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May 22nd, 2013
08:34 AM ET

My take: Keep bad theology out of Oklahoma

Editor's Note: The Rev. Ian Punnett is the author of "How to Pray When You’re Pissed at God (Or Anyone Else For That Matter)" and a veteran talk show host. He has been married for 28 years and is the father of two college age boys.

By Ian Punnett, Special to CNN
[twitter-follow screen_name='deaconpunnett']

(CNN) - “God never gives us more than we can handle.”

God, have I learned to hate that cliche.

As a clergy person, as a hospital chaplain intern and as a father, I have come to believe that, at best, that platitude is a classic example of meaningless bumper-sticker theology. It's easily said and only makes sense when it goes by you so fast you don’t have time to think about it.

At worst, however, claiming that God scales a tragedy up or down depending on our ability to handle loss is as heartless as it is thoughtless.

In the deadly aftermath of the tornado that destroyed so much of Moore, Oklahoma, pain is only compounded by the implication that somehow the survivors are complicit in the death of a loved one because of their strength as a person. In this view, if God is only giving me what I can handle, then it would seem my boys would be a lot safer if I were weak.

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Anybody who has stood in the reception line at a child’s funeral likely has suffered through the repetition of this dubious claim and its equally insidious cousin, “God must have needed a new quarterback (or ballerina) up in heaven,” another expression that has hurt more people than it has healed.

Instead of simply saying, “I am so sorry this has happened” or “I am heartsick over what you are going through” or “This is just so wrong,” some mourners attempt to explain the unexplainable by forcing the world into the “Everything happens for a reason” paradigm. Bumper-sticker theology of this type reorders the universe less for the benefit of the grief-stricken and more for the benefit of the person offering it.

Because what could be reasonable about the death of a child? Deadly tornadoes can be understood scientifically, to be sure, but there is nothing reasonable about a tornado wiping out a school full of frightened children.

CNN Belief: Who hears #PrayersForOklahoma?

A tornado is not the finger of God squashing us like bugs on a sidewalk. If weather were God’s instrument of justice and  tornado victims were singled out to reward the good or punish the bad, then meteorologists would be theologians.

In researching  my book "How to Pray When You’re Pissed at God (Or Anyone Else For That Matter)," I spoke with dozens of people who told me that they lost their ability to pray - at a time when they needed it most - when family and friends pressured them into believing that God took their loved one on purpose, and that they were supposed to feel good about it.

In Oklahoma the death toll is 24, and it's expected to rise. I believe that God stands innocently with all the victims. The difference between those who lived and those who died is not the difference between those who had more or less faith, but the random difference between those who turned left and those who turned right.

In our hearts, we might crave the order of a world where God never gives us more than we can handle, but ultimately platitudes are placebos. They only work some of the time and their effectiveness requires the buy-in of the recipient.

CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories

If a bereaved parent finds peace in believing that God needed a little quarterback in heaven, far be it from me to challenge that perspective.

That said, in the face of tragedy, I believe that the faithful can best serve victims with sympathetic ears and warm hugs in what is called “a ministry of presence.” If they want to cry, cry with them. If they want to laugh and tell stories, smile through the pain, and if they want to yell “Why, God, why?” at heaven, then shake your fist too and leave the question unanswered for now.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ian Punnett.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Opinion

soundoff (631 Responses)
  1. sbeth1

    Hey, I think it is Stephen King in the photo.

    May 30, 2013 at 12:40 pm |
  2. fais

    Such arrogant, selfish and an inflated sense of self worth to question such things. A complete waste and abuse of time. Tragedy happens/has happened/will happen, and we will never control it. Why the anger? because precious provisions were taken away from you? We humans aren't owed anything. Whatever we are given, no matter how brief or long-lasting, will never truly belongs to us, and everything some day will be taken away ! So I ask once again, why the anger!!!? Be happy and grateful for what you have, because while u sit back and complain about what you have lost, u waste ur time and ur life and everything else that you have, away.

    May 28, 2013 at 4:41 pm |
  3. whittfamily1

    The author said "In Oklahoma the death toll is 24, and it's expected to rise. I believe that God stands innocently with all the victims."

    The belief that God stands innocently with all the victims is based on one underlying assumption - that God is not all-powerful (as he is often thought to be) or that he lacked sufficient power to prevent the tornado. But if God exists and he created the universe (as he is often thought to have done), then he would have had sufficient power to prevent the tornado. Therefore, the author's underlying assumption is false.

    May 25, 2013 at 8:52 am |
    • The real Tom

      I don't think the author believes that God created and controls all.

      This article is one of the very few with which I could identify. I loved what the author said about people who utter disgusting plati tudes at funerals. They're tone-deaf and brain-dead and he put them in their places.

      May 25, 2013 at 10:16 pm |
  4. amyhenson456

    just before I saw the check four $5657, I didn't believe that...my... sister was like they say realy receiving money in their spare time on their apple labtop.. there aunt has done this 4 only a year and just now repaid the mortgage on their villa and got themselves a Alfa Romeo. read more at, ........... Fℴx85.ℂℴm

    May 25, 2013 at 2:35 am |
  5. Science

    Better than Comedy GOLD................it is THE PEARLY GATES !.............what a JOKE !

    Heaven for atheists? Pope sparks debate

    By Dan Merica, CNN

    http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/05/23/heaven-for-atheists-pope-sparks-debate/comment-page-18/#respond

    http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/05/05/when-christians-become-a-hated-minority/

    AND

    Bigem foot Texas style ...Chomp on that foot print !

    Discovery Channel Mega Beasts – Great American Predator

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8UHQZVQvBkU

    https://www.zotero.org/colleengreene/items/5XRFKX8N

    http://www.caterpillar.com/Foundation

    May 24, 2013 at 3:21 pm |
  6. Nate

    Ian, thank you for your clarity of thought. I think there would be a lot less stress and conflict between people of different beliefs and non-believers alike if more of the faithful adopted your position.

    May 24, 2013 at 1:05 pm |
  7. Arnold

    Why can’t I believe in a higher power?

    May 24, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
    • aldewacs

      Because thankfully, you lack the ability to ignore facts and to just accept things 'on faith'.
      Consider it a gift from Mother Nature.

      May 25, 2013 at 10:11 am |
  8. To the people of Moore

    Blessed are they that mourn,
    For they shall be comforted!!!

    May 24, 2013 at 12:23 pm |
  9. robert landbeck

    Most likely all religion as we understand that concept from 'theology' is false. Theology only exists because nothing has been revealed. God, if there is a God, a question yet to be answered with anything more that the arguments of wishful thinking is simply not active in the world of human affairs. Our species has been left to it's own fate until such times that it comes to realize it's own limitations and what a destructive and self destructive species we are.

    May 24, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
  10. cool training

    Excellent items from you, man. I've be aware your stuff prior to and you are just too great. I actually like what you have bought here, really like what you are stating and the best way through which you are saying it. You are making it entertaining and you continue to care for to stay it sensible. I cant wait to read far more from you. This is actually a wonderful site.

    May 24, 2013 at 5:35 am |
  11. worldcares

    "What is a Preacher's Path For Homebound Elderly Members Aside from Taking Their Money?"
    There are so many Christian Sects and by laws. Every Church is different.
    Istarted taking care of my Father and Step Mother for the last 6 months. They are members of a Church but have not been able to attend for health reasons. The preacher and his wife call and come over. They are nice people. My Father always has a check for them. The only spiritual thing they do for my parents is pray before they leave. I have wondered, why don't they have a small sermon and bible study for them? I have, also, wondered, why don't the people of this church come and help them? I understand, perhaps, the Preacher and his wife, may not know what to do. I have, yet, to see them offer any assistance or any member of the Church.come to visit. I guess, sometimes, a preacher needs to be reminded of the help he can give and I shall be the one to do that.

    May 24, 2013 at 5:12 am |
  12. Jerry

    ANY theology is bad theology!!!

    May 24, 2013 at 12:06 am |
  13. red shirt from season 2

    i never figured this out, someone help me here, god creates the storm, the death and destruction are all gods will, but those who prayed were saved by god, but the people who died were just as religious, innocent in the children, but god wanted them dead?

    so heres how i view the traditional god here... if i set people on fire, and had them prove their worth, and them doused them with water (out of mercy) leaving them scarred and in pain but alive.. would you thank me or lock me up?!?

    i feel sorry, very sorry, for the people of oklahoma, so, yes, im making what could seem to be a stab at religion, but its not, the term agnostic is greek for open minded, or literally "of the mind" and i just want people who are religiously inclined to think about what this all means... this article is confusing to me, greatly, the author is saying that god isnt in charge of the weather, that he isnt using tornados as his instrument and the deaths arent attributable to him directly, but arent they? is god not omnipotant? is he not everywhere? is he not all things? so he created the tornado and caused these deaths, didnt he? is this a test created by him? must we be tested by our father to prove the worth he created us with? were we punished for our sins? is god not forgiving of our transgressions? and what sin could an elementery school kid be guilty of?

    isnt just easier to say that there is no god? that we made him when we we needed him, but we've grown beyond this now, that we know tornados are caused by diferential tempetures and air currents, no spiritual energy required, there is no one to thank, question, or curse.

    May 23, 2013 at 11:10 pm |
    • Marmaduke

      I don't believe he created the tornado.

      I believe he created nature, which has a balance. When that balance is upset it needs to find a way to right itself. If you believe in global warming or even that the idea that industrialization has played any role in polluting the environment on a grand scale, then you have to admit that the wrongdoing of mankind (some would call them sins) have played a role in upsetting the balance that Mother Nature has had to set right. It's unfortunate the innocent pay for the wrongdoings of others, but that's the nature of the world in which we live.

      May 24, 2013 at 1:54 pm |
    • whittfamily1

      To Marmaduke: Dude, if God exists and he created nature, then he created tornados; they are part of nature. Also, if God exists, he could have stopped the tornado, whether he created it or not. Therefore, if God exists, he should be blamed, not thanked.

      May 25, 2013 at 9:01 am |
    • aldewacs

      God did not created the tornado.
      Man created gods. Big difference.

      May 25, 2013 at 10:14 am |
  14. CommonSensed

    The ministry of presence.

    Can be done with or without religion, if you're a human who cares.

    Funny how everyone's trying to defend god lately.

    May 23, 2013 at 3:44 pm |
  15. pr0gress

    "I believe that God stands innocently with all the victims. "

    Then he is not omnipotent and he did not create the very earth that produces such weather phenomena. In other words, you do not believe in a Christian god. Tell us more about this helpless deity you worship...

    May 23, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
    • Schmoogalicious

      Wow, Pr0gress, so there's nothing in between "omnipotent" and "helpless"? Fascinating.

      May 23, 2013 at 7:29 pm |
    • pr0gress

      Schmoog, there's plenty between omnipotent and helpless. But the Christian god is simply NOT defined as anything but omnipotent in the precious bible.

      So, if the author believes in a non-omnipotent god (to any degree) then he does not believe in the Christian god.

      Sorry, no flaw in the logic. feel free to prove otherwise.

      May 24, 2013 at 12:40 am |
  16. Dyslexic doG

    I am amazed at all the disclaimers and technicalities and obscure Bible references that Christians are coming up with to explain how it wasn't actually God who caused the tornado or maimed and slaughtered the poor innocent elementary school children and the other god fearing Christians in this part of the bible belt.

    – "God gives us free will" - not sure how our free will changes that God created a tornado and sent it on a path to kill
    – "Satan is the lord of the air so he did it" - OK ... Satan bad and God good ... maybe read all God's slaughter in the Bible
    – God doesn't want to interfere" - then why is he worried about who we sleep with and all our sins and our daily adoration?

    The list goes on and on, each explanation more pathetic than the last.

    This is from a God that Christians are usually only too willing to proclaim his omnipotence and power to create the universe and the earth and all the miraculous creatures on the earth ... and the eye ... for some reason Christians love quoting that one?

    What a joke this religion is. Brainwashed from an early age, Christians deny logic, deny fact, and have no hope of reality.

    May 23, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
    • aldewacs

      @Dyslexic doG: "What a joke this religion is. Brainwashed from an early age, Christians deny logic, deny fact, and have no hope of reality."
      ___
      Let's be fair, doG: don't just single out Christianity. All religions are equally illogical. None of them can stand reasonable questions. All of them demand unquestioning obedience, because basic questions are embarrassing. Reality and religions are just not related in any way.

      May 25, 2013 at 10:24 am |
  17. kirshy28

    nicely phrased piece. and completely secular. this is further proof that the more you take religion out of a worldview, the more sense it makes.

    May 23, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
    • Attack of the 50 Foot Magical Underwear

      Completely secular? ??? The author said "I believe that God stands innocently with all the victims."

      Ummm – how, exactly , is that secular?

      May 23, 2013 at 10:19 pm |
  18. Which God?

    Wow. So what is the name of YOUR god? I believe in the trinity: Me, Myself and I. My church is the "Church of What's Happening Now.' I believe in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, with freedom and justice for all, and freedom FROM religion.

    May 23, 2013 at 1:30 pm |
    • ISLAM FOUNDATION OF AMERICAN CONSTI TUTION

      Truth absolute, foundation of America.

      May 23, 2013 at 1:58 pm |
    • Which God?

      Reply was for Earl, below. LL, you are just fukking NUTS!

      May 23, 2013 at 2:00 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Chihuahua song is dedicated to you which. I, I, I, IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII.

      May 23, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
  19. Reality

    o WHERE WAS YOUR GOD(S) WHEN THE FOLLOWING TOOK PLACE:

    The Twenty (or so) Worst Things GOD'S CREATURES Have Done to Each Other:

    M. White, http://necrometrics.com/warstatz.htm#u (required reading)

    The Muslim Conquest of India

    "The likely death toll is somewhere between 2 million and 80 million. The geometric mean of those two limits is 12.7 million. "

    Rank …..Death Toll ..Cause …..Centuries……..(Religions/Groups involved)*

    1. 63 million Second World War 20C (Christians et al and Communists/atheists vs. Christians et al, Nazi-Pagan and "Shintoists")

    2. 40 million Mao Zedong (mostly famine) 20C (Communism)

    3. 40 million Genghis Khan 13C (Shamanism or Tengriism)

    4. 27 million British India (mostly famine) 19C (Anglican)

    5. 25 million Fall of the Ming Dynasty 17C (Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Chinese folk religion)

    6. 20 million Taiping Rebellion 19C ( Confucianism, Buddhism and Chinese folk religion vs. a form of Christianity)

    7. 20 million Joseph Stalin 20C (Communism)

    8. 19 million Mideast Slave Trade 7C-19C (Islam)

    9. 17 million Timur Lenk 14C-15C

    10. 16 million Atlantic Slave Trade 15C-19C (Christianity)

    11. 15 million First World War 20C (Christians vs. Christians)

    12. 15 million Conquest of the Americas 15C-19C (Christians vs. Pagans)

    13. 13 million Muslim Conquest of India 11C-18C

    14. 10 million An Lushan Revolt 8C

    15. 10 million Xin Dynasty 1C

    16. 9 million Russian Civil War 20C (Christians vs Communists)

    17. 8 million Fall of Rome 5C (Pagans vs. Christians)

    18. 8 million Congo Free State 19C-20C (Christians)

    19. 7½ million Thirty Years War 17C (Christians vs Christians)

    20. 7½ million Fall of the Yuan Dynasty 14C

    May 23, 2013 at 11:19 am |
    • Bible Clown©

      You left out Disco Music in 1976. Where was God then, eh?

      May 23, 2013 at 11:22 am |
    • Pragmatic

      So what your saying really is that from your point of view the gravity and depth of human tradgedy disprove the existence of god, yet many might postulate,that same evidence clearly indicates that a world without help from a creator is tragic, brutal and beyond the scope of man to properly administer earths affairs. As one wise man wrote, "if mans governments were going to figure it out, they should of been able to do it by now".

      May 23, 2013 at 12:51 pm |
    • Which God?

      Bible Clown, that was hell on earth, indeed.

      May 23, 2013 at 1:32 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      I do believe death of the soul is your own doing Reality. You should put that with your statistics.

      May 23, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
    • Reality

      And where was your god(s) when the following took place????

      Deadliest epidemics

      Rank Death toll (estimate)

      1. 300,000,000 approx.
      Smallpox

      2. 200,000,000 ?
      Measles

      3. 100,000,000 approx.
      Black Death

      4. 80,000,000–250,000,000
      Malaria

      5. 50,000,000–100,000,000
      Spanish Flu

      6. 40,000,000–100,000,000
      Plague of Justinian

      7. 40,000,000–100,000,000
      Tuberculosis

      8. 30,000,000[13]
      AIDS pandemic

      9. 12,000,000 ?
      Third Pandemic of Bubonic Plague

      10. 5,000,000
      Antonine Plague

      11. 4,000,000
      Asian Flu

      12. 250,000 or more annually
      Seasonal influenza

      May 23, 2013 at 4:07 pm |
  20. Earl

    My deepest sympathies to the people of Oklahoma who were affected by this disaster. Because of this unfortunate event, may I share the following Bible revelation of Maestro (Teacher) Eraño M. Evangelista of http://www.thename.ph on why does God allow these kind of disasters happen to man?

    Let us read what God had said before:
    See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse- the blessing if you obey the commands of the LORD your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the LORD your God and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known.
    Deuteronomy 11:26-28 NIV)

    The religions teach us that whether good or bad our lives are, they say, “It is God's will.” Maestro Evangelista says we must no longer think in that way. We make our lives, if it is good, we did it. If it is bad, we made it to be bad. God is already angry for blaming Him for the condition of our lives.

    Now if you ask anyone or anybody, "How many Gods are there?" The answer is: One.

    But if you ask this question: “What is the Name of God?” You will get many answers.

    Up to the present time, people will tell you different names such as: "Jesus", “The Lord”, "YHWH," "Yahweh," "Yah," "Jehovah," "El," "Elohim," "Adonai," "Hashem," "Allah," and many more according to the teachings of the religions. Some will answer: ‘God is called by many names’ and there are those who are not sure that God has a name. Thus, the curse!

    That's the reason for our present suffering and all these disasters - the curse from God. We do not call on the real name of God and we worship gods who are false gods.

    Maestro Evangelista says that the reason for the disasters, wars, famine and other calamities that have happened or that we are experiencing at present, is that we never obeyed the commandments of God and never knew His Great Name.

    What is the proof that God is consistent in His decree regarding "the blessing and the curse?"

    Let us honestly ask ourselves, are we at present enjoying life in this world? Are we not affected or alarmed with the calamities, disasters, the economic hardships of daily living? There are wars, plagues and diseases presently happening in the world. Can you still find a country which has not suffered any of these events recently? If you would see a country that is still enjoying a progressive living, having no problems and does not experience any disasters and any other forms of hardships, then we might say that that country is blessed and the God that it worships in the land is true.

    But we see no country at present in that kind of state, the world is indeed cursed. We should also be reminded of the events and the people that are written about in the Holy Bible:

    In the Old Testament, the people of God together with his prophets were saved, for example:
    • Noah, from the Flood
    • Daniel, from the Lion's den
    • David, amidst the enemies around his kingdom

    These are some of the men and prophets of God who have obeyed Him throughout their missions. God had saved and let them live their lives to the fullest. This is His reward for them, the blessed life.

    What happened to those people who followed and obeyed Jesus – his apostles in the New Testament, believers and followers in history?
    • starting with Jesus himself, he was executed in the prime of his life
    • his apostles and their followers, all were killed and murdered
    • the martyrs, who gave their lives for Jesus, all died horribly
    • and others, down through the ages; they all met violent death
    They all died before their time: death through execution, murder, and persecution.

    How can you say they are blessed when they were not allowed to live their lives to the fullest? These people, Jesus and his followers are examples of God's punishment or curse! For they had followed a false god and had disobeyed God's laws and had done great wickedness upon mankind through their deception.

    Know the greatest deception that the religions had done upon mankind by hiding the truth that Jesus was allowed by God to be punished by men for his own wrongdoing. Read this link:http://www.thename.ph/thename/revelations/greatestdeception-en.htm

    How can we know the real name of God so that we may be free of this Curse from God? Let us read what God said before for us to identify the man whom He will send to speak about His Name in the scriptures.
    Let us read in: Deut.18:18-19-
    “18 I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him. 19 And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him.”
    – God had spoken before in Deut.18:18-19 about a ONE prophet whom will He send like Moses, whose mouth He will place His words (which means the chosen one will not study the Bible on his own as God Himself will instruct him about His words ) AND will send to speak in His Name or to reveal His Name-

    This means that when it comes to the word of God, especially about His Name- there is only ONE man given who was given authority by God to speak about it and this is the ‘prophet like Moses’ whom God spoke about in Deut.18:18-19.
    Since the prophet like Moses is the one who was sent to reveal the Name of God, it means that he is the one WHO WE SHOULD LISTEN TO ABOUT THE NAME OF GOD so that we may free ourselves of this curse from God!

    This prophecy in Deut.18:18-19 has now come in the person of Maestro (teacher) Eraño Martin Evangelista of http://www.thename.ph.

    Since what God had spoken in Deut.18:18-19 about a coming prophet was fulfilled through Maestro Evangelista's Bible-based revelation of the one true Name of God and his clear explanation about it by depending only on what God will illuminate upon him about the meaning of His written word , truly proves that God indeed put His words in his (Maestro Evangelista's) mouth, which is the sign of the prophet like Moses in Deut.18:18-19.

    All the messages that he proclaimed through the scripture in the said website about the Name of God proves he is the prophet like Moses whom God had sent to reveal His one great Name. Let it also be known that he is only informing us all about what God had sent him to proclaim His Name through the scripture so that we may call on His Name and hear our prayers for this curse upon us to end (Deut.11:26-28) and not to establish a religion, this means whether we accept the message he brings from God or not is our decision.

    More importantly, with the fulfillment of what God had spoken in Deut.18:18-19 in the person of Maestro Evangelista, this means that no person may say anymore that there is no God; and no one can say now that the God of Moses and the prophets-The God of gods (Psalm 95:3) does not exist.

    This message is to show the readers of this blog that the truth why God allows these disasters to happen to us is because we are worshiping a false god taught by the religions-the false prophets all this time.

    Maestro Erano M.Evangelista says " Disastrous events will continue to happen all over the world, for the people to realize the world is cursed. These will only stop when they accept and acknowledge the true Name of God"

    You may read all the Bible revelations of Maestro Evangelista inwww.thename.ph and your questions about it may be answered as you patiently read all the articles in the site. Whether you accept the 'Prophet like Moses'-Maestro Evangelista's Bible revelations inwww.thename.ph or not is not important -what is important is you have been informed of God's true message. Thank you.

    May 23, 2013 at 10:57 am |
    • pr0gress

      2 + 2 = 4

      See how easy it is to explain facts? I wonder why faith needs so much tortured logic...

      May 23, 2013 at 2:49 pm |
    • Neal Dakota

      Earl: cults like this are the reason why Bible-believing Christians can't have nice things.

      May 23, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
    • Duke of Earl

      More grog!

      May 23, 2013 at 6:53 pm |
    • Athy

      Way to go Earl. That's what everyone likes; nice short posts that get right to the point.

      May 23, 2013 at 6:56 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      pr0gress, science and Jesus agree, sperm + sperm does not produce, nor does egg(s) + egg(s).

      May 23, 2013 at 11:19 pm |
    • Akira

      Uh oh. I have a feeling we are going to hear more in the future about the Maestro; I sincerely hope it isn't in the headlines, either.

      HS: SS couple plus unwanted child in foster care/orphanage = family.
      Jesus was all about family and love. He never said a word about gay couples and adoptions. Sorry.

      May 25, 2013 at 2:05 am |
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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.