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May 22nd, 2013
06:20 PM ET

This Oklahoma atheist isn't thanking the Lord

By Jessica Ravitz, CNN

(CNN) – Behind her were ruins, a tangled mess where structures once stood. Cradled in her arms, the mother’s 19-month-old son played with a snatched microphone, unfazed by the chaos swirling around him. And in front of Rebecca Vitsmun stood CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, who – after asking her about the decision that saved her and her son's lives – had one more question:

“I guess you got to thank the Lord, right?” he asked.

“Yeah,” she mumbled, smiling and looking down.

“Do you thank the Lord for that split-second decision?” he continued.

“I, I, I,” the 30-year-old stay-at-home mom stammered before adding, “I’m actually an atheist.”

She laughed, Blitzer laughed, and the moment passed seamlessly on live TV. Except it also became a clip heard across the Internet and social media – one that pointed to a reality about faith in America that exists even where, and when, people might least expect it.

Vitsmun, who chronicled her decision to flee her house with her son on CNN iReport, is one of 13 million atheists or agnostics in America, according to a 2012 report by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life.

See Rebecca Vitsmun discuss her decision with CNN's Wolf Blitzer

While only 2.4% of Americans are atheists, they fit into a broader category that is on the rise in the United States.

Nearly 20% of adults – and a third of those under 30 – are religiously unaffiliated, the Pew report found.

This group, which has grown by roughly 5% in five years, is often referred to as the “nones.” It is a term that extends beyond atheists, who believe there is no God, and agnostics, who believe it’s impossible to prove or disprove God’s existence. It includes a greater proportion of people who see themselves as nothing in particular, which means they might be secular, spiritual or believers – but simply don’t identify with an organized religion, said Greg Smith, a senior researcher at the Pew Research Center

“When we ask people questions about their religious identity, when we ask them about their religious beliefs, there are relatively few who are atheists. But I’m speaking in percentage terms,” Smith said. “That doesn’t mean there aren’t lots of them around. And they’re certainly all over.”

Oklahoma included.

In fact, when the Pew Research Center last drilled down to uncover the religious landscape of affiliations on a state level five years ago, 12% of Oklahomans were religiously unaffiliated. And just as the numbers ticked up nationally since then, it stands to reason that they did the same in Oklahoma.

We tried to reach Vitsmun by phone Wednesday but were unable to connect.

Her friend Waylon Flinn, however, shed some light on who she is. She and her husband, who Flinn said is also an atheist, aren’t the sorts who advertise their beliefs or throw them in people’s faces. When she agreed to go on camera, it wasn’t for that platform; she didn’t even see the Lord question coming.

But that she responded to Blitzer the way she did is no surprise to Flinn, who opened his home in nearby Norman to Vitsmun’s family after theirs was destroyed.

“She handled it in her style, which is very honest and true to herself,” he said.

- CNN Writer/Producer

Filed under: Atheism • iReport • News media

soundoff (2,486 Responses)
  1. TC

    Stupid jpurnalism from the get go – the point of asking an atheist if they thank someone they don't believe in? Yes, that action makes sense and is logical.

    May 24, 2013 at 4:18 pm |
  2. SPW

    How frightening is it that someone objecting to the idea that god saved them is news worthy

    May 24, 2013 at 4:07 pm |
  3. exred

    Thank the Nation Weather Service for the warnings and allowing people the time to seek shelter. And thank the taxpayers who pay for this service. As for those that do everything possible to avoid paying taxes, I wish you would go live in a trailer in OK or KS.

    May 24, 2013 at 4:06 pm |
  4. pickle

    While I have the opportunity, and the woman missed hers to, I would like to thank the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob for all he's done for us. And for sure, to thank him for sending Jesus to die for the sins of those that believe him and repent. God is incredible, beyond our comprehension and deserving of our praise!

    May 24, 2013 at 3:14 pm |
    • Joe Bllem

      The lady did not miss hers, maybe you misheard her. She stated she was an atheist. She does not believe in "a god". Therefore there was nothing to "miss".

      May 24, 2013 at 4:01 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      @pickle.....................10 kids dead. Yep, time to thank god.

      May 24, 2013 at 7:14 pm |
  5. Dyslexic doG

    With over 20% of Americans now identifying as religiously unaffiliated and MANY of the people who do identify themselves as Christians are only saying that to stay part of "the club" and to not be ostracized by their Christian friends, the numbers of the deluded are dwindling.

    In this century of science, the bronze age voodoo of Christianity is on its way out.

    May 24, 2013 at 2:13 pm |
    • .

      bull sh it

      May 24, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
    • Jessica

      I agree. People who need to believe in magical invisible friends in order to get through life are on their way out. I can't believe how much of our public discourse still is swayed by that childish mumbo-jumbo. It's sad.

      May 24, 2013 at 3:37 pm |
  6. Sam Yaza

    an atheist in tornado alley,.. clearly shes not that intelligent,.. look every one the first atheist with an IQ under 50.

    ok no on to another issue why is
    My Take: Why my family is quitting the Boy Scouts
    locked for comments i had a perfect video lined up about timeless values from a Klan man.

    May 24, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      Their are Christians in the same ally. What's your point?

      May 24, 2013 at 7:15 pm |
  7. Science

    Bigem foot !

    Discovery Channel Mega Beasts – Great American Predator

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8UHQZVQvBkU&w=640&h=390]

    May 24, 2013 at 1:42 pm |
  8. adds

    God has the right to judge any of us. It's only by his grace that we aren't already judged.
    Think you are righteous before God? Go thru each of the 10 commandments and see how many of them you have never broken? Remember, broken not only in the letter of the law, but also in the spirit of the law.

    Only God's Son Jesus saves us by his taking the penalty for our sin on the cross, not our righteousness.

    May 24, 2013 at 1:06 pm |
    • JohnQuest

      Just how many of those same commandments have your God Broken?

      May 24, 2013 at 1:10 pm |
    • reddragon

      There is actually a couple sets of ten commandments in the bible. #10 in one of those sets is to not boil a kid in its mothers milk. Maybe you should actually read the bible and not just start preaching about the commandments. Reading that book is why most atheists exist. Complete rubbish.

      May 24, 2013 at 1:51 pm |
  9. adds

    "Why did the intelligent designer give boys a foreskin if he was just going to tell us to chop it off?"

    Because without it, there would be nothing to chop off!!! Would you also make the same silly comment about hair?

    May 24, 2013 at 1:02 pm |
    • Dave

      wow! he gave males that just so it could be chopped off! Arms next!

      May 24, 2013 at 1:41 pm |
  10. adds

    With all the hate from atheists on this blog towards Christians, I'm sure glad I'm not one of them.

    Not all atheists are hateful, I realize that. May I remind you, it takes faith also to believe there is not a God because there's lots of evidence to support the existence of God.

    May 24, 2013 at 1:01 pm |
    • JohnQuest

      What evidence are you referring to?

      May 24, 2013 at 1:03 pm |
    • PeruvianCartel

      I assume he is reffering to the Bible. Did you expect any religious person to actually have facts as their evidence?

      May 24, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      there is exactly zero evidence of God's existence. You really are delusional!

      May 24, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
    • Tiber

      I don't understand why people say it takes faith to not believe in god. Its exactly the opposite. Simply not believing is a lack of faith. That is the most ludicrous statement.

      May 24, 2013 at 2:35 pm |
    • MrHighMighty

      Regarding adds' comment about it taking more "faith" to be a non-believer, the point is that non-believers must believe that matter and life spontaneously came from nothing, which is a kind of "faith". It's a scientific fact that our universe began from a single point. There is no proven explanation in all the laws of physics for the cause of that "Big Bang". And there is no proof that laws of physics ever behaved differently.

      So to believe that something came from nothing and without the force of a Creator is actually more "faithful" than believing there is an eternal Creator who exists outside the physical boundaries of space and time, and who created our universe and each soul of man for His Glory. And no, don't bother to ask "then who created God?" God was not created, He always was and always will be, and never changes. That's what God is.

      May 24, 2013 at 3:05 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Re: non-believer faith, just believer bullsh!t and rationalization to make yourselves feel better about your own delusions. The only faith a believer (the ones I know) relies on is faith in the scientific method, which will eventually find the correct answer. Until we have a better answer, we have no problem with "we don't know" which is always a better answer than "some god did it."

      May 24, 2013 at 3:13 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      MrHigh, Yet you believe that a god came from nothing to create a universe. If you believe god always existed, by can't the singularity have always existed? Either way it doesn't prove your point and does not prove that a god did it.

      May 24, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
    • Juzo Itami

      Atheism isn't a belief, it's the lack of belief. It doesn't require faith not to believe in God.

      Your supposition is that one has to have a system of beliefs against the existence of God, when in fact there is no system necessary to not believe in a singular God, or a thousand gods.

      For atheists, it makes no sense to believe in something for which there is zero evidence of its existence.

      May 24, 2013 at 4:30 pm |
  11. CommonSense

    Same old misleading comments that 2.4% are atheists. Makes the religious feel better to ignore the obvious but
    20% of people have no religion, and that number is growing. That number may be low, because there lots of people who really don't believe in the religious myths but are afraid to admit it.
    You can call them whatever name you want, but no religion means they are NOT religious. America is advancing, slowly.

    May 24, 2013 at 1:01 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      and MANY of the people who identify themselves as Christians are only saying that to stay part of "the club" and to not be ostracized by their Christian friends.

      In this century of science, the bronze age voodoo of Christianity is on its way out.

      May 24, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
  12. adds

    Talk about ungrateful!!!

    May 24, 2013 at 12:58 pm |
    • JohnQuest

      What did get to be grateful about?

      May 24, 2013 at 1:00 pm |
    • reddragon

      if god sent the tornado why would she be thankhim. It's not ungrateful... she's a genius.

      May 24, 2013 at 1:53 pm |
  13. Anthony

    derp, clearly the tornado was "god's judgment" against Oklahomans for voting for McCain/Romney!

    May 24, 2013 at 12:33 pm |
  14. derp

    Oklahoma voted for McCain and Romney.

    May 24, 2013 at 12:26 pm |
  15. what?

    Who does this Oklahoma atheist thank???

    Lucky stars?!?

    May 24, 2013 at 12:20 pm |
    • Anthony

      Why thank anyone that her house was flattened and that a storm, resulting from the natural universe, took out dozens of other people? The better question, from survivors who believe, would be "god, why did you choose to let me live over those whom you chose to murder?" You can't thank or blame a being who doesn't exist.

      May 24, 2013 at 12:30 pm |
    • JohnQuest

      She thanks the same "thing" that all the people that lost loved ones thank.

      May 24, 2013 at 12:45 pm |
    • PapaCacaLatte

      Why thank anyone at all when so many others died. The only ones who deserve thanking are the first responders or helping hands on the scene. You fools are stuck in some delusional parallel universe if you think some majic sky fairy/god or demon is controlling anything in this world. Come out of the dark ages and embrace reality, the good the bad and the ugly. The are no fvcking Gods/Angels or demons! Grow up folks.

      May 24, 2013 at 12:53 pm |
    • PeruvianCartel

      God could have stopped the tornado, but he chose not. Why? Because god is very insecure and wanted people to thank him (and it is a him of course!) for saving their lives...

      May 24, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
    • exred

      Thank the Nation Weather Service for the warnings and allowing people the time to seek shelter. And thank the taxpayers who pay for this service. As for those that do everything possible to avoid paying taxes, I wish you would go live in a trailer in OK or KS.

      May 24, 2013 at 4:25 pm |
    • Jenn

      What is she supposed to be thanking "God" for anyway? For destroying her home with a tornado? That is the most rediculous thing I've ever heard. It is a difficult thing to stand up for your beliefs when you are in the minority and I applaud her for what she said.

      June 14, 2013 at 6:11 pm |
  16. TrueFact

    2.4% of Americans are Atheist.....also 2.4% of Americans are Internet trolls....weird

    May 24, 2013 at 12:04 pm |
    • JohnQuest

      TrueFact

      I think the numbers of none believers are much higher. But that doesn't matter. When that 2.4% ask for proof of the 97.6% claim and the 97.6% cannot provide one, who is right?

      If 2.4% believed that some but not all pigs migrate to the moon every winter I think the 97.6% would demand proof before believing such and incredible claim.

      By your logic, if 97.6% believed that some but not all pigs migrate to the moon the 2.4% is just suppose to except it as fact?

      That's why that argument is absurd on its face.

      May 24, 2013 at 12:58 pm |
  17. HeroesAre Rare

    What a typically STUPID headline. ONE woman says she is an atheist and suddenly the WHOLE STATE doesn't believe in God?????????

    So typically American.......... take a thing out of context - make a fool of a headline - and off we go with the bigotry, lies and misinformation! No WONDER Obama survives to further wreck your country [which is NOW officially the biggest DEBTOR nation on earth.
    Can I sell you shares in my underground Airline????
    LOL Americans would believe ANYTHING.

    May 24, 2013 at 11:16 am |
    • LinCA

      @HeroesAre Rare

      Jesus H. Fucking Christ! Reading for comprehension isn't your strong suit, is it?

      May 24, 2013 at 11:18 am |
    • HeroesAre Rare

      And decency, moral fibre and intelligence sure isn't yours if you can't respond with anything better than GUTTER language and disgusting blasphemy.
      I take it you ARE a liberal?..............with the intellectual capacity of a gnat..........and just as annoying?

      I forgive though because I AM a Christian and my mom told me not to mock the afflict ted. Peace.

      May 24, 2013 at 11:23 am |
    • EnjaySea

      Hate speech doesn't convince anyone of anything.

      May 24, 2013 at 11:36 am |
    • LinCA

      @HeroesAre Rare

      You said, "And decency, moral fibre and intelligence sure isn't yours if you can't respond with anything better than GUTTER language and disgusting blasphemy."
      Get a grip. Moronic statements like yours, don't deserve any better.

      You said, "I take it you ARE a liberal?"
      Of course. You have to be a complete moron not to be.

      You said, "with the intellectual capacity of a gnat."
      My intelligence runs circles around the combined intelligence of your entire trailer park.

      You said, "and just as annoying?"
      One can only hope.

      You said, "I forgive though because I AM a Christian and my mom told me not to mock the afflict ted."
      Don't waste your time forgiving me. I neither need nor seek it. Spend your efforts instead where there is a chance they'll do some good. Get an education.

      May 24, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
  18. Science

    Better than Comedy GOLD................it is THE PEARLY GATES !.............what a JOKE !

    Heaven for atheists? Pope sparks debate

    By Dan Merica, CNN

    http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/05/23/heaven-for-atheists-pope-sparks-debate/comment-page-18/#respond

    http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/05/05/when-christians-become-a-hated-minority/

    May 24, 2013 at 10:51 am |
    • HeroesAre Rare

      FAITH = Supremely intelligent Creator
      SCIENCE = Bang!.........muddy puddle........one cell..........millions of different species on the taxonomic scale?

      lol I know what intelligent people choose. That leaves atheists, Hi stupid people!

      May 24, 2013 at 11:19 am |
    • derp

      FAITH = Talking snakes, virgin births, rib women, water walkers, magic jewish zombies.

      May 24, 2013 at 12:27 pm |
  19. it is amazing

    that someone would breed with that homely skag belief would be its only redeeming factor

    May 24, 2013 at 10:33 am |
    • Rob S

      Whoa! Who died and left you in charge of Beauty? Beauty is as Beauty does.

      May 24, 2013 at 10:45 am |
    • derp

      Yes, because all of the fat stupid christards that CNN has paraded in front of the camera in Oklahoma are so much better looking.

      May 24, 2013 at 12:29 pm |
    • .

      quality of spirit wins over sk ank any day

      May 24, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
  20. derp

    Why did the intelligent designer give men nip ples?

    May 24, 2013 at 10:29 am |
    • EnjaySea

      Who says designers can't have a sense of humor?

      May 24, 2013 at 11:37 am |
    • Anthony

      Why did the intelligent designer give boys a foreskin if he was just going to tell us to chop it off?

      May 24, 2013 at 12:35 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.