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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. David

    God and I are not religious.

    January 19, 2013 at 12:36 pm |
    • Just a John

      What are you saying? The gods don't have a God that they believe in? They aren't subject to a scam, how clever of them?

      January 19, 2013 at 12:45 pm |
  2. Reality

    Some 21st century nitty-gritty:(only for the new members of this blog)

    Recognizing the flaws, follies and frauds in the foundations of Islam, Judaism and Christianity, the "bowers", kneelers" and "pew peasants" are converging these religions into some simple rules of life without the need of some god or gods. No koran, bible, clerics, nuns, monks, imams, evangelicals, ayatollahs, rabbis, professors of religion or priests needed or desired.

    Ditto for houses of "worthless worship" aka mosques, churches, basilicas, cathedrals, temples and synagogues.

    January 19, 2013 at 12:35 pm |
  3. Higherluv

    What is so bad about a person feeling good about a higher love? You say "don't push it on me" yet you want it removed from human thought? How is that different from "Believe what I believe or die infidel?" This is why I choose life and "free will" (Gods greatest gifts) to attain a higher love. And a personal relationship with my personal savor Jesus Christ. I don't judge you, so don't judge me. In the end, it will be only Gods judgement and rath that matters.You have a free will of your own. A free man with a free will, (Unless you live in Iran) that is your choice between you and God, not me or anyone else.

    January 19, 2013 at 12:35 pm |
    • Nancy

      This mother is indeed not alone, there are millions of us all over the world, me included. It is about time we spoke up. We are good people and raise good, intelligent, caring children. But like she said, just keep it out of our public schools and out of our government. Simple.

      January 19, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
  4. MKB

    What is so ironic about this article? If you know anything at all about God and the Bible then you know that this is exactly what the Bible says will happen. People will turn away from God. It will continue to happen in bigger numbers and as it does, it will confirm my faith even more. Sometimes the truth is directly in front of you and you just choose to ignore it.

    January 19, 2013 at 12:35 pm |
    • Merc

      Doesn't it also say something about false prophets? I have to wonder if that references the majority of religious leaders and the evangelicals who so love to criticize and demonize people of other beliefs on this blog....

      January 19, 2013 at 1:03 pm |
    • TANK!!!!

      Jesus was smart enough to know that people would catch on to his BS soon enough.

      January 19, 2013 at 1:07 pm |
  5. M. Desmarais

    Religion IS a sin.

    January 19, 2013 at 12:35 pm |
  6. Rainer Braendlein

    Need to be saved? No, mind a little how you will get through at Judgement Day.

    The good old faith of Jesus doesn't say: "you need to be saved!" but says: "you need to behave Christian daily in the releasing power of Jesus death and resurrection!".

    Today many members of the mainline churches only know that they could behave Christian in Jesus' power but they don't do it. What is the reason why? Well, it is a multilayered problem. Maybe they did not really repent, or they don't really understand the Christian doctrine. Repentance is necessary, and a correct understanding of the doctrine is sufficient to achieve a successful life of faith which causes real Christian behaviour in daily life.

    There is a paradox: The more sb. repents the more he feels his sinfulness. The one who has repented will cry for a Redeemer who gives him the power to overcome the lust of his body and the hatred against God and his fellow human beings.

    What is the locus in space and time where we receive the releasing power of Jesus death and resurrection? It is the sacramental baptism which was insti-tuted by Christ himself (not by the unholy, Catholic pope-rat). The sacramental baptism (also infant baptism) is the locus where Jesus death and resurrection get made present. The metaphysical side of Jesus' sacrifice you cannot grasp by reason but only by supernatural faith, and this faith must be caused by the Holy Spirit. God has laid it out like this that the receiving of the faith or the Spirit is connected with the Holy Baptism which is not allowed to be repeated. Through faith and baptism we get metaphysically connected with Christ's sacrifice.

    The only things which a Christian should practice daily in order to make visible Christ's power are fasting and prayer or prayer and fasting. If we do this things we act diametrically opposed to the lust of our body (the sin dwells in our limbs). If we fast and pray, Jesus' power will change our life, and we will overcome the lust, and love God and our neighbour. We will love our neighbour with an unbiased love.

    However, we can nothing add on to Christ's redemption. Prayer and fasting are not more than a serious "yes, I will!" to Christ's deliverance.

    January 19, 2013 at 12:34 pm |
    • Pravda

      Didn't you just say this?? Again, no one reads comments over two paragraphs...

      January 19, 2013 at 12:36 pm |
  7. Grimble Grumble the gnome

    None of you atheists speak for yourselves, you just repeat what that stupid idiot Richard Dawkins say and that stupid chain smoking drunk Christopher Hitchins

    January 19, 2013 at 12:33 pm |
    • chitola

      A very ironic comment.

      January 19, 2013 at 12:35 pm |
    • midwest rail

      Trolling should never be this obvious and boring, t.b.t.

      January 19, 2013 at 12:35 pm |
    • enfilmigult

      You spelled "troll" wrong in your name, there.

      January 19, 2013 at 12:42 pm |
  8. chitola

    Such vitriol on both sides. Ugh.

    January 19, 2013 at 12:33 pm |
  9. Pravda

    American society is in a downward death spiral due to the destruction of the family unit. With Atheist and gay parents as the main cause.

    January 19, 2013 at 12:33 pm |
    • Merc

      Prove it.

      I'm pretty sure you can't. You can justify your hatred all you want, but you can't prove a damned thing.

      January 19, 2013 at 1:05 pm |
  10. Manti

    Don't push your religion on me and I won't push my non religion on you. Plain and simple.

    January 19, 2013 at 12:32 pm |
    • Free to be without religion

      I couldn't agree more... just as I hate to have others push their beliefs down my throat I also hate when others try to deny Christians their beliefs. Over the holiday season there was alot of controversy as to whether the Nativity sets should be allowed in public parks.. I think this is ridiculous myself. Don't like it.. Don't look at it. Simple as that. It goes both ways. You don't have to agree with my choice to not have religion in my life, but it doesn't give you the right to judge me either. Let your God judge me.. Isn't that what the bible says?

      January 19, 2013 at 12:47 pm |
  11. VperAgui

    Why would God allow shootings and abuse? Is she for real? God does not ALLOW this to happen. We humans have taken it upon ourselves to make these decisions and go against everything God has taught us about humility, loving each other as brothers and sisters and being able to share our gifts for the better of humanity. This concept is something we catalog now a days as "idiotic" or "naiive", but this is how things SHOULD be in order to have peace within us and with others. If she let herself be open to listening God's word BY HIM not by a 3rd party, she could learn so much. This world bombards us with so much self endulgence and if you don't have an Iphone5 you are NOTHING!...this is what our kids are taking in. This is why we are the way we are: Selfish, self destructive and lost. God help her and her children and forgive her for comparing our Lord for comparing him with something disposable as a TOOTHBRUSH.

    January 19, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
    • Isaac

      My dad listened to god. He built this altar put some wood on it, grabbed me and tied me up and was going to kill me. Lucky for me the voice in his head told him to stop. Anyway, the voice told him that because he feared god he was a good guy, sort of. I don't hear voices, thank god, and I try and stay clear of my crazy old man; talk about child abuse, he scared the crap out of me, really, a pant load.

      January 19, 2013 at 12:41 pm |
  12. Jack

    True worship and religious belief as it was and meant to be, doesnt exist today. Its not even about 'god' anymore, its all about the 'church' and its coffers lining its pockets. Today, Its an actual business built to prey on a weak minded, god fearing society. Its sad and disturbing.

    January 19, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
    • Pravda

      Well said!

      January 19, 2013 at 12:34 pm |
    • MEI

      @ Jack,
      True religion doesnot exist today – Can you specify the time period when it did exist?

      January 19, 2013 at 12:35 pm |
    • MEI

      When was it not about the church?

      January 19, 2013 at 12:36 pm |
    • Pravda

      Rome killed relationship with God in 300 AD by making the Roman Catholic church...

      January 19, 2013 at 12:38 pm |
    • MEI

      So you are saying that it was true worship only for about 300 yrs. Considering the timeline, it seems the religion couldnot stand the test of time for even 1/5th of the time since it began!
      Now what record of those 300 years do you have to tell us how glorious that period was when it was indeed true religion?
      And how do you propose to get that time back?

      January 19, 2013 at 12:44 pm |
    • MEI

      Now rethinking about it, those 300 yrs was the time when christianity was trying to find its footage and the period of conflict between apostles and Jewish authorities. In nutshell, it was struggling.
      Had it not been for the establishment of Roman catholic church, would this religion have spread the way it did?

      January 19, 2013 at 12:47 pm |
  13. Senor God Encore

    WE MAKE IT UP BECAUSE WE DON'T KNOW THE ANSWER AND IT'S A FUNNY ASS STORY HEYO!!!

    January 19, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
  14. Rainer Braendlein

    The good old faith of Jesus doesn't say: "you need to be saved!" but says: "you need to behave Christian daily in the releasing power of Jesus death and resurrection!".

    Today many members of the mainline churches only know that they could behave Christian in Jesus' power but they don't do it. What is the reason why? Well, it is a multilayered problem. Maybe they did not really repent, or they don't really understand the Christian doctrine. Repentance is necessary, and a correct understanding of the doctrine is sufficient to achieve a successful life of faith which causes real Christian behaviour in daily life.

    There is a paradox: The more sb. repents the more he feels his sinfulness. The one who has repented will cry for a Redeemer who gives him the power to overcome the lust of his body and the hatred against God and his fellow human beings.

    What is the locus in space and time where we receive the releasing power of Jesus death and resurrection? It is the sacramental baptism which was insti-tuted by Christ himself (not by the unholy, Catholic pope-rat). The sacramental baptism (also infant baptism) is the locus where Jesus death and resurrection get made present. The metaphysical side of Jesus' sacrifice you cannot grasp by reason but only by supernatural faith, and this faith must be caused by the Holy Spirit. God has laid it out like this that the receiving of the faith or the Spirit is connected with the Holy Baptism which is not allowed to be repeated. Through faith and baptism we get metaphysically connected with Christ's sacrifice.

    The only things which a Christian should practice daily in order to make visible Christ's power are fasting and prayer or prayer and fasting. If we do this things we act diametrically opposed to the lust of our body (the sin dwells in our limbs). If we fast and pray, Jesus' power will change our life, and we will overcome the lust, and love God and our neighbour. We will love our neighbour with an unbiased love.

    However, we can nothing add on to Christ's redemption. Prayer and fasting are not more than a serious "yes, I will!" to Christ's deliverance.

    January 19, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
    • Pravda

      Dude, no one reads comments over two paragraphs...

      January 19, 2013 at 12:34 pm |
    • AvdBergism source of filthyRainerBraendleinism©

      Absudity of Christian Captain Crunch dog. NO DOGS! goon.

      January 19, 2013 at 12:36 pm |
  15. Buddy

    I never said that Einstein was religious.....in fact, we all know, that religion is just only one avenue to spirituality....you can go to many sources regarding what he believed.....I was trying to point out, that he had a deep respect for those that do believe, that he did in fact, detest the atheism, because they claimed he was one.....and he was not....he did believe in something beyond what the human can understand

    What I was trying to point out, is that it seems to me, the atheist attacks, offers no solace, no feeling and seem rather in a frenzy

    January 19, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
  16. Grimble Grumble the gnome

    Evolution has racist origins

    January 19, 2013 at 12:30 pm |
  17. Heyheyhey

    I'm tired of being marginalized in the south as well!

    January 19, 2013 at 12:30 pm |
  18. Jon

    This country is supposedly great because we have so much freedom. But yet once again if you say you do not believe in God you are put to the stake like a witch at a Salem withch trial. We have a right to raise our children the way we want as long as we bring them no harm and raise them in a loving home. A child being raised in a loving home is far more important these days than if their parents happen to be athiest or agnostic. If America is truly great we should be able to live freely without Christians or any other faith ramming their beliefs down our throat.

    January 19, 2013 at 12:29 pm |
  19. Grimble Grumble the gnome

    Atheists are immoral pigs

    January 19, 2013 at 12:29 pm |
    • Heyheyhey

      Sounds like you are one your the one throwing names around.

      January 19, 2013 at 12:32 pm |
    • Free to be without religion

      how judgemental of you. You and people like you are the reason so many turn away from religion. Myself included. I believe everyone has a right to believe what they want to believe. You have the right to believe in your God just as I and others like me have every right to not believe in your God or your religion. There is supposed to be religious freedom in this country and that includes the freedom to be without religion if one choses that path. Take a look in the mirror before judging others.

      January 19, 2013 at 12:42 pm |
    • Tim

      Says the person with the priest bending the altar boys over...

      January 19, 2013 at 12:44 pm |
    • devolution is real

      Atheists are immoral pigs? Pedophile priests, most wars, the inquisition, and the religion of the nazis.
      I will stick to being an ATHEIST IMMORAL PIG.

      January 19, 2013 at 12:52 pm |
  20. Troy

    I was raised Catholic and have claimed membership in the Catholic church up until I was 37. By middle school, I had figured out that there was little difference between the mythology I learned in Latin class and the mythology I was presented in religion. I was always told that as I got older, I would understand religion better. I found the opposite to be true. I have read the Bible, the Catholic catechism, and numerous books about the history of Catholicism and Christianity. I have sought out truth from priests, reverends and literature but the deeper I looked into the matter, the more it seems like Christianity is nothing more than a mash-up of mythology, iron-age altruism and middle ages population control. I cannot force myself to believe something just because it is more convenient or because I want it to be true. I have raised my children (8,7 and 4) in Christianity under the belief that they should not be deprived due to my inability to understand religion as others do and so that they would "fit in" better with other children. At 37, I have finally realized that my issues with faith are more the product of a childhood filled with indoctrination than a struggle to find truth. I have know the truth since childhood and have spent a great deal of time and effort to reconcile it with the faith I was told I was supposed to have. As an openly atheist parent, I have chosen to discontinue further indoctrination of my children. I do not tell them God does not exist. I tell them I do not believe in God and answer their questions in an open ended way so they are able to believe what they want. The amount of grief I get for this from friends and family is insane. With a little questioning, it is easily discovered that most of these people know very little of the religion they wish to push on my children. For example, just recently I was told I HAD to bring my children to church for the feast of the epiphany by someone who did not even know what the epiphany is. I have had people make offers to my children behind my back to take them to church without my knowledge. Why is behavior that would otherwise land a person in jail, viewed as OK when it comes to religion? If I offered to allow children to duck out of church and come with me to a science lecture, I would certainly be arrested. It is very difficult to be openly atheist in this society and even harder to be an openly atheist parent. I do not want to "convert" people or their children to atheism. Like most atheists, all I want is the right to believe what I want and raise my children in the manner I see fit.

    January 19, 2013 at 12:29 pm |
    • Sunil

      Troy, I agree with you 100 percent. I was born Hindu. I was very involved in Hindu philosophy a lot more than my parents were. As I grew older I started questioning at around age of 17. Things did not fit in my mind. i still kept going thinking may be I don't understand it. But I started studying other religions from out side not getting too deep in any of them. Slowly and slowly I realized these are make beliefs and had no truths behind it. If things can not be explained they would say it is the way God operates. Then I cam across Albert Einstein's article about God and religious beliefs. I was shocked to learn that his thoughts were exactly like I was thinking only he could put it in a better way more organized matter. I firmly believe now that is a waste of time for me. It may help people who need assurances that God will take care of it later. I stopped asking my children to go to any sunday schools. I would recommend any one still debating about this to go on Wikipedia.com and search for Einstein's thoughts on religious. It is surprising. Anyway, very effective comments you wrote.

      January 19, 2013 at 12:51 pm |
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About this blog

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.