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. Jonathan

    I guess the best thing about commenting on an article on the internet is that nobody feels like they can respect any one else's beliefs when if we all were talking face to face we'd at least put on a show of civility.

    January 6, 2013 at 6:36 pm |
  2. Alberto Flores

    A toast for # 2! Non-believers is a strong, growing force, making a turn-around in western society. I am available for Spanish media at:

    January 5, 2013 at 7:56 am |
  3. kevobx

    1st Corinthians 10:29 Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other: for why is my liberty judged of another man's conscience? *Galatians 5:1 STAND fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. *Exodus 18:11 Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods: for in the thing wherein they dealt proudly he was above them. *John 13:19 Now I tell you before it come, that, when it is come to pass, ye may believe that I am he.

    January 4, 2013 at 7:33 pm |
    • End Religion

      Seuss 1:1 "One fish, two fish. Red fish, blue fish."
      So it is written. Let it be done. Ramen.

      January 5, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
  4. kevobx

    The Most High is bringing back his heritage to Satan. Mankind invented culture, to worship him Satan with. Satan will turn on the wicked watch, mankind is consumed by consumption, easily distracted by what they truly love first, and that is? Do not be angry, grace and truth, the devil flees from it and hides behinds honesty and charity. Mark well. (1st Corinthians 8:6-7)

    January 4, 2013 at 4:33 pm |
    • End Religion

      No such thing as Satan. No gods either. If you're seeing imaginary creatures you may want to have a brain scan.

      January 5, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
  5. kevobx

    Love truth, hate opinions why because there is only one opinion that counts! *Job 32:10-11 Therefore I said, Hearken to me; I also will shew mine opinion. Behold, I waited for your words; I gave ear to your reasons, whilst ye searched out what to say. *Isaiah 41:21 Produce your cause, saith the Lord; bring forth your strong reasons, saith the King of Jacob. *Matthew 9:4 And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts? (*1st Kings 18:21)

    January 4, 2013 at 3:56 pm |
  6. kevobx

    What is the difference between Adam Lanza and Bin Laden? One kills children and his mother. The other supposely murdered thousands from a cave, using his own intelligence. Who is more wicked? No questions ask because money answers all things. The grave cannot praise thee. (Isaiah 38:18) The Most High is watching

    January 4, 2013 at 3:37 pm |
    • End Religion

      Nutters attempting to think while on peyote cannot be a good thing. Stay off drugs, kids, or you'll end up with religion.

      January 5, 2013 at 12:20 pm |
  7. laststonecarver

    The conflict between established religions and atheism is always dealt with remedially. Like the situation of remedial medicine. There is some illness or broken bones that must be fixed, and certain med techs have that cure, or those splints that can aid the afflicted. With religion there are ill or broken spirits, and so in come the religion EMTs, replete with service to accomodate however much one can afford to make that spirit healthy. The atheists are not exempt, their spirit can be afflicted also. But isn't a spirit a religious? Like Team Spirit or Esprit de Corps? I guess not.
    You can start at the end, and try to muddle your way back through this (Religion) conflict, dissecting old bones from past battles, or maybe you could make a new start, by just trying to understand how you, yourself have evolved to believe in santa claus or the tooth fairy. I know I did, in my youth.
    Part of this whole conflict is about the power of a group (Even to the heads of state), who repress/oppress those not of that group. That that oppression involves indoctrinization and sometimes brainwashing to affect desired results, being particularly played on indefensible youth. And yes atheism in certain countries.
    These are some of the afflictions and broken spirit bones.
    Those who do not learn from history, are forced to repeat it. And WE ALL are repeating it.
    To break the cycle of repeating, there must be Change. There must be a change in thought deliberation, in decision making process. Or everyone can just keep picking through the old battlefields for treasures, relics, spirits, blah, blah, and blah...

    January 4, 2013 at 6:30 am |
  8. Salero21

    Atheists are a horde of fuzzy heads, a troop of baboons, a pack of rabid wolves.

    Jesus did not call Himself the Good Shepherd for nothing. HE knew of the atheists, so way in advance He called them howling canines and swine.

    January 3, 2013 at 10:32 pm |
    • Reality

      The Apostles'/Agnostics' Creed 2013: (updated by yours truly and based on the studies of 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 descent into Hell, 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)

      January 3, 2013 at 11:41 pm |
  9. Salero21

    The GRAMMAR GESTAPO OF THE INTERNET is probably made-up of atheists. In other words atheists are the GRAMMAR GESTAPO OF THE INTERNET.

    January 3, 2013 at 10:26 pm |
    • End Religion

      Hey look, we get it. You get tired of people pointing out that your intelligence, ability to spell and use the English language is rivaled by the average 7 year old. You have the power to change that. Hint: it isn't by calling us Nazis.

      January 4, 2013 at 7:23 am |
  10. Salero21

    === o ===
    LOL 😀 😀

    You're desperate trying to figure out something that's way above and beyond your simple and common understanding. That's why atheists are like a troop of baboons. If an ape could understand, he would understand before and better than you. You must be a descendant of some sort of amoeba, but that's what happens to fuzzyheaded atheists.

    January 3, 2013 at 10:21 pm |
  11. Salero21

    See the thing is that this is a belief blog, but atheist who claim to hold to unbelief act like if they want to make it their own. I been told by one of this feeble minded atheist to go away. Now is it not that a stupid thing to say?

    After all if atheists hold to a non-belief set system of ideologies, that's their right. If they want they can have their blog, but to pretend with arrogance to tell people of faith, to people who hold belief to go away from a belief blog is extreme arrogance, petulance and stupidity.

    January 3, 2013 at 9:54 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      You chucklehead. The reason people tell you to go away is that your posts are dreck and you are full of sh!t.

      January 3, 2013 at 9:57 pm |
    • == o ==

      The only kind of "trickle-down" that actually works:

      "david defrank" degenerates to:
      "Salero21" degenerates to:
      "felix navidad" degenerates to:
      "pervert alert" degenerates to:
      "Taskmaster" degenerates to:
      "Ronald Regonzo" degenerates to:
      "truth be told" degenerates to:
      "Atheism is not healthy ..." degenerates to:
      "tina" degenerates to:
      "captain america" degenerates to:
      "just sayin" degenerates to:
      "nope" degenerates to:
      "WOW" degenerates to:
      and many other names, but of course we all know this resident idiot as
      the disgruntled ex Evangelical Fortune Cookie Co. writer wannabe.

      January 3, 2013 at 9:58 pm |
    • Salero21

      tom tom the dumbest son

      It may take one to know another.

      January 3, 2013 at 10:13 pm |
  12. oh brother.

    I've learned that belief blog posters either don't understand metaphors or just enjoy the sadism of translating them literally.

    Incase you missed this from another thread...

    [met-uh-fawr, -fer] Show IPA

    a figure of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable in order to suggest a resemblance, as in “A mighty fortress is our God.” Compare mixed metaphor, simile ( def 1 ) .

    something used, or regarded as being used, to represent something else; emblem; symbol.


    1525–35; < Latin metaphora < Greek metaphorá a transfer, akin to metaphérein to transfer. See meta-, -phore

    January 3, 2013 at 7:11 pm |
    • I wonder

      Not sure who you're addressing this to, but it is one of the reasons that there are over 30,000 denominations of Christianity - dispute over whether something in the Bible is metaphor or real... and if metaphor, what does it signify. These 'gems' would stem from a stupid poor-communicator god, or from a trickster one.

      January 3, 2013 at 7:18 pm |
    • I wonder

      p.s. or more likely, from bumbling men...

      January 3, 2013 at 7:22 pm |
    • End Religion

      My lack of understanding of metaphor is my Achilles Heel.

      January 3, 2013 at 7:43 pm |
    • Salero21

      Like if atheists are a troop of baboons or like the monkeys in the barrel or a pack of rabid wolves.

      What is not a metaphor or a simile is that atheists are a horde of fuzzyheaded people. The GRAMMAR GESTAPO OF THE INTERNET appears to be atheist.

      January 3, 2013 at 9:43 pm |
    • == o ==

      The only kind of "trickle-down" that actually works:

      "david defrank" degenerates to:
      "Salero21" degenerates to:
      "felix navidad" degenerates to:
      "pervert alert" degenerates to:
      "Taskmaster" degenerates to:
      "Ronald Regonzo" degenerates to:
      "truth be told" degenerates to:
      "Atheism is not healthy ..." degenerates to:
      "tina" degenerates to:
      "captain america" degenerates to:
      "just sayin" degenerates to:
      "nope" degenerates to:
      "WOW" degenerates to:
      and many other names, but of course we all know this resident idiot as
      the disgruntled ex Evangelical Fortune Cookie Co. writer wannabe.

      January 3, 2013 at 9:48 pm |
    • ME II

      Is not the Bible a metaphor for one kind of societal/ethical structure?
      Why must it be taken literally, in any aspect?

      January 5, 2013 at 12:41 pm |
  13. jknbtjknbt

    hmmm...my goofy pc kicked me out....I was trying to say:

    a big THANKS to you and cnn for letting the discussions flow so freely on your site...this is the best and liveliest blog on the web...good job!

    January 3, 2013 at 12:40 pm |
  14. jknbtjknbt

    A big THANKS!

    January 3, 2013 at 12:38 pm |
  15. laststonecarver

    All religion is decision making process, but not all decision making process is religion –
    Take some time and learn how you decide, how you process your decision making –
    One way to accomplish it is through religion, but please keep in mind, not the ONLY WAY.
    How you Decide can affect others. Besides what you do to yourselves, you also may disasterously affect others, who are not enabled with your vast intellectual capabilities.
    It is always extremely gratifying to anyone, that they have figured out some great enigma, by their own thought process.
    It is most times more difficult, to help them figure it out, without them ever being made aware of your assistance,
    So how fine is your mind, your mind over this (Religion) matter?

    January 3, 2013 at 10:55 am |
  16. Dyslexic doG

    Thanks Dan. I hope that by the time you retire from your labor, more of the world looks upon God and Religion as we presently look upon Zeus, Apollo, Venus ... and Santa and the Tooth Fairy for that matter. I hope that the future will back up the words of deGràsse Tyson: "God is an ever receeding pocket of scientific ignorance."

    January 3, 2013 at 9:28 am |
    • Agnostic

      Anti-theism is so bizarre to me. Do you realize this debate has been going on for thousands of years? Beyond that, if and when you accomplish your goals it wont be much longer until you, yourself no longer exist and therefore can not enjoy the completely irrelevant irreligious haven you worked to create.

      January 3, 2013 at 4:39 pm |
    • End Religion

      Theism was nice for a time. It had its horrors and its benefits. Now it not only holds back our progress but threatens to send us back into an age of ignorance. Enjoy sitting the fence while we drag the theist cretins into the future kicking and screaming. Hopefully we can survive religion's "love and tolerance" as it disintegrates.

      January 3, 2013 at 7:33 pm |
  17. Amelia

    I've learned that there is a person on this board whose posts both annoy and intrigue me at the same time. This poster is bitter, but their is a true sweetness lying just below the bitter antagonism. They keep me reading.

    I've learned that there is a different poster whose posts are nothing more to me than an agonizing eyesore.

    January 3, 2013 at 7:51 am |
    • End Religion

      I'm here to keep you happy, Amelia.

      January 3, 2013 at 7:33 pm |
  18. nope

    #6 – How to make stuff up.

    January 3, 2013 at 5:20 am |
    • yep!

      And how to get a high paid job by it.

      January 3, 2013 at 9:24 am |
    • yep!

      Must have been #7.

      January 3, 2013 at 9:26 am |
  19. I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

    Good luck Dan.

    January 2, 2013 at 7:25 pm |
  20. dangeroustalk

    Retrospective: Atheism in 2012 – http://t.co/pC2spz5T

    January 2, 2013 at 7:24 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.