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May 22nd, 2013
06:20 PM ET

This Oklahoma atheist isn't thanking the Lord

By Jessica Ravitz, CNN
[twitter-follow screen_name='JRavitzCNN']

(CNN) – Behind her were ruins, a tangled mess where structures once stood. Cradled in her arms, the mother’s 19-month-old son played with a snatched microphone, unfazed by the chaos swirling around him. And in front of Rebecca Vitsmun stood CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, who – after asking her about the decision that saved her and her son's lives – had one more question:

“I guess you got to thank the Lord, right?” he asked.

“Yeah,” she mumbled, smiling and looking down.

“Do you thank the Lord for that split-second decision?” he continued.

“I, I, I,” the 30-year-old stay-at-home mom stammered before adding, “I’m actually an atheist.”

She laughed, Blitzer laughed, and the moment passed seamlessly on live TV. Except it also became a clip heard across the Internet and social media – one that pointed to a reality about faith in America that exists even where, and when, people might least expect it.

Vitsmun, who chronicled her decision to flee her house with her son on CNN iReport, is one of 13 million atheists or agnostics in America, according to a 2012 report by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life.

See Rebecca Vitsmun discuss her decision with CNN's Wolf Blitzer

While only 2.4% of Americans are atheists, they fit into a broader category that is on the rise in the United States.

Nearly 20% of adults – and a third of those under 30 – are religiously unaffiliated, the Pew report found.

This group, which has grown by roughly 5% in five years, is often referred to as the “nones.” It is a term that extends beyond atheists, who believe there is no God, and agnostics, who believe it’s impossible to prove or disprove God’s existence. It includes a greater proportion of people who see themselves as nothing in particular, which means they might be secular, spiritual or believers – but simply don’t identify with an organized religion, said Greg Smith, a senior researcher at the Pew Research Center

“When we ask people questions about their religious identity, when we ask them about their religious beliefs, there are relatively few who are atheists. But I’m speaking in percentage terms,” Smith said. “That doesn’t mean there aren’t lots of them around. And they’re certainly all over.”

Oklahoma included.

In fact, when the Pew Research Center last drilled down to uncover the religious landscape of affiliations on a state level five years ago, 12% of Oklahomans were religiously unaffiliated. And just as the numbers ticked up nationally since then, it stands to reason that they did the same in Oklahoma.

We tried to reach Vitsmun by phone Wednesday but were unable to connect.

Her friend Waylon Flinn, however, shed some light on who she is. She and her husband, who Flinn said is also an atheist, aren’t the sorts who advertise their beliefs or throw them in people’s faces. When she agreed to go on camera, it wasn’t for that platform; she didn’t even see the Lord question coming.

But that she responded to Blitzer the way she did is no surprise to Flinn, who opened his home in nearby Norman to Vitsmun’s family after theirs was destroyed.

“She handled it in her style, which is very honest and true to herself,” he said.

- CNN Writer/Producer

Filed under: Atheism • iReport • News media

soundoff (2,486 Responses)
  1. Bob

    Religion is corrosive for the mind. Here is one example of what it can lead to: bbc. co.uk/news/world-us-canada-22633937

    May 23, 2013 at 1:12 am |
  2. Bob

    Religion is corrosive for the mind. Here is one example of what it can lead to: http://www.bbc. co.uk/news/world-us-canada-22633937

    May 23, 2013 at 1:12 am |
    • aacon

      Atheism is a religion as well.Founder asks for donations.Athesist push ther agneda on others just as much as any other religion.Your mind is corroding as well according to your link.Hope the lady in the video lets her kid decide his religious life instead of shoving it down his throat like all other religions do as young as possible...ALL.

      May 23, 2013 at 1:26 am |
    • Bob

      Not believing in gods is not a religion the same way that not speaking german is not a language. Atheist don't have common beliefs. They have a common lack of a particular belief. The rest of their beliefs can be anything. You can't really group people based on what they don't believe. You don't believe in Santa, do you? How much do you have in common with others that don't believe in Santa?

      May 23, 2013 at 1:38 am |
    • ROO

      A rejection of a unsupported assertion isn't a religion. There are no founders of atheism. Atheists have nothing to worship. They simply don't support willful gullibility. They demand evidence for anyone making an assertion instead of blindly believing anything at will.

      May 23, 2013 at 4:55 am |
    • Nut Crusher

      Oh, I get it! This guy saw one of those articles about that rich atheist guy who spends money advertising atheism and thinks we're all getting paid to tell these idiots that they are idiots.
      I don't know where that guy's money is going but I haven't seen any of it.

      May 23, 2013 at 5:10 am |
  3. Bootyfunk

    thank the first responders. thank people. don't waste time thanking an invisible sky fairy that isn't there.

    May 23, 2013 at 1:11 am |
  4. Michael

    Christianity has been in decline throughout the world ever since Christians lost the political power to tyrannize non-Christians.

    May 23, 2013 at 1:10 am |
  5. Frank

    So many vile Christians out there doing nothing but driving good people further and further from even considering that world-wide, bigoted cult of excluding those who don't believe in the same made-up myth that they do.

    May 23, 2013 at 1:00 am |
    • aacon

      Yes,and Athesist ,which Atheism is also a religion do the same even more every chance they get about something religious oriented or not.And yes Athesism is a religion,and the founder asks for donations just like all other religions.You piont out a splinter in eyes while having a pole in your own 🙂

      May 23, 2013 at 1:17 am |
    • Ak-Haru Kenaustin Ardenol

      founder? Atheism has a founder? lmao! So who is this "founder"? Does he/she/it have a name?

      May 23, 2013 at 1:34 am |
    • Athy

      Come on, aacon. You know better than that. Of course, after looking again at your poorly written pst, maybe you don't.

      May 23, 2013 at 1:47 am |
  6. GodfatherofSoul

    That was a setup. The fact that he repeated "thank the Lord" sounded a bit artificial like he was pressing her to answer it that way. Second, Blitzer is Jewish so I don't see why he'd even ask that.

    May 23, 2013 at 1:00 am |
    • trilly3807

      To GodfatherOfSoul: What in the world does Blitzer being Jewish have to do with the question he asked? Do you actually think Jews do not believe in God? Also known as "The Lord"? I think you are under the impression that "The Lord" means "Jesus". My understanding is that Jews do not believe in Jesus, but they do believe in God. In any case, it was a stupid question for Blitzer to ask in the first place. That question is just one example why he is an embarrassment to CNN.

      May 23, 2013 at 1:18 am |
    • Ak-Haru Kenaustin Ardenol

      I think he'd probably been listening to wild Jesus gabble all day long and was merely expecting more of same.

      May 23, 2013 at 1:35 am |
  7. albie

    This woman is my new hero – hopefully she doesn't get too many death threats and hate mail from Christians (you know I am right)

    May 23, 2013 at 12:55 am |
    • Athy

      Yeah, she's got to have guts to say that in the heart of the Bible Belt. The religies will probably make her life miserable from now on.

      May 23, 2013 at 1:00 am |
  8. Stella

    Yes she is an athiest...was there some other point to this story?? She does not pray....but millions of others do. What or who at CNN continues to bring these divisive stories as headlines at a time of disaster? It really appears that CNN has an agenda....again who is behind this??

    May 23, 2013 at 12:50 am |
    • Athy

      Atheist, not athiest. At least spell it right, Stella.

      May 23, 2013 at 12:51 am |
    • Christian

      I dont think this was a divisive story. It was wrong, or at least annoying for Wold to assume that she thanked the Lord. We don't all presume there is a God. On the other hand, she didn't jump up and down screaming, as some atheists do, that there is no GOD and that No one should believe in one. She stated her own values. She was polite.
      Let's all look for things to agree on and ways to live together without being on aggressive.
      People on CNN are not going to Prove or Disprove the existence of God.

      May 23, 2013 at 12:57 am |
    • Emitr

      This is in the Belief Blog. It's a personal interest section. I find it noteworthy that a woman with a child in her arms after a natural disaster like this responded the way she did. Or is the only non-agenda your religious, faith affirming one?

      May 23, 2013 at 1:03 am |
    • Jay

      Nothing in this world has been more divisive than religion.

      May 23, 2013 at 1:15 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      The sad thing is that other parts of CNN report how churches have jumped in, opened their doors to help with this disaster but not one positive story on CNN's Belief Blog stating this. A Atheist does the same thing and its a major story.

      May 23, 2013 at 1:23 am |
    • Observer

      Mark from Middle River,

      This is a story because we usually hear about all the people thanking God that he spared them while God watched the killing of so many others.

      May 23, 2013 at 1:31 am |
    • HotAirAce

      Dog Bites Man vs. Man Bites Dog. . ,

      May 23, 2013 at 1:35 am |
    • ROO

      Why consider it divisive because its revealed she doesn't pray? Are we required to only hear about people who prayed or are religious at a time of disaster?

      May 23, 2013 at 5:00 am |
    • ROO

      @Christian

      The existence of god is an assertion. You can only prove that assertion. Disproving the assertion is automatically accomplished when there is lack of evidence to prove the asserted claim. It means there was nothing there to assert. If you claim something, you show what proof there is to validate that claim.

      May 23, 2013 at 5:04 am |
    • r3dwin3plz

      @jay
      Without a doubt, you are correct.

      May 23, 2013 at 5:16 pm |
  9. Christian

    LinCa, believing that God DOES NOT exist, is a belief, just like believing that GOD DOES exist. You can use different "evidence" or "logic" that you find convincing, but the only position that anyone should logically be able to agree on is that neither position is provable. Atheists can assert that evil in the world, or randomness in the world proves that God doesn't exist, and believers will just turn around and use the argument that evil allows us to make choices, which proves our free will. All of these are arguments that we chose based on what suits us, or what our parents taught us. But the only position that is logically true is-its unknowable. So, arguing about it is pointless and mean-spirited. It gives atheists a bad name. Its really better to argue that believers should stop stuffing their conception of truth in others' faces, and to do the same.
    (I am not making a statement about the truth or non-truth about the existence of GOD, just what is useful behavior, given the fact that we don't know.)

    May 23, 2013 at 12:48 am |
    • Athy

      Why should an atheist prove the falseness of such a preposterous belief as religion? The sheer absurdity of such bullshit should be enough for anyone who can think clearly and logically.

      May 23, 2013 at 12:57 am |
    • tallulah13

      Actually, I would say that history and human culture fairly prove that gods are human constructs. Humans have worshiped literally thousands of gods, and there isn't a shred of proof to support the existence of any one of them. Gods always share the values of the culture that invented them, only travel where humans take them, and never emerge independently in two unrelated places at the same time.

      I find these facts far more compelling than "evil in the world, or randomness in the world ", in fact, neither of these things ever occurred to me as reasons to not believe in a god.

      May 23, 2013 at 1:03 am |
    • Luminus

      @Christian: What you've said is incorrect. Atheist don't believe that there is no god. We simply don't believe YOU and your claims. Do you actively believe there're no Smurfs living on the moon? Is there some altar where you religiously denounce moon Smurfs? Please stop insulting our intelligence. As for giving atheists a bad name, it's too late for that as religious people gave us a bad name from jump.

      May 23, 2013 at 1:05 am |
    • Pink Unicorn

      Prove that invisible pink unicorns do not exist. Oh, sorry. You can't.

      Now- do you decide you don't believe in them? Or do you decide you do believe in them?
      Or do you decide that it really isn't worth your time to declare that you have a belief or a faith in one direction or another because we are talking about a flippin' unicorn.
      Atheism is not a faith in the non-existance of a God. We don't need constant re-assurance of a faith or belief every Sunday.

      It is just a dismissal.

      May 23, 2013 at 1:30 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      The constant re-assurance is the same as those of Faith. As soon as a person of Faith states that there is a God or Gods then it challenges your views in the same basic manner and you have to choose to continue or not to continue with your held beliefs.

      This is just another example of why Atheism is just another form of Faith. There are those within Atheism that actually believe that those that hold different beliefs than theirs must be...have to be.....can only be living in a 24 hour cycle of doubt of their views.

      May 23, 2013 at 1:45 am |
    • Common Sense Sam

      Proof of an extraordinary claim of the type "there exists an omnipotent super being that requires your acknowledgement and worship" falls to those making the claim. The default position is lack of belief in the extraordinary claim. If was any other case,we would all be required to believe in a rogues gallery of nonsensical yet undies provable claims and conspiracy theories such as UFOs, Bigfoot,the Loch Ness Monster, etc. Think about it and you will understand.

      May 23, 2013 at 2:08 am |
    • LinCA

      @Christian

      You said, "believing that God DOES NOT exist, is a belief, just like believing that GOD DOES exist."
      True. I allow for the remote possibility that there is a god, or multiple. Given the current state of evidence for the existence of any gods, it is completely irrational to believe they exists.

      You said, "You can use different "evidence" or "logic" that you find convincing, but the only position that anyone should logically be able to agree on is that neither position is provable."
      While you probably can't conclusively show there are, or aren't any gods, the two positions aren't equal. A claim that god(s) exist, is that same as a claim that Pink Unicorns exist, or the Tooth Fairy. While it isn't impossible, it is highly improbable. To be convincing, such a claim needs to be supported by evidence. The merit of a claim lies in the support for it in evidence.

      So far, no evidence has ever been found for any god. The claim "there is a god", has no merit.

      It you throw specifics in the mix, such as claims about specific traits a particular god has, it becomes even less likely to exist that your run-of-the-mill, generic god. These specific traits will then have to be squared with each other and reality.

      You said, "Atheists can assert that evil in the world, or randomness in the world proves that God doesn't exist, and believers will just turn around and use the argument that evil allows us to make choices, which proves our free will."
      Evil and randomness don't prove there are no gods. They simply make it unlikely that, if there is one, it is very interested in us.

      Free will, whether it exists or not, doesn't do anything to make your case for a god. Only the absence of it might. With an omniscient and omnipotent being, free will is an illusion at best. If your future decisions can be known, how much choice do you really have? If there is a being that knows the choices that you are going to make, you only have the illusion of free will because you don't know what choice you'll make.

      You said, "All of these are arguments that we chose based on what suits us, or what our parents taught us."
      For a lot of people it comes down to what they were told. A lot of people are so indoctrinated by their upbringing that, by the time they should be able to rationally evaluate their beliefs, they've lost that ability.

      You said, "But the only position that is logically true is-its unknowable."
      Yes, but that doesn't place agnostic atheism on equal footing as agnostic theism. There may or may not be a Tooth Fairy, but that doesn't make belief in it equally rational as non-belief.

      Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. In absence of extraordinary evidence, any would be a good start.

      You said, "So, arguing about it is pointless and mean-spirited."
      No, it isn't, based on the fact that the positions aren't equal, by a long shot.

      You said, "It gives atheists a bad name."
      I doubt that is entirely true. Most theists appear to be clueless, not only about atheism, but also their own religion. I appreciate your willingness to consider agnosticism, but for most fervent believers that's not an option. By even questioning the existence of their god, they are threatened to their core. I suspect they feel threatened, in part, because they have no rational way to support their beliefs.

      You said, "Its really better to argue that believers should stop stuffing their conception of truth in others' faces, and to do the same."
      You may have noticed that I rarely make a root post on this comment section. My posts are almost always replies and rebuttals. I often state something to the effect that if believers would stop making these ridiculous claims, I would stop pointing out the silliness of them.

      There's an oft posted claim that the existence of atheists somehow "proves" there is a god. This is, of course, complete bullshit, but if there weren't any theists spouting their nonsense, you probably would hear from us.

      You said, "I am not making a statement about the truth or non-truth about the existence of GOD, just what is useful behavior, given the fact that we don't know."
      Ridiculous claims, if left unchallenged, may morph into "truths". I don't expect to convince many believers with whom I directly engage here, but a curious bystander may be persuaded to evaluate his or her indoctrination.

      May 23, 2013 at 10:43 am |
  10. Realist

    Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

    Epicurus

    May 23, 2013 at 12:48 am |
  11. Realist

    Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

    Epicurus 340-271 BC

    May 23, 2013 at 12:47 am |
  12. Apple Bush

    The Christian drive-by posters are out today.

    May 23, 2013 at 12:43 am |
    • HotAirAce

      I noticed that too – lots of unsubstantiated claims with zero follow up.

      May 23, 2013 at 12:49 am |
  13. Christian

    I think that it is great that she asserted her belief. I am agnostic. Its impossible to prove or disprove the existence of God, and extremists on all sides (For AND Against the existence of God) are too often obnoxious or presumptuous about what others might believe. She spoke up about her feelings without being arrogant or unkind to anyone.

    May 23, 2013 at 12:39 am |
    • madmanmoses

      yes, i am 99% convinced there is no god
      ,as i am 99% convinced
      there is no tooth fairy...

      May 23, 2013 at 12:44 am |
    • Apple Bush

      @Christian

      Christians are absolutely 100% wrong. Clearly, no question about it. Atheists don't claim to have the answers. We are not arrogant, we just have common sense.

      May 23, 2013 at 12:48 am |
  14. Redeye Dog

    Whatever happened to chalking it up to luck, good or bad? Why do we have to implicate divine intervention in everything that happens?

    May 23, 2013 at 12:39 am |
  15. Truth

    I wish God destroyed all nonbelievers today

    May 23, 2013 at 12:36 am |
    • Apple Bush

      God kills without discrimination.

      May 23, 2013 at 12:37 am |
    • HotAirAce

      Well, isn't that a christian thought, or are you a muslim?

      May 23, 2013 at 12:38 am |
    • GodFreeNow

      Unfortunately, he's busy giving cancer to kids.

      May 23, 2013 at 12:39 am |
    • Tia

      Well, your God answers prayers so pray really really hard for that...you won't, of course, because when it doesn't happen you would have to admit that your God either a) doesn't actually listen to your whining and complaining or b) doesn't exist. Why would you want the nonbelievers destroyed anyway? Your God created everyone and if it doesn't bother your God, why does it bother you so much?

      May 23, 2013 at 12:44 am |
    • morkindie

      That must mean you worship a God of Hate and death.

      May 23, 2013 at 12:49 am |
    • albie

      good thing there isnt one then 🙂

      May 23, 2013 at 12:56 am |
    • Frank

      At least you're being honest. And thank you for demonstrating the deep hypocrisy and deep-seated hatred festering in so many so-called believers.

      May 23, 2013 at 12:57 am |
    • tallulah13

      I wish that all trolls would get a life and finally move out of their mothers' basements. I'm sure the mothers of trolls wish the same thing.

      May 23, 2013 at 1:04 am |
    • Naturalist

      Truth,
      It must be one of the God's divine secretive plans to let atheist live in this world. It is just beyond your comprehension. So don't pull your guns yet. Your God wants it this way for some reason. As an atheist, I would really thank God for this.

      May 23, 2013 at 1:13 am |
    • John

      If there was a god, I would take a massive dump on his face, but there isn't so I won't.

      May 23, 2013 at 8:52 am |
  16. Andrew

    Who cares... atheists care so they can continue to preach more then preachers

    May 23, 2013 at 12:33 am |
    • LinCA

      @Andrew

      You said, "Who cares... atheists care so they can continue to preach more then preachers"
      It's a public service announcement. What you do with the information is up to you. You are free to remain blissfully ignorant.

      May 23, 2013 at 12:34 am |
  17. Observer

    Truth,

    There's a huge difference between HOPING there is a God and believing there is a God.

    May 23, 2013 at 12:33 am |
  18. Truth

    She like most other atheists will pray to God and convert once they get severe sick and when getting close to death

    May 23, 2013 at 12:31 am |
    • LinCA

      @Truth

      You said, "She like most other atheists will pray to God and convert once they get severe sick and when getting close to death"
      Bullshit.

      Once you stop believing in the Tooth Fairy, it's very difficult to go back.

      May 23, 2013 at 12:33 am |
    • Moe

      No she won't.

      May 23, 2013 at 12:38 am |
    • who you calling big nose?

      She just looked death in the face, you moron.

      May 23, 2013 at 12:40 am |
    • GodFreeNow

      uh... "close to death" like escaping a killer tornado and running for her life?

      May 23, 2013 at 12:40 am |
    • albie

      some, not all .. man Christians love to speak for everybody

      May 23, 2013 at 12:58 am |
    • tallulah13

      Hey truth, maybe your mom is praying that her loser kid will stop trolling, get a life, make friends and move out of the basement. The power to answer her prayers is in your hands. Don't disappoint her.

      May 23, 2013 at 1:06 am |
  19. Apple Bush

    It will be a lovely Christmas this year for the parents who lost their children. Thank you Jesus and praise you.

    May 23, 2013 at 12:30 am |
    • Moe

      Yeah, that makes sense. Not

      May 23, 2013 at 12:38 am |
  20. tanha

    "(Solomon said:) This is of the bounty of my Lord, that He may try me whether I give thanks or am ungrateful. Whosoever giveth thanks he only giveth thanks for (the good of) his own soul; and whosoever is ungrateful (is ungrateful only to his own soul's hurt). For lo! my Lord is Absolute in independence, Bountiful."

    (Qur'an 27:40)

    May 23, 2013 at 12:29 am |
    • madmanmoses

      uuhhhh. they didn't speak english back then... could you translate that please???

      May 23, 2013 at 12:49 am |
    • tanha

      Sure,
      قَالَ هَـٰذَا مِن فَضۡلِ رَبِّى لِيَبۡلُوَنِىٓ ءَأَشۡكُرُ أَمۡ أَكۡفُرُ‌ۖ وَمَن شَكَرَ فَإِنَّمَا يَشۡكُرُ لِنَفۡسِهِۦ‌ۖ وَمَن كَفَرَ فَإِنَّ رَبِّى غَنِىٌّ۬ كَرِيمٌ۬

      May 23, 2013 at 3:23 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.