June 10th, 2014
02:40 PM ET
Opinion by Frank Schaeffer, special to CNN
(CNN) – All the public debates between celebrity atheists and evangelical pastors are as meaningless as literary awards and Oscar night.
They are meaningless because participants lack the objectivity to admit that our beliefs have less to do with facts than with our personal needs and cultural backgrounds.
The words we use to label ourselves are just as empty.
What exactly is a “believer?” And for that matter what is an “atheist?” Who is the objective observer to define these terms?
Maybe we need a new category other than theism, atheism or agnosticism that takes paradox and unknowing into account.
Take me, I am an atheist who believes in God.
Let me explain.
May 24th, 2014
06:00 PM ET
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog EditorFollow @BurkeCNN
Raleigh, North Carolina (CNN) – Back home, they erase their Internet histories, look over their shoulders before cracking jokes and nod politely when co-workers talk about church.
But in a hotel ballroom here on a recent weekend, more than 220 atheists, agnostics, skeptics and freethinkers let it all hang out.
The convention was called “Freedom From Religion in the Bible Belt,” and it was part celebration of skepticism and part strategy session about surviving in the country’s most religious region.
They sang songs about the futility of faith, shared stories about “coming out” as nonbelievers and bought books about the Bible – critical ones, of course.
“Isn’t it great to be in a room where you can say whatever you want to whomever you want without fear of anyone criticizing you for being unorthodox?” asked Dan Barker, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, as he opened the two-day convention.
The Wisconsin-based foundation co-sponsored the event with the Triangle Freethought Society, which draws its members from this state’s tech-heavy Research Triangle.
The nonbelievers came from as far afield as Ireland and France, but most described themselves as refugees from the heart of the South - atheist anomalies amid fiercely devout friends, family and neighbors.
We wanted to know what it’s like to be a nonbeliever in the Bible Belt, so over the course of the weekend we asked some of the folks here to share their secrets.
They had a lot to say, and some of their advice overlapped, but we came away with eight top tips. Some said they wished they’d had something like this list when they began their foray into religious infidelity.
So, without further ado, here’s a “survival guide” to being an atheist in the Bible Belt:
May 7th, 2014
11:58 AM ET
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog EditorFollow @BurkeCNN
(CNN) - Young Latinos are leaving the Catholic Church in droves, according to a new study, with many drifting into the country's fastest-growing religious movement: the nones.
Nearly a third of Latino adults under 30 don't belong to a faith group, according to a large survey released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center. That's a leap of 17 percentage points in just the last three years.
While the demise of organized religion, specifically Catholicism, is most dramatic among young Latinos, the overall shifts are broad-based, according to Pew, affecting men and women; foreign-born and U.S. natives; college graduates and those with less formal education.
The trends highlighted by Pew's Latino survey also mirror large-scale shifts in the American population as whole.
According to other studies conducted by Pew in recent years, nearly a third of all millennials - Americans between the ages of 18-33 - are religiously unaffiliated, a dramatic and ongoing change from previous generations.
“One of the most striking recent trends in the American religious landscape has been the growing share of the unaffiliated, and this study allows us to see where Latinos fit into that story,” said Cary Funk, a senior researcher at the Pew Research Center and one of the co-authors of the study.
February 22nd, 2014
09:06 PM ET
Opinion by Linda Mercadante, special to CNN
To accept this as good news, however, we need to listen to what they are saying, rather than ridicule them as “salad bar spiritualists” or eclectic dabblers.
After spending more than five years speaking with hundreds of “spiritual but not religious” folk across North America, I’ve come to see a certain set of core ideas among them. Because of their common themes, I think it’s fair to refer to them by the acronym: SBNR.
But before we explore what the SBNRs believe, we first need to learn what they protest.
January 14th, 2014
01:20 PM ET
By Daniel Burke, Belief Blog Co-editor
(CNN) - Ryan Bell, a one-time Christian pastor, says he didn't expect his yearlong experiment with atheism to get much attention.
"This wasn't intended to be an international journey that was done in public," he told CNN's Brooke Baldwin last Wednesday.
But what began as Bell's personal project has now been covered by NPR, the BBC, Religion News Service, and, of course, here at CNN.
It's not just the mainstream media that are along for the ride, either. Dozens of blogs and columnists have weighed in on Bell's "Year Without God," with responses ranging from support to skepticism to scorn.
November 7th, 2013
12:30 PM ET
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-editorFollow @BurkeCNN
(CNN) – With his penchant for crowd-pleasing and spontaneous acts of compassion, Pope Francis has earned high praise from fellow Catholics.
Hell, even atheists love him - as amply demonstrated by the surprising displays of affection tweeted after the Pope publicly embraced a severely disfigured man on Wednesday.
Here's what some atheists had to say on Twitter:
October 16th, 2013
03:20 PM ET
(CNN) - To some, Oprah Winfrey appears to have an almost godlike status. Her talents are well recognized, and her endorsement can turn almost any product into an overnight bestseller.
This godlike perception is fitting, since in recent years Winfrey’s work has increasingly emphasized spirituality, including programs like her own "Super Soul Sunday."
But what happens when an atheist enters the mix?
A few days ago Winfrey interviewed long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad on Super Soul Sunday. Nyad identified herself as an atheist who experiences awe and wonder at the natural world and humanity.
October 5th, 2013
08:00 AM ET
By John Blake, CNN
(CNN) –"Yo mama..."
Whenever I heard those two words while growing up in inner-city Baltimore, I knew something bad was about to happen. Trading insults was a childhood ritual. But everyone understood that one subject was off-limits. You didn’t talk about anybody’s momma unless you were prepared to start swinging.
Now that I’m all grown-up, I’ve discovered a new arena for combat: The reader’s comments section for stories about religion.
When I first started writing about religion for an online news site, I eagerly turned to the comment section for my articles, fishing for compliments and wondering if I had provoked any thoughtful discussions about faith.
I don’t wonder anymore.
When I look at the comment section now, I see a whole lot of “yo mamas” being tossed about. Readers exchange juvenile insults, condescending lectures and veer off into tangents that have nothing to do with the article they just read.
For years, I’ve listened to these “holy trollers” in silence. Now I’m calling them out. I’ve learned that the same types of people take over online discussions about faith and transform them into the verbal equivalent of a food fight. You may recognize some of these characters.
You might even recognize yourself.
July 30th, 2013
02:17 PM ET
Opinion by Hemant Mehta, Special to CNN
They're anti-gay, anti-women, anti-science, anti-sex-education and anti-doubt, to name a few of the most common criticisms.
I don't disagree with those critiques, but there's another side to the story.
While Christians have played sloppy defense, secular Americans have been showing off some impressive offense, giving young Christians plenty of reasons to lose faith in organized religion.
For instance, atheists dominate the Internet, rallying to thriving websites and online communities in lieu of physical meeting spaces.
Even a writer for the evangelical magazine Relevant admitted that “While Christianity enjoys a robust online presence, the edge still seems to belong to its unbelievers.”
July 18th, 2013
03:14 PM ET
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
(CNN) - They were trying to prove a simple point: That nonbelievers are a bigger and more diverse group than previously imagined.
"We sort of woke a sleeping giant," says Christopher F. Silver, a researcher at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. "We're a bit overwhelmed actually."
Silver and his project manager, Thomas Coleman, recently released a study proposing six different types of nonbelievers – from strident atheists to people who observe religious rituals while doubting the divine.
The study clearly struck a chord, particularly among triumphal atheists and uneasy believers. Articles appeared in in Polish, German, Russian and Portuguese, Silver said.
Here on CNN.com, our story "Behold, the Six Types of Atheists" garnered about 3.14 gazillion hits and thousands of comments.
Half the fun seemed to lie in atheists applying the categories to themselves, kind of like a personality test.
"I guess I'm a 1-2-4 atheist," ran a typical comment.
Other commenters questioned the study's categories, methods, and even the religious beliefs of its authors.
Silver and Coleman agreed to answer our readers' questions via email from Tennessee. Some of their answers have been edited for length and clarity.
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.