10 things the Belief Blog learned in its first year
June 8th, 2011
01:01 PM ET

10 things the Belief Blog learned in its first year

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

(CNN) - In case you were wondering about all the balloons and cake: CNN’s Belief Blog has just marked its first birthday.

After publishing 1,840 posts and sifting through 452,603 comments (OK, we may have missed one or two) the Belief Blog feels older than its 12 months would suggest. But it also feels wiser, having followed the faith angles of big news stories, commissioned lots of commentary and, yes, paid attention to all those reader comments for a solid year.

10 things we've learned:

1. Every big news story has a faith angle. Even the ordeal of 33 Chilean miners trapped underground for more than two months. Even the attempted assassination of Arizona congresswoman Gabby Giffords. Even March Madness. Even - well, you get the point.

2. Atheists are the most fervent commenters on matters religious. This became apparent immediately after the Belief Blog's first official post last May, which quickly drew such comments as:

Can we have a fairy tale blog too?

This is nothing but America moving away from its wondrous spirit of Apollo 11 into a mindset of the perpetually intellectually challenged.
I think there was some news today about scientists having created the first artificial cell. That should have been a HUGE story. And yet, what do we get? A faith blog. Pathetic.

This blog is terrifying. It's amazing how much power the radical religious right is amassing in our country right now. If I can't have some legislation, can I at least have some news that does not cater to zealots?

Those early comments presaged an avalanche of alternately humorous and outraged atheist responses on virtually everything the Belief Blog publishes. They're more evidence that atheists are coming out of the closet to trumpet their disbelief, argue with the faithful and evangelize their godlessness. (It's worth noting that the Belief Blog does plenty of atheism stories.)

3. People are still intensely curious about the Bible, its meaning and its origins.

It's an ancient tome, but more than any other book in the Western tradition (with the Quran being the lone exception), the Bible still fascinates us. And it still feeds our most heated debates. In February, a guest post here arguing that the Bible is more ambiguous on homosexuality than traditionally thought elicited more than 4,000 comments. A response post insisting that the Bible clearly condemns homosexuality brought in an equal number of comments - and was the most popular story on CNN.com on the day it was published.

Other Belief Blog pieces about biblical scholarship - including a recent offering about biblical misquotations - have also caught fire. More of us may be reading it on iPhones these days, but the Good Book still matters a lot more than the popular culture lets on.

4.   Most Americans are religiously illiterate. Despite the appetite for stories and commentary about the Bible, most Americans know little about it. A huge Pew survey released in September found that most Americans scored 50 percent or less on a quiz measuring knowledge of the Bible, world religions and what the Constitution says about religion in public life. Ironically, atheists and agnostics scored best. How did you do on the quiz?

5. It's impossible to understand much of the news without knowing something about religion. Why did the Egyptian revolution happen on a Friday? Why was Osama bin Laden's body buried so quickly after he was killed? Why did Afghan rioters kill seven United Nations workers in April? You simply can't answer those questions without bringing in religion.

6.  Regardless of where they fit on the spectrum, people want others to understand what they believe. That goes for pagans, fundamentalist Mormons, Native Americans, atheists - everyone.

7. Americans still have an uneasy relationship with Islam. Nearly 10 years after the September 11 attacks provoked many Americans to pay attention to Islam for the first time, much of the country is still somewhat uncomfortable about the religion, which counts 1.5 billion followers worldwide.

The biggest domestic religion story in the Belief Blog's young life was probably last year's opposition to a proposed Islamic Center and mosque near New York's ground zero. And with the 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks approaching, domestic tensions around Islam may flare again. The Arab Spring, meanwhile is raising weighty questions about Islam's role in post-autocratic regimes, guaranteeing the religion - and its relationship with the U.S. - will be one of the world's big stories for years to come.

8. God may not prevent natural disasters, but religion is always a big part of the response. We see it play out every time Mother Nature delivers a punishing blow, from March's Japan earthquake and tsunami to the recent tornado that flattened much of Joplin, Missouri.

9. Apocalyptic movements come and go. The May 21st doomsdayers drew loads of interest, largely thanks to a massive ad campaign, but they're hardly original.

10. Most Americans don't know that President Barack Obama is a Christian. It's ironic, since church-based community organizing led him to politics and since his close relationship with a pastor almost sunk his presidential campaign, but that's what a Pew poll found last year.

Only about a third of Americans correctly identified Obama's religion, while nearly one in five said he's a Muslim. Another irony: The longer Obama's been in office, the smaller the proportion of Americans who can correctly name his faith. As the 2012 presidential race approaches, this story bears watching, since views of candidates' religion influence voting patterns.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Comments • Technology • Trends

soundoff (1,520 Responses)
  1. JasonB

    Yep, I'd agree with much of the observations. And I really wish the non-believers who own the rest of the world in it's condemnation would go live in it and leave the Belief's site alone. Why do you and your types, along with the sodomites have to FORCE your filth on us?

    As for number 8, it's not given for us to know the mind of the Lord, but only to strive to understand and do His will, in our best efforts to please Him. The only thing I keep feeling regarding all the disasters in divers places is not that it's a sign straight from prophecy, I'm not going to say that as I don't know. But what I feel is rather that the Lord brings these burdens on us and takes things away from us until we turn our hearts and lives back to Him. This nation is in trouble and mankind has proven we can't fix it. The UN can't fix anything, and the rest of the world is only watching and aiding our destruction.

    August 23, 2011 at 10:22 pm |
    • The Beagle

      >> Why do you and your types, along with the sodomites have to FORCE your filth on us?

      I agree that many atheists are angry in an unproductive way. However, if you listen to what's behind the anger you'll hear that the atheist critique of religion is often a moral critique. As I said on another comment, I left my 40-year Christian faith after finally facing the fact that the God of the Bible commanded genocide and enslavement (Deuteronomy 20:10-18, Numbers 31), caused the violation of innocent women (2 Samuel 12:11), killed a baby for the sins of his father (2 Samuel 12:14-18), burned people alive just because they were complaining about hard times (Number 11:1), and was even evil in the little details, requiring that animals be put down by torture rather than humanely (Exodus 21:28). The reason I come here from time to time to "FORCE my filth" on people is that I am very frustrated that the Christians I know don't seem to care about these atrocities. They cast condemnation on the "sodomites" and cheerfully worship a God who is guilty of much worse.

      August 24, 2011 at 6:10 am |
  2. Ransom

    You've gone to a lot of trouble to sneak in the message that President Obama is a Christian;
    clever semantic subterfuge which doesn't fool me.

    August 21, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
    • Annatala Wolf

      Thank goodness you're so well-inoculated against demonstrable facts! If you weren't, you might start believing he's an American citizen, too.

      August 22, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
  3. EP

    Atheists also tend to spend the most time reading and ranting on random internet blogs than actually searching out and delving into the rich primary sources of religious intellectual history.

    Also, popular expressions in general tend to be nothing more than cute and appealing soundbites. Read a real book, everyone.

    August 21, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
  4. GAW

    I agree with the observation about many of the atheists who profusely post on CNNs Belief Blog. Unfortunately many of them are very predictable and are saying the same things over and over again. I am led to the conclusion that while Christianity has its popular expressions Atheism must have its popular expressions as well. Both groups aim for certainty and intimidate those who don't agree with them. What deeply disappoints me is that they show many of the characteristics of Extremest Groups as shown by Laird Wilcox http://www.lairdwilcox.com/news/hoaxerproject.html But I guess if you believe you have the truth you can commit as many logical fallacies you want when attacking your opponents.

    August 21, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
    • GAW

      ** Extremist Groups oops

      August 21, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
  5. Amy

    I'm agnostic ex-Christian and I agree with the religious illiterate part. I knew more quotes from the bible than my ex-Christian boyfriend and then he dumped me because someone from the church told him he was in an unGodly relationship. The irony makes me laugh to tears.

    August 21, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
    • EP

      Godly relationships are not quantifiable based on the number of bible verses one has memorized. Perhaps the ones not memorized that are actually not being lived authentically.

      August 21, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
  6. devilbloggger

    Blogged it at Satan's Blog: http://wp.me/p14HPl-138 Basically Satan agrees with CNNs observations, particularly about atheists and American's Biblical illiteracy. Good job, CNN.

    August 20, 2011 at 9:44 pm |
    • Robin

      Satan is a Judeo/Christian invention.

      August 21, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
  7. devilbloggger

    Obama is a Christian? Think again, and check out what Satan says at Satan's Blog: http://wp.me/p14HPl-sg

    August 19, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
  8. DC

    To all the people who fill these comments sections with spite and hatred: I still love you, because I was commanded to, despite what you say and how you act.

    August 17, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
    • Bob Decker

      DC god commands you to send me all your money. Jesus

      August 18, 2011 at 12:37 am |
    • Billy

      So you love only because God tells you? You imply that you are unhappy about that. Care to clarify?

      August 19, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
  9. weallgotone

    CNN, please start a Disbelief or Bash Belief blog. By now you should have learned this would be more suited to your audience. Thanks!

    August 16, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
  10. SilverSky

    By the way, I enjoy talking to / reading the comments of atheists and agnostics.

    Check out Paul's writings in books like Galatians, Colossians, Hebrews – the explanation of the transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant is reasoned, systematic and understandable.
    The semantics and logic and "head-thinking" I realize only get one so far – faith in the one who created this universe is also needed. The Bible says – "You will seek Me and find Me when you seek, with all your heart," and "love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your MIND . . . . .

    August 16, 2011 at 6:21 am |
  11. SilverSky

    Very interesting analysis CNN. One thing that I have learnt about religion is that when people are faced with death, they look really hard for the truth.
    Frankly, since both death and (for most of us) taxes are certain, it would be wise to spend some time while alive seeking the Truth.
    Personally, the only belief system that I have found that gives straight, reasoned and logical answers to the questions of life and what happens after death is the Bible. Try the New International Version – can us the net to look at words in the original Hebrew/Greek for meaning.
    Religion is man-made, relationship with a true God who controls the afterlife can be found in the Bible.

    August 16, 2011 at 6:07 am |
    • RichardSRussell

      I suspect you're right that most people have trouble dealing with the thot of their own death, which is why they clutch at anything that comes along, like a drowning person clutching at the nearest floating thing. To my mind, this is one reason why religion continues to be so successful, because it pretends to have answers to those hard questions. Of course, the total evidence for ANY of their stories is — and always has been — precisely zero. Think otherwise? Then shoot those 1st-person photos you took on your last visit to Heaven to CNN's iReports and let us all have a look. Heck, I'd just settle for directions on MapQuest.

      August 28, 2011 at 4:36 am |
  12. ja

    If someone doesn't value evidence then what evidence are you going to provide to prove that they should value it. If someone doesn't value logic what logical argument can you provide to show the importance of science.

    All we can do is appeal to scientific values.

    August 15, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
  13. Yo

    What is really disgusting is prejudice bigots like you.

    August 15, 2011 at 8:32 am |
  14. Zach

    I went through and I agree with a lot of what was said, though based on other factual evidence, I would argue that Obama's professed faith is not his actual faith.

    Go and listen to any of the sound bites of his speeches when he referrs to both the bible and the Qoran. He will always say "The Holy Qoran", but never once "The Holy Bible". By not mentioning that one adjective, it stands to reason that his beliefs are mor in line with the muslim faith than the christian one

    August 15, 2011 at 12:13 am |
    • Sarah Q

      You are a fat idiot. You have no friends.

      August 15, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
    • Linda

      Zach, you have a friend here in AZ. You are so right about Obama, he is only Christian when it is adventagous.

      August 15, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
    • anonymous

      I see where you're coming from Zach (coincidentally that is my name as well) and Linda–I think. While I am sure President Obama's beliefs (under the umbrella of "Christianity," NOT Islam) are very important to him and even seem to affect his policy decisions in some sense, he does sometimes seem to be rather syncretic at times. Like many American politicians President Obama seems to view his personal faith as important but see's it's open expression as inappropriate within the corridors of power. Instead, he chooses to promote the status of minority faiths (arising from the noble goal of giving historically disadvantaged minorities a needed boost), most noticeably Islam, and shies away from Christian events. This bending over backwards might arise from good intentions, but displays a willingness to lapse into a flip-flopping syncretism that serves his admirable, if sometimes misguided ambitions. I see faith as something someone should be proud of and hold it up as a significant part of their life, simlar to how ethnicity or race might be held up. This is markedly different than having an overtly religious agenda. While I think the widespread idea that President Obama is an overt or closet Muslim (who ever heard of a closet Muslim masquerading as a Christian?) arises from plain ignorance and an inability to prioritize real, factual information (and sources) over rumors, and is quite ridiculous. And President Obama's faith is his own, and I respect his decision to practice it as overtly or discreetly as he sees fit. However, if the President would have Americans understand what his faith is, and that it led in part to his political career, then bending over backwards to celebrate Islam and disguise his Christian faith will not help him.

      August 15, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
    • redragon

      Most Christians are only christians when it is to their advantage...

      August 17, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
  15. JustWondering

    And exactly how and where did Jesus supports social justice and gays?

    August 14, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
    • J.W

      Throughout the gospels Jesus associated with what some considered to be sinners and outcasts. Jesus taught his followers that they should love everybody and not judge other people. Jesus's entire message was about love and forgiveness. He did not specifically say anything about ho.mos.exuality, but he would not have been in favor of the hate that has been directed toward ho.mos.exuals

      August 14, 2011 at 8:49 pm |
    • RightTurnClyde

      You apparently know exactly NOTHING about what was going on at the time ..and I have to believe you are not actually interested in exactly what Jesus did or why that matters.

      August 14, 2011 at 9:11 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      I can't cite you chapter and verse, but the phrase that comes to mind is "Whatever you do to the least of these you do to me." Sounds to me like he was pretty supportive of people who traditionally get the short end of the stick.

      August 28, 2011 at 4:31 am |
  16. JWH

    #10 He is not a Christian. If he was one, he would not be in a political party that supports abortion and gayys.
    Do a little research on the UCC church. It is a counterfiet that supports gayys and social justice.

    He skips Christian events and supports Muslim holidays. He bears no fruit.

    August 14, 2011 at 7:08 am |
    • LonelyLoner

      You do realize if you strictly adhere to the Bible on what makes one Christian then that would probably rule out 99% of Americans?

      Wait no... you don't actually realize that, if you didn't you wouldn't of said such a stupid comment.

      August 14, 2011 at 11:54 am |
    • LonelyLoner

      *did* not didn't

      August 14, 2011 at 11:55 am |
    • jasperjava

      Jesus supported "gayys" and social justice. So I guess Jesus isn't a Christian.

      August 14, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
    • RightTurnClyde

      He is definitely NOT a Christian. He might be an atheist or a Muslim but he is NO Christian. ... and he does not like or understand corporations, CEO's, free market economics, anyone to the right of Ayers and Dohrn (CPUSA) .. he has no idea about protocol with other heads of state, he is not welcome in England, he made no allies in Asia, he could easily stumble into WW3 and his economic disaster will be legacy for at least 50 years. BUT he won the election so you gotta figure the people like it.

      August 14, 2011 at 9:16 pm |
    • nate

      ..by their fruits you may know them...

      i guess, obama's a professing christian without the fruits...

      August 16, 2011 at 11:41 am |
  17. txchris

    I know I am proving one of his points right by being another athiest response, but I just have to ask why it is 'ironic' that atheists and agnostics score higher on knowledge of Christianity? Most atheists in American society, were raised under a Christian or religious household, and it was through a lack of belief and a greater understanding of the physical world around via knowledge and especially science. The bible's theory on life eventually just couldn't seem plausible anymore, and people in that mental situation were then forced to dissect and analyze their beliefs on reality and the origins of the universe. It is the ones that are still listening to what their parents and community told them to do, the ones that you said yourself don't even know the tenants and facts of their own religion, it is those people that are the blundering mindless drones that don't think for themselves.

    August 14, 2011 at 4:21 am |
    • CheeseSteak

      You think too much. Atheists are smarter than Christians. Figures they'd just know a lot more about most things. BTW, Christians are generally a pretty stupid lot. Ever watch them try to parallel park. Funniest damn thing you ever saw.

      August 14, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
    • KUUKAA

      Replace Atheists with "Whites" and Christians with "blacks" (or any other group of people) and you have a profoundly ignorant, racist and oppressive statement. But of course it's ok to be hateful towards Christians. I'm so sorry you're lack of belief has led you to a life of hatred.

      August 15, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • you're wrong

      Kuukaa, Religion is a choice, Race is not. Big difference buddy.

      August 17, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
  18. ted waitt

    I was browsing over some of the info coming from Ames Iowa's straw pole. There was a picture of a woman in Pawlenty's tent with her arm raised during a prayer, which according to the author of the article as a sign of worship of the Evangilical Christian. If my memory is right, it was also a sign of worship during the 30's and early 40's in Germany.

    August 14, 2011 at 1:38 am |
  19. CheeseSteak

    10 Things overheard in Michelle Bachmann's Evangelical Christian Church

    1. Jesus loves you, but I think you're an A& &hole
    2. Pass the plate, I have to go out and feed the meter
    3. Does Pastor Clevus know there's hole in the back of his frock?
    4. Thank God I put Beano on that donut this morning.
    5. My God, it's full of stars
    6. If wanted to stand up and sit down every 30 seconds, I'd have gone to a Catholic church
    7. I'm not wearing any underwear
    8. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus...sure, put me in for a dozen, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus...
    9. I can't understand a word you said Martha, stop speaking in tongues
    10. Wow, that was the best church &ex I ever had

    August 14, 2011 at 12:09 am |
  20. CheeseSteak

    Here's what I've learned from Belief Blog.

    1. We're all spending too much time on Belief Blog
    2. X-Ray specs really don't let you see though women's clothing
    3. Belief Blog goes great with Genessee Cream Ale
    4. God is doG spelled backward
    5. Jesus wasn't a Puerto Rican
    6. Don't rub another man's Rubarb
    7. I am your father Luke
    8. Praying is the leading cause of knee replacement surgery
    9. The Rubiks cube is an instrument of the Devil
    10. The Bible is a cookbook.

    August 13, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
    • redragon

      I needed that... hehehe

      August 17, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
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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.