Godless mom strikes a chord with parents
A CNN iReport essay on raising kids without God draws record-breaking number of comments.
January 18th, 2013
06:32 PM ET

Godless mom strikes a chord with parents

By Daphne Sashin, CNN

Deborah Mitchell remembers the time, when her boys were younger, and another mom asked her about her religious beliefs.

Mitchell was raised Catholic but moved away from religion in her early 20s. She told the other mother that she didn’t go to church and didn’t even really believe in God.

Then, she says, the recruiting started.

“She used to call my house and tell me she was praying for me. She’d leave me messages and leave cards in my mailbox with scripture,” Mitchell says. “I do realize that she meant well, but at the same time, I know my views were seen as wrong. I needed to be ‘saved.’”

Mitchell, a mother of two teenagers in Texas who feels “immersed in Christianity,” started a blog about raising her children without religion because she felt frustrated and marginalized. She didn’t want to feel so alone, she says.

This week, she gained a whole new audience and the reassurance that she's not alone. Her essay on CNN iReport, “Why I Raise My Children Without God,” drew 650,000 page views, the second highest for an iReport, and the most comments of any submission on the citizen journalism platform.

It starts:

When my son was around 3 years old, he used to ask me a lot of questions about heaven. Where is it? How do people walk without a body? How will I find you? You know the questions that kids ask.

For over a year, I lied to him and made up stories that I didn’t believe about heaven. Like most parents, I love my child so much that I didn’t want him to be scared. I wanted him to feel safe and loved and full of hope. But the trade-off was that I would have to make stuff up, and I would have to brainwash him into believing stories that didn’t make sense, stories that I didn’t believe either.

Mitchell posted the essay detailing her seven reasons for raising her children without God on CNN iReport because she felt there wasn’t anyone else speaking for women or moms like her. As she sees it, children should learn to do the right things because they will feel better about themselves, not because God is watching. She asks questions like: If there was a good, all-knowing, all-powerful God, why would he allow murders, child abuse and torture?

Lots of people disagreed with her. Tons. They flagged her iReport as inappropriate and criticized CNN for linking to her essay on the CNN.com homepage. But there were plenty of others who wrote thoughtful rebuttals, respectfully disagreeing with Mitchell while not foisting their own beliefs on her. Take, for instance, a Methodist dad, who said faith can be hard to nail down, but “not to avail ourselves of the power of something we don't completely understand is silly.”

Others said Mitchell presented a simplistic view of religion.

“Presentations such as these seem to ignore a substantial percentage of believers - well-educated, compassionate, liberal folk, Christian and non-Christian alike - who, I feel, are able to worship without being blind to the realities of the world, or without lying to their children about their understanding of these complexities,” wrote commenter RMooradian. “I'll be raising my children with God, but I understand those who cannot!”

But Mitchell’s essay also struck a chord with hundreds of like-minded parents raising children in a world where lack of belief puts them in the minority, often even in their own family.

“Thank you for writing this. I agree with everything you say, but I’m not brave enough to tell everyone I know this is how I feel,” a woman who called herself an “agnostic mommy of two in Alabama” posted in the comments. “Thank you for your bravery and letting me know I’m not alone.”

It’s a growing group. One in five Americans is not affiliated with any religion, and that number has grown by 25% in the past five years, according to a survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Of that group, 88% said they were not looking for religion, although 68% of the unaffiliated said they believe in God. 

Brittany Branyon, an American graduate student and substitute teacher living in Germany, was also compelled to express her thanks to Mitchell. Branyon was raised Southern Baptist in Georgia and Alabama. In high school, when she began to question the theory of creation and befriended gay and lesbian students, she says her mother tried to perform an exorcism.

“She opened all the windows and doors in the house, brought me to the door, held my shoulders and shook me while screaming, ‘Satan, get out of this child!’, ‘Satan, leave this child alone!’.”

After moving away from the South, she and her husband “became more comfortable in our secular ways,” but still take criticism from family members. They are now expecting their first child.

“Though we are elated to welcome our child into the world, we can’t help but dread the religious uproar that is to come from our families,” she wrote in an e-mail.

Such an uproar is familiar to Carol Phillips, a stay-at-home mother in northern Virginia. When she gave birth to her first child, she said her family was shocked that the baby wasn’t baptized. She said her mother-in-law cried and told her the little girl’s soul would not go to heaven.

Then there are the comments from strangers. Last year, Phillips said she and her daughter were at a birthday party when a tornado warning sounded.

“We were all in the basement keeping safe. A little girl was saying baby Jesus will keep us safe. My daughter asked who Jesus was. The rest of the time was spent hearing ‘I'll pray for you sweetie, we can take you to church with us if you want,’” Phillips told CNN.

Commenting on Mitchell’s iReport, Phillips said, “To live out loud and to speak freely about my beliefs brings many clucking tongues. I would think it’s easier to come out as gay than atheist.”

Mitchell said she spent years studying the history of religion and does believe it has “an important place in our community.” She has told her children that she’ll be fine if they decide to join a church when they are older.

She ended her essay:

I understand why people need God. I understand why people need heaven. It is terrifying to think that we are all alone in this universe, that one day we—along with the children we love so much—will cease to exist. The idea of God and an afterlife gives many of us structure, community and hope.

I do not want religion to go away. I only want religion to be kept at home or in church where it belongs. It’s a personal effect, like a toothbrush or a pair of shoes. It’s not something to be used or worn by strangers. I want my children to be free not to believe and to know that our schools and our government will make decisions based on what is logical, just and fair—not on what they believe an imaginary God wants.

After her post ran on CNN, Mitchell said she was encouraged by the number of people who agreed with her, or who disagreed but wanted to have a respectful discussion.

“I’m not saying that everybody should think how I do. I’m saying the people that do should have a place in our society and have acceptance and respect,” she said. “I just want to have children grow up and be able to not be afraid to say ‘I don’t believe that,’ or ‘I’m not part of that.’” 

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Atheism • Belief • Christianity • iReport

soundoff (15,081 Responses)
  1. Frank T. Lavandier

    Three points. 1st question – what year is it? Response – 2013. How did you arrive at that date? I'll have to get back to you on that one. 2nd question – If a person's faith in God is wrongheaded and Darwin's evolution is right, how do we arrive at the right answer. Response – Darwin had a death bed faith based conversion; although, we don't like to talk about that much these days; and there is always the challenging question for followers of Darwin – how do we explain the transformation of the butterfly. I'll get back to you on that one too. 3rd question – why do so many people speak about and actively engage in fervent prayer in times of trouble, but scoff at it when times are good. Response – I think the response to that one is even obvious to the frog of Darwin's camp.

    God bless.


    January 21, 2013 at 8:28 pm |
    • End Religion

      One would think sin lying is a Top 10 Sin, religious folks wouldn't do it so often. Darwin conversion debunked...

      January 21, 2013 at 8:32 pm |
    • TheVocalAtheist

      Hey Frankfurter!

      Cite your source for the deathbed confession please

      January 21, 2013 at 8:33 pm |
    • End Religion

      ...since lying...

      January 21, 2013 at 8:33 pm |
    • J

      so am I to believe from this that the miniature poodle just appeared one day out of the blue at the command of god? Genetic selection is the basis of evolution, as proven by dairy cows and miniature goats everywhere.

      January 21, 2013 at 8:34 pm |
    • End Religion

      Frank must have skipped that day in elementary school when they talk about butterflies. I'm trying to figure out how you found this blog but couldn't google your elementary school questions.

      January 21, 2013 at 8:36 pm |
  2. discouraged bystupidity

    Oh I forgot to mention that I also have a smug photo, with a knowing smile, I can submit, Ill be waiting my phone...

    January 21, 2013 at 8:28 pm |
  3. perspective

    Notice that there is Allah, Shiva, Thor, etc. Every human society has developed religion. why is that? Atheism is short sided.

    January 21, 2013 at 8:27 pm |
    • J

      Because people are universally afraid of the dark.

      January 21, 2013 at 8:30 pm |
  4. Oregon Granny

    If "In God We Trust" is on our money, why are we worried about the National Debt? Just let God take care of it, or let God print some more so we can spend more. Also, why did the Eisenhower Republicans add "Under God" to our Pledge of Allegiance. Those words were not there when I was in grade school. This whole country is screwed if we think some God can fix our problems. I don't say the words "under god" either, I think that is so vain to think our country would be favored by some supernatural being over some other country. Either pledge your allegiance to this country or not. Just leave "god" out of it.

    January 21, 2013 at 8:26 pm |
    • JustTheFacts

      Oregon Granny, only a fool would pledge their allegiance to a man who cannot save them from hell. Only God can save you from hell. Once you are there, no man can get you out. So better to trust God than man...

      January 21, 2013 at 8:33 pm |
  5. Correctlycenter

    Atheists: Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and many of the Roman Emperors would ALL agree with you and think that Christ and His followers were a real problem. How many hundreds of millions did these butchers throughout the centuries murder? They wanted to remove God and be gods...

    January 21, 2013 at 8:26 pm |
    • TheVocalAtheist

      Educate yourself, your a disgrace to humanity.

      January 21, 2013 at 8:27 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Oh, shove it, Tubetop. You're not even original, much less believable or accurate.

      Go post on a site that tolerates morons. You know, one like World Nut Daily.

      January 21, 2013 at 8:28 pm |
    • sam stone

      they were killed over athiesm, corruptlycenter. they were killed because those folks you mentioned were totalitarian dictators and the churches threated their power.

      January 21, 2013 at 8:56 pm |
    • sam stone

      tom tom: corruptlycenter goes by another moniker?

      January 21, 2013 at 8:58 pm |
  6. fred

    Tom Tom
    I could argue that the various miracles and answered prayers I hang my hat on are possible in the absence of God. I could also argue that a few things I have seen may well have been an illusion. I could also argue that the Holy Spirit is simply the welling up of strength that resides within the potential of man. I could argue that Jesus just happen to have a message people wanted to hear and Saul carried the torch that lit up the World as we still know it today with a hope. That hope just happen to be much the same as the hope Abraham had.
    I guess I would not know how to live without that hope. I would not know what to place my hope in. Putting hope in man or the things of man brings death and without an eternal record it all eventually is meaningless. That would mean a lot of beauty and awe inspiring moments and events are meaningless as well as times of suffering. We can attribute meaning or purpose yet it is not that different from a family of apes.

    January 21, 2013 at 8:25 pm |
    • TheVocalAtheist

      What's wrong with a family of Apes? They're here just like you, they have a life just like you. Do they believe in a God? Will they go to Heaven?

      January 21, 2013 at 8:30 pm |
    • J

      What meaning? How does getting to live in some paradise after death or burn eternally in some lake of fire make any moment in life more or less meaningful? And frankly how does it all work? Your god creates your soul but isn't sure if it's any good so he turns it loose on other souls to see if it's good enough and if not he tortures it for the rest of time? That's your great and powerful creator? That's your meaning?

      January 21, 2013 at 8:40 pm |
    • fred

      Without God there is no difference. I feel for anyone that has only the purpose, meaning and hope in life that is no more than an animal.

      January 21, 2013 at 8:45 pm |
    • Science

      the apes no shi-t

      Scientist seeks 'adventurous woman' to have Neanderthal baby
      here’s Fred Flintstone when you need him?

      A professor of genetics at Harvard’s Medical School believes he’s capable of bringing the long-extinct Neanderthal back to life – all he’s lacking is the right mother.

      Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/science/2013/01/21/scientist-seeks-adventurous-woman-to-have-neanderthal-baby/?intcmp=features#ixzz2IdrhQbpJ

      January 21, 2013 at 8:45 pm |
    • J

      Sorry, but you are an animal. A mammal to be more exact. But an animal.

      January 21, 2013 at 8:49 pm |
    • fred

      No, you are free to live as you want. Some desire nothing better than eternity with God while others are happy with other things. If there is something more to this life we will know soon enough. Everyone can’t be right.

      January 21, 2013 at 8:54 pm |
    • Science

      Darkness = Ligts out. Human death = deplited carbon fact ok

      January 21, 2013 at 9:03 pm |
  7. Gopherit

    As a Christian, it is apparent that God gives me and everyone the choice to follow in his ways or to reject that. God's wish is that we would have faith to believe in God and to experience all of the good things which that brings. The idea that someone's child would be threatened through their parents with damnation or whatever because the child had not been baptised is a terrible misconstrucion of what Jesus intended. But God does note that there are consequences for those who refuse to be in fellowship with him.

    Government and public school systems should not apply pressure to people to adopt any religious system. It is the churches' mission to engage in evangelism (spreading the good news about God and God's purposes for us). One problem with there being pressure from political systems is that historically they distort the message and that can easily lead people astray, and the pressure itself often will cause resentment and the end effect will be the opposite of what was supposedly intended.

    January 21, 2013 at 8:24 pm |
    • J

      That is true, however evangelicals also cause resentment by pushing their beliefs on the children of people who do not agree with them.

      January 21, 2013 at 8:28 pm |
  8. Pat Doyen

    There are two issues that any real conservative, red blooded, love the good ole days, give me liberty or give me death, blind as a bat American should ever state opposition to, and they both start with G.

    January 21, 2013 at 8:24 pm |
  9. discouraged bystupidity

    I've decided to write an article about why I am going to raise my kids "pieless" – can I get a link CNN...

    January 21, 2013 at 8:20 pm |
    • Madtown

      "I 'aint readin' that article!!!"

      – disgustingly yours,
      Honey Boo Boo's mom

      January 21, 2013 at 8:25 pm |
    • edyoucate

      Very poor analogy.

      January 21, 2013 at 8:25 pm |
    • vinster76

      instead of pieless, maybe you could post about "brainless", by the looks of some of the content on this blog for the last 4 days, I would sure say "brainless" fits......You know who you are.......

      January 21, 2013 at 8:32 pm |
  10. Gail

    I am a single mom who raised three sons without taking them to church. I taught them right from wrong, respect for others, not to lie, cheat or steal and to work hard. They are all college graduates now 36, 34 and 31 and I would put their morals up against anyone who went to church every Sunday.

    January 21, 2013 at 8:20 pm |
    • JustTheFacts

      And they are all going to hell if they don't believe in God. So what have you really gained by your efforts?...

      Mark 16:16 – He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.

      Secondly, morality doesn't exist outside of God. If you kids doesn't have God, they are still immoral no matter what they do...

      January 21, 2013 at 8:38 pm |
    • Wendy

      Its not about morals,its about where your poor kids will spend eternity thanks to the way you raised them.

      January 21, 2013 at 8:42 pm |
    • J

      So according to you, JustTheFacts, every little Hindu baby that dies is burning right now? I guess I'd rather burn with them than be in a paradise built on their suffering. But I suppose that is the difference between me and you.

      January 21, 2013 at 8:44 pm |
    • UncleBenny

      JustTheFacts: "And they are all going to hell if they don't believe in God. "

      Another example of God's loving kindness.

      January 21, 2013 at 9:58 pm |
  11. John

    How can religion be confined to a "personal effect"? How can religion survive if people don't tell other people about it? If you don't agree, fine, but why should religious people shut up? Why shouldn't you shut up, since your views are corrupting religious people's views? You are arrogant.

    January 21, 2013 at 8:19 pm |
    • sam stone

      arrogant? as opposed to purporting to know the mind of god?

      January 21, 2013 at 8:20 pm |
    • vinster76

      Hey Sam, arrogant as in pretending to be certain about the NON-Existence of any God......arrogant in THAT sense

      January 21, 2013 at 8:35 pm |
    • sam stone

      vinster: most atheists i know do not claim to know the non-existence of any god as a fact

      January 21, 2013 at 9:00 pm |
  12. John

    To those who do not know the mystical origins of the Kentucky Creationist Museum where they have life sized displays of man walking with dinosaurs, I have figured it out. The creators of the museum were watching TV in their formative years. After the biblical cartoon David and Goliath, another cartoon came on, The Flintstones. Such that the truth of the first show was enough to ensure the children knew the Flintstones was accurate also.

    January 21, 2013 at 8:19 pm |
    • midwest rail

      Ken Ham created an amusement park – nothing more. That he promotes it as science is nonsense.

      January 21, 2013 at 8:30 pm |
  13. Walter

    This is to "Just the Facts"
    When your in heaven (lmao) and you face god imagine how enlightened you and he will be when he can tell you "Thank you just the facts for judgeing everybody for me. My work is done now, how bout I scoot over and you can take over for me just like you were trying to do your whole life". Just the facts, if you believe so you can go to heaven then you dont believe at all. And for your sake i hope you maker feels better about your soul than you do because your faith is based on selfishness and shame and your father only wants you to love.

    January 21, 2013 at 8:19 pm |
  14. Science

    Published on Oct 13, 2012

    How the Universe works – Birth of the Earth
    How the earth formed? How the earth like planets formed?
    What are the odds to find earth like conditions elsewhere in the Universe?
    find the answers in the film
    Science & Technology


    January 21, 2013 at 8:15 pm |
    • It is called

      The universe did not need god(s}/religion to create the earth, watch video.
      So evolution wins hands down, it now time for god(s) to get the hell out of the way OK .

      January 22, 2013 at 8:40 am |
  15. virginia

    Scientist or Athiest will come up with other religious belief for Christian to transfer into, like the new OMNISCIENCE RELIGION or the scientism religon saintology isn't cutting it...talk about evolution even Religon has its evolution phaces thanks to the logic and reason of the great thinkers of our time right the scientist.... science by any other name in the past did and have and will alway create the next religion of mankind...

    January 21, 2013 at 8:14 pm |
    • mama k

      Whoa. This must be a poe. And I don't mean Edgar Allen, either. My goodness.

      January 21, 2013 at 8:16 pm |
    • Saraswati

      If what you mean by that is that each new religion will be primarily based on the science of its time, then I agree.

      January 21, 2013 at 8:37 pm |
  16. Orygun Duck

    A murder story was only a couple of chapters into Genesis. And the Book of Job questions the existence of God and meaning of suffering. Yet, it seems like this current crop of atheists seem to be narcissistic enough themselves to believe they invented these questions.

    January 21, 2013 at 8:14 pm |
  17. Correctlycenter

    Don't trust in the opinions of an atheist or unbeliever, trust in God and His true and holy word, the bible...

    January 21, 2013 at 8:13 pm |
    • sam stone

      right. don't believe an atheist or unbeliever......believe the translated, edited iron age hearsay that is the new testament

      January 21, 2013 at 8:23 pm |
    • John

      Which Bible?

      January 21, 2013 at 8:24 pm |
  18. Susan StoHelit

    It's funny – people seem to have a hard time understanding why evil in the world is a problem with a belief in a god.

    I've got two kids – they've sure got free will – and they sure create chaos. And – since I'm in charge, I allow free will – but I stop them from hurting each other. There's all the difference in the world between how life is if they're playing in a room together – and I'm there and they're playing – and no adult is anywhere around.

    The reason there is evil in the world is because some people are evil. It's not a hard question why there is evil if there is no all powerful and supposedly good being sitting there watching it, just as it's not a hard question why my little boy is hitting his little sister if I'm not there in the room. But if I am in the room, watching, able to stop it, as my little strong 2 year old has gotten his hands on a bat, and is hitting and hurting his sister – then yes, there is a problem – you have to presume either I am unable to reach them (God is not all powerful) or that I am indifferent to the children (God is not loving).

    If I'm not in the room (There is no God) then the answer is easy. If I am – then you do have to answer the question, especially if you're claiming these attributes for God, but then God does not act that way.

    January 21, 2013 at 8:13 pm |
  19. John

    coca-kola Since the guy never wrote anything down and the first words were writen down about 70 years after he died, what provides you the confidence that those were his exact words other than your belief? Following that up, the words were spoken in Aremaic and witten in greek or hebrew so what verifies the translations were correct. None of the original gospels have been recovered, only copies of copies, other than belief what do you consider adequate that they are true copies. There are over 30 gospels of Jesus yet only four are in your bible, what makes the others wrong? Lastly, there are historically over a dozen translations of the bible into German and English, what makes a particular translation that you use the correct one other than belief?

    January 21, 2013 at 8:12 pm |
  20. Gods child

    Atheist, remember this true wisdom is to accept JESUS CHRIST as SAVIOR and LORD!

    January 21, 2013 at 8:12 pm |
    • Susan StoHelit

      Unless you were raised in Saudi Arabia – in which case it's Allah. Or India, where it might be Shiva. Or if it's old time Norway, in which case you can get Thor, and a particularly fun afterlife!

      January 21, 2013 at 8:14 pm |
    • discouraged bystupidity

      I have decided to raise my kids "pieless" can I get a link to my essay CNN...so I too may" strike a chord"...

      January 21, 2013 at 8:25 pm |
    • JJ

      Shouldn't you be telling that to the billions of Jews and Muslims as well? Will they roast in flames for eternity as well but the flames won't be quite as hot as where the atheists will reside? Since you sound so sure of yourself I would like to know but I'm sure, like most Christians commenting here, you're just dropping your load of bullshit and running off feeling you've done your Christian duty and baby Jesus is blowing you a kiss.

      January 21, 2013 at 8:27 pm |
    • sam stone

      Gods child: Thanks for straightening that out. Now all the clerics and philosophers around the world can find something else to do

      January 21, 2013 at 9:02 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.