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. Why are comments "closed" on the Boy Scouts recent article?

    Why are comments "closed" on the Boy Scouts recent article?


    May 24, 2013 at 10:14 am |
    • nclaw441

      Thank you for posting that. I was wondering the same thing.

      May 24, 2013 at 10:18 am |
    • .

      qu eers are sensitive to comments cnn don't want to make the filthy fa gs cry when the truth is told about them

      May 24, 2013 at 10:35 am |
    • Why are comments "closed" on the Boy Scouts recent article?

      Funny. The article was written by an opponent to the new standards and presumably anti-gay.

      May 24, 2013 at 10:42 am |
  2. catholic engineer

    If I gave an atheist a small pebble and said, "This pebble doesn't care about you.", I'd be given a funny look at most. If I offloaded a truck full of rocks onto her front yard, she would be very angry. "But these rocks don't care about you!", I'd insist. She'd say, "I'm going to sue you !" But add more and more rock, lots of gas, and immeasurable empty space , the atheist's perception begins to change. "Yes, the universe is vast and we but a spec in a boundless universe." The concepts of size and vastness only exist in the human mind. Yet the atheist uses these products of her own mind to make herself small. It doesn't occur to her that ten million planets are just as stupid as that little pebble she first held. As a toddler, the atheist could out-think everything the astronomers discover. And thought very much matters to atheists. But maybe it takes a poet rather than a scientist to notice such things. Emily Dickinson observed that 'The brain is wider than the sky. And side by side, the one contains the other, and you beside'. It was a big day in science when it was announced that the earth is not the center of the stars – as though the relative positions of some rocks, however large, is even important. The real center of the universe is wherever the most intelligent life is found. So far, that's us.

    When the atheist assumes this exhalted view of the cosmos, she is more religious than she realizes.Written for an atheist audience, Psalm 90:1-4 would be written " To your (the cosmos') eyes a thousand years are like yesterday, come and gone..."

    This is a long way from the monotheism which replaced that irrelevant list of gods recited by atheists. But much of what atheists espouse – that size matters, for instance – is schmaltz unworthy of their own mental effort.

    May 24, 2013 at 9:53 am |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      Your point is moot. The size of the universe is just one of many indications that the bible is mythological babble not good for determining "truth." The real issue is that your god is invisible and undetectable, and therefore, irrelevant. If any of you could prove your god, then there'd be no atheists. If the discovery of god's nature was measurable and testable, it would be like math or chemistry and there would be no "faith" required that makes every religious/spiritual belief equally valid since they are all supported by the equal premise of blind belief. Faith is only a virtue when assuming that a particular quest has value and so you begin it; it's of no value when deciding what must be the case--for that, you need experiment, observation, and measurement.

      You got nothing.

      May 24, 2013 at 10:01 am |
    • nclaw441

      Cpt Obvious– There are many things that are invisible and undetectable, but are far from irrelevant, at least to most of us. Love is invisible and undetectable, but almost everyone agrees it exists. It is hardly irrelevant; much is done in the name of love seeking love. Love has inspired much art, and most music.

      Besides love, there is courage, compassion, generosity, etc. etc. All invisible. All undetectable. All relevant.

      May 24, 2013 at 10:23 am |
    • Cpt. Obvious


      You are describing words that conceptualize various brain states. Brain states are NOT INVISIBLE and can be measured with a some fancy medical equipment and some time spent in calibration for the specific individual. We can test for that brainstate and know whether or not that person is actually feeling that emotion.

      But what matters is not that someone claims to have one of those brain states, but what that brain state inspires the person to do to evidence that love or compassion. Those acts do matter, and the brain states matter, too. The belief in god is just that: a brain state. We can certainly measure that brain state (and induce it, by the way), and we know that it is a common and real belief. God, however, is completely undetectable and invisible. We cannot measure anything to know whether or not he exists, and so far, it is only the actions of people that make a difference, not that they did the action for Yahweh, Allah, or whatever other god, spirit, or alien.

      So the BELIEF and the ACTION is what matters and can be measured. Nobody is debating that. God, like unicorns, is completely invisible and undetectable, and as such, completely irrelevant. Silly and incorrect beliefs cause people to do all sorts of things, though, like fly airplaines into buildings and bomb cities and stuff like that.

      May 24, 2013 at 10:32 am |
  3. Cjkaruna

    Why did Wolf Blitzer even ask that question? It was completely inappropriate. Freedom of religion means that we don't have to reveal our personal beliefs on national TV and unless CNN has become a religious station, what business is it of WB's?

    May 24, 2013 at 7:14 am |
    • TCC

      This is a great point. I further take issue with this snippet:

      "one that pointed to a reality about faith in America that exists even where, and when, people might least expect it."

      I am getting angrier thinking about it. The implication here is, fine, atheism is ok, yeah, yeah......but when there's some kind of tragedy or event like this, I mean.......c'mon.......gee......shouldn't those people abandon that and really just, ya know, finally give in and start thanking god and praising god. I mean, shouldn't people start getting down on their knees and praying to god WHEN A TORNADO JUST KILLED DOZENS OF PEOPLE, OBLITERATED HOMES AND RUINED LIVES?!?! Arrggghhhhhh....

      May 24, 2013 at 9:31 am |
  4. Steve

    Each person has to make the decision for themselves if they believe or not. I certainly believe God exists and he is active in my life. I wish every person comes to the realization before it's too late. It saddens me everytime I see debates God exists, no he doesn't. I'm not the type of person to shove it in people's face. After accepting Jesus as my savior, life hasn't been the same. I don't believe in religion (a bunch of rules we can't live up to), the entire Old Testament proves this along with other things. Our country for the last couple of generations have grown up with many distractions and God not in people's lives, we as a rule are reaping what we sowed, divorces, single parent homes, non-traditional (according to the bible) home lives. My hope is every experiences the free gift Jesus offers. God bless all folks!

    May 24, 2013 at 6:30 am |
    • Reality

      God showing his love:

      Deadliest epidemics

      Death counts are historical totals unless indicated otherwise.

      Rank Death toll (estimate)

      1. 300,000,000 approx.

      2. 200,000,000 ?

      3. 100,000,000 approx.
      Black Death

      4. 80,000,000–250,000,000

      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

      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 24, 2013 at 6:46 am |
    • Abort the Pope

      Reality, where did you get these numbers?

      May 24, 2013 at 7:57 am |
    • TCC

      You don't push it others' faces, yet your posts reeks of your desire to have everyone believe what you do. You are the exact definition of "pushing" it! Live your life how you want, fantastic, be the person you want to be, fantastic, but you are CLEARLY of the mold where you judge others' lives and consider any perceived shortcomings as due to not having your beliefs. I'm glad you believe in hell, I hope you make a visit one day....

      May 24, 2013 at 9:27 am |
    • Reality

      Oops, sorry about not including the reference concerning epidemics:


      10.^ "UC Davis Magazine, Summer 2006: Epidemics on the Horizon". Retrieved 2008-01-03.
      11.^ Smallpox and bioterrorism, Bulletin of the World Health Organization, vol. 81 no. 10 Genebra October 2003 ISSN 0042-9686
      12.^ a b "Torrey EF and Yolken RH. 2005. Their bugs are worse than their bite. Washington Post, April 3, p. B01". Birdflubook.com. Retrieved 2010-08-1

      May 24, 2013 at 10:25 am |
    • Steve

      People say my reply 'reaks' of wanting to push, judge others. Hmm. No where did I say I judge others, that is others conclusion. Honestly, the human side of me doesn't care what people think, live your life believing or not believing, that is what people call free will, it's a Gift. As I've grown in my faith, it saddens me people are negative towards who believe. Like I stated, I can't force anyone to believe nor do I judge those who don't. From your perspective, my response is not something you agree with. From my perspective, why do you talk so negatively towards believers.

      May 24, 2013 at 10:34 pm |
  5. For the record

    God exists. Really, he does. You people claiming he isn't there, he is. God sent Jesus to die for our sins, it was a gift. If you believe him, you get the gift if you repent of your sins. You have to believe God did what he said he did, you have to believe the truth. It's right there, in the bible, everything they said, it's the truth. They told the truth. Believe God, your time is running out.

    May 24, 2013 at 3:37 am |
    • ROO

      Saying god exists is making an asserted claim. People saying he doesn't is rejecting that assertion due to lack of evidence to back the assertion. That's a logical conclusion. You seem to prefer to go to ancient literature to back your claim yet fail to realize that biblical claims have been dismantled in many fields of study that gather evidence- biology, geology, archeology, history, paleontology, physics, cosmology, so on. You're going to have to do more than resort back to blind gullibility of scripture texts that are contradicted by reality. Faith does not equate truth. People can have faith in things that are false. Truth can only be verified with evidence. So the only thing you've done here is show people you are willfully gullible.

      May 24, 2013 at 3:46 am |
    • C in NC

      I am glad that God is in your life and that you believe that Jesus died for your sins. However, I do not and I do not believe my time is running out. I will not put my sins off to Jesus to die for or to be forgiven by God. I take responsibility for my actions, good and bad. If I mess up it is up to me to make things right, not God or Jesus. I frankly would have a hard time thanking a God who just destroyed an entire town and let innocent children drown. If those children believed in God, why did their time run out so very soon?

      May 24, 2013 at 8:07 am |
    • Joel

      Believe in the Bible because it is the word of God. Believe it is the word of God because it says so in the bible. Do you at least recognize the breakdown in logic and reason there?

      May 24, 2013 at 10:31 am |
  6. Mirosal

    People are thanking the "lord" for saving them from the tornado. Are you also blaming the "lord" for sending the tornado in the first place?

    May 24, 2013 at 3:30 am |
    • Joel

      That is what I always ask. The idea that God would save someone but then let a bunch of little kids drown is asinine. If there is a god (benevolent or otherwise), and I doubt there is, he certainly isn't involved in the day to day affairs of human beings.

      May 24, 2013 at 10:34 am |
  7. postedbygeorge

    Belief in god is a middle eastern belief, here in America we are endowed by our Creator not blessed by middle eastern religious gods.

    May 24, 2013 at 1:55 am |
  8. bob

    There is no God only sandwiches. Good sandwiches. Bad sandwiches. i KNOW THEY EXIST BECAUSE i CAN MAKE ONE AND EAT IT.

    May 24, 2013 at 1:10 am |
  9. The Bottom Line

    Let's see, natural disaster occurs where similar natural disasters have always been known to occur, and the carnage hurts (and narrowly misses) people who are good, bad, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Atheist, Pastafarian, whatever. The demographics of the victims (and non-victims) are totally random and unrelated to any spiritual leaning or purity.

    So basically, it makes perfect sense if you view it from an atheist perspective, but not a bit of sense if you view it from a religious perspective.

    May 23, 2013 at 9:20 pm |
  10. Gerry from Bayonne

    Yes, I come here to watch 1 and 2 hour videos that I copied from YouTube.

    May 23, 2013 at 8:54 pm |
    • Get a life

      And yet you want others to spend hours upon hours reading a totally bullsh book of ancient peasant superstitions and be dumb enough to believe it.

      May 23, 2013 at 9:06 pm |
  11. Steve


    May 23, 2013 at 8:53 pm |
  12. Gerry from Bayonne

    Typical ungrateful b i t c h.

    May 23, 2013 at 8:46 pm |
    • Hmmmmmmmmmm

      Who needs hate when you have Christian love like Gerry Bonehead's.

      May 23, 2013 at 9:08 pm |
    • gerry gets a hummer

      from an atheist wanna be

      May 23, 2013 at 9:09 pm |
    • hitchens67

      Ungrateful for WHAT? That there is no Great Sky Fairy?

      May 24, 2013 at 3:00 am |
    • Joel

      Ungrateful to the loving God who destroyed her home and killed a bunch of kids? You are a classy guy Gerry.

      May 24, 2013 at 10:40 am |
  13. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things

    May 23, 2013 at 8:43 pm |
    • Science

      Hey Cora how are the cats and Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

      https://www.zotero.org/colleengreene/items/5XRFKX8N...............url for you chadie !

      But in favorites or peg IT OK !


      May 23, 2013 at 7:19 pm | Report abuse |

      May 23, 2013 at 8:47 pm |
    • Jesus

      Prayer does not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!

      May 28, 2013 at 10:40 am |
    • Really?

      "Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things"

      That's why the data, has shown that atheists have happier and healthier lives than conservative Christians. Your post is built on a lie!

      May 28, 2013 at 10:49 am |

    Time has come for all Atheists & Agnostics

    to clearly see the Signs, and thank the LORD.


    May 23, 2013 at 8:42 pm |
    • hitchens67

      CARAAAAP! I thank The Great Sky Fairy every day for his non existence!

      May 24, 2013 at 2:59 am |
  15. Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohaim


    May 23, 2013 at 6:10 pm |
    • Science

      The DINOSAUR ?...............Chomp Chomp !...Evolution WINS hands down...time for the horn-y red devil to get the

      HELL out of the way.....................Stem Cell research !

      Allosaurus Fed More Like a Falcon Than a Crocodile: Engineering, Anatomy Work Reveals Differences in Dinosaur Feeding Styles

      May 21, 2013 — The mighty T. rex may have thrashed its massive head from side to side to dismember prey, but a new study shows that its smaller cousin Allosaurus was a more dexterous hunter and tugged at prey more like a modern-day falcon.


      Evolution wins............No red devil either !

      May 23, 2013 at 6:21 pm |
    • Dinosaur stomp


      May 23, 2013 at 7:03 pm |
    • Science

      Hey Cora how are the cats ?

      https://www.zotero.org/colleengreene/items/5XRFKX8N...............url for you chadie !

      But in favorites or peg IT OK !


      May 23, 2013 at 7:19 pm | Report abuse |

      May 23, 2013 at 7:26 pm |
    • Science

      May 23, 2013 at 6:21 pm | Report abuse |

      Dinosaur stomp

      Great tune and dance loved IT


      May 23, 2013 at 7:33 pm |
    • Science

      About 14,400,000 results (0.21 seconds

      Wolf Blitzer to atheist: Thank God, right? – WorldNetDaily
      6 hours ago

      From Google..............interesting

      May 23, 2013 at 8:29 pm |
    • Science

      Evolution wins............No red devil either and they/we are still evolving.

      Fish From Hell! The Worlds Strangest and Bizarre Sea Creatures!




      Prehistoric shark captured on film


      Thai Researchers Discover 100-Million-Year-Old Crocodile Fossile


      And they are still EVOLVING AYE !!! The BIG CHOMP

      Giant Crocodile Captured Alive in Philippines 21ft long http://WWW.GOODNEWS.WS


      May 24, 2013 at 6:57 am |
  16. Deus McGrath


    May 23, 2013 at 5:10 pm |
  17. OMG


    @ The book the scandalous gospel... is in direct contradiction with what the Bible teaches about the divinity of Christ and Christ as God.

    According to who?


    "Christian exclusiveness, for that is what the lack of charity suggests, cannot face the requirements of modesty, the notion that all is not known and that we do not know all. When devout Christians believe that only Christians of a particular doctrinal stripe have access to God, that, for example, God hears their prayers only, they stand in cosmic immodesty. The Christian Bible more than once makes the point that God’s ways are not our ways, and that the mind of God is vastly different from our own minds. Thus, when Christians state categorically that Jews, or Muslims, or believers in other faith systems are outside the provisions of God, they utter arrogant nonsense. A respectful agnosticism is called for when often there is offered in its place a self-interested certainty. If God is the God of all, and not just a tribal deity, then God has made provision, not necessarily known to us, for the healing and care of all his creation, and not simply our little part of it.

    J. B. Phillips observed many years ago that one’s God is too small if within God’s providence there is no care and awareness of the other. This is what the hymn writer F. W. Faber meant in “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy,” when he said:

    For the love of God is broader

    Than the measure of our mind:;

    And the heart of the Eternal

    Is most wonderfully kind.

    If there is any good news that is truly good news for everybody, and not just for a few somebodies, it is this: God is greater and more generous than the best of those who profess to know and serve him. This is the radical nonconformity with the conventional wisdom that Jesus both proclaimed and exemplified, and, alas, it cost him his life. Will we hope to fare any better, as disciples of his nonconformity?"

    – Peter Gomes

    May 23, 2013 at 4:55 pm |
    • lionlylamb

      Envisioning outwardly past the great beyond boundaries of yet unfathomed celestial perceptivities lays God's Domain. Inside all issuances of Life's Celestially Governed and upon the Atomized Chasms of Bimolecular Physics lays all of God's Children being but inwardly dwelt sons and daughters of all inner-cosmologic atomic dwelling spaces. We are all but atomized buildings of celestially woven inter-cellular cosmologies within triangulated miniaturizations of inner-spatial relationships of which all celestial cosmologies are attempting to replicate.

      May 23, 2013 at 5:50 pm |
  18. Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohaim

    Check out this page – thoroughly: http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Evidence_for_the_historical_existence_of_Jesus_Christ

    And this:


    May 23, 2013 at 4:24 pm |
    • lionlylamb

      Genesis 6:3 And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also [is] flesh.

      There being said that the LORD too is flesh dare instills one toward there being as a sensualistic individual entails to us that even God is but mortal and is subjected to the dying stages of Living.

      May 23, 2013 at 5:02 pm |
  19. Knights Who Say...

    [clop clop whinny]
    KNIGHT: They're nervous, sire.
    ARTHUR: Then we'd best leave them here and carry on on foot. Dis-mount!
    TIM: Behold the cave of Kyre Banorg!
    ARTHUR: Right! Keep me covered.
    KNIGHT: What with?
    ARTHUR: Just keep me covered.
    TIM: Too late!
    ARTHUR: What?
    TIM: There he is!
    ARTHUR: Where?
    TIM: There!
    ARTHUR: What, behind the rabbit?
    TIM: It is the rabbit!
    ARTHUR: You silly sod! You got us all worked up!
    TIM: Well, that's no ordinary rabbit. That's the most foul, cruel,
    and bad-tempered rodent you ever set eyes on.
    ROBIN: You twit! I soiled my armor I was so scared!
    TIM: Look, that rabbit's got a vicious streak a mile wide, it's a

    May 23, 2013 at 4:21 pm |
  20. lionlylamb

    The "Celled-in Time Continuums" are vortices of inner toward outer spatial relationships whose relativities coagulate and congeal in spasms of physiological longevity. Our bodies are a singular cosmic universe of atomized cosmologies within cellular relationships of passionate bimolecular magnetisms!

    Any whose Christian religion cannot lay claims that the kingdom domains of God reside upon our bodies' insides isn't really of any worthiness to be followed! Likewise, any science that cares not to fathoming the very insides of atomized relativities being the very first cosmos of spatial relationships isn't worthy of scientific concernments. Even our sciences' astronomies can say that the outer dimensions of spatial relations are very similar to the inner dimensioned but Science stands aloof and afar off from such Truth! Go Figure!

    Gods of the Inner Worlds in Atomic Proportions,
    Reaching ever Outwards wanting solutions,
    Atomized Beings We All Are In Celled Manifestations,
    Creations of God’s Kingdom Domains are All of Celestial-Life Propagations,
    Eternally Inward,- Life Marches On In Mortal Congregations.

    May 23, 2013 at 4:08 pm |
    • lionlylamb translated into english

      blah blah blah nothing here of substance blah blah blah more words blah blah

      May 23, 2013 at 4:29 pm |
    • Ernest T Bass

      "This is crapola..."

      May 23, 2013 at 4:50 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.