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. Johnny Blammo

    I see Marie is doing the "Begging The Question" scam again today. Funny how you can show Christians that they are being deceitful in their tactics, and they turn right around and do them again.

    Marie is of coursee just another sock puppet for a regular Jesustani dingbat. Guess which one . . .

    January 24, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
    • The Truth

      My guess is lol??

      has been using the same tactic for quite some time, probably thought it was time to change handles and maybe even genders...

      January 24, 2013 at 2:29 pm |
    • Sarkastik1

      Jesustani? Is that anything like a Talebaptist?

      January 26, 2013 at 12:06 am |
  2. Marie

    Why is it a begging the question fallacy?

    January 24, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      Why do you assume the conclusion in the question?
      Why do you post and run constantly?
      Why don't you care about proper questioning and reasoned answers?

      January 24, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Why are you such a dou.che canoe?

      January 24, 2013 at 2:27 pm |
    • Susan StoHelit

      Do you know what a begging the question fallacy is? Tell me that, then you might be able to be answered.

      January 24, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      Another day, another handle. Try to be a bit more imaginative tomorrow (if you can't resist blogging that is).

      January 24, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
  3. Marie

    Why have the people here seem to have lost their love for freedom of inquiry?

    January 24, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      Why don't you care about actual answers?

      January 24, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
  4. Marie

    Why is ad hominem considered a fallacy of logic?
    Why do supposedly rational people resort to fallacies of logic?

    January 24, 2013 at 2:15 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      Why do you constantly use begging the question fallacies?

      January 24, 2013 at 2:16 pm |
  5. Marie

    Why is it called a quantum vacuum if it's not empty?
    Why is there something in the quantum "vaccuum"?

    January 24, 2013 at 2:13 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      Why do you feel the need to be moronic?

      January 24, 2013 at 2:15 pm |
    • The Truth

      Might as well ask "Why don't humans know everything already and have answers for all problems and define everything accurately the first time instead of the gradual refining of scientific theory?" And the answer is "Because we never went to wizarding school to learn magic so we can just "Poof" the right answer into existence."

      The real question you should be asking is "Why did it take so long for humans to understand that empty space isn't really empty?" and the answer to that is "Because of fvcking moronic theists who have held science back for thousands of years tying our hands and often executing those who would oppose their religious version of the universe."

      January 24, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
  6. NGB4M

    It's not that there is room for doubt, but that there is so much room for doubt. Just like it's not that there is suffering, but that there is so much suffering and much of it being endured by the innocent and having nothing to do with free will.

    January 24, 2013 at 2:12 pm |
    • The Truth

      " so much suffering and much of it being endured by the innocent and having nothing to do with free will." I only disagree in that there is free will being used, that of the persecutors who are forcing themselves and their beliefs on the innocent.

      January 24, 2013 at 4:16 pm |
  7. Marie

    Why does quantum fluctuation sound like magic?

    January 24, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      Why do you enjoy being a useless troll?

      January 24, 2013 at 2:13 pm |
    • My Dog is a jealous Dog

      Why did god make you so annoying?
      Why are you acting like a 4 year old?
      Why do you think every question needs an answer?

      January 24, 2013 at 2:16 pm |
  8. PJ

    Yikes, the realization that we actually have to deal with people that do nothing to futher human-kind, only keep everyone back with what amounts to the logic and tactics of of the Salem Witch Trials is just mind blowing.

    January 24, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
  9. Marie

    Why can't science answer all questions?

    January 24, 2013 at 2:05 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      Why can't you actually address answers to your previous questions instead of posting and running like a scared little bitch?

      January 24, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
    • PJ

      Give it time. It took 4 billion years for people to even show up on this planet, give yourself a break. You can learn. I believe you can. The universe is pretty big. After all, why can't a baby score a touchdown?

      January 24, 2013 at 2:15 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      The better question is "why CAN religion claim to "answer" all the questions?"

      January 24, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
    • Bet

      Science will likely never be able to answer all questions, but we'd certainly be at least 2000 years ahead of where we currently stand if religious zealots didn't persecute scientists who disagreed with their dogma.

      January 24, 2013 at 3:08 pm |
  10. Marie

    Why can there be a why for some things but not for others?

    January 24, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
    • some schmuck

      Not all things have a why. Some simply are. I'm going to lunch. Why? Because I'm hungry. Why? Because I haven't eaten for 5 hours.

      2 + 2 = 4. Why? Because it just does. There is no why. It simply is.

      January 24, 2013 at 1:58 pm |
    • Todd

      How do you know there isn't? There are billions of galaxies out there with hundreds of planets similar to ours who's to say the "other" things are really out there?

      January 24, 2013 at 1:59 pm |
    • PJ

      Why refers to cause, reason, or purpose. There may be none, ergo there may be no answer. That's why! 😉

      January 24, 2013 at 2:03 pm |
    • hawaiiguest


      Why can't you ask questions that aren't infantile?

      January 24, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
  11. Marie

    Why can't the know-it-alls who seem to be experts on everything else answer these questions?

    January 24, 2013 at 1:53 pm |
    • EnjaySea

      Why is there life?
      This question has yet to be answered. We don't know. The only ones who claim to know have simply invented an answer, and then have gone about burning people at the stake who don't agree with them.

      Of all the infinite paths that evolution could have taken, why did it take this one particular path?
      Without knowing every environmental and genetic change that happened over 3.6 billion years of life on eath, the question can't be answered. Buy why ask it? It did take this path. That's all that's important.

      Why can I not get serious answers to my questions?
      You can't will humanity into a state where we know the answers to these questions. So, as long as you continue to ask them, as though by merely asking them, you have made some mysterious point of your own, then you'll be scoffed at.

      Why can I not get serious answers to my questions?
      On the Belief Blog? Give me a break.

      January 24, 2013 at 1:59 pm |
    • Chuckles

      Why can't you read?

      Why can't you respond to other people's answers?

      Why do you have to the reading comprehension of a 3 year old and apparently a 3 year old's ability to not think of googling these questions if you really want to know the answer?

      Why are you acting like a toddler who keeps asking "why" and then demanding to be taken seriously

      Why do you ask philisophical questions and expect scientific answers?

      January 24, 2013 at 2:00 pm |
    • hawaiiguest


      Perhaps if you didn't post and run, you would actually see answers.

      January 24, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
  12. some schmuck

    "Of all the infinite paths that evolution could have taken, why did it take this one particular path?"

    Why do Christians ALWAYS assume there has to be a why? There doesn't have to be a why. In fact, a why makes the fact that we're here against ASTRONOMICAL odds LESS special.

    "We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here." – R. Dawkins

    To expound on that, the number of potential life forms that is not us is so insanely huge that it is staggering.

    Many people accuse Atheists of arrogance, but what is more arrogant? Assuming that we are the result of cosmic chance which only took place because of extremely large numbers of planets on which the miniscule chance of it happened approached 1, or the idea that a creator god built the whole of existence specifically for the purpose of human life?

    January 24, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
  13. Marie

    Why can I not get serious answers to my questions?

    January 24, 2013 at 1:19 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Stop asking loaded questions which no rational mind claims to know the answer to.

      January 24, 2013 at 1:22 pm |
    • redzoa

      Because your questions are not serious. They transparently reek of toddleresque teleological thinking. Why is there blue? Why is there a 3? Why is there etc, etc. As a previous response already indicated, why must there be a why?

      January 24, 2013 at 1:26 pm |
    • Chuckles

      I guess the real question is. What do you think the answers are? It seems most people (myself included) believe you are asking this loaded questions because you already believe you have found the answer (god). Are we right or are you just honestly really curious?

      If it's the latter: the answer is still, "we don't know" to a lot of your questions, mostly because they're either a) not well thought out or b) philisophical in nature and will never really have a concrete answer.

      But by all means, go on and ignore this post too like you have every other post that's attempted to answer your inane questions.

      January 24, 2013 at 1:28 pm |
    • dnsbubba

      I did post a serious answer. Did you watch the video I pointed you to, or did you just ignore it in favor of posting another question?

      January 24, 2013 at 1:31 pm |
    • hawaiiguest


      Because you're not asking your questions in order to get serious answers. You post simplistic questions that imply what your conclusion, and don't even address when people answer this question, which you posted yesterday. I'm just starting to think you're another post and run troll, but it would be nice if you proved me wrong.

      January 24, 2013 at 1:31 pm |
    • EnjaySea

      Perhaps you could enlighten us all Marie and tell us what you think the answers to your questions are.

      January 24, 2013 at 1:34 pm |
  14. Doug

    I think its more important to teach them how to think rather than what to think. Like Sagan said, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."

    January 24, 2013 at 1:06 pm |
  15. Marie

    Of all the infinite paths that evolution could have taken, why did it take this one particular path?

    January 24, 2013 at 1:06 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian


      January 24, 2013 at 1:18 pm |
    • Bet

      Yogi Berra?

      January 24, 2013 at 1:19 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Also, what one path? My evolutionary path is not the same as a slug's path or an elephant's path.

      January 24, 2013 at 1:20 pm |
    • PJ

      I recommend 'The Origin of Species' by Charles Darwin.

      January 24, 2013 at 1:23 pm |
    • redzoa

      Better still: Jay Gould's "Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History." Evolution is like water running through a landscape. It's path is a product of chance and the environment. As Gould famously suggested, if the tape of life were rewound and played again, we would not have the same result. Granted, many recognizable forms would be present, but not the exact same forms we presently see. Convergent evolution is powerful, but is still contingent on genetic history and environmental selection forces, both of which are subject to chance.

      Of course this is more directed to the "how" question, not the "why" question, because the "why" question again reflects a toddleresque teleological thinking and defies a reasoned response...

      January 24, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Why do think that because there is not an answer to your question you are therefore justified in thinking "god did it".

      Why does lightning happen? God did it

      "Arguments that explain everthing, explain nothing"

      Marie Google "Argument from ignorance" and you will learn why your questions are invalid.

      January 24, 2013 at 1:40 pm |
  16. Marie

    Why is there life?

    January 24, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
    • The Truth

      Why wouldn't there be?

      January 24, 2013 at 1:01 pm |
    • Rational Libertarian

      Why is a giant d.ouche better than a turd sandwich?

      January 24, 2013 at 1:29 pm |
    • PJ

      There is life simply because nothing cannot exist without something. Out of nothing came something and from this all things were created.

      January 24, 2013 at 1:31 pm |
  17. NGB4M

    True enough PJ. But most of us just don't believe in the god(s) offered up so far.

    January 24, 2013 at 12:35 pm |
    • PJ

      Agreed. Just making sure they understood what the word "belief" meant.

      January 24, 2013 at 12:41 pm |
  18. some schmuck

    By the way, keep in mind that you are posting your pro-god garbage on a medium that was created based upon the work of Alan Turing, a gay atheist from britain who after code breaking in WWII was chemically castrated for being gay.

    Most likely your computer is running an operating system marketted and designed by Apple or Microsoft. Both created by atheists Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.

    All so you could access the World Wide Web, which was designed in part by Robert Cailliau, a Belgian Computer Scientist who was, an atheist.

    January 24, 2013 at 12:34 pm |
    • PJ

      You are some schmuck! Love you, man. Just loving what you're preaching.

      January 24, 2013 at 12:39 pm |
  19. NGB4M

    Completely agree with you Some Schmuck. Just saying I'm not going out of my way to push my kids in one direction or the other when it comes to religion. Would be the first to step in and engage if I thought they were in such danger. Just don't want to be an non-believing version of a fundamentalist. Still regret letting my kids go to a lutheran preschool though. Silly me, I though they would be getting a head start on abc's and 123's. Instead they were telling them fairy tales.

    January 24, 2013 at 12:34 pm |
  20. 2013-Year of Godlessness at belief blog
    January 24, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
    • PJ

      Atheists frimly believe there is no god. That's a belief.

      January 24, 2013 at 12:33 pm |
    • Susan StoHelit

      PJ – you have no clue what the word atheist means – do you.

      It means merely lacking a belief in god. Same as you likely lack a belief in bigfoot, alien visitors, fairies, etc. – until and unless any of those was proven to be true with actual proof.

      January 24, 2013 at 12:56 pm |
    • PJ

      Believe: To accept as true.
      Belief: The quality or state of believing.
      Atheism: Belief that no deities exist.

      Keep reading, i recommend the dictionary.

      January 24, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
    • PJ

      SS: BTW, your post was defining agnosticism, not atheism.

      January 24, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
    • Susan StoHelit

      Nope. Dictionaries tend to simple definitions, and multiple definitions.

      A – it's a simple prefix – lacking something – a-symmetry – it's not anti-symmetry, it's lacking symmetry.
      theism – a belief in a god.

      A is not a prefix that means an opposition to something, it means lacking something. Anti-theism – that is being against belief in god. atheism – lacking a belief in god. agnosticism – that's the state where you believe that it is impossible to know if there is or is not a god.

      January 24, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
    • The Truth

      Yes, atheism is a belief.

      "Atheism: Noun: The theory or belief that God does not exist." Merriam-Webster

      However, by this definition one must accept that first, God's existence is a theory and belief as well, which makes atheism the theory of not believing in a theory. Since theorys by definition have not been proven that means any skeptic would be considered "a believer" albeit "a believer" in the opposite of whatever theory is presented without facts.

      As soon as someone posits the premise that Unicorns exist, anyone who does not believe that premise, whether heard or not, becomes a "non-believer" by definition since even if they don't know they don't believe they in fact do not.

      But this get's us away from the real crux of the question and that is the definition of "believer" or "belief".

      "Belief: 1.An acceptance that a statement is true or that something exists. 2.Something one accepts as true or real; a firmly held opinion or conviction." Merriam-Webster

      Notice that it does not define belief as an "acceptance that a statement isn't true or that something doesn't exist"...

      January 24, 2013 at 2:13 pm |
    • Susan StoHelit


      agnosticism – same deal.

      a – a lack.

      gnostic – the belief you can have knowledge of something – in this case – god. Gnostics – they believe you can know god, know that there is a god – or, contrarily, know there is not one. Gnostic means you think you can know a thing. Agnostic – you believe that this thing is unknowable – it may exist, it may not – but we cannot know for sure either way.

      January 24, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
    • Susan StoHelit

      The Truth:

      Interesting – the dictionary you quote has about 10 definitions – and you pick that one. Nice cherry picking – but everything I said is in there too – including the origins: "from a- + theos god", and the lack of a belief: "a disbelief in the existence of deity" is actually the FIRST listed definition when you look it up online at merriam-webster's website. Oh, and also right on that dictionary entry – a great many comments also pointing out this same misinterpretation of the term.

      January 24, 2013 at 2:33 pm |
    • OTOH


      Excellent explanations.



      I hope that you have learned something - and that you remember it.

      January 24, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
    • The Truth

      I hope my post was not misinterpreted itself as I was simply accepting a common use for the word "belief" but trying to point out how absurd that really is as I mentioned when I said "atheism the theory of not believing in a theory" which I felt put it in better perspective.

      I am an atheist by some definitions since I do not believe in any God's presented and thus at this time do not believe in a deity origin of the universe. However some might define me as agnostic because I am not willing to rule out the existence of creatures in this universe that we as humans might define as God's or creators. I think it foolish to recognize the vastness of our known universe and then make any hard fast beliefs as to what is or isn't out there in it. I will no longer be an atheist when I am presented with solid evidence of the creator deity, not when I meet an unknown being from another galaxy that happens to look like something others have described as divine. I will not be one of the Aztec's bowing down to an alien just because he's riding a strange looking horse and is covered in some unknown armor. Far better to be the skeptic than the slave.

      January 24, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
    • PJ

      @ Susan – One word, semantics. We can do this all day. Ultimately, every word defines every other, leading us back to the first word, which is...
      @ OTOH – Nothing Susan posted makes my statements untrue. If someone believes in god and another believes there isn't a god, both believe what they think is true. Therefore, both are beliefs.

      January 24, 2013 at 3:17 pm |
    • OTOH


      There is a difference between saying:

      "I believe that there is no god."
      – and –
      "I do not believe that there is a god."

      Perhaps the difference is somewhat subtle, but it is there.

      January 24, 2013 at 4:29 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      Dictionaries should only be used to determine common public usage (which is what they're meant for), not actual meanings. PJ, what Susan said does make your statement untrue from a standpoint of actual meaning, not just what people think a word means.

      January 24, 2013 at 4:33 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.