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. Mariewatch

    Freeze, what good is a frigid ho-okker, like screaming Anny, fake it.

    January 24, 2013 at 7:30 pm |
    • billybob

      what if a binary pulsar made the speed of light increase by a factor of ten.?

      January 24, 2013 at 7:39 pm |
    • Mariewatch

      Marie could scream at the speed of sound 10 to the one trillion power?

      January 24, 2013 at 7:42 pm |
    • billybob

      how bored are we? existenchial.

      January 24, 2013 at 7:52 pm |
  2. Marie

    Why am I afraid of escalators? I always seem to freeze about half-way up.

    January 24, 2013 at 7:25 pm |
    • God is Good!

      But Jesus gets you to the top anyway!!! More proof of Jesus!

      Praise be Jesus . . . and the General Electric motor that runs the escalator.

      January 24, 2013 at 7:33 pm |
  3. Marie

    Why is it when some people light up a brand new Glade Cashmere Woods candle, they don't smell a bit of heaven?

    January 24, 2013 at 7:20 pm |
    • Hobbling Bob Dobbs, Ploka King of the Wild Frontier


      January 24, 2013 at 7:23 pm |
    • Pat Robertson

      Because God created asthma and in His wisdom, set it upon the atheists. You will know them by their sneezing.

      January 24, 2013 at 7:25 pm |
    • Mariewatch

      Just because you believe that the taste and smell of smegma is heaven does not mean everyone does.

      January 24, 2013 at 7:26 pm |
    • Anti-Marie


      January 24, 2013 at 8:12 pm |
  4. Marie

    Has anyone really been far even as decided to use even go want to do look more like?

    January 24, 2013 at 7:15 pm |
    • Mariewatch

      Your pimp is going to want to know why you are wasting your time on this blog and not turning tricks, like religion it is all about cash flow and profit.

      January 24, 2013 at 7:19 pm |
    • Pat Robertson

      You’ve got to be kidding me. I’ve been further even more decided to use even go need to do look more as anyone can. Can you really be far even as decided half as much to use go wish for that? My guess is that when one really been far even as decided once to use even go want, it is then that he has really been far even as decided to use even go want to do look more like. It’s just common sense.

      January 24, 2013 at 7:20 pm |
  5. Marie

    Why is god so demanding but so unhelpful?

    January 24, 2013 at 6:55 pm |
    • Mariewatch

      Why are you such a moroni, troll and stupid common cvnt?

      January 24, 2013 at 7:06 pm |
    • Clue

      That's obviously a Poe satire of Marie.

      January 24, 2013 at 7:08 pm |
  6. Marie

    Why won't god replace my amputated leg?

    January 24, 2013 at 6:54 pm |
    • Answers are easy when you use your imagination

      Because due to manufacturing errors, there are more right shoes than left shoes, and God is jut being helpful and balancing things out.

      January 24, 2013 at 6:59 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      LOL brilliant!

      January 24, 2013 at 7:00 pm |
    • Marie

      That's what I call omniscient. How else could you know it was my left leg?

      January 24, 2013 at 7:02 pm |
    • Answers are easy when you use your imagination

      God speaks to me in dreams. There was a dead cat and a demon and a bowl of Froot Loops, and Pee Wee Herman shreiked that the End Time would be put off again due to a sudden influx of wallabees.

      Therefore, obviously, you lost your left leg.

      Austin taught me how to dream like that. It involves large quantities of sniffing glue and ketamine.

      January 24, 2013 at 7:05 pm |
    • Dr House


      January 24, 2013 at 7:19 pm |
  7. Marie

    Why does god let thousands of children starve to death each day?

    January 24, 2013 at 6:53 pm |
    • Answers are easy when you use your imagination

      Because they would have grown up to be atheists.

      January 24, 2013 at 7:00 pm |
  8. Marie

    Why did god create cancer?

    January 24, 2013 at 6:52 pm |
  9. Marie

    If you are so learned yourself, why can't you enlighten me, instead of making ad hominem attacks?

    January 24, 2013 at 6:48 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      Why can't you ask well-formed questions, or use the reply button?

      January 24, 2013 at 6:50 pm |
    • Larry of Nazareth

      You are not listening, nor are you interested in actually learning. You are trolling. Your agenda is to put out questions that you think prove God. However, they only prove your extreme ignorance, for many are easily answered.

      If you actually want to learn, they have this thing called Google. They also have this thing called school. It is your responsibility to find out for yourself. It is not our responsibility to bring it to you like room service.

      You are playing a very stupid game.

      January 24, 2013 at 6:52 pm |
  10. Marie

    Why is there light?

    January 24, 2013 at 6:45 pm |
    • Answer Man!

      Answered in Physics 10

      If only you had stayed in school . . .

      January 24, 2013 at 6:46 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      Why not?

      January 24, 2013 at 6:46 pm |
  11. Marie

    Why do I think atheists must be omniscient?

    January 24, 2013 at 6:44 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      Why does it seem that you don't do much thinking?

      January 24, 2013 at 6:46 pm |
    • Larry of Nazareth

      Poe Marie, methinks.

      January 24, 2013 at 6:47 pm |
    • Kim

      We're logical minded, so we don't believe in omniscience. People, and gods, may think that they know everything that there is to know, but how could they be certain that all they know is actually all there is to know? A God who believes that he is all-knowing may very well be living inside some other being's created reality, unaware that anything else exists.

      January 24, 2013 at 6:54 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      Truly, the only omniscient being is Santa. He knows what presents all 7 billion people want and knows who's been naughty and who's been nice.

      January 24, 2013 at 6:58 pm |
    • Kim

      In Santa we trust
      But, like most men, he just doesn't know what to get his wife for Christmas. 🙂

      January 24, 2013 at 7:03 pm |
  12. ǝıɹɐɯ

    Why is failure to be a sycophant the worst crime in God's eyes?

    January 24, 2013 at 6:42 pm |
  13. ǝıɹɐɯ

    Why is god so evil that he runs an eternal torture chamber?

    January 24, 2013 at 6:40 pm |
  14. Marie

    If you know the answers, why are you withholding them?

    January 24, 2013 at 6:40 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      Why would anyone answer when you will just maker a new thread with more ill-formed questions?

      January 24, 2013 at 6:42 pm |
    • God says..

      Because that's how I roll...

      January 25, 2013 at 12:12 pm |
  15. Marie

    Why is there hydrogen?

    January 24, 2013 at 6:39 pm |
    • Y

      I don't know. Do you? Why?

      January 24, 2013 at 6:42 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      Why can you only troll with ill-formed questions?

      January 24, 2013 at 6:42 pm |
    • Answer Man!

      Answered in Chemistry 10.

      If you had only gone to college . . .

      January 24, 2013 at 6:43 pm |
  16. Marie

    Why don't I answer anyone else's questions?

    January 24, 2013 at 6:37 pm |
  17. Marie

    Why can't I get thoughtful answers to my questions?

    January 24, 2013 at 6:35 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      Why do you run from all of your questions?

      January 24, 2013 at 6:37 pm |
    • Carl

      Why can't we get thoughtful questions from you to answer?

      January 24, 2013 at 6:37 pm |
    • Loser police

      Marie you are busted for being a loser

      January 24, 2013 at 11:08 pm |
  18. Marie

    Why is there water?

    January 24, 2013 at 6:33 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      Why not?

      January 24, 2013 at 6:34 pm |
    • Answer Man!

      Answered in Chemistry 10.

      You could have known all this and more if you went to college!

      January 24, 2013 at 6:37 pm |
  19. Marie

    Why are there black holes?

    January 24, 2013 at 6:31 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      Why are you a useless troll?

      January 24, 2013 at 6:32 pm |
    • Answer Man!

      Answered in Astronomy 10.

      You could have known all this and more if you went to college!

      January 24, 2013 at 6:36 pm |
    • Mariewatch

      Not all women are white.

      January 24, 2013 at 7:47 pm |
  20. ǝıɹɐɯ

    Why does God frown on abortion when he kills 21 children under five every minute?

    January 24, 2013 at 6:30 pm |
    • Chad

      I think you mean "allows to die", just like the millions of other people in the world that are allowed to die by natural causes every year. Some die young, some die old, we all die at some point.

      Killing someone is different. Killing is the intentional taking of a life by another human being.

      January 24, 2013 at 6:38 pm |
    • Carl

      These babies he took a more active role in killing, yes?

      Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’”
      1 Samuel 15:3

      January 24, 2013 at 6:42 pm |
    • Kim

      No, Carl, God just ordered them killed. You know, like how Hitler and Stalin never did any of their killing personally?

      January 24, 2013 at 6:46 pm |
    • >>>

      Chad and bible babble verses, just so convincing.......

      January 24, 2013 at 7:52 pm |
    • FS

      @>>>- are you going to get on Carl as well for citing from the Bible? Or are you only selective with your complaints?

      January 24, 2013 at 7:57 pm |
    • Chad

      Yes, you are correct about the Amalekites, do you know the reason that the Bible says that occurred?
      (I realized you dont, I'm just asking the question to make a point)

      January 24, 2013 at 8:13 pm |
    • End Religion

      "Killing is the intentional taking of a life by another human being."

      Chad you constantly argue God is a person.

      and then there's Ecclesiastes
      "1 Everything that happens in this world happens at the time God chooses. 2 He sets the time for birth and the time for death, the time for planting and the time for pulling up"

      It's easy to see, if God exists as Chad suggests, then He has murdered everyone dead, and will murder everyone alive right now and in the future.

      Fortunately we know God is not a person, right Chad?

      January 24, 2013 at 8:19 pm |
    • End Religion

      right, Chad?

      January 24, 2013 at 8:39 pm |
    • redzoa

      I just love when apologists defend 1 Sam 15:3's child slaughter. Whatever rationale comes next will sound like battered spouse syndrome excuses or a Nuremberg defense abdicating personal responsibility in defending their complicity/endorsement of some abhorrent, immoral act.

      January 24, 2013 at 11:22 pm |
    • Chad

      @End Religion "you constantly argue God is a person"

      @Chad "hmm.. no..
      I constantly argue that God is (for lack of a better word) a "person".

      do you know the reason that the Bible says that occurred?
      (I realize you dont, I'm just asking the question to make a point)

      January 24, 2013 at 11:36 pm |
    • Carl

      I know that the official spin is that the Amalekites were so evil that they would have continued to attack Israel unless completely destroyed, but that's a bit melodramatic, isn't it? These were human beings, not aliens, or zombies. Sounds more like something Hitler said of those he wanted to eradicate, ironically. Hebrew propaganda.

      January 24, 2013 at 11:48 pm |
    • Carl

      Speaking of irony, I just remembered that the great sin of the Amalekites was killing babies.

      January 24, 2013 at 11:51 pm |
    • Chad

      and... you are making this judgement call?

      See Esther 9:24 for what one of the descendants that got away attempted to do.

      January 24, 2013 at 11:52 pm |
    • Y

      Yes, you are correct about the Amalekites, do you know the reason that the Bible says that occurred?
      (I realized you dont, I'm just asking the question to make a point)"

      Like Harry Tasker said, "Because they were BAHD!" Yeah, and it was just waaaaaay too much trouble to just "soften their hearts"; and besides, this script gave his pet Hebrews some street cred.
      The drama-queen Hebrews made up the Command from the "Lord" to cover their slaughtering and acquisitive ways.

      January 24, 2013 at 11:54 pm |
    • Chad

      everyone is bad
      what reason does the bible give as to why the Amalekites were singled out?

      here, I"ll give you a head start. Go to http://www.google.com, copy the text "why were the Amalekites singled out for destruction" and do some reading..

      or try this: http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/1351-amalek-amalekites

      January 25, 2013 at 12:05 am |
    • Carl

      Hitler had his reasons for killing Jews as well, but why call that propaganda and this something else?

      January 25, 2013 at 12:20 am |
    • redzoa

      @Chad – There are two basic arguments offered by apologists defending the child slaughter edict depicted in 1 Sam 15:3. 1) God knew they would continue to be evil; and 2) the Amalekites practiced child sacrifice, etc, and so their slaughter was really a "mercy killing."

      The first removes free will, that is, the children and infants were judged before they were capable of freely choosing evil based on the deity's foreknowledge of their inevitable future acts. The second simply defies any notion of beneficence in multiple ways, not least of which in demanding soldiers to slaughter children and infants and the brutal means employed rather than the infinite other options available to an omnipotent deity.

      The "moral" of the slaughter of the Amalekite children and infants is blind obedience lest you lose favor with the deity for failing to fully execute (pardon the pun) its demands; it gives no hint of empathy or compassion or any other quality ascribed to the loving and merciful v2.0 who pops up in the NT.

      But please, feel free to enlighten us and tell us why this was a good thing, remembering my previous post and in consideration of how one may actually know God's will, particularly when delivered secondhand. Of course the other conundrum stems from later claims of killing escapees from the slaughter (apologist: "See, they weren't really exterminated"), that is, how can scripture be trusted in light of 1 Sam 15:8.

      In any case, whatever argument you provide will no doubt make perfect sense to you, be devoid of empathy for the suffering of children and infants hacked to death with short swords, and will leave me actually hoping their is a loving and merciful God who will remember all those who defended 1 Sam 15:3 as true and representative, and that He will find such apologists repugnant in their defamation and moral complicity in embracing such cruelty.

      January 25, 2013 at 1:20 am |
    • Carl

      Let's not forget that these people were native Canaanites, and the original complaint against them was of their attacking the fringes of the main Hebrew horde as they invaded their territory. Charges that they deserved to be wiped out sound like the old rationalization for exterminating Native Americans because some of them had the gall to attack the white settlers who were taking their land, and shooting them for sport.

      January 25, 2013 at 10:22 am |
    • Chad

      1. you arent going to get an accurate picture of what the bible says merely by looking for something to post from infidels.org
      2. "inevitable" is not what a Christian would ever say, because God knows now what we will do as a result of exercising our free will (being outside of time/space)
      3. the bible very clearly says what the reason actually is, you havent found it yet. Importantly, the reason is not some thing that needs to be drawn together with different threads or anything. Very simple.
      but, here is the problem for your posting methodology.. you'll actually have to read the bible .. I know.. it stinks.. but there it is. The most effective way to criticize something is to understand it!!

      January 25, 2013 at 10:46 am |
    • Chad

      Also, you should realize that Christians/Jews dont "embrace" that killing, that is a strawman that atheists use inaccurately. God doesnt need our approval. He saw it as necessary for His plan and that's it.

      January 25, 2013 at 11:22 am |
    • Carl

      "He saw it as necessary for His plan and that's it."

      Ah, the old, reliable "The LORD works in mysterious ways" defence. Basically, it comes down to "Shut up, and stop asking questions we can't answer", right?

      January 25, 2013 at 2:28 pm |
    • redzoa

      @Chad – Granted, I would concede your biblical knowledge is greater than mine (something you are incapable of in the other fields you blather about), but given how your ignorance of science and law has destroyed any credibility you might have had, and because you always insist your uneducated views are correct, you suffer the consequence that St. Augustine warned of, that is, in claiming knowledge of law and science which you demonstrably do not possess, what choice do I have but to also doubt your knowledge of the Bible?

      1. Unlike yourself discussing law/science, I did actually read the primary source. I wonder why you wouldn't just say what you believe to be the reason? (Not that it really matters, because there's simply no justification to slaughter children).

      2. If our ultimate future and every choice along the way is known without error, then we must act in accordance with that perfect knowledge, that is, we could not make a choice which is contrary to the one ultimate path known to God. All the time/space BS doesn't change this simple fact. The alternative typically offered is some type of "self-limiting" God, restricting His knowledge to preserve free will, but of course, omniscience is total or simply is not omniscience.

      3. I have read the Bible. It's a silly, self-referencing book full of the mythology of a primitive people. Jefferson did us all a favor in extracting those portions of value and dismissing the rest.

      As I predicted, " He saw it as necessary for His plan and that's it." No empathy for the suffering of slaughtered children and an abdication of any personal moral responsibility in simply accepting authority; a classic Nuremberg defense. Again, I like to think that if there is a loving and just God, those who vicariously endorse child slaughter as morally defensible, will be held accountable for this blind, callous, and defamatory view...

      January 25, 2013 at 6:10 pm |
    • fred

      I find it interesting that out of 31,000 some odd verses in the Bible there is one in Samuel that captured you and exposed your heart. What is your real interest in 1 Samuel 3? Is it to bash God or do you desire to understand something about God?

      January 25, 2013 at 6:28 pm |
    • End Religion

      Chad said "hmm.. no.. I constantly argue that God is (for lack of a better word) a "person"."

      So you believe your god is a person. Thanks for agreeing that he is a murderer. Or does "person" have some other definition that makes it a non-person, and if it does, why do you not use the quotes all the time to preserve this magical other definition? And why do you claim that there could be no empirical evidence for god because he is a person, when clearly you agree he is not?

      Chad said: "how are scientific standards going verify the existence of a person (the God of Israel, Jesus)? What scientific standard would you use to verify my existence?"

      And again in that answer you said, in reference to peer-reviewed testing of the existence of god and/or jesus
      "@Chad "3. what "peer-reviewed" means, and what would satisfy that requirement"
      @Saraswati "Again we have some standards. Yes, you might quibble on the exact board of reviewers, but it would be people in the various scienfic and philosophical fields addressed."
      @Chad "do historians count as peer reviewers? Remember, we are talking about persons here and events that happened in the past."

      January 25, 2013 at 7:18 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.