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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. Bobby Uppot

    If you wonder why we are here you should see the movie "It's a Wonderful Life" with Jimmy Stewart.

    It's about the best explanation of Christianity and life that I know.

    Talk to me and tell me how you feel about life after you see that.

    January 20, 2013 at 10:22 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Seen it. So?

      January 20, 2013 at 10:23 pm |
    • Esmerelda de Ville

      Bobby – you just walked into a hate cult meeting. atheists everywhere. They will cannibalize you. Watch your rump. LOL!

      January 20, 2013 at 10:26 pm |
    • TANK!!!!

      Seen it.

      Christianity is still bullshlt.

      January 20, 2013 at 10:26 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      The colorized version lacks soul.

      January 20, 2013 at 10:27 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Poor Wow. You must be really upset.

      January 20, 2013 at 10:27 pm |
    • tallulah13

      I saw it. Or at least part of it. It seems like a nice old fashioned feel-good movie. But as old movies go, I really much prefer Gunga Din with Cary Grant and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. It's racist as all get out, but funny and entertaining. And lets face it: Young Cary Grant was rather easy on the eyes.

      January 20, 2013 at 10:40 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Most truthful post I've seen in the last hour. Cary Grant....

      January 20, 2013 at 10:52 pm |
  2. missy

    If God is for you, who can be against you? No one can shake my faith. Jesus warned His followers that like Him, they would be persecuted and hated.

    January 20, 2013 at 10:22 pm |
    • Mark

      You can't be serious about this persecution comment. How many hundreds of thousands of churches, how many television channels and radio stations do religious people need before they stop imagining themselves as being persecuted? Also, please note that quoting scripture is where discussion about religion goes to die.

      January 20, 2013 at 10:26 pm |
    • Devoted Christian

      Amen, sister! Blind faith and persecution complexes are the road to eternal bliss in the company of such lovable characters as Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and Terry Jones!

      January 20, 2013 at 10:32 pm |
  3. Austin

    what does it mean, if the cat came to my house, and that night i had a dream a demonic voice sang, inverted my body, and the cat ran under me with blood gushing out. and when i woke up the cat was flat as a pancake in the road. where is the delusion?

    you hate the truth. what did i do wrong? what is wrong with me? I had a dream? or the cat was actually dead?

    January 20, 2013 at 10:21 pm |
    • Esmerelda de Ville

      ROTFL!

      January 20, 2013 at 10:22 pm |
    • Coup de Ville

      Christian POS, in your unfinished dream the cat was not yet dead. You had only to present your SPCA card an the resurrected Hitchens would have spared all the blood. Loser! LOL!

      January 20, 2013 at 10:25 pm |
  4. Kentucky Windage

    ..Hey, look at the track record of the christians: the Crusades (in the Middle East AND Europe!!), the Inquisition, the christian armies of Napolean, the christian armies of Germany and the U.S. in BOTH World Wars !
    ..
    ...the christians are the GREATEST KILLERS OF ALL TIME...and Jesus was such a peaceful fellow !!
    ..

    January 20, 2013 at 10:20 pm |
    • Kev

      It just goes to show that there are so many different ideas as to what a Christian actually is, not to mention that they can't all be right.

      January 20, 2013 at 10:49 pm |
  5. Esmerelda de Ville

    Atheist Bible = C. Hitchens and R. Dawkins videos, Myth Busters re-runs, Bill Maher pay per view specials, D & D games, and SPCA membership cards. LOL! That's all you have. What losers

    January 20, 2013 at 10:19 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Yet you seem quite fascinated. LOL!

      January 20, 2013 at 10:22 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Keep thinking that while we take the wheel. You can sit in the back of the bus, preferably behind a caged enclosure.

      January 20, 2013 at 10:23 pm |
    • Esmerelda de Ville

      Actually, I'm not. But whoever that is keeps posting those stupid videos on this site. he seems more in love with that fall-down drunk hitchens than anyone else. What a loser.

      January 20, 2013 at 10:24 pm |
    • the AnViL

      it seems butthurt

      ppl get so upset when you tell them the truth that jebus never existed and their imaginary man in the sky isn't real.

      sad stuff

      January 20, 2013 at 10:26 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      She is obviously butt hurt. She reeks of it.

      January 20, 2013 at 10:27 pm |
    • Mark

      Looks like atheists have really jostled Esmirelda's jimmies.

      January 20, 2013 at 10:27 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Yes, Essie's got her hair in a braid and her knickers in a twist. Poor little Wow.

      January 20, 2013 at 10:37 pm |
  6. linny

    I am not overly religious but i think we all need to be reminded....
    Romans 14:1-23
    As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind

    January 20, 2013 at 10:18 pm |
  7. Coup de Ville

    Christian POS

    We know you have a puppy. Unhand that unborn child, undo your unmentionables and service the Lord. LOL!

    January 20, 2013 at 10:16 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OssZkWU-ZjQ&w=640&h=390]

      January 20, 2013 at 10:19 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      This guy sounds like he's about to cry. Look at all those christian faces in the crowd coming to realization that they have been lied to by those they trusted.

      January 20, 2013 at 10:21 pm |
    • Esmerelda de Ville

      Look at his fat bloated face and his glassy eyes. A fall down drunk. yeah, I'm going to listen to that dead umbriago. LOL

      January 20, 2013 at 10:28 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      For that insolence you can stay in Mexico.

      January 20, 2013 at 10:36 pm |
  8. Migsund Freud

    Given enough time to speak their true beliefs, a religious person will always reveal their hidden mentaldisbalances

    January 20, 2013 at 10:16 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Sadly they are too thick to realize even that.

      January 20, 2013 at 10:19 pm |
  9. victoria

    @Esmerelda de ville. You are a sad commentary of what a christian is. Why would anyone want to be like you? You spew garbage from your mouth and proclaim to be a christian. You are full of hate towards those who don't agree with you. I feel sorry for you, which by the way is lower than having pity for someone. Grow up or go away.

    January 20, 2013 at 10:12 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      She is a perfect example of someone who has accepted Jesus. She is at peace and infinite love radiates from her.

      January 20, 2013 at 10:13 pm |
    • Answer

      @victoria

      Why would you want to deny our fun?

      I love watching the ranting of lunatics and their hate. It fills me with joy to see that christians are suffering for their stupidity.

      January 20, 2013 at 10:15 pm |
    • Esmerelda de Ville

      Victoria = I hate you because you seem to hate me. Stop hating because you only make me hate more what I already hate. LOL!
      You make no sense.

      January 20, 2013 at 10:16 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      I agree. Let her comment and prove the good christianity has to offer. That way I don't even have to argue with her. She defeats herself.

      January 20, 2013 at 10:17 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Esmerelda's team must have lost the playoff game.

      January 20, 2013 at 10:18 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      I think her brain has lost the battle with encephalitis.

      January 20, 2013 at 10:22 pm |
  10. Godoflunaticscreation

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Tw3i3k4zCs&w=640&h=390]

    January 20, 2013 at 10:10 pm |
    • Esmerelda de Ville

      Make that 6 Hitchens videos. LOL!

      That's quite a bible you have. LOL!

      January 20, 2013 at 10:13 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      The video is ten minutes. You commented 3 minutes after I posted it. I can tell you are fearful of watching it.

      January 20, 2013 at 10:15 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      She doesn't know what the arrow in the middle of the screen is for.

      January 20, 2013 at 10:16 pm |
    • Esmerelda de Ville

      Uh, hello! Already seen his schtick. Not impressed. didn't watch your offering of his drunken ramblings

      January 20, 2013 at 10:18 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      You forgot the "LOL," Essie. LOL!

      January 20, 2013 at 10:19 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Shtick? So I guess you saw the one where he walks on water.

      January 20, 2013 at 10:28 pm |
  11. DaveLake

    Austin-Did you really post this "the devil has control of you if you do this to your child. ". Oh my gosh you believe there is a devil! That character was created when mankind was considered primitive.

    January 20, 2013 at 10:10 pm |
    • Nurse Shark

      Austin is struggling with psychotic dream-delusion episodes. Apparently he is an assault rifle short of kindergarten fame.

      January 20, 2013 at 10:13 pm |
  12. Esmerelda de Ville

    It's 10:10 p.m. Do you still hate your parents? LOL!

    January 20, 2013 at 10:10 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      Run for the border!

      January 20, 2013 at 10:11 pm |
    • Answer

      A hollow christian and their emptiness are a thing of beauty.

      January 20, 2013 at 10:12 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Desperate troll is desperate.

      January 20, 2013 at 10:15 pm |
  13. Coup de Ville

    Jesus Christ is the source of my joy, peace and happiness. He sustains me through difficult times. He IS my rock. I am grateful for His unwavering driving skills as he never fails to miss groundhogs on the way to church. LOL!

    January 20, 2013 at 10:09 pm |
    • Curiouser and curiouser

      The various De Villes all seem to equate atheism to liking animals. I guesss only true Christians hate animals.

      January 20, 2013 at 10:11 pm |
  14. Esmerelda de Ville

    Atheists PSA's

    It's 10:00 p.m. have you pet your dog today?

    Have you killed an unborn child today?

    January 20, 2013 at 10:09 pm |

    • poe

      January 20, 2013 at 10:10 pm |
    • Answer

      So you've changed to a different screen name to do the same drivel...

      What will your new screen name be by next week?

      January 20, 2013 at 10:10 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      If you're a christian, have you sacrificed your child today? Have you touched them in their naughty parts?

      January 20, 2013 at 10:12 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Poor Esme. Don't your 'friends' let you play World of Warcraft with them anymore? Is it so dull in Mom's basement that you have to pretend to be a girl and post stupid insulting things just so people will pay attention to you?

      January 20, 2013 at 10:17 pm |
  15. cm

    This is news again?! Pushing the atheist agenda again CNN?

    January 20, 2013 at 10:07 pm |
  16. ATadLate

    I believe Deborah Mitchell would make a great Canadian. Why not Deborah? You would be welcomed.

    Much more tolerant, believe what you like, never hear the word God when our members of Parliament are presenting to the nation, a separation of church and state (no prayers in school). Oh, and very few guns. Hmm, I wonder if there's a connection?

    January 20, 2013 at 10:07 pm |
    • tallulah13

      As a U.S. citizen, I truly appreciate our northern neighbors and wish this nation would take a page out of your book in regards to things like religion and health care.

      January 20, 2013 at 10:20 pm |
  17. Esmerelda de Ville

    Atheist Bible = C. Hitchens and R. Dawkins videos, Myth Busters re-runs, Bill Maher pay per view specials, D & D games, and SPCA membership cards. LOL! What losers.

    January 20, 2013 at 10:07 pm |
  18. Godoflunaticscreation

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SnyS2fiHm20&w=640&h=390]

    January 20, 2013 at 10:05 pm |
    • Godoflunaticscreation

      For Esmerelda the vile.

      January 20, 2013 at 10:06 pm |
  19. missy

    Jesus Christ is the source of my joy, peace and happiness. He sustains me through difficult times. He IS my rock. I am grateful for His unwavering love.

    January 20, 2013 at 10:04 pm |
    • tallulah13

      It makes missy feel all warm and fuzzy when she thinks about how a man was tortured to death so that she wouldn't be accountable for her own actions.

      January 20, 2013 at 10:33 pm |
  20. JOE B

    Jesus was always here. We are on this earth for a fleeting time and then we enter eternity. The Bible is clear what happens next. God is giving every human being the opportunity on this earth as to where they want to spend eternity. We all have choice. He asks, "Do you want to be with Him or do you want to be away from Him?" You have freedom of choice. Don't be mad at Christians. They want you to choose paradise with the Lord. If you want to be with Him, He is offering you a free ticket to heaven. If you don't want to be with Him in this world then so be it but the consequences are awful. Love God and you will see greater things than you can imagine. Choose Life, your life in heaven.

    January 20, 2013 at 10:03 pm |
    • ATadLate

      Joe, The Bible was written by humans. It's the equivalent of the modern day "Marketing and Advertising!". (Meant to shape your views and change your behaviour............for the purpose of? Think HARD about the purpose!)

      January 20, 2013 at 10:10 pm |
    • tallulah13

      I chose reality, Joe. And I'm not afraid of my own mortality.

      January 20, 2013 at 10:36 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.