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My Take: What the Bible really says about homosexuality
The author argues that the meaning of the Bible's passages on homosexuality have been lost in translation.
May 15th, 2012
05:39 PM ET

My Take: What the Bible really says about homosexuality

Editor's note: Daniel A. Helminiak, who was ordained a priest in Rome, is a theologian, psychotherapist and author of “What the Bible Really Says about homosexuality" and books on contemporary spirituality. He is a professor of psychology at the University of West Georgia.

By Daniel A. Helminiak, Special to CNN

President Barack Obama’s support of same-sex marriage, like blood in the water, has conservative sharks circling for a kill. In a nation that touts separation of religion and government, religious-based arguments command this battle. Lurking beneath anti-gay forays, you inevitably find religion and, above all, the Bible.

We now face religious jingoism, the imposition of personal beliefs on the whole pluralistic society. Worse still, these beliefs are irrational, just a fiction of blind conviction. Nowhere does the Bible actually oppose homosexuality.

In the past 60 years, we have learned more about sex, by far, than in preceding millennia. Is it likely that an ancient people, who thought the male was the basic biological model and the world flat, understood homosexuality as we do today? Could they have even addressed the questions about homosexuality that we grapple with today? Of course not.

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Hard evidence supports this commonsensical expectation. Taken on its own terms, read in the original languages, placed back into its historical context, the Bible is ho-hum on homosexuality, unless – as with heterosexuality – injustice and abuse are involved.

That, in fact, was the case among the Sodomites (Genesis 19), whose experience is frequently cited by modern anti-gay critics. The Sodomites wanted to rape the visitors whom Lot, the one just man in the city, welcomed in hospitality for the night.

The Bible itself is lucid on the sin of Sodom: pride, lack of concern for the poor and needy (Ezekiel 16:48-49); hatred of strangers and cruelty to guests (Wisdom 19:13); arrogance (Sirach/Ecclesiaticus 16:8); evildoing, injustice, oppression of the widow and orphan (Isaiah 1:17); adultery (in those days, the use of another man’s property), and lying (Jeremiah 23:12).

But nowhere are same-sex acts named as the sin of Sodom. That intended gang rape only expressed the greater sin, condemned in the Bible from cover to cover: hatred, injustice, cruelty, lack of concern for others. Hence, Jesus says “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 19:19; Mark 12:31); and “By this will they know you are my disciples” (John 13:35).

How inverted these values have become! In the name of Jesus, evangelicals and Catholic bishops make sex the Christian litmus test and are willing to sacrifice the social safety net in return.

The longest biblical passage on male-male sex is Romans 1:26-27: "Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another."

The Greek term para physin has been translated unnatural; it should read atypical or unusual. In the technical sense, yes, the Stoic philosophers did use para physin to mean unnatural, but this term also had a widespread popular meaning. It is this latter meaning that informs Paul's writing. It carries no ethical condemnation.

Compare the passage on male-male sex to Romans 11:24. There, Paul applies the term para physin to God. God grafted the Gentiles into the Jewish people, a wild branch into a cultivated vine. Not your standard practice! An unusual thing to do — atypical, nothing more. The anti-gay "unnatural" hullabaloo rests on a mistranslation.

Besides, Paul used two other words to describe male-male sex: dishonorable (1:24, 26) and unseemly (1:27). But for Paul, neither carried ethical weight. In 2 Corinthians 6:8 and 11:21, Paul says that even he was held in dishonor — for preaching Christ. Clearly, these words merely indicate social disrepute, not truly unethical behavior.

In this passage Paul is referring to the ancient Jewish Law: Leviticus 18:22, the “abomination” of a man’s lying with another man. Paul sees male-male sex as an impurity, a taboo, uncleanness — in other words, “abomination.” Introducing this discussion in 1:24, he says so outright: "God gave them up … to impurity."

But Jesus taught lucidly that Jewish requirements for purity — varied cultural traditions — do not matter before God. What matters is purity of heart.

“It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles,” reads Matthew 15. “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”

Or again, Jesus taught, “Everyone who looks at a women with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). Jesus rejected the purity requirements of the Jewish Law.

In calling it unclean, Paul was not condemning male-male sex. He had terms to express condemnation. Before and after his section on sex, he used truly condemnatory terms: godless, evil, wicked or unjust, not to be done. But he never used ethical terms around that issue of sex.

As for marriage, again, the Bible is more liberal than we hear today. The Jewish patriarchs had many wives and concubines. David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, and Daniel and the palace master were probably lovers.

The Bible’s Song of Songs is a paean to romantic love with no mention of children or a married couple. Jesus never mentioned same-sex behaviors, although he did heal the “servant” — pais, a Greek term for male lover — of the Roman Centurion.

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Paul discouraged marriage because he believed the world would soon end. Still, he encouraged people with sexual needs to marry, and he never linked sex and procreation.

Were God-given reason to prevail, rather than knee-jerk religion, we would not be having a heated debate over gay marriage. “Liberty and justice for all,” marvel at the diversity of creation, welcome for one another: these, alas, are true biblical values.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Daniel A. Helminiak.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Bible • Christianity • Gay marriage • Opinion

soundoff (8,832 Responses)
  1. Sure Reminds Me

    The way some of you on the so-called right are responding sure reminds me of something Gandhi said, "I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."

    May 15, 2012 at 11:32 pm |
    • Leigh2

      Of course Christians are unlike Christ. No one can measure up to Christ. No one comes close. There's a Biblical passage which states we(the faithful) are all likened to filthy rags ~ just to give you a little perspective. The difference that Ghandi didn't comprehend was the fact that the truly faithful who believe in Christ as their Savior will attempt to walk perfectly, but never will achieve the perfection of Christ. Ever.

      May 15, 2012 at 11:44 pm |
    • momoya

      Yet Christ said that "these signs shall follow them that believe" (speaking of healing, raising the dead, and casting out spirits).. Christians don't have theses signs and, in fact, have no "power' that's visible in anyway.. You're talking about an invisible god with invisible evidences to do invisible acts.. Puh-lease!!

      May 15, 2012 at 11:46 pm |
  2. horace

    It's amazing how much time and effort goes into analyzing this book of fiction. Also few things can be sillier than quoting the King James Bible which is an early modern translation of a book supposedly written over 1500 years earlier.

    May 15, 2012 at 11:32 pm |
  3. bbcompent1

    Don't worry everyone, Satan will burn in Gahena where he belongs...

    May 15, 2012 at 11:31 pm |
  4. jikfive

    Religion is the true enemy of freedom.

    May 15, 2012 at 11:29 pm |
    • dwerbil

      AMEN!

      May 15, 2012 at 11:32 pm |
  5. Thy Kingdom come Lord!

    Mr. Helminiak you just confused a lots people you are a theologian for satan! Pete, keep the faith. CNN stop your evil agenda.
    Genesis 19:5 And they call onto Lot, and said unto him, Where are the men which came in to thee this night? bring them out unto us, that we may know them. Genesis 19: 7 And said, I pray you, brethren do not so WICKEDLY. Genesis 19:11-13
    And they smote the men tha were at the door of the house with blindness, both small and great: so that they wearied themselves to find the door. And the men said unto Lot. Hast thou here any besides? son in law, and thy sons and thy daughters, and whatsoever thou hast in the city, bring them out of this place: For we will destroy this place, because the cry to them is waxen great before the face of the Lord; and the Lord hath sent us to destroy it.

    Mr. Helminiak your theology is wrong the devil is speaking through you!

    May 15, 2012 at 11:29 pm |
    • Satan

      Don't speak for me co ck gobbler.

      May 15, 2012 at 11:30 pm |
    • Bj

      Sorry, you are wrong. Do not judge others, he commanded. Love one another, he commanded.
      You need to repent and love others...

      May 16, 2012 at 12:02 am |
  6. Scott

    As of the time of this note- there are in excess of 3,400 comments with wildly different view, takes and opinions concerning one "book". Yet almost everyone claim to have the definitive interpretation of the "word of God". Doesn't that tell you something? Scholars, clergy, lay people and the true believers have twisted, contorted and taken out of context any passage that allegedly supports one view over another. C'mon people–there is no "right answer" to be found in the book. Stop hiding behind it to validate your prejudices and dislike for those who are not and do not think like you

    May 15, 2012 at 11:28 pm |
    • Dorian3333

      This argument from the left reminds of the kid who never has been told he lost anything. Everyone gets a reward and nothing is taboo. You cannot have your cake and eat it too as they say. The Bible is clear on the subject and any amount smoke and mirrors will change this. I did not write the Bible but if you have faith in Christianity you must obey the commands. I cannot judge anyone but the path is clear.

      May 15, 2012 at 11:52 pm |
  7. Joshua Walker

    1 Corinthians 6:9-11
    9What! Do YOU not know that unrighteous persons will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be misled. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men kept for unnatural purposes, nor men who lie with men, 10nor thieves, nor greedy persons, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit God’s kingdom. 11And yet that is what some of YOU were. But YOU have been washed clean, but YOU have been sanctified, but YOU have been declared righteous in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and with the spirit of our God.

    Now it dont say to hate gay people but that it is wrong and you will not be in gods kingdom if you practice it. It also says that what some people where and that you can turn around and repent for your wrongdoing and God will forgive you and that you can be in God's kingdom.

    May 15, 2012 at 11:26 pm |
    • momoya

      Who wants to be in "God's kingdom?" He maintains an eternal torture pit.. He's a disgusting terrorist.. Yuck!!

      May 15, 2012 at 11:27 pm |
    • Satan

      Shut up with your whiney bible bullsh•t. Why would anyone with the slightest bit if logic buy into that crap?

      May 15, 2012 at 11:29 pm |
    • Joshua Walker

      nowhere in the bible does it say god has a tourture pit.

      May 15, 2012 at 11:30 pm |
    • Satan

      But god created hell? Or didn't he?

      May 15, 2012 at 11:31 pm |
    • momoya

      The lake of fire. And the smoke of their torment rises before the lamb and the throne forever and ever.. It's your bible.

      May 15, 2012 at 11:31 pm |
    • Observer

      Joshua,

      You didn't fool anyone by IGNORING all the other sins, like being greedy. Get serious.

      May 15, 2012 at 11:31 pm |
    • Joshua Walker

      No the word hell is no where in the bible.
      For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, . . . for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.”—Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10,

      May 15, 2012 at 11:35 pm |
    • BamaDaniel

      Hell was created for satan and his fallen brothers man added men to scare the weak minded

      May 15, 2012 at 11:37 pm |
    • Observer

      Joshua,

      – Matthew 5:30 “And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.” - Jesus

      May 15, 2012 at 11:37 pm |
    • momoya

      Why does god want to torture Satan??????

      May 15, 2012 at 11:38 pm |
    • Joshua Walker

      Jesus died for us so that gives all of us sinners the chance to be in god's kingdom. We all have to try and change our ways since we are all sinners.

      May 15, 2012 at 11:39 pm |
    • Joshua Walker

      The Bible says at Romans 5:12: “Through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men.” Really, then, is it reasonable to believe that people suffer in hellfire for their sins, when Adam, the one who brought death upon the entire human race, simply became dust after dying?—1 Corinthians 15:22.

      We all come under the same law that Adam was under. “The wages sin pays is death.” Moreover, once a person dies, he is “acquitted from his sin.” (Romans 6:7, 23) If both good and bad people die and nobody experiences suffering after death, where is God’s justice?
      God’s purpose for obedient mankind has not changed since he created the first human couple and directed them to have children and take care of the earth. (Genesis 1:28) This is clearly still his purpose, as he later declared: “The righteous themselves will possess the earth, and they will reside forever upon it.”—Psalm 37:29.

      Note that the righteous will live on this earth. They will have a life of perfect health and happiness. God’s original purpose to have the earth filled with a righteous race of people will indeed “have certain success.” This will occur when he replaces this present wicked system of things with a new world.—Isaiah 55:11; Daniel 2:44; Revelation 21:4.

      Billions of people who have died in ignorance of God’s requirements will benefit from a resurrection and will receive instruction for life in God’s new world. (Isaiah 11:9; John 5:28, 29) On the other hand, anyone who refuses to conform to God’s laws will be punished with “the second death.” This is the death from which they will never awake.—Revelation 21:8; Jeremiah 51:57.

      Clearly, as a God of love, God will not torture people in hellfire. (1 John 4:8) Nor will he tolerate wickedness indefinitely. Accordingly, Psalm 145:20 assures us that “God is guarding all those loving him, but all the wicked ones he will annihilate.” Is that not loving and just?

      May 15, 2012 at 11:42 pm |
    • momoya

      Joshua, there's no sin, no soul, and no afterlife.. Sorry.. Live your life the best you can and stop listening to stupid fairy tales from the stone age.

      May 15, 2012 at 11:43 pm |
    • Joshua Walker

      This is my understanding of what people call Hell. It's just simply dieing. God wouldnt turture those who he created.

      May 15, 2012 at 11:46 pm |
    • momoya

      You see how that works?? No one believes in a god that disagrees with their sense of morality.. Your ego is your god.

      May 15, 2012 at 11:47 pm |
    • just a thought

      Yall seem to be confused about hell satin made the chose to leave god and hell is his only long term option if a person desides the dont wont to be with god he will not force them

      May 16, 2012 at 12:08 am |
  8. lordoflords

    Do yourselves a big favor and burn that bible and start living your lives. Religion is responsible for so much distruction in history no one needs it pay attention that what is going on in the world pay attention to what is going on with your savings and your money and you family and your health and stop buying into everything anyone tries to sell you it will get you nowhere put that 10 % in a savings account or pay off your debit dont let some charliton tell you to vote agaisnt letting someone else live their own lives you are being taken for a ride used dont you get it its time to wise up Americans look beyond the con think use your brain start thinking and stop letting someone else distroy your ability to think if I told you people half of what I know about what you call the church you would run and throw that bible of yours in the nearest fire and burn it

    May 15, 2012 at 11:24 pm |
    • Dorian3333

      You can find his Bible right next to his English book.....use some periods....geez.

      May 15, 2012 at 11:57 pm |
  9. BamaDaniel

    Satan fingers himself

    May 15, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
  10. christopher ryan cook

    religion is unnecessary. no one knows what happens after we die. Religion was created by humans because humans were scared of not knowing what happens after we die. Glad i can help all who read this to put this issue to rest, once and for all.

    May 15, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
    • Dorian3333

      Since you don't know what happens why are you telling people what to ditch as a belief? You could be very wrong. You might want to sit back and give all options some more consideration and stop backing yourself into a corner. I have and continue to consider all options.

      May 16, 2012 at 12:00 am |
  11. Benjamin

    A psychologist telling us what the Bible says. Funny.

    May 15, 2012 at 11:18 pm |
    • dwerbil

      Very funny.

      May 15, 2012 at 11:38 pm |
  12. Benjamin

    A psychologyis telling us what the Bible says. Funny.

    May 15, 2012 at 11:17 pm |
    • dwerbil

      Funnier still!

      May 15, 2012 at 11:39 pm |
  13. ur

    Notice how INtolerant the gay community is

    May 15, 2012 at 11:17 pm |
    • Observer

      Yep. They are so intolerant of intolerant people.

      May 15, 2012 at 11:19 pm |
    • jikfive

      Actually, they are very tolerant. I see many more anti-gay posts that are shortsighted and cruel than anything else.

      May 15, 2012 at 11:21 pm |
  14. Kathey

    Read the Word for yourselves....... Dont take Anyone's word for the Truth.....If you truly are seeking Truth, cry out to God, and God alone to reveal Himself to you.......then start reading the Bible For Yourself......There are many voices out there ....... You see the Bible is a unique book in that it is Alive...... It is called the Living Word... It is sharper than a two edged sword able to split Soul from Spirit....... Meaning it can seperate how we Feel...our soul... (mind, will, and emotions) from Spirit which is the Truth. Let NO ONE decieve you!!! God says...."Know that I AM and that I Am a Rewarder of those who diligently seek me... May God Bless you as you Seek His Face.

    May 15, 2012 at 11:15 pm |
    • Satan

      Go shove a wine bottle in your twa t.

      May 15, 2012 at 11:19 pm |
    • tnfreethinker

      Kathy...if you hear God's voice...please seek medical attention.

      May 15, 2012 at 11:21 pm |
    • BamaDaniel

      Why because one will fit in your butt

      May 15, 2012 at 11:21 pm |
    • Satan

      I can say for sure one fits in bamadan's fathers as$hole, like the whole bottle.

      May 15, 2012 at 11:24 pm |
    • sqeptiq

      In what language do you read the word? Is it the same language in which it was written?

      May 15, 2012 at 11:29 pm |
    • Leigh2

      Kathey, you are going to find some really vitriolic people posting on the CNN blogs, especially those articles dealing with God. Just ignore them and know not all is lost. And also know that there are other people reading these blogs who may be encouraged to seek God. See, the devil still doesn't win. What a pity. (not.)

      May 15, 2012 at 11:37 pm |
  15. tnfreethinker

    Who cares what the bible says? Separation of church & state was established to keep religion out of our government. Why is that so hard for some to understand? You are free to believe what you want but you are not free to impose your religious beliefs on others by passing unconst.itutional laws, such as DOMA.

    May 15, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
    • Paul

      "Separation of church & state was established to keep religion out of our government."

      You have it backwards. It was established to keep government out of religion.

      May 15, 2012 at 11:27 pm |
    • just a thought

      A large # of this country's laws are based on biblical principles do u support the abolishing of prohibitions against murder or stealing or perjury

      May 15, 2012 at 11:27 pm |
    • sqeptiq

      Dear mr justathought: Do you believe that non-biblical societies do not punish murder, theft, etc?

      May 15, 2012 at 11:30 pm |
    • tnfreethinker

      Paul...no,sir. You have it backwards. Just a thought...the bible didn't establish those rules.

      May 15, 2012 at 11:39 pm |
    • just a thought

      It is correct to say the bible did not establish moral law . It is the conscious of humans . If u don't believe god established right from wrong who gets to decide perhaps obama or maybe osama

      May 15, 2012 at 11:48 pm |
      • tnfreethinker

        As long as I am not harming myself or others, I get to decide what is right or wrong for me. That is the greatness of America. Freedom of choice. Equal treatment under the law.

        May 15, 2012 at 11:56 pm |
    • Dorian3333

      What a backward post and just what the left has been force feeding children for years. If you really did some research and stopped repeating what every liberal tells you then it would be clear to you that our forefathers were protecting religion from government. This country was founded on RELIGIOUS FREEDOM! Whether you are a believer in any of the vast number of beliefs or an athiest the facts of our countries creation is clear. Unbelievable.

      May 16, 2012 at 12:07 am |
      • tnfreethinker

        Dorian....you are unbelievable and the one who needs to do research. You have freedom of religion. The purpose of separation of church and state is to ensure that. Goodness you conservatives are really uninformed.

        May 16, 2012 at 9:13 am |
      • tnfreethinker

        And, Dorian....SCOTUS historically agrees with us. Get an education and start showing some respect for this great country.

        May 16, 2012 at 9:26 am |
  16. Leigh2

    Christ was subjected to the politics of the day only in the respect of God's own hand moving him toward crucifixion. He was neither a liberal nor a conservative. He was sent from Heaven to earth with the purpose of being crucified and then resurrected to show life eternal.

    May 15, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
    • Observer

      It was really nice of his dad to treat him that way.

      May 15, 2012 at 11:16 pm |
    • Satan

      Kill your son to show mercy? I dig it!

      May 15, 2012 at 11:21 pm |
    • dwerbil

      Religion is like Dungeons and Dragons gone terribly awry.

      May 15, 2012 at 11:43 pm |
  17. BamaDaniel

    No allergic

    May 15, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
    • GrowUp

      Grow a brain.

      May 15, 2012 at 11:24 pm |
    • BamaDaniel

      I was answering observers question what you commenting on

      May 15, 2012 at 11:30 pm |
    • GrowUp

      Your lack of intelligence.

      May 15, 2012 at 11:36 pm |
  18. dpadon

    It's been a long time since I have read something written by an "educated" person that is so laughable and ridiculous as this article. Need not look any further than basic anatomy to know that a man was not made for another man.

    May 15, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
    • Satan

      Ha! Its called a butthole! You can put a d•ck in it the same as a c unt.

      May 15, 2012 at 11:15 pm |
    • dpadon

      And a women was not made for another woman!

      May 15, 2012 at 11:23 pm |
    • Observer

      dpadon,

      "And a women was not made for another woman!" – - except, of course, for all the adult movies that hetero men love to watch and buy.

      May 15, 2012 at 11:26 pm |
    • Satan

      Its called a fist your un imaginative jack hole. Gawd your se x life must be a bore. You so involved in trying to dictate others you most likely don't have a se x life.

      May 15, 2012 at 11:26 pm |
    • GrowUp

      And a hand was not made to j*rk yourself off yet you use it for that. Why?

      May 15, 2012 at 11:28 pm |
    • willie

      What biology class did you take? I have never heard of a man factory. I am not stamped with a "made in america" sign.

      May 15, 2012 at 11:30 pm |
    • dpadon

      Form follows function. A fish was made with gills and fins to swim. A cheetah was made to run. A man is not created, anatomically speaking, for another man. I am not condeming anyone or anything. I am just pointing out the perversion of the natural order of creation.

      May 15, 2012 at 11:46 pm |
    • momoya

      @dpadon

      But, many mammals do express ho.mo.se.xuality.. So it is natural, after all. :)

      May 15, 2012 at 11:48 pm |
    • momoya

      The mouth "was made" for the intake of food, not s3x, right? :)

      May 15, 2012 at 11:50 pm |
  19. DragonSlayer Lights Your Fire

    1 John 3:10 New International Version (NIV)

    This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.

    So @ I am John guess we family too.....GROUP HUG :)

    May 15, 2012 at 11:08 pm |
    • BamaDaniel

      You can love you're gay brother and disapprove of their lifestyle

      May 15, 2012 at 11:11 pm |
    • jikfive

      Isn't disapproval just another form of judging someone? I thought God was supposed to be the only one to pass judgments. Guess some people didnt think he could handle it and took matters into their own hands.

      May 15, 2012 at 11:26 pm |
  20. I am John

    From the mouth of the author of this article comes unclean spirits. I know who his father is! Stand back chlld of Satan!

    May 15, 2012 at 11:06 pm |
    • Satan

      I have many children, a couple from your mom.

      May 15, 2012 at 11:07 pm |
    • BamaDaniel

      Beelzebub king of the fallen created gays and other abominations

      May 15, 2012 at 11:09 pm |
    • Observer

      BamaDaniel,

      Speaking of abominations, do you ever eat lobster or king crablegs?

      May 15, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
    • Satan

      No I didn't. Because just like god, I don't exist. Simpleton. Ah da gawd created everything an da devils is evil. Amenz!

      May 15, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
    • BamaDaniel

      Satan pray I don't get sent to hell

      May 15, 2012 at 11:20 pm |
    • Satan

      don't worry dipsh•t, it doesn't exist.

      May 15, 2012 at 11:22 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.