December 24th, 2011
10:00 PM ET

'What's Christmas without chopsticks?' How other faiths celebrate December 25th

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

(CNN) -
Two days before Christmas, Imam Mohamed Magid, the executive director at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society, preached about Jesus at Friday prayers.

"We live in a country with a majority of Christians, where Christmas is a major holiday... It's a reminder we do believe in Jesus. Jesus' position in Islam is one of the highest prophets in Islam," Magid said, adding that Muslims view Jesus as a prophet on par with Abraham, Moses, Noah and Mohammad.

Often when he says the name of Mohammad or Jesus in conversation, Magid adds the Islamic honorific "Peace be upon him" after his name.

"Jesus is a unifying figure, unifying Muslims and Christians," he said. The Quran, the Islamic scriptures, makes specific mention of Jesus and of his mother Mary. "It's very interesting that there are many places where the prophet (Mohammad) is quoting Jesus."

Christmas has a way of bleeding into other faiths in America.  The Christian holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ in a manger in Bethlehem 2000 some odd years ago is ubiquitous across the country, even if the American tradition has leaned away from the sacred and toward the secular.

Christmas at every corner can be somewhat problematic for those who are not in the estimated 246 million Christians living in the United States.  But for some faiths, the season brings reminders of their own traditions.

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Magid said Muslims believe many of the same things about Jesus that Christians do: Jesus was born of the virgin Mary, he lived a sinless life, he raised the dead, and he preformed miracles. He also said many Muslim scholars believe that Jesus will one day return to the earth, using the Christian vocabulary of "the Second Coming."

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"Certain aspects of our theology are different," he carefully notes, pointing specifically to incarnation, the Christian belief that Jesus was divine. Muslims are perhaps the most ardent monotheists in the world, making them at odds with Christians theologically over not only the Christian doctrine of incarnation, but also belief in the Trinity, that God the Father, the Holy Spirit and Jesus are three in one.

The All Dulles Area Muslim Society is one of the largest Muslim congregations in the country with ties to 5,000 families in the Washington area. Some of the families do put up a Christmas tree and exchange gifts, which one member suspects is often more about cultural assimilation than religious observance.

"I think Muslims, although they believe in Jesus, they give respect to this as a Christian holiday, so they don't pretend to celebrate this in a religious way," Magid said. "A Muslim would not expect a Christian to celebrate his holiday."

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At the Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery three hours north of San Francisco, there is a small Christmas tree set up near the statue of the Buddha.

"Normally we just have flowers, incense and candles, but now we have a tiny Christmas tree. It's really cute," Ajhan Yatiko, a monk in residence who is originally from Canada, said. "It's more like a traditional thing, respecting and appreciating the culture of where we live."

During the holidays, Yatiko said, "The senior monk might give a talk to the lay people which might draw parallels between the Christian faith and the Buddhist faith, as well as the differences, because I think both of those are important aspects of interfaith harmony.

"Sometimes in the West these days there's a kind of tendency to clump all the religions together and say, 'We're all climbing the same mountain,' and I think the intention there is nice. There's a harmonious intention there. But I think it's much nicer to say, 'Let's respect the differences and love and appreciate the differences of the other faiths," Yatiko said.

For the monks at Abhayagiri, life is spent in meditation, community, celibacy and work. They practice Buddhism in the Theravada tradition or the Thai Forest tradition. In their faith tradition, monks cannot handle money, grow their own food or trade, so they live entirely off of the generosity of others.

That means every half moon, about once a week, they head into town for alms rounds, where they walk around in their saffron robes with alms bowls to collect donations. The new moon this week fell on Christmas Eve.

"Everyone we see is going to be wishing us a Merry Christmas, and we'll be doing likewise," Yatiko said a few days before Christmas.

"We don't touch money and live a very simple lifestyle, so the Christmas tradition of exchanging gifts doesn't work so well for us," Yatiko said.

Yet Buddhists are called to live generously at every chance, be it in material things or spiritual ones, so at Christmastime the monks bring a truckload of fire wood and a fruit basket to a neighboring Ukrainian Catholic monastery.

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"We do have some rather revered traditions for Christmas Day," said Rabbi Rick Rheins.  "I'm not sure if it was Talmudic or not, to visit the movie theater followed by a Chinese dinner," joked Rheins referring the collection of ancient rabbi teaching called the Talmud.

"What's Christmas without chopsticks?" joked Rheins who is the head of Denver's Temple Sinai, a Reform congregation of about 1,100 families.

"We acknowledge the importance of this day for our Christian neighbors and for my Christian colleagues. And so we don't celebrate Christmas as Jews, but we do thrill for our Christian neighbors," he said. Rheins said the celebration of Hanukkah simultaneously at Christmastime this year will mean he won't be bringing in any Christmas metaphors into services on Friday and Saturday.

As for the Christmas Day itself, including the popcorn and chopsticks, he said, "We encourage our members to do special volunteer work to relieve our Christian neighbors of their responsibilities, whether it's at hospitals or emergency services, to give them the opportunity to spend this time with their family and celebrate this sacred day for them.

"Christians and Jews, especially over the last generation, have really worked so hard to build bridges, not just of tolerance, but also have generated true mutual respect and cooperation," he said. He cited working to fight hunger and poverty together. "These are the expressions of a society where the differences in religion and the expressions of one's faith are less divisive than they are enriching.

"I don't think that was the case a generation ago," Rheins said.

Christmas has a way of seeping into Hindu traditions, as well. At least the tree and presents part.  "Because of the children," Uma Mysorekar, the president of the Hindu Temple Society of North America said.

"The children say, 'Oh, there's a tree in my friend's house.  Why not in my house?' So they will get a small tree, a symbolic tree," Mysorekar said.

"We do look up to Jesus as one of the deities of Christianity," Mysorekar said.

At the Hindu Temple Society of North America in the Flushing area of Queens, New York, Christmas Day will be filled with worshipers coming in and out.  Unlike other faiths, Hindus do not have a set day for communal worship.  The temple is a key part of Hinduism for prayer, worship and offerings.  Christmas will be busier because of the three day weekend, Mysorekar guessed.

Their temple even had a holiday party for the children.

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"We have a holiday party for them, and we give them gifts and tell them what it's all about.  You know the Hindu festival of Diwali, it is more or less the same, where we give gifts and we meet with friends... So the custom is very easy to relate to."

During Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, lamps are lit in celebration of good triumphing over evil.

"Apart from the religious aspect of it - the concept, theme of Christmas - I think it's very much the same all over," she said.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Buddhism • Christianity • Christmas • Hinduism • Islam

soundoff (2,252 Responses)
  1. Loathstheright

    God here.

    First, I do not exist. The concept of a 13,700,00,000 year old being, capable of creating the entire Universe and its billions of galaxies, monitoring simultaneously the thoughts and actions of the 7 billion human beings on this planet is ludicrous.

    Second, if I did, I would have left you a book a little more consistent, timeless and independently verifiable than the collection of Iron Age Middle Eastern mythology you call the Bible. Hell, I bet you cannot tell me one thing about any of its authors or how and why it was edited over the Centuries, yet you cite them for the most extraordinary of claims.

    Thirdly, when I sent my “son” (whatever that means, given that I am god and do not mate) to Earth, he would have visited the Chinese, Ja.panese, Europeans, Russians, sub-Saharan Africans, Australian Aboriginals, Mongolians, Polynesians, Micronesians, Indonesians and native Americans, not just a few Jews. He would also have exhibited a knowledge of something outside of the Iron Age Middle East.

    Fourthly, I would not spend my time hiding, refusing to give any tangible evidence of my existence, and then punish those who are smart enough to draw the natural conclusion that I do not exist by burning them forever. That would make no sense to me, given that I am the one who withheld all evidence of my existence in the first place.

    Fifth, I would not care who you do or how you “do it”. I really wouldn’t. This would be of no interest to me, given that I can create Universes. Oh, the egos.

    Sixth, I would have smited all evangelicals and fundamentalists long before this. You people drive me nuts. You are so small minded and yet you speak with such false authority. Many of you still believe in the talking snake nonsense from Genesis. I would kill all of you for that alone and burn you for an afternoon (burning forever is way too barbaric for me to even contemplate).

    Seventh, the whole idea of members of one species on one planet surviving their own physical deaths to “be with me” is utter, mind-numbing nonsense. Grow up. You will die. Get over it. I did. Hell, at least you had a life. I never even existed in the first place.

    Eighth, I do not read your minds, or “hear your prayers” as you euphemistically call it. There are 7 billion of you. Even if only 10% prayed once a day, that is 700,000,000 prayers. This works out at 8,000 prayers a second – every second of every day. Meanwhile I have to process the 100,000 of you who die every day between heaven and hell. Dwell on the sheer absurdity of that for a moment.

    Finally, the only reason you even consider believing in me is because of where you were born. Had you been born in India, you would likely believe in the Hindu gods, if born in Tibet, you would be a Buddhist. Every culture that has ever existed has had its own god(s) and they always seem to favor that particular culture, its hopes, dreams and prejudices. What, do you think we all exist? If not, why only yours?

    Look, let’s be honest with ourselves. There is no god. Believing in me was fine when you thought the World was young, flat and simple. Now we know how enormous, old and complex the Universe is.

    Move on – get over me. I did.


    December 25, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
    • ++

      What a perverse life you must lead if all you have to do Christmas morning is spew bigotry to justify what must be a very deep seated hatred.

      God bless you nonetheless.

      December 25, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
    • Skata

      BEST POST EVER!!!! Seriously. Very logical. Thank you.

      December 25, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
    • Atheist #1

      The Pope,Eddie Long,Ted Hagerd and Muhammad are all Perverse! I love it when non religious people question your far-fetched stories fables and myths and you get Offended instead of becoming Humble under the truth because it FLIES IN THE FACE OF YOUR PRIER BELIEVES!

      December 25, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
    • KeithTexas

      Thank you, it was light hearted and fun

      December 25, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
  2. kr

    The Quran according to the analyses of many literary experts is a revised and distorted version of the Bible which Mohammed heard narrated with his encounters with Jews and Nestorian Christians. The Jews and these Nestorian heretical Christians both do not believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ.

    December 25, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
    • Guru

      @kr – Did you know that the present day Bible is a distorted versions of the original Bible?The present day Christianity is way away from what Jesus wanted his followers to be?

      December 25, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
    • Sean

      No kidding, why should they? Trust me, they don't feel anythings missing from their lives. Especially, that anyone else can die for their sins and one can live a life filled with transgressions against everything and have a death bed re-birth and be forgiven.

      December 25, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
  3. aud

    I am happy to see the increasing inclusion and respect of all holidays around this time. It's a time for humanity to come together in peace and in harmony. It wasn't like this 50 years ago. There is hope for Humanity yet. 🙂 To all my Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindi, Buddhist, Shinto, and fellow Pagans – Happy Holidays (too many to list and I can't spell worth a damn.)

    December 25, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
  4. OneGod

    People of all religions believe in their prophets,but no one believe in their messages.It's a fake world where people want to look religious,but don't follow any principle of their prophets.Follow the rules set by nature(like everyone follow a country's law to be a good citizen) and you will be a dear one to God and you don't have to go to Churches,Temples,Mosques.And people who don't believe in science,should remember Graham Bell,Edison,Eienstein,Wright Bros etc etc....and God is not against science as long as it for well being of this planet.

    December 25, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
    • Guru

      I guess you need to read the ancient Hindu scriptures where it is mentioned that God says He is one and people know him by different names. Those scriptures also provide many scientific reasoning to many ailments and how to treat them scientifically and not to forget that the Nazi Germany tried a lot to base their technology on Hindu Scriptures and thus was technically more advanced than rest of Europe and US. God brought us science but its we people who try to move the two apart from each other.

      December 25, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
  5. Marcus

    Along the lines of Islam accepting Christmas for acceptance is the biggest line of crap I read in these comments. Sects of Islam considered wishing people Merry Christmas is worse than committing murder or fornicating with animals. People really are stupid when it comes to Islam and the differences between religions – they show a show on some pesudo-Islam woman proclaiming Islam to be a peaceful religion is A LIE... just as Christianity to be a peace and loving religion! MERRY CHRISTMAS!

    December 25, 2011 at 11:59 am |
    • Leslie

      Why does everything turn into Islam bashing. There are tolerant and intolerant people in every religion and society in this world. I happen to be the only Muslim in my family, and I do celebrate Christmas with my Family. Although for me it is more about respecting my families beliefs and spending time with them. Also I have never met another Muslim that has a problem saying Merry Christmas to their Christian neighbors.

      December 25, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
    • Guru

      @Marcus – I guess you are living in a hell hole whith no good knowledge about what religions are and what they preach.

      December 25, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
    • Sean

      Yep, with hundreds of years of forced conversions or death and expelling Jews from most European countries. The worst recent anti-Semite was Henry Ford. He had the Protocols of the Elders of Zion re-printed and supported Hitler. Prescott Bush (W's grandfather) sold German Nazi bearer bonds. As late as 1948 in Poland Catholics still encouraged pogroms and contended that the Jews take young Christian children to use as sacrifices and using their blood to make Passover matzoh. Finally in the 1990's Pope John Paul apologized to the Jewish community, for the many hundreds of years of persecution! Now evangelicals embrace Israel, because of it's role in the book of revelation and that Jews need to be in Jerusalem.

      December 25, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
  6. Brendan

    In what sense is Christmas problematic for non-Christians?

    December 25, 2011 at 11:58 am |
    • aud

      as a non christian, I never see it as problematic. how do you mean?

      December 25, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • Guru

      I guess same way as non-Christians is problematic for Christians.

      December 25, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
  7. Atheist #1

    Are the Christians Planning to MARCH TO MECCA WITH THE MUSLIMS!

    December 25, 2011 at 11:58 am |
    • Guru

      They should.......if Saudi allows it.

      December 25, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
  8. Ynot11

    The perception of Christmas is, as always, a personal thing. Some decry that it is secular and pagan, and that is one aspect. Others that it is religious, and it is. So if people who identify as Christians cannot agree, how is it that those who aren't, who are just trying to show some respect for thier fellow brothers and sisters, be attacked? Bad people do things because they are bad. Period. They use religion, finances, politics, percieved slights as an excuse. Having known many Hindi, Muslims, Buddhists, etc., I find them more worried about day to day than idealogy. Rejoice in Christmas as is your custom, and say a prayer for all mankind. I promise you, they will appreciate it.

    December 25, 2011 at 11:55 am |
  9. Sean

    Why does other religions have to have a connection to Christmas? Do Christians observe others religious customs? This is really ridiculous! Some of these religions were around long before Christ, and their traditions were long established. I thought at least the Rabbi was the most honest about Christmas without belittling it, for the mass majority of America that's Christian. But, not even all Chinese restaurants are open on Christmas day anymore, unless you live in a area that has a great diversity of other religions other then Christians. We live in the deep South, where it's impossible to find anyplace open. Best to all!

    December 25, 2011 at 11:53 am |
    • Guru

      I guess you need to go and live in the sane parts of India where all religions coexist so nicely that you can see all celebrating Christmas, Diwali and Eid with enthusiasm and also practice their own religion truly. You will see Christians exchange sweets on Diwali with their Hindu neighbours and those Hindu neighbours will exchange sweets with Christians on Christmas. You will see Christians wishing Happy eid to their Muslim neighbours and those Muslim neighbours will wish Merry Christmas to Christians on Cristmas day. Sometimes if you live in a world of right-wing religion you forget there are better people all over the world.

      December 25, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
  10. trollol

    On a side note, who benefits the most from christmas celebration. It certainly isn't the happy believers. It is the corporations that benefit the most. That's why they they love celebrating christmas and they are happy that you like to celebrate christmas. More money in their pockets. The corporations advertise the holiday so much that people who aren't even part of christianity are drawn in to the celebrations. That is why you see people refer to it as X-mas. Because they don't believe in christ but they play along just to fit in.

    December 25, 2011 at 11:53 am |
  11. kr

    The truth is for Catholic Christians, the resurrection is the most important event in the Jesus story. The birth of Jesus was not too important in early Universal (Catholic) Christianity (there were no Protestants and Evangelicals then and those small Christians sects now) when they were still persecuted in the Roman Empire. Early Christians forgot and did not know the exact date of Jesus birth so they decided later to choose 25 December to compete with the pagan Sun worship festival. It is better to celebrate Jesus birth on a certain day than not to celebate at all even when do not know the exact date. If one wishes to celebrate the birth of Jesus on another date, say March 25 or June 25, fine. The fact remains that Jesus was born. There was a historical Jesus whose message is so powerful in the past 2000 years which many atheists in this comment area hate.

    December 25, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • Sean

      FGS, there were no Catholic's for a very long time after Jesus died and his disciples. There was also nothing written down during his time or anything from his disciples. Do you really know how many Gospels there were before it was agreed on which would be written and observed. They even contradict each other, but most people really don't know either the Catholic bible or the KJB. This argument of yours, is a chicken and egg scenario. Baptists lay claim to being 1st, because of John the Baptist. In the first few hundred years it was a loosely knit community living in the fringes. Until Constantine basically.

      December 25, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
    • Marcus

      Actually it was written down during his life... the Koran was written 50 years after the death of Mohammad.

      December 25, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
    • kr

      Sean: Do some more research. The Catholic Church and Orthodox Churches are the only Churches which can claim of an unbroken line from Christ and his apostles.

      Anybody can write a gospel and a theory. By their fruits you shall know them.

      December 25, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
  12. Couch

    This article is a well written and thought out piece, but in the end, it is only the writers opinion of how he interprets the Qua-ran. The problem is, he is not relating it to the actions of the Muslim community. Now an argument can be made that there are radical muslims, and what....non-radical? Either way, the non-radical do not seem to be doing much to stop the others. This writer posts as though the muslim population was sweet and gentle and caring of all life....but they obviously are not, proven by the way tens of thousands of times worldwide. Christians can also be violent, we all know this, but Christians are taught to respect, to show kindness, and to prosper through hard work. They don't make a habit of screaming Allah as the run into a building killing other muslims, Christians, Jews woman and children. In fact, they are taught not to kill themselves in the Qua-ran. "The Koran does tell Muslims, "Do not kill yourselves" and warns that those who disobey will be "cast into the fire." The Prophet Mohammed is reported to have said that a suicide cannot go to paradise. So why? Im guessing that they are taught a different version of this, and it is probably for profit in some misguided way. I dont know, but I know this, Americans, or Christians do not act this way, and the people who are non-believers are not searched out, separated or killed (murdered). You can put whatever spin you want on the muslim religion, the real truth is, they are waging a war against the rest of the world, and its time to put an end to it.....

    Merry Christmas

    December 25, 2011 at 11:51 am |
  13. Marcus

    Christmas is a celebration of Jesus's BIRTH whether you like it or not. Not the Jewish belief that Jesus wasn't God's son. And Islam has nothing to do about Christmas and considereds Jesus to have committed the ultimate sin called "shirk"...

    Merry Christmas to everyone.

    December 25, 2011 at 11:50 am |
    • Demiurge

      Except he's considered one of the most important figures in all of Islam who will be coming with the Madhi on the Day of Judgment.

      December 25, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • Marcus

      I'll take Jesus any day over your Muhammad. BTW go PACKERS.

      December 25, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • Marcus

      How can Muhammad be there on judgement day if he was ONLY a man in flesh and mind (SURA 18:110)? Jesus is the son of God. Jesus rose from the dead.... Muhammad is still dead.

      December 25, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
    • Sean

      What a revelation, you write! Why would Jews celebrate Christmas since their faith is thousands of years older then Christianity. They are still waiting for their deliverer, and didn't see Jesus as him or her. They were also persecuted for 1600 years for not believing Jesus was their Messiah. Christians were taught for a very long time, that the Jews killed Jesus. They forget, Jesus and all his disciples were Jewish! One can only be Jewish by having a Jewish mother, as Jesus did.

      December 25, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
  14. kr

    The truth is for Catholic Christians, the resurrection is the most important event in the Jesus story. The birth of Jesus was not too important in early Universal (Catholic) Christianity (there were no Protestants and Evangelicals then and those small Christians sects now) when they were still persecuted in the Roman Empire. Early Christians forgot and did not know the exact date of Jesus birth so they decided later to choose 25 December to compete with the pagan Sun worship festival. It is better to celebrate Jesus birth on a certain day than not to celebate at all even when do not know the exact date. If one wishes to celebrate the birth of Jesus on another date, say March 25 or June 25, fine. The fact remains that Jesus was born. There was a historical Jesus who message is so powerful many atheists in this comment area hate.

    December 25, 2011 at 11:49 am |
  15. waklin

    So, all of these other religions are tolerant and even observe to some degree this Christian holiday in order to "fit in" and as a sign of respect towards Chistians, but where is the acceptance or tolerance of the other religions' holidays by Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, etc? This is a one sided article that does more to highlight how Christianity and Christmas overshadow others instead of showing that all religions should recognize and accept EACH OTHER, not just one religion.

    December 25, 2011 at 11:49 am |
  16. cmiucan

    I see Nigerian churches were bombed today by peace loving Muslims. So, I guess we did not need this ridiculous opinion piece. Afterall, actions speak louder than empty and ignorant words from Eric Marrapodi.

    December 25, 2011 at 11:48 am |
  17. Balls

    Muslims suck balls

    December 25, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • Balls

      Just kidding! Merry christmas

      December 25, 2011 at 11:48 am |
  18. trollol

    Jesus is just a tall tale that has been glorified so much that the silly christians have attributed godship. Trinity my ars3. All religions are make believe.

    December 25, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  19. bao

    Christmas mainly came from the pagans. It has nothing to do with Jesus and everything to do with converting pagans to Christianity. In fact, Christmas used to be such a debauchery-laden holiday, the Church nearly banned it. Additionally, the Church saw the act of gift giving as "too pagan" due to its origins and nearly banned that too. All of this information has been freely available for quite a while. It is factual ... but keep pretending that on the 7th day God created Christmas, and that Jesus, if ever he existed, was coincidentally born near the same day the Pagans celebrated Winter Festival. Ignorance must be bliss.

    December 25, 2011 at 11:46 am |
  20. Krish Reddy

    This is a preposterous article from CNN that does nothing to dissuade the mutual feeling of animosity between various religious communities. I am a Hindu and I have not been taught to hate other religions, gods or their traditions. My family and for that matter a lot of other friends/families of my faith that I know enjoy taking participation in the Christmas celebrations. Most of us decorate our homes, put a Christmas tree, give gifts and bake cakes. Back in India, where I come from, Christians form just 2-3% of the total population and even then Dec 25th and Good Friday are national holidays and there is programming galore on many channels celebrating Christmas. That speaks about the plurality of my original country and that is what I see here in United States mostly. Ofcourse, some nut jobs(read fundamentalists on all religions, specially Islam) have a problem with anything and everything and like to create problem where ever they go. They should be ignored and not given coverage at all and instead, the positive aspects of these festivals should be highlighted.

    December 25, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • aud

      Well said Krish. Bravo 🙂

      December 25, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
    • Michelle

      Agree, last year I was in India during Christmas. Lot of hindus were celebrating Christmas as if it was there own.

      December 25, 2011 at 12:32 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.