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Godless mom strikes a chord with parents
A CNN iReport essay on raising kids without God draws record-breaking number of comments.
January 18th, 2013
06:32 PM ET

Godless mom strikes a chord with parents

By Daphne Sashin, CNN

Deborah Mitchell remembers the time, when her boys were younger, and another mom asked her about her religious beliefs.

Mitchell was raised Catholic but moved away from religion in her early 20s. She told the other mother that she didn’t go to church and didn’t even really believe in God.

Then, she says, the recruiting started.

“She used to call my house and tell me she was praying for me. She’d leave me messages and leave cards in my mailbox with scripture,” Mitchell says. “I do realize that she meant well, but at the same time, I know my views were seen as wrong. I needed to be ‘saved.’”

Mitchell, a mother of two teenagers in Texas who feels “immersed in Christianity,” started a blog about raising her children without religion because she felt frustrated and marginalized. She didn’t want to feel so alone, she says.

This week, she gained a whole new audience and the reassurance that she's not alone. Her essay on CNN iReport, “Why I Raise My Children Without God,” drew 650,000 page views, the second highest for an iReport, and the most comments of any submission on the citizen journalism platform.

It starts:

When my son was around 3 years old, he used to ask me a lot of questions about heaven. Where is it? How do people walk without a body? How will I find you? You know the questions that kids ask.

For over a year, I lied to him and made up stories that I didn’t believe about heaven. Like most parents, I love my child so much that I didn’t want him to be scared. I wanted him to feel safe and loved and full of hope. But the trade-off was that I would have to make stuff up, and I would have to brainwash him into believing stories that didn’t make sense, stories that I didn’t believe either.

Mitchell posted the essay detailing her seven reasons for raising her children without God on CNN iReport because she felt there wasn’t anyone else speaking for women or moms like her. As she sees it, children should learn to do the right things because they will feel better about themselves, not because God is watching. She asks questions like: If there was a good, all-knowing, all-powerful God, why would he allow murders, child abuse and torture?

Lots of people disagreed with her. Tons. They flagged her iReport as inappropriate and criticized CNN for linking to her essay on the CNN.com homepage. But there were plenty of others who wrote thoughtful rebuttals, respectfully disagreeing with Mitchell while not foisting their own beliefs on her. Take, for instance, a Methodist dad, who said faith can be hard to nail down, but “not to avail ourselves of the power of something we don't completely understand is silly.”

Others said Mitchell presented a simplistic view of religion.

“Presentations such as these seem to ignore a substantial percentage of believers - well-educated, compassionate, liberal folk, Christian and non-Christian alike - who, I feel, are able to worship without being blind to the realities of the world, or without lying to their children about their understanding of these complexities,” wrote commenter RMooradian. “I'll be raising my children with God, but I understand those who cannot!”

But Mitchell’s essay also struck a chord with hundreds of like-minded parents raising children in a world where lack of belief puts them in the minority, often even in their own family.

“Thank you for writing this. I agree with everything you say, but I’m not brave enough to tell everyone I know this is how I feel,” a woman who called herself an “agnostic mommy of two in Alabama” posted in the comments. “Thank you for your bravery and letting me know I’m not alone.”

It’s a growing group. One in five Americans is not affiliated with any religion, and that number has grown by 25% in the past five years, according to a survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Of that group, 88% said they were not looking for religion, although 68% of the unaffiliated said they believe in God. 

Brittany Branyon, an American graduate student and substitute teacher living in Germany, was also compelled to express her thanks to Mitchell. Branyon was raised Southern Baptist in Georgia and Alabama. In high school, when she began to question the theory of creation and befriended gay and lesbian students, she says her mother tried to perform an exorcism.

“She opened all the windows and doors in the house, brought me to the door, held my shoulders and shook me while screaming, ‘Satan, get out of this child!’, ‘Satan, leave this child alone!’.”

After moving away from the South, she and her husband “became more comfortable in our secular ways,” but still take criticism from family members. They are now expecting their first child.

“Though we are elated to welcome our child into the world, we can’t help but dread the religious uproar that is to come from our families,” she wrote in an e-mail.

Such an uproar is familiar to Carol Phillips, a stay-at-home mother in northern Virginia. When she gave birth to her first child, she said her family was shocked that the baby wasn’t baptized. She said her mother-in-law cried and told her the little girl’s soul would not go to heaven.

Then there are the comments from strangers. Last year, Phillips said she and her daughter were at a birthday party when a tornado warning sounded.

“We were all in the basement keeping safe. A little girl was saying baby Jesus will keep us safe. My daughter asked who Jesus was. The rest of the time was spent hearing ‘I'll pray for you sweetie, we can take you to church with us if you want,’” Phillips told CNN.

Commenting on Mitchell’s iReport, Phillips said, “To live out loud and to speak freely about my beliefs brings many clucking tongues. I would think it’s easier to come out as gay than atheist.”

Mitchell said she spent years studying the history of religion and does believe it has “an important place in our community.” She has told her children that she’ll be fine if they decide to join a church when they are older.

She ended her essay:

I understand why people need God. I understand why people need heaven. It is terrifying to think that we are all alone in this universe, that one day we—along with the children we love so much—will cease to exist. The idea of God and an afterlife gives many of us structure, community and hope.

I do not want religion to go away. I only want religion to be kept at home or in church where it belongs. It’s a personal effect, like a toothbrush or a pair of shoes. It’s not something to be used or worn by strangers. I want my children to be free not to believe and to know that our schools and our government will make decisions based on what is logical, just and fair—not on what they believe an imaginary God wants.

After her post ran on CNN, Mitchell said she was encouraged by the number of people who agreed with her, or who disagreed but wanted to have a respectful discussion.

“I’m not saying that everybody should think how I do. I’m saying the people that do should have a place in our society and have acceptance and respect,” she said. “I just want to have children grow up and be able to not be afraid to say ‘I don’t believe that,’ or ‘I’m not part of that.’” 

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Atheism • Belief • Christianity • iReport

soundoff (15,081 Responses)
  1. Robert

    Believing in God is all about faith. In the Old Testament God made laws which man could not follow. So, he sent his son Jesus to save us. Grace is what saves us now. I am a believer, obviously. The question I always ask a non-believer is..... What do you have to lose by believing in GOD? If you believe that we die and there is nothing in the after life; then why would you not believe that there is a God? What do you have to lose? Nothing!!!!! Because in "your mind" nothing going to happen anyway. But if there is a God you have alot to lose. This is not why I believe, but I also would rather believe and lose nothing then not believe and lose everything. Also if you read the Bible and go to bible study your knowledge and understanding will grow. This in turn leads to your faith growing and in turn answers alot of the questions and doubts that non-believers have. Fear and ignorance is the number 1 reason someone does not believe. I ask again what do you have to lose? If your right nothing If there is a God everything!!!!!!

    January 23, 2013 at 6:49 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      Pascal's Wager is a stupid argument for many reasons and so it has been soundly refuted many times before today.

      January 23, 2013 at 6:54 pm |
    • Bet

      If Pascal's Wager is the best you can do, don't be surprised when you get ignored.

      January 23, 2013 at 6:55 pm |
    • Chuckles

      @Robert

      Bad question for 2 reasons.

      1) Technically the same question can be applied to every religion, and if one religion is right, but its not yours, who do you think god(s) will be angrier at? The guy who deliberitly chose to worship a different deity or the guy who didn't worship anything?

      2) Your god, the guy that can read peoples minds, would obviously know my "belief" would not be sincere if I chose to believe simply to get a ticket into heaven on the off chance I was right.

      That's a bad question.

      January 23, 2013 at 6:57 pm |
  2. Marie

    Why can't I get any good answers?

    January 23, 2013 at 6:47 pm |
    • Susan StoHelit

      Where did the the thetans in your body come from? Really – why can't you answer that?

      January 23, 2013 at 6:48 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      Because you can't determine what is or is not a good question or what is or is not a good answer. I've given you the CORRECT answers no matter how "good" or "bad" you think they are: We don't know.

      January 23, 2013 at 6:48 pm |
    • Chuckles

      busy busy busy

      January 23, 2013 at 6:53 pm |
  3. Marie

    Why was there quantum fluctuation?

    January 23, 2013 at 6:40 pm |
    • Chuckles

      "Wampeters come and wampeters go"

      –Book of Bokonon

      January 23, 2013 at 6:44 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      Holy Sh!t a Bokononist!! Best fvcking post on the belief blog, ever!

      January 23, 2013 at 6:47 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Duhrie, are your posts supposed to mean something? If so, what?

      You think your sky-fairy is the answer to everything we don't yet know?

      Are you aware that in the middle ages people believed that disease was caused by "humours" in the blood? That physicians didn't know there were germs on their hands after examining women with "childbed fever" and unwittingly transmitted the infection to the next woman they examined because they didn't know enough to wash their hands?

      Intelligent people who don't know things try to solve mysteries by researching and studying. They don't just yap "It wuz gawd."

      January 23, 2013 at 6:48 pm |
    • Call'em as I see'em

      Duhrie, just to let you know. Only a jack@ss would say "They don't just yap "It wuz gawd."" and think it was part of a clever comment.

      January 23, 2013 at 6:52 pm |
    • Bet

      Why was there a quantum of solace?

      January 23, 2013 at 6:53 pm |
    • Chuckles

      @Moby Shtick

      Thanks!! Always great to see a fellow Bokononist!

      January 23, 2013 at 6:59 pm |
  4. cooper

    how do you get to this blog ever since they took the ladies picture off the main page of cnn.com? is there a link anymore?

    January 23, 2013 at 6:37 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      Opinion section: Belief subsection.

      Also, check for most recent posts on the right side of your screen to see the most recent comments on the Belief blog.

      January 23, 2013 at 6:39 pm |
  5. Marie

    Why was there singularity?

    January 23, 2013 at 6:36 pm |
    • Susan StoHelit

      Where did the the thetans in your body come from?

      January 23, 2013 at 6:39 pm |
    • End Religion

      Because 'dubularity' is not a word.

      January 23, 2013 at 6:41 pm |
  6. Marie

    Why is there freedom of inquiry?

    January 23, 2013 at 6:34 pm |
    • Muh-ree

      Why is there inquiry of freedom?!?

      January 23, 2013 at 6:35 pm |
    • Chuckles

      TROLL!!!!! TROLL IN THE DUNGEON!!!!

      Thought you'd like to know

      –Professor Quirrell

      January 23, 2013 at 6:36 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Why do you have a computer? Someone like you is too dumb to earn the money to buy one. Does it belong to your mommy? Or are you posting from the public library?

      January 23, 2013 at 6:36 pm |
  7. Muh-ree

    How is orange?

    January 23, 2013 at 6:32 pm |
    • Saraswati

      Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.

      January 23, 2013 at 6:34 pm |
  8. Muh-ree

    Why is fourteen?

    January 23, 2013 at 6:32 pm |
    • Chuckles

      I love lamp

      January 23, 2013 at 6:34 pm |
    • Omphaloskepsis

      Inny or outie?... and how has it changed your life?

      January 23, 2013 at 6:41 pm |
  9. Marie

    Why isn't it a valid question?

    January 23, 2013 at 6:26 pm |
    • Chuckles

      a) learn to use the reply button

      b) it's not valid because you're asking a question that doesn't nor should be asked in the first place. "Why is there matter" implies that there's an answer and that someone or something had a spcific reason when matter was created. As far as we know, the singularity from which all matter comes from occured and that's it, the "why" of it all can be philisophicle in nature but can't be answered sceintifically.

      January 23, 2013 at 6:29 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      If you think your answer is valid than prove it by offering a method to verify that it is the correct answer. Otherwise, the correct answer is: We don't know.

      Next.

      January 23, 2013 at 6:29 pm |
  10. Marie

    Why can't I get a satisfactory answer to a very valid question?

    January 23, 2013 at 6:24 pm |
    • Chuckles

      It's not a valid question. Just because you want to asign meaning to matter needing a "why" does not make it so.

      January 23, 2013 at 6:25 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      I'm giving you the CORRECT answer each time. We don't know. Deal with it.

      January 23, 2013 at 6:26 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      What is the "matter" with you, Marie?

      January 23, 2013 at 6:29 pm |
    • Susan StoHelit

      The same reason you couldn't answer a scientologist who wanted you to answer the very valid question of where the thetans in your body came from without Xenu.

      January 23, 2013 at 6:35 pm |
  11. micky

    Festival Consecration by Moses
    1400 BC Nisan 14 passover-sacrifice unblemished lamb (blood on doorpost set apart israel as Gods elect)
    Nisan 15-21 Unleavened Bread Festival leaven represents sin
    Nisan 16 (sunday) First fruits Festival

    Jesus was crucified on passover, resurrected on first fruits, and ascended 49 days later on the festival of feast of weeks.
    Moses was foreshadowing the covenant that would be fulfilled for the atonement of mans soul. by the Lamb of God, who was slain as Israel rejected him, and crucified him while they were preparing their unblemished lambs, sacrificing them for the passover festival. He went through the roman courts, and this was God's divine will, to atone for the sin of the world.

    January 23, 2013 at 6:23 pm |
  12. Marie

    Why doesn't anyone know why there is matter?

    January 23, 2013 at 6:23 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      For the same reason we don't know why the laws of physics act as they do. They're called "mysteries" if you're wondering.

      January 23, 2013 at 6:25 pm |
    • Susan StoHelit

      The same reason you couldn't answer a scientologist who wanted you to answer the very valid question of where the thetans in your body came from without Xenu.

      January 23, 2013 at 6:38 pm |
    • Aaron

      Hi Marie,

      The answer to your question is because there is anti-matter..... Zin

      January 23, 2013 at 6:55 pm |
    • Aaron

      the alternative answer would be that there is no matter but only the perception that it exists, but hey....what the bleep do we know! ;)

      January 23, 2013 at 6:56 pm |
  13. micky

    Festival Consecration by Moses
    1400 BC Nisan 14 passover-sacrifice unblemished lamb (blood on doorpost set apart israel as Gods elect)
    Nisan 15-21 Unleavened Bread Festival leaven represents sin

    January 23, 2013 at 6:18 pm |
  14. Marie

    Why is there matter?

    January 23, 2013 at 6:18 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      No one knows. Next.

      January 23, 2013 at 6:20 pm |
    • Chuckles

      ugh

      you again

      go away troll.

      January 23, 2013 at 6:20 pm |
    • Moby Schtick's Heckler

      Big invisible sky daddy wizard did it with magic spellzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz!!!!!! Yay!!

      January 23, 2013 at 6:21 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Oh, gee, Veronica thought up a new name. Same stupidity, though. You've already been told that not know all doesn't mean "goddidit," twit.

      January 23, 2013 at 6:25 pm |
    • Susan StoHelit

      Where did the thetans in your body come from?

      January 23, 2013 at 6:37 pm |
  15. Susan StoHelit

    It's one thing I think people who are believers don't get here. Some people just don't get why the nonbelievers can't just teach what they like and otherwise stay in our cozy little closet, not bother them.

    Many places, far too many, if you come out of that cozy little closet, if your poor little child slips up and doesn't agree that Jesus is lord, doesn't talk about heaven and hell, angels and demons, doesn't agree with the other kids about atheists being evil baby eaters – your kids can lose all their friends, be bullied, be outcasts, you can lose your job, lose all real chance for a promotion, you can find all kinds of discrimination, both social (acceptable – people don't have to socialize iwth you if they don't want to – but sad and isolating) and financial and worse.

    It's time for us to stop having to sit in that closet. To stop having Christians act like our beliefs are something we should shut up about and be ashamed of. You've reasons why you believe in God – but one mother writing her reasons why she doesn't – and there's some hundred thousand posts of people saying what a horrible mother she is, how hateful, how it's an insult to every Christian (never mind she merely gave HER reasons she didn't believe, didn't say one word about Christians)and other varying attacks and insults. It's not right. You can say your reasons you do, and it's so bland, it's unremarkable. One person gives her reasons – and it's a massive battle, with Christians attempting to censor and remove the post that merely gives one woman's beliefs about why she has chosen to raise her children differently.

    January 23, 2013 at 6:13 pm |
  16. Sue

    Stop throwing pearls before swines. Unbelievers are smart and have endless ammunition in debates. Present the gospel when it is appropriate and then be quiet. You can win an argument and lose at the same time.

    January 23, 2013 at 6:04 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      It's "pearlses before swinses." Get it right.

      January 23, 2013 at 6:08 pm |
    • Calgon

      Sue,

      Trouble is, you don't have verified 'pearls'. You have those opalescent, sweet-smelling, oily bath beads which melt when dissolved in water.

      January 23, 2013 at 6:26 pm |
    • End Religion

      What has it gots in its pocketses?

      January 23, 2013 at 6:38 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Sue, do you call two deer "deers"?

      It's "swine." Not "swines."

      January 23, 2013 at 6:40 pm |
    • FS

      Attacking the grammar instead of the point....WOW...very good everybody. I bet your debate teachers are soooo proud. ;)

      January 24, 2013 at 7:59 pm |
  17. confused but not xtian

    I am a confused person who does not believe in the traditional definition of god/religion but understand why people would want to believe. I was not brought up in an Abrahamic faith. My biggest problem with "god-believers" is that they only believe in their god. I had a xtian friend tell me once that even if I chose to believe I would be believing in a false god unless I chose xtianity. I am sorry there is a dichotomy in that. In my opinion, a lot of people have a problem not with you being non-god believing but with you non-believing their god.

    January 23, 2013 at 6:02 pm |
  18. Raised without religion

    Truthfully, I don't see what any of the arguing is doing. If someone chooses to believe in God, then they choose so. If they are raised to believe in him, then they are. If they don't believe, then they don't. But no amount of arguing or putting people down for "not knowing the truth" is going to change anyone else's minds. It is ignorant that people are bashing others for not believing as they do. Not everyone will think the same, like the same things, or believe in the same beings. GET OVER IT. People are free to believe whatever they want. If one of my children decides that they want to be atheist and the other decides to follow Catholicism or Christianity (heck, they could decide to become a Buddhist!), then I will gladly support them both...because THEY chose for THEMSELVES. Not because I forced it on them.

    I fully support what Mitchell has done, because she chose to do so on her own.

    January 23, 2013 at 5:59 pm |
  19. Eric Quigley

    And people wonder why this world is in the shape it is in. No one ever went on a shooting rampage because someone tried to share the gospel with them or because someone put a bible tract on their windshield. People now more than ever are alienated, lonely, bitter, and antisocial because they are empty inside.

    January 23, 2013 at 5:52 pm |
    • Athy

      How do you know? Have you asked anyone why they are alienated, lonely and bitter?

      January 23, 2013 at 5:55 pm |
    • Susan StoHelit

      Ummmm – one of the previous worst school shootings was at an Amish school – I can guarantee you the shooter and the school had god in it. There's actually more crime in the more religious areas, and less where there is less religion.

      January 23, 2013 at 5:58 pm |
    • End Religion

      Quigmeister, you failed History, didn't you? No religious person/group has ever gone on a killing spree? You've got to be kidding me...

      January 23, 2013 at 6:51 pm |
  20. akorage

    The "ALL EVIDENTIARY FACT" that "NO ONE" standing on planet earth today can atest to havien SEEN God is a complete reason in itself to understand the CLAIMS of any one on the pulpit or claiming out there to be a better person than the next door neighbor who does not subscribe to same ideology(belief). Religious belief is the Central Anchor of the human being. Without it most are lost and hollow.i It is a place of hope and last resort. Something however is greater than our individual beliefs and that is "what you do to your neighbor". Treat their neighbor as you would want them to treat you. "IF" there is a God.... that would it on earth. My question to the "Religious" out there who think "this mother" needs to find God is.."Do you know who your neighbor on planet earth is"? If you don't, how then can you know God, let alone have her/him in your lives? It is very enlightning to hear folks very further away from the "Truth" called God claim they know him/her. Look in the mirror of your being and finally see the "Faux Truth" you proclaim. The real truth is a majority of you are very far from the Light. The Light is in you if you can see it but most will claim it but NEVER see it because they are waiting to meet it after their transition from this consciousness. Look at all the wars in the world. Look at the Bible Belt and the Love of Guns. Then Look at yourself to see who you really are before you talk about t"he "Godless Mother". All in all, I think she is closer to God than most of you trying to convert her. She raises her children to see the goodness in their neighbors. That is "Godliness" in the profound sense. >>>>>Find the Light in You and you will finally see God on earth. PEACE PROFOUND!!!

    January 23, 2013 at 5:51 pm |
    • ScotticusRex

      Actually, quite a few people claim to have seen God. Check this out: http://near-death.com

      January 23, 2013 at 6:44 pm |
    • End Religion

      Ako: did you just argue for and then against god? That post was anything but profound. I feel dumber for having looked at it.

      January 23, 2013 at 6:54 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.