My Take: 5 things I learned editing the Belief Blog
December 31st, 2012
06:00 PM ET

My Take: 5 things I learned editing the Belief Blog

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

(CNN) - Monday is my last day at CNN.com, so it's a good time to reflect on what I’ve learned as religion editor here these past three years.

The CNN Belief Blog will continue to go strong under the leadership of Eric Marrapodi, with whom I’ve been lucky to co-edit the blog since 2010. I’m off to National Geographic, where I’ll be director of digital news.

Five things I’ve learned as religion editor at CNN.com:

1.) The faith/meaning angles off breaking news can yield meaningful, important stories - even when it feels a little weird to do them. The recent Newtown school massacre offers a case in point: We wrote about people grappling with the question “Where was God?” in the tragedy’s aftermath on the same day the shooting happened. The approach might have been dismissed as “fluffy” in other newsrooms (and one college professor hung up on me when I explained what I was writing about), but exploring that question got to one of the most keenly felt sentiments among those in Newtown and among people watching the news from anywhere. Trying to make sense of seemingly senseless deaths and suffering is a fundamental human struggle. It helps explain why our piece quickly collected nearly 8,000 comments. People want to talk about belief, spirituality and the meaning of life - including when it appears that all hell has broken loose.

2.) The explosion of people with no religion will be a huge story in this century, and the news media have only begun to explore its many implications. CNN reporter Dan Merica has led the news media pack in reporting on what the growth of “religious nones” means for American politics and for the burgeoning movement of activist atheists, which represents only a small portion of those with no religion. There are countless other stories to be found among the tens of millions of religious “nones” - about making meaning, tradition and ethics in a post-religious existence. These stories won’t be provoked by press releases. If you’re a religious “none,” speak up. Let the news media know what we should be covering in your world.

3.) Religion reporting shouldn’t be an inside game. “We believe that understanding the role of faith in today’s world isn’t optional or nice to know,” we wrote in our inaugural Belief Blog post, in May 2010. “It’s need to know.” That was true again for many of 2012’s biggest stories, for which understanding forces of faith and faithlessness were crucial to understanding the nominees for president, reactions to July’s deadly Aurora, Colorado, shooting and Whitney Houston’s funeral. You don’t have to be religious to think religion stories matter; you just have to be curious about the way the world works. I believe that more now than I did when we launched the Belief Blog.

4.) The news media isn’t anti-religion. You hear that from some religious people, particularly those on the political right. Truth is, news organizations such as CNN are fascinated by religion because it yields stories brimming with meaning, controversy and powerful characters. But the religion beat can scare off reporters because it can be so daunting (if you’re a non-Mormon, try wrapping your mind around the Mormon practice of posthumous proxy baptism in time to meet a 5 o’clock deadline). And yet so many CNN Belief stories were born when CNNers across the organization asked basic questions such as, “Will the Catholic presidential candidates don ashes for an Ash Wednesday debate?” and “Why don’t we explain why some American Muslim women wear the hijab?” Many other religion stories came from CNNers who volunteered ideas from their own religious subcultures. CNN forces working against religion coverage? I never encountered any.

5.) In the world of digital journalism, your voice matters more than ever. With the proliferation of reader comments, social media and instantaneous metrics on what our audiences are clicking and how they’re responding, your choices and opinions are shaping our coverage more than ever. Some of our best content from the last year was more about conversations happening around the news than about the news itself. We choose to do certain stories and skip others partly based on whether you’re engaged in those stories or not. Use your power wisely.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief

soundoff (243 Responses)
  1. I'm a looser and I have issues

    And I'm not sorry about it in any way shape or form. It's part of being human. I think anyone who wants to dedicate time to posting about beliefs and lurking here probably has issues as well because I know what is looking back at me in the mirror. Welcome to humanity.

    Life is short...really short.

    Enjoy yourself and have fun. Be happy. If you never go crazy you've missed your chance.


    January 2, 2013 at 4:56 pm |
    • *

      * loser (not looser)

      January 2, 2013 at 5:06 pm |
  2. ???????????

    Does National Geographic have a belief blog??

    January 2, 2013 at 1:53 pm |
    • Carbon-14

      See comments @ Reality below

      January 2, 2013 at 3:14 pm |
  3. ???????????

    The F-35 Jo-int Strike Fighter is the newest fighter plane set to enter the U.S. ar-senal. some might think this is g-od

    January 2, 2013 at 1:48 pm |
  4. A. Larry Ross

    Kudos to Dan Gilgoff for extending the meaning of messages of faith in individual lives and their ongoing relevance to our culture on his watch with CNN Belief Blog, and props to Eric Marrapodi as he takes the con and continues to report on the "good news behind the bad news" in our world.

    January 2, 2013 at 1:00 pm |
    • Helena Brantley

      Dan, thank you for helping to make the CNN Belief Blog a place that I have and will continue to turn for relevant news and perspective about the latest religion issues and topics of the day. Good luck at National Geographic.

      January 2, 2013 at 1:47 pm |
  5. SB1790

    Interesting listening. It's a radio interview. So maybe the Big Foot believers aren't as far out in left field as once thought. And maybe the origins of humans isn't so linear as thought. We certainly aren't the first intelligent hominids. Previous hominids made tools, art and clothing. It would be outstanding if presently we did find a living intelligent hominid that was somewhat on par with us. http://www.sott.net/article/255336-Dr-Melba-Ketchum-on-the-background-to-her-Bigfoot-DNA-research

    January 2, 2013 at 11:42 am |
  6. $$$$$$$

    Read this the other day.....
    what is good about $$$$$$$ and science is it is the truth no matter if you want to believe it or not.

    January 2, 2013 at 9:35 am |
  7. Numbers Do Not Lie

    @a cross
    Looks like the program is working.
    Like the numbers.. Numbers do not lie.

    January 2, 2013 at 9:20 am |
  8. Colin Morgan

    If someone wants to believe in god, have at it. I'll continue to seek guidance from the sock monkey sitting on my dresser.

    January 2, 2013 at 9:06 am |
  9. Reasonable

    The hundred thousand dollar question we all have to ask ourselves is, do people have a right to their own thoughts?

    Theory of mind is the ability to attribute mental states—beliefs, intents, desires, pretending, knowledge, etc.—to oneself and others and to understand that others have beliefs, desires, and intentions that are different from one's own.[1]

    January 2, 2013 at 6:39 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      64 thousand dollar question I'd say

      January 2, 2013 at 1:04 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Sorry, missed the "hundred" precursor to you statement. I meant to ratify and endorse what you are saying.

      January 2, 2013 at 1:05 pm |
    • Reasonable

      Thank you, Bill. I've enjoyed your posts as well.

      January 2, 2013 at 4:49 pm |
  10. bonjourno

    whatever you believe i assure you this, KARMA IS REAL & EVERYBODY GETS THERES! MERRY CHRISTMAS!

    January 2, 2013 at 6:18 am |
    • Athy

      Theirs, not theres.

      January 2, 2013 at 5:33 pm |
  11. Reality

    Only for the eyes of Mr. Gilgoff since he apparently did not see it the first time:

    Putting the kibosh on all religion in less than ten seconds: Priceless !!!

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated/reborn Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    Added details available upon written request

    January 1, 2013 at 11:34 pm |
    • Going upstream

      as far as one knows or can tell, there was no Adam, so humanity has no foundation too I suppose. that's too bad. I could have sworn that we exist and have meaning.

      January 2, 2013 at 3:41 am |
    • Reality

      As per National Geographic's Genographic project:

      " DNA studies suggest that all humans today descend from a group of African ancestors who about 60,000 years ago began a remarkable journey. Follow the journey from them to you as written in your genes”.

      "Adam" is the common male ancestor of every living man. He lived in Africa some 60,000 years ago, which means that all humans lived in Africa at least at that time.

      Unlike his Biblical namesake, this Adam was not the only man alive in his era. Rather, he is unique because his descendents are the only ones to survive.

      It is important to note that Adam does not literally represent the first human. He is the coalescence point of all the genetic diversity."

      For your $199 and a DNA swab:

      "Included in the markers we will test for is a subset that scientists have recently determined to be from our hominin cousins, Neanderthals and the newly discovered Denisovans, who split from our lineage around 500,000 years ago. As modern humans were first migrating out of Africa more than 60,000 years ago, Neanderthals and Denisovans were still alive and well in Eurasia. It seems that our ancestors met, leaving a small genetic trace of these ancient relatives in our DNA. With Geno 2.0, you will learn if you have any Neanderthal or Denisovan DNA in your genome."

      More details:


      "Our spe-cies is an African one: Africa is where we first ev-olved, and where we have spent the majority of our time on Earth. The earliest fos-sils of recognizably modern Ho-mo sapiens appear in the fossil record at Omo Kibish in Ethiopia, around 200,000 years ago. Although earlier fossils may be found over the coming years, this is our best understanding of when and approximately where we originated.

      According to the genetic and paleontological record, we only started to leave Africa between 60,000 and 70,000 years ago. What set this in motion is uncertain, but we think it has something to do with major climatic shifts that were happening around that time—a sudden cooling in the Earth’s climate driven by the onset of one of the worst parts of the last Ice Age. This cold snap would have made life difficult for our African ancestors, and the genetic evidence points to a sharp reduction in population size around this time. In fact, the human population likely dropped to fewer than 10,000. We were holding on by a thread.

      Once the climate started to improve, after 70,000 years ago, we came back from this near-extinction event. The population expanded, and some intrepid explorers ventured beyond Africa. The earliest people to colonize the Eurasian landma-ss likely did so across the Bab-al-Mandab Strait separating present-day Yemen from Djibouti. These early beachcombers expanded rapidly along the coast to India, and reached Southeast Asia and Australia by 50,000 years ago. The first great foray of our species beyond Africa had led us all the way across the globe."

      January 2, 2013 at 6:54 am |
    • A Cross

      @Reality 23andME and National Geographic are partners now.
      M-y wife and I recently signed up for 23.anadem, which analyzes a sample of ones DNA. It is useful for identifying potential health risks, and tracing an.cestry. My own ancestry, through the genes, was mun.dane My wife had a remarkable ge.netic make up, which includes 3percent gen.etic material which is N-eanderthal. She is Ja-panese, with Sp-anish, French, Sl-avic, and South American na-tive (think Inca) background. But several thousand years ago (note this; it must have occurred well before 8000 years ago which creationists believe was about the time that g-od created man), a very distant ancestor of hers m-ated with a N-eanderthal. I know this is hard to believe, it is hard for me to believe, but this is true, and should cause some of you to think, as it has caused me to do. For those who wonder what this cross looks like – she is beautiful

      January 2, 2013 at 8:44 am |
    • BaZinga

      @ a cross
      Looks like it works !

      January 2, 2013 at 9:13 am |
    • New human species

      New human species

      Neanderthals and hobbits aren't the only species that may have coexisted with modern humans. Scientists in southwest China have discovered the bizarrely shaped skulls of a possible new human species called the Red Deer Cave People that existed until the end of the ice age, about 11,000 years ago. The odd skeletons had prominent jaws and jutting cheekbones, and middling-sized brains more commonly seen in human ancestors from hundreds of thousands of years ago.

      January 2, 2013 at 11:17 am |
  12. kevobx

    The tree of life, and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. *Exodus 15:26 for I am the Lord that healeth thee. (Diseases). Find even, you found the devil (Luke 19:32) do not worship him Satan on the seventh day? *Exodus 16:27-28 And it came to pass, that there went out some of the people on the seventh day for to gather, and they found none. And the Lord said unto Moses, How long refuse ye to keep my commandments and my laws? *Genesis 2:3 And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made. *Exodus 16:30 So the people rested on the seventh day.

    January 1, 2013 at 11:25 pm |
    • == o ==

      I hope you don't think all of that is true.

      January 1, 2013 at 11:29 pm |
  13. abell2live

    Reblogged this on Abell2Live and commented:
    I thought these insights were interesting especially the last one. Perhaps it is the most important reason to be blogging and tweeting.

    January 1, 2013 at 11:11 pm |
  14. kevobx

    The no man cannot answer this question, are Cubans called latinos? Puerto Rico is a country, they refused to be called a state, like the state of Israel was established in 1948 on UN principalitiesPuerto Rico is located in the caribbean, how did they become Latin as in (America). South America is considered West Indies territory. Hispanic is a generic term for Puerto Ricans, like the word colored represents one being black. What political party is after the Puerto Ricans votes, no man wants the caribbean votes, why? Biblically speaking Joseph's sons are Manasseh (Cubans) and Ephraim (Puerto Ricans). The truth sets one free. Whoever buys and sells the truth, is calling the Most High a liar.

    January 1, 2013 at 10:04 pm |
  15. Brian N.

    What I've noticed is you see an atheist go up to a believer and address them wanting to challenge his belief, or take his belief away.

    Then the believer automatically assumes that because an atheist is talking to him about belief, he must want to have a belief.

    An atheist doesn't want my belief, I don't want to have my belief taken away...so that's it. Nothing to talk about on the belief front.

    January 1, 2013 at 9:36 pm |
    • ramaus

      Like the little kids that have a belief in the tooth fairy. They want to keep that belief also. Nobody is stopping you.

      January 2, 2013 at 4:56 pm |
    • Joanne

      The derogatory use of the word "tooth fairy" shows contempt for the religious person posting. It also assumes that he does not have a reason behind his ideas. If someone is maintaining a belief there is a reason behind why they are doing so. People question their own beleifs and they do so without assistance.

      January 3, 2013 at 5:13 am |
  16. kevobx

    Peace and safety pride and prosperity is the faith of the world, their false gods. God is the I as in I am he. Mankind is the eye, his beastly image is on the back of a dollar bill, because God is one odd. *1st Corinthians 8:6-7 But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him. Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: *Zechariah 14:9 And the Lord shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one Lord, and his name one.

    January 1, 2013 at 8:56 pm |
  17. kevobx

    The rich have many friends and it's called do me a favor! *Luke 2:52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man. *Luke 17:5 And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith. *John 3:30 He must increase, but I must decrease. *James 2:6 But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? (*Zephaniah 1:18*)

    January 1, 2013 at 5:52 pm |
    • kevbox

      Religion is despicable.

      Now, stop your buybull quote stuffing on this blog or we'll rake your sorry believer ass over the Leviticus coals, moron.

      January 1, 2013 at 5:59 pm |
    • oh yay look its herbie talking to himself again............................................................


      January 1, 2013 at 6:01 pm |
    • Scientologist

      How DARE you ALL NOT believe in Xenu!...no man, seriously. I'm just kidding. 😉

      January 2, 2013 at 5:30 am |
    • Joanne

      It is a public blog and as a third party reading I am less offended by someone's spiritual ideas than I am by the use of insults against another poster.

      January 3, 2013 at 5:29 am |
    • End Religion

      Joanne, if you're sensitive this isn't the blog for you.

      January 3, 2013 at 7:40 pm |
  18. As always

    I don't mind what you believe. I don't mind what you don't believe. I mind, if you mind what I believe or don't believe.

    January 1, 2013 at 5:38 pm |
    • ramaus

      I don't mind what you believe as long as you:

      don't teach it to my kids in school,
      force my government to endorse it,
      don't put it on my coin,
      don't place it in my national anthem,
      don't make me wait while you spout it before a meeting,
      interfere with my insurance benefits,
      code it into law,


      And remember – Faith and Science are opposites, not equivalent.

      January 2, 2013 at 5:06 pm |
    • As always

      For the record, I'm new age. The last time I checked my spirit guide wasn't on the national dollar or the classroom. But as always....silent but present and accounted for.

      January 2, 2013 at 6:20 pm |
    • Joanne

      People always ask "deal" in there as though we all must wait to have thoughts in our head until government has met the list of demands stated by the person listing his demand.

      January 3, 2013 at 5:24 am |
  19. oli

    God works through angry people, too. Reading through some posts – I'm glad I am in a group of true love today. Thanks, haters, for showing me what i'm truly missing out on.

    January 1, 2013 at 5:24 pm |
    • kevbox

      Christianity is all about hate, bigotry, and guilt, and Christian god of the bible clearly represents that. Chosen people, my ass.

      January 1, 2013 at 6:00 pm |
    • The Truth

      kevbox is all about hate, bigotry, and guilt, and doesn't demonstrate free thinking very well. Not delusional, my ass.

      January 1, 2013 at 6:15 pm |
    • sam

      Thanks for coming along to be holier than thou!

      January 1, 2013 at 8:18 pm |
  20. kevobx

    Satan provides the world with all of it's things to us. Enter into the kingdom of God first, his word and receive all things afterwards. (Genesis 9:3) Why is the world glorifying Paul over Jesus Christ himself *1st Corinthians 3:21-22 Therefore let no man glorying in men. For all things are yours; Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; *Revelation 22:7 Behold I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book. *Galatians 1:12 For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.

    January 1, 2013 at 5:22 pm |
    • bull


      January 1, 2013 at 5:56 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.