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First on CNN: Atheist group targets presidential candidates' faith with billboards
A billboard criticizing Christianity is going up in Charlotte, North Carolina, host city of the upcoming Democratic National Convention.
August 13th, 2012
10:03 AM ET

First on CNN: Atheist group targets presidential candidates' faith with billboards

By Dan Merica, CNN

Washington (CNN) - A prominent atheist group is using next month's Democratic National Convention to take aim at the presidential candidates' religion, putting up billboards targeting Mormonism and Christianity in Charlotte, North Carolina.

“Our political system is rife with religion and it depends too much on religion and not enough on substance," said David Silverman, president of American Atheists, sponsor of the ads.

"Religion is silly and religion has components that are inherently divisive. … There is no place for any of that in the political system,” he said.

The billboards go up Monday in Charlotte and will stay up for a month at a cost of roughly $15,000. The Democratic convention runs September 3-6.

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

The billboard targeting Christianity features an image of Jesus Christ on toast and this description of the faith: "Sadistic God; Useless Savior, 30,000+ Versions of ‘Truth,’ Promotes Hates, Calls it ‘Love.’ ”

The billboard targeting Mormonism lambastes - and, Mormons would say, distorts - specific Mormon doctrines: "God is a Space Alien, Baptizes Dead People, Big Money, Big Bigotry.”

The Mormon billboard features a man in white underwear, a reference to special Mormon garments.

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Both billboards feature the line "Atheism: Simply Reasonable."

American Atheists had wanted to put the anti-Mormon billboard in Tampa, Florida, to coincide with the Republican National Convention there later this month. Presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney is a Mormon. When no billboard company in the city would lease the group space for such a sign, Silverman said the organization decided to focus solely on the Democrats in Charlotte.

“Presidential conventions are for ideas, not ideology - platforms, not platitudes," Silverman said. "If a person believes stupid things, we have every right to question his or her judgment, and that directly impacts how the nonreligious voter votes.”

CNN Belief Blog: Atheist leader hopes to mobilize closeted nonbelievers

Some religious leaders said the billboards showed a misunderstanding of how faith works.

"That billboard makes the most common high-school error when it comes to atheism," wrote the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and author, in an e-mail to CNN. "It's not arguing against the existence of God, but against religion. The American Atheists need to go back to school on this one."

Martin also questioned the language used on the billboard: "And as for 'promoting hate' they're doing a bang-up job themselves with that billboard."

Terryl Givens, a Mormon professor at the University of Richmond, called American Atheists "petty and vindictive."

“If this example of adolescent silliness is what atheists mean by being reasonable, then neither Mormons nor other Christians have much to worry about," he said of the billboards. "When atheists organize to serve the poor and needy of the world, they will be taken more seriously."

CNN Belief Blog: Unbelieving preachers 'come out' as atheists

It's not the first time the American Atheists group has released in-your-face billboards. Earlier this year, the group put up two billboards in heavily Muslim and Jewish enclaves in New Jersey and New York bearing messages in Arabic and Hebrew.

“You know it’s a myth … and you have a choice,” the billboards said. At the time, Silverman said the signs were intended to reach atheists in Muslim and Jewish areas who may feel isolated because they are surrounded by believers.

In addition to the billboards, Silverman said his group plans to stage protests at both conventions.

- Dan Merica

Filed under: 2012 Election • Atheism • Barack Obama • Christianity • Mitt Romney • Mormonism • Politics

soundoff (7,477 Responses)
  1. Mark

    "When atheists organize to serve the poor and needy of the world, they will be taken more seriously."
    As an atheist, I wholeheartedly agree. We need some non-religious non-profits that benefit the underprivileged. It's fin to put up billboards, but the money would have been better spent on a non-church affiliated soup kitchen or orphanage.

    August 13, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
    • James PDX

      Ok, but only if we get huge tax breaks and are allowed to molest children without real punishment – you know, just to be fair.

      August 13, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • Peter

      Atheist do good things for all people. The difference is we are not out there beating our chests about it.

      August 13, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
    • Just the facts mam

      There are all sorts of secular charities out there.

      http://freethoughtpedia.com/wiki/Secular_charities

      The fact is that religious charities come with a hook. They will help you, but you must listen to their message if they do. They are nothing but recruiting methods that target the most vulnerable. If it were really just about helping people they would do it without the message.

      August 13, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
  2. GreenieInPA

    Mormon and Moron – just one letter difference, and that's the only difference.

    August 13, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
  3. Jack Kieser

    lol, "petty vindictiveness"? "Attacking religion, not God"? Are these people stupid? So, showing the flaws and hypocrisy of a religion on a billboard is "petty"? No: it's challenging you in a rational way, expecting you to logically defend yourself, something religion is very bad at; just because you're in an intellectually disadvantageous position, it doesn't mean any time someone challenges you it's "petty". And, if religion itself is indefensible, by extension, God is as well; why take the time to argue against one single God and have to do it all over again later when you can just argue against all religion and get the job done all at once? And, atheists can do that, so we should. Deal with it, Christians.

    August 13, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
  4. Mike

    Saddly throughout history... conflict of religion is the start of our worst wars... Yet we never learn... Iraq War... WE STILL DIDN'T LEARN. We wasted another generation...and WE STILL DIDN'T LEARN anything. Republcians doubled down on our debt in the name of freedom and look where it got us!?! RECORD deficits... yet they try to blame Obama for 2 years when they had 6 years of complete control.... But it doesn't stop there... Republicans then try to use the religion card when they accuse our President of being a muslim and implying that he was born in Kenya. Yes religion is the root of everything that is EVIL in man these days. Funny how something so "good" could be made to work in such dark, evil. and cruel ways.

    August 13, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
    • sammy47

      I suppose your alluding to the two greatest slaughters in recent history, those religious fanatics Stalin and Hitler.

      August 13, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
  5. Wes

    Can anyone explain why Obama's faith is any better for the country or worse than Romney's? If not, or if your answer isn't really that convnicing, then basically you should be supporting what this organization is trying to point out, that faith is really irrelevant to this election and should be ignored for voting purposes. That is, unless your God has given you some kind of commandment to only support those of your particular sect............

    As someone who agrees with that message, I cringe reading about their proposed billboards. I'd much rather see a billboard with some questions or legitimate argument concerning the existence of a God. These look about as bad as those religious billboards you might see on the side of the highway, the ones that say stuff like "HELL IS REAL".....

    August 13, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
  6. therealchella

    Sure, a hateful billboard like that one should be able to convince people to drop their religious beliefs. Aren't "atheists" brilliant.

    August 13, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
    • Utmu

      It's not about convincing others to drop their beliefs, it's about getting other, less vocal atheists to speak up about our position in society.

      August 13, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
  7. Vicki

    I find the whole thing amusing. I do think there is too much religon in politics. There should be none. I don't care what you believe. It doesn't matter to me so what I do or don't believe is kept to myself.

    August 13, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
  8. Wade

    Where does Jesus preach hate? So many people think the bible is one book when in fact its a series of small books with the old and new covenant. Atheist always use Old Testament verses but Christians are not Jewish. We don't follow the Old Covenant..we follow the teachings of Jesus Christ.

    August 13, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • wrong

      jesus was black, yet the KKK were christian, go figue.

      August 13, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • James PDX

      And it was Jesus Christ who said that not one word of the old laws is voided by his coming and they will remain in effect until the very end. And it doesn't matter if you follow the new or old testament. Both are based on the same god, and the god of the Old Testament is violent, hypocritical, and at least as flawed as any human being I have ever met.

      August 13, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
    • James PDX

      I should also point out that if you are not Jewish, then God doesn't love you as much as he does the Jews. God is a parent who plays favorites. Cain and Abel is another excellent example of his favoritism.

      August 13, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
  9. tacostand

    The atheists are always right for some strange reason.

    August 13, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
  10. Vance

    What a flawed and unneeded message. This type of attack only makes Atheist look bad. Much in the same way those of dogma look bad when they spout hatred and condemnation.There is a better way to convey a message. They need to learn a bit more about branding and messaging.

    August 13, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • Etalan

      their is nothing bad here, just a statement taken from their bible or book.

      August 13, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • lightwithin

      None of those statements are in the Bible. They are just distortions. Hey everyone is free to believe what they want. This is America. When we die, we will know who was right.

      August 13, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
  11. tonythecroat

    Pockets- You sound mentally Ill ? Why would you be embarrassed? That really sounds wrong and I'm embarrassed for you. Get a therapist will you! Your torment as a child isn't your fault. Atheist are the most ridiculous selfish pathetic small group of people that ever existed. If your a true atheist you would be ignoring all of this stuff instead of pushing "self sympathy" on to others. Oh Poor me "listen God I want your attention" .

    August 13, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • wrong

      I'm a Realist. Atheists and religionist argue god existence. Realist have no time for that. Engaging in a god existence would be like engaging in an easter bunny existence, pointless and not very real.

      August 13, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
  12. David Daniels

    Christianity: Sadistic God?? He Came himself in the Form of man and took upon himself the sins and penalties of the world. He spoke a message of peace in every step he took... USELESS SAVIOR??? Well isn't that a contradiction all in itself? Either I'm a savior or I'm Useless. Savior He was and is.. Still living and is creating miracles in our lives everyday. He is the doorway out of this absolutely useless existence we all now wander and through him we have the opportunity to be recreated in a more glorious image ...as HE IS so will we be. 30,000 Versions of the "truth", NOT SO... JESUS said " I am the way the truth and the life... No man comes to the father but through me".. There is no variation and it is as direct as you can get... There is only one way and it is in and THROUGH HIM... He is a gift... Don't Miss the opportunity and especially when the gift is free PAID FOR IN THE BLOOD F JESUS CHRIST... Now if you don't want the Gift or you don't care about eternity then I guess there's no reasoning with you anyway.

    August 13, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    • Howie

      If you actually believe that drivel, you are clearly not worth saving. This billboard was not directed at you, just those intelligent enough to realize that there is no such thing as eternity.

      August 13, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • James PDX

      God is perfect, all knowing and all powerful, right? That means God can do anything – perfectly. Thus whatever the end result God is going for with his creation of man could have been instantly obtained without any death or suffering, not to mention eternal damnation, with a mere thought. Therefore, God chose the path of needless death, suffering and eternal damnation and can clearly be defined as sadistic.

      August 13, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
    • Feral Urchin

      Hitler and Stalin, between them, killed perhaps 60-80 million human beings. These victims' suffering lasted individually for a few seconds to a few years. The (fundamentalist) Christian god proposes to punish billions of human beings whose suffering is claimed to last for eternity in Hell–for the "crime" of unbelief. Of these three, which is the most morally reprehensible?

      August 13, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
  13. wrong

    My consti-tutional rights are violated. My tax dollars go to religious inst-itutions in form of property tax exemptions. Grant money, out tax dollars supporting religion.. ie catholic charities receives 2.6 billion from our tax dollars, 67% of their operational cost paid for by tax payers. That means they can get more exposure for their profit making schemes. In the end, that's the same as tax payers paying the catholic church's marketing. Treat all religions as the business they are. Make them pay property taxes and quit stealing from us..

    August 13, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    • lightwithin

      Actually our church pays property taxes and waste management taxes like every other property, but we are not allowed to have our trash picked up. I don't see any fairness there. Maybe you should check your sources.

      August 13, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
    • loosewiring

      @lightwithin: No, your church does not pay property taxes. No church in the United States pays any taxes of any kind. As far as waste management "tax", that is a charge for a service provided by the government where you live. I seriously doubt that your church "isn't allowed" to have it's trash picked up.
      Atheism will be a religion when the government allows me and exemption from taxation because of what I believe.

      August 13, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
  14. Answer

    @BRC

    –sorry to put it here.. too much to scroll back. Reply to page 8 (J.W post)

    Well from the article itself.. the figure was?

    –quote–
    "The billboards go up Monday in Charlotte and will stay up for a month at a cost of roughly $15,000."
    –end–

    If you're of the same kind of argument put forth by say:

    -against investing in the space program-

    "Why should we waste this money on space while we have so much more problems here on earth" <– along this line of thinking.. then it is irrelevant isn't it?

    Now then if you're going to argue to the actual dollars spent.
    It isn't a huge amount. At $15k..

    So you're then going to question yourself.. "I see $15,000 as a huge amount."

    I would question your suggestion of what is an appropriate amount for you. So in highlight of that.. what is a good amount to not waste? This is akin to picking on a petty amount issue.

    August 13, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
    • Answer

      –quote–
      "J.W

      I agree with BRC. This group is no better than the Christians that tell you you are going to hell. This seems like the American Athests are saying that they can be more hateful than any religion.
      –end–

      So you don't like seeing the "fight fire with fire". We get it.

      I see every tool in the chest and know of it's use. I say it's a good tactic and I approve of this method. We get in their faces to show them that we are just as vocal then they are. If it means confrontation.. it will lead to something.

      If it leads to war. Bring out more tools.

      August 13, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
    • BRC

      @Answer,
      Don't think I explained myself well (was answering several things at once. I don't mind them spending money, and I certainly don't mind 15k, I take issue with what they spent it on. ANd not because they wasted someone's money (it's not mine, so it's not my issue), it wasn't the smart tactical maneuver. A billboard that says- "these beliefs are foolish" while COMPLETELY true, is antagonistic with minimal gain. My point was that there are ways that they could have spent money that would have painted their organization in a BETTER light, instead of just piling negatives onto religions.

      Like a political ad. I'd rather someone ran ads that said "here are our candidates plans and ideas, here is why they will work" over "the opponenet is a horrible puppy eating monster who wants to enslave your grandmother". I feel like the group is running negative ads, when spending 15 or 30k on publicized secular good works would be more beneficial. That's what I meant.

      August 13, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
  15. ArthurP

    Religion is what is required by people who do not have the strength of moral character to tell right from wrong.

    August 13, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
    • GreenieInPA

      Very nice.

      August 13, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
  16. SAL

    moslims don't fear death stooped , don't you watch the news dummy?

    August 13, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
    • lolol

      as a matter of fact, only agnostiscs and self-proclaim atheists fear death.

      August 13, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    • wrong

      actually you are wrong. The fear comes from religions. Religion uses fear of death on you people. Brainwashing works.

      August 13, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • Dave

      I'm stupid, but you can't figure out how to reply to a comment on a web page? I'll see your "stupid" and raise you a "moron". LOL...like your parents did.

      August 13, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • lolol

      wrong: really? I'm sure your pants would be much more wet than mine if a gangster would hold us hostage.

      August 13, 2012 at 1:13 pm |
  17. Jeepgirl

    Where does morality come from? Morality originated from faith. Faith that there was a higher power that you had to answer to. If there is no higher power, if you simply live then die and waste away – what is the point of having morals? Regardless of what anyone beleives today – our basic human morals of right and wrong derive from religion. If religion never existed we most likely would still be living in a "survival of the fittest" world. There would be no social programs – no charity. So anyone who has morals does so because of some fear of consequence, whether it be fear of god or fear of the law – not because we are just born good. Regardless of what you beleive now – you should still be thankful for the existence of religion.

    I personally beleive in a higher power – what exactly that is and how it all comes together with science, I don't know. But here's the thing, neither do you. There is not one person on earth who can prove that god or a higher power does or does not exist. Both sides are simply based on the individuals faith of what they beleive to be true. Until I can prove 100% that there is a higher power I will not try to push my beleifs on you, and until you can prove to me 100% that there is no higher power whatsoever (this is not just about the bible or any religious book for that matter but a higher power overall) then please don't force your beleifs on me. The end

    August 13, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • Etalan

      Christian Morality state you have slave, ra pe and marry woman for 50 sliver.

      August 13, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
    • Ted

      @Jeepgirl...."Where does morality come from? Morality originated from faith. " That's a pretty have statement to make. Now prove it.

      August 13, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • Ted

      Correction: ....heavy statement to make.

      August 13, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • dude

      Fear of cosmic reprisal is just one reason people might have morals. Another reason is they just think it's a good thing. Faith doesn't need to have anything to do with it.

      August 13, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • Howie

      No, faith had nothing to do with it. "morality" comes from the unspoken social contract under which we must all live in order to have functioning societies. As animals, we would appropriately try to kill each other, and eat each other's children. However, early man realized that we can all live better if we work together. In order to do that we needed a few rules to live by – don't kill each other, don't eat children, don't steal what your neighbor has, etc. That is the source of what we now call morality.

      August 13, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • Brian

      Morality is based in the fact that we're social animals. Wwe form communities and we help each other. Selfish, harmful behavior that doesn't help the community results in the community not helping us.

      August 13, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
    • James PDX

      Wrong morality originated from people realizing there were certain things they didn't want done to themselves understanding that they would have to give up doing them to others – unless they held power through either politics or religion.

      August 13, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
    • Jeepgirl

      @Etalan – I said nothing about christian morals or christian faith – I simply referred to faith in general. The faith I speak of could simply be faith in man.

      @The unspoken social contract mentioned. Neither you or I KNOW for a fact the early days of how civalization was formed. We have theories that stem from different scientific discoveries. They are just that theories – religion is a theory. You state "in order to do that we needed a few rules to live by". How did early man decide on these rules? How did we decide that stealing was wrong? In the animal kingdom – runts of the litter are often killed because they are seen as not fit to survive, animal mothers/fathers often eat their children, etc.. How did we as humans develop a conscience and decide that those things in particular are wrong? MAYBE god, the bible, religion, etc is all made up...BUT they still played a major part in development of our basic right & wrong morals.

      August 13, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
  18. wnb

    none of you have ever even researched or read a bible, clearly. The bible predicts things we didnt discover for 1000 of years....the earth is round (the writers believed it was flat and sitting on a turtle shell), it tells us to wash our hands in RUNNING water(they used a bowl...and didnt understad why sickness would spread among them), that there are springs on the ocean floor and mountains, the cycle in which it rains, and much much more i dont have time to type..to me it seems pretty silly you wouldnt look at it and think 'man, there must be something to this'... but like others said...there much more to jesus and God than this silly billboard says...and it doesnt offend me at all, because i know my God...and He is real...and hopefully yall will accept him to before your day comes...research the bible...or ATLEAST what your claiming to know before you make yourself look silly this way.

    August 13, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
    • Dave

      Most atheists know quite a bit about religion, and the ludicrous nature of it becomes increasingly clear the more you learn.

      August 13, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • GreenieInPA

      Well said, Dave.

      August 13, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • Jesus=Hero

      help me Jesus!

      August 13, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
    • Ted

      @wnb..."none of you have ever even researched or read a bible, clearly...." I am willing to bet that you have never read or researched that book yourself. You probably just repeat what you pastor told you. That's what 99.9% of christians do.

      August 13, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
    • Howie

      Ancient Greeks and Egyptians knew these things long before your book was written. they used scientific discovery to find out these truths. Much of that science was lost, a few tidbits were saved here and there, some of which ended up in your bible. Do your own research before you make any further foolish statements that make you look like an i diot.

      August 13, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
    • WASP

      @wnb: i always love the whole "and hopefully yall will accept him to before your day comes." in other words " i'm scared of the bible being true so i will make myself believe............just to be safe" i don't think your god appreciates you hedging your bets out of fear of pain for eternity.
      FYI: most atheists were once religious, hell i grew up southern baptist i just grew tired of the whole fire and brimstone sermons with the crazies running and flipping/flopping all over the place........but it was entertaining watching them however.

      August 13, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
  19. Deva

    I have always felt that, in spite of many a faults, that this Country believes in the dictum; 'Live and Let Live'. If Atheist can live in this Country; propagate their ideology and practice what they hold to as dear, so can the Christians, the Muslims, the Hindus, the Buddists, etc. etc. Why would you, or anyone for that matter, want to find fault, or criticize, or scandalize anyone. The Founding Fathers never declared that this Country is a Christian Country. No. We can all co-exist, confess, and propagate what we find to be good for us. Others can take it or leave. Would you agree that the Bill Board goes against everything that we as a Nation hold and treasure?

    August 13, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
    • Dave

      Um, no.

      August 13, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • dave

      The founding fathers didn't declare that this is a Christian country, but they did declare that it's not an atheist one (one nation under God).

      August 13, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • Dave

      And they were wrong. Founding fathers weren't perfect.

      August 13, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • GreenieInPA

      dave (with the little d) – Yo, tard. The founding fathers didn't state One Nation Under God. As a matter of fact, the Under God part wasn't added until communism became a threat to the world. Do some research, dummy.

      August 13, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
  20. Jeff

    Aethism is a religion that is even more in-your-face than Mormans. These ads simply show that all religions will go out of their way to try to force you to believe as they do.

    August 13, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
    • Dave

      It's only "in-your-face" because you don't want to hear it. This nation is biased against those without faith.

      Like it or not, there is no way to espouse Atheism (that's how you spell it, btw) without offending the believers.

      Faith is a mental illness.

      August 13, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
    • Ted

      LOL. OK Jeff, would you care to explain exactly how atheism is a religion?

      August 13, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
    • You should watch this

      [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8U_JveHS8E&w=640&h=360]

      August 13, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
    • Jduff

      In a way I agree with this. To me its only okay to say "I don't know." I think every religion is a farce because they claim to know something they will never know until they die. The only thing atheism is missing is a book full of half truths, lies, errors, discrimination, ignorance, and cruelty. If it makes one, then it can truly be a religion.

      August 13, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • Jonathan

      Atheism isn't a religion, it's an ideology. Common mistake, I know.

      August 13, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
    • lolol

      ted : you cannot prove there is no god. evidence =not proof.
      atheism : belief system.

      August 13, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • Dave

      lolol....so, I can invent something that is unprovable...like "our universe is a giant lemur", and since you can't disprove that, does that make it real?

      That is not how facts work. You cannot invent something and then use the lack of evidence against it as proof that it exists.

      August 13, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
    • dave

      One of the definitions of religion (per Webster) is: a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith.

      Stating that there is no such thing as a Higher being that created the world/universe is a faith and a belief. There is nothing to prove whether God exists or not, just theories or assumptions. The Atheists who fight against other religions through the billboards, comments here, etc. also hold that belief with ardor otherwise they wouldn't be so intent on convincing people on their beliefs of the non-existence of God.

      August 13, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
    • Dave

      No, you have it backwards. The onus is on you to show that it does exist as you believe. Otherwise, Occam's razor dictates that the simplest explanation is likely the right one, and the simplest explanation is that there is no god.

      August 13, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
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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.