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. jan

    I think adamant atheists are just as annoying as adamant evangelicals. Both are relentless in pushing their beliefs down your throat and both are intolerant to people of other beliefs than their own.

    June 8, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
    • Nursehope

      Correction: our "non" beliefs. Yes, we respond using facts and rational explanations. Please forgive us for we definately know what we do.

      June 8, 2011 at 9:05 pm |
    • jon

      Nursehope – there is no such thing as "non-belief." Your "belief" that no God exists IS a belief. Also, check your spelling of "definitely"

      June 8, 2011 at 10:07 pm |
    • LinCA

      @jon. There is a difference between Believing something does not exist, and Not believing something exists.

      Where you place the "not" matters. The first one is a belief. The second is the absence of belief, or non-belief.

      Without evidence of the existence of something, there is no reason to believe it exists. This is reason, most people don't believe in pink unicorns, or Santa, or the Easter bunny, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It is also the reason most atheists don't believe in any gods, yours included. We are equal opportunity non-believers.

      The stunning absence of any shred of evidence for any god will lead some atheists to claim there are no gods (which would be a belief, as you can't prove a negative). In this case this is akin to believing that a chair won't collapse when you sit in it, because it hasn't shown any signs that it would, and has held up for thousands of times before. But keep in mind that there is evidence of chairs collapsing when people sit in them. The odds that any given chair will break are much, much higher than that there is a god, let alone yours.


      June 8, 2011 at 10:48 pm |
  2. Jean

    CNN seems to have purposely left the out the large number of pagan viewpoints that were presented. There were many. Shame on you, CNN, for such biased list compilation!

    June 8, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
  3. Yummy Chocolatechips


    June 8, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
    • Bippy, the Lesser Squirrel-God of Hiccuping Clowns (I got a promotion)

      Well that video is even dumber (and duller) than all the other videos posted here that supposedly discredit atheists. Are you all really that incapable of critical thought?

      Let me post an example of someone making his points intelligently, with a lot of humor:


      I defy you to show me a video of the opposite viewpoint that is even half as intelligent, funny, entertaining, and insightful.

      June 8, 2011 at 9:09 pm |
  4. Matt

    @light in the black

    Where in the world did you get that info, my friend? That is so untrue. Its almost like you quoted it out of some "National Inquirer" newspaper or Jerry Springer show.

    That what you wrote is Not he Truth about Jesus. But you are free to think as you wish, my friend.
    However, there are "Illuminati" as you have mentioned. They are the unseen demons bent on destroying the human race.

    June 8, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Dude your meds have worn off!

      Illumiati? Imaginary re-articulated corpse Gods? Ritual cannabilisim?

      Get a grip, before someone has you hospitalized

      June 9, 2011 at 8:31 am |
  5. Marie Kidman


    June 8, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
  6. Mark from Middle River

    Bad Checker: – “You're apparently assuming I'm yelling while you are reading my posts – that's on you, not me. Yes, I understand making rational points on threads of this nature will fall on def ears but as anyone who wants to promote change, you have to keep promoting the change you want to see in the world, no matter how futile the efforts seem. Also – thanks for basically telling me "If someone's said it better than you, why say anything at all"

    Depends on the change you are trying to promote. There are Ghandi changes and there are Hitler type of changes.

    You have to ask yourself Checker, what kind of change are you looking for. For me, and I do feel a good segment of society it is just to tolerate as many as we can and live in coexistence. The change I feel you are searching for is the reduction or outright elimination of those beliefs on the other side. Since folks will always hold on to those, both Atheist and those of various Faiths.... what are your plans then?

    Will you continue to attack the other side and they you? What happens when one of either of our numbers wake up tomorrow morning and decides that talking has not worked and more drastic and if needed deadly actions need to be taken?

    What then, what will be your plans then Bad Checker. Since you admit that your words will not change anyones view is there anything else you could spend your time and effort working on?

    June 8, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
  7. kevin

    To say the God doesn't exist is a pretty tall order. Just because you can't see it or touch it, doesn't mean it does not exist.

    June 8, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
    • Dennis

      Keep the faith Kevin....Santa, the Tooth Fairy, Leprechauns all appreciate it.

      June 8, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
    • robert

      kevin, if you took even five minutes to understand the issue you wouldn't make such idiotic and simplistic statements. It is clear that you believe what you believe because you don't know anything else.

      June 8, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
  8. Light In The Black

    Hey you Christians, i have a question.

    If it was Gods will that Jesus die on the cross for your sins
    And Judas did what he was told to do (Turn jesus in to the Romans)
    Why is Judas considered a traitor ?

    The first person Jesus contacted upon his ressurection was
    May Magdalene, yet she is considered a harlot, and not a desciple ?

    The truth is this.
    Jesus real name was Cesar, son of Julius Ceasar & Cleopatra.
    Well bred royalty, and wealthy hier to both the Egyptian and Roman thrones.
    When Rome attacked and defeated Egypt Cesar fled to India.
    Spent 13 years studying Buddism, and return to reclaim his throne.
    The word "Jesus" means "son of Isis"
    Cleopatra was the reincarnated virgin goddess Isis.
    Ceasar was declared a "GOD" by the Roman senate
    so his son "Cesar" was the son of god.
    What went wrong ?
    Jesus was a political threat to the Roman Empire
    and was arrested as a political prisoner.

    Go on and believe your bible that has been twisted for centuries
    by the Vatican.
    Jesus and Mary Magdalene had 2 children, and the blood line
    goes on today.
    They are NOT saviors, they are in fact, the ruling class on this planet.
    Call it what you want.....
    Illuminati, NWO, but it has always been controlled by the nights of Malta
    The Roman Empire did not fall, they just figured out that they did not need to
    use Armies to control people,
    They got so rich, they just baught everything worth controlling.
    Including The White House.
    Wasnt funny to me that when George Bush Ran against John Kerry
    it did not matter who won, they are both bembers of Skull & Bones.
    The history you believe is all false.
    You dont believe that 911 was an inside job ?
    Never before in history (Of NORAD)
    was a vice president (OF USA) in control.
    But on that day (911) Cheney was in control of Norad
    Marvin Bush was in control of security for the Tower complex
    and the airlines involved.

    But people would rather climb into a hole
    and call me nuts, rather than find out the truth.

    PLEASE FIND THE TRUTH !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    June 8, 2011 at 8:31 pm |
    • KoolKeith

      Ummm, maybe *you* need to find the truth? Ya think?

      June 8, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      LOL ....Geez..I thought it was a 60's Beatles type of song lyrics he was posting. I began reading trying to find the rhythm

      June 8, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
    • asrael

      Dear Lord, please help him find those meds...

      June 8, 2011 at 10:03 pm |
  9. Matt

    There is a lot of evidence as to the existence of a loving, caring God around us and that can be proven,

    June 8, 2011 at 8:31 pm |
    • Light In The Black

      @ Matt

      200 people go down in a plane crash.
      199 people die.
      1 Survivor.
      You people say "Thank God" that there was 1 survivor.
      But you "NEVER" say.....
      why did God let the other 199 people die.
      Great God you got there.
      You make no sense.
      Do you actually think that if there is a God
      He sits on his "Throne"
      and decides who lives and who dies ?

      PLEASE.... dont give me that age old crap
      that "God" works in mysterious ways..........Garbage.

      According to your "Bible" God has everything worked out quite well.
      So please explaine.

      June 8, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
    • Dennis

      but of course you're not going to prove it.

      June 8, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
    • asrael

      Name one...

      June 8, 2011 at 9:37 pm |
  10. tony

    The reactions just show that the belief blog is yet another worthless and unnecessary piece of lowest-cost marketing garbage that the reflects the dismally moronic state of the new CNN ownership and total lack of understanding of what a news site is for.

    June 8, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
    • Blue Pimpernel

      No, tell us how you REALLY feel!

      June 8, 2011 at 11:19 pm |
  11. EyeLuvYew


    June 8, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
    • Lindsay Lohan's Guide to Getting Vodka in Jail

      But that's just jabber. He made no point at all. He just rambled out a few obscure names and made the deluded, unsupported pronouncement that the new wave of philosophy is Christian.

      That convinced you of something? Really?

      June 8, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
    • tony

      The self appointed "more intellectual' Christian intellectual midget knocks Atheists, not on their facts, but on on his own assessment of their intelligence. Sounds like and African Witch Doctor – These white men justdon't understand Ju-Ju folks.

      I wonder why no-one pointed out that Galileo, Copernicus, Shakespeare, Newton and Einstein are all dead now too. But we don't discount their knowlede once they passed.

      June 8, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
  12. Penny Meholick

    Regarding number 5: Violence. Religion. 'Nuff said.

    June 8, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
  13. EyeLuvYew


    June 8, 2011 at 8:26 pm |
    • Electric Larry

      How did Craig supposedly humiliate Atkins? The clip conveniently keeps Atkins comment to a few seconds in the middle, and Craig makes no real point that undermines any atheist argument.

      Do you actually look at these things before you post them? They really make you look ignorant.

      June 8, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
  14. tony

    @Rhonda, Respectfully, that question is the crux of the matter. Why do we continue to believe in God when we no longer believe in Santa or the tooth fairy? From the atheist perspective, there is no difference. What is the difference that believers are able to draw between God and Tinkerbell? Neither of them are touchable or falsifiable (cannot prove or disprove the existence of either).

    June 8, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
    • Rhonda

      Thanks for clarifying this Tony. I don't believe in Santa or the Tooth Fairy. My rationale is not based only on the fact that they are untouchable or falsifiable (though they are). I have come to not believe because I see them as a fiction for play with children. On the other hand, I do believe in some things that are untouchable and which cannot be scientifically measured or produced in a test tube. I believe in some things which I, given the human limitations of my mind in the face of a gifted persuader, could be persuaded are false. The things I speak of are the love of my family, the compassion inherent in my community, the determination of the human spirit, the deep longing for acceptance in every human being, etc. In short, not all that is real or true can be proven. We can only rest on evidence when determining what we believe.

      June 8, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
    • Rhonda

      Correction. I meant to write 'can not be proven'

      June 8, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
    • Blue Pimpernel

      Rhonda – Those are just emotions and emotional feedback. They are not proof of anything but that emotions exist and that we express them. Nothing more can be taken from their existence and effects.

      June 8, 2011 at 11:22 pm |
  15. Matt

    @bad checker
    baseless assumptions? Can you see "air?" but it exists, this too is a baseless assumption, DNA, microbes, things like these. are baseles assumptions? Because you do not "see" you cant believe. right? these things Wow! I feel sad for you bro. True the words of Jesus at John 20:29 "Happy are those who do not see and yet believe."

    June 8, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
    • asrael

      Always good to be able to feel sad for someone after the pontificating is over...

      June 8, 2011 at 9:40 pm |
  16. Chicken Little

    ok a dumb question.
    Where are the quizzes everyone is talking about ? Tks.

    June 8, 2011 at 8:20 pm |
    • LinCA

      a link under item 4 in the article

      June 8, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
  17. Mark from Middle River

    Bad checker : “When that is the starting point, how the hell are we suppose to contribute rather than scold. It's frustrating.”

    MMR : “Hey Bad Checker.... do you dislike the continual butterfly post on this thread? How about that we can not login and protect our name and anyone can post under our names?”

    Bad Checker … That is a starting point. Find something in common, and work from there. See the other side as conscience human beings and not the monsters that we have been groomed to believe the others to be.

    June 8, 2011 at 8:19 pm |
    • Sane as you are not.

      There are such things as proof, evidence, and having it in your face, too.
      There can be no common ground between the clinically insane and the sane.
      Nor can there be common ground where there is none.
      When you are able to understand this clearly you will be more mature in your outlook and less willing to be the only militant centrist on this board who never quite seems to keep things in perspective.

      June 8, 2011 at 11:28 pm |
  18. Frogist

    @Ed: Thank you for at least attempting to explain. I appreciate it. But all of the first part about washing hands, thou shalt nots etc are easily comprehended by anyone reading the book not just people who believe in God. I think we agree on that part. Unfortunately most times when those believers express "You can't understand", it's to dispute a different opinion held by non-believers (and believers who disagree with them) regarding a verse or tenet. This I find disingenuous. Having a different opinion doesn't mean you were inspired by god and I wasn't. It just means that particular passage is va-gue.

    The second part is the bit I think is most interesting to me. I have long tried to explain to my fellow non-believers about this sensation or emotion that believers draw on which they consider God. Logic and rationality simply don't work on emotions. so they will not help to banish their idea of God from a believer's heart. I think a huge misunderstanding or gap that believers have is that non-believers do not experience this feeling that you described. That I think is untrue. I may be atypical but I do experience feeling part of a bigger experience, feeling connected to beauty or goodness through books and nature and family. I just don't attribute it to a personal god acting on my life. I think if more believers understood that atheism and agnosticism was not as cold as they saw it, they might see us in a different light. Anyway I don't see how having that feeling means a believer understands the bible better than someone who is an atheist. It may mean you see it differently or adhere to its teachings more stringently, but it doesn't mean you are being singled out to a meaning others cannot glean from the bible as well.
    I hope that made some sense.

    As for that men are the leaders of the household... slice it anyway you wish, that's still a se-xist position IMO. Saying that others have used it to keep women in their place doesn't negate the fact that the statement itself is prejudiced against women. I know that's a bit off topic but I couldn't let that slide.
    Anyways thanks for explaining!

    @Steve: Hi! I think what you are describing is a use of metaphor which is not unusual to literature and easily understood by believers and non-believers alike. The problem with metaphors is that they can be interpreted in different ways. As I mentioned to Ed, I think the true motivation behind saying atheists can't understand the meaning of the bible like believers is so believers lend an air of authority and "special-ness" to their opinion when people disagree with them. It's also used against other believers they don't consider "true" enough.

    Again, I understand having more feeling toward something like a book but that doesn't mean you have greater insight into that book than someone else. I hate to invoke its hideousness here – but so many people LOVE the Twilight books and consider it the most amazing thing ever!!! heart sparkle heart ... But that doesn't mean they have greater knowledge or insight, it just means they liked it better. A student of literature would look at the same books and recognize them for the useless trash that they are. Does that mean the fan has better knowledge? No, not necessarily.

    June 8, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
    • ccaze

      wow... You may need to learn how to get to the point. I certainly don't have the attention span to get through that mess.

      However, the few points I scanned I agree with.

      June 8, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
    • asrael

      Sometimes, trying to be calmly reasonable takes time, and I was happy to share your journey, Frogist: thank you...

      June 8, 2011 at 9:44 pm |
    • Blue Pimpernel

      Another excellent post, Frogist. I am seeing stuff in your posts that I do not see in others. Thanks.

      June 8, 2011 at 11:32 pm |
  19. xasthur

    The most interesting thing found was that atheists and agnostics know more about religions and the bible than believers. There's a reason for that.

    June 8, 2011 at 8:15 pm |
    • ccaze

      Good point. Willful ignorance.

      June 8, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
  20. Marla

    What the article didn't say is that atheists tend to be the most knowledgeable about many religions.
    Sort of implies that the more you learn in a comparative religion class, the more likely you are to not believe in any of them!

    June 8, 2011 at 8:14 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.