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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. G-Dallas

    Interesting premise. So who is the arbiter the "just" "good" and "fair" question?

    January 21, 2013 at 12:44 pm |
    • loo /sigh

      if you need a religion to know that, you have failed as a human being.

      January 21, 2013 at 12:47 pm |
    • isolate

      Is it necessary to have an "arbiter" at all? Yesterday there was an article on CNN about a sense of fair play and justice in animals, especially in our cousins the chimps. Ethical standards have evolved over millions of years in many different species. The evolutionary benefit is that those societies are able to cohere better.

      January 21, 2013 at 1:11 pm |
  2. loo /sigh

    the issue is 100% people, the bible states you may show someone the path but cannot force them apon it,if a person already knows the path and chooses not to take it, that is all you can do, praying for them or giving them letters will simply push them further away or into they will fake it so you will leave them alone.
    for someone to follow the bible they must take god into their heart, if you MAKE someone follow religion, they will NOT take god into their heart, they will simply pretend.
    this is the foly of chirstians, they do not understand this, they do not understand that they are forcing their beliefs on others and that, that is against the teachings of their own god.

    January 21, 2013 at 12:44 pm |
  3. sj

    Someone has probably already posted this, but this article is much more worthy of being read : http://blogs.christianpost.com/confident-christian/why-i-raise-my-children-with-god-14218/

    January 21, 2013 at 12:44 pm |
  4. Beam49

    Frankly I am surprised at the reaction she got...I mean the new media has made it sound like a belief in God is a rare thing anymore and most don't believe...so I would have thought nonbelief was in the majority...its usually those of us that belief that are harassed and told we are believing in a fairy tale...:/ Frankly I could care less what people belief and most certainly wouldn't harass a mother, or dad, or anyone, regarding their beliefs...

    January 21, 2013 at 12:44 pm |
    • loo /sigh

      you dont read much, even this article stated the opposite. i am betting someone TOLD you that and you think it is true.
      cant believe everything you hear, sorry.

      January 21, 2013 at 12:47 pm |
    • isolate

      You've never lived in the Deep South, have you? I've had conversations with people in Texas, Louisiana and elsewhere who simply couldn't accept that someone could lead a moral life without Jesus. It was striking how anything I said bounced off them without any mental processing on their part at all. They repeated the same ritual phrases over and over instead of contributing anything original or insightful. The same scenario played out again and again in nearly the same words. It began to be creepy. All I can compare it to is the telephone customer service people in certain companies who read off the same lines regardless of the problem the caller is having.

      I've never enjoyed living in or visiting south of the Mason-Dixon line. The pressure to conform, the need to double-check what you say to avoid a confrontation, the obsessive thoughts on so many topics– it's not for me.

      January 21, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
  5. Derp

    Its nice to see logic going mainstream. When I was a small kid and I told my classmates that I didn't believe, those good christians responded by physically attacking me.

    January 21, 2013 at 12:43 pm |
    • loo /sigh

      the adults do the same.

      January 21, 2013 at 12:48 pm |
    • The Truth

      I find it funny how often religious zealots decide to take matters into their own hands to enforce their God's supposed will on others. Funny sad not funny ha ha. Either their God is very lazy and waits on his followers to judge, sentence and execute his will, or he is incapable of carrying out his own wishes, which doesn't sound like a very powerful God at all...

      January 21, 2013 at 12:51 pm |
  6. landofodin

    jesus didn't even exist, he was not a real person. there are 44 different kings, leaders, ect.. who all had the same story ...born on or near the winter solstice, performed miracles, died and raised from the dead on or near the spring equinox, were known as the light or son of god, all before the time of jesus. almost all of christian holidays are PAGAN christianity is a stolen religion ! why to you think the VIKINGS raided monestaries? they were mad as hell. lastly there is no historic evidence of jesus, anywhere outside the bible, someone would have wrote something about such a popular man. don't you think? wake up !!! god doesen't want you wasting your brain power

    January 21, 2013 at 12:43 pm |
    • Semper Cogitatus

      All religion borrows from other religions. Religion is cultural and one culture has derived from another since long before we started writing things down.

      Using that as proof the Jesus did not exist is silly. The world has never had a shortage of itinerant preachers, some are very charismatic and gain large followings and the Romans certainly executed people for rabble rousing. It makes far more sense that there was such a person and that his legacy developed into this massive religion, that to believe that the whole thing was just made up in a massive conspiracy.

      That doesn't mean I am claiming that he was divine, did miracles, or anything else, only that there is no basis at all for claiming that such a person didn't exist, and that using the fact that cultures borrow heavily from the cultures that preceded them as evidence that a person didn't exist is absurd. You accept the existence of other historical figures are far less evidence, you likely accept the existence of the founders of other religions.

      The word for what you are doing here is bigotry.

      January 21, 2013 at 1:09 pm |
    • some schmuck

      The word for what he is doing is reason.

      There exists not one shred of evidence that the man described in the gospels ever existed. With all the things he was doing, at least ONE secular historian of the time would have written SOMETHING about him. Nope. One mentions some trouble with Christians, and the other cited reference to Christ was proven to be a fake back in the 50s. Doesn't stop people from citing it though.

      January 21, 2013 at 1:13 pm |
  7. Homie D Clown

    Yep.

    Case study here to show that Catholicism has screwed up many people. ALL the people I know personally that are anti-religion were raised in the Catholic Cult.

    January 21, 2013 at 12:43 pm |
    • some schmuck

      Sorry, try again, I was raised Baptist. The born again variety. It's not a problem with Catholicism, it's a problem with religious extremism. Of course, even moderate religion is BS, you just don't recognize it until you come into contact with extremist fundamentalism.

      January 21, 2013 at 12:46 pm |
    • Billy.

      Very good points some schmuck.

      January 21, 2013 at 12:53 pm |
  8. Don

    It never ceases to amze me at the "so-called Christians" ability to pass judgement on those around them that do not conform to their religous beliefs. Why in the world do we have so many different "Christian churches"? Because somewhere along the line a human being, decided their interpretation of the Bible was better than the next persons or saw an opportunity to profit through controlling the minds of the people who chose to follow them.

    My father never belonged to a church, but raised us all in a manner to respect others, treat the less fortunate with companssion, and to be helpful to those in need. He was a very well respected man in our community, and upon his passing, we had to reserve the local community hall for his funeral as it was standing room only as people attended to pay their respects to his memory.
    I remember how he used to tell me that the "Ten Commandments" were a good set of rules to live by and that we didn't need to go to a church to profess our blief in the Lord. Living in the country like we did, he said" carve a cross on a tree anywhere, and you will be in the house of the Lord".
    He never smoked, did not partake in alcohol, and the worse curse word I ever heard him phrase was "Judas Preist" when he struck his finger with a hammer.
    He honored all of his debts to his neighbors, and often I would hear him comment on those "Christian folks" who would go to church on Sunday, and then not pay their bills on Monday!. Who would steal from you all week, and then show up in church on Sunday looking for salvation.
    I believe the words of my Dad, that our spirit lives within us. Heaven is not some place in the sky or the hereafter, filled with bliss, but a state of mind we all have the ability to comprehend. A place where we all go from time to time, hence they are no atheists on the battlefield.
    My belief is the Lord Jesus Christ, enshrines us all and if we practice his teachings and the lessons learned in the Bible, we will make this world a better place to live. Of course that means that we will need to accept all human beings, gay's lesbian's, black, asian, whites alike and realize they are human beings. They bleed when they are cut, and the color of their blood is red like ours. Once we accept them all, and stop trying to force our religous beliefs on them, Islam, Christian, Catholic, Buddist, Hindu, Evangelical, Judism, we will have evelasting peace in this world.

    January 21, 2013 at 12:41 pm |
    • Austin

      But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of Truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.

      promise of the Holy Spirit from Jesus John 15:26-27

      January 21, 2013 at 12:46 pm |
    • Daniel

      This is by far the best comment I've heard on this entire forum. Very well said good sir. I for one am not a religious man, but I gladly accept all who are, and do not try to force my beliefs on others. We are all members of the human race floating on a rock in space, and we make this journey together. Thanks for your kind words and I wish you all the best.

      January 21, 2013 at 12:46 pm |
    • Charles

      Don, you are spot on with this. I agree 110%. You mention something that reminds me of some people that I used to work with. I worked with several people that used to act like they were the shining example of a Christian....all because they went to church every sunday....But I tell you what, this group was some of the worst hypocryts I ever met. Some of the things they did at work a "christian" would not do. I actually confronted one of them one time after they did something and said "I thought you were a church goer", they said yes,....I followed it up with....."A christian wouldn't do that" they didn't say a word, you could tell they were rather upset I called them on it.

      January 21, 2013 at 12:49 pm |
    • Daniel

      Just so everyone is aware, I was commenting on Don's words or acceptance, not Austin. Austin actually became cruel and passed judgement on others earlier...not very "christ-like".

      January 21, 2013 at 12:51 pm |
    • Semper Cogitatus

      Are you not passing judgement on those that do not conform to your beliefs? Perhaps only people with your beliefs should be allowed to pass judgement on others?

      January 21, 2013 at 12:57 pm |
  9. Alex

    Organized religion – last bastion for the ignorant

    January 21, 2013 at 12:41 pm |
    • Homie D Clown

      You & the other 'ignorants' seem to be doing stupidly fine without faith.

      January 21, 2013 at 12:44 pm |
    • Daniel

      Stupidly fine, strong use of the English language...

      January 21, 2013 at 12:49 pm |
    • Billy

      No doubt, Alex.

      January 21, 2013 at 12:54 pm |
  10. Semper Cogitatus

    The only thing worse than evangelical religion is evangelical atheism. This woman is whining about something that isn't a problem. She is in the majority, only a smallish minority of Americans are religious. She is using a public forum to attack a minority.

    She needs to learn that she lives in a diverse world and that like it or not she is going to hear all sorts of things she disagrees with. Making a public outcry about how she hates hearing the opinions of a minority is just plain ridiculous.

    January 21, 2013 at 12:41 pm |
    • TANK!!!!

      If nonsense had a mugshot, this is what it would look like:

      "She is in the majority, only a smallish minority of Americans are religious. She is using a public forum to attack a minority."

      January 21, 2013 at 12:42 pm |
    • JWT

      I agree when people start spouting off their religion to her she should just tell them to to foad.

      January 21, 2013 at 12:44 pm |
    • Semper Cogitatus

      Tank: Which part is nonsense, that she is in the majority or that she is attacking a minority? Depending on who's statistics you want to use somewhere between a fifth and a third of American attend church regular, that make them a minority. CNN is most certainly a public forum and she is most certainly using it to attack that minority.

      Religion is going by the wayside in America, churches are failing, attendance is decreasing, coffers are empty. Sure, there are a few big rich churches but by and large the vast majority of churches sit mostly empty.

      When people proselytize at me a ignore them, what they believe has no effect on me or my family at all. She, and you, should do the same. Getting offended that people believe differently that you is the nonsense, and that is exactly what the author of this article is doing.

      January 21, 2013 at 12:54 pm |
  11. the AnViL

    lunchbox spittled: "You clearly dont care if people are respectful of your beliefs."

    when the prevailing religious ideology has no respect for the const.itutionally guaranteed equal rights of those who they deem immoral – why should that particular set of beliefs deserve respect?

    when xians work overtime to secularize their theistic ideals, should those who do not subscribe to that particular form of idiocy – or those who reject all forms of idiocy – just sit still and be quiet – and respect your "religious beliefs"???

    while we watch delusional ignorant xian zealots attempt to disguise their lame mythologies and insert them by force of law into our public school science classes – should we just stand back and allow them because there is some divine right to respect for that sort of behavior???

    should women who decide to abort a pregnancy just respect the ignorant retarded theistic morals of other people which would forcefully be imposed on them because – it's your divine religious belief???

    i don't think so.

    phuque you if you don't like it.

    who the hell should respect the abject ignorance of xianity which has retarded humanity for waaaaaaay too long?

    why should people be tolerant of the racism, bigotry, ignorance, division and discrimination inherent in ALL monotheistic religions??

    because your imaginary man in the sky is real to you???

    srsly??

    why should anyone respect the "beliefs" of anyone who would spittle on a mother who doesn't want to perpetuate another generation of westboro baptist mentality in this country.

    i can't think of one good reason to respect BS of any kind.

    tolerance of religious idiocy has to end... and it is.

    January 21, 2013 at 12:41 pm |
    • Semper Cogitatus

      The main thesis of the American left: "Tolerance must end". I love that you are honest enough to put that out there. It takes courage to publicly say that tolerance is a bad thing.

      January 21, 2013 at 12:46 pm |
    • the AnViL

      Semper Cogitatus – stating plainly that tolerance of bad things – isn't a good thing... doesn't take courage.

      displaying your ignorance on a national public forum does.

      good job, sport.

      January 21, 2013 at 12:57 pm |
  12. Adam

    Yea really. I agree with her.

    January 21, 2013 at 12:39 pm |
  13. Brad

    Every article on the BELIEF blog, I get through like 2 paragraphs before the stupidity of it overwhelms me and I stop reading. What an incredible waste of bandwith.

    January 21, 2013 at 12:39 pm |
    • TANK!!!!

      That's your own monumental stupidity you're feeling there, bud. Sometimes, that stupidity manifests itself to you as 'god.'

      January 21, 2013 at 12:43 pm |
    • Homie D Clown

      Amen, Brad!

      January 21, 2013 at 12:45 pm |
  14. LOL

    O.o <- the face of those who thought there was no Jesus after their last breath.

    January 21, 2013 at 12:38 pm |
    • DC

      So, your worry about your facial expression after your 'last breath' is what drives your faith now? Weird!

      January 21, 2013 at 12:44 pm |
    • SDFrankie

      Man, are we going to laugh at the atheist fools when out Loving Savior throws them screaming into a lake of fire!

      January 21, 2013 at 12:46 pm |
  15. Phil

    There are no atheists in foxholes....

    We only pray or seek God during moments of tragedy. I dare say Deborah will say a prayer, even if silent the first time her child is on death's bed.

    January 21, 2013 at 12:37 pm |
    • some schmuck

      No, that is absolutely false, it's always been false and it always will be false.

      To claim that our soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen somehow don't stick to what they believe in times of crisis is an insult to anyone who has ever worn the uniform.

      As an atheist who has been in a foxhole, I say you're full of it.

      January 21, 2013 at 12:40 pm |
    • Pete

      Actually you're wrong, I am an atheist and I have been in a foxhole. Why do Christians lie?

      January 21, 2013 at 12:41 pm |
    • Pete

      "There are no atheists in foxholes"

      More lying Christians – 116!

      January 21, 2013 at 12:41 pm |
    • Hyptiotes

      There are atheists in foxholes. There are atheists on deathbeds. There are atheists in churches and atheists in government. The fact that all atheists don't wear it on their sleeve doesn't mean they aren't there. Many are closeted because they don't want to subject themselves to the kind of scrutiny that this blogger subjected herself to. Someday, you'll see just how many of us there are when you choose to open your eyes.

      January 21, 2013 at 12:47 pm |
    • Homie D Clown

      Those replying to Phil's comment are atheists?

      Really? Swear to God? God is at least SOMETHING to believe in. How vacuous & devoid of substance the life of the atheist must be, with NOTHING to follow or believe in. Odd that people have never seen an atheist church...

      January 21, 2013 at 12:48 pm |
    • charles

      If there are no atheists in foxholes, then there are no Christians at funerals. If all it takes is DOUBT in a moment of great stress and tragedy to mean someone secretly holds hidden beliefs, then WHY DO CHRISTIANS CRY AT FUNERALS? If you really think you're going to see your loved ones again someday, then why cry? Answer: Secretly, deep down, you know you'll never see them again.

      And by the way, you don't get to use the excuse "Well, I know myself better than you do and when I cry I do it because I'm going to miss them for the time being." If you get to use that excuse, then how come you get to tell atheists YOU know what's going on inside THEIR minds.

      The whole "no atheists is foxholes" is used by inferior minds, and it can never be argued otherwise.

      You lost this debate before you woke up this morning, son.

      January 21, 2013 at 12:51 pm |
    • Phil

      Only during national crisis do you hear... "please send your thoughts and prayers" .... what did we hear after Newtown.... "please pray for the families" who exactly are they or you praying to??

      January 21, 2013 at 2:52 pm |
  16. ensense

    This story has been dragging along for the past 4 days on CNN. To all those who believe in god. Leave this store alone don't comment on it. It will die a natural death. CNN and the lady above are just looking for 15 mins of fame. and the more we comment the more they get.

    January 21, 2013 at 12:37 pm |
  17. DC

    It takes a lot of personal strength and conviction to subscribe to a rational set of beliefs, and just to hang on to them, while going through the tribulations of life, especially when the crutches of faith are so easily available.
    Having to explain yourself to others would only make it worse.

    January 21, 2013 at 12:37 pm |
  18. IT IS ALL GOOD AND GOD IS AT THE END

    Glad she is not my mom. My mom exposed me to religion but also exposed me to science and philosophy. After full exposure and her great example I then choose God.
    When you receive God's spirit only a fool would deny it exists. Glad my Mom at least made God an option.

    January 21, 2013 at 12:36 pm |
    • DC

      Is God's spirit better than other commercially available spirits (Whiskey, Rum ...)?

      January 21, 2013 at 12:39 pm |
    • Check

      @IT IS ALL GOOD AND GOD IS AT THE END,

      So, this "God" gets its legs from human word-of-mouth? What a weak god.

      January 21, 2013 at 12:51 pm |
  19. JJ

    It's great that people are finally discovering that fideism is not a philosophy for life, its a genetic defect that can be overcome through education and the acquisition of knowledge.

    January 21, 2013 at 12:35 pm |
  20. Realist

    My personal beliefs aside for the moment, tell me, which "god" is the one I should be believing in? Is it the god of Abraham? Mohammed? David? Buddha? With most religions, you're pretty much going down if you don't believe in "their" version of god. If someone can answer that definitively, then sign me up.

    January 21, 2013 at 12:33 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.