December 21st, 2013
10:22 AM ET
Opinion by Chris Stedman, special to CNN
(CNN) - The “War on Christmas:” what — or who—is it good for?
In recent years, one organization, American Atheists, has claimed the mantle of prime atheist promoter of the tired “War on Christmas” narrative.
This year, they ushered in the season with an electronic billboard in New York City’s Times Square carrying the message: “Who needs Christ during Christmas? Nobody.” The word "Christ" is crossed out, just in case their message wasn't clear enough.
The American Atheists maintain that their latest entry in the annual “War on Christmas” saga is a message to other atheists that they are not alone.
In a recent Fox News appearance, American Atheists President Dave Silverman said, “The point that we’re trying to make is that there’s a whole bunch of people out there for whom religion is the worst part of Christmas, but they go to church anyways, and we’re here to tell them they don’t have to.”
While that intention is important and admirable, very few people—atheist or theist—seem to interpret the message as welcoming to anyone. Many of the responses I’ve seen have been vitriolic and disturbingly anti-atheist.
December 20th, 2013
11:23 AM ET
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
(CNN) – The Robertson family of "Duck Dynasty" fame has rallied around its patriarch, saying his controversial comments on homosexuality are "grounded in the teachings of the Bible." But Scripture is fiercely contested ground, and some experts say Phil Robertson misinterprets a key Bible verse.
A&E, the network that broadcasts the hugely popular "Duck Dynasty" show, suspended Robertson for a now infamous interview with GQ magazine. In the article, Robertson, who became a born-again Christian in the 1970s after a prodigal youth, is asked to define "sin."
Here's what Robertson says: “Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men."
Robertson, 67, then paraphrases a Bible passage from the New Testament: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers – they won’t inherit the kingdom of God.”
December 19th, 2013
01:49 PM ET
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
(CNN) – While controversy swirled around Phil Robertson Wednesday evening, the "Duck Dynasty" patriarch was at his longtime church, praying for a young woman who suffers from cancer, the TV star's pastor told CNN in an exclusive interview.
"Phil led us in prayer," said Mike Kellett, senior pastor of White's Ferry Road Church of Christ in West Monroe, Louisiana. "There were greater things on our minds than the firestorm of controversy about this article."
Asked how Robertson is taking the fierce criticism of his remarks on homosexuality, Kellett said, "He's very calm, and very confident that if he serves the Lord, God will take care of everything."
December 9th, 2013
01:46 PM ET
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
(CNN) - Lots of lawmakers have been accused of devilish behavior, but Oklahoma's state capitol may become the first to actually have a monument to Satan.
If a New York-based group called the Temple of Satan gets its way, a statue of the Evil One would sit next to the recently erected 10 Commandments monument on state capitol grounds.
"They said they wanted to be open to different monuments," said Lucien Greaves, a spokesman for the Temple of Satan, "and this seems like a perfect place to put that to the test."
Greaves and some legal experts say the Constitution is clear: the government can't endorse one particular religion. So, if a state capitol has a monument to one faith, it must allow monuments to others as well.
November 15th, 2013
10:10 AM ET
By Daniel Burke, Belief Blog Co-editorFollow @BurkeCNN
(CNN) – The devil made them do it?
According to a Catholic bishop in Springfield, Illinois, Satan was behind his state's recent legalization of same-sex marriage.
So, next Wednesday, at about the same time Gov. Pat Quinn signs the gay marriage bill into law, Bishop Thomas Paprocki will hold an exorcism ceremony "in reparation for the sin of same-sex marriage."
Paprocki, who's something of an expert on exorcism, says he's just following the Pope's marching orders.
When Pope Francis, then Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, was an archbishop in Argentina, he called that country's legalization of same-sex marriage "a 'move' of the father of lies who wishes to confuse and deceive the children of God."
November 8th, 2013
10:01 AM ET
By John Blake, CNN
(CNN) – The Rev. Timothy McDonald gripped the pulpit with both hands, locked eyes with the shouting worshippers, and decided to speak the unspeakable.
The bespectacled Baptist minister was not confessing to a scandalous love affair or the theft of church funds. He brought up another taboo: the millions of poor Americans who won’t get health insurance beginning in January because their states refused to accept Obamacare.
McDonald cited a New Testament passage in which Jesus gathered the 5,000 and fed them with five loaves and two fishes. Members of his congregation bolted to their feet and yelled, “C’mon preacher” and “Yessir” as his voice rose in righteous anger.
“What I like about our God is that he doesn’t throw people away,” McDonald told First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta during a recent Sunday service. “There will be health care for every American. Don’t you worry when they try to cast you aside. Just say I’m a leftover for God and leftovers just taste better the next day!”
November 6th, 2013
12:18 PM ET
By Bill Mears and Daniel Burke, CNN
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Should prayers to God open government meetings?
That's the controversial question a divided Supreme Court debated on Wednesday.
At oral arguments about whether public prayers at a New York town's board meetings are permissible, the high court took a broad look at the country's church-state history and even the Supreme Court's own traditions.
Two local women sued officials in Greece, New York, objecting that monthly Town Board public sessions have opened with invocations they say have been overwhelmingly Christian.
But the case's implications extend far beyond upstate New York and could have widespread consequences, according to constitutional scholars.
"This is going to affect communities across the country," said Charles C. Haynes, a senior scholar at the First Amendment Center.
The frequent court battles over public prayers, Ten Commandment memorials and holiday displays might strike some Americans as silly, but they touch on deep questions about national identity to reach back to the Founding Fathers, Haynes said.
"It's a long struggle in our country about self-definition and what our country was founded to be. That's why we keep circling back to these emotional and highly divisive questions."
At Wednesday's oral arguments, the court's conservative majority appeared to have the votes to allow the public prayers to continue in some form, but both sides expressed concerns about the level of judicial and government oversight over prayers presented by members of a particular faith.
October 25th, 2013
05:11 PM ET
By Emily Smith, CNN
(CNN) - The U.S. Air Force Academy has decided to make phrase "so help me God" optional in its honor code after an activist group protested that requiring all cadets to recite it violates their rights.
The complete oath reads: "We will not lie, steal, or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does, so help me God."
Cadets are required to recite the oath when they complete basic training. It is also taken by the entire cadet wing each year as re-affirmation of their commitment to the honor code, said AFA spokesman Major Brus Vidal.
September 20th, 2013
02:16 PM ET
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-editorFollow @BurkeCNN
(CNN) – “Rain on parched land.”
“A bold new course.”
That’s how liberal Catholics responded to the stunning interview published Thursday in which Pope Francis bluntly said the church shouldn’t be “obsessed” with culture war issues like abortion and gay marriage.
“It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time,” the pope said, warning that the church's moral foundations will fall "like a house of cards" unless it strikes a "new balance" between preaching the gospel and taking stands on divisive issues.
How did conservative Catholics, the church’s most ardent culture warriors, react?
“I’ll be honest; I was disturbed,” writes Matthew Archbold in the conservative National Catholic Register.
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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.