility right.. you christians couldnt even be bothered changing the name... lol

      "Ēostre or Ostara (Northumbrian Old English: Ēostre; West Saxon Old English: Ēastre; Old High German: *Ôstara) is a goddess in Germanic paganism whose Germanic month (Northumbrian: Ēosturmōnaþ; West Saxon: Ēastermōnaþ; Old High German: Ôstarmânoth) has given her name to the festival of Easter."

      April 2, 2012 at 6:14 am |
  17. UhYeaOk

    And the relentless attack against Christians continues with CNN....

    April 2, 2012 at 12:22 am |
  18. sp0rtbilly77

    doesn't history repeat its self? look at the end of the roman empire. much of what we do today, our values and ethics come from this so-called 'great roman empire', and it too ended. aren't we going the same route? not sure Sarah is all together there with her theories but hey, it's controversial and causes a great deal of response. im making a comment now...and it pays the on-line bills.

    April 2, 2012 at 12:21 am |
  19. OrionStyles

    It's times like this I would direct people to lookup the flying spaghetti monster... this is how absurd you sound to other people.

    Why self-identify with your religious and political affiliation? :\

    April 2, 2012 at 12:20 am |
  20. daniel

    so why is it wrong to comment on the Muslims regard the Quran but cnn finds it okay to show stuff like this on the web site , I am not anti anything but fair is fair !!

    April 2, 2012 at 12:19 am |
    • montyross

      although they (CNN) dont believe in God they dont want to take a chance to become terminated, so they lay off the Muslims; hey "there are no atheist in foxholes"

      April 2, 2012 at 12:48 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.