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My Take: Searching for God, settling for sex
November 24th, 2012
08:00 PM ET

My Take: Searching for God, settling for sex

Editor's Note: Shannon Ethridge is an advocate for spiritual and sexual integrity. She is a counselor, speaker, author and certified life and relationship coach. Her 19 books include the million-selling Every Woman's Battle book series, "The Sexually Confident Wife" and her latest book, "The Fantasy Fallacy," a response to the "Fifty Shades of Grey" phenomenon, a discussion of the roots and role of sexual fantasies.

By Shannon Ethridge, Special to CNN

(CNN) - When a friend alerted me to the "Fifty Shades" trilogy in April, none of us had any idea it would sell in excess of 40 million copies within months, or that sales of whips, chains and other BDSM paraphernalia would skyrocket as a result, or that a European hotel would replace its Gideon’s Bibles with "Fifty Shades of Grey."

Many legitimate possibilities have been offered for the seeming success of “mommy porn.” Women are more sexually liberated than ever before. Couples are longing for ways to spice up their sex lives. Many women have a deep inner longing to be dominated by a man who’s absolutely obsessed with them.

While there might be some truth to each of these theories, I think the real force behind this "Fifty Shades" phenomenon is that our society is clamoring for closeness. However, in the absence of genuine sexual intimacy (best defined as “in-to-me-see”), we settle for sexual intensity: erotica, pornography, an office romance, an extramarital affair or whatever strokes the ego and provides the sexual high we crave.

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I suggest that sexual intensity (such as that experienced between the lead characters of the "Fifty Shades" trilogy) is simply not the same as intimacy. If it were, then prostitutes and porn stars would be the most emotionally and relationally fulfilled people on the planet. That doesn’t seem to be the case.

Does the entangling of arms and legs and the exchange of bodily fluids scratch the human itch for intimate connection? Or is sex just the closest thing we can imagine to what we’re really craving: a deeper spiritual and emotional connection, both with our Creator and with His creation?

When I explain through my writing, speaking and life coaching that I am an “advocate for healthy sexuality and spirituality,” some assume I’m insane. Why would someone even use the terms “sexuality” and “spirituality” in the same sentence? I do so because I believe they are basically the same thing, or at least two sides of the same coin.

Regardless of gender, age, race, political views, economic status, etc., all humans have two things in common: We are both spiritual and sexual beings. And behind every sexual longing, I believe there’s an even deeper spiritual longing.

So we have much to learn about God through understanding our sexuality, and there is much to learn about our sexuality through a deeper exploration of God.

Looking at sexuality through a spiritual lens, and vice versa, is not a new concept. In the Song of Solomon, a man's and woman’s desires for healthy sexual intimacy are celebrated. In the book of Hosea, God uses the analogy of a husband’s relentless pursuit of a sexually unfaithful bride to illustrate the depth of His own passion and commitment to His people. God obviously knew that “sexual metaphors” would teach us about ourselves and about Him.

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This brings me back around to the "Fifty Shades of Grey" phenomenon. I don’t believe that fantasy is evil, even sexual fantasy. But when we divorce physical pleasure from emotional connection, such as when we selfishly strive for orgasm through pornography, masturbation or illicit sexual encounters rather than cultivating sexual ecstasy with our marriage partner, sexual ecstasy is only “half-baked.” Love and relational intimacy are the “yeast” that allows our sexual ecstasy to rise to its highest level.

My counseling experience shows me that we often seek healing for our deepest wounds via sexual encounters. Our minds and hearts believe we will “get it right” or “find the love I need” via an intensely satisfying sexual relationship.

If deep and spiritual intimacy is what humans seek, then relational or sexual intensity can never satisfy our deepest longings or heal our oldest wounds. Christian and Anastasia (for all the "Fifty Shades" fans) won’t discover heart-deep intimacy in whips, chains, pain and sexual intensity. Their deep wounds will be healed by sacrificial love (of which Christ is the incarnate example) and intimate relationship (both human and divine). Soul-deep intimacy is what we seek, and it’s ultimately found in the God who created human sexuality.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Shannon Ethridge.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Sex

soundoff (1,819 Responses)
  1. DD

    Jealous much?

    November 25, 2012 at 10:43 am |
  2. This article is rubbish!

    50 Shades of Grey was nothing more than girl pòrn, an adult version of a Harlequin Romance. Searching for intimacy my foot!

    November 25, 2012 at 10:42 am |
  3. What?

    I wasn't paying attention when I clicked on this article. I didn't realize it was in the Belief section. I wish I could get back the 2.5 minutes of my life I wasted on reading it. 50 Shades of Grey was an absolutely terrible series not because it portrays BDSM, but because it portrays BDSM in such an unhealthy way. Nothing in this book was an accurate portrayal of BDSM or the types of relationships one forms while actively engaging in it. This article was just a waste.

    November 25, 2012 at 10:41 am |
  4. Sophie

    I liked "Dreaming" for her post, it allowed me to hope, we all look for "love", and I was married once for all the wrong reasons, and "Dreaming" was making a point. She did find love, and I am on a mission to find love as well and it all may happen in less than six months, cause I have a pen pal, and we seem to be "a match". We both are happy, and have high hopes. He found me as I had given up entirely, and so hang on, someone may "find you". Here's to luck in love.

    November 25, 2012 at 10:39 am |
  5. With-out-Faith=an-ugly-life

    Most Women know that femenisim was a failure and a false god.

    November 25, 2012 at 10:36 am |
    • What?

      Most women at least know how to spell feminism.

      November 25, 2012 at 10:46 am |
    • With-out-Faith=an-ugly-life

      Who cares how it is spelled it is a JOKE>

      November 25, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • Sam Stone

      With-out: As is your god

      November 25, 2012 at 11:00 am |
  6. Alicia S

    I am so tired of hearing about "50 Shades of Grey". The real "danger" in this book is that so many people were able to thoroughly enjoy something so poorly written and in no way reflects the reality of the BDSM lifestyle it is supposed to portray.

    November 25, 2012 at 10:35 am |
  7. AGNOSTIC

    I'm stupider for having read this article.

    November 25, 2012 at 10:32 am |
    • eclectic8

      I doubt that is possible.

      November 25, 2012 at 10:40 am |
    • mydogredwald

      Amen and can I get a hallelujah for that! It is an inane article...

      November 25, 2012 at 10:41 am |
    • ankenyman

      I'll bet you couldn't get much stupider than you already were.

      November 25, 2012 at 10:47 am |
  8. If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

    Gotta love how these religious advocates just dispise 50 shades .. but yet never seem to miss an oportunity to use it to push their agenda.

    November 25, 2012 at 10:32 am |
    • Chris

      She never said she despised the book. She only challenges it's basic assumptions.

      November 25, 2012 at 10:43 am |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      She doesn't have to "say" it .. she does that by challenging it. Also the book makes no asumptions, it's just a work of fiction. She, on the other hand, is making her statements as non fiction .. using this books popularity for her own gain.

      November 25, 2012 at 10:54 am |
  9. cg1230

    Colin, you sound one miserable person. I'd love for you to come to church with me one Sunday. In the meantime, I will pray for your miserable soul.
    God Bless

    November 25, 2012 at 10:27 am |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      ... "I will pray for your miserable soul. God Bless"
      LOL .. how quintessentially Christian of you .. LOL

      November 25, 2012 at 11:00 am |
  10. REDFIREBALL

    Obama is about as much "man" as the "Big Missiles" are an extension of Muslim Brotherhood penis

    November 25, 2012 at 10:25 am |
    • YoHi64

      Red, please do yourself (and the rest of us) a huge favor...stop parading your pain and ignorance is if it were a Macy's float that we all came here to admire. You can be healed, I'm sure, with patience and intimacy on the part of some selfless soul, but self-loathing, my friend, is not the answer.

      November 25, 2012 at 10:44 am |
  11. Zoe

    Maybe if wives weren't so damn neurotic and stupid, men would stop cheating and hurting everyone around them.

    November 25, 2012 at 10:25 am |
    • KC

      This wife was neither neurotic nor stupid. He was a narcissist who couldn't get enough attention from any one woman; he blamed my job for him feeling neglected, but even while living with a co-worker who was with him 24/7, he needed a harem.

      November 25, 2012 at 10:33 am |
  12. REDFIREBALL

    What does it say about men who assert Obama proved his "manhood"? No wonder American women feel so frustrated :)

    November 25, 2012 at 10:23 am |
  13. REDFIREBALL

    RE: Obama Foreign Policy - How can someone incapable of domestic planning anticipate the actions of foreign leaders? Iranian missiles were poised and ready for Israeli ground war - Indonesian French wine and Mideast blood dripping

    November 25, 2012 at 10:19 am |
  14. JWT

    God is nice for those that want or need it. But it is not necessary for anything.

    November 25, 2012 at 10:17 am |
    • SciGuy

      No. God is self-existent. Your being is derived from him. You would not be if he were not.

      November 25, 2012 at 10:26 am |
    • With-out-Faith=an-ugly-life

      Our society is Ugly and getting worse. God has set forth rules that can and do make life much better but we choose to make rules as we go and trust me none of us are wise enough to do so.

      November 25, 2012 at 10:28 am |
    • Chris

      @JWT that option is simply not available. If God exists then he is necessary for everything. If he does not then it all a waste of time. You have to choose. I would say the consequences for being wrong are much greater for those who don't choose God.

      November 25, 2012 at 10:34 am |
    • JWT

      I do not believe in any god. I have no need to. I was created by my parents – no god was involved.

      Your god's rule do not and have never applied to me. There are so many man made gods what makes you think your is the one and only true god.

      At any rate my life is excellent without any gods. Its much better that ay.

      And pascals wager is full of BS.

      November 25, 2012 at 10:39 am |
    • Roger

      @Chris, actually since God does not exist (the chance if it being true is so small as to be effectively zero), we can then look at WHY people believe in a superbeing based on a series of fables that are 2000-5000 years old.

      The simple fact is that most humans are incapable of accepting how small we all really are. We are arrogant and self absorbed and thus need to believe we are special. At the same time many of us need a REASON not to give in to our baser instincts. The idea of being a good person to serve the entire race rather than to avoid going to hell is not enough for them. So they need 'God' to make them stay in line.

      As to the article, 50 shades is a HORRIBLE book. That I agree with. But to assume that intimacy cant be based upon BDSM or any other kink is just silly. If an activity brings you and your partner closer, who cares what the activity is. If rolling in a tub of jello while you rock each others worlds or dressing up like a cheerleader or getting tied up makes it special for both of you...do it!

      November 25, 2012 at 10:41 am |
    • k

      Chris: Yes, but you shouldn't choose to believe in God simply because he may exist and it's the safer of two options. Nonetheless, if He does exist (and I believe He does), then we owe everything – down to our very existence – to Him.

      November 25, 2012 at 10:42 am |
    • Chris

      @Roger "The simple fact is that most humans are incapable of accepting how small we all really are. We are arrogant and self absorbed and thus need to believe we are special." That is actually the polar opposite of what Christians believe. Really.

      November 25, 2012 at 10:47 am |
    • Chris

      @JMT of course you have "no need" to believe in God. You won't die, burn etc.. That would assume a God that created slaves. I also don't believe in the God you don't believe in.

      November 25, 2012 at 10:49 am |
    • Chris

      @k then just replace safety with Justice in Pascals Wager. It works exactly the same way and precludes any idea of "safety first".

      November 25, 2012 at 10:54 am |
    • LinCA

      @Chris

      Pascal's Wager:
      In effect, Pascal's wager states that while we can't know with absolute certainty whether the christian god exists, a rational evaluation should lead to a belief. If having to choose between believing (in the christian god), or not believing, the reward for being correct, and the price for being wrong, tips the balance in favor of believing.

      It says, if you believe and are correct, you will gain heaven, while the price for being wrong is nothing. On the other hand, if you don't believe, it says you will gain nothing for being right, yet lose everything if you are wrong. So, belief results in a win/neutral, and non-belief in a neutral/lose position, tipping the balance clearly in favor of the "belief" position.

      Why Pascal's Wager is a fallacy:
      a) Pascal's Wager assumes that there are only two options.
      b) Pascal's Wager assumes the christian god doesn't care whether someone actually believes, or simply goes through the motions.
      c) Pascal's Wager discounts the price paid for belief before death.
      d) Pascal's Wager vastly overestimates the odds for the reward and the risk of punishment.

      Positing only two options is ridiculous. There are, of course, thousands of possibilities when it comes to gods. Based on the evidence available for these gods, it is not reasonable to assume one is more likely than any of the others. To increase the odds of a positive outcome of this wager, the believer would have to believe in, and worship, every possible god. Including the ones that haven't been invented yet. Aside from the drain on the available time, it presents the problem that quite a few of these gods are pretty selfish. They frown upon believers believing in other gods. In some religions that is enough to not be eligible for the reward (making the belief position a lose/neutral one).

      Also, just going through the motions and pretending to believe may fool your community, but it can't fool an all-knowing god. It is very unlikely that anyone would gain the ultimate reward for simply faking belief (making the belief position a lose/neutral one).

      The price paid for the belief position isn't nothing. It involves going through the rituals, day after day, week after week. It may have severe side effects on physical and mental health. Sex life suffers, too.

      In estimating whether the cost of any given action is worth it, an evaluation of risk versus reward is in order.

      Risk is (simplistically) the chance that a negative event occurs, multiplied by the cost of that event. As an example, being hit by a meteorite carries a very high cost (probably death), but since the odds are extremely low, the risk associated with it is low. Similarly, the chance of getting rained on is pretty high, but the cost is very low, representing also a low risk. On the other hand the cost and chances of, and therefore the risk associated with, a traffic accident are high.

      The choice whether to mitigate a risk depends on, among other things, the severity of the risk, the cost of the mitigation and the tolerance of that risk. In the above examples, the cost to mitigate each risk are; exorbitant, low and high, respectively. Methods to reduce or eliminate the risk of meteorite impacts are cost prohibitive and far exceed the risk. An umbrella and a check of the weather forecast effectively mitigate the risk of getting rained on, and is easily worth the cost. Car crashes, and their after-effects are mitigated to various degrees by expensive technology (from street surface technology to driver training, airbags and traction control). People bear those costs to their financial ability and tolerance for the risk.

      A similar reasoning applies to reward. The choice whether to pursue a reward is guided by the perception value of the reward, the perception of the odds of gaining the reward and the cost to pursue it.

      In the belief versus non-belief question, believers tend to irrationally overestimate both the reward for belief, and the risk associated with non-belief.

      November 25, 2012 at 10:58 am |
    • Sam Stone

      You call yourself SciGuy and then post that drivel?

      November 25, 2012 at 11:01 am |
    • Chris

      I tried reading your long post but stopped after the "religion is bad for you" comment. You just made that up.

      November 25, 2012 at 11:10 am |
    • LinCA

      @Chris

      You said, "I tried reading your long post but stopped after the "religion is bad for you" comment."
      That seems to be a prevailing trait among believers. Close your ears, eyes and mind if you encounter something you don't particularly like. It's willful ignorance, and pretty much sums up the mindset of the otherwise intelligent believer.

      November 25, 2012 at 11:45 am |
    • SciGuy

      Sam, I posted truth; you call it drivel. Yes I am a scientist, and, yes I call myself for that reason sciGuy.

      November 25, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
  15. Sam

    Yes. Thank you, Shannon.

    November 25, 2012 at 10:17 am |
  16. Dreaming

    My partner and I are disabled and are not *traditionally* intimate..meaning, we are all about intimacy and being together in every other way except what is ruthlessly peddled in those *little blue pill* ads. It took most of a lifetime of being looked-over and isolated for us to find one another at ages 50 and 61, and I am responding to this editorial to tell you this: If you are alive, breathing, and able to give a bit of your heart to another human without set expectations on what the returns will look like, or feel like- love will find a way. Do not ever give up.

    November 25, 2012 at 10:05 am |
    • lionlylamb

      Dreaming,

      I'm 57 nearing 8 and I am single but twice divorced. Content is what I am now feeling and do no more linger my mind to seek a mate of physical essences. I love to read others words of wittiness here at CNN's belief blogs! I do so believe in God and all his Sons and Daughters. Where these Godly children reside is inside our body-like buildings as it is so written inside the Jewish based Gospel declaring rather bluntly, 1Corinthians 3:9 "For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, [ye are] God's building!" and also, Luke 17:21, "The kingdom of God is inside you!" If my religious stance is found out being illed or wrongly percieved I will then make amends but till date no one has called me out yet many have declared my to be looney tuned!

      November 25, 2012 at 10:34 am |
    • janetlaw

      You have more brains and soul than the author and these posters put together!

      November 25, 2012 at 10:37 am |
  17. CJ

    It cracks me up when people say that God has not spoken to them and you can't believe in something that cannot be defined. Let me ask you this...have you ever seen the air that you breathe? (well..maybe if you live in LA). Yet you know it is there. Do not put people down for their religious beliefs. Atheism is a religion as well.

    November 25, 2012 at 10:05 am |
    • jk

      Air can easily be defined, as well as seen, tested and experimented upon. Your argument is based on ignorance.

      November 25, 2012 at 10:08 am |
    • advocatusdiaboli

      Atheism is decidedly not a religion because it is not based on faith, which all religions are based upon. Rather it is more like science because based on factual evidence. Because we don't see the air we breathe, ancient man didn't know what it was or that it even existed until science showed the way. Science helps us see the invisible, feel the un-feelable, smell the un-smellable, etc., etc. But yet it has never shown evidence of a deity. The reason for that is man, in his weakness needing answers, makes deities up to fill the gap in his knowledge rather than admit it is unknown and strive using science to find an answer based on facts.

      November 25, 2012 at 10:12 am |
    • teatbagtime

      If Atheism is a religion it is the only true religion and the rest of them worship false gods.

      November 25, 2012 at 10:14 am |
    • reality

      The fact that you can't 'see' air is so thmehow your evidence for a supreme invisible man made deity? Wow. I can't hear colors therefore I now believe in Zeus.

      November 25, 2012 at 10:16 am |
    • deadlyserious

      Atheism is a religion like "Off" is a TV channel.

      November 25, 2012 at 10:16 am |
    • Lilith

      A stegasaurus orbiting Pluto has also NOT spoken to me so therefore it IS real? You just don't seem to understand the concept of probability or reality for that matter.

      November 25, 2012 at 10:18 am |
    • larkwoodgirl

      advocatusdiaboli I completely disagree. Faith has absolutely nothing to do with religion. My grandmother used to say that the true temple of the Lord is the heart of the believer. Organized religions have little to do with actual faith..

      November 25, 2012 at 10:21 am |
    • deadlyserious

      larkwood,

      Some religions (mostly forms of Buddhism) are not faith-based. But if you believe in any supreme deity, then you're taking that entirely on faith.

      November 25, 2012 at 10:25 am |
    • Chris

      Atheism is not a religions because it means nothing. But the truth is most Atheists believe in the religion of science. Science as the answer to objective reality is simply a replacement for God as the answer to objective reality. One that puts man in the place of God. Hmmmm....where have I heard that before?

      November 25, 2012 at 10:39 am |
    • deadlyserious

      I don't know, Chris. Where have you heard that before?

      Also, atheists don't worship science. But we do tend to use it to understand the world around us. You know, understanding the world through observation and rational conclusion, rather than through believing everything that an old book of myths tells us.

      November 25, 2012 at 10:46 am |
    • Moby Schtick

      @Chris

      Fail hard much?

      1. Atheism "means something." It means "person who does not believe in any gods."
      2. An "ism" can means something, and not be a religion.
      3. Science is not a religion. It is a methodology that works by exclusion. Hypotheses are considered and excluded for a more complete and predictive model of reality. The more that is excluded from the definition, the more predictive the model, the more solid the theory.
      4. Science is not an "answer." Science is a method of dealing logically with measurement and testable experimentation.
      5. Science does not "put man in the place of god" because science doesn't deal with things/beings that cannot be tested or measured. Since god cannot be tested and measured, science doesn't make any claims about god.
      .
      Hmmm... where I have I seen this sort of ignorance before? Oh, yeah, fundie christards.

      November 25, 2012 at 10:48 am |
    • LinCA

      @Chris

      You said, "Atheism is not a religions because it means nothing."
      Atheism is simply a lack of belief in deities.

      You said, "But the truth is most Atheists believe in the religion of science."
      Science isn't a religion. Science is about evidence and facts. There is nothing religious about it.

      You said, "Science as the answer to objective reality is simply a replacement for God as the answer to objective reality."
      I realize that you feel that atheists are picking on you for your silly, even infantile beliefs in your imaginary friend, but trying to claim that what atheists "believe in" is somehow equal to the delusions of believers is completely moronic. It show your complete lack of understanding of simple concepts, or your ability to ignore them.

      You said, "One that puts man in the place of God."
      Your god is nothing more than a figment of your imagination. There is no reason to believe it exists as there isn't a single shred of evidence for it. Your god is just as likely to be real as the Tooth Fairy. The only significant difference between a belief in the Tooth Fairy and your god is that parents allow their children to stop believing in one of them when they run out off teeth to trade.

      November 25, 2012 at 10:53 am |
    • lionlylamb

      Faith does run the gauntlets of all societal quandaries be they Godly or even godless and also ungodly. The stances of the Godly dares outweigh the small minded pleasings of ungodly and even the godless for their lacking sakes. For an atheist to declare themselves godlessly orientated wreaks of ungodliness traits characterized by nothing more then lacking faith in Godliness ideals. Their morbidity against God does dare challenge the Godly ideals and sanctioned governing of tenured moralisms so deemed by religious fevers fervently considered.

      November 25, 2012 at 11:16 am |
  18. REDFIREBALL

    50 Shades: "The Democrat seduction of 50 States"

    November 25, 2012 at 10:03 am |
    • pwilli

      Wow. every blog. Get over it. Your guy lost.

      November 25, 2012 at 10:19 am |
    • Chuck

      Democracy hurts you does it? Move to Cuba then.

      November 25, 2012 at 10:27 am |
  19. Doodlebug2222

    This > "Many women have a deep inner longing to be dominated by a man who’s absolutely obsessed with them."

    I just want to be in a relationship where the man sees my strength, but allows me moments of weakness – where I can be close to him, looking for support > and he not think me weak for this. I just want someone that understands my nature and can not only deal with it – but understand my natural aggression is not a bad thing if I control it. Just let me, be me – appreciate me for it but don't think me weak when I do have moments where I want to indulge in self-pity. I'm strong but I'm also human.

    November 25, 2012 at 10:02 am |
    • johnh1625

      What is this? match.com

      November 25, 2012 at 10:24 am |
    • checkmate

      Do you realize how moronic and borderline insane this sounds? Why don't you describe what you just said again in terms people can understand. Do you even know who you are or are you just babbling?

      November 25, 2012 at 10:37 am |
    • Coffeeclue

      I can see a lot of "me" in your post. That's the problem with intimacy. It really should be about what you want to do for your man. Same on the man's side. it should be what he wants to do for you.

      November 25, 2012 at 10:39 am |
    • lionlylamb

      Doodlebug2222,

      Tenderingly do pluck one's tatterings of mental subliminalities while ever wearing one's shielded commonweaalths. Cry out on your thought progressives while ever heeding upon the plugged up societal minded leaventries of aloofness. Give it one's allness and never do hold back your opinionated soundness sakes! Love the words of the otherly sided renovations if Life of living's potentials.

      November 25, 2012 at 10:51 am |
    • Fernando

      I do my thing and you do your thing.
      I am not in this world to live up to your expectations,
      And you are not in this world to live up to mine.
      You are you, and I am I,
      and if by chance we find each other, it's beautiful.
      If not, it can't be helped.

      November 25, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
  20. Zachary

    I hated 50 shades because it was so fn stupid. I feel the same about this article.

    November 25, 2012 at 10:01 am |
    • Chuck

      I feel the same. I hope no one paid Shannon Ethridge for this article.

      November 25, 2012 at 10:22 am |
    • Guest

      She writes a lot better than the author of "Shades of Grey" & she does have a reasoned stance. Put aside the shopworn arguments about religion people on this blog microfocus on & there is a lot of value in the article. Normal people can recognize that the pursuit of the purely physical in relationships does pall after emotional maturation is achieved. If you cannot recognize that...You have not gotten there yet.

      November 25, 2012 at 10:56 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.