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My Take: CNN readers' 7 answers to 'Where was God in Aurora?'
A man pauses at a memorial of crosses near the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, the scene of last week's mass shooting.
July 26th, 2012
02:49 PM ET

My Take: CNN readers' 7 answers to 'Where was God in Aurora?'

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

Over the last few days, CNN’s Belief Blog has received more than 10,000 responses to its question, “Where was God in Aurora?”

The underlying concern here has vexed theologians for centuries: How can evil happen in a world that is lorded over by a good and all-powerful God? As CNN's readers struggled to make sense of God's presence (or absence) in the Aurora, Colorado, massacre, I counted seven different answers to this question:

1. There is no God.

Self-professed atheists may make up only 2% of the U.S. population, but they are extraordinarily active online, and on CNN's Belief Blog. A commenter who identified as Jason spoke for them when he wrote, “Where was God? He was where he has always been. Nowhere because God does not exist.” Bob Dobbs agreed: “God is imaginary. The question is moot.”

Many in this camp also quoted the ancient Greek philosopher (and skeptic) Epicurus:

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?

2. Don’t blame God, blame Satan.

Many theists on the site described the world as a battleground between God, who is working for good, and Satan, who is working for evil. “As long as Satan is loose to promote evil, bad things will happen to good people,” wrote kat.

3. Don’t blame God, blame us.

Probably the most common response from Christian commenters was that evil is a result of free will. Do we really want to be “puppets” or “robots"? Of course not. So God has given us the will to choose either evil or good.

Watch: Survivor of massacre says he forgives gunman

Believer summed up this position well:

"It's been said that the only thing we can truly give God is our will because its the only thing we possess that is uniquely ours. Everything else was given to us by him, and is, in effect, not ours to give in the first place. As such, and despite his omnipotence, he cannot intervene. . . .  He only possesses power where power can be possessed - and controlling our actions is not within that realm."

Here Deborah also chimed in: “This act of violence was not God's will. I get so tried of people blaming God for evil acts. Humans of their own free will do evil things.”

4. God was behind the massacre, and it was just.

Some believers saw God’s righteous hand in the Aurora massacre, inflicting a just punishment on a wayward nation now run by secular liberals rather than conservative Christians.

Lenny wrote:

"We as a country have been telling God to go away. We told him to get off our currency, get out of our schools, get out of our Pledge of Allegiance, take your Ten Commandments out of our courthouses, get those Bibles out of hotels and no graduation ceremonies in our churches. How can we expect God to give us his blessing and his protection if we demand that he leave us alone?"

Read: The man who made Aurora’s iconic crosses

Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, took a similar tack in an appearance on the Heritage Foundation's "Istook Live" radio show, laying the blame at the feet of a nation that has turned away from its God:

"You know, when people say, where was God in all of this? Well, you know, . . . we’ve threatened high school graduation participants that if they use God’s name that they’re going to be jailed, we had a principal of a school, and a superintendent or a coach down in Florida that were threatened with jail because they said the blessing at a voluntary off campus dinner. I mean, that kind of stuff… where is God? Where, where? What have we done with God? We told him that we don’t want him around. I kind of like his protective hand being present."

5. God was present at the massacre but with the victims, not the perpetrator

One classic claim in the Abrahamic tradition of Jews, Christians and Muslims is that God is with those who suffer - the poor and the oppressed. Some commenters saw God’s miraculous hand in the midst of this suffering, not causing it to happen but bringing it to an end.  “This may sound crazy,” wrote Diana, “but I believe God had a hand in that the gun jammed so that more people weren’t killed.”

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

The most common claim in this category came from peacemaker, who wrote, “God is and was with the victims and s/he is weeping.” In a more explicitly Christian vein, Lauren wrote: “He was there in the theater, pierced by bullets with the victims. He was scarred by the shrapnel. His eyes were scorched with gas and then burned with tears as He mourned alongside the broken.”

6. Which God?

Some commenters interrogated the question itself, arguing that the knots it twists us into are rooted in what commenter Ego_Death called “a false idea of what God is.” After all, the problem of evil in a world ruled by a sovereign and good God only presents itself if you posit one personal God who is both good and all-powerful.

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Referring to "our idea of a human-like personal God" as "an ancient myth," Northstar56 wrote:

"But just because this kind of God does not appear to exist, does not mean that God, in fact, does not exist. I think many have developed a more mature and realistic perspective . . . in which God exists as a pure fundamental consciousness or state from which all of existence arises. This God does not control anything, but rather continues to perpetually emanate as reality . . . God was present in all of the victims, and everyone else. God was present in the killer as well. The tragedy is that the killer's awareness was so distorted and twisted that he could not see or be aware of the intrinsic priceless value of every person he gunned down."

Evoking something more akin to the “watchmaker” God of the deists, who makes the world and its laws and then refuses to intervene in its operation, Norm wrote: “God is not involved in our everyday mundane activities. How arrogant of man to think he’s the center of the universe and has God’s constant attention and every action is ‘God’s will.’”

Taking a different tack, "varun" invoked the teachings of the beloved Hindu scripture the Bhagavad Gita:

"Only the followers of Semitic religions have problem with understanding this - because they do not believe in rebirth and karma. As soon as you introduce these two concepts into (the) picture along with the eternal indestructible soul (something Semitic religions do believe in), everything makes sense. Read Bhagavad-Gita and everything would be as clear as daylight."

7. Who knows? It’s a mystery

Agnosticism is a rare virtue in the United States nowadays, but there were a few commenters who admitted to something less than the absolute certainty exhibited by atheists and evangelicals alike. "The answer," wrote Terry, "is we don't know where he was." Fluffy the Gerbil of Doom saw this "God works in mysterious ways" move as “ultimate cop-out/rationalization,” but I am not so sure.

In September 1862, in the midst of a much greater American tragedy, Abraham Lincoln wrote a private “Meditation on the Divine Will” in which he struggled to make sense of what God was doing in the Civil War. He later reworked those reflections into his second inaugural address, one of the greatest speeches in American history.

Surveying the corpse-ridden landscape of North and South, Lincoln observed, “Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other.” Clearly there was little good in slavery, he reasoned, yet equally clearly God was not giving a swift and sure victory to the Union. So what was God up to? In the end, Lincoln had to admit he did not know. Or, as he put it, “The Almighty has His own purposes.”

I suppose this is in a sense a “cop-out,” but it is a humble one, uninfected by the absolute certainties (either pro- or anti-God) that have shed more blood on earth than agnosticism ever will. It is also a classic example of answering a question with a question: What is God doing with this war? Who knows?

“Josephpusateri” also answered our question with a question. His comment was in my view the best of the hundreds I read, so I will end with it here:

"Oh, the blindness of such a question... as if only theodicy was a relevant question in white, American suburbs. Where is God in Afghanistan? Where is God in Gaza? Where is God in Syria? . . . Where is God, indeed."

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Atheism • Belief • Christianity • Culture wars • Devil • Ethics • God • Violence

soundoff (4,074 Responses)
  1. Mark Yelka

    People are so self-centered that they just HAVE to believe that THEY will continue to exist. The thought that death is the end of things is just too HARD for self-centered people to bear. So, they're willing to believe in any god that will allow them to live after death. Understandable, but doesn't make god real.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
  2. Slagathor

    If there was a god and praying works how can there be so many problems in the world should be perfect if something works

    July 26, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • El Diablo con Queso

      Slagathor... I loved that one, Dr Kelso rocked.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • Mac

      the-problems-are-punishments-because-people-especially-his-chosen-people-are-not-living-by-his-laws-statutes-and-commandments.-deuteromony-chapter-7-verse-6–isaiah-40-verses-fifteen-through-seventeen.-king-james-version-all-other-bibles-are-BS.

      July 27, 2012 at 11:16 am |
  3. Jim R Feliciano

    First Exodus 34:14 explains the entire Bible. According to Genisis god created the world in six days then took a day off. We know that our universe is 13.7 billion years old. Humans have been around for a few hundred thousand years. If the six days actually took billions of years then that day off is still happening. God is on vacation.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      The new retarded Christian explanation for that is that the term "day" actually meant several billion years, failing to realise that a day is a set time for a reason. At least it's more imaginative than literal interpretation.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
    • MM

      Another possibility... so there's 8 answers to 'where was the almighty?'

      July 26, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
  4. TOMG

    COMPASSION ARE THE APPEARING OF GOD TRANSFORMATION IN THE FIRST PLACE OF THE SPEED OF LIGHT FROM ALL TIMING ERA , AMEN .

    July 26, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
  5. TOMG

    MORE POWERFUL EARTHQUAKE ARE COMING 15.O AND HIGHER , AMEN .

    July 26, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      troll much? using all caps and not sticking to the topic does nothing for you!

      July 26, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
  6. mmilligan

    Why would atheist care? If they have no God way should they care if the rest of us believe. You make your chose and I will make mine. I will not criticize your chose and do not criticize mine. Learn to live with each other.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      It's the theocracy and forced religion we hate, not individual believers (well, some of them).

      July 26, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • Atheist = Thinker

      "Why would atheist care? If they have no God way should they care if the rest of us believe."

      Because so many religious people have chosen to force their beliefs on everyone else through government... Stop doing that and we'll keep to ourselves... Keep it up, and eventually you'll lose you freedoms too.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • El Diablo con Queso

      Do you accept that in your choice the perp can be forgiven if he repents and accepts Jesus? You and the victims and him can all get together for a game of Yahtzee.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • Slagathor

      Not to mention people running things like countries while thinking they are being guided by magic is just plain scary

      anyone dumb enuf to be religious deserves to be made fun of.. its the cancer of society

      July 26, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
  7. Michael Allen

    Apparently God was too busy watching Batman to bother...

    July 26, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
    • Gary S.

      Michaei, Yes GOD Is a very busy GOD these days,
      As for the shooter , GOD will not dwell where there is Evil, He will not be where He is Not wanted. We have free will to choose right and wrong. When The inocent movie goers went to the theater,they had the movie on their minds. When the shooting started they called on GOD to help them. JESUS is as close as the mention of his Holy name. HE was with them
      jaming the guns letting bullets miss there target . HE is with them Healing their wounds . When you call on him he is there.

      July 26, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
    • born again athiest

      Gary, you're and dumb bass

      July 29, 2012 at 10:10 am |
  8. Rational Libertarian

    If you believe in an all powerful deity, like the Abrahamic variety, it's his fault. Abrahamists (is that a term?), use Satan as an escape for the problem of evil, but then they're denying the G man's omnisciences and omnipotence.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
  9. Lisa

    God was with those fighting to protect loved ones and strangers, the many who survived such a horrible act, and the many victims as they healed. He was waiting for the lost souls to enter his kingdom. He was watching over the shooter who could have easily not told law enforcement about his bobby trapped apartment which would have resulted in even more lives lost. Man kind was given free will...He knows our fate, but it is up to us as to how our lives play out.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      He was also with the gunman. He was in every bullet, every wound. Does that make sense?

      July 26, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
    • El Diablo con Queso

      And the perp can still find forgiveness and you can sit next to him in the big sing along in the sky correct?

      July 26, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      Lisa: That's quite the brainwashed fairy tale you've told there. Too bad you've just made yourself sound like you require as much mental health help as the shooter...you need some medication for those delusions you're suffering from! If your imaginary friend existed at all, your imaginary friend who you have been brainwashed to believe is all goo and loving, would not have allowed this to happen at all. Seek some help for the religious psychosis you are suffering from!!!

      July 26, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      goo=good

      July 26, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
  10. karllinen

    I don't know, but this was a mighty strange place to visit in between life and death.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:26 pm |
  11. Hypatia

    I rather feel about gods the way Groucho felt about clubs.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
  12. Ryan

    I do find this topic interesting. These shootings were horrific. The question is should God step in and stop all the bad in our lives? What if there was no pain and no sorrow? Perhaps there is a purpose to having to go through difficult trials. Our view is so limited because all we know is our earthly lives. We can't fathom what life after death is like. If there is a God and if there is life after death, are these events really so tragic? Earth life is but a blip in the eternities to come. One million years from now will it matter that we died at 25 or 85? Somehow I think we will look back at our trivial earth lives and wonder why we worried so much.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
    • El Diablo con Queso

      Especially when Jimmy Holmes finds Jesus and is absolved of sin and you are playing chess with him.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
  13. Earl

    Having worked in the HVAC business as a repairman I know the physics of heating and cooling.
    The way an air conditioner works is to remove heat from one place and transfer it to another–actually, there is no such thing as cold; it's only the absence of heat-at absolute 0, there is no heat.

    Darkness is the same-the more light you take away; the darker it is.

    God did not create evil; nor does He allow it-evil is the absence of God-The more of God you take away-the more evil there is.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
    • Atheist = Thinker

      Then why are religious people the most hateful, violent, freedom-hating people in the world?? Christians. Muslims. Whatever religion you pick, their followers will gladly kill in the name of God... Sounds like pure evil to me...

      July 26, 2012 at 5:28 pm |
    • Elmo

      Actually you are wrong. Heating is the excitation of electrons so you must be a miserable HVAC repairman.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
  14. A dose of reality

    A few questions should help shed light on the relationship between religion and rational thought.
    The completely absurd theory that all 7,000,000,000 human beings are simultaneously being supervised 24 hours a day, every day of their lives by an immortal, invisible being for the purposes of reward or punishment in the “afterlife” comes from the field of:
    (a) Astronomy;
    (b) Medicine;
    (c) Economics; or
    (d) Christianity
    You are about 70% likely to believe the entire Universe began less than 10,000 years ago with only one man, one woman and a talking snake if you are a:
    (a) historian;
    (b) geologist;
    (c) NASA astronomer; or
    (d) Christian
    I have convinced myself that gay $ex is a choice and not genetic, but then have no explanation as to why only gay people have ho.mo$exual urges. I am
    (a) A gifted psychologist
    (b) A well respected geneticist
    (c) A highly educated sociologist
    (d) A Christian with the remarkable ability to ignore inconvenient facts.
    I honestly believe that, when I think silent thoughts like, “please god, help me pass my exam tomorrow,” some invisible being is reading my mind and will intervene and alter what would otherwise be the course of history in small ways to help me. I am
    (a) a delusional schizophrenic;
    (b) a naïve child, too young to know that that is silly
    (c) an ignorant farmer from Sudan who never had the benefit of even a fifth grade education; or
    (d) your average Christian
    Millions and millions of Catholics believe that bread and wine turns into the actual flesh and blood of a dead Jew from 2,000 years ago because:
    (a) there are obvious visible changes in the condiments after the Catholic priest does his hocus pocus;
    (b) tests have confirmed a divine presence in the bread and wine;
    (c) now and then their god shows up and confirms this story; or
    (d) their religious convictions tell them to blindly accept this completely fvcking absurd nonsense.
    I believe that an all powerful being, capable of creating the entire cosmos watches me have $ex to make sure I don't do anything "naughty". I am
    (a) A victim of child molestation
    (b) A r.ape victim trying to recover
    (c) A mental patient with paranoid delusions
    (d) A Christian
    The only discipline known to often cause people to kill others they have never met and/or to commit suicide in its furtherance is:
    (a) Architecture;
    (b) Philosophy;
    (c) Archeology; or
    (d) Religion
    What is it that most differentiates science and all other intellectual disciplines from religion:
    (a) Religion tells people not only what they should believe, but what they are morally obliged to believe on pain of divine retribution, whereas science, economics, medicine etc. has no “sacred cows” in terms of doctrine and go where the evidence leads them;
    (b) Religion can make a statement, such as “there is a composite god comprised of God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit”, and be totally immune from experimentation and challenge, whereas science can only make factual assertions when supported by considerable evidence;
    (c) Science and the scientific method is universal and consistent all over the World whereas religion is regional and a person’s religious conviction, no matter how deeply held, is clearly nothing more than an accident of birth; or
    (d) All of the above.
    If I am found wandering the streets flagellating myself, wading into a filth river, mutilating my child’s genitals or kneeling down in a church believing that a being is somehow reading my inner thoughts and prayers, I am likely driven by:
    (a) a deep psychiatric issue;
    (b) an irrational fear or phobia;
    (c) a severe mental degeneration caused by years of drug abuse; or
    (d) my religious belief.
    Who am I? I don’t pay any taxes. I never have. Any money my organization earns is tax free and my own salary is also tax free, at the federal, state and local level. Despite contributing nothing to society, but still enjoying all its benefits, I feel I have the right to tell others what to do. I am
    (a) A sleazy Wall Street banker
    (b) A mafia boss
    (c) A drug pusher; or
    (d) A Catholic Priest, Protestant Minister or Jewish Rabbi.
    What do the following authors all have in common – Jean Paul Sartre, Voltaire, Denis Diderot, Victor Hugo, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, David Hume, René Descartes, Francis Bacon, John Milton, John Locke, and Blaise Pascal:
    (a) They are among the most gifted writers the World has known;
    (b) They concentrated on opposing dogma and opening the human mind and spirit to the wonders of free thought and intellectual freedom;
    (c) They were intimidated by the Catholic Church and put on the Church’s list of prohibited authors; or
    (d) All of the above.
    The AIDS epidemic will kill tens of millions in poor African and South American countries before we defeat it. Condoms are an effective way to curtail its spread. As the Pope still has significant influence over the less educated masses in these parts of the World, he has exercised this power by:
    (a) Using some of the Vatican’s incomprehensible wealth to educate these vulnerable people on health family planning and condom use;
    (b) Supporting government programs that distribute condoms to high risk groups;
    (c) Using its myriad of churches in these regions to distribute condoms; or
    (d) Scaring people into NOT using condoms, based upon his disdainful and aloof view that it is better that a person die than go against the Vatican’s position on contraceptive use.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
    • MM

      Good read. Good read. [nods head]

      July 26, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
    • born again athiest

      Nice test> Now get this passed as a pre exam for political involvment and a test before you can start teaching elementary and high school education and this country might actualy get back to being the great country we were before.

      July 29, 2012 at 10:13 am |
  15. TOMG

    WHO CREATING US INTO THIS CRAZY AND STUPID HUMAN FORM IN THE FIRST PLACE ALL ARE CAME FROM THE VIRGINA HOLE AND SO DOES THE PENIS BONE , AMEN .

    July 26, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
    • Atheist = Thinker

      Someone has been dipping into the sacramental wine...

      July 26, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      Atheist = Thinker: if only it would drink the poisoned kool-aid and join its imaginary friend.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
  16. El Diablo con Queso

    The reality is that nothing happens without God's consent correct? So everything that happens, God should be thanked for. Everybody should be thanking God for the lesson that was given.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
    • El Diablo con Queso

      And this isn't journalism.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
  17. Please...

    Wakeup333 is so right. It is amazing to me how much people will believe. Sky fairy indeed. Jesus was notihng more than a mortal man with some wonderful ideas to impart. Why can't people just leave it at that? Why did they have to invent the vigin birth? What, too good to be mortal? When people stop looking to the imaginary sky fairy to asnwer their questions, fix their problems or blame their problems on, then, and only then, will we start helping eachother become better people and take care of our wonderful planet. Get your heads out of the clouds folks. It is what it is.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
  18. TOMG

    OUR OWN PARENT FATHER AND MOTHER ARE OUR DAILY LIVING GOD , AMEN .

    July 26, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
  19. InAwe

    If "GOD" works for you and you find comfort there....then why not, it's YOUR CHOICE? For me??? I gave up on all religion many [30+?] years ago (though I was raised Anglican and was a regular at church, Sunday school, choir, etc). I find religious types WANT (nay, WISH.....with everything they have) there to be "something powerful and all-knowing" there for them, like a crutch when they struggle to walk alone, when they try to make sense of something senseless, and when the end of their life or the life of a loved one is close.

    I see humans as just another species. That's MAINLY where I differ from most religious folks. When I see other animals with hands together praying, doing something different on Sundays, buying gifts on Dec 25th, crossing themselves if near a church, and facing, kneeling or bowing to Mecca, then I will start to think there's something to it.

    When my car (accidentally) squished a frog last summer....did it go to Frog Heaven? Did a little spirit leave it's body and float up to the sky? If I was driving and suddenly hit a deer, killing it, would it have a spirit that goes to meet it's maker – and sits on high for evermore? What about when I pull fish from the lake and take them home for dinner? What about the cattle that I have eaten over my lifetime as burgers? All these animals will have souls or spirits and they drift upwards.......to what????

    No, when I die I won't be seeing my father or other deceased relatives and friends. I WILL, however, live on! Yes.....in the minds of those who knew me. My wife and children, the students at school, people from my soccer activities and other social circles. BUT....when the last person that knew me dies, then I am 100% GONE! (Except for a few old photographs or home-made videos.) No resurrection, no afterlife, no coming back as another human of animal. The end is the end....and I am not afraid of it!

    All that being said: I NEVER try to push my values and beliefs onto someone else.....UNLESS they try to push theirs on me! I have occasionally invited the Jehovah's Witnesses into my home when they come a'knocking. It's fun trying to convert them to Atheist! Most go running when I pull some reading material from a drawer (in exchange for what they offer me) and I ask them to read it then come back to discuss!

    July 26, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
    • Peggy Munro

      InAwe,

      I agree with your well stated position but my God is awesome and I am keeping him/her/it. As for religion, I have none and do not want any. I try to stay away from good Christians and other extreme religious type. I love my God though and thank him for every opportunity to add value to my fellow pilgrims.

      July 26, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
  20. veggiedude

    There is no god, but no one wants to listen to reason.

    July 26, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
    • a different Dan

      Reasoning is based on what we know and we know nothing. Some day we will know the truth and the truth will set us free.
      Religions teach us what they believe God is like but none of them seem to get it right. Jesus Christ showed us what God would be like if he was a man. Jesus Christ was God because he wanted to be. Jesus was born with the spirit of God and died with it. There is no one I know of that wants to be God. Jesus said; count the cost. There is no one I know of with the spirit (nature) of God. The 3 brave men that gave their lives protecting a loved one, when they reacted without giving it a thought had in them the spirit of God. So, that answers the question; "where was God"? There were others with that spirit that did not die but did the same thing. It appears that God is in many if not all of us we just refuse to let "Him" out.

      July 26, 2012 at 6:23 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.