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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. lola the spiritual

    BTW, atheism was the official religion of USSR....

    January 19, 2013 at 5:56 pm |
  2. Meri

    (John 6:65 And He (Jesus) said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
    John 6:66 After this many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him.
    John 6:67 So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?”)

    Has The Father not chosen His? He knows who wants Him and He chose them. He does not ignore us who want Him, who cry out to Him. Let people make their own choices. Do not harass people if they choose to walk away from Him. He ALLOWS everyone to make their own choices. Jesus did not yell at them " come back come back!" He let them go, and then asked His own 12 disciples if they wanted to leave too! And they said no. To all the Christians reading this, ask The Heavenly Father how He sees this situation. He may reveal to you some things that you do not know yet. Before you speak as a Christian, make certain you are doing the Heavenly Father's will. Make certain He is wanting you to say what you are so willing to tell a person. And ask Him to show you more about this person before you are so quick to penetrate their hearts with what YOU have to say. Be sure you are judging righteously, and are able to see clearly. Ask God if He has something for this person to hear through you. Persecution does not feel good, but Jesus went through it, and forgave them because He knew His Father's Love for them. John 15:18 Jesus said “If the world hates you, know that it has hated Me before it hated you.
    19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you."
    -sister in Christ

    January 19, 2013 at 5:55 pm |
    • logicalfallacy

      your logical fallacy is called: appeal to authority. i forgive you, for you know not what you do.

      January 19, 2013 at 5:58 pm |
    • Meri

      logical fallacy, what do you mean?

      January 19, 2013 at 6:13 pm |
    • logicalfallacy

      @meri
      you cite the bible as authoritative. it is not. that makes it a logical fallacy. hope that helps!

      January 19, 2013 at 6:21 pm |
    • Meri

      logical fallacy, thank you for explaining what you meant! :)
      To Christians the bible is authoritative, isn't it? Christians were and are telling the woman and other people that they are wrong, for stating their opinions that being a "godless mom is okay". Seems as though Christians were pounding on people for the sake of the mother's article. So if I was directing the paragraph only towards Christians to "not degrade a person because they choose not to follow The Heavenly God" how is that a logical fallacy?
      Or am I still mistaken about what a logical fallacy is?
      Thank you, Meri

      January 19, 2013 at 7:04 pm |
    • logicalfallacy

      @meri
      the bible is not authoritative. believing that it is authoritative doesn't mean it's true. therefore, the logical fallacy remains: appeal to authority.

      January 19, 2013 at 7:22 pm |
    • Meri

      logicalfallacy:
      okay, I understand the most part of your answer. But what do you mean by "appeal to authority?" This is how I understand it: "earnest or urgent request to authority" I hope I am not testing your patience, I am just understanding part of what you are saying it is very interesting to me.

      January 19, 2013 at 9:12 pm |
  3. lola the spiritual

    Gods are in your heart, you may call the principles if you are more comfortable :) All organized religion is just another golf club, with only difference that it tries to force its rules on all people. Atheism is just another golf club, very similar to religion :) Enjoy !

    January 19, 2013 at 5:53 pm |
    • DrewNumberTwo

      Atheism is merely a lack of belief in gods, not a philosophy or a set of morals.

      January 19, 2013 at 5:57 pm |
    • lionlylamb

      lola the spiritual,

      I dare so agree that the sons of God lay upon our inside realms with the heart being their centrality. Even the sons of God's have taken mates, as in mankind's women of old mentioned of in Genesis. Luke 17:21, "The kingdom of God is inside you!" and also, 1Corinthians 3:9 "For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, [ye are] God's building!" gives me a sense of calmness whenever I hear others rant and rave insidiously that the gods and goddesses of God Almighty do not exist.

      January 19, 2013 at 6:01 pm |
  4. YEPthat'sME

    The benefits of having faith in something bigger than yourself is the balance and added experience it brings to ones life.

    January 19, 2013 at 5:53 pm |
  5. Kiran

    Glad CNN didn't end up taking her essay down just because of the pressure from a few jesus-freaks. Everyone should be allowed to voice their opinion, especially when done in well written and thoughtful ways. Saying, "Waaaaaaah, they hurt my feelings! TAKE IT DOWN NOW!" Is not well written or thoughtful. Neither is censorship.

    I, for one, will never lie to my kids and say there is a God just so he or she fits in better or because everyone else does, even under pain of death. I also won't tell my child there is no God. I'll let them decide for themselves, as I ended up doing. I was raised Christian and, at some points, Baptsist, but I woke up one day and just realized that there's no good reason to believe in a God. Goodness comes from within, not fear of what's outside. That is where it will always come from. Anything else is a lie.

    January 19, 2013 at 5:51 pm |
    • Lines

      ?

      January 19, 2013 at 5:56 pm |
    • Cmoney

      @Lines, you know, placing words before the question mark makes the conversation a little more productive.

      January 19, 2013 at 6:02 pm |
  6. Kevin

    F religion!

    January 19, 2013 at 5:51 pm |
    • Eilson

      Kevin – you're so brave!

      January 19, 2013 at 5:53 pm |
    • logicalfallacy

      @eilson
      technically, that is true. kevin is brave to say something like that, especially if he resides in the bible belt.

      January 19, 2013 at 5:57 pm |
    • Lines

      I live in the Bible belt. I wasn't as rude as Kevin, but I was anti-Christian. Nobody really cared.

      January 19, 2013 at 6:01 pm |
    • logicalfallacy

      @lines
      your logical fallacy is called: doubting thomas
      lol!

      January 19, 2013 at 6:05 pm |
  7. Matt

    I am agnostic. I can't help it. I don't care if others are religious. I only want people to stop saying that I am somehow immoral or lack family values. I was taught to be a good person because it is the right thing to do, not because I will go to hell if I don't.

    January 19, 2013 at 5:51 pm |
    • Lines

      I'm a Christian and people say the same things to me. Got have thick skin to make it in this world. F em!

      Let them think and say what they want. Only you know what's best for you.

      January 19, 2013 at 5:55 pm |
  8. ikjyotsinghkohli1

    Really? Is no one going to debate me on singularity theorems, the Einstein field equations, the causal structure of space-time, physical laws emerging from conservation laws, the importance of lie groups in the universe? Because, these things are where the intelligent conversations and debates of God and the Universe lie in, not these foolish back and forth comments that people are constantly engaged in. Unless you actually learn the science behind the universe, you have NO RIGHT to participate in this debate, since any other comments are just not constructive.

    January 19, 2013 at 5:50 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      You are apparently ignorant of the 1st Amendment, dimwit.

      January 19, 2013 at 5:54 pm |
  9. EmilyGrace

    I agree with this mother 100%. I am tired of hearing people say they've given the trials in their lives to "the Lord" or thanking Jesus for the successes in their lives. Why can't they accept that this is life? One day, future generations of humans will study these thousands of years when people worshipped the "God" of their choice- Christians, Jews, Muslims and Buddhists- and will reflect on us the way we study the Greeks and Romans and their "Gods". There is nothing wrong with those of us who choose to live life outside of a church; we are still good people of character trying to live our lives in a positive and uplifting way, just like the rest of you.

    January 19, 2013 at 5:45 pm |
    • Steve

      Very well said!!! Thank you!!!

      January 19, 2013 at 5:51 pm |
    • John

      You're blind to the benefits of knowing God, and hope others are too.

      January 19, 2013 at 5:52 pm |
    • josh

      Hitler lived outside the church. Gee, I guess that makes him a good person............just like you.

      January 19, 2013 at 5:54 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      And josh loses the argument.

      January 19, 2013 at 5:55 pm |
    • Cmoney

      @Josh, that is possibly the worst argument ever made on the internet.

      January 19, 2013 at 6:01 pm |
  10. Matt

    CNN, this is why i don't read you

    January 19, 2013 at 5:43 pm |
    • logicalfallacy

      @matt
      ummm, you just did.

      January 19, 2013 at 5:51 pm |
    • Pedro

      Sweet sweet irony, always cheers me up.

      January 19, 2013 at 6:04 pm |
  11. ikjyotsinghkohli1

    The universe itself is based on physics and mathematics. Our current universe is described by a perfect-fluid background, and belongs to a six-dimensional isometry group, and is also top-down causal. It seems a very natural and practical extension to understand that there is a reason behind this, and therefore, it is the SIMPLEST argument to invoke a creator. There is absolutely no reason for these things to be in a random, meaningless universe.

    January 19, 2013 at 5:42 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      So because you don't know how the universe began, therefore it MUST be a god? Why? That is lazy thinking. Why not continue to learn how the universe began rather than simply give up?

      January 19, 2013 at 5:49 pm |
    • Lines

      Amen, praise God.

      January 19, 2013 at 5:52 pm |
    • logicalfallacy

      your logical fallacy is called: appeal to ignorance
      epic fail.

      January 19, 2013 at 5:53 pm |
  12. Melissa

    My 9 year old nephew is being bullied at his Utah school because he is not a mormon and he is an atheist...He is a remarkable boy with remarkable parents that support him and are educating his school teacher and their staff.

    January 19, 2013 at 5:42 pm |
    • Akira

      They should kick the snot out of you, Elison; that's wha( trolls deserve.

      January 19, 2013 at 5:48 pm |
    • Eilson

      go pound sand d-bag

      January 19, 2013 at 5:49 pm |
  13. onemorehere

    ATHIEST believe in knowledge=science and OMNISIENCE GOD can provide for this need...the Christian believe in the knowledge of God so 'OMNISCIENCE GOD' is the future of reliegion....all knowledgible God...OMNISCIENCE GOD.

    MY SISTER IS ATHIEST SHE IS OK WITH SLAVING ANY ONE COMING IN CONTACT WITH HER blood related or nonrelations by bloodlines she just take adventage of all equally...for her own use dispite what come off all the rest of the humans around her...God is not in her fears only her self presevation at the expense of any one even her own children if it came to that...i keep my distance cause i know that is evil to me....or to my well being....

    January 19, 2013 at 5:42 pm |
    • Akira

      "MY SISTER IS ATHIEST SHE IS OK WITH SLAVING ANY ONE COMING IN CONTACT WITH HER blood related or nonrelations by bloodlines she just take adventage of all equally…for her own use dispite what come off all the other humans around her"...

      What?

      January 19, 2013 at 5:46 pm |
  14. bobby

    Shame, for I know Jesus is a real person or God. Jesus is a nice person and heaven is a nice place. I have spoken with Jesus 90 to 100 times.

    January 19, 2013 at 5:41 pm |
    • Need Proof

      Prove it! I know you can not.

      January 19, 2013 at 7:36 pm |
  15. mason

    God is the worst word ever created by humans.

    January 19, 2013 at 5:40 pm |
  16. mason

    Among the educated and thinkers the God delusion is dying, and that is good.

    January 19, 2013 at 5:39 pm |
    • Eilson

      No, belief is not dying. It never will. It's just fashionable now to declare otherwise. You know, like caring for AIDS patients used to be. The elites will move on to the latest rage soon enough

      January 19, 2013 at 5:42 pm |
    • ikjyotsinghkohli1

      Please be more careful in your statements: Among the educated and thinkers include people like George F.R. Ellis, Einstein, Maxwell, Newton, and John Lennox. I severely doubt you would want to get into a debate with the likes of them!

      January 19, 2013 at 5:44 pm |
    • John

      After 2 university degrees in science, I guess I just don't feel any need to reject God to impress you.

      January 19, 2013 at 5:45 pm |
    • Eilson

      You talking to me?

      January 19, 2013 at 5:46 pm |
    • Eilson

      It is exactly the uneducated and unscientific – namely 99% of the people on here, who are rejecting belief. The real thinkers know better than that, and they don't troll here with wing nuts like you

      January 19, 2013 at 5:48 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Oh, nonsense. Most of the thumpers here can't figure out how to punctuate a sentence or spell words that have more than two syllables. They don't know the difference between "you're" and "your." They can't figure out when to use "too, to, or two."

      I wouldn't count on most of them to be able to read road signs and operate a motor vehicle, much less interpret the bible or understand science and medicine.

      January 19, 2013 at 5:52 pm |
    • John

      Nobody told God he couldn't make a universe without a science degree... and here we are.

      January 19, 2013 at 5:59 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      What makes you think a god did it? Why is that your only possible conclusion?

      January 19, 2013 at 6:02 pm |
    • John

      God told me he made it.

      January 19, 2013 at 6:10 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Next time he does that, John, be sure to videotape it.

      January 19, 2013 at 6:32 pm |
  17. ikjyotsinghkohli1

    It is disturbing to me as a physicist, how many people on this forum don't know about cosmology, the causal structure of the universe, the Einstein field equations, the Raychaudhuri equation, isometry groups, etc... Unless you know about these topics, you have NO RIGHT to claim anything about science and religion, or the universe. Please educate yourselves in terms of the science, just not random stuff you've read somewhere on some site.

    January 19, 2013 at 5:38 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      It is amusing to see you stomping around like Rumpelstiltskin, bellowing that anyone who doesn't have a degree in some form of science has "NO RIGHT" to be here.

      You might be a great scientist (though I doubt it, considering your need to pat yourself on the back) but you're completely ignorant of our right to free expression.

      In other words, blow it out your ass.

      January 19, 2013 at 6:05 pm |
    • ikjyotsinghkohli1

      So, Tom, if you're not aware of the scientific arguments, what possible positive contribution can you make to the notion of God and the universe? Remember, you asked me first, of why I felt the need to invoke a Creator, it is not my problem, that you don't like the answer.

      January 19, 2013 at 6:27 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Look, fvcktard, if you think anyone here believes your tripe, you're delusional. You claim that unless one is a physicist, one has no right to discuss anything here. You are wrong. Furthermore, none of your claptrap proves in any way, shape, or form, that the universe was 'created' at all. You don't know that, and if you really WERE a scientist, you wouldn't be satisfied with that answer.

      January 19, 2013 at 6:35 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      And sh!twit? Learn how commas work, 'mmkay?

      January 19, 2013 at 6:36 pm |
  18. CP

    AnnieCee-
    It is not necessary for knowledge to be complete to prove there is no god. Asking someone to prove a negative is absurd. There is no logic that can be applied to religious belief. "God of the gaps" is not really a theory, it is just a phrase, but I understand why you believe that should be trashed – because it so well describes the basis of many peoples belief.

    I believe you make my point when you said "The limits of human knowledge are PROFOUND. We've barely scratched the surface. There's plenty of room for God. " – The gaps are absolutely essential for god – no gaps no god.

    January 19, 2013 at 5:38 pm |
  19. YEPthat'sME

    I think it's strange how repelled people become when there is just a simple mention of God.

    January 19, 2013 at 5:37 pm |
  20. Ellen Lindop

    This reminds me of my life. I want to thank her for having the courage to write this and CNN for posting it. And please I dont need saving. I am very happy being a non believer and being a humanist.

    January 19, 2013 at 5:35 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.