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. Lenny Pincus

    If a person really knows the Bible, he/she realizes that the God portrayed therein is schizo. Warlike, peaceful, egotistical, maniacal, loving, revengeful, meek, angry, you name it, God's been it. How is a reasonable person supposed to approach such wild inconsistency? With a fundamentalist's belief that every word in the Bible is God's? Ridiculous. It seems rather obvious that the Bible's God is simply a reflection of man's craziness. The real God is far beyond most humans' ability to comprehend–one reason why the Bible's ground crew appears insane.

    June 8, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
  2. Reality

    One more time:

    Dan Gilgoff and Eric Marrapodi, this blog's moderators/editors noted:

    "yes, paid attention to all those reader comments for a solid year."

    You did??????

    Then where is the information about the oft-complained about word filter? i.e. how hard would it be to publish the following in the Terms of Service/ Rules of Conduct:

    • This blog has a "offensive" word filter which either will delete or put your comment in the "waiting for moderation" category but also will do the same to words having fragments of these words. For example, "t-it" is in the set but the filter will also pick up words like Hitt-ite, t-itle, beati-tude, practi-tioner and const-tution. Then there are words containing "c-um" flagging acc-umulate or doc-ument. And there is also "r-a-pe", “a-pe” and “gra-pe”, "s-ex", and "hom-ose-xual".

    • And make sure any referenced web addresses do not have any forbidden word or fragment.

    Two of the most filtered words are those containing the fragments "t-it" and "c-um". To quickly check your comments for these fragments, click on "Edit" on the Tool Bar and then "Find" on the menu. Add a fragment (without hyphens) one at a time in the "Find" slot and the offending fragment will be highlighted in your comments before you hit the Post button. Hyphenate the fragment(s) and then hit Post.

    "Sensitive" words/fragments found by commentators such as Sam Dude ––

    ar-se.....as in Car-se, etc.
    co-ck.....as in co-ckatiel, co-ckatrice, co-ckleshell, co-ckles, lubco-ck, etc.
    co-on.....as in rac-oon, coc-oon, etc.
    cu-m......as in doc-ument, accu-mulate, circu-mnavigate, circu-mstances, cu-mbersome, cuc-umber, etc.
    cu-nt.....as in Scu-ntthorpe, a city in the UK famous for having problems with filters...!
    ef-fing...as in ef-fing filter
    ft-w......as in soft-ware, delft-ware, swift-water, etc.
    ho-mo.....as in ho-mo sapiens or ho-mose-xual, ho-mogenous, etc.
    ho-rny....as in tho-rny, etc.
    jacka-ss...yet "ass" is allowed by itself.....
    ja-p......as in j-apanese, ja-pan, j-ape, etc.
    koo-ch....as in koo-chie koo..!
    pi-s......as in pi-stol, lapi-s, pi-ssed, therapi-st, etc.
    pr-ick....as in pri-ckling, pri-ckles, etc.
    ra-pe.....as in scra-pe, tra-peze, gr-ape, thera-peutic, sara-pe, etc.
    se-x......as in Ess-ex, s-exual, etc.
    sh-@t.....but shat is okay – don't use the @ symbol there.
    sp-ic.....as in disp-icable, hosp-ice, consp-icuous, susp-icious, sp-icule, sp-ice, etc.
    ti-t......as in const-itution, att-itude, ent-ities, alt-itude, beat-itude, etc.
    tw-at.....as in wristw-atch, nightw-atchman, etc.
    va-g......as in extrava-gant, va-gina, va-grant, va-gue, sava-ge, etc.
    who-re....as in who're you kidding / don't forget to put in that apostrophe!

    There are more, some of them considered "racist", so do not assume that this list is complete.
    Allowed words / not blocked at all:
    raping (ra-pe is not ok)
    shat (sh-@t is not ok)

    The CNN / WordPress filter also filters your EMAIL address and NAME as well – so you might want to check those.

    And YES to those who suggested a search engine to check previous comments as the current limit of about 50 comments per page makes finding previous comments very difficult to find when the number of comments exceed ~ 150.

    June 8, 2011 at 11:32 pm |
    • Interplexer

      LOL!! I like you!

      June 8, 2011 at 11:37 pm |
    • LinCA

      But there are ways around the filters that leave the words intact. For instance:
      sh<b></b>it will print as shit, and
      consti<b></b>tution will print as constitution

      June 9, 2011 at 12:06 am |
  3. Lori

    Most STUPID people don't want to know that President Obama is a Christian.

    June 8, 2011 at 11:27 pm |
    • Freudian Slip? HAHAHA


      June 8, 2011 at 11:31 pm |
    • HowMany MinutesToMidnight?


      June 8, 2011 at 11:39 pm |
    • PrayForOurLeaders


      June 8, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
  4. paul

    God wants believers in his kingdom.atheist dont qualify.pretty sad really considering we are given a choice.
    @linCA remember you said that,God sure will

    June 8, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
    • Interplexer

      Srsly I hope ALL You Over believers drink that Kool-aid one day! More room for the rest of us.

      June 8, 2011 at 11:40 pm |
    • LinCA

      @paul. Yup, I said it and I meant every syllable.

      June 9, 2011 at 12:09 am |
    • William Demuth

      If your God drags his Palestiniam butt back here, I will personaly nail him up again.

      June 9, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
  5. KoolKeithRocks


    June 8, 2011 at 11:16 pm |
  6. Caleb

    Also, if you can state ONE scientific fact that is in direct conflict with the existance of God (the one ofthe bible, for arguments sake) then I will eat my iPhone from which I comment.

    June 8, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
    • Interplexer

      Science is ever expanding just like the universe. Your limited views may do you in. No one said The one true GOD dosen't exist, Just that he is not a floaty apparition here to grant wishes like a freaki'n geanie.

      June 8, 2011 at 11:48 pm |
  7. Caleb


    what do you "believe" Is responsible for your existance? Anything's existance?

    June 8, 2011 at 11:13 pm |
    • Interplexer

      As a scientist I cannot say I actually "believe" , I am investigating the matter, science science keeps delving deeper into the mysteries of the cosmos most wonderful and strange designs begin to appear..... the existence of Dark Matter, Just like the not so "flat earth", is another piece of the whole mystery solved. Ongoing we are now looking for the "GOD" particle.

      June 8, 2011 at 11:54 pm |
  8. Interplexer

    About the
    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:

    Acerider :
    Can we have a fairy tale blog too?.......................

    This comment dosen't mean this person is athiest. If he mentioned that he actually was Athiest it would be different, I think you should revoke the religious thread!! It will cause trouble.

    I am not Athiest per say, But I also don't believe an all knowing omnipotent being is responsible for our existence. If you cannot believe in Scientific Fact, then you will never be able to view life through truly knowledgeable eyes.

    June 8, 2011 at 11:08 pm |
    • LinCA

      I don't know anybody who is an athiest. Atheists, on the other hand are becoming more commonplace (and that's a good thing).

      June 9, 2011 at 12:12 am |
  9. GodReallyDoesLoveYou!

    😉 😀


    June 8, 2011 at 11:06 pm |
    • Interplexer

      nothing logical about your argument exists.......

      June 8, 2011 at 11:10 pm |
    • The Revenge of the Mildly Angry Kittens From Beyond Hell

      Look at that guy – he looks like he eats squirrel sushi and washes it down with a bottle of cough syrup, then sleeps it off under a bus stop bench. Yeah, I bet he's a REAL authority on an invisible man in the sky.

      June 9, 2011 at 1:34 am |
  10. Caleb

    I do find it interesting how many atheists are infatuated with religion, especially Christianity. I swear most of them can't get enough of bashing Christians, as if having an imaginary friend is so much worse than having an imaginary enemy :). They pretend to base everything in their lives on the scientific method and logical reasoning and then turn around and declare with great certainty something that has no basis in either logic or science. It's a belief system. One that takes a great amount of faith. Among people who allege that they have never had a religious experience, the only ones I can stomach are agnostics. The atheists are generally disgustingly self-righteous and usually rich in loud and poor in logic.

    June 8, 2011 at 11:06 pm |
    • Seola

      It's called "know thy enemy". They tend to know the most because they've done the research to get to their position. In this world, it's the opposite of the flow and therefore, before getting all sorts of labels from everyone, one must be prepared to debate intelligently. So when the "zealots" who don't know Christianity (or Catholicism or Islam, etc.) try to get high and mighty over their atheism, they are prepared with the counter, their answer and point the flaws. Granted, I believe in a higher power, but I refuse to sit around and pretend that atheists don't know their stuff. I said this in a story on the blog once, and even though I made a comment about someone's hatred (while hiding behind God) towards the atheists and mentioned that atheists tend to know more – I was labeled one. I, too "know thy enemy". But my atheist friends don't push me and I don't push them so...

      June 8, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
    • heliocracy

      Indulge me...make a logical argument for the existence of God that isn't self-referencing, or based on the Authority Argument. And if you're about to spring Intelligent Design on me, don't bother...way ahead of you.

      June 8, 2011 at 11:16 pm |
    • Interplexer

      I have plenty of religious experience, but the system is flawed, and just like in the Matrix the people will eventually wake up to the fact we need to worship ourselves, unite as the Human Race. Religion, in many cultures seem to clash together, even though many basic ideals in each seem to coincide.

      June 8, 2011 at 11:16 pm |
    • Laughing


      "as if having an imaginary friend is so much worse than having an imaginary enemy"

      First of all, did you just admit that god is your imaginary friend? Just had to get that out of the way.

      Secondly, disgustingly self-righteous? really? A lot of atheists just ask for proof of god or someway to prove that christianity, hinduism, buddhism, judaism, any ism really actually has some basis in fact rather than fiction. I much rather prefer the self-aware type of christian who knows that most of the stuff that they follow is bogus but it's the spirit of the story thats important, at least they acknowledge that the bible and most parts of religion are ridiculous. If you want self-righteous, pick any comment made by a religious person (most of the time christian but not always) about how god showing atheists his light and other "great truths" that apparently only religious folks know because they made a decision to follow an invisible man in the sky. Sorry, but I think you don't like the fact that not only do atheists outright reject your religion, but they know more about it than you do (which probably led to that rejection anyways).

      June 8, 2011 at 11:25 pm |
    • Dave



      June 8, 2011 at 11:56 pm |
    • Peace Man

      Went to the link and found myself laughing at most of it.
      Those arguments are, each one, fatally flawed in some way.
      And with modern advances in the sciences, they are even more laughable.
      But I thank you for honestly trying.

      June 9, 2011 at 12:40 am |
  11. tinhorn

    i don't see how these statistics can be true, how do you know everyone that commented against religion was athiest? my biggest problem is faith does not equal truth. Science doesn't equal truth either, but there may be some supporting evidence that comes from it that can be used to form an educated opinion. taoism isn't a religion at all, yet people follow it's philosophy every day as a way of life. How does this discipline avoid the pitfalls of self importance and pride and condemnation, while religions cannot?

    June 8, 2011 at 10:58 pm |
  12. Maxx


    A non-biased world view is a biased world view in itself and is therefore a idealogical contradiction. The point being is that in order to hold any particular world view, you must take a position and assume a priori that an opposing position exists, otherwise, what is it that you are attempting to assert?

    Lumping atheists together is about as helpful to the debate as lumping everyone else into 'religion' It cannot be done with any expectation of a coherent discourse. Unfortunately, as knowledgeable as atheists seem to be, they tend to lump everyone with some system of belief into 'religion' If all religions really are saying the same thing, this might hold water. But, as they most certainly do not all say the same thing – no water. To those who believe that all religions are basically saying the same thing, might I recommend some time spent at your local library to quell such ignorance?

    It is also worth noting that atheists love to tout how religion "poisons everything," and is somehow responsible for all of the world's woes. Interesting how they never get around to mentioning the fact of how godless atheistic governments murdered tens of millions of their own people during the twentieth century.

    I'm not sure that I respect deists anymore than atheists. I don't see how the notion that God is somehow, "out there" and absolutely uninvolved in human affairs is any different from no God at all. How exactly would you prove that?

    I don't care to debate atheists myself as I find it to be a useless waste of time. Having spent a fair amount of time reading their books and listening to their debates, I have concluded that atheism is boring, unimaginative and never, never adds anything, but only takes away. There is no sense of awe or wonder and I see no great works in the arts depicting atheism. Where's the inspiration? Where are the great works of atheist literature, music etc.? There is nothing. All the atheist can offer is a "free mind?" What is that exactly?

    Atheism is little more than a small band of those locked into a long and boring anachronism which offers mankind no hope and no future in the depths of its sad, self-centered perennial skepticism. Yet, they continue to preach that this long outdated, tried and failed belief system has something legitimate to offer.

    As far as I can tell, not only does this also require great faith on the part of the atheist, but I can only conclude that God allows atheists to exist because few things strengthen religious faith more than attacking it's core beliefs. Maybe I should thank God for atheists – for because of them I have gone back to read the Bible more thoroughly so that I know what it really says, and to learn to argue rationally and critically, and to take an interest into the history of my faith, etc... I guess its fair to admit that maybe atheists do have a valuable purpose after all.

    Good evening.

    June 8, 2011 at 10:58 pm |
    • Akousticplyr

      "All the atheist can offer is a "free mind?" What is that exactly?"

      As an atheist, I cannot offer a more powerful argument against the folly of belief than this, a statement from a believer.

      "All" we can offer? Its everything. What is a free mind, exactly? Why bother trying to explain? The faithful have no interest in the answer.

      June 8, 2011 at 11:20 pm |
    • lords8n

      First off, I must say 'kudos' for the well written comment. It certainly is a breath of fresh air to read a comment from someone who doesn't just have an opinion, but is also eloquent in expressing it. That being said, I don' t think it is fair to fault atheists for never getting 'around to mentioning the fact of how godless atheistic governments murdered tens of millions of their own people during the twentieth century' any more than you can fault clergy members for never mentioning in their sermons the myriad of atrocities that have been perpetrated upon the human race throughout history in the name of god.

      June 8, 2011 at 11:41 pm |
  13. Neal Sheppard

    CNN.com's belief blog most definitely does not prove that atheists are more fervent commentators about religion. All that it proves is that there are more atheists reading CNN.com than believers. Surely CNN.com writers understand this, which is why it is curious that they would make such a claim.

    June 8, 2011 at 10:57 pm |
    • Bazoing

      You hope!

      June 8, 2011 at 11:08 pm |
    • Seola

      One could infer that, only except they are using the average statistics of how many people in the world believe at all versus non-believers. If only (random number, I don't know the official stats) 10% of the world is atheist, but they represent 80% of the comments, it's logical to assume that they are "fervent". Per story "capita", they are out en masse.

      June 8, 2011 at 11:10 pm |
    • Commenter

      For many atheists and agnostics a forum such as this is the first time and the only outlet that we have to express our views. In the real world we are too easily ostracized for doing so. The religious have so many avenues and opportunities to air their 'spiritual' feelings in public, perhaps they have less need to do it here.

      I can only hope that as non-believers see that they are not alone and that they need not accept shunning we will see more evidence of them in public.

      June 8, 2011 at 11:19 pm |
    • Commenter

      p.s. That guy or gal in the pew behind you in church just might be an agnostic or atheist who just 'goes along to get along' (as I did for way too many years - sigh).

      June 8, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
  14. BENJI

    Atheist are going to hell.

    June 8, 2011 at 10:41 pm |
    • Gracko

      What part of "judge not, lest ye be judged" do you not understand?

      June 8, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
    • LinCA


      I would rather spend an eternity in hell than a day in heaven if it has to be in the presence of your god and his followers.

      June 8, 2011 at 10:51 pm |
    • tinhorn

      i believe this was a joke.

      June 8, 2011 at 11:03 pm |
    • Seola

      Gracko – maybe you should read that comment A) in context B) properly and C) that's not a scripture.

      June 8, 2011 at 11:17 pm |
    • Akousticplyr

      Ooh! Shotgunnn!!!!

      June 8, 2011 at 11:22 pm |
    • LinCA

      @Akousticplyr. LOL

      June 9, 2011 at 12:20 am |
  15. Christopher H Lee

    One reason that atheists have problems with religious stories in general is the way reporters, far too frequently, talk about what people believe as if it were fact. Reporters should always tell their stories from as objective a position as possible. On the one hand they have to say "alleged shooter" even when fifty people and ten video cameras saw it happen; at the same time they talk about God, Jesus and the bible without any such qualification. They say "some scientists believe in ____" when some is 95+% but never "some people believe in God" when the number is less than 90%.

    While it is interesting the way survivors of disasters are so often "saved by God", I have never seen a news article point out that the other thousand people were abandoned by God.

    As you point out in this article, most of the "faithful" are painfully ignorant of the works they supposedly base their faith on. It's like saying "I believe in fairies because I know there's a book that proves they exist." Curiously, I think that a lot of atheists probably know the bible and other religious works far better than most of the faithful because they find them interesting on a cerebral level. I personally love plumbing the bible for its unethical stories and moral contradictions. As a collection of stories, it's one of the best. As history or as a moral guide, it's pretty sadly lacking.

    That said, keep going – some of us love picking apart groundless faith with fact-based reason, even though we know it's a lost cause. /eclectos..

    June 8, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
  16. lords8n

    The fact that atheists and agnostics scored highest on a quiz about religion should not come as a surprise to anyone. A great deal of research and introspect goes into deciding to abandon religion, much more than goes into accepting it. @jan and your comment about 'adamant atheists': considering that 95% of the global population believes in a god of some sort, you can't really fault atheists for expressing their views. Imagine walking into a room only to realize you are the sole woman surrounded by 19 rapists...you might have a comment or two to share also.

    June 8, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
  17. Ray

    As regards item #10, I believe it should read "Most Americans refuse to believe that Barack Obama is a Christian." There's a difference between not knowing something and refusing to believe something, even after being repeatedly told the truth.

    June 8, 2011 at 10:19 pm |
    • Bazoing

      How is this important? He has betrayed his country, betrayed his religion (if he has one, which is doubtful because then he would fear hell), and he has betrayed his supporters. As such, that merely makes him another politician, the same as politicians everywhere. If you have a complaint then complain about what he is doing rather than where he might of been born and his church.

      June 8, 2011 at 11:15 pm |
  18. Marie Kidman


    June 8, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
    • Matt

      that is a video of a butterfly with a musical background. what are you trying to say?


      June 8, 2011 at 10:18 pm |
    • GodReallyDoesLoveYou!


      June 8, 2011 at 11:05 pm |
  19. Matt

    B. Paul
    God is not responsible for wars, its is because people do not apply what they learn about God and imitate him that we have wars today. Religion/God is a big reason why wars are fought and for this reason it has been judged as wicked and worthy of destruction by the Supreme God.

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

      That "worthy of destruction" is exactly the reason religious wars are fought. It is the people thinking they know what God wants and thinks and they use the Bible as "reference" to commit the violence they already decided they wanted.
      You are one of those who would gladly kill in the name of what you think your God says. That makes you a fool.

      June 8, 2011 at 11:07 pm |
  20. WeLoveYouALot ButNotAsMuchAsGodDoes



    June 8, 2011 at 10:06 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21
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.