May 24th, 2013
04:46 PM ET

Has the Oklahoma atheist been saved?

By Jessica Ravitz, CNN

(CNN) - Just days after she announced to the world from tornado-ravaged Moore, Oklahoma, that she is an atheist, it looks like Rebecca Vitsmun has found salvation.

Not from the Lord, mind you, but from other atheists and friends of atheists.

An Indiegogo campaign titled “Atheists Unite,” launched late Thursday by stand-up comic Doug Stanhope, is raking in dollars to help her family rebuild. Less than 17 hours after going live, it met its 60-day goal of $50,000. A little more than an hour later, as we prepared to publish, donations were at $55,000 - and growing.

“Holy @#!%!” Stanhope said, by way of hello when he answered his phone Friday morning.

Vitsmun, whose home was destroyed in Monday’s deadly tornado, unwittingly became a sensation Tuesday after participating in a live TV interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. When Blitzer asked if she thanked the Lord for the decision she made that saved her and her 19-month-old son, she stammered before saying, “I’m actually an atheist.”

She and Blitzer laughed and moved on. But that TV moment took on a life of its own, spreading online and through social media.

It also inspired this outpouring of atheist love.

“It's important that our community shows that we have your back when you come out publicly as an atheist,” Stanhope wrote on the Indiegogo page. “Let's show the world that you dont need to believe in a god to have human compassion nor does all charity fall under the banner of religion. Let's get this courageous woman and her family back in their own home.”

While a serious matter, the campaign offers “Perks” for giving – including a “Get Out of Hell Free Card” for a $50 donation, a “First Class Upgrade” on “the flight to the afterlife” for $500 and, just because, “Full Access to God’s Planbook” for $5,000.

Stanhope said he often weaves his beliefs, or lack of belief, into his stand-up routines. While Christian missionaries run around Third World countries – feeding the poor, Bibles in hand – he bemoans how atheists do nothing.

“We sit around in a dark bar and mock them,” he said. Meantime, “that book [the Bible] is a lot more appealing when there’s a bowl of rice under your nose.”

He saw this as an opportunity to do something, and his 2,021 contributors – and counting – clearly did, too. This wasn’t the only group to get into the atheist-supporting game.

On the website for FreeOK, Oklahoma's freethought convention which is scheduled for June 22, T-shirts are being sold to benefit Vitsmun and her family. The shirts are emblazoned with her quote, "I'm actually an atheist."

And as Stanhope's Indiegogo campaign reached its goal Friday afternoon, a press release came in from the American Humanist Association – announcing that it just forwarded to Vitsmun a whopping donation of $10,000.

“Rebecca Vitsmun’s courage to speak forthrightly about her atheism inspired humanists and others who are good without a god across the country to help her through this difficult time,” said the association’s executive director Roy Speckhardt, in the written statement. “Natural disasters are a product of our environment, not supernatural forces, and we have a responsibility to help those affected by them.”

While we are in contact with Vitsmun through sporadic e-mails, we were unable to get a reaction from her before publishing.

But the American Humanist Association shared a statement from her in its press release.

“People from all around the world have reached out to us and the people of Moore and Newcastle and we don’t know how we can ever thank everyone enough for their generosity,” she said. “It is really hard to even know where to begin, but having so many here to embrace us while we figure it out makes the path ahead less intimidating. Thank you all so much.”

- CNN Writer/Producer

Filed under: Atheism

soundoff (453 Responses)

Comments are closed.

About this blog

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.