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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. Matt Danh

    Smallpox is a disease caused by the Variola major virus. Some experts say that over the centuries it has killed more people than all other infectious diseases combined. Worldwide immunization stopped the spread of smallpox three decades ago. The last case was reported in 1977. Two research labs still house small amounts of the virus. Experts fear bioterrorists could use the virus to spread disease.*^,:

    Most recent article on our very own web blog
    <http://healthmedicine101.com/

    July 4, 2013 at 10:31 am |
  2. Jokes

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    June 24, 2013 at 3:19 pm |
  3. Seek the Giver of life before you face the reality of death

    It's ironic that scientist, atheist, nor anyone else can provide that smallest piece of evidence PROVING the non-existence of an intelligent Creator. By definition making them people of great faith. Yet they boast around blinded by the pride of their foolishness thinking themselves wise. They say Christians believe in an imaginary fairytale, yet all of their changing theories came from the thoughts and imagination of limited minds. On the contrary Christians embrace the evidence of creation which shows intelligent design. Proving its origin being from a mere coincidence impossible, and clearly pointing to the incomprehensible genius of an Immortal Creator. Q:If life was not created by an intelligent Creator, why are the smartest among the geniuses of the world finding it impossible to figure out the origin of life? If you are open minded to learning visit www . theeternalwisdom . com Trusting in finite minds to figure out infinite things is more senseless than a blind mind chasing the wind. P.S. I'm speaking of a Creator not a specific God.;

    June 12, 2013 at 1:15 pm |
    • Yawn

      How many times are you going to post this garbage. This has been disputed, and you've been proven wrong. Stop posting this crap.

      June 12, 2013 at 1:16 pm |
    • Sarah

      It's not ironic that scientist, atheist, nor anyone else can provide that smallest piece of evidence PROVING the non-existence of anything. It's impossible to prove a negative. By your first sentance you show everyone here what a glaring idiot you are. It's almost sad watching these morons post as if they think what they are saying makes any sense at all...

      June 12, 2013 at 1:20 pm |
    • Kenneth

      1. There is as much evidence for a deity as there are leprechauns.

      2. It is impossible to prove the non-existance of anything.

      June 16, 2013 at 12:49 am |
    • Matt

      just to re-phrase how stupid your first sentence is....I 'll use your exact words but change out one.

      "It's ironic that scientist, atheist, nor anyone else can provide that smallest piece of evidence PROVING the non-existence of an dragon"

      surely you see how stupid it is...hence the burden of proof lies on the person making the claim whether it is for a deity or a dragon.

      June 18, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
    • Hello

      Read Caesar's Messiah by Joseph Atwill for the details on who wrote the bible and why..

      June 29, 2013 at 6:16 pm |
    • Hello

      Sarah.. it has now been proven who the jesus character in the bible is.... and most of the others too.
      besides being an inside family joke.. the Roman Flavian families dogma books was created as a political tool to save Rome not souls as claimed. read Caesar's Messiah by Joseph Atwill.. and visit his audios and videos from the links on his web site.
      This is truly the greatest discovery since they myth was created and forced on humanity..

      June 29, 2013 at 6:30 pm |
  4. faith

    A Little Push Push in the Bush
    We need to be a time machine for all of these religious fv cktar ds and send them back to the dark ages where they belong.

    amen rotten cheesie

    June 7, 2013 at 6:14 pm |
  5. faith

    o the hor ror! 4 violating the Const i tu tion in such an eg regious way, he should be hang ed, drawn and quar tered, burned and aborted

    Chuckles
    @Bob Reciting a prayer during a graduation event is absolutely pushing your religion on someone else. How is that hard t understand? Where's the disconnect?

    June 7, 2013 at 5:58 pm |
  6. Dyslexic doG

    Yesterday morning there was a knock at my door. A pleasant and enthusiastic young couple were there.

    John: "Hi! I'm John, and this is Mary."

    Mary: "Hi! We're here to invite you to come kiss Hank's ass with us."

    Me: "Pardon me?! What are you talking about? Who's Hank, and why would I want to kiss His ass?"

    John: "If you kiss Hank's ass, He'll give you a million dollars; and if you don't, He'll kick the guts out of you."

    Me: "What? Is this some sort of bizarre mob shake-down?"

    John: "Hank is a billionaire philanthropist. Hank built this town. Hank owns this town. He can do whatever He wants, and what He wants is to give you a million dollars, but He can't until you kiss His ass."

    Me: "That doesn't make any sense. Why..."

    Mary: "Who are you to question Hank's gift? Don't you want a million dollars? Isn't it worth a little kiss on the ass?"

    Me: "Well maybe, if it's legit, but..."

    John: "Then come kiss Hank's ass with us."

    Me: "Do you kiss Hank's ass often?"

    Mary: "Oh yes, all the time..."

    Me: "And has He given you a million dollars?"

    John: "Well no. You don't actually get the money until you leave town."

    Me: "So why don't you just leave town now?"

    Mary: "You can't leave until Hank tells you to, or you don't get the money, and He kicks the guts out of you."

    Me: "Do you know anyone who kissed Hank's ass, left town, and got the million dollars?"

    John: "My mother kissed Hank's ass for years. She left town last year, and I'm sure she got the money."

    Me: "Haven't you talked to her since then?"

    John: "Of course not, Hank doesn't allow it."

    Me: "So what makes you think He'll actually give you the money if you've never talked to anyone who got the money?"

    Mary: "Well, maybe you'll get a raise, maybe you'll win a small lotto, maybe you'll just find a twenty-dollar bill on the street."

    Me: "What's that got to do with Hank?"

    John: "In this town, Hank is the same as good luck. All good things are attributed to Hank'"

    Me: "I'm sorry, but this sounds like some sort of bizarre con game."

    John: "But it's a million dollars, can you really take the chance? And remember, if you don't kiss Hank's ass He'll kick the guts out of you."

    Me: "Maybe if I could see Hank, talk to Him, get the details straight from Him..."

    Mary: "No one sees Hank, no one talks to Hank."

    Me: "Then how do you kiss His ass?"

    John: "Sometimes we just blow Him a kiss, and think of His ass. Other times we kiss Karl's ass, and he passes it on."

    Me: "Who's Karl?"

    Mary: "A friend of ours. He's the one who taught us all about kissing Hank's ass. All we had to do was take him out to dinner a few times."

    Me: "And you just took his word for it when he said there was a Hank, that Hank wanted you to kiss His ass, and that Hank would reward you?"

    John: "Oh no! Karl has a letter he got from Hank years ago explaining the whole thing. Here's a copy; see for yourself."

    From the Desk of Karl
    1. Kiss Hank's ass and He'll give you a million dollars when you leave town.
    2. Use alcohol in moderation.
    3. Kick the guts out of people who aren't like you.
    4. Eat right.
    5. Hank dictated this list Himself.
    6. The moon is made of green cheese.
    7. Everything Hank says is right.
    8. Wash your hands after going to the bathroom.
    9. Don't use alcohol.
    10. Eat your wieners on buns, no condiments.
    11. Kiss Hank's ass or He'll kick the guts out of you.

    Me: "This appears to be written on Karl's letterhead."

    Mary: "Hank didn't have any paper."

    Me: "I have a hunch that if we checked we'd find this is Karl's handwriting."

    John: "Of course, Hank dictated it."

    Me: "I thought you said no one gets to see Hank?"

    Mary: "Not now, but years ago He would talk to some people."

    Me: "I thought you said He was a philanthropist. What sort of philanthropist kicks the guts out of people just because they're different?"

    Mary: "It's what Hank wants, and Hank's always right."

    Me: "How do you figure that?"

    Mary: "Item 7 says 'Everything Hank says is right.' That's good enough for me!"

    Me: "Maybe your friend Karl just made the whole thing up."

    John: "No way! Item 5 says 'Hank dictated this list himself.' Besides, item 2 says 'Use alcohol in moderation,' Item 4 says 'Eat right,' and item 8 says 'Wash your hands after going to the bathroom.' Everyone knows those things are right, so the rest must be true, too."

    Me: "But 9 says 'Don't use alcohol.' which doesn't quite go with item 2, and 6 says 'The moon is made of green cheese,' which is just plain wrong."

    John: "There's no contradiction between 9 and 2, 9 just clarifies 2. As far as 6 goes, you've never been to the moon, so you can't say for sure."

    Me: "Scientists have pretty firmly established that the moon is made of rock..."

    Mary: "But they don't know if the rock came from the Earth, or from out of space, so it could just as easily be green cheese."

    Me: "I'm not really an expert, but not knowing where the rock came from doesn't make it plausible that it might be made of cheese."

    John: "Ha! You just admitted that scientists don’t know everything, but we know Hank is always right!"

    Me: "We do?"

    Mary: "Of course we do, Item 7 says so."

    Me: "You're saying Hank's always right because the list says so, the list is right because Hank dictated it, and we know that Hank dictated it because the list says so. That's circular logic, no different than saying 'Hank's right because He says He's right.'"

    John: "Now you're getting it! It's so rewarding to see someone come around to Hank's way of thinking."

    Me: "But...oh, never mind.

    from Jhuger.com

    June 5, 2013 at 11:31 am |
    • Hello

      good old Hank has been around for a long time... he is still a good teacher on myth madness.

      June 29, 2013 at 6:18 pm |
  7. Science

    Chomp on that bone...................creationists/ID believers. chadie too..................evolution at its best the old croc.

    Time for the horn-y beast to get the hell out of the bedVroooom !!!

    Fourteen Closely Related Crocodiles Existed Around 5 Million Years Ago

    May 21, 2013 — Today, the most diverse species of crocodile are found in northern South America and Southeast Asia: As many as six species of alligator and four true crocodiles exist, although no more than two or three ever live alongside one another at the same time. It was a different story nine to about five million years ago, however, when a total of 14 different crocodile species existed and at least seven of them occupied the same area at the same time, as an international team headed by paleontologists Marcelo Sánchez and Torsten Scheyer from the University of Zurich is now able to reveal.

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130521121323.htm

    Hey faithy seems like you have not been weaned yet sort of like chadie .............reminds me of a 5 year old ?

    Monkey Teeth Help Reveal Neanderthal Weaning

    May 24, 2013 — Most modern human mothers wean their babies much earlier than our closest primate relatives. But what about our extinct relatives, the Neanderthals?

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130524104828.htm

    Current search on Bing chadie ..........bookmark update chad........3rd one from top of page.

    RDFRS: When Christians become a 'hated minority'

    http://www.richarddawkins.net/.../5/5/when-christians-become-a-hated-minority

    11,000,000 results Any time

    Evolution wins !

    New Species of Marine Fish from 408 Million Years Ago Discovered in Teruel

    June 3, 2013 — Researchers from the University of Valencia and the Natural History Museum of Berlin have studied the fossilised remains of scales and bones found in Teruel and the south of Zaragoza, ascertaining that they belong to a new fish species called Machaeracanthus goujeti that lived in that area of the peninsula during the Devonian period. The fossils are part of the collection housed in the Palaeontology Museum of Zaragoza.

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/130603133432.htm

    Splat Chad..........sally too below.

    June 3, 2013 at 6:56 pm |
  8. Salero21

    That's because atheism is stupidity in Full bloom. 😀

    June 3, 2013 at 4:29 pm |
    • Anon

      So critical thinking that liberates you from religion is bad?

      June 10, 2013 at 1:06 pm |
    • Hello

      read Caesar's Messiah by Joseph Atwill.. then tell who is stupid for believing in a Roman political tool

      June 29, 2013 at 6:19 pm |
  9. BSG

    "You cannot claim to know the complexities of God. Except I'm pretty sure he hates gay people."

    Being an atheist isn't at all a condition of denying or claiming knowledge about anything. It's the rejection of claims that aren't founded in anything but false appeals to authority and ignorance. With what critical eye have the devout determined their particular belief is somehow accurate? Under what pretense did a Muslim decide against the Christianity of many people here? How can a person not recognize their own cognitive dissonance when they reject unfounded claims in their daily lives but cling to a particular description of a universal conscious without anything more than an old book and confirmation bias? At what point does a person actively take on the responsibility of understanding the creation of everything and relate that to their own suffering and morality? How does a person actively disregard negative experiences as the acts of some devil while attributing all positive experiences to a being whose only supposed communication implies quite clearly that his gifts are not favors but tests? Why would a person ascribe a personality to the uncontrollable parts of their life if not for an infantile sense of control and security over what is ostensibly unpredictable?

    Atheism is not an active participation in anything but the lack of a belief. Not believing in Krishna takes no more faith or creativity than not believing in any of the gods, and it astounds me that this question was repeated so often in the comments. Good on this mother for not appeasing the assumption of god, or agreeing that someone actively spared her life while damning others' in an attempt to claim fairness of a lord.

    June 3, 2013 at 1:17 pm |
  10. GOOD NEWS

    Think twice,

    and thus thank the LORD!

    http://www.holy-19-harvest.com
    UNIVERSAL MAGNIFICENT MIRACLES

    June 3, 2013 at 5:13 am |
    • Hello

      read Caesar's Messiah by Joseph Atwill.. and learn about the biggest lie ever sold.

      June 29, 2013 at 6:21 pm |
  11. Felix Sinclair

    "Thank God my neighbors were killed instead of me!"

    June 2, 2013 at 6:53 pm |
  12. faith

    BOYCOTT THE ADVERTISERS THAT WASTE MONEY ON THIS DE GE NERATE, SICK, HA TE-FILLED PE RVERSE MOUTHPIECE 4 NAZI GOD HATING FASCI S TS

    2DAY, 2MORROW, 4EVER

    contact rush

    June 1, 2013 at 5:59 pm |
    • Science

      Bono at TED 2013: Eradicating extreme poverty doesn’t have to be a dream

      http://www.one.org/us/shareworthy/bono-at-ted?gclid=CIGe8cj4w7cCFcye4AodlFIAnw

      June 1, 2013 at 6:51 pm |
    • Christian forgiveness

      Nazis didn't hate god. More than 20% of SS officers were practicing Catholics.

      June 2, 2013 at 9:24 am |
    • Farmer Johnson

      To the none's I ask you who do you believe in? Youself! or another person on earth. Who do you want to control you and tell you what to believe? It would be intresting to hear your response.

      June 2, 2013 at 4:32 pm |
    • Science

      HEY HAR you too you are the one stuck in the matrix.............now do not go deleting comments !

      Current search on Bing chadie ..........bookmark update chad........3rd one from top of page.

      RDFRS: When Christians become a 'hated minority'

      http://www.richarddawkins.net/.../5/5/when-christians-become-a-hated-minority

      11,000,000 results Any time

      Splat Chad

      June 2, 2013 at 6:39 pm |
    • Science

      By the way HAR..........your header on post was ............see below.

      Your request was successfully submitted.

      Bing Webmaster Tools

      June 2, 2013 at 6:45 pm |
  13. Science

    Hey all creationists ...........chadie too....the truth below !

    Ancient life...............3.5 billion years ago.............NO god(s) or horn-y red devil (666 the beast) never has been

    Disappearance of Stromatolites, Earliest Visible Manifestation of Life: Ancient Enigma Solved?

    May 28, 2013 — The widespread disappearance of stromatolites, the earliest visible manifestation of life on Earth, may have been driven by single-celled organisms called foraminifera.

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130528143756.htm

    June 1, 2013 at 6:43 am |
  14. Dave Seavy

    Whether there is a God will be the subject of great debate for generations to come. I predict that eventually, organized religion will fall by the wayside, and it will be its own undoing. As I said in another post, I've never met a more judgmental group of people as I have in a church. According to the Bible, we're to accept our fellow person, yet many churches will toss you to the curb if you don't follow their demands. Even in these forums, the intolerance on the part of many who claim to be devout Christians, is palpable. Turning your nose up at someone because they hold a different belief is about as un-Christian as you can get.

    June 1, 2013 at 12:29 am |
    • Hello

      read Caesar's Messiah by Joseph Atwill.. the debate is over.. its just a matter of time to get people to know the truth of the Roman mythic political tool...

      June 29, 2013 at 6:24 pm |
  15. BornAgainAthiest

    It sucks that she has to be embarrassed to say she in an athiest. We may have freedom of religion, but we clearly do not yet have freedom from religion.

    May 30, 2013 at 8:59 pm |
  16. Science

    BUZZ OFF fake science poster.and chadie/faith/Austin/toothless and L$H saw you somewhere today........the cats !

    all creationists !

    Changing Gut Bacteria Through Diet Affects Brain Function

    May 28, 2013 — UCLA researchers now have the first evidence that bacteria ingested in food can affect brain function in humans. In an early proof-of-concept study of healthy women, they found that women who regularly consumed beneficial bacteria known as probiotics through yogurt showed altered brain function, both while in a resting state and in response to an emotion-recognition task.

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130528180900.htm

    http://www.safewayfoundation.org/

    Have a great life if you can crawl out of the green slim you are in.

    May 30, 2013 at 3:57 pm |
  17. nanee

    Man whoever wrote this article suxks.

    May 30, 2013 at 8:28 am |
  18. Matt

    Atheists don't "believe there is no god," we just DON'T actively believe IN a god. There's a distinction there – no faith required. That's actually a pretty important and defining feature, and boo to CNN for messing it up.

    May 27, 2013 at 11:16 am |
    • Saraswati

      In fairness to the general population, a significant subset of atheists believe there is no god and these folks tend to be louder than the majority who believe otherwise. The decision to share a term for these two groups is the fault of atheist activists who want to increase numbers by over inclusion.

      May 27, 2013 at 9:00 pm |
    • Science

      Hey.........Sara

      And............Biggest JOKE under the SUN.................NO heaven or horn-y red devil..........never has been !

      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-43/#comment-2372761

      PS Do a simple search for Prof. Higgs.............the church hates that = True Comedy Gold !

      May 28, 2013 at 10:28 am |
    • Science

      Hey Matt...........where was it over 250 million years ago ?

      Rock Where India Crashed Into Asia And Pushed Up The Himalayas [PHOTO]

      Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/chris-hadfield-himalaya-satellite-photo-2013-5#ixzz2UdQgGr1G

      http://www.businessinsider.com/chris-hadfield-himalaya-satellite-photo-2013-5?nr_email_referer=1&utm_source=Triggermail&utm_medium=email&utm_term=Science%20Select&utm_campaign=1-SCIENCE_SELECT_NEW&utm_content=emailshare

      May 28, 2013 at 8:24 pm |
    • Ralfybaby

      Good point but you can say it a bit more explicitly. Atheists do not "believe that there is no god." Belief has nothing to do with it. An atheist does not believe that there is a god. An atheist does not believe anything. As there is no verifiable, reproducible and falsifiable evidence that there is a deity, an atheist rejects the belief in a deity. "Belief" and atheism are contractions in terms.

      May 28, 2013 at 8:52 pm |
    • JiminNM

      Nearly all beliefs outside observable fact are either simple beliefs ( hopes and wishes) or convictions backed by daily consistent action in the form of lifestyle. The truth will be revealed after we have died. Until then it's wishing and hoping or conviction based upon supernatural experience.

      June 1, 2013 at 7:46 pm |
    • Hello

      its not about not believing in "gods" its about not believing in the supernatural.. which is required to believe in gods...
      Taking out the supernatural or magic thinking you wipe all the myth's foundations...
      Its not about one god over another.. its about understanding created these myths and what they gained from created them.
      They are all created as political tools... means to control people... They all have the same goals and patterns..
      learn these patterns... by researching the myths .. from Joseph Campbell.. the Masks of the Gods... James Frazier, The Golden Bough... Joseph Atwill.. Caesar's Messiah. Daniel Quinn The Ishmael series.. Web site The Domain of Man.. by Charles Pope... The truth is there...." the Path of the Calf" poem.. shows how the belief in the first gods.. the sacred calf..as it flows though humanity generation to generation... adding and loosing concepts so it will appeal to its controlled audience.
      The Age of Supernatural Stupidity... is on its way out..... one unbeliever of the Borg minded myths at a time.
      Mythology has been a major tool in population control on this planet... the more you learn of its tricks and reasons. the more you will see it for what it is... and you will then be FREE...

      June 29, 2013 at 6:43 pm |
  19. SirTypes Alots

    I think it should all just boil down to just being humane.

    May 26, 2013 at 6:48 pm |
    • LinCA

      test

      June 3, 2013 at 1:00 pm |
  20. my explanation

    There are actually plenty of details like that to take into consideration. That is a nice point to carry up. I offer the thoughts above as normal inspiration but clearly there are questions like the one you carry up the place a very powerful thing will be working in honest good faith. I don?t know if best practices have emerged around things like that, but I'm positive that your job is clearly recognized as a good game. Both girls and boys really feel the impression of only a moment’s pleasure, for the rest of their lives.

    May 26, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
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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.