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Who hears #PrayersForOklahoma?
May 21st, 2013
04:45 PM ET

Who hears #PrayersForOklahoma?

By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
[twitter-follow screen_name='BurkeCNN']

(CNN) - God may not notice the thousands of prayers tweeted for victims of Oklahoma’s devastating tornado - but Ricky Gervais sure has. And he is not pleased.

As of Tuesday afternoon, more than 75,000 people have used the hashtag #PrayForOklahoma, including pop starlets, pastors and politicians, according to Topsy.com, a trend-monitoring site.

For example, the White House tweeted,

But the hashtag and the sentiments it promotes prompted a fierce backlash on social media, led by Gervais, a British comedian, and other prominent nonbelievers.

And while one Oklahoma City pastor says he appreciates the Twitter prayers, some religious scholars say devout petitions require more than moving your hands across a keyboard.

"A prayer is supposed to have a consequence for you," said Elizabeth Drescher, a lecturer at Santa Clara University in California. "It's not an act of magic."

Gervais, an ardent foe of organized religion, was more caustic.

After MTV tweeted that pop stars Beyonce, Rihanna and Katy Perry are sending their prayers to Oklahoma, Gervais responded, “I feel like an idiot now … I only sent money.”

Gervais and other atheists also kick-started a counter-trend, using the hashtag #ActuallyDoSomethingForOklahoma.

“If all people are doing is praying, it is worthless,” Hemant Mehta, an Illinois math teacher who writes the blog “Friendly Atheist,” told CNN. “If they are praying and donating to the Red Cross, that’s more like it.”

Mehta is promoting a group called Foundation Beyond Belief that aims to provide a humanist response to crises like the Oklahoma tornado.

The prayer debate spilled into other social media sites as well, with commenters on CNN’s Facebook page sparring over God’s role in Monday’s destructive whirlwind.

According to Oklahoma officials, 24 people have died, many more are injured, and once-orderly streets look likes foretastes of the apocalypse.

In response to a woman who said she was praying for the victims, Facebook commenter Peter Tongue replied, “If prayer works, there wouldn’t be a disaster like this in the first place .... so please keep your religion to yourself.”

But believers had their say as well.

“God is still in control!” said Wilbur Dugger, a commenter on CNN’s Facebook page. “Everything (God) does is to get our attention. … My sympathy and prayers go out to those who get caught up in his demonstrations of (God) ruling the world.”

The social-media sparring over prayer and God’s will reflect a culture in which traditional notions of religion - and the places where people talk about faith - are changing faster than a Twitter feed, said Drescher, the Santa Clara lecturer.

“We’re watching people re-articulate what it means to be spiritual and religious,” she said.

Just a few years ago, for example, no one knew what a hashtag was. Now the “#PrayFor...” meme appears after almost every national and international tragedy.

But what exactly does it mean? Is the tweeting multitude really folding its hands in prayer, or is it a fleeting expression of existential angst? Or maybe just a trendy thing to say?

“It seems to express hope and anxiety, and maybe even helplessness,” Drescher said.

“At the same time, it evokes this strong response from people who see it as a cop-out, a way of claiming some kind of spiritual space that doesn’t actually have any meaning to the people who are posting the meme or the community they are addressing.”

Traditionally, prayer has required something of the pray-er: an orientation toward reverence, a readiness to act, Drescher continued. “You are meant to do something - and that something may not be an easy thing.”

Slapping a hashtag at the end of a tweet doesn’t meet that standard, the scholar said.

The Rev. David Johnson of St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City said the prayerful tweets mean something to him - even if he’s been too busy to read them.

Since Monday, St. Andrew’s has become a Red Cross command post and reunion site for families to find loved ones caught in the tornado’s path. The tragedy has also touched the congregation itself, with homes, and some lives, lost on Tuesday, Johnson said.

Told of the Twitter prayers, Johnson said, “that’s awesome.”

“People feel helpless - like God called them to do something but they don’t know what. That’s where prayer comes in.”

Johnson said his church appreciates the many material donations coming its way: the generator sent by a lady from Arkansas, the food and water sent from neighboring towns. But they also solicit, and are happy to receive, the many prayers recited - or tweeted - on their behalf, he said.

“We’ve seen quite a lot of trauma in the last day,” Johnson said. “Obviously, people are going to ask why God allows tornadoes to happen. That’s just part of this world. God doesn’t promise us that bad things won’t happen, he promises to help us get through it. That’s what prayer helps us do.”

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • United States

soundoff (3,515 Responses)
  1. Judy

    Well done Mr. Gervais!

    May 22, 2013 at 3:39 pm |
  2. Dan

    Apparently when Ricky Gervais lost all that weight, he lost his mind as well!

    May 22, 2013 at 3:38 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      #prize for the lamest comment of the day

      May 22, 2013 at 3:39 pm |
    • Prayer does nothing

      Because only in America would we associate girth with intelligence.

      May 22, 2013 at 5:01 pm |
  3. Ralph

    I pray that God quits killing us violently

    May 22, 2013 at 3:37 pm |
    • Dan

      Maybe the ones that were praying, were the ones that survived.

      May 22, 2013 at 3:39 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      yeah, that'll work ...

      May 22, 2013 at 3:40 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      @Dan ... yeah, your God looked down at all those poor innocent little elementary school children and felt the need to kill them because they weren't praying ...

      May 22, 2013 at 3:41 pm |
    • Not sure how I feel

      We are putting millions upon millions of pounds of carbon in the air. That is creating a greenhouse effect. The oceans ARE warmer, that proof of that is overwhelming. The glaciers are melting, that patterns of the jet stream are changing. The sciene is overflowing. and the models, what they predicted, are coming true. How is this God's fault? God, if he exists, gave us this earth AND brains smart enough to figure out HOW it works and WHEN we are kililng it, therefore, kililng ourselves. I think he'sgiven us more than enough to sustain ourselves. If we CHOOSE to ignore the evidence, we will die. period. and he will let us kill ourselves. It is the religious in this country that GET IN THE WAY of actually working solutions to these problems. Odd, when you consider the brains that figured out what went wrong , what is going wrong, are from human brains they could realize God gave us.

      May 22, 2013 at 3:43 pm |
    • ME II

      @Dan,
      Yes, I'm sure that every one of the children that die violently actually deserves such deaths. /sarcasm

      Does your God really kill people for not praying?

      May 22, 2013 at 3:44 pm |
    • Not sure how I feel

      Those children died because someone chose to build a school that couldn't sustain wind speeds that were 100% predictable might hit that school. period. God does NOT save us from our stupid choices, in fact, maybe he lets us see that SO CLEARLY, he'll hope the religious will wake up and realize they best get a little logical on this climate change and start owning problems, instead of expecting him to fix all the things WE screwed up! WE created climate change!!!!!! It's our problem. it's ours to fix.

      May 22, 2013 at 3:45 pm |
  4. Connie

    People will interpet something that is said with an open heart in many different ways. I believe in God. Many of the people of Oklahoma believe in God. Regardless of how you believe........ the people of Oklahoma are hurting, how about support us in whatever way you would like. Thank you. #PrayforOklahoma

    May 22, 2013 at 3:37 pm |
    • sam stone

      connie: if god is omniscient, and has a plan, what is the point of prayer?

      May 22, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
  5. Not sure how I feel

    the problem with religion is it makes you stay a child. Overwhelmingly those who deny climate change are the very religious...who have not read one thing on the science. Religious people say 'the lord will provide" so they dont plan, they dont analyze options, they are lazy and make ignorant choices or make no choices at all. I have many religious people in my family, and their lack of planning and choices , or lack of making good choices, leads to more difficulty, all the time they say "the Lord will provide" and what I see is a string of very predictable consequences to stupid actiosn that then lead to more stupid choices and more bad consequences, all the while waiting for the Lord to save them from their stupidity, and it's not happening. God, if He exists, lets you make your choices and pay the conseqences of them. Of that I think I've seen ample evdience. If you dont put building codes in your building in tornado alley, you will die. Your children will die. And the reason why it happening isn't God, it's because the air now has milliosn of puonds more carbon in it, and your structures were, per your choice, flimsy. It actually makes perfect logical sense. And if we keep pumpiing carborn in the air, these storms will become the norm, so will droughts, so will many horrendous weahter patterns, and God wont save you from them either. so you know....

    May 22, 2013 at 3:36 pm |
    • JayJ7

      I think you have gotten close to the heart of the problem of Religion. People base decisions both political and private on a delusional fantasy. The results are not likely to be good for the world.

      May 22, 2013 at 3:42 pm |
    • mfh1957

      That is absurd. I am agnostic but your assertions about religion border silly. People use to be able to believe in what they wanted without all the hate. Whether that hate comes from left or right, its wrong.

      May 22, 2013 at 3:46 pm |
    • Not sure how I feel

      There isn't an ounce of hate in what I say. I look at the religious in my family and their families are disasters. I'm a VERY logical person, and I've been shaking my head at their bad decisiosn for decades. It's not hate, sometimes it's frustration _ i'll give you that. You'd lod to shake some sense into them and scream "STOP EXPECTING A MAN IN THE SKY TO FIX THIS! DO SOMETHING!" make a plan! read some analysis of what is best to DO in this scenario. The lack of analysis of the religious is stunning. It's always "God will provide for us. I'm going to worry about it"....really????? that's just being a child. And that is what they even call themselves "we're God's children"... uh no. YOu're adults. You have issues, problems, OWN THEM! act like adults and try to find solutions! this whole climate change, the pipe line for oil that wont even be sold to this country, so many decisions, bad decisions are predicated on 'Well, God is really in charge" rather than "gee, what is the actual cause and effect fo what we do here, and what is the best logical choice". logic does not exist in the religious.

      May 22, 2013 at 3:51 pm |
    • Caleb

      That's a pretty high horse you are sitting on. I didn't think that you could summarize what is wrong with so much of the world's population in a poorly written paragraph. Wow! Thanks!

      May 22, 2013 at 3:54 pm |
  6. skeptic999

    Yes, Ricky Gervais, you are a hateful idiot. And you clearly don't understand the thing you hate so much. You're the reason people think atheists are awful people.

    May 22, 2013 at 3:35 pm |
    • Not sure how I feel

      Why is he awful for saying that folks need to own problems, not look to an imaginary man to fix them. That's just..logical. He's saying actually DO something. Dont keep acting like child and thinking you will not be affected by the laws of physics and nature. Go jump off a building. Ask God to save you. See what happens. The laws that are applying to these storms, to the buildings collapsing under predictable wind speeds, it's as logical as gravity. So, you want to dare fate with climate change and tornados? That's about as bright as jumping off a building and saying "gravity wont affect me! God will save me!" -jump!--–splat!

      May 22, 2013 at 3:39 pm |
    • Judy

      He is basically saying sure pray if that's what you want to do but send money if you can to help as well. way to go Mr. Gervais!

      May 22, 2013 at 3:40 pm |
    • lol??

      A&A's have shown a preference for mobs.

      May 22, 2013 at 3:41 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      @skeptic999 .... it's easy to see how you religious types got all worked up and reached for the torches and pitchforks in the old days. Don't you think you're being a little hysterical?

      May 22, 2013 at 3:43 pm |
    • skeptic999

      @Not sure how i feel – that is not what he said. He is just belittling the people who are praying. I am certain that there are many religious organizations donating time and money to help. They offer shelter, food, clothing, etc. Almost every religious organization prays AND helps in other ways. Ricky's tweet is just childish and ignorant.

      May 22, 2013 at 3:56 pm |
  7. Gregory A. Clark

    http://i.imgur.com/wJkXEg4.jpg

    May 22, 2013 at 3:34 pm |
  8. Roger

    If God is actually the Creator of the Universe then HE and He alone is totally responsible for absolutely everything that happens in the Universe. God made this Earth in a way that's capable of creating tornadoes and hurricanes and earthquakes and floods and famine. None of those are caused by Man, they are caused by God. You seem to want to separate God from nature and somehow blame these horrible events on the randomness of nature. But it's all God! And if that's God, then it's a totally capricious and hateful God, NOT the so-called God of Love and Peace that Christians claim is revealed in the New testament of the Bible. No, sir, there is no God like that. When you come to realize that all we have is the natural world, with no creator God, no benevolent God, no God of Salvation, and that we all have to just do the best we can with what we find in the world, then we'll all be better off.

    May 22, 2013 at 3:32 pm |
    • lol??

      Actually God does claim responsibility, so what's yer beef??

      May 22, 2013 at 3:40 pm |
    • JayJ7

      So LOL??, does God call on your cell phone to claim responsibility or does he post a video on youtube?

      May 22, 2013 at 4:10 pm |
  9. Bystander watching

    Christians, save your breath. You are casting pearls before swines and they are having a muddy party with them. No highly crafted posting will change what aethist believe. Pray that their hardened hearts will soften and find truth. Now let the bashing begin...

    May 22, 2013 at 3:32 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      peace be with you. 🙂

      May 22, 2013 at 3:34 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      typical christian...insult those who do not believe what they do and call them swine...at least swine have shown a great deal more intelligence than sheep.

      May 22, 2013 at 3:35 pm |
    • lol??

      How 'bout they find another venue like a restroom wall?

      May 22, 2013 at 3:37 pm |
    • DrivenB4U

      I love the hard hearts bit. As if it only requires a soft heart to believe in God. Actually it just takes a soft mind. So that's what you should pray for. That our intellects be softened to the point that we can believe your foolishness as easily as you do.

      May 22, 2013 at 3:39 pm |
    • ME II

      "....swine"
      Funny how believer's wonder why atheists get angry.

      May 22, 2013 at 3:41 pm |
    • sam stone

      "highly crafted posting"?

      May 22, 2013 at 3:53 pm |
  10. mike a.

    its funny that people divide themselves in to belivers and not believers when the absolute truth is that we are all believers we dont have a choice since nobody knows exactly all the facts or all the things that really happened or did not hapened so at the end we all are just that BELIEVERS.

    May 22, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      Atheism is a religion like NOT collecting stamps is a hobby.

      May 22, 2013 at 3:33 pm |
    • lol??

      And a dog is an atheist's best friend.

      May 22, 2013 at 3:34 pm |
    • allan

      speak for yourself buddy.

      May 22, 2013 at 3:36 pm |
  11. Harold

    "Everything (God) does is to get our attention." Really? So when natural disasters happen on other planets that dwarf the ones happening here like the thousand mile wide Great Red Spot on Jupiter, or massive meteor strikes on the moon or Mars, or the temperatures on Venus so hot they can melt lead, who are they getting the attention of? What people are they punishing? WHen these events happen on other uninhabited worlds, maybe just maybe, they happen here too for no other reason then they are "natural" disasters in the most literal sense.

    May 22, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
    • lol??

      The Mormons have the planets covered.

      May 22, 2013 at 3:33 pm |
  12. dee

    Everyone has their own preference, including the President of the United States. Just because you voted for him doesn't mean his personal preferences have to be the same as yours. Respect and leave people alone to do and believe as they please.

    May 22, 2013 at 3:30 pm |
    • lol??

      And don't get thrown under the bus like Rev Wright.

      May 22, 2013 at 3:32 pm |
  13. Gregory A. Clark

    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10200108616662396&set=o.20804133748&type=1&theater

    May 22, 2013 at 3:30 pm |
  14. Fox News is the Only News for TRUTH

    I pray all you liberal trolls keep watching CNN while the world burns around you. When the poor rise up, you will be the first to feel their wrath.

    May 22, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
    • jason

      I don't think I would ever infringe on your right to be uneducated...keep it up

      May 22, 2013 at 3:32 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      why do you watch FOX News, the propaganda broadcast arm for the rich and powerful who spend their lives ripping off the poor?

      May 22, 2013 at 3:36 pm |
    • marytee

      ...and I thought the poor would rise up against the rich republicans...

      May 22, 2013 at 3:39 pm |
    • ScienceNeedsNoMagic

      As we watch the world burn around us, why did God choose a Red State to punish with a tornado? Or the Red States to punish with the hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico? God fearing red states should be protected from God's wrath, should they?
      If not, I guess us non-believers should continue to sin, since it appears to making red states pay for our "fun".

      May 22, 2013 at 3:42 pm |
    • Henry

      "Fox News is the Only News for TRUTH" – by that alone shows how ignorant a person you are !

      May 22, 2013 at 3:48 pm |
    • Notsofast

      I could care less if people believe or don't believe. I don't. I do, however, despise hypocrisy. HOW any of us got on this planet is unknown for sure. Your belief doesn't make it so, all you can do is believe it to be so. To make others who don't believe it be looked upon as idiots does not make your position more acceptable. Some of us believe in science to give us the answer, others believe in God having the answers. We are naturally going to not like one another using one's belief system to make the other conform to it's rules. So accept it. I don't want someone who believes in God telling me I can't use stem cells to cure disease while they're totally fine with Capital Punishment. And I'll fight you on it, period, and I'll fight to win. If anyone feels that's persecution I don't really care. If we can't find ways to accommodate one another then it's going to be a fight. It's simple.

      May 22, 2013 at 3:58 pm |
  15. Draeggo

    Hate is hate... being an entertainer doesn't exempt one from being a hater. What? We are all supposed to act like Gervais? His narrow view of the world shows his intolerance and hate for anyone that thinks freely without checking with him first to make sure he has ordained it as proper thought. Sure... why use love when you can use hate right???

    May 22, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
    • lol??

      Must be a love bigot.

      May 22, 2013 at 3:30 pm |
    • Nate

      Gravis didn't promote hate he promoted facts. Sending money helps those people out, not people posting on social media i am praying.

      May 22, 2013 at 3:33 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      all he said was to send money which could actually help ... as opposed to praying which does NOTHING!

      May 22, 2013 at 3:37 pm |
  16. callmegroom

    Atheists' understandable concern about the "power of prayer", as they see it, to confiscate/provide a way for people to abnegate a sense of responsibility and action, should not ignore the fact that prayer does have important, material, effects for individuals (psychological/physiological) and thus for society. Prayer–or whatever we should like to call it since it need not be a religious activity–does heal, and we should all be doing it. Together. May I suggest, as some form of a “non-believer”, #Healingforoklahoma? Something like that?

    May 22, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
    • gorp

      I'd like to see the evidence behind your claim that prayer heals.

      May 22, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
    • ME II

      Hence: #ActuallyDoSomethingForOklahoma.

      May 22, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
    • Goldie

      One has to pray to experience the proof.

      May 22, 2013 at 3:34 pm |
    • fred

      gorp
      Thanks to prayer I gave up drugs, thanks to prayer I gave up tobacco, thanks to prayer the hidden wonder of Gods presence was opened up and revealed to me. God revealed that which can only be seen by faith.
      I could tell you of miracles witnessed as the result of prayer but you would only see them as coincidence or unexplained medical marvel.

      May 22, 2013 at 3:40 pm |
    • callmegroom

      @ ME II: I appreciate the concern underlying Gervais's criticism of the #PrayForOklahoma meme, but as I explained I think his alternative ignores an important aspect of what is going on in the phenomenology of prayer, or whatever we would prefer to call it. There is an important difference between my suggestion for #HealingForOklahoma as an alternative to both the original meme and also #ActuallyDoSomethingForOklahoma. I'm trying to propose something that recognizes both the need for action and also the psychological state of the person writing the hash tag.

      May 22, 2013 at 3:44 pm |
  17. Nodack

    "God is still in control!” said Wilbur Dugger, a commenter on CNN’s Facebook page. “Everything (God) does is to get our attention.

    "Hey they aren't paying enough attention to me. Maybe if I wipe a few towns off the map they will spend more time worshiping my greatness."

    May 22, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
    • jason

      Or perhaps God is tell the GOP stop destroying the planet I created

      May 22, 2013 at 3:36 pm |
    • SMc

      Is the attention that God looking for, maybe related to burning fossil fuels or climate change?

      Or maybe to tell people not to build in that part of the country?

      May 22, 2013 at 3:54 pm |
  18. Dyslexic doG

    If your Christian God is as omnipotent as you say he is, then why pray to God when he was the one who killed all those people and the poor innocent elementary school children in the first place! Seems a twisted sort of logic?!?!

    May 22, 2013 at 3:23 pm |
    • lol??

      Fetch me my paper.

      May 22, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
    • MikeS

      Dyslexic doG – You are probably the type of person that blames God for everything that goes wrong in your life. The decisions you make are by your own choice.

      God doesn't sit in heaven and say "today I am going to send Tornados through Oklahoma to show my power." It's easy to blame someone who you can't see.

      The same town was affected by tornados in 1999 yet none of these houses had basements built in them? I bet God told the desginers of those houses to not build the homes without basements in them. And I God probably whispered in the homeowners ears to buy a house without a basement. "Hey guys I know your moving to a state that is known to have massive tornados roll through here, but don't worry it will never happen again."

      Stop blaming God for tragedies and misfortunes in life. There going to happen. It's how we overcome it that makes us who we are.

      What are you doing besides complaining about God in this blog? Have you donated anything yet?

      May 22, 2013 at 3:41 pm |
  19. Brian Hartman

    I don't believe in God. I'm not certain I'm right about that, but I don't believe.

    But atheists like Gervais make me angry. Who is he (or anyone?) to mock someone's religious beliefs? Yes, there are concrete things you can do to help people in these situations (sometimes, although not always). But prayer, for people who practice it, fulfills a need you can't address with money, food, or clothing. It provides people comfort. Not just for the person praying, but the person who knows they're being prayed for. Hoping/praying that a person finds comfort in a troubling time isn't a worthless exercise – especially when you're praying to someone who you believe is omnipotent and able to provide that emotional comfort.

    I've always hated Rickey Gervais. This just gives me another reason. what a dillhole.

    May 22, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      the belief that a god impregnated a virgin with himself, to give birth to himself, so he could sacrifice himself to himself to forgive the "original sin" of a couple we now all know never existed needs mocking ... badly! It is mind blowingly foolish!

      May 22, 2013 at 3:27 pm |
    • lol??

      Rickey Gervais best friend.

      May 22, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
    • Lori

      Nicely put.

      May 22, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
    • propacem

      Dyslexic,
      How are you so sure ?

      May 22, 2013 at 3:37 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      sure of what?

      May 22, 2013 at 3:38 pm |
    • MikeS

      I bet he believes that the world just happened from a big bang and we evovled from monkeys.

      May 22, 2013 at 3:42 pm |
    • SMc

      Sorry, but it's a cop-out.

      May 22, 2013 at 3:56 pm |
  20. Stephen Pruett

    Amazing! Atheists telling Christians to actually do something! Just count the number of hospitals, schools, orphanages, etc., etc., etc. sponsored by churches vs those sponsored by atheists. I think this provides a good indication of which of these groups actually "do something" when people are in need.

    May 22, 2013 at 3:21 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      church charity is just their marketing budget. No-one gets any charity from a church without a healthy dose of conversion to believe in their bronze age voodoo.

      May 22, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
    • lol??

      How much ALPO does it take to satisfy a dog??

      May 22, 2013 at 3:27 pm |
    • Nodack

      Like he said, they just give money to help. They don't need to have a statue or building named after them to make them help.

      May 22, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
    • Olivia

      Excellent point!

      May 22, 2013 at 3:32 pm |
    • Seyedibar

      There are almost as many atheist and humanist charities as religious charities, and atheists do it all without a magical carrot being dangled in front of them. It's good that christians are charitable, but they needn't invoke leprechauns and unicorns to need an excuse to be kind.

      May 22, 2013 at 3:33 pm |
    • Say no MO

      Hospitals are big money makers. Schools are used for indoctrination of impressionable children. Fewer orphanages might be needed if people were allowed access to birth control (not to mention probably a few less abortions as well). Not to mention all the tax revenue that is lost to religion. Yes, religion is a wonderful thing.

      May 22, 2013 at 3:36 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.