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.”
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.
I am gay.
@fake apple bush
I don't mind the gay reference, just don't insult me by calling me a Christian.
Apple Bush – Yes, we already knew.
Oh stop bannister you big silly!
ok... who cares?
The A&A's will organize into a mob so they can get an Affirmative Action slot. Socies gotta get a piece of the neighbors, too.
Mobs of Aardvarks & Armadillos . . . oh the horror!
Once again, God spreads carnage on the faithful in the Bible Belt, and lets the atheist survive.
the bible says the earth is a circle. Learn facts.
Circles are flat two-dimensional shapes. You meant a sphere, or to be precise, an oblate spheroid.
And you're calling someone ELSE "stupid?"
You're a sh!twit.
"And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?"
I might not be the biggest christian in the world but if I did not believe in God i think I would just shoot myself now. What a depressing thought of when you die poof its over nothing else!!! Well if Im wrong what do I have to lose but if atheist is wrong they just lose eternity!!
You're "not the biggest Christian in the world," but you'd kill yourself if your religion turned out to be false?
Makes total sense. Good luck with that.
You're an atheist yourself. You don't believe in Zeus, Odin, the various Hindu gods, or Allah.
What if you're wrong? You have a lot to lose by limiting yourself to only one deity.
Your logic is excellent. Well said.
Wrong. Your alleged all merciful god would forgive us for our rational thought based on his intentional lack of providing evidence.
But since it is likely the sky fairy does not exist, you will have spent a lifetime as a slave to bronze-age dogma for nothing.
Sucks for you.
I am pretty sure if atheists are wrong, they'll say "oh, wow, I was wrong" when they find themselves in heaven.
Pascal's Wager does not include other possibilities such as: there is a god but it's not yours so it sends you to hell; there is a god and it is yours but it knows you weren't sincere so it sends you to hell; there is a god but it lets you into heaven if it thinks you've led a good life.
Funny how atheists don't shoot themselves like that. I guess you are just stupid and full of shit.
An atheist doesn't necessarily believe that nothing comes after this life. An atheist merely doesn't believe there is a god.
Did you take your BB gun out when you found out there was no Santa?
Atheist? Guess God missed one, don't worry he'll be back next week.
nice.......your God must be proud.
His God is great, but I'm gay.
Such a kind, loving, just god.
So she admits to thanking God surely calling out his name in the midst of it all; yet she claims to belong to the religion of atheism. She's obviously ashamed to belong to that club or she would say it proudly not looking down as she is professing it. What a joke! She should be afraid they revoke her membership thanking God on tv what was she thinking that's not good advertising for the atheists.
She was trying to be respectful when asked an irrelevant and unprofessional question from a reporter.
If God is real, wouldn't God be responsible for the tornado in the first place? Why would God deserve thanks?
Survivors of the Holocaust never thanked the Nazis for sparing them.
or maybe she is afraid of the scorn and venom that will hit her family from the armies of god in her neighborhood.
BYW, atheism is not a religion. We do not believe in a sky fairy. We do not get together and chant Get it straight.
She was trying to be nice to a tactless reporter.
I wouldn't be surprised if she was afraid of the backlash that comes from religious sheep that would scorn her. This article alone is an example of targeting her and her family, just because she said she was atheist on CNN they wrote an article about her? The only thing newsworthy here was Wolf's blooper in assuming she was "thanking god", and she appropriately gave him a reality check.
She and her baby's lives are now in great danger from fanatical Christians. That's why she was so uncomfortable answering such a stupid question.
The Big O, Prothero's pastor-in-chief, might even throw her under the bus! Where are those Repub witches when you need em??
I believe in God, but I don't believe in religion. I was raised Catholic, but now I do not practice. I think it is ok for people to be a part of religions because it is a community where people can come together to support each other. I believe there is a God that created the universe and man, but I believe that religion is a way for people to tell others what to do. In fact, I saw a bumper sticker once that said "Religion is doing what you are told, no matter if its the right thing to do." I completely 100% agree with this. Believing in God is neither wrong nor right. But, with Catholicism, for instance, I was always raised to be against the death penalty, but in many states it is used, meaning that it is the right thing to do, so why would I follow a religion that tells me to go against laws that are set in place for a reason. I'm not saying that its a complete disagreement, but there are some big ones that I just did not believe in. That is my stance on religion.
Have you ever really reflected on why you believe in god? Which god? Is it simply because of what your parents taught you? Or teachers? Neither is a valid reason unless you are willing to them believe everything they believed.
Letting go of the fairy tale and accepting that, most likely, this life is all there is is liberating and will allow you to fully enjoy it without guilt or shame or hope of some celestial reward.
Godless is happiness: actually I already feel that. I mean, I have guilt when I do something wrong, but who doesn't? But its not religious guilt, its the guilt of doing something wrong at work or something like that. And I just don't know if there will be a celestial award. That I will have to find out when I die. So you can still believe in God to explain your surroundings, where humans came from, etc., but you don't have to live a "Godless" life.
There is no way to take atheists serious. Why would you want to associate yourself with a group of hostile, confrontational, sarcastic human beings? Personally, I like to be around people who are respectful and considerate. When people carry themselves that way, then I might listen to what they have to say. You come off like you're on attack mode all the time, hard to be reasonable with somebody like that, hard to WANT to listen.
You'd rather hang out with the Westboro Baptist Church it seems.
I wonder why Wolf Blitzer felt it necessary to force god into that moment anyway? She never would have said anything about it if he hadn't pushed the subject.
Westboro, fine democrats, and attorneys, too. Just, like the Clintons and more.
If you start your paragraph with "There is no way to take atheists serious", you can bet I don't care about your opinions or delusions either.
I think that is an unfair characterization of atheist. I would say the same about atheist who see Christians and claim they are overly judgmental and want to convert everyone. I know both and, without asking them to talk about religion, they all get a long.
I dunno. I have met my share of Christians that fit that description.
Looks to me your not taking your own advice.
You don't consider it confrontational to push your religion into our lives despite the First Amendment? Your god mentioned on the currency, your religious beliefs taught in place of science, your religious texts on public buildings, your religious beliefs to be the law, etc. that's not intrusive at all is it, yet christians are trying to pass laws preventing other religions influencing the law. Hypocrisy personified.
It seems like you are the one being hostile and confrontational. She was being very respectful in how she handled the situation. She didn't throw the fact she was an atheist in his face, merely stated the fact. If anything, it is rude, unprofessional, and disrespectful for someone to assume everyone believes in god.
If you start your paragraph with "There is no way to take atheists serious" you don't got good grammar.
hi-jack my name, thanks.
God is great, but he isn't here. As a Deist, I have a strong faith in God, but he doesn't interfere with the natural world we live in. Just look around you and you will see that evidence. 250k people killed from a Tsunami, 5M Jews killed by Nazis, 24 people died in this disaster. So, how did god allow the others to live?? The world, nature and the universe are beautiful creations of God, but it is up to us humans to do what is right, not what some book says. If god constantly interfered with our world, how would we learn the lessons we are supposed to learn?
In which case how did it communicate what lessons to learn?
She will still burn in hell.....
That's such a great, rational, well thought out argument about why she should change her beliefs. Believe what I say or suffer eternal anguish.
but god is "love" and doesn't "impose his will. He wants us to choose.
Some choice you christard.
How do you know you picked the right 'god'(s)
It is common for the atheists on this blog to steal my handle and spew the lies of satan. Jesus said He would send to us itchy teacher ears. The kittens that weren't stuck in the ice were moved to the microwave. Grains of sand stuck in the shorts of carnal unbelievers.
Hey,I had nothing to do with this!
Atheists shouldn't be allowed to have children... It's persecution and torture. Let's not forget Stalin, Mussolini, Mao and other atheists!!
I have two very intelligent children. They are both atheists. They are talented, resourceful and think critically about the world. They both enjoy the wonder of this universe and embrace the sciences and arts. I am very proud of them.
As opposed to all those wonderful Christians/Catholics like Isabella and Ferdinand who started the inquisition, all those priests who molest little boys, all those other priests including the current pope who cover up that abuse, Hitler...
Which of them committed their crimes against humanity because they were atheists. Stalin and Hitler both had mustaches too. Did the hair or lip zits make them do bad things? (Paraphrasing Dawkins). Many people have committed crimes against humanity in the name of God/religion though. Stalin/Hitler/Mao/etc were just bad people that happened to lack religion. Oh wait, Hitler was Catholic. Religious apologists love to use him to slam Atheists so much though that they ignore that fact.
Name a single person you personally know that has ever been persecuted by an atheist.
Yeah, that's what I thought.
People feeble-minded enough to "believe" what they are told instead of using their brains to learn the facts should not be allowed to procreate at all.
Not only did she stand up for herself on national TV, she did so standing in the middle of the bible belt, during the middle of an extreme example of the non-existant of a god.
i salute her bravery.
Ah yes, but a Christian professing their faith...I wonder, do you applaud THEIR bravery?
Look, a person's religious beliefs are no one else's business. As far as I'm concerned, if you don't mind a priest being alone with your child unsupervised, that's your business and your problem should anything bad happen (and we all know what bad can happen). If a person chooses to think for him/herself and not feel coerced into following everyone else's beliefs, that's their business. If you have a problem with someone else's beliefs, that is your problem! Don't go creating problems for them, life is hard enough as it is. And this goes for all sides of this argument.
What a worthless, soulless and heartless lady... My prayer goes to her and that poor little child.
Please kill yourself. Thanks.
save your bigoted prayers. try thinking for yourself instead of finding out what you think by reading a book written 2K years ago by people that thought the earth was flat.
@Sam as usual your compassion speaks for itself.
you ara sick individual. She has more courage than your sniffling groveling sky-fairy loving self will ever have.
After the rescuers, she is a hero. You are an angry disgusting christard.
Don't you think you are making a lot of un-Christianlike assumptions by calling her worthless, soulless and heartless?
I'm moved by the love your religion has instilled in you.......
Sam, no one is worthless, soulless or heartless who has been made in God's image. I was like her once and someone prayed for me. I will join you in praying for her and thanking our God that she and her child were spared.
You're part right. She's soulless just like everyone else. Everyone over the age of 7 should have enough sense to realize that. What bedtime story convinced you that souls exist?
Hey CNN! WHY DON'T YOU JUST ANNOUNCE YOU HATE CHRISTIANITY AND STOP PLAYING THESE STUPID NEWS GAMES. REALLY. I'D HAVE MORE RESPECT FOR YOU BECAUSE AT LEAST YOU WONT TO HIDE BEHIND YOUR "SO CALLED" MEDIUM OF NEWS. SO COWARDLY. I CAN'T STAND IT!
hate christianity? their reporter assumed she was a christian and showed a pro-christian bias in his making her answer a silly question about an invisible sky fairy. could you be stupider?
What is the problem? It is not like she dissed Christianity or anything. And it is also not like, unless you are an atheist or agnostic, you are Christian. Why aren't you complaining that CNN is dissing Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists?
CNN assumed she was religious. Oooops!
By the way, your caps lock is stuck. It's usually on the left side of your keyboard.
God saved her from death and hell fire..... She should thank Him and convert now. What a nice opportunity she got.
and we should condemn god for not saving those people who actually died!
Which god? There have been thousands. Why do you thing yours is the right one. That is arrogance defined.
I agree that she got a great opportunity, and credit to her for using it to speak the truth. Bravo!
"God" sent the tornado.
unhappiness, that's what you get for allowing satan to whisper lies in your ears. Doubt. Do we have a loser?
As opposed to all the others that he let perish?
I wonder if anyone has ever considered that the Bible and religion are Satan's tools? Look at the misery they have wrought. Perhaps it is the religious who are being led astray from the true purpose of God, if God does exist. After all, much of it has led to hate and judgement of our fellow man and away from principles it should foster, such as charity, at least judging by some Christian forum posters. . .
No, most likely a pine or redwood 2×4 or 2 saved her.
Wow. The believers commenting on here sure know how to show how much more rational and well-meaning they are. More flies with vinegar approach, I see.
You make that difficult while we watch daily so many dead men walking. Yes, it's true, we see dead people.
B oot y fu nk
guilt, fear and ignorance are the pillars of religion.
faith = believing what i'm told
christians sure hate facts.
Isn't that you explaining the atheist cookie cutter? Oh, I forgot, it's one fool writing the same babble under multiple handles.
"A lot of things I do are very gay things. I love Broadway. I love dance. I love shopping." Right, I say, still slightly reeling from the "gay things." And what, as a born-again Christian, does he think about being gay? "Well, everybody says this is a gigantic sin," says Cooper, "but so is stealing a candy bar." And then he actually does say, "some of my best friends are gay."
Alice Cooper, it's clear, has made a lot of friends. He has made a lot of music. He has done a lot of shows. And he's nice. Everyone says he's nice. He must be nice. Does he think he's nice? "Oh," he says, and he flashes his big, white, even teeth, "I'm the nicest guy I know."
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.