February 18th, 2012
10:00 PM ET

Facing death, a top pastor rethinks what it means to be Christian

Editor's Note: The short film accompanying this story, called "My Garden," comes from EdsStory.com. CNN.com is premiering the latest installment in the "Ed's Story" series.

By Dan Merica, CNN

Washington (CNN) – Ed Dobson is not afraid of dying. It’s the getting there that really scares him.

A former pastor, onetime Christian Right operative and an icon among religious leaders, Dobson has Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. When he was diagnosed, doctors gave him 3 to 5 years to live.

That was 11 years ago.

“I am a tad happy to be talking to you right now,” joked Dobson, whose voice has deteriorated since his preaching days, in a phone interview. Speaking with him feels like being exposed to a brief moment of clarity. He speaks slowly, but with an understated confidence and authority.

As pastor at Calvary Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a position he held for 18 years, Dobson would regularly preach to 5,000 people or more on Sundays. Back then, Dobson said he looked at himself as a man filled with lessons, proverbs and, most of all, answers.

CNN's Belief Blog – all the faith angles to the day's top stories

After retirement six years ago, the massive crowds went away.

“I went from 100 miles an hour to zero miles an hour overnight,” Dobson said. “That was a shock to my system.”

Dobson says the answers vanished with the crowds.

“I know that sounds a bit lame,” he said. “I know that that I should have all the answers, but the truth is, the more I live, the fewer answers I have.”

And yet the people Dobson comes in contact with – those who call him dad, husband and friend, or those who have read one of his 12 books and watched his short films, don’t agree with that assessment. To them, the last six years of Dobson’s life have led to a remarkable ability to put life into context. To them, Dobson is a man filled with lessons.

From 5,000 to 1

In the 1980s, Dobson rose to prominence as an executive at the Moral Majority, Jerry Falwell's evangelical political organization, which had influence with the Ronald Reagan White House. Dobson’s rise continued when he accepted the pastorate at Calvary Church in 1987. He cut a national profile, with Moody Bible Institute naming him “Pastor of the Year” in 1993.

After being diagnosed with ALS, Dobson suddenly felt unsure of himself. At times, he said, he didn't want to get out of bed. After years of intense Bible study, Dobson said this is not how he thought he would react to news of his own mortality.

“I thought that if I knew I was going to die, I would really read the Bible and if I really was going to die, I would really pray,” Dobson said. “I found the opposite to be true. I could barely read the Bible and I had great difficulty praying. You get so overwhelmed with your circumstances, you lose perspective.”

Eventually, Dobson regained perspective. But feelings of listlessness led him to take his preaching to a more personal level. He now meets with congregants one-on-one. Sitting with them in their homes or offices, Dobson provides whatever help he can. “Most of the people I meet with have ALS and basically I listen," he said.

“When I meet with someone and look into their eyes, it is like I am looking into their soul,” Dobson said. “We are both broken, we are both on the journey and we are both fellow pilgrims.”

Going from 5,000 congregants to one at a time was a big change for Dobson, forcing him to reevaluate his job as a pastor. “I am trying to learn that one-on-one is just as important as speaking to thousands,” he said. “I reemphasize – I am trying to learn that.”

During his one-on-one meetings, Dobson says he remembers Adam and Eve being charged by God to work the Garden of Eden. For years Dobson’s garden was Calvary Church – the baptisms, weddings, the Sunday preaching.

“Whether it is preaching to 5000 or meeting one on one, I am trying to take care of the garden,” he said.

The wind knocked out

One way Dobson strove to tend the garden is by writing a book about dealing with serious illness. In 2007, he wrote “Prayers and Promises When Facing a Life-Threatening Illness.”

Dobson’s son Daniel read the book while deployed in Iraq. After returning home, Daniel made it his mission to turn the book’s stories into videos.

He pitched the idea to Steve Carr, the executive director of a faith-focused production company called Flannel. “When I met Ed, when he came to our office, something really spoke to me,” Carr said. “Not too long before that, I had been diagnosed with Leukemia.”

“I thought that this guy, he has been where I am right now and he has somehow mastered it,” Carr said.

So far, Flannel has released five Dobson films, available through the company's website. There are plans for two more. Though the films range in topic, from loss and forgiveness to healing and growth, all are centered on lessons Dobson learned through his battle with ALS. The videos toe the line between a dark look at a dying man's life and an uplifting glimpse at someone who exudes clarity.

"My Garden," the most recent title in the series, centers on Ed’s struggle to deal with ending his preaching career.

Dobson talks about the films as if they are his swan song, his last words of encouragement to a group of supporters he has inspired for decades.

“My desire is that people who have had the air knocked out of them, whether divorce or losing a loved one or illness, that they will get a sense of hope by watching the films,” he said.

Surviving (with help)

The series’ first short film opens with Dobson explaining what it was like to be told he had ALS. After lying in bed, Dobson gets in the shower, brushes his teeth and starts the day. Even he would admit, however, it is not that easy.

Dobson has lost much of the function in his hands and is seen struggling to brush his teeth, his frail body using two hands on the small brush. Though he is able to do a lot, including drive, Dobson wouldn’t be able to make it on his own, a fact he is keenly aware of when about when describing his wife, Lorna.

“She is my right hand, my left hand, my left foot, my right foot, my heart and my brain,” Dobson said. “Without her, it would be impossible to go on.”

Standing in the kitchen in one video, Lorna helps puts Ed’s belt and gloves on. The two don’t speak on camera, but their love is obvious.

“Our love has grown each year of marriage,” Lorna said. “I didn’t want to just wither in the sorrow of how our life was changing. It took a while to get used to what our life was going to be like but I realized that I needed to be more available to him.”

Dobson says he is also more available to her.

“I am no longer a preacher,” said Dobson. “Today, I would say I am a Jesus follower. Period.”

Lorna said she continues to learn from her husband. Throughout their life together, she said she learned by being in church with him, by raising three kids together and by loving one another.

The last 11 years, however, their love has changed. Dobson's illness has taught her to focus on the important things, she said, primarily their kids and five grandkids.

After tending the garden for decades, Dobson is now being tended himself, largely by Lorna. “ALS forced me into a situation where I grew in understanding of what it means to obey Jesus,” Dobson said in the latest film.

“It took me quite a while to find an alternative purpose," he said. "But the good news is out there – there is a purpose for everyone.”

- Dan Merica

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Death • United States

soundoff (3,195 Responses)
  1. Fantod

    If there is a God, he's got a lot of explaining to do.

    But, really, no one knows for sure, do they? Humans are a scared, confused lot. Running in circles, most of the time. Prayer and meditation are probably a good thing if it makes us kinder, more peaceful, more loving. But to claim that one knows for certain the existence of God or moreover what he/she/it wants for us, makes about as much sense as a child believing in the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy: it's a nice thought, but ultimately just wishful thinking.

    February 19, 2012 at 11:00 am |
    • Somebody said

      Actually, YOU will be the one needing to do some explaining. Like why you didn't believe in God when there is evidence all around you.

      February 19, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
    • Jesus

      Another delusional voice that would like to think that there is a great Judge in the sky that is going to deliver justice after you die. How childish! We've been up in the clouds unlike those primitive folk from the Bronze Age (when the Bible was put together by Emperor Constantine at the First Council of Nicea in 327 AD). We know that there is no invisible guy in the sky or Angels or harps or pearly gates...More childish nonsense. It always amazes me how fearful people are that they willIing to convince themselves that life continues after death.

      February 20, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
    • Milton

      Was God responsible for the pastor's ALS? If yes, then he is a sadist. If he isn't and won't do anything about it, he is still a sadist. This is the perennial problem with perceptions of God. If God can't be blamed for all the problems in the world, then he deserves no credit for the good either. The existence of evil in the world is proof that a beneficient, all-knowing, omnipotent, and perfect god can't possibly exist. It is all wishful thinking and far better for us as humans to ACT Christ-like rather than just provide lip-service. This means get off our fat butts and help each other. Find your humanity. It is okay to feed the poor and cure the sick. Not only is it okay, but it is a moral imperative-something that the GOP agenda abhors in the name of self-interest and greed. This is a position incompatible with New Testament Biblical teachings. To accept Jesus Christ as a savior means to follow his teachings and help each other. Ironically, I'm an atheist and follow Christ's teachings far more than your average republican.

      March 11, 2012 at 8:12 am |
  2. Bonnie

    Poor guy.

    February 19, 2012 at 10:59 am |
    • François

      Pity the millions he persecuted as a zealot.

      February 19, 2012 at 11:50 am |
  3. palintwit

    Sarah Palin believes that the earth is only 6,000 years old. Sarah Palin believes that early man rode dinosaurs to church every Sunday.

    February 19, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • Somebody said

      And you know the earth is not just 6,000+ years old how? Science? Carbon dating? Umm, maybe you better do some serious, unbiased research into all that so-called scientific "proof." You'll be amazed at how flawed it actually is. The reality is that no one alive at this point knows for sure how old the earth is. Nor does it matter how old the earth is. However, it DOES matter if you believe in God, His Word and His Truths. Sarah Palin does, so she's way ahead of you.

      February 19, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • want2believe


      Seriously?! By your own logic you are the one who needs to do some "serious, unbiased research." It's one thing to have faith, it's completely different to disregard reality.

      February 19, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
    • Hasa Diga Eebowai

      Wow, just wow.... There are so many independent ways to age the earth that all converge at very, very old.. ie nothing near what bronze age mystics believed. If any scientist could actually discredit these observations in a sound way they would have.

      February 20, 2012 at 11:25 am |
    • Steve O

      Somebody Said, if you actually did the research you claim others need to do, you'd realize that carbon dating is not an acceptable method for measuring the age of the earth. Even still, there are plenty of things that can be measured using radiocarbon dating that are much much older than the young earth belief. Notice I didn't say theory – that's a term reserved for ideas that can be proven with evidence.

      You were told by a religious person that it was fake and could not understand the concepts enough to understand they were lying to you. Just because geology is way above your head, it doesn't mean the answer must be magic.

      February 27, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
  4. David

    As so many of my friends were told in the 80's when they had AIDS, this is gods punishment for his wickedness.

    February 19, 2012 at 10:49 am |
    • nobody

      when your baby or your parents die remember it's punishment for that comment.

      February 19, 2012 at 10:54 am |
    • UMMMM

      LOL@Nobody--someone did not get the point of the comment...Please try again.

      February 19, 2012 at 11:11 am |
    • zooinb

      Returning hate with hate doesn't solve the problem it intensifies it.

      February 19, 2012 at 11:17 am |
    • François

      zooinb – Is that your solution to addressing Dobson's decades of preaching bigotry and prejudice, of spreading lies and fear? Sometimes fighting fire with fire is the only way to put the fire out. Don't believe me? Talk to the 1944 leaders of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

      February 19, 2012 at 11:52 am |
    • Bob Loblaw

      @nobody. What kind of a God would kill a baby for a cnn.com news article comment, especially when said baby has nothing to do with the actions of other and nothing to do with the comment itself? That is your idea of morality? That is your idea of a god that is worth worshiping?

      February 19, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
  5. Reality

    Starting Sunday morning with a prayer:-------->

    The Apostles' Creed 2011: (updated by yours truly based on the studies of NT historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

    Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven?????

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of

    Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
    many semi-fiction writers. A bodily resurrection and
    ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

    (References used are available upon request.)

    February 19, 2012 at 9:18 am |
    • ......

      Use Sunday to put an end to reality bull sh it hit report abuse on every post

      February 19, 2012 at 9:22 am |
    • Aezel

      As funny as your post is, and I really do love poking fun at Christians and all religions, the reality is, Jesus probably didn't exist at all.

      Current evidence points to him being a 100% total fabrication. None of the writings recovered from places like Jerusalem when he was supposedly there mention him at all. In fact there was one Roman writer in Jerusalem who's job it was to keep track of the goings on of Jewish culture, and he never mentions any Jesus whatsoever.

      February 19, 2012 at 10:48 am |
    • Bohemer

      Well said, every one can believe what he/she desires.. That extends to abortions, too. Intolerant religious fanatics can either preach to their own flock, or in case they desire to impose their ways on others – GFT!!!

      February 19, 2012 at 10:53 am |
    • pirate


      February 19, 2012 at 11:08 am |
    • John O

      I'm sorry that you see things the way you do because when you change the way you look at things – the things you look at change. I would suggest that you go to Saudi Arabia, find the mountain Jabel El Laws and just look around. Now, I know that you cannot go there because you can't get into the country, but if you could get in, you would find that the mountain is barbed wired, fenced in. You see, this mountain has physical proof that not only the story in the Bible is real but that God is real and really came down on top on that mountain. They know that too ! How strange is it for a Muslim country to protect a Jewish / Christian reality that not only is God real but Moses and everything else. It might just help you start finding your way back to your Creator and tenderize your heart. If you sincerely believe how you believe, you shouldn't fear searching this out ! Blessings !

      February 19, 2012 at 11:09 am |
    • Reality

      From Professors Crossan and Watts' book, Who is Jesus.

      "That Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate, as the Creed states, is as certain as anything historical can ever be.

      “ The Jewish historian, Josephus and the pagan historian Tacitus both agree that Jesus was executed by order of the Roman governor of Judea. And is very hard to imagine that Jesus' followers would have invented such a story unless it indeed happened.

      “While the brute fact that of Jesus' death by crucifixion is historically certain, however, those detailed narratives in our present gospels are much more problematic. "

      “My best historical reconstruction would be something like this. Jesus was arrested during the Passover festival, most likely in response to his action in the Temple. Those who were closest to him ran away for their own safety.

      I do not presume that there were any high-level confrontations between Caiaphas and Pilate and Herod Antipas either about Jesus or with Jesus. No doubt they would have agreed before the festival that fast action was to be taken against any disturbance and that a few examples by crucifixion might be especially useful at the outset. And I doubt very much if Jewish police or Roman soldiers needed to go too far up the chain of command in handling a Galilean peasant like Jesus. It is hard for us to imagine the casual brutality with which Jesus was probably taken and executed. All those "last week" details in our gospels, as distinct from the brute facts just mentioned, are prophecy turned into history, rather than history remembered."

      See also Professor Crossan's reviews of the existence of Jesus in his other books especially, The Historical Jesus and also Excavating Jesus (with Professor Jonathan Reed doing the archeology discussion) .

      Other NT exegetes to include members of the Jesus Seminar have published similar books with appropriate supporting references.

      Part of Crossan's The Historical Jesus has been published online at books.google.com/books.

      There is also a search engine for this book on the right hand side of the opening page. e.g. Search Josephus

      See also Wikipedia's review on the historical Jesus to include the Tacitus' reference to the crucifixion of Jesus.

      From ask.com,

      "One of the greatest historians of ancient Rome, Cornelius Tacitus is a primary source for much of what is known about life the first and second centuries after the life of Jesus. His most famous works, Histories and Annals, exist in fragmentary form, though many of his earlier writings were lost to time. Tacitus is known for being generally reliable (if somewhat biased toward what he saw as Roman immorality) and for having a uniquely direct (if not blunt) writing style.

      Then there are these scriptural references:

      Crucifixion of Jesus:(1) 1 Cor 15:3b; (2a) Gos. Pet. 4:10-5:16,18-20; 6:22; (2b) Mark 15:22-38 = Matt 27:33-51a = Luke 23:32-46; (2c) John 19:17b-25a,28-36; (3) Barn. 7:3-5; (4a) 1 Clem. 16:3-4 (=Isaiah 53:1-12); (4b) 1 Clem. 16.15-16 (=Psalm 22:6-8); (5a) Ign. Mag. 11; (5b) Ign. Trall. 9:1b; (5c) Ign. Smyrn. 1.2.- (read them all at wiki.faithfutures. Crucifixion org/index.php/005_Crucifixion_Of_Jesus )

      Added suggested readings:

      o 1. Historical Jesus Theories, earlychristianwritings.com/theories.htm – the names of many of the contemporary historical Jesus scholars and the ti-tles of their over 100 books on the subject.
      2. Early Christian Writings, earlychristianwritings.com/
      – a list of early Christian doc-uments to include the year of publication–

      30-60 CE Passion Narrative
      40-80 Lost Sayings Gospel Q
      50-60 1 Thessalonians
      50-60 Philippians
      50-60 Galatians
      50-60 1 Corinthians
      50-60 2 Corinthians
      50-60 Romans
      50-60 Philemon
      50-80 Colossians
      50-90 Signs Gospel
      50-95 Book of Hebrews
      50-120 Didache
      50-140 Gospel of Thomas
      50-140 Oxyrhynchus 1224 Gospel
      50-200 Sophia of Jesus Christ
      65-80 Gospel of Mark
      70-100 Epistle of James
      70-120 Egerton Gospel
      70-160 Gospel of Peter
      70-160 Secret Mark
      70-200 Fayyum Fragment
      70-200 Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs
      73-200 Mara Bar Serapion
      80-100 2 Thessalonians
      80-100 Ephesians
      80-100 Gospel of Matthew
      80-110 1 Peter
      80-120 Epistle of Barnabas
      80-130 Gospel of Luke
      80-130 Acts of the Apostles
      80-140 1 Clement
      80-150 Gospel of the Egyptians
      80-150 Gospel of the Hebrews
      80-250 Christian Sibyllines
      90-95 Apocalypse of John
      90-120 Gospel of John
      90-120 1 John
      90-120 2 John
      90-120 3 John
      90-120 Epistle of Jude
      93 Flavius Josephus
      100-150 1 Timothy
      100-150 2 Timothy
      100-150 T-itus
      100-150 Apocalypse of Peter
      100-150 Secret Book of James
      100-150 Preaching of Peter
      100-160 Gospel of the Ebionites
      100-160 Gospel of the Nazoreans
      100-160 Shepherd of Hermas
      100-160 2 Peter

      3. Historical Jesus Studies, faithfutures.org/HJstudies.html,
      – "an extensive and constantly expanding literature on historical research into the person and cultural context of Jesus of Nazareth"
      4. Jesus Database, faithfutures.org/JDB/intro.html–"The JESUS DATABASE is an online annotated inventory of the traditions concerning the life and teachings of Jesus that have survived from the first three centuries of the Common Era. It includes both canonical and extra-canonical materials, and is not limited to the traditions found within the Christian New Testament."
      5. Josephus on Jesus mtio.com/articles/bissar24.htm
      6. The Jesus Seminar, mystae.com/restricted/reflections/messiah/seminar.html#Criteria
      7. Writing the New Testament- mystae.com/restricted/reflections/messiah/testament.html
      8. Health and Healing in the Land of Israel By Joe Zias
      9. Economics in First Century Palestine, K.C. Hanson and D. E. Oakman, Palestine in the Time of Jesus, Fortress Press, 1998.

      Additional references are available at your request.

      February 19, 2012 at 11:35 am |
    • Reality

      origin: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482 NY Times review and important enough to reiterate.

      New Torah For Modern Minds

      “Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.

      Such startling propositions - the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years - have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity - until now.

      The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called "Etz Hayim" ("Tree of Life" in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine doc-ument.

      The notion that the Bible is not literally true "is more or less settled and understood among most Conservative rabbis," observed David Wolpe, a rabbi at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and a contributor to "Etz Hayim." But some congregants, he said, "may not like the stark airing of it." Last Passover, in a sermon to 2,200 congregants at his synagogue, Rabbi Wolpe frankly said that "virtually every modern archaeologist" agrees "that the way the Bible describes the Exodus is not the way that it happened, if it happened at all." The rabbi offered what he called a "LITANY OF DISILLUSION”' about the narrative, including contradictions, improbabilities, chronological lapses and the absence of corroborating evidence. In fact, he said, archaeologists digging in the Sinai have "found no trace of the tribes of Israel - not one shard of pottery."

      February 19, 2012 at 11:36 am |
  6. Flinders the butler

    @Dan Merica,
    Editors off for the weekend ?
    "After years of intense Bible study, Dobson said this is not how he thought he would react to news of his own immortality".
    His ALS is news of his MORTALITY.
    Supposedly, (although one has to seriously doubt if Dobson EVER actually really believed in his "immortality", by his reaction chronicled above.) Seems that if he REALLY believed, he would have been ECSTATIC over the prospect of going to heaven, shortly.
    Nah, not a real believer.

    February 19, 2012 at 8:23 am |
    • Nii Croffie

      FLINDERS Rev Dobson is an example of spirituality n u r an example of religiosity. Religion is learned but spirituality comes by experience and God has granted His servant this. Why don't u watch a Rev Dobson film or read 1 of his books? Such people are different from u n (un-)believers like u.

      February 19, 2012 at 10:21 am |
  7. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things.

    February 19, 2012 at 7:18 am |
    • holy guac

      Prayer changes a persons outlook, but I have never seen it affect reality. That is why some prayers are thought to be "answered," and some are not answered. In either case, God supposedly works in mysterious ways.

      February 19, 2012 at 11:08 am |
    • pirate

      And where is your data to support the fact that believe in a non-existent invisible man in the sky does anything for someone? Prayer is absolutely unnecessary as there are many many other ways to achieve inner peace and a good sense of spirituality! I caught my own son (also an atheist, came up with it on his own at 8 years old!) doing the right thing online in a msg board with his friends similar to FB, there is no need for belief in voodoo or anything like that to be a good person!

      February 19, 2012 at 11:15 am |
    • SoSueMe

      If prayer worked, prayerful people would experience less disease, death, divorce, disabled or deformed children, drug abuse, accidents, unemployment, etc. Instead, the levels of these difficulties remain constant among all people, prayerful or not. As a matter of fact, a number of those problems are more prevalent in more religious states.

      February 19, 2012 at 11:32 am |
    • Raoul Duke, Jr.

      There are, every day, millions and millions of prayers for things to change in some fashion or another. How many are actually answered? Even if it's fifty percent, that's no more than the flip of a coin. You have better odds in Vegas. Oh, by the way, every single scientific study of intercessionary prayer shows it does not work. Prayer may make the person praying feel like they are actually doing something, but the only thing it really does is make them feel like they are actually doing something.

      February 19, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
    • Hasa Diga Eebowai

      So does opium, lysergic acid, psilocybin, and dmt

      February 20, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • Milton

      There have been many double-blind studies on the effects of prayer on various medical conditions. NONE of them show evidence that it helps, and at least one study, showed a statistically significant NEGATIVE impact on prayer. The grim reaper comes and you take an eternal dirt nap. That's it.

      Your immortality can come in many forms– in digital and print photographs and video taken while you were alive, the memories found in the neural pathways of the living left behind, your 3.8 billion year old genes that you passed on to your children, your products and culturally acquired teachings that you passed on, and the recycled elements in your body that will be broken down and reborn in countless other living things. All of these forms of immortality are either chemical, biological, technological, or cultural. They exist, but have little to do with any traditional perception of after-life. You will be joined with your dead relatives in the sense that the oxygen molecules you breath are the same ones your dead relatives used to breath and the carbon of which your body is composed is the same that comprised your ancestors (and plants, bacteria, and dinosaurs too). Isn't this form of immortality good enough or even better than the narrow and naive one espoused by some Christians? Embrace it because science has shown that you are indeed immortal (or at least have genes that are 3.8 billion years old–nearly a fourth of the age of the universe itself). Enjoy.

      March 11, 2012 at 8:25 am |
  8. Leucadia Bob


    February 19, 2012 at 3:29 am |
  9. Ironicus

    I stopped reading after a while and just thought I'd rant a bit on how bad this article is written. It's bad stuff.
    I guess this is what happens if you try to force people to work on a weekend. Loopy rotten stringy stuff. Gah.

    February 19, 2012 at 12:56 am |
    • ------

      "badly" ... (speaking of badly written)

      February 19, 2012 at 8:00 am |
  10. Matthew 7:6

    My dear fellow Christians, don’t feed these atheists, they care nothing of sacred things, they only want to ridicule and criticize you to feed their ego, and your well intended remarks is just fodder for them. Read 1 John 2:4 and Matt 7:6 then starve these people.

    February 19, 2012 at 12:36 am |
    • Oh Yeah

      Ah, aren't you criticizing US with this comment, or do you believe that only Christians have a right to do this?

      February 19, 2012 at 1:00 am |
    • Matthew 7:6

      Absolutely it is criticism! When ever someone speaks negative of someones misbehavior it is criticism. Matthew 7:6 is advice as well as criticism. The Bible is full of criticism, just read Ecclesiaties and Proverbs.

      February 19, 2012 at 2:02 am |
    • Asuto

      Dear Atheists,

      Pay no heed to these self righteous Christians . They are too weak to stand and have an opinion of their own, they would rather look it up in a book.. Lazy!

      February 19, 2012 at 10:59 am |
    • pirate

      My fellow atheists, pay no attention to these christians following this murderous, rapist, slave beating god. Trust your own conscience, do well unto others and ignore the lunatic teachings that contradict themselves at every turn in their holy book! -- (Deuteronomy 22:28-29 NLT)
      If a man is caught in the act of raping a young woman who is not engaged, he must pay fifty pieces of silver to her father. Then he must marry the young woman because he violated her, and he will never be allowed to divorce her.
      --When a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod so hard that the slave dies under his hand, he shall be punished. If, however, the slave survives for a day or two, he is not to be punished, since the slave is his own property. (Exodus 21:20-21 NAB)

      February 19, 2012 at 11:28 am |
    • Oh Yeah

      Matthew 7:6
      If you admit that, then I guess that you don't care at all for rational things.

      February 19, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
    • Todd

      Yeah...your right...I guess instead I will lock my doors...pull the shades...homeschool my kids...control where my wife goes, or what she wears....and only mingle with likeminded folks. That should bring a great balance to my life. You sir are afraid of the cracks in your own faith...you sir live in fear, not love. I will never ever avoid a reasonable dialogue with someone just because the views expressed are not my own. Perhaps you need therapy.

      February 19, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
    • Hasa Diga Eebowai

      " they care nothing of sacred things"... the only thing that is sacred is: this planet that has given us consciousness, our fellow man who share our consciousness, and our logic and reason that has grown our consciousness.

      February 20, 2012 at 11:29 am |
  11. Reality

    ALS is one of the many proofs that there is no god. Hopefully, someday all the money currently being wasted on religion will be used to find the cure for ALS and cancer.

    February 19, 2012 at 12:07 am |
    • Chad

      Disease and sickness is a result of the fall, it wasnt always like this..

      February 19, 2012 at 12:15 am |
    • a person of the Name

      None of us know the mind of God. When its our time to be called home, its our time. God uses the evils of the world for the good of those who follow Him.

      February 19, 2012 at 12:19 am |
    • Oh Yeah

      a person of the Name
      First you say "None of us know the mind of God." but then you claim to know that "God uses the evils of the world for the good of those who follow Him." So, aren't you claiming to know what God supposedly thinks here?

      February 19, 2012 at 1:03 am |
    • a person of the Name

      I stand upon the Bible, for the truth I find. God reveals many things though His word. If you take the time to look.

      February 19, 2012 at 1:32 am |
    • Mirosal

      I'll stand on a bible too, if it helps me reach the top shelf. Other than that, it makes a great coffee table coaster for my beer steins. it can also be used for emergency toilet paper.

      February 19, 2012 at 1:39 am |
    • a person of the Name

      Every man will answer for his words, with out true repentance all is for nothng. God is a good judge.

      February 19, 2012 at 1:46 am |
    • Mirosal

      So now it's a threat that I'll be judged when I die. Says who? How very x-tian of you. And which god will judge me? Zeus? Odin? Osiris? Pluto? How much will I have to pay Charon to ferry me across the River Styx?

      February 19, 2012 at 1:58 am |
    • a person of the Name

      No. Not a threat, just the truth. There is only ONE god and His name is Jesus. I was once like you, not guarding my tongue as I should and said many things that hurt others. I'm a new man now though and I don't live with any condemnation.

      February 19, 2012 at 2:09 am |
    • Mirosal

      I was like you. I was raised in a religious family. I even got "sentenced" to religious schools for 10 years. Then something hapened. I asked logical questions, and got no answers. How can you say that your dead zombie guy jesus is a god? Even according to your "holy book', he says he is the son of a god, not a god himself, yet you worship him as one. Hercules was the son of a god too, why not worship him as well? Throughout the 200,000 years our species has been on this planet, not one single "god" has ever been shown to have existed. Gee, now why is that, hmmm? Your god is no different. In time yours too shall be relegated to the realm of mythology. You're just caught up in a modern myth.

      February 19, 2012 at 2:19 am |
    • a person of the Name

      I'm sorry if I offended you, but the truth is what it is. I only wish for you to hear it. I wish you no ill will, only for peace in your heart. May God bless you.

      February 19, 2012 at 2:20 am |
    • a person of the Name

      Haha funny that you think I come from a religious family. I'll take that as a compliment. I think you should go back and read the bible again. Jesus is the son of man and God. Man though Mary and God though the spirit. God can have no son because he has no flesh. The bible also says that the God-head rest fully in Jesus.

      February 19, 2012 at 2:30 am |
    • Mirosal

      there is no truth. your book was written by man, inspired by man, and used solely to control, cajole, and instill fear into the uneducated illiterate masses of 2-3000 years ago. At that time, only offical scribes, nobility, and clergy were able to read and write. Everyone else was at the mercy of those "in charge". We have literacy now. Churches do not have near the power they once held even a scant 500 years ago. Just because your book says it's true, does NOT make it so. That book cannot be used for any kind of evidence whatsoever as to the existence of a deity, as it does not fit the parameters for established rules of evidence.

      February 19, 2012 at 2:33 am |
    • a person of the Name

      Then I have my experiences. You come to late to tell me there is no god. I like how ppl like to go back to the whole control thing. The church now-a-days is different from what it use to be. You don't have to go to church to find God but are encouraged to go for the simple fact that it helps to strengthen you against a world that would love to see you fall.

      February 19, 2012 at 2:44 am |
    • Mirosal

      How do you know YOUR 'god' is the right one? Thousands have been worshipped over time.

      February 19, 2012 at 2:52 am |
    • Flinders the butler

      "the mind of god" ...hmmm... so she has brain chemistry...I see. Does she get brain tumors, (since she "gives" them) ?

      February 19, 2012 at 8:04 am |
    • a person of the Name

      I have my experiences. I've seen God do some amazing things and felt His touch and heard His voice. I would have wrote it was only me that it happened to.

      February 19, 2012 at 9:10 am |
    • Reality

      Starting Sunday morning with a prayer:

      The Apostles' Creed 2011: (updated by yours truly based on the studies of NT historians and theologians of the past 200 years)

      Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
      and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
      human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven?????

      I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
      preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
      named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
      girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

      Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
      the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

      He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
      a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of

      Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
      many semi-fiction writers. A bodily resurrection and
      ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
      Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
      grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
      and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
      called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

      (References used are available upon request.)

      February 19, 2012 at 9:10 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Chard says, "It wasn't always like this."

      As if you know what "it" was like.

      February 19, 2012 at 10:19 am |
    • Nii Croffie

      MIROSAL I thought by now u understood clearly that legal evidence is not scientific evidence. HOWEVER I do not see why your upbringing is clouding your judgement so much. Anyone who has read the Bible knows it is a book of hope not fear. Grow out of those childhood fears. Those are not the Bible.

      February 19, 2012 at 10:35 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Watching Nii attempt to argue with Mirosal is just sad. Really, Nii, you're outsmarted by a margin so wide it makes the Mississippi look like a trickle.

      February 19, 2012 at 10:44 am |
    • pirate

      Chad, so you're saying, that despite this invisible man in the sky who says we are only responsible for our own sins, we are responsible for the sins of a mythical Adam and Eve sinning and causing all the suffering in the world? If there WAS a god, I would think he would have better logic than that!

      February 19, 2012 at 11:29 am |
    • darin

      a person of the Name
      I have my experiences. I've seen God do some amazing things and felt His touch and heard His voice. I would have wrote it was only me that it happened to.

      Might have to suggest this was the local priest.

      February 19, 2012 at 11:30 am |
    • Munther

      A good friend of mine had ALS at age 38,
      He lived 9 years in pain and suffering after that.
      Every time when I visited him, he had this glowing energy and his face lit up like a lightning rod. I had no doubt where he was going.
      He left me with great example that GOD is present always.

      GOD showed him many miracles and took him through many experiences,
      He saw many recognized faces he knew in Heaven and Hell,
      God also showed him where Hell is from the laden sky above,
      His consistent prayers and mediation never seized in looking and searching for GOD.
      He always called on GOD to give him more pain because he wanted to be like Jesus on the cross.
      He experienced Virgin Mary’s conversing with him, He woke up one day and walked around the house were his body was pouring blood out of his skin and smeared the hallway walls.

      I have no doubts that he is in Heaven today, I pray that all of us will get there someday.

      Every human being goes through different life difficulties and trails, but at the end, death is the same and GOD will judge you based on every piece of your body actions thoughts and deeds.

      Jesus Christ did walk on water and ascended in to Heaven and we must believe that.
      I do not hear any Jews, Muslims or None believers contesting it. Event he Roman Empire and the Jew high priest did not questioned at that time.

      So the devil lost the fight and the Salvation of Man had began, Not for the Jews only, but the entire mankind.

      The powers were given to the apostles through descending of the Holy Spirit, it was our actual proofs that they now can speak in tongs and went through out the world baptizing you and me in water and the Holy Spirit. Reborn Again.

      You still have time to redeem yourself, just read the book of St. Paul,
      Remembering the Hebrew-Roman Saul was like you, none believer, a blasphemer, loaded with criticism and unjust deeds. Then he saw Jesus that blinded his vision with his Holy Light and Saul accepted who is GOD.

      So he finally said hello to Jesus because he saw in his own eyes and witnessed to the light, so don’t wait until your final days, because time is running out for you none beleivers and for me not talking to you enough.

      So get back on and seek your Salvation in Jesus name.

      February 19, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • Oh Yeah

      a person of the Name
      Why just the Bible? Why not the Qur'an, the Book of Mormon, or any other book claiming to be the divine word of God? If you get your assurance that God is real from the Bible, then have you read other ancient texts? Maybe they would give you as much assurance that the Greek, Egyptian, Chinese, Meso-American, or other gods are real? I've read many of them, including the Bible, and don't see how anyone can logically place the tales of YHWH as being more credible than any of the others.

      February 19, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
    • Chad

      @pirate "so you're saying, that despite this invisible man in the sky who says we are only responsible for our own sins, we are responsible for the sins of a mythical Adam and Eve sinning and causing all the suffering in the world? If there WAS a god, I would think he would have better logic than that!"

      =>you are not responsible for what Adam did, you are responsible for what you have done.
      Atheist: "but, I have lead a good life"

      =>by what definition of "good"?
      Atheist: "well, there are a lot of people worse than me"

      =>Ah, your pitching the "I'm "better" than a lot of other people.

      Well, here's the thing. The standard is perfection. You should know going in that only one person in the history of the world has ever been able to get in by maintaining a perfect life, and here's the second thing.. you arent going to be #2.

      Atheist: "Well, I'll just take my chances then, I would rather do my thing now then have to answer to anyone"
      =>well, here's the thing, God will let you do exactly that.

      February 20, 2012 at 11:15 pm |
  12. Colin

    Reality always bites with these people. Popes, bishops, cardinals, preachers, ministers, priests and rabbis get sick and die like the rest of us. They are as vulnerable as we atheists are. Ironically, the one thing that keeps them alive is the medical science that rejects their supernatural nonsense.

    They pray, they implore their sky-fairies, they beg, they hope, but come end of the day, they, like every human being befre and after them, have to accept the universal tyruth that they will die. Cold, hard death, awaiting us all. I am just glad I didn't waste my life trying to clutch onto some Iron Age garbage about everlasting life, wasting this life on the pious hope that there will be another.

    February 19, 2012 at 12:03 am |
    • a person of the Name

      From dust we came, to dust we return. Only the flesh passes away... The spirit lives forever. Not all doctors reject the truth, only a very few. Some are stronger in they're faith because they are doctors.

      February 19, 2012 at 12:09 am |
    • Oh Yeah

      a person of the Name
      Well, we do know that the flesh passes away, but you have absolutely no real proof that any part of our personality lives forever. It's a nice idea, and maybe even a very selfish one, if you give it a moment's thought. Are you appealing to people's selfish desire to live forever?

      If we were talking about some medical discovery that made people immortal the religious folks who rely on heaven as a carrot would likely object to it, which I find very ironic.

      February 19, 2012 at 1:20 am |
    • a person of the Name

      I have my experiences and God's word to draw upon. I myself need no proof. I have felt God for myself. I have no idea how things will be in heaven but I do know there are spirits. I'm not talking about ghost or that kind if thing.

      February 19, 2012 at 1:40 am |
    • Flinders the butler

      a person of the Name
      People have many different experience. They INTERPRET them all, in many different ways. YOU have interpreted your experiences in the way you wish/need, to support your world view. It's proof of nothing, except that people can be delusional.
      EVERY believer since the dawn of time, has "interpreted" their experiences as acts of their deity. 99.9999 % of them are now seen to be wrong.

      "The religion of one age is the literary entertainment of the next" - Ralph Waldo Emerson

      Tea time at 4 PM in the drawing room.

      February 19, 2012 at 8:11 am |
    • a person of the Name

      No it proves everything to me. Along with thousands of others. I once would have wrote it off too. Its always the same untill it happens to you.

      February 19, 2012 at 9:18 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Why doesn't your God teach you that it's "written", not wrote?

      February 19, 2012 at 10:15 am |
    • AGuest9

      From stardust we came, to stardust we shall return. There is no such thing as a spirit.

      February 19, 2012 at 10:52 am |
    • AGuest9

      When a doctor tells you that it's "out of his hands", it doesn't mean that it's in someone else's.

      February 19, 2012 at 10:54 am |
    • Oh Yeah

      a person of the Name
      I don't doubt that you've experiences something that you've interpreted as "God", just as many people have experienced something they've interpreted as ghosts, UFO aliens, and ESP. Are we to just accept every kind of claim at face value? Do you just accept everything that people believe to be true without proof, or do you just have selective skepticism?

      You say you have no idea what heaven will be like, so how do you know that you will like being there forever? If you have all of your mental faculties wouldn't you likely go nuts with the monotony?

      February 19, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
  13. Halo of Flies

    How does one become a "Top" Pastor? Is there a Pastor olympics?

    Round 1: Steal the most cash.
    Round 2: Tell the most lies.
    Round 3: Stay in the closet without getting caught.
    Round 4: Cross-Country (There has to be cross country in any competi.tion.)

    February 18, 2012 at 11:32 pm |
    • Flinders the butler

      Well, what did you expect them to say ? "A mediocre guy you prolly never heard of, (unless you are a right wing wacko), who despite his erstwhile arrogance, now has to face his mortality".

      February 19, 2012 at 8:15 am |
  14. Makes Observations

    I think your reporter used the term immortality wrong.

    February 18, 2012 at 11:13 pm |
  15. Chad

    "“I know that sounds a bit lame,” he said. “I know that that I should have all the answers, but the truth is, the more I live, the fewer answers I have.”"
    =>boy is that ever true...

    "“I am no longer a preacher,” said Dobson. “Today, I would say I am a Jesus follower. Period.”"
    =>good for you, Jesus is the only way.

    February 18, 2012 at 10:20 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Says you. Millions believe there are many ways. Your opinion is no more valid than theirs. And that's ALL it is–an opinion. One among many, and hardly notable.

      February 18, 2012 at 10:49 pm |
    • keren

      once you have had a "the life changing experience" with God, it turns from an opinion to an i know that i know that Jesus is the answer; that Jesus is the way. You wont be asking anybody – you will know that you know, and NO one in this world can make you doubt.

      my friend – ask God for an experience .... for THE experience, so that you know, that you know – for yourself.

      February 18, 2012 at 10:59 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Oh, get off it. I 'believed' for years. I was faithful and trusting. Gradually, my experiences showed me that it was quite ridiculous to believe in some all-powerful being who knows all and sees all but does nothing. Believe whatever you want. It's a free country. But keep your hands off my rights and out of the secular laws of this country. And stop pretending you have any answers. You don't.

      February 18, 2012 at 11:03 pm |
    • AGuest9

      "the more I live, the fewer answers I have."

      Which is the problem when you "believe" in something, rather than continually learning about the state of reality. The longer I live, the more answers I develop and learn.

      February 19, 2012 at 10:48 am |
    • AGuest9

      Actually, keren, it remains your opinion.

      February 19, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • Oh Yeah

      You realize, don't you, that the same applies to those who believe in ghosts, UFO aliens and Bigfoot. They "experience" something that leads them to believe in these things too, but are we all just to accept every wild claim on face value?

      February 19, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
  16. Julie

    tallulah13, Pastor Dobson has always stood against bigotry and discrimination. He was one of the leaders in evangelical Christianity to point out and to take a stand against it way before that was the popular thing to do. Not knocking down James Dobson, but he might be who you think that you're talking about. Do some research before you speak in ignorance. This guys name is Ed.

    February 12, 2012 at 7:46 am |
    • tallulah13

      Did you read the article? This sentence was part of it:

      "In the 1980s, Dobson rose to prominence as an executive at the Moral Majority, Jerry Falwell's evangelical political organization, which had influence with the Ronald Reagan White House. "

      I googled Mr. Dobson's name and found that he had indeed renounced the his former political group. Good for him. Too bad the damage was already done. However, I thank you for trying to clarify. If it was in the article, I certainly missed it.

      I will still seek inspiration from Stephen Hawking. Even with his body diminished, he seeks to further human knowledge. I hold no malice toward Dobson, but I don't really admire him. Thousands of people were hurt before he discovered simple human decency. Lives continue to be damaged to day, because of the monster he helped create.

      February 19, 2012 at 1:08 am |
    • Oh Yeah

      Except gays. Remember that Dobson argued that "tolerance" and "diversity" were just buzzwords to promote the "gay agenda." Google his objection to DVDs sent out by the We Are Family Foundation for details on this.

      February 19, 2012 at 1:12 am |
  17. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things

    February 12, 2012 at 7:41 am |
    • Oh Yeah

      Including Buddhist, Shinto, and Hindu prayer?

      February 19, 2012 at 1:07 am |
    • just sayin

      No you have been told several times,what does it take to sink in. Prayer to idols leads to trouble.

      February 19, 2012 at 7:17 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      That should tell you, just lying, how much import your 'telling' has. No one believes your crap.

      February 19, 2012 at 10:17 am |
    • Oh Yeah

      just sayin
      So Jesus, crosses and crucifixes aren't idols?

      February 19, 2012 at 12:49 pm |
  18. Brad

    Although Pastor Dobson does not mention the term "wounded healer", he is an exemplary one. Such people are well-able to feel sympathy in the truest sense of the word: to suffer in accord with someone. He has taken up an incredibly significant ministry by working, as he can and as he has been uniquely equipped to do, with broken people one-on-one. Many congregations maintain such a ministry. I'd like to recommend one that has been taken up by congregations across many denominations including Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran: The Stephen Ministry. There is a website, but unfortunately no directory. It's a very common ministry easily located by googling an area along with "Stephen Ministry".

    February 12, 2012 at 2:05 am |
  19. tallulah13

    Stephen Hawking has survived ALS for almost 40 years. I will take inspiration from him, instead of Ed Dobson, a man who once served the "Moral Majority" an organization dedicated to promoting bigotry and discrimination using religion as an excuse.

    February 12, 2012 at 1:13 am |
    • tea party

      good observation

      February 18, 2012 at 11:57 pm |
    • AGuest9

      Hawking has struggled over the years with the concept of a creator. Now, I think he has finally come to the conclusion that it truly is a fallacy. Unfortunately, his old collaborator Roger Penrose has done just the opposite, and opened a gaping hole for the theists to jump into in his most recent book.

      February 19, 2012 at 10:44 am |
  20. Jonathan Stone

    Reblogged this on jonathan stone's blog and commented:
    This is a moving story about Ed Dobson, the former prominent Evangelical pastor who was diagnosed with ALS eleven years ago.

    February 11, 2012 at 11:24 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.