December 31st, 2011
10:00 PM ET

Why do Iowa’s evangelicals wield so much political clout?

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

Des Moines, Iowa (CNN) – At first blush, it’s just another standard-issue political rally.

Inside Mitt Romney’s Iowa headquarters – a former Blockbuster store on a commercial strip outside downtown – Romney and his wife, Ann, are introduced by former presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty and his wife, Mary.

“It is an honor to be supporting Gov. Romney and Ann,” Mary Pawlenty tells the crowd of a couple hundred, a silver cross dangling from her neck. “They are good people, they share our values – these are people that we are delighted to call friends.”

How Mitt Romney's faith shaped him

A few moments later, Mitt Romney mentions his five sons and hands his microphone to 36-year-old Josh, who calls his dad “my hero.”

“He taught me my great love for this country,” Josh says, “and my great love for my family.”

Sounds like typical political posturing, right? Many Americans wouldn’t give such gestures a second thought.

But experts on religion and politics say the message to one particular subculture – evangelical Iowans – is clear: Mitt Romney may be Mormon, but he shares evangelical Christian values, including a rock-solid commitment to family, and counts high-profile evangelicals like the Pawlentys as friends and supporters.

“It’s less an attempt to create a trust among evangelicals and more to defuse a distrust,” says Dennis Goldford, a political science professor at Drake University in Des Moines.

Mark DeMoss, an evangelical PR specialist and Romney campaign adviser, puts a more positive spin on the strategy: “A number of evangelicals are really enthusiastic about him and have endorsed Romney, and for the same reason that I like him – he shares my values.”

Romney’s Mormonism and his past social liberalism have fed doubts about him among some evangelicals. But with the first-in-the nation Iowa caucuses just days away, the former Massachusetts governor is hardly the only candidate honing his message for evangelical Iowans.

Newt Gingrich has met with hundreds of evangelical pastors in the state, talking policy but also about past marital infidelity, which many Christians consider a sin. Rick Perry has given Sunday morning testimonials from the pulpits of Hawkeye State megachurches.

Newt Gingrich's faith narrative

And Rick Santorum, who is riding a late-breaking surge in Iowa polls, and Michele Bachmann have all but staked their candidacies on winning big among evangelical Iowans, claiming to be more conservative than the rest of the Republican field on hot-button issues like abortion and gay marriage.

How did one faith-based demographic come to wield so much power? The answer is basic math – and passion.

“Relatively few people participate in the Iowa caucuses, so it’s ideal for a group of highly committed activists to have a big influence,” says John Green, an expert on religion and politics at the University of Akron.

Unlike conventional primaries, Iowa’s caucuses, scheduled for Tuesday, require voters to attend what are essentially community get-togethers at which participants can speak publicly for candidates. It’s more cumbersome than pulling a lever in a voting both, and a relatively small minority of registered voters attend.

“Evangelical churches and interest groups have been able to generate that kind of activity,” Green says. “They’ve been active in Iowa for a long time, so a tradition has taken hold there.”

Rick Perry's long faith journey culminates in White House run

In 2008, evangelical Christians accounted for 60% of Republican caucus-goers. With just 119,000 Iowans participating in the GOP caucuses that year – high by historical standards – the bloc helped propel Mike Huckabee, a former Baptist preacher, to a first-place finish.

In previous election cycles, evangelicals accounted for a more modest share of the Iowa GOP electorate, but their ranks have nonetheless hovered around 40%.

That makes evangelical Iowans unusually influential even by the standards of the national Republican Party, in which evangelical Christians have constituted the base since Ronald Reagan was elected president.

From Carter to Bush

Despite the modern GOP-evangelical alliance, it was a Democrat who first tapped that power base in Iowa.

Jimmy Carter was the first presidential candidate in modern American politics to call himself a born-again Christian, and he spent long stretches in Iowa during his 1976 campaign. Finishing ahead of every candidate (“uncommitted” took first) there lent early momentum to a candidate who’d been virtually unknown nationally.

Before Carter, says Drake’s Dennis Goldford, “evangelicals didn’t participate in politics because it was seen as this “worldy, corrupting, evil thing, and you stayed away from it.”

Modern American evangelicalism emerged in the late 19th century, built around biblical literalism and an emphasis on human sin and redemption. The movement was largely a reaction to Darwin’s theory of evolution and questions that modern science raised about biblical authority.

The 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial, which struck down the teaching of evolution in Tennessee schools, turned the evangelical movement into a national laughingstock and provoked an evangelical retreat from politics.

Carter, a Baptist Sunday School teacher, brought them back together.

But many evangelicals wound up feeling betrayed by Carter’s liberalism, and Reagan’s courtship of first-generation Christian right leaders, as well as his conservative rhetoric on issues like abortion, sent hordes of evangelicals to the GOP.

In 1988, televangelist Pat Robertson finished second in the Iowa caucuses, ahead of then-Vice President George H.W. Bush, putting Iowa evangelical power on the national map. Says Goldford: “They came out of nowhere.”

In the 1990s, with the rise of Robertson’s Christian Coalition, many evangelicals landed positions of power within the Iowa Republican Party. Catholics and other religious believers also became more active in the state GOP, raising the profile of issues like abortion and marriage, but they could not compete in number with the evangelicals.

Since then, Republican presidential hopefuls have tailored their messages to evangelical Iowans. When George W. Bush was asked which political philosopher had most influenced him in a debate before the 2000 Iowa caucus, he responded “Jesus.”

A diluted role?

In this election cycle, all the Republican presidential candidates have spoken deeply about their personal Christian faith while in Iowa, except for Romney and Jon Huntsman, both Mormons.

After spending considerable time in Iowa in 2008, much of it courting evangelicals, Romney placed second, far behind Huckabee. This time around, Romney has spent much less time here, skipping some major evangelical cattle calls and unleashing the ire of some powerful Christian activists.

Huntsman, for his part, has ignored Iowa to focus his efforts on New Hampshire, which votes a week after Iowa.

A CNN/TIME/ORC poll last week found that Romney had the support of 16% of likely evangelical caucus-goers in Iowa, compared to 22% for Santorum, 18% for Ron Paul and 14% for Gingrich, who had much higher evangelical support in earlier Iowa polls.

“Romney’s campaign has a very deliberate plan to snub social conservatives,” says Steve Scheffler, president of the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition, a key conservative group in the state.

“If Romney becomes the nominee,” Scheffler says, “95% of his volunteers will need to come from the conservative base. If he’s dissed them through the caucus process, it’s going to be challenging for him to get these people to campaign for him to become president.”

Scheffler is a testament to evangelical influence in the caucuses; his group has hosted caucus trainings in churches across the state in the run-up to January 3.

Most evangelical leaders insist their skepticism of Romney is born of his past social liberalism. But some in-the-pews evangelicals, interviewed at a pair of Iowa evangelical churches on a recent Sunday, admitted to an anti-Mormon bias.

Many believe that Mormons – who, unlike traditional Christians, believe in holy books beyond the Bible and practice customs like posthumous proxy baptism – belong to a cult.

“A growing number of people are afraid to vote for him because they are not sure how his Mormonism will affect his presidency,” says Jonathan Meyer, a pastor at Grace Church in Des Moines. “And because he doesn’t talk about that.”

Other Iowan evangelicals say Romney’s Mormonism isn’t a deal-breaker. “We talked about it in my Bible study,” says Patrick Finnegan, 27, who attended a recent Romney rally wearing a blue “Romney supporter” T-Shirt. “And we said as long as he believes in Jesus Christ, and as long as he’s not an atheist, we support him. I just want someone who shares my belief in a higher power.”

Other Iowa evangelicals echoed that view, calling Romney a Christian.

One complicating factor in the evangelical equation is that the main alternative to Romney as a viable national candidate appears to be Gingrich. The former House speaker has strenuously courted evangelical leaders and aided last year’s successful campaign to unseat three pro-gay marriage Iowa judges but has admitted to personal moral failings, including an affair with his current wife while married to his second wife.

Many Iowa evangelicals say Gingrich has redeemed himself. “I appreciate Newt acknowledging that he needs forgiveness,” says Meyer, who speaks with a Bible tucked under his arm in the Christmas-tree bedecked lobby of Grace Church. “He didn’t have to address that.”

Others are less enthusiastic.

“There’s not enough attention being paid to Newt’s fall from grace,” says Beverly McLinden, 55, an Iowa evangelical who works in association management and attended the Des Moines Romney rally. “Romney’s family exemplifies family values, and you can’t discount that just because he’s a Mormon.”

Evangelical angst over Gingrich and Romney has helped fuel Santorum’s surge, with the former Pennsylvania senator receiving 16% support in the most recent CNN poll, putting him in third place, behind Romney and Paul.

No candidate had even 25% of evangelical support in the most recent poll, raising the possibility that Iowa’s evangelical vote will be pretty diluted this week.

“This vote is terribly critical,” says Ralph Reed, who leads the national Faith and Freedom Coalition. “But the irony is that with this many candidates all appealing to this constituency at the same time, the vote is likely to get spread out.”

‘Democrats are trying to strip God out’

If Iowa’s evangelicals disagree on whom to support, interviews with dozens of them reveal a striking consistency in the role their faith plays in shaping that decision.

Even as the economy and jobs consistently rank as top issues in the presidential race, many evangelical Iowans say they’re weighing the personal faith of the candidates and that they still care about social issues and honoring the country’s Judeo-Christian heritage.

“Most of the folks I’ve dealt with in the evangelical community always care about the economy and spending and taxes,” says Santorum, who has spent most of his time as a presidential candidate campaigning in Iowa. “But the priority issues that have always been up front are the moral, cultural issues.”

“They want to make sure that it’s someone who is comfortable in their skin to fight those battles,” says Santorum, a devout Catholic who has nonetheless landed on TIME’s list of America’s 25 most influential evangelicals.

Gail Johnson, a dentist’s assistant who was heading into Grace Church – a megachurch whose sanctuary is hung with giant Christmas wreaths and a back-lit cross – agrees.

“I have no clue who I’m voting for, other than that it will be a Republican,” she says. “Smaller government and no abortion are the two big issues for me.”

Grace Church is the kind of congregation where worshippers take notes during the sermon, which on this Sunday focused on the importance of believing in Jesus’ virgin birth.

Sue Cornelius-Leibrand, an accountant who also attends Grace, says she would prefer “a president who believes in the same things that I do.”
“I know they won’t agree with everything,” says Cornelius-Leibrand, who wears diamond earrings and carries a stylish black bag and a leather-bound bible with a pink strap. “But the main things, like life beginning at conception and marriage between a man and a wife.”

Many evangelicals cite what they see as religion’s shrinking role in the public square as another concern. “This nation was founded on Christian ethics and that’s what made the country great,” says Sue Raibikis, a pharmaceutical sales rep and an evangelical Christian who attended the Romney rally. “Democrats are trying to strip God out of the country.”

Republican candidates are addressing those concerns in different ways. Gingrich talks about stopping a secular war on religion. Perry gives Christian testimony, telling worshippers at Des Moines’ Point of Grace Church on a recent Sunday: “There’s a hole in one’s heart that can only be filled by one thing.”

Santorum and Bachmann are emphasizing their voting records on hot buttons like abortion, saying other candidates just talk about these issues.

The jockeying introduced a major shot of religion to the presidential race from the very start, a contribution that some political experts argue threatens to curtail Iowa’s influence in the nominating process.

“The strength of evangelicals in the Iowa Republican Party could turn into a weakness if they are seen as so strong that Republicans around the nation begin to discount the results of the caucuses,” says Drake University’s Goldford.

“You’re beginning to see some of that – McCain chose not to campaign here last time,” he says. “And Romney hasn’t been here much this time.”

The state’s track record for picking Republican winners is mixed. Huckabee, for instance, won big in Iowa but lost his party’s nomination. But George W. Bush and Bob Dole won Iowa and went on to the GOP nomination.

The Republican primary calendar, if nothing else, will strengthen the influence of Iowa and its evangelicals, argues Green, of the University of Akron.

New Hampshire, with fewer evangelicals, follows Iowa in primary voting. But the next in line is South Carolina, where 60% of voters in the last Republican presidential primary identified as evangelicals.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Christianity • Iowa • Michele Bachmann • Mike Huckabee • Mitt Romney • Newt Gingrich • Politics • Rick Santorum

soundoff (837 Responses)
  1. Nancy

    Why have so many Americans become religious extremists? The line between Evangelicals and the Taliban is blurring and you can't distinguish between them. We don't need an American Taliban. We don't need so much hate in our country. We need tolerance and acceptance. Evangelical's have left the more mainstream religions behind because the mainstream isn't radical enough. Why do they need to put others down? Is it because they hate themselves?

    January 1, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
  2. Phillip Bunnell

    Evangelical Christians and Sharia Muslims are absolutely identical. Both of the will make your life as miserable as they can if you don't cave in to their religious demands.

    I've lived in small communities that are predominantly Christian and I can tell you that once they all find out that you're not Christian they will try to convert you and if they can't, they will treat you like dirt every where you go after that.

    And THAT"s how they wield so much clout.

    January 1, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
    • Da King

      If they are truly Christians, they may come out from among non believers but still love you. That love is what will eventually bring you in to the Light of God. If you wish to stay in the dark, that is where you will be. Christians will love you anyway or they are not Christians. You may call them something else to be accurate. I don't know what.

      January 1, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
    • Answer

      "bring you in to the Light of God."

      Sunday sermons as usual. Garbage.

      January 1, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
    • Cynthia D.

      This is a REALLY STUPID comment from one of these santimonious "Christians"- how RIDICULOUS:

      “Democrats are trying to strip God out of the country.”

      January 1, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
    • Todd in DC

      Yup. Try talking to one of god's gentle people about marriage equity for instance. Then try to counter their attacks using logic.

      Yeah, fun, isn't it?

      January 1, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
    • Answer

      @Todd in DC

      "Yup. Try talking to one of god's gentle people about marriage equity for instance. Then try to counter their attacks using logic."

      It's not that difficult really. I just take away their precious god and bible away from them and let them feel their shame for thinking that way. They hate to have 'shame' place upon them 🙂

      January 1, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
  3. Brian

    I happen to live in Iowa and I could tell you things about these "evangelicals" that would make you vomit on your computer. For some reason agriculture and dogmatic theology go together.

    January 1, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
    • SPLAT!~

      Evangelicals are not confined to rural areas. James Dobson's 'Focus on the Family' is based out of Colorado Springs CO. (Just one example.) Fundamentalist John Hagee's megachurch is in San Antonio TX.

      January 1, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
  4. fedup99

    Here's hoping that the real Americans out there really get to the voting booth and for lack of a better term (just don't care) select a backlash vote against this evangelical crap. If they want to openly affect my political policy, they should be taxed. Any church participating in interstate commerce should be taxed. Period.

    January 1, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
  5. Chris

    Why not to have republican caucuses in California instead of Iowa. After all, California is the most populous state and thus would represent the biggest majority view. California does have quite a few republicans. I would think perhaps Los Angeles or San Francisco would have a good forum. Could someone please explain to me why California is not the choice.
    By the way, Happy New Year!

    January 1, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
  6. fedup99

    Better keep looking. The republicans aren't offering anything worth your vote.

    January 1, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
    • Da King

      If they would stick to the teachings of Jesus that would be good.

      January 1, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
    • Bob

      Ya, Da King, and if they'd just do all those bloody goat sacrifices that Christian god commands them to (Jesus did say the OT still applies), maybe Texas would have less drought and we'd have fewer tsunamis and all the world's suffering that god caused would go away. Oh, wait, god doesn't exist.

      Break the chains. Be free of religion in 2012.

      January 1, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
    • Da King

      Bob, I'm sorry it's so dark where you are. The light of the world can help you.

      January 1, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      "That would be good"? For whom? Certainly not good for women. Certainly not good for those who aren't Christian or believers. Guess what, Duh? This isn't a theocracy and what's good according to your religious beliefs isn't the rule of law for this secular nation-nor should it be. This country is one of laws, not religious beliefs. The laws of our country protect individual rights from the tyranny of the majority.

      January 1, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
    • Todd in DC

      Da King, I'm sure that when young gay teens are guilted into suicide, they are bullied by "good christians". Funny that.

      January 1, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
  7. Thom

    Take away the tax exempt status and then i could care less what these evangelicals do. They don't follow the bible anyway, they just try to cast stones.

    January 1, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
    • Da King

      Judge Thom, your court room is empty.

      January 1, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Duh King, your skull is empty.

      January 1, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
    • Canus

      I think they follow the words of Jesus quite closely! see Matt 15:8-9

      “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 9 They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules."

      January 2, 2012 at 10:48 am |
  8. John

    Just saw REG in AZ's post, put up 3 minutes before mine. Guess I am not the only one tired of the BS.

    January 1, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • Da King

      Bible Study?

      January 1, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
  9. Joan Isenberg

    People who speak for people who spoke for god are guilty of libel, are they not? Fraud? Slander? Plus, god is a figment of our imagination. HE isn't here to say HE said that or didn't say that.

    In addition, people who hear god speaking to them in this day and age should be given anti-psychotic medication. Aren't you just amazed that we elect people like this into the highest office in the land? People who have been told to run for office or are waiting for HIM to call. What on their cell? C'mon................somebody say something. I don't go to church because people like this make HIM sound like a dimwitted A.....H..........

    January 1, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • Da King

      God is a figment to you Joan. To those who know him he is a savior and creator. An he loves you. really!

      January 1, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
    • Bob

      Uh right, god loves you and he wants you to waste and sacrifice a goat for him, or he'll lovingly torture you forever in hell.
      (Jesus did say the OT still applies, so don't try squirming out that way, sicko Christians.)

      Break the chains. Be free of religion in 2012.


      January 1, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
    • Da King

      He can heal everyone eternally Bob including you.

      January 1, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
  10. John

    Every one of the candidates, doesn't matter who or which party, runs a campaign that is less than 100% honest and forthright, and does its best to distort the positions of the opponents. And then they go to church on Sunday and act as of they are actually committed to God and all that he or she, if you are a believer, expect from people. The ultimate hypocrisy. The idea that Rick Perry, who has prospered politically and monetarily in perhaps the most politically corrupt state in the union (and I have worked in and observed the political systems of about half of them, including all of those considered among the worst) is some deeply religious, values-driven candidate is stupid beyond belief, and proof of either the gullibility or the hypocrisy of the base.

    January 1, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
  11. REG in AZ

    I find no fault with Evangelist Christian values and for the most part, only with less enthusiasm, share them. What I fail to be able to reconcile is the supporting of candidates that seek the Evangelist's support for their identifying with those values while their actions aggressively support grossly non-Christian values and while they give minimal results to the plus of those values and substantial results to the negative side (example Bush-Cheney and the continuing concentration on benefit only for "the few" while neglecting responsibilities to the majority). Their balance sheet is drastically negative and to support them seems to be conned and manipulated by focusing on limited issues and ignoring the total picture.

    January 1, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
    • Da King

      Please expound.

      January 1, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
  12. PR

    I don't need some dimwit bible-thumper picking my POTUS based on his religious views. The right-wing evangelicals are out-of-touch and will NEVER GET A POTUS they like. Wake up and come into the 21st century.

    January 1, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
    • Da King

      They don't want your potus. yuk.

      January 1, 2012 at 2:08 pm |
    • Da King

      They'd be more interested in saving your sole.

      January 1, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
    • JohnR

      Most of us have two soles. Which one do they want to save, and why?

      January 1, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
    • Da King

      John R, The one that lives eternally, because Jesus loves you.

      January 1, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Would that be my left sole or my right one, you dimbulb?

      January 1, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • Da King

      Tom Tom, I can't think quite that narrowly. Sorry.

      January 1, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
    • Answer

      @Da King

      "Tom Tom, I can't think quite that narrowly. Sorry."

      The reason why is simply that you are that 'narrow' to begin with. It's a natural thing for you to be narrow and it shows in your posts.

      January 1, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Duh, you're just too dumb to figure out that you're being ridiculed because you have yet to figure out that 'sole' is not the same as 'soul'.

      Not class valedictorian, were you?

      January 1, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
  13. Stan

    Judeo-Christian is an oxymoron

    January 1, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
    • Da King

      Though I love him, poor Newt seems to be the moron.

      January 1, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Guess it takes one to know one.

      January 1, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • Da King

      Tom Tom I hope you make it out of third grade.

      January 1, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
    • Answer

      @Da King

      "Tom Tom I hope you make it out of third grade."

      A retard's comment – you could do better. Let's put you back into elementary school.

      January 1, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Nah, Answer, that would be redundant. His elementary school kicked him out for taking up space that could have been better used by a plant.

      January 1, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
  14. SPLAT!~

    Iowa Evangelicals have political clout? How so? The most influential Evangelical in Iowa, Bob VanderPlatts failed twice to be elected Governor of Iowa, he couldn't get past the primary. The Evangelical candidates aren't from Iowa, Perry Elected Gov. of Texas multiple times, Bauchman of Minn. elected, Santorum of Penn. elected. The majority of influential Evangelicals aren't from Iowa (google Influential Evangelicals if you really care) . And these jokers aren't doing all that well here.

    January 1, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
    • JohnR

      Santorum was also defeated in PA.

      January 1, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
    • SPLAT!~

      Santorum served in the US house of Representatives from 1991 to 1995 and the US Senate from 1995 to 2007. Thats 16 years! What took them so long to oust him?

      January 1, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
  15. tony

    The 10 commandments forbid lying. In the past 200 years, no US politician claiming to be a Christian has ever tried to make lying illegal.

    January 1, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
  16. tstorm

    Love how Republicans mix "church" and "state". I wouldn't vote for one of these conservatives clowns!

    January 1, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
    • danny

      well said

      these people want their own version of christian "sharia law" in America

      last time I checked we are not a theocracy so a candidate's religious views shouldn't even be an issue.

      January 1, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
  17. guy

    christians for peace = ron paul

    January 1, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
  18. George Marshall

    Evangelicals are truly scary!

    January 1, 2012 at 1:30 pm |
  19. BigRed

    Why should we take stock in what Evangelicals want. Frankly in their world science, technology, modern medicine, women's rights, music, dancing, and free expression are considered ungodly. There are never articles on what the real American middle class things, desires, or has ambitions for. Instead we are feed nonsense where these fringe groups are given greater voice in the media then the great American middle class who do not suffer from delusions or mass insanity.

    January 1, 2012 at 1:29 pm |
    • Mennoknight

      You are talking about Fundamentalists not Evangelicals. In America the lines blur because Fundamentalists want to tie themselves to Evangelicals success but they have hijacked us.
      Evangelicals were the heart of the anti slaver movement, child labor laws, woman's voting, and in Canada universal heath care. Who were the anti movements against all these things? The fundamentalists.

      January 1, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
    • Da King

      Jesus started a fringe group? I don't think you'll get to discuss that with Him.

      January 1, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
  20. nooneknows

    Hey christians (or, any other god believer), think about why you believe what you believe.
    The vast majority (me included) were brainwashed as young children to believe whatever the parents believe (and parents were similarly brainwashed by their parents and so on).
    So, it all depends on where and when you are born. If in the middle east, most likely muslim. If USA, most likely christian.

    Think about why you believe all the other religions are wrong. They believe the same thing about yours.
    And guess what? You are all correct, at least in believing the other religions are wrong.
    You just need to take that final step and realize that your religion is wrong too.

    Remember how fervently you once believed in Santa Claus? Same thing. Time to get over the god delusion.

    January 1, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
    • Mark Taylor

      nooneknows – you've obviously been reading Richard Dawkins' THE GOD DELUSION and that's fine. I agree with you completely with respect to asking questions. In fact, I once went through and atheism phase myself – I started questioning everything as soon as I got away from home at 17. The thing is, Mr Dawkins does not offer one shred of empirical data for the opinions he writes, it is literally all opinion. I'll take you at your word regarding your recommendation to study and suggest you read WHAT GOD DOES TO YOUR BRAIN by two neuroscientists, Andrew Newberg who is a 'theist' (believes in some kind of divine character) and Mark Waldman and agnostic (a non commit on the question). This book is packed full of empirical evidence, much of it shown with brain scans and papers on an 18 year study. Conclusion: Having some kind of spiritual life is in fact good for you and will make positive physiological changes in your brain, particularly the amygdala. So study yes, you have to study both sides of this debate. I do so continually. I'm not gonna beat you over the head with scriptures from various faiths, though I think a good read of Huston Smith's THE RELIGIONS OF MAN would be a healthy read for a questioning mind. I want to leave you with comments made by Freeman Dyson, one of the foremost Physicists of the 20th/21st century – he had a big hand in early development of String Theory and is referenced by the incredible writer/teacher/theoretical physicist Brian Greene:

      Science and religion are two windows that people look through, trying to understand the big universe outside, trying to understand why we are here. The two windows give different views, but they look out at the same universe. Both views are one-sided, neither is complete. Both leave out essential features of the real world. And both are worthy of respect. Trouble arises when either science or religion claims universal jurisdiction, when either religious or scientific dogma claims to be infallible. Religious creationists and scientific materialists are equally dogmatic and insensitive. By their arrogance they bring both science and religion into disrepute. The media exaggerate their numbers and importance. The media rarely mention the fact that the great majority of religious people belong to moderate denominations that treat science with respect, or the fact that the great majority of scientists treat religion with respect so long as religion does not claim jurisdiction over scientific questions.

      you are absolutely right, you can't believe something just because you learned it as a kid. You have to work at the question of God yourself. Here's a great quote from Brian Greene: 'The boldness of asking deep questions may require unforeseen flexibility if we are to accept the answers.'

      Keep searching.

      January 1, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
    • Da King

      OK Here have some pearls.

      January 1, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
    • nooneknows

      Thanks for the non-fanatical reply.
      I would posit that being atheist or agnostic does of necessity imply that one is not "spiritual".
      I simply "don't know" and the main take-away of my post is that no one else does either.
      I sometimes feel a "connectedness" with my fellow man and with nature, but that doesn't mean I need to believe in some imaginary being to explain it.
      The problem is that organized religions claim that they can explain it, but their explanations are without merit and rely on blind faith, which leads to a host of problems like suicide bombers believing in 40 virgins after death, or bigotry against gays, to name just a couple examples.
      This is not to say that there aren't a lot of "good" religious people that do good things; my point is that the belief in a god is not necessary for that.
      The fact that brain scans show some benefits to accepting a delusion is interesting, but it does not make the delusion true.

      January 1, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
    • nooneknows

      "... does NOT of necessity imply... "

      January 1, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
    • Lola

      @Mark Taylor: Atheism isn't a phase. Your accepting a particular religion in no way provides proof that the figureheads in that religion are real. There is just no logical relationship. But I don't care what you believe, as long as you don't shove it down the throats of the rest of us. P.S. Dawkins is a hero.

      January 1, 2012 at 2:53 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.