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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. God & Religion is Personal

    My husband and I were both raised Catholic but in different ways. We do not go to church nor believe that we have to. We currently have one child and will not be raising him or any other children with any beliefs in a God or a particular religion. Believing or not believing is a personal decision. I think that if you really think about it, there could be as many Gods and religions as there are people. The reason for this is that no two people think exactly the same way. Even though there are different organized religions out there to choose from, are there even just two people that believe and live EXACTLY the way that their particular religion says that they should? We are all individuals and are all able to think and decide for ourselves on many issues, including this one.

    January 23, 2013 at 7:46 pm |
    • Zippy D. Doodaa

      What you just said is that everyone invents their own god. I agree, but of course that means that god is a human invention.

      January 23, 2013 at 7:48 pm |
  2. Greg

    Thank God (or whatever?) for honest people like Deborah Mitchell

    January 23, 2013 at 7:36 pm |
  3. 1word

    Everyone has to prove God exist to themselves. You can choose not to believe but that won't change the fact you will answer to him when you die. If you have any doubts that can be true I suggest you prove God exist or not. Seek him with all your heart, give your life to him and he will reveal himself to you. I did it and no one can tell me he does not exist. I know him for myself!

    January 23, 2013 at 7:35 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      So believe then you'll be given "evidence" to believe. Ever hear of confirmatory bias?
      Not to mention veiled threats of "believe or else".

      January 23, 2013 at 7:37 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      I followed your method and came to the opposite conclusion.

      January 23, 2013 at 7:37 pm |
    • Zippy D. Doodaa

      So if I find Jesus, I turn into as big a moron as you?

      Not as good a sales pitch as you probably thought it was.

      January 23, 2013 at 7:38 pm |
    • 1word

      Moby Schtick

      I followed your method and came to the opposite conclusion.

      I find that hard to believe, no one can seek God with all their heart and he not reveal himself to them. His Word will stand forever and he will not lie. So try again.

      January 23, 2013 at 7:39 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      @1word

      Are you actually Ray Comfort? Are you going to start talking about bananas and soda cans?

      January 23, 2013 at 7:41 pm |
    • Zippy D. Doodaa

      Seek God with all your heart = ignore reality and fantasize like crazy.

      January 23, 2013 at 7:42 pm |
    • Oh Ya!

      I can and will tell you he does not exist. The whole bible babble of BS is a complilation of Yahew, Mithra, Dionysus and a few others, man made stories to try and explain the creation of mankind, got it. The dozens of other god guys and gals complete with their own creation myths are just as believable or not. Why restrict yourself to just one myth?

      January 23, 2013 at 7:47 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      @1Word

      Agreed. The method is great and works well and like any great method it gives consistent results. The more I seek god, the more I find he doesn't exist and is unlikely to exist in any way like you describe. I join with you in preaching your fantastic method. Just because you came to the wrong conclusion doesn't mean that others will reason incorrectly as you do. Keep up the great work.

      January 23, 2013 at 7:50 pm |
    • GodFreeNow

      "Everyone has to prove God exist to themselves." It's not proof if it only exists in your imagination.

      January 23, 2013 at 7:51 pm |
    • Bet

      Everyone has to prove God exist to themselves..

      Nope.

      January 23, 2013 at 7:56 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Was it just too difficult to type an 's' on the end of 'exist', 1 brain cell? Or did you think that was the correct term?

      Nobody "has" to do anything of the sort, you twerp.

      January 23, 2013 at 10:25 pm |
    • Fallacy Spotting 101

      Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son commits the fallacy of Argumentum ad Hominem (Argument against the man)

      Attacking grammar is another variation of this common fallacy. One that Tom commits a lot of on here.

      January 24, 2013 at 7:53 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      And? If you don't like it, don't write like a bumpkin.

      January 24, 2013 at 7:56 pm |
    • Fallacy Spotting 101

      And nothing....just pointing out a flaw in your debate style. You do not get this upset when other people's fallacies are pointed out do you?

      January 24, 2013 at 8:02 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      I'm not upset. Just amused that you think it's somehow a fallacy to point out that someone who can't manage to convey a thought is pontificating about the meaning of the Bible.

      January 24, 2013 at 8:05 pm |
    • Fallacy Spotting 101

      It's not "thinking" it is a fallacy. It is a fallacy.
      While pointing out spelling or grammar errors might make sense in an English class, this is a informal debate forum. By pointing out grammar or spelling errors but ignoring the actual point of a statement, you are in error. At least from a debate perspective.

      January 24, 2013 at 8:08 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Oh, gee. Sez you. Sue me.

      January 24, 2013 at 8:09 pm |
    • Fallacy Spotting

      Sue you? Hardly seems worth the time when the facts are all on my side here. But if you wish to continue to make the same fallacies, it's your right as a typical run of the mill cnn board commentor.

      January 24, 2013 at 8:14 pm |
  4. Marie

    Oh why oh why oh why oh did I ever leave Ohio?

    January 23, 2013 at 7:32 pm |
    • ¿¿lol

      So you could see if there was something out there in the world more entertaining than beard-cutting Amish?

      January 23, 2013 at 10:18 pm |
  5. Marie

    Why am I so stupid?

    January 23, 2013 at 7:30 pm |
  6. Marie

    Why do scientists ask questions?

    January 23, 2013 at 7:29 pm |
  7. Marie

    Why do people ask questions?

    January 23, 2013 at 7:28 pm |
    • Honey Hush

      Why are you a complete waste of DNA?

      January 23, 2013 at 7:33 pm |
  8. Marie

    Why can't I get serious answers to my questions?

    January 23, 2013 at 7:25 pm |
    • Thusly so

      Because you are begging the question, a logical fallacy that discredits you.

      January 23, 2013 at 7:27 pm |
    • Chuckles

      Because usally serious questions get serious answers. Conversly silly questions get silly answers.

      January 23, 2013 at 7:28 pm |
    • Susan StoHelit

      Ask a serious question, get a serious answer. Listen to the answer, and it works even better.

      January 23, 2013 at 7:29 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      @Marie

      Thusly and Chuckles are right. You're asking questions in ways that assumes your conclusion. Why is there gravity makes no sense. How does gravity work? What generates gravitational fields. How are gravitational fields generated from mass? These are good questions. And the answer is we don't know how gravity is generated, but that doesn't make "god done it" the default answer.

      January 23, 2013 at 7:31 pm |
    • GodFreeNow

      There are lots of serious answers out there. Try google.

      January 23, 2013 at 7:49 pm |
    • JustTheFacts

      Because if you post on a forum where only stupid people exist, you'll only get stupid answers. I learned that a looong time ago...

      January 23, 2013 at 9:11 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      And there is no one more stupid than JustTheFacts. JustTheFacts(Not), how are you doing with providing your plenty of evidence for your god? I don't think you have anything but a broken brain.

      January 24, 2013 at 2:40 am |
  9. Marie

    The cool thing about being home schooled is that I got to ignore science and pretend that natural phenomena are caused by my magic invisible man in the sky.

    January 23, 2013 at 7:23 pm |
  10. Marie

    Why is there gravity?

    January 23, 2013 at 7:21 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      God?

      January 23, 2013 at 7:23 pm |
    • Well Obviously . . .

      I'm thinking that Super InvisoBuddy is Marie's answer for everything.

      January 23, 2013 at 7:25 pm |
    • None

      We know exactly what causes gravity. Just because you don't understand basic physics, doesn't mean that "god" did it.

      January 23, 2013 at 7:47 pm |
    • JustTheFacts

      That's easy. Because it's what God wanted...

      January 23, 2013 at 9:13 pm |
    • ¿¿lol

      Because not everything in life can be flippant.

      January 23, 2013 at 10:21 pm |
  11. mom on amission

    ew CNN! now do a story on the benefits of raising your children with God! I would call you all idiots BUT I will pray for you instead.

    January 23, 2013 at 7:20 pm |
    • Saraswati

      Here's the current "why I returned to church" story if it makes you feel better.

      http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/05/05/my-faith-returning-to-church-despite-my-doubts/

      January 23, 2013 at 7:25 pm |
    • Susan StoHelit

      They already did one.

      But I'd bet you didn't even look to see it, before you criticized them.

      January 23, 2013 at 7:39 pm |
    • mom on amission

      sorry...still praying...

      January 23, 2013 at 7:55 pm |
    • LinCA

      @mom on amission

      You said, "I would call you all idiots BUT I will pray for you instead."
      You can go ahead and pray for us. We'll do the thinking for you.

      You are free to remain blissfully ignorant and keep your infantile beliefs in your god. But anyone who has the ability to rationally evaluate the available evidence for it, will inevitably come to the conclusion it isn't any more like to exist than the Tooth fairy or the Easter Bunny.

      Telling your children there is such a creature is exactly the same as insisting the Tooth Fairy is real.

      January 23, 2013 at 8:04 pm |
    • mom on amission

      the word 'ignorant' is getting old

      January 23, 2013 at 9:03 pm |
    • LinCA

      @mom on amission

      What is "amission"?

      You said, "the word 'ignorant' is getting old"
      How else would you like me to call adults that still believe in creatures like the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny? Even Santa Claus, the Loch Ness Monster and the Abominable Snowman are more likely to exist than your god. You seem to be either unwilling, or unable to see why your imaginary friend is just that, imaginary.

      If you don't want to be shown to be ignorant, how about you do something about it?

      January 24, 2013 at 10:49 am |
    • justin

      why would you call cnn idiots? I suppose you could call them bias for not publishing an opposite view, but certainly not idiots.

      January 24, 2013 at 1:15 pm |
  12. 15243@#!^

    Where the hell is it, hell ? Can't seem to find it anywhere .

    January 23, 2013 at 7:19 pm |
    • Michael

      https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151384066568738&set=p.10151384066568738&type=1&theater

      January 23, 2013 at 7:45 pm |
  13. Marie

    Why are there galaxies?

    January 23, 2013 at 7:17 pm |
    • GodFreeNow

      So stars have a place to call home, if you a poetic personality. Otherwise, gravity.

      January 23, 2013 at 7:18 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      The laws of physics. Basically, the intergalactic gravitational web and the way the four fundamental forces act to give rise to matter/energy.

      January 23, 2013 at 7:19 pm |
    • Obviously because . . .

      There are galaxies because . . . Super InvisoBuddy made them!!!!

      January 23, 2013 at 7:20 pm |
    • ¿¿lol

      Because Ford is tough – built to last.

      January 23, 2013 at 10:23 pm |
  14. Marie

    Why are there stars?

    January 23, 2013 at 7:13 pm |
  15. Marie

    Why are there atoms?

    January 23, 2013 at 7:09 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      Dunno. Why?

      January 23, 2013 at 7:10 pm |
    • 2 Peter 3 :4

      you are just bored out of your mind arent you?

      January 23, 2013 at 7:11 pm |
    • Well obviously . . .

      There are atoms because . . . Super InvisoBuddy made them!!!!

      January 23, 2013 at 7:17 pm |
  16. HotAirAce

    Still waiting for delusional loud mouth believer JustTheFactsNot to produce some of the plenty of evidence for his god and lord that he claimed to have. His mommy must still have him in time out.

    January 23, 2013 at 7:06 pm |
    • 2 Peter 3 :4

      what about this verse predicting you non flood yehoos and coming up with the primitive mishap of "uniformitarianism"? thats pretty insightful.

      January 23, 2013 at 7:09 pm |
    • Bet

      What about it, micky? It's just more babble from the bible. Not insightful, not prophetic.

      January 23, 2013 at 7:13 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Go ahead – educate this poor nonbeliever. . .

      January 23, 2013 at 7:17 pm |
  17. Marie

    Why is there a universe?

    January 23, 2013 at 7:05 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      I don't know. Do you? If so, how did you verify that your answer is correct?

      January 23, 2013 at 7:06 pm |
    • dnsbubba

      Go here, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EjaGktVQdNg, it's an hour long but it'll answer your question, if you're really interested.

      January 23, 2013 at 7:16 pm |
    • Fred

      Why does there have to be a why?

      January 23, 2013 at 7:22 pm |
  18. 2 Peter 3 :4

    knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, "Where is the promise of His coming? For Since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning " (uniformitarianism, god is absent, no catastrophe). For this they willingly forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water.

    find someone or some literature about uniformitarianism that predates this prophecy.

    January 23, 2013 at 7:04 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      LOL so you point to a "prophesy" that has been happening for the past 2000 years. Gosh that's some build-up.
      Christianity, 2000 years of "any day now".

      January 23, 2013 at 7:07 pm |
    • Bet

      @ micky

      This isn't a prophecy, it's just a bunch of babble. It has nothing to do with uniformitarianism, no matter what name you post under.

      January 23, 2013 at 7:08 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      It's so freaking broad in scope it's like me saying:
      "In the end times, there will be rain, and people will pray."
      Then I call it a freaking prophesy. It's plain stupid.

      January 23, 2013 at 7:14 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      "And yay, verily, it shall come to pass that in that time darkness shall be upon the face of the earth for about half the day and there shall be wars in diverse places and those that seek power and vengeance upon those who they believe have done them wrong."

      duuuuuuuhhhhhhhhh!

      January 23, 2013 at 7:16 pm |
    • 2 Peter 3 :4

      no but really, its talking about scoffers who say "all things will continue just as they have been from the beginning and deny the flood" and then lyell and his sidekick hutton in the 18th centure started you all off with your unitiformitarianism , and this one is a winner. ring the bell get a prize.

      January 23, 2013 at 7:18 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      @Peter

      Pssst. Here's a hint. Those who don't already agree with you give a flying backward fuck what your big book of multiple choice says.

      January 23, 2013 at 7:23 pm |
    • 2 Peter 3 :4

      ok people, he refers to the uniformitarian theory. does he not? i am asking YOU can you FIND something on uniformitarianism, that predates the book of Peter? or anything close? how close can you get? in that day cultures world wide had an ancient flood theory. they didnt have the uniformitarian theory untill 1800 how long have there been scientists?

      January 23, 2013 at 7:24 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      @Peter

      "they didnt have the uniformitarian theory untill 1800 how long have there been scientists?"
      It depends. Are you asking how long people have been trying to figure things out, or how long has the current scientific method been used freely without the church threatening imprisonment for heresy if anything was found to conflict with church doctrine?

      January 23, 2013 at 7:27 pm |
    • Bet

      No, micky, this does not refer to uniformitarianism. It's a general statement that god will come back, really he will, I know I've said this before and nothing happened but this time I'm telling you the truth so kwicherbichin. And be on the lookout for people who don't believe the same way, because that's a sure sign that god is coming back! Soon! Really!

      January 23, 2013 at 7:31 pm |
    • Susan StoHelit

      People described many things before we had a scientific term for them – because everything existed before the scientific term.

      There were fetuses before we had that term, and they were described back then. All he's describing is people saying the world has always existed, and what type of idiots do you take us for – no surprise people like that existed then, and continue to do so now. I hope you're not so easily convinced in your everyday life.

      January 23, 2013 at 7:33 pm |
    • 2 Peter 3 :4

      then maybe Peter was the father of uniformitarianism and lyell and hutton borrowed his work. But I believe the flood is in fact undeniable. and this verse holds an incredible amount of water..

      January 23, 2013 at 7:34 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      @Peter

      There was no global flood. There is absolutely no evidence to support that concept.

      January 23, 2013 at 7:39 pm |
    • Bet

      then maybe Peter was the father of uniformitarianism and lyell and hutton borrowed his work

      This post gets funnier and funnier.

      January 23, 2013 at 7:59 pm |
  19. alur

    If you have the need to keep the delusion of god, keep it to yourself. Why do you have a need to export your idiotic thoughts to others? If you're right, more power to you.

    Trying to convince other of your unproven beliefs is a selfish endeavor. You're doing it because you think you're going to get a reward. BARF

    January 23, 2013 at 7:01 pm |
    • Saraswati

      I may be in the minority here, but I think if people believe in the Christian god (odd though he is) they should, by their own religion, be out there trying to convert us. For their own practical purposes I don't think they should be doing by going into online forums like this which are a losing battle for Christians, but the whole charities and good works angle would probably be effective with the needier and less educated public. And keeping their mouths shut around family would probably be more productive...they could learn from the buddhist concept of skillful means. Fortunately for secularization, they likely won't.

      January 23, 2013 at 7:09 pm |
    • Chris

      You may be in the minority Saraswati, but you definitely aren't alone. The biggest argument against Christianity is Christians, and that goes for most religions.

      January 23, 2013 at 7:49 pm |
  20. Susan StoHelit

    How many of you believe in the God of the Gaps?

    If you believe that a lack of knowledge about the big bang, or evolution, or any other little detail proves your god real – you worship the god of the gaps.

    Once upon a time, we didn't know where thunder came from – so we had a god that caused thunder – Thor as the most well known – and we worshipped him – we had a gap in our knowledge, so the god filled the gap. Then as our knowledge filled that gap, the god went away. That is a god of the gaps. Problem is, we keep learning more, and a lack of knowledge is not proof of anything – not proof that science WILL have an explanation later, not proof that science WILL NOT have an explanation later, not proof that god did it, not proof that god did not do it.

    A god of the gaps is a weak god – it's a god based on ignorance, IMO. Make that your argument, if it's what you believe, but if you think it convinces anyone, it's really not very good for that purpose.

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

      Susan,

      I like your style!!! Amen ;)

      For the record... I beleive in god, just dont think organized religion has a clue what god means.

      January 23, 2013 at 6:59 pm |
    • Susan StoHelit

      Organized religion pretty quickly is just about organized religion.

      January 23, 2013 at 7:31 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.