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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 • Faith Now • iReport

soundoff (15,081 Responses)
  1. Jim

    1 This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.

    2 For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,

    3 Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good,

    4 Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;

    5 Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.

    6 For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly awomen laden with sins, led away with divers lusts,

    7 Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.

    January 20, 2013 at 5:36 pm |
    • Mark

      Double-post to double-down on the crazy.

      January 20, 2013 at 5:42 pm |
    • sam stone

      Wow, Jim....a cut and paste. You don't get any more convincing than that, no sireebob

      January 20, 2013 at 6:25 pm |
  2. bornagain

    Ralph I agree, religion is a waste of time. A relationship with God is not. That is eternal. BIG DIFFERENCE!!!!
    Men wrote the bible, God was thier author. He used man to write the bible like you use a pen to write a letter.
    That is why all the predictions are coming true, because the author is GOD!!!! :)

    January 20, 2013 at 5:35 pm |
  3. Jim

    This know also, that in the alast days perilous btimes shall come.

    2 For men shall be lovers of their own selves, acovetous, boasters, bproud, blasphemers, cdisobedient to parents, dunthankful, unholy,

    3 Without anatural baffection, ctrucebreakers, dfalse accusers, eincontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good,

    4 aTraitors, bheady, chighminded, lovers of dpleasures more than lovers of God;

    5 Having a aform of godliness, but bdenying the power thereof: from such turn away.

    6 For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly awomen laden with sins, led away with divers blusts,

    7 Ever alearning, and never able to come to the bknowledge of the ctruth.

    January 20, 2013 at 5:34 pm |
    • Mark

      Doing the last days thing now, are we?

      Sheesh, the crazies are coming out now.

      January 20, 2013 at 5:37 pm |
  4. bornagain

    GOD DOES NOT WANT TO MAKE SENSE EXACTLY. IT IS NOT SUPPOSED TO BE LOGICAL. IF IT WERE LOGICAL THEN THERE WOULD BE NO REASON FOR FAITH!!!!!!!! That is what he wants, our trust our faith our belief. Thats how he builds a relationship with us. Besides, consider the alternative. Mr. Logical science who once told us that the earth was flat and that there were only 9 planets in the solar system. Logical?????

    January 20, 2013 at 5:33 pm |
    • Kingofthenet

      Why is Faith good? Seems to me Faith gives a logical person a perfectly honest out, whereas IF God make his presence felt without a doubt, you would be left with no cover for disbelief?

      January 20, 2013 at 5:36 pm |
    • Ryan

      Do you know how silly you sound? It would be comical if religious zealots did not have real influence in this world.

      January 20, 2013 at 5:45 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      Now where have I heard this before? Oh, yeah ...
       
      "It's not supposed to make sense! It's faith! Don't ya know what faith is? Faith is when you believe somethin' that nobody in their right mind would believe!"
      —Archie Bunker, responding to Meathead on All in the Family

      January 20, 2013 at 5:51 pm |
    • Fuel

      Bornagain and again,
      Faith will lead you to any God–any number of Gods–hence it is absolutely USELESS in distinguishing truth from fiction. That is why faith (in this context; religious faith-blind faith) is inherently TOXIC!

      January 20, 2013 at 6:42 pm |
  5. Veronica

    If God is entirely cruel, then why are good things permitted to happen?

    January 20, 2013 at 5:32 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      Snap out of it, Veronica. "Good", "evil", "kind", and "cruel" are value judgments imposed by human beings on the more or less arbitrary workings of the universe. God has nothing to do with them, because God doesn't exist.

      January 20, 2013 at 5:53 pm |
    • Fuel

      Veronica,
      Boy you have high standards for your God–'Not entirely cruel'? Why would an all powerful all knowing God allow for any crueltiy at all?

      January 20, 2013 at 6:46 pm |
  6. Chien

    Believing in God, getting to know Him and His Love for me, and to have a close relationship with Him is the best thing in my life. Thanks be to God for this life and everything that comes with it.

    Faith in God is more important than life itself !

    Glory to God in the highest and peace to people of good will.

    in JMJ

    January 20, 2013 at 5:29 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      You are welcome to join your much lusted-after Lord and Savior this very day if you wish. You have the power in your own hands. Go ahead, you think the afterlife is such a great deal, go for it. Don't let us stop you.

      January 20, 2013 at 5:54 pm |
  7. Godoflunaticscreation

    January 20, 2013 at 5:29 pm |
  8. Veronica

    Maybe God is just messing with us.
    It's his universe.
    Why do some hold God to a standard of objective perfection and rationality?
    Maybe he doesn't want to make sense.
    God can be irrational if he so chooses to be.
    A being able to create 500 billion galaxies of 100 billion stars each can do whatever he wants.
    If people can do things that don't make sense to some (skydiving, bunjee cord jumping, tattoos, piercings, etc.), then so can God.
    He can put pickles on his pizza if he wants to.

    January 20, 2013 at 5:28 pm |
    • Kingofthenet

      You do realize that also means God is under NO obligation to be 'Good' in the slightest, the Devil is also a God to Mortals.

      January 20, 2013 at 5:33 pm |
  9. Skip Stealey

    I am quite aware of how many people do not believe in our Lord and that many people believe that faith is only a crutch for those of us who do believe. What these people are missing is that our Lord told us that this would happen. He stated that in the last days, many would fall away from the Way. The world is doing exactly what He told us it would be doing. The prophecy in Scripture is being fulfilled and it delights me. Atheists don't seem to understand that they are being blinded and by their actions they are proving God is in charge. Ya'll have a nice day, now.

    January 20, 2013 at 5:27 pm |
    • Gir

      Jeebus knew people would wise up and dismiss his cult as the rubbish it is.

      January 20, 2013 at 5:32 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Really? You mean the people who wrote the bible predicted that a time would come where people would no longer believe it? They must have been psychic. lol

      January 20, 2013 at 5:32 pm |
    • CNN.Commenter

      The utter arrogance to judge others based on your beliefs is astounding.

      January 20, 2013 at 5:34 pm |
    • A Modest Proposal

      The rest of your post is pretty run-of-the mill hate stuff, but this is the alarming part and it should be alarming to every sane person:

      "prophecy in Scripture is being fulfilled and it delights me"

      Translation: The world is going to go into the toilet and I want it to.

      Basically, these people don't care about our planet one bit. They don't care about wars. They don't care about poverty or starvation. They don't care about disease or death. It's all one big ultimate ride them and they won't do a thing to fight against it. Because if they do, it would slow down the eventual end of the world and their imaginary rise into heaven. For those people who honestly believe this, I have a suggestion. For the good of us who still want to take care of the planet and it's people, and for your own heavenly peace, put a bullet through your skull. That will expedite your rise into heaven and leave us with one less person that is making saving this planet an uphill battle.

      January 20, 2013 at 5:53 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      Bernie Madoff, that you? You warned us that people claiming to be from the SEC would come around inquiring about your secret investment practices, but we didn't tell 'em a thing. Just keep those dividends rolling in, Bernie. We TRUST you SOOOO much!

      January 20, 2013 at 5:57 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Skip:
      There is no evidence that any god exists. There is no evidence that there is a heaven or a hell or a satan or any sort of afterlife. The majority of the people on this planet do not believe in your god.

      You believe something that artificially makes you feel superior and special, but there is no reason to believe that death will bring you - or anyone - anything other than decomposition and eventual obscurity. But if believing a myth makes you happy I have no problem with it, unless you try to use that belief as an excuse for discrimination against or harm to others.

      January 20, 2013 at 6:08 pm |
  10. Ralph Monkman

    Religion; the opiate of the masses, or more appropriately a crutch for the feeble minded. Go ahead lay it on me all you christians.

    January 20, 2013 at 5:27 pm |
    • Dwayne Zandbergen

      Ralph – don't confuse religion and God. Religion is man's interpretation and shape of what God means? You want to find out if God is real? Go for a walk. Learn about Him from Muslims, Jews, Christians, Hindus – and science. Then go for another walk. God is not confined to what we believe or the faith we have (evolution, creation or something in between) – it's what is and what could be. I feel sorry for people on both ends of the spectrum – those that are too entrenched in another's belief to think for themselves and those that walk alone, arrogant that this is all there is and nothing more.

      January 20, 2013 at 5:41 pm |
    • Rational Believer

      Atheism is the luxury of the well fed, and safe. All cultures of man have had religious believers and doubters. Hate is a poison that kills the hater more often than the hated. The idea of God is much more than a sky fairy. It is the core belief that has supported man from the beginning. The possibility that man will go to the stars without Faith is quite small. We are fundamentally religious beings with a logical overlay, not logical beings with a religious overlay. You may disagree with me, but objectively, these truths are self evident.

      January 20, 2013 at 5:50 pm |
    • Mark

      @Believer
      Saying something is "self-evident" doesn't make it so. It just makes you look silly.

      "Atheism is the luxury of the well fed, and safe"
      I would like to focus on this statement of yours and let's think about it for a moment. You assert that when people have a full stomach and a safe environment they are more inclined to find atheism. I would argue that there is another key aspect of this "luxury" which is education. So basically, education, food/shelter and personal safety ==> Atheism. Sounds like what every person on the planet is striving towards and what all reasonable people on the planet want for everyone else.

      January 20, 2013 at 6:03 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Humanity has created thousands of gods to explain the unknown, and to perhaps gain the illusion of control over it. The more science explains natural phenomena, the fewer gods we have. I think if humanity survives long enough, we will outgrow the need for these manifestations of fear and ignorance. But that's a mighty big "if".

      January 20, 2013 at 6:11 pm |
  11. Kingofthenet

    The whole idea of 'Belief' is childlike, and makes no sense, I am an Atheist but if God exists and is good, I have no problem changing my mind and seeing reality, and following this good creature.But that isn't enough is it?,nor apparently is how good I live my life, No the ONE thing I have to do is BELIEVE or for some unexplainable reason I will be condemned to hell, how does that even make sense?

    January 20, 2013 at 5:27 pm |
  12. bornagain

    GOD

    I am very real and love each and every one of you specifically and individually. When you choose to be an atheist and reject me and live life on your own, I rarely show myself to you because you won't let me in your life to build a relationship with me and prove myself to you. It is your own fault that you do not know me. NOT MINE!!!!!

    January 20, 2013 at 5:27 pm |
    • Gir

      Another religionist kook claiming to speak for the flying sky wizard.

      January 20, 2013 at 5:32 pm |
    • Akira

      You presume to speak for God?

      January 20, 2013 at 5:35 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      Anyone who wonders where writings purporting to be from God originally came from, it's still happening in the here and now. Any charlatan can use "God" as a pseudonym. But if God didn't show up in person and lay the word on you, you'd be an idiot to believe all the con artists who claimed to be him.

      January 20, 2013 at 5:59 pm |
    • JWT

      I never chose to be an atheist.

      January 20, 2013 at 6:09 pm |
    • tallulah13

      bornagain:

      I can't figure out if you think you are god, or if you just think you speak for god. Either way, your delusion is sad and unconvincing.

      January 20, 2013 at 6:22 pm |
    • Fuel

      I didn't 'choose to be an atheist'–I chose to use my mind and seek truth. God choose to do a spectacular, mind blowingly comprehensive job of obscuring his existance and I fell for his elaborate deception.

      January 20, 2013 at 6:52 pm |
  13. bornagain

    The bible contradicts itself on purpose. This is something that atheists commonly use without understanding why. As a christian, I am agreeing with you that the bible contradicts itself. God does this on purpose in order to snare the proud human beings who are foolish and reject thier own creator. It is that simple. Very similar to atheists always attacking the old testament without mentioning that there is a NEW testament was created. (forgiveness)

    January 20, 2013 at 5:25 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      January 20, 2013 at 5:27 pm |
    • FreeFromTheism

      so there is no way that you're wrong, eh?

      January 20, 2013 at 5:28 pm |
    • tallulah13

      So god doesn't want people to believe in him. He lies in his book and rewards people for being stupid and naive. People who actually expect that a god would be honest will go to hell because they are too smart or too moral for god.

      Hmmm. Again, I'm glad I'm an atheist. Even if I believed that your god existed, I wouldn't worship such a corrupt being.

      January 20, 2013 at 6:27 pm |
    • Fuel

      So how does one decide which, if any, of the contraditions are true? Sounds to me like the entire Bible is completely meaningless by YOUR description.

      January 20, 2013 at 7:05 pm |
  14. Veronica

    Just because there are contradictions in the Bible doesn't mean there isn't a Creator.

    January 20, 2013 at 5:22 pm |
    • FreeFromTheism

      very true.. but it shows that the bible is packed with contradictions
      if the bible is the word of the Creator from the bible, then don't you have a problem with that?

      January 20, 2013 at 5:26 pm |
    • Athy

      But if the bible is supposed to be the word of god wouldn't you expect it to be perfect?

      January 20, 2013 at 5:31 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Actually it means that Christians don't worship the correct god because the "correct" god lied to them....or god is made up by fallible humans.

      January 20, 2013 at 5:34 pm |
    • CNN.Commenter

      The bible is full of contradictions. The bible is full of truths which has been dis-proven. The bible is full of evils that need to be bulls*itted away by interpretation. How is it so many people still follow it?

      January 20, 2013 at 5:39 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      That's right, Veronica. It just means that the Creator is the god worshipped by someone other than Christians. You guys got it wrong. Maybe it was the Mormons. THEIR God keeps showing up to fix his previous mistakes.

      January 20, 2013 at 6:02 pm |
  15. bornagain

    John Baxter.

    In the bible specifically it says that all of Gods creatures and all of Gods children automatically get heaven. There is a subject in the bible called "without knowledge". (animals and children) both of which automatically get heaven when they die. At the same token there is something called "without excuse" which essentially is for adolescent to grown up human beings who have an opportunity in life to accept the holy spirit or in turn decide to reject it. That is difference between heaven bound and hell bound. It is not about good vs bad, right vs wrong. Has nothing to do with that. We are all sinners no matter what. "If you accept me and profess me in front of man, I will profess you in front of God" "If you reject me and do not profess me in front of man, I will reject you in front of God" -Jesus....... btw, nobody knows where heaven is, you are not supposed to. The things and places that seem impossible to man are more than possible to God.

    January 20, 2013 at 5:21 pm |
    • FreeFromTheism

      why should i care about what your scriptures say?

      January 20, 2013 at 5:25 pm |
  16. Godoflunaticscreation

    January 20, 2013 at 5:19 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Best video on the subject!

      January 20, 2013 at 5:20 pm |
  17. Godoflunaticscreation

    January 20, 2013 at 5:18 pm |
  18. Veronica

    What does the meaning of life have to with religion?

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH
    AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAAHAHAHA
    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH
    HAHAHAHAHHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

    January 20, 2013 at 5:18 pm |
    • FreeFromTheism

      that's not what the other poster said when replying to your whole "do scientists know the meaning of life" and all that other nonsense

      January 20, 2013 at 5:22 pm |
  19. Godoflunaticscreation

    January 20, 2013 at 5:16 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Warning. This video contains the only proof of god known to exist.

      January 20, 2013 at 5:33 pm |
  20. god

    i am not real. get over yourself!

    January 20, 2013 at 5:08 pm |
    • GOD

      To find me look within your heart.

      January 20, 2013 at 5:35 pm |
    • tallulah13

      To find god, look inside your imagination.

      January 20, 2013 at 5:57 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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.