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. Marie

    Why are there planets?

    January 24, 2013 at 6:29 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      Why do you troll?

      January 24, 2013 at 6:31 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      What are "planets"?

      January 24, 2013 at 6:31 pm |
    • Answer Man!

      Answered in Astronomy 10

      January 24, 2013 at 6:32 pm |
  2. Marie

    Why so serious?

    January 24, 2013 at 6:19 pm |
    • Bet

      Kill the batman.

      January 24, 2013 at 6:20 pm |
  3. Marie

    Why are there rocks?

    January 24, 2013 at 6:16 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      Why do you enjoy wasting time trolling?

      January 24, 2013 at 6:17 pm |
    • Bet

      Because otherwise your head would be empty.

      January 24, 2013 at 6:17 pm |
    • Y

      I don't know, Marie.

      Will you please tell us the answer...?

      January 24, 2013 at 6:19 pm |
    • Answer Man!

      Answered in Geology 10

      January 24, 2013 at 6:33 pm |
  4. Marie

    Why is there a moon?

    January 24, 2013 at 6:13 pm |
    • Bet

      So Mighty Mouse has something to eat.

      January 24, 2013 at 6:16 pm |
    • Damocles

      So people like you have a legitimate shot at claiming lunacy.

      January 24, 2013 at 6:18 pm |
  5. Marie

    Why do supposedly rational people resort to ad hominem attacks?

    January 24, 2013 at 6:10 pm |
    • Bet

      Why do supposedly rational people believe in imaginary beings?

      January 24, 2013 at 6:14 pm |
  6. Marie

    Why did God make cancer?

    January 24, 2013 at 6:09 pm |
  7. Marie

    Why does everyone think I am a moron?

    January 24, 2013 at 6:08 pm |
  8. Marie

    Why do they use comedy to mask how little they really do know?

    January 24, 2013 at 6:03 pm |
  9. Marie

    Why can't they answer the questions without being so hostile and arrogant?
    Why can't they appreciate my inquisitiveness, all in the name of free inquiry?

    January 24, 2013 at 6:01 pm |
    • Marie

      Why don't people play my trolling game?

      January 24, 2013 at 6:06 pm |
  10. End Religion

    a special thanks to Father Mahony for helping create more atheists. He was busy protecting pedophiles instead of children.

    January 24, 2013 at 5:57 pm |
    • Bet

      Cardinal Mahony said he came to understand that impact (of the abuse) only two decades later, when he met with almost 100 victims of se x ual abuse by priests under his charge. He now keeps an index card for each one of those victims, praying for each one every day, he said in the statement.

      I suppose he thinks this makes up for it, with his prayers being so high up on god's priority list and all.

      I'll bet he prays that they "disappear". What an evil person.

      January 24, 2013 at 6:12 pm |
    • End Religion

      If you've ever seen the documentary on him then you probably nearly barfed like me. He admits to just about everything though you get the feeling he's shading just a bit, but for the most part he tells clearly what he did very calm, cool and collect. The poor people he devastated.... it is hard to watch at times.

      January 24, 2013 at 6:50 pm |
    • End Religion

      I should clarify it was a film on the pedophile priest and Mahony was featured during the cover-up phase of it.

      January 24, 2013 at 6:55 pm |
  11. austin

    i had this dream that i was doing elmer fudd in his exhaust pipe, and there was a dead cat, and a rabbi and a priest who walked into a bar, and an enormous tube of gleem toothpaste . . . which is really weird because i have no teeth. and a fluffy bunny with burning red eyes screamed "i am satan, burner of toast! the hokey pokey is the dance of devil-doom!"

    and suddenly jesus appeared, and he looked exactly like charles manson and talked like charles manson, and he told me to obey, so i do. then a beach ball rolled through, causing shopping carts to get that sticky wheel that always turns right when you want to go straight, and jesus manson said "verily, every time you get a wobbly shopping cart that will not push straight, it is absolute proof of me.

    then i woke up, though i was not asleep when i dreamed this, and i read a passage from the bible which talked about the proper protocol for selling my daughter into slavery, and the similarities are proof positive of the holy spirit.

    this is my testamony.

    January 24, 2013 at 5:53 pm |
    • sam

      I shouldn't have laughed...but I did.

      January 24, 2013 at 5:55 pm |
    • End Religion

      I'm sold! Goodbye Belief Blog, I'm off with my child's inheritance to find the closest megachurch.

      January 24, 2013 at 6:00 pm |
    • austin

      dont post under my name thats not cool at all..

      January 24, 2013 at 6:04 pm |
    • austin

      why are you posting under my name?

      January 24, 2013 at 6:10 pm |
    • austin

      if i tell on you they are going to come after me.

      January 24, 2013 at 6:15 pm |
    • Wally

      The men in white are already coming after you, austin

      January 24, 2013 at 6:21 pm |
  12. Marie

    How is babby formed??

    January 24, 2013 at 5:53 pm |
    • Bet

      4chan, of course.

      January 24, 2013 at 5:57 pm |
    • Okey Dokey


      January 24, 2013 at 5:58 pm |
  13. truth be told

    There is a filth that evidences itself in lies, that diseased filth is known as atheism. The greatest service any atheist can provide to this world is to commit suicide. There is no use for an atheist in this world or the next.

    January 24, 2013 at 5:52 pm |
    • Bet

      Another fine example of christianity. Wishing death, and the presumption of eternal torment, on those who disagree with you.

      January 24, 2013 at 5:55 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      Here's tbt back using his original handle. You should either change your handle or live up to it.

      January 24, 2013 at 5:56 pm |
    • sam

      Does your parole officer know you spend all your time doing this instead of rehab?

      January 24, 2013 at 5:56 pm |
    • Y

      @truth be told,

      Why don't you just run on off to the arms of Jesus? That's where you want to be, right? Golden mansions, streets of diamonds, sweet ambrosia, happily ever after... ooohhhh!

      (hint: you just have to say, "Forgive me, Lord" right after you swallow the bottle of pills – it'll all be fine)

      January 24, 2013 at 6:02 pm |
    • dnsbubba

      Some day, you might grow up enough to understand just how immature your words are. I hope.

      January 24, 2013 at 6:15 pm |
    • Carl

      I thought that we were to provide the entertainment, by burning and shrieking in pain, etc..., for all the good Christians looking down upon hell from heaven? Isn't that "useful"?

      January 24, 2013 at 6:33 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      captain azzhole, go back into your cave.

      January 24, 2013 at 6:45 pm |
  14. austin

    this one night, i had the flu and was sleeping and this kid took a role of toilet paper and came by and racked me with it from point bland range, and i was so ticked off. there were bout 6 guys standing across the room laughing and saying "ohh dont bother austin hes tring to sleeeep" so i i was fuming, and i asked my self in my mind "i wonder if any of those kids have any spiritual light in their eye." (if therefor the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness....the eye is the lamp of the body....) but i stopped my self and prayed, that i wouldnt hate and judge. ok the next morning, one of kids came up to me and said, " I had this freaky dream last night that people in here were possessed and the only way i could tell was by going up and looking in there eyes to see if there was a light in it" .

    what that is, is a spiritual realm where the devil can put a thought in your head, and you might resist it and he just went right across the room and put it into someone elses, or it was the synchronicity of an Angel.

    January 24, 2013 at 5:37 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      Or the illness made you delusional.

      January 24, 2013 at 5:39 pm |
    • Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, Dr. Howard

      Actually, that's psychosis.

      January 24, 2013 at 5:40 pm |
    • EnjaySea

      I don't believe you Austin. There's something significant in your story that you adjusted to make it sound magical, because there is no magic.

      I rule out the mystical interpretation until I am presented with evidence that you're not spinning a tale.

      January 24, 2013 at 5:47 pm |
    • sam

      Nyquil is a hell of a drug.

      January 24, 2013 at 5:51 pm |
    • austin

      delusional, psychosis, dementia..................its called the revelation of the spiritual world. and i dont want you to ever think that this is the road to faith. because if IS NOT Faith comes by hearing the truth. dont expect a sign. please do not expect a sign.. you can not put God to the test. get into the word. and the Holy Spirit will bear the truth on your heart. Gods law, is written onto the tablet of your heart.

      January 24, 2013 at 5:55 pm |
    • austin

      heres my email austoni42@gmail.com if you think im spinning a tale you can e mail me and i will talk to you there or call you.

      January 24, 2013 at 5:58 pm |
    • Bet

      Oh, austin, no.....

      January 24, 2013 at 6:00 pm |
    • Really?

      Uh, austin? You are saying that God does not give signs, but that you have received many signs.

      January 24, 2013 at 6:02 pm |
    • myweightinwords

      So...you can't tell if the devil put a dream in your head or an angel did, but you want us to believe that you know THE TRUTH about...what exactly?

      January 24, 2013 at 6:11 pm |
    • Damocles

      This one night, at band camp, I went a little crazy and thought I could see the devil in people's eyes.

      January 24, 2013 at 6:14 pm |
  15. Marie

    Why are Christians so stupid?

    January 24, 2013 at 5:34 pm |
  16. Marie

    Why do atoms bond with each other?

    January 24, 2013 at 5:33 pm |
    • Holy Me!

      Jesus holds each and every one together with his fingers!!!!!!!

      January 24, 2013 at 5:37 pm |
  17. Marie

    Why is my room here at Bellevue padded?

    January 24, 2013 at 5:31 pm |
  18. Marie

    Why can I not get any serious answers to my questions?

    January 24, 2013 at 5:27 pm |
    • Bet

      Ask a silly question, get a silly answer.

      January 24, 2013 at 5:29 pm |
    • Nathan

      Because you are merely re-spamming senseless questions you've already spammed in these forums several times under different names and show no actual desire to engage in thoughtful debate about them, but rather seem to view them as "got'cha" questions that attack your opposition rather than legitimate asks for discourse or knowledge.

      January 24, 2013 at 5:30 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      You don't listen to any answers and we know yours – god did it.

      January 24, 2013 at 5:37 pm |
  19. Marie

    Why did the Big Bang happen?

    January 24, 2013 at 5:21 pm |
    • Bet

      Because Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady wrote it and CBS picked it up.

      January 24, 2013 at 5:27 pm |
    • Nathan

      We don't know yet.

      That doesn't mean an invisible all-powerful being that magically has no beginning itself and is INFINITELY MORE COMPLEX than the Big Bang somehow made it happen through sheet will power.

      January 24, 2013 at 5:28 pm |
    • The Truthy Truth of Jesus!

      The Big Bang was God farting. No other explanation could possibly make any sense.

      Therefore YHWH, God of Flatulence is proven true and correct. And they all lived happily ever after, except the atheists, who went to hell. But it was FSM's hell, which isn't that bad, actually.

      The end

      January 24, 2013 at 5:43 pm |
    • Well

      Because you were riding one too many buses in India.

      January 24, 2013 at 5:52 pm |
  20. Marie

    Why are there electrons?

    January 24, 2013 at 5:14 pm |
    • Bet

      Why so negative?

      January 24, 2013 at 5:25 pm |
    • sam

      +10 points, to Bet.

      January 24, 2013 at 5:53 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.