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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. Bewildered

    the AnViL : I didn't "posit" anything, I simply said there might be something to it and there might not be.

    January 19, 2013 at 4:20 pm |
    • the AnViL

      no princess, you clearly posited an argument from ignorance.

      being as obviously ignorant as you have demonstrated yourself to be, i'm sure you can't grasp it.

      January 19, 2013 at 4:25 pm |
  2. Bewildered

    Thundal : LoL, you must be with the "Universally Correct" crowd. But again, everyone has the right to say what they want. The difference between you and I though is that I admit I could very well be wrong, my opinion is far from fact.

    January 19, 2013 at 4:17 pm |
    • Grammar

      It's "you and me," not "you and I."

      January 19, 2013 at 4:27 pm |
  3. Disagree with everyone

    Okay, first off, Gandhi never said that, and the incesant repeats of quotes you found on a questionable internet site is SO not helping your cases.

    That out of the way, the bible states in Matthew chapter 6 (pardon my paraphrasing of the various translations) that worship of God should not take place in public, but in private. Public worship in the "temples and synagogues as the heathens and hypocrites" only serves to show off to other people how holy you are, and therefore your prayers will not be answered. Prayer should be done in private or secret to truely speak to God.

    It does NOT say to rename the synagogues churches and then have at it. The idea of Christianity as an organized religeon goes against the tenants spoken of by Christ. To be a modern adherent to one of the many Christian faiths is to denounce the very idea of Christ.

    January 19, 2013 at 4:17 pm |
    • reason38

      F God and the Bible.
      oh, did I say that in public, I meant to say it in private.
      So if what you say is true, about true worship of God being done privately, then why dont all the Christians do what they wish I would do with my initial statement. keep it to themselves!

      January 19, 2013 at 4:51 pm |
  4. HadEnoughAlready

    why can't everyone believe what they want to believe in and in whom, or not – and just agree to live in peace along side people with differing views. Who cares what religion a person is affiliated with. Too many of the world's problems center around religious beliefs and who feels they are right and to hell with anyone who has a differing way of thinking. Enough already with the fighting and persecutions because of a religion or specific views and beliefs. Believe what you want, but don't push it on me or condemn me for thinking or feeling something totally different.

    January 19, 2013 at 4:17 pm |
    • Bewildered

      You're right, but there seems to be quite a few people on here who want others to see things their way, or no way at all.

      January 19, 2013 at 4:18 pm |
  5. ntbt06

    she represents some parents who are nagging and complaining all the time. when they meet dificulties, they blame all on God. Religion makes societies more moderate and reduces crimes (except those extremist muslims). Human being is the image of God, so human beings have a potential to be good without God, but they cannot have salvation. Faith requires endurance. Jesus said that when he returns the second time, faith barely exist on earth, and he also said that whoever is faithful till the end will be saved.

    January 19, 2013 at 4:17 pm |
    • Akira

      She represents nothing of the sort.

      January 19, 2013 at 4:19 pm |
    • Athy

      The sad thing is that you truly believe that hogwash.

      January 19, 2013 at 4:19 pm |
    • sam stone

      saved from what? the temper tantrum of a vindictive petty pr1ck?

      January 19, 2013 at 4:52 pm |
  6. dmvcitizen

    Athiesm is terrible. Look at what happened in Germany...

    January 19, 2013 at 4:15 pm |
    • Billy

      Atheism?

      January 19, 2013 at 4:18 pm |
    • Disagree with everyone

      What? They denounced the Catholic Church in favor of Nordic mysticism? How does that have to do with Atheism?

      January 19, 2013 at 4:20 pm |
    • Athy

      Hitler was not an atheist. And spell atheist correctly. We're sensitive about that.

      January 19, 2013 at 4:21 pm |
    • Justin

      Atheism does not lead to fascism or genocide. Despotic tyrants throughout history have engaged in similar acts because they believed that they were doing a service to god by cleansing the world of heretics/infidels/witches/whatever you want to call the "evil" plaguing the land.

      January 19, 2013 at 4:23 pm |
    • Face Plam

      Almost all of Germany and all of the German army (the ones that actually committed the atrocities) were christians.

      January 19, 2013 at 4:39 pm |
  7. Bewildered

    Religion Is Dangerous For Children And Other Living Creatures : Not at all, I just it a little brutal to insult others because they may or may not believe in the same things we do.

    January 19, 2013 at 4:15 pm |
    • Bewildered

      Sorry, I mean to say "find IT", lol.

      January 19, 2013 at 4:15 pm |
  8. lroy

    Religion can't go away because God is always everywhere and humans are all connected one way or another. She is in for "one hell of a shock" when she dies.

    January 19, 2013 at 4:14 pm |
    • Athy

      Bullshit.

      January 19, 2013 at 4:16 pm |
    • hal 9001

      I'm sorry "Iroy", but "God" is an element of mythology, therefore your assertion is unfounded.

      January 19, 2013 at 4:20 pm |
    • Just a John

      The old your gonna get yours if you don't believe. This coming from people that think red bird sh it is actually blood coming from a statue of the virgin Mary, pleases, stop it all.

      January 19, 2013 at 4:21 pm |
    • Religion might not ever go away

      But Christianity is defiantly on the way out. 2/3 of the world doesn't believe in it. And It's becoming more irrelevant every day, just look at North Ireland

      January 19, 2013 at 4:48 pm |
  9. dmvcitizen

    Athiesm worked great in Germany right!
    Oh wait...
    I am proud of this woman`s decision and I hate to live in a world where someone can't be accepted for there lack of religion

    January 19, 2013 at 4:14 pm |
    • Grammar

      Their, not there.

      January 19, 2013 at 4:15 pm |
    • Hitler was christian

      "My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God's truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was His fight for the world against the Jewish poison. To-day, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before the fact that it was for this that He had to shed His blood upon the Cross. As a Christian I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice... And if there is anything which could demonstrate that we are acting rightly it is the distress that daily grows. For as a Christian I have also a duty to my own people.
      –Adolf Hitler

      January 19, 2013 at 4:59 pm |
  10. mirhodjat seyedinnoor

    I am 100% agreed with godless mom.

    January 19, 2013 at 4:13 pm |
  11. CommaWitch

    Shame on all those who flagged her original article as inappropriate- it was a well-thought out expression of her beliefs, and nobody should have the right to censor it.

    January 19, 2013 at 4:12 pm |
    • Bewildered

      Exactly

      January 19, 2013 at 4:13 pm |
  12. rts

    This topic is getting stale. Catholics who leave the church. Big deal. Happens all the time. I'd rather read a story about someone losing their belief in a non-Christian religion. But I guess CNN is too afraid of going down THAT route.

    January 19, 2013 at 4:11 pm |
  13. Colin

    Christians base their belief in Jesus entirely on the Bible. There is no “Bible II – A Carpenter’s Tale” or “My Worst Easter Ever – the Lighter Side of Being Grotesquely Crucified at Your Father’s Orders” to rely on. Christianity is as much sole sourcing as it is soul searching.

    Given this, I would love to know how many Christians could answer the following questions.

    Does the Old Testament tell us anything about Jesus' life on Earth?
    Of the 27 books of the New Testament, how many do?
    Who wrote these books, what other things did they write and what reason do we have to believe what they say?
    How long after Jesus died did they write?
    Do we have the originals of what they wrote?
    Do any non-Biblical sources from within the first 100 years of Jesus life tell us anything about him?

    The answers are

    No
    Only the 4 gospels.
    We have no idea. None. It certainly wasn’t the Matthew and John claimed by the Catholic Church and very unlikely to be the claimed Luke and Mark. We have zero reason to believe these 4 unknown people.
    Between 40 (book attributed to Mark) 60 (books attributed to Matthew and Luke) and 60 (book attributed to John).
    No, we only have copies of copies of copies of copies – all copied by hand. The earliest gospels are from about 330 AD – a full three hundred years after Jesus died!!
    Virtually zero. 4 passing references, two by a Jewish historian and two very oblique references by Roman administrators.

    Given this, any realistic Christian is forced to admit that their belief is spectacularly unlikely to be true. All of this is independent of the question of whether there is a god, of course, but to the extent Christianity is based on a belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ, it is highly likely to be based on myths.

    January 19, 2013 at 4:10 pm |
    • Jeff

      You have absolutely no idea what you are talking about. Period.

      January 19, 2013 at 4:17 pm |
    • Colin

      Great Jeff, what did I get wrong? The few tiny references in Paul's letters? What?

      January 19, 2013 at 4:18 pm |
    • Disagree with everyone

      Hey, Jeff, read a real non-fiction book before you judge. Google the Coucil of Nicea... thats who worte the bible.

      January 19, 2013 at 4:25 pm |
    • Jeff

      If you do not believe that Jesus Christ is who Christians believe he is than that is your opinion. But to try and say that Jesus did not even exist is just factually inaccurate.

      January 19, 2013 at 4:25 pm |
    • Colin

      I never said hedidn't exist. If that is your only objection to my post, you must acknowledge that your faith is almost certainly falacious.

      January 19, 2013 at 4:27 pm |
    • Jeff

      Next you will tell us George Washington did not exist either. Or maybe Julius Ceaser was not a real person.

      January 19, 2013 at 4:31 pm |
    • Colin

      Jeff, can you not read? I am not saying he didn't exist. The man Jesus christ liekly existed.

      January 19, 2013 at 4:33 pm |
    • Jeff

      There is no likely existed. He did exist. That is fact. The rest of your incoherent ramblings are just arguing over whether he was the Savior. Which is obviously your right to do.

      January 19, 2013 at 4:36 pm |
  14. Bewildered

    the AnViL : LoL, if you say so....

    January 19, 2013 at 4:10 pm |
    • the AnViL

      oh, i do. i say so.

      no one would be going around denying the existence of imaginary men in the sky if delusional people did not first posit their existence.

      you should be ashamed to be so ignorant on a national public forum.

      January 19, 2013 at 4:15 pm |
  15. Grace Graham

    Atheism worked great in Russia, China and North Korea! Right?

    January 19, 2013 at 4:09 pm |
    • Brian

      ...None of those countries are atheistic...

      January 19, 2013 at 4:11 pm |
    • Colin

      Oh this krap again. Failed economic models have zero relevence to the question of the existence of a god.

      January 19, 2013 at 4:11 pm |
    • Malena

      No, but when you consider that the founding fathers were atheist, it's fair to say it worked in the USA.

      January 19, 2013 at 4:19 pm |
    • dmvcitizen

      Religion worked great for Hitler...not so much for jews

      January 19, 2013 at 4:25 pm |
    • Oh this krap again

      Stalin, Mau and Kim Ill... killed in the name of communism. All 3 killed in the name of religion (yes communism is just another bloody religion). It showed what man can do in the name of religion

      January 19, 2013 at 5:08 pm |
  16. Linden

    I too am raising 2 adorable and well mannered children without any belief in a deity. It is my goal as a parent to guide them to learn HOW TO THINK over WHAT TO THINK. Holding their hand and guiding them to be good people. Just because something is pleasant to think doesn't mean it is accurate. I was raised by a very religious family and began exploring the HUMANIST world shortly after I was able to do so without an overbearing mother breathing down my neck anytime I dared question anything she had instilled in my head.

    January 19, 2013 at 4:09 pm |
    • Joel

      I like your approach, and respect you for it.

      January 19, 2013 at 4:15 pm |
    • Ira Radnick

      Linden, I did precisely the same thing with my two children in the late 70s and early 80s. They both have respect and consideration for others, and are still able to think for themselves. I also made certain they became aware that as citizens in our nation it is their responsibility to question presumed authority, and never to follow others just because alleged leaders say nice things or make bright promises. The first major discussion with my wife then was about my opposition to letting the kids believe in Santa Claus. I am disgusted by the perpetuation of that fable (much less the fables of religion), and feel sorry for anyone who lets their kids believe in Sanity Claws. It weakens the mind, and is not at all cute.

      January 19, 2013 at 4:32 pm |
  17. Phil Locke

    Would you join a group that demands that you suspend all logic and reason, and not believe the evidence of your own senses? Do you go to church?
    Albert Einstein, Christopher Hitchens, and Richard Dawkins, where are you ?!
    It's absolutely incredible what people will believe – the 'K' on food labels means the company is run by the KKK, Proctor & Gamble is owned and run by satanists, Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone shooter, virgin birth, and if you're not from my tribe you must be evil. So .... why not an invisible man in the sky who created the universe?
    SCIENCE WILL ULTIMATELY PREVAIL.

    January 19, 2013 at 4:05 pm |
    • TANK!!!!

      BAM!!!!!!!!!!

      January 19, 2013 at 4:06 pm |
    • Bewildered

      If you say so....

      January 19, 2013 at 4:09 pm |
    • the AnViL

      cha cha cha

      January 19, 2013 at 4:11 pm |
  18. Bewildered

    Wow.....there is a ton of horribly ignorant and arrogant commentary on here. This mom says there is no God, mmmmkay, how does she know? Aside from being rational and logical, how does ANYONE know? If she wants to teach her child this, okay, doesn't make her a bad person, she's a good mother just trying to protect her kid. Nothing wrong with that. On the other hand, slapping this story up and sensationalizing one person's opinion isn't striking a chord with reality. Nobody knows what's after this life. Nobody. And the people who have been brought back from the brink of death say that there is something. Scientists, doctors, people with more education than most on this forum admit it would be foolish to completely disregard the existence of something which nobody has any proof for or against. If you don't believe in God, you're not a bad person. If you do believe in God, that's fine too. I just think it's strange how people argue about something where there is nothing substantial to support either side. Arrogance isn't going to prove it, ignorance isn't going to prove it, telling people that they'll burn in hell isn't going to prove it, waving around the limited human knowledge we possess isn't going to do the trick either. We all find out in the end, so in the meantime, how about just letting people believe what they want to believe instead of insulting them just because they don't agree with your own opinion.

    January 19, 2013 at 4:05 pm |
    • the AnViL

      "his mom says there is no God, mmmmkay, how does she know?" = argumentum ad ignorantiam

      " just think it's strange how people argue about something where there is nothing substantial to support either side. "

      only those making the positive additive assertion: "gods exist" are saddled with the onus of evidence.

      .
      .
      .
      .
      .
      .
      .
      .
      !

      January 19, 2013 at 4:08 pm |
    • KPFan45

      Well said.

      January 19, 2013 at 4:10 pm |
    • Religion Is Dangerous For Children And Other Living Creatures

      In other words, your opinion is that we should just be quiet and live and let live and not give our opinions, huh?

      January 19, 2013 at 4:13 pm |
    • Thundal

      "I just think it's strange how people argue about something where there is nothing substantial to support either side."

      Might want to look into how logic works. Unless you have proof, the proper, logical position is that it doesn't. Unicorns have never been seen, nor evidence found, thus they don't exist... just because there's a possibility they're invisible, flying, smell-less, immortal (thus no corpse) creatures doesn't mean they have any more points towards their existence, they still don't exist. God's the same way: until proven, it doesn't exist.

      The negative statement is the neutral statement. So yes, to assert that there is a god without proof thereof is, indeed, wrong. pay attention.

      January 19, 2013 at 4:15 pm |
    • Tim

      The burden lies with those who say there is a god, to prove it.

      January 19, 2013 at 4:17 pm |
    • the AnViL

      i'll even "say" it again – keep reading it until it sinks in.. maybe you'll be slightly less bewildered.

      no one would be going around denying the existence of imaginary men in the sky if delusional people did not first posit their existence.

      you should be ashamed to be so ignorant on a national public forum.

      .
      .
      .
      .
      .
      .
      .
      zoop!

      January 19, 2013 at 4:23 pm |
    • Ron

      In 1500 they had no evidence of sub-atomic particles, cell structure etc. Does this mean they did not exist in 1500?

      January 19, 2013 at 4:38 pm |
    • the AnViL

      Ron asks: "In 1500 they had no evidence of sub-atomic particles, cell structure etc. Does this mean they did not exist in 1500?"

      short curt answer: of course not

      question: was anyone back in 1500 positing the existence of sub-atomic particles or "cell structure etc.??

      protip: review the history of our understanding of sub-atomic particles and "cell structure etc" to see how science works.

      thank you for your interest

      January 19, 2013 at 4:56 pm |
  19. Mac

    Why can't religion fade away along with the myth of an afterlife?
    When evolution wins hands down!

    January 19, 2013 at 4:01 pm |
    • lionlylamb

      Just then how could the myriads of prehistoric creatures all have evolved in the same time-periods?

      January 19, 2013 at 4:20 pm |
  20. Gunny

    There is nothing wrong with faith, as long as one does not confuse it with fact.

    January 19, 2013 at 4:00 pm |
    • lionlylamb

      What is fact without assuming in theoretical addendums of faith-based innuendoes? Science believes in a finite concentration of materialized ends being the atomized ending and the celestial ending being a singular universe. Both endings are but plugs to be but scientific fallacies for keeping away the prying eyes the Truths of Fractal Cosmologies and Life living upon the atomized realms!

      January 19, 2013 at 4:17 pm |
    • Believe as you like.

      the mom states" For over a year, I lied to him and made up stories that I didn’t believe about heaven. " I could not help think, if you dont believe there is God, why did it bother her to LIE....? Isn't though shall not lie a GODLY commandment, based on fundamentals imposed by a GOD. If one does not believe in the imposer of the rules why should it BOTHER one?
      Why not just tell your kids the facts, no one knows for sure, thats where faith comes in they can figure it out as they grow...thats what most people do with religion...

      January 19, 2013 at 4:18 pm |
    • lionlylamb

      So God and God's brethren live deeply inside all Life and essences of nurtured Life structures being as the very grounds formations of stardust. All terrestrially celestial formed contrivances of megalithic living structures are so formulated by that which lives upon their insides. Without sub-atomized beings, there could never be megalithic structured forms of living monolithic creatures resulting in manhood and womanhood. 1Corinthians 3:9 "For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, [ye are] God's building!"

      January 19, 2013 at 4:39 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.