By Sara Grossman, Special to CNN
(CNN) – On Sunday, pastor Jim Garlow of Skyline Church in California stood before his congregation of more than 2,000 and told them he would be making an unusual announcement.
The pastor proceeded to warn his audience against voting for a candidate in the upcoming midterm elections who supports gay marriage and abortion, even if that candidate, Carl DeMaio, is a Republican.
Garlow, an outspoken evangelical who played a major role in organizing Christian groups in support of California’s anti-gay marriage Proposition 8, spoke plainly: He would not be supporting the Republican in this race.
“I know enough that you cannot have the advancing of the radical homosexual agenda and religious liberty at the same time, in the same nation,” he preached. “One will win, and one will lose.”
Instead, Garlow told his followers he would be endorsing DeMaio’s rival, Democratic incumbent Scott Peters, representative for California’s 52nd District, to send a scathing message to Republican leadership that candidates who back abortion and gay rights are unacceptable to the party’s Christian base.
Garlow is one of a growing number of Americans who say that religion should play a greater role in politics, according to the findings of a recent study by the Pew Research Forum's Religion & Public Life Project.
The study found that almost three-quarters of the American public — 72% — believes that religion’s influence is waning in public life, the highest level in Pew Research polling over the past 10 years.
And many Americans say that trend is a bad thing, the study found.
“A growing share of the American public wants religion to play a role in U.S. politics,” the Pew study authors write.
What kind of role?
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Editor
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:
By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Contributing Editor
(CNN) - A new movie genre debuts at the box office this weekend: the Christian comedy.
"Moms’ Night Out" starring Patricia Heaton and Sean Astin is opening on more than 1,000 screens, and it aims to do something no other Christian major motion picture has endeavored to do: make you laugh. On purpose.
There has been no shortage of laughably bad Christian movies. "Left Behind," anyone?
From “The Passion of the Christ,” to “Fireproof,” to “Courageous,” the genre has historically leaned heavily on biblical epics and inspiration to stir the faithful, or evangelical fare designed convert the masses.
But "Moms’ Night Out" is entirely different, a PG-rated comedy about the hijinks of middle-class Christian families, ordinary folks living ordinary lives. Astin called the movie "ballsy" for focusing on this demographic.
Editor's note: Jay Parini, a poet and novelist, teaches at Middlebury College. He has just published "Jesus: the Human Face of God," a biography of Jesus.
(CNN) - Once again a new Gallup Poll has reported that Vermont is the least religious state in the country, with only 22% of the people willing to call themselves "very religious." On the other side of the poll, there is Mississippi, where a whopping 61% of citizens lay claim to that self-description. But what does it really mean to be "very religious" and not just spiritual?
I've been living in Vermont for much of my adult life, adding up to nearly four decades. And I've been keenly interested in the question of religion, having written a biography of Jesus and practiced Christianity as best I can for much of my life. I've also traveled in the South quite often, and understand where that 61% comes from: Not long ago I drove across Mississippi, and I couldn't find a secular radio station on the dial. It was all preachers, all sounding alike. Repent, repent, repent. Billboards everywhere shouted religious slogans. It seemed there was a church on every street corner in every town I passed through.
So what's going on here? Do Mississippians have a direct line to the divine? Don't the majority of people of Vermont also have an interest in religion or belief in God? Is this why Vermont was the first state in the union to allow for civil unions? And does secularism run rampant here?
By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
(CNN) - At least one wealthy donor in New York City is skittish about Pope Francis' comments about capitalism.
Ken Langone, the billionaire Roman Catholic who helped found Home Depot, told CNBC he has heard grumbling about the Pope's comments about the wealthy. Langone is helping to run the New York Archdiocese's $180 million fundraising effort to restore St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan.
The billionaire investor and philanthropist, who gave $200 million to New York University's medical center in 2008, told CNBC an anonymous seven-figure donor felt slighted by the pope's recent comments.
Langone has not been shy about sharing those opinions with New York Archbishop Cardinal Timothy Dolan, telling him, "you get more with honey than with vinegar."
Dolan told the financial network in an interview on Monday he has heard from Langone that one wealthy donor got the "sense that the Pope is less than enthusiastic about us."
Opinion by Edward J. Blum, special to CNN
(CNN) - Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly sparked outrage this week by insisting that Jesus and Santa Claus are both white, saying it's "ridiculous" to argue that depicting Christ and St. Nick as Caucasian is "racist."
"And by the way, for all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white," Kelly said, "but this person is arguing that we should also have a black Santa."
Kelly was responding to an article in Slate that said St. Nick needs a makeover from fat, old white guy to something less "melanin-deficient."
The Fox News host would have none of it.
"Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn't mean it has to change," Kelly said. "Jesus was a white man, too. It's like we have, he's a historical figure; that's a verifiable fact. As is Santa, I just want kids to know that. How do you revise it in the middle of the legacy, in the story, and change Santa from white to black?"
Opinion by Mark Schacter, special to CNN
(CNN) – I don’t believe in a divine presence, nor do I subscribe to any organized religion.
And that, perhaps oddly, is why I am drawn to the mystery of faith.
With the wonderment of an outsider, I try to understand the seemingly incomprehensible (to me, at least) pull that faith exerts over so many people's lives.
As a photographer approaching this mystery, I am confronted by what might seem like a contradiction: Photographs capture what can be seen, and yet faith is often invisible.
By Dan Merica and Eric Marrapodi, CNN
Follow @danmericaCNNFollow @EricCNNBelief
Washington (CNN) - When the State Department announced it was moving its Vatican embassy to a compound shared with the U.S. Embassy in Italy, some former ambassadors and conservative American Catholics were outraged.
Former ambassadors to the Holy See said moving that embassy would diminish the stature of the mission and conservative Catholic activists seized on the issue.
Addressing the growing controversy in Rome, the State Department arranged a briefing for reporters on Monday with an unnamed senior official who said the purpose for the move was to save money and increase security.
A spokesman for the Vatican said the move was well within the Holy See's requirements for embassies and that relations with the United States are far from strained.
By Moni Basu, CNN
(CNN) - Leon Gersten could not bear to watch “Schindler’s List,” the movie about Czech industrialist Oskar Schindler who saved 1,200 Jews from Nazi extermination camps. It was too painful for the Holocaust survivor, too close to reality.
But now, almost 70 years after his village in Poland was liberated by the Soviet army, Gersten is meeting the man who is the Oskar Schindler of his own life: Czeslaw Polziec.
Like Schindler, Polziec is Catholic. His family secretly sheltered Gersten in rural Poland for two years during World War II.
As though such a reunion between survivor and rescuer were not emotional enough, this one is taking place Wednesday on the eve of Hanukkah, which coincides this year with Thanksgiving. Two celebrations of gratitude.
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.