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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. starr

    what if a fetus said, heck, I dont believe in life after birth! How can you expect me to believe in some creators called "mommy" and "daddy" who supposedly love me when I dont even know them? How am I supposed to believe in some light world with gravity and food and amazing wonders? I cant see it. I believe in what I can see-I am the center of my own little warm dark wet universe and that is all there will ever be!
    Wont the baby be surprised when he is born?
    Wont the athiests be shocked when they find out what is out there after they die-and that for them, it wont be pretty?

    May 22, 2013 at 9:48 pm |
    • Observer

      What if the believers suddenly found that they have wasted their time honoring a non-existent ghost and instead could have spend far more time enjoying the usually wonderful world we live in?

      May 22, 2013 at 9:52 pm |
    • Colin

      Yes, and the same would be true for a baby penguin, but neither of them can formulate such notions. And then you trot out the threat of hell, my favorite Christian superst.ition.

      Think it through. I don't have to kill, I don't have to steal, hell, I don't even have to litter. All I have to do is harbor a reasonable, honest and rational disbelief in the Christian god and he will inflict a grotesque penalty upon me an infinite times worse than the death penalty. And he loves me.

      May 22, 2013 at 9:53 pm |
    • Jadugara

      No.

      May 22, 2013 at 9:53 pm |
    • nope.

      @starr
      nope.

      May 22, 2013 at 9:53 pm |
    • Sue

      What???????

      May 22, 2013 at 9:54 pm |
    • BLABLAHBLAH

      Little humans attempt to convince themselves they will live forever. What a dream.

      May 22, 2013 at 9:56 pm |
    • flar

      how would one waste their time honoring god? going to church?

      May 22, 2013 at 9:56 pm |
    • sbp

      Gee, star, won't YOU be shocked if there IS a god, but it turns out it is VISHNU, and YOU are the damned one? What makes you think YOU were born into a family worshiping the RIGHT god? What are the odds? Seems more likely of the thousands of religions throughout time, you got it wrong. Is there anything inherent in the Bible which is convincing that it is right and other religions wrong?

      May 22, 2013 at 9:58 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Quite possibly one of the most stupid posts I have ever seen on here....

      May 22, 2013 at 10:03 pm |
    • Gorsh

      What's that big nose?

      May 22, 2013 at 10:04 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Hey. Say that once more; I'll smash your bloody face in.

      May 22, 2013 at 10:11 pm |
    • Gorsh

      Big nose

      May 22, 2013 at 10:14 pm |
    • mark

      Hahahahahahaha! You;re funny.

      May 22, 2013 at 10:32 pm |
    • sqeptiq

      Find us a fetus with reasoning skills and language and we'll ask it. What an absolutely absurd post.

      May 22, 2013 at 10:35 pm |
  2. Nobody Knows

    Living in a predominantly christian nation seems to make the majority think they have the right to assume that everyone is Christian or should be, and they feel that sharing their beliefs all the time and projecting it upon others is just fine. I don't go around advertising that I am a non-believer, nor do I post obnoxious, hateful or condemning things at total strangers, Christians or not. Yes, I believe that the whole god thing is a delusion of the grandest type, but just as this likely loving, caring person being interviewed, I live in a country where Atheists are targeted by Christians who don't follow what they preach – and I personally am very proud of her that she was honest, because being so in this environment of Christian dominance is true courage. You can get fired for being an atheist, and no one will protect you. Further, the few atheists I have met in my life are not proselytizing, arrogant people trying to convert anyone to their point of view... no, they were good upstanding citizens just living their life in the here and now. So, let's live and let live and embrace the differences amongst us all. Is that too hard to ask?

    May 22, 2013 at 9:46 pm |
    • lol??

      if you think this is a christian nation, that's just more proof of the trouble the churches are in. christians, get out of the churches and your name off the rolls. remember the alamo and rome.

      May 22, 2013 at 10:17 pm |
  3. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    All conservatives are atheists. They called themselves christian but they condone incest and poligamy. They talk about secession, civil war and assassinations. They attack the poor, minorities and everyone who don't look like they do or share in their views, yet they call themselves christians. Stinking southerners.

    May 22, 2013 at 9:42 pm |
    • lol??

      what was lincoln?? a mobster like all the rest of the pols from illinois?? kill the south, they won't stink.

      May 22, 2013 at 10:14 pm |
  4. JoanthanL

    Why would anyone thank the Lord for kiliing 24 people. 9 children! Destroying lives, impaling an heroic teacher, wrecking 15 miles of homes and schools and property? This was not an act of god but the result of a tornado and these things happen on other planets as well where there are no people. I don't think tornadoes and hurricanes care if there are people there or not. Tornados are not intelligent and don't have eyes either. But if they want to thank something they should be thanking the tornado and if they really love it that much they should ask for several more while they are at it. I mean whichever lord or deity would do this should be punished in order to make him stop. Where is mighty mouse when you need him?

    May 22, 2013 at 9:42 pm |
    • lol??

      hangin' with popeye.

      May 22, 2013 at 10:10 pm |
  5. don't change

    How does "God spared me" even make sense to Christians? God spared people from this tornado he created? How generous of him. God spared adults but took children. Who could be grateful to a God who save adults but takes the lives of children? In the end "God" spares no one, we all die.

    May 22, 2013 at 9:41 pm |
    • lol??

      everybody gets their own personal resurrection. no beastie serial numbers required.

      May 22, 2013 at 10:08 pm |
  6. Gorsh

    CNN stop lumping agnostics in with atheists. You say "13 million atheists and agnostics" as if they are related. We are not. Atheists are as dogmatic about their faith based belief systems as religious people. Agnostics have minds open to possibilities.

    May 22, 2013 at 9:40 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      Gorsh, you are incorrect. So much so I it seems pointless to argue as your whole post is invalid.

      May 22, 2013 at 9:43 pm |
    • Big Shiz

      Thank you,so sick of atheists acting like better than everyone else when there just as bad as religious freaks.

      May 22, 2013 at 9:44 pm |
    • Gorsh

      Apple, your post in reply to my "invalid" post was pointless, beyond proving my point by example.

      May 22, 2013 at 9:47 pm |
    • Eric

      You post just shows you have NO idea what 'atheist' means. It is not faith, it is not religion, it is not dogmatic.

      May 22, 2013 at 9:47 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      Like christians are open-minded about other religions? How often do you hear about tolerance of Islam and Muslims?

      May 22, 2013 at 9:49 pm |
    • Gorsh

      Eric, the true meaning of the term atheist is a belief that there is no God. This is a faith based belief, as much as the inverse is. There is evidence for neither belief system. I'm sorry if this is hard to understand... I thought atheists were smarter than everyone else.

      May 22, 2013 at 9:50 pm |
    • Gorsh

      Santa, do you actually read posts before replying? I said atheists are as dogmatic as religious people. I would also add, they are as aggressive and as insulting of others belief systems as religious people.

      May 22, 2013 at 9:53 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      Gorsh, atheism is a belief system the way bald is a hair color. You are not an educated person.

      May 22, 2013 at 10:01 pm |
    • Gorsh

      Apple, stealing quotes from people smarter than you doesn't make you look smart. Belief in something without proof is faith. You don't like to hear this because you like to think yourself smarter than ignorant fools who believe things without proof. Guess what. You're not.

      May 22, 2013 at 10:03 pm |
    • Leodona

      So only Agnosticism is valid ? Hmm, seems a bit like some of the over the Christians out there.

      May 22, 2013 at 10:20 pm |
    • Apple Bush

      Gorsh, are suggesting that we are unable to learn from others? From whence will come knowledge without teachers? Your words are without merit. That is ok though. Those that argue against logic reinforce the truth.

      May 22, 2013 at 10:22 pm |
    • Leodona

      Oops over- the -top Christians

      May 22, 2013 at 10:22 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      Gorsh, Atheism is not believing what theists believe, it is not a faith. Look up the etymology.

      May 22, 2013 at 10:23 pm |
    • Arthur Bryant

      Atheism is not a "faith based belief system". It requires 0 faith to disbelieve in the Easter Bunny. I agree, the whole post is invalid.

      May 23, 2013 at 7:43 pm |
  7. faith

    "Me
    How do you know you picked the right 'god'(s)"

    me 2

    eeny meeny miny moe

    DUH

    May 22, 2013 at 9:39 pm |
  8. Apple Bush

    I had an incredible dream last night and I am going to pray to God to have the same dream tonight. Let's just say Lucy Liu was in it and was receptive to my affection. True story.

    May 22, 2013 at 9:38 pm |
    • lol??

      was just thinkin' 'bout lucy ball, yesterday.....big trailer vacations!

      May 22, 2013 at 10:04 pm |
  9. myweightinwords

    I imagine most of the people Wolf talked to that day DID thank the Lord, so the question wasn't completely out there. It's normal in the wake of disasters for the survivors to thank whatever deity they believe in and the media is almost always filled with them thanking their god.

    It's a coping mechanism.

    May 22, 2013 at 9:38 pm |
    • jerrymcm1970

      I have no problem with people volunteering their opinion that God played a part in saving them, what bugs me is Blitzer goading this person into accepting that assumption.

      May 22, 2013 at 9:55 pm |
      • myweightinwords

        I doubt it was a planned thing by Blitzer. He was just repeating what he'd been hearing, trying to craft a narrative.

        May 22, 2013 at 10:26 pm |
    • lol??

      dudette, where's my coping saw??

      May 22, 2013 at 10:02 pm |
  10. Big Shiz

    It dosnt matter who's right or wrong,atheists and Christians just need to shut the fuk up. Let people be people,your not going to change anyones mind.

    May 22, 2013 at 9:35 pm |
    • lol??

      dude, where's my car??

      May 22, 2013 at 10:00 pm |
    • johnnykaje

      Mine was changed when I was a middle schooler and I found out atheism was even an option. So no, I'm not going to shut up just because YOU won't change your mind.

      May 22, 2013 at 10:40 pm |
  11. HeavenSent

    Everything in the Bible is 100% true most of the time. Studies have proven that believers have higher IQ's than atheists. My camel-toe invited friends but the fire department came. Atheists are too busy talking to hear Jesus' Truth or taste His kindness.

    Amen.

    May 22, 2013 at 9:32 pm |
    • JoanthanL

      what use is an insane asylum when people like you are out there?

      May 22, 2013 at 9:43 pm |
    • jws889

      . . .you should google image camel-toe.

      May 22, 2013 at 9:44 pm |
    • Doug

      Are you kidding Heaven Sent? Appears to be a joke at first when you say the Bible is 100% true ´most of the time´. Yogiism? Then you claim that believers have higher IQs according to ´studies´, when the opposite has been shown in research. Fantasy takes away from ability to comprehend or learn....fact.

      May 22, 2013 at 9:50 pm |
  12. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    Stay at home home right wing trailer trash living on welfare, handouts and you name it.

    May 22, 2013 at 9:32 pm |
    • lol??

      you're wingin' it...........the wheel's off your unicycle.

      May 22, 2013 at 9:58 pm |
  13. brian

    Funny thing when people criticize Athiests... we don't care! You believe in an invisible man in the sky, and you really think you should be taken seriously?

    May 22, 2013 at 9:32 pm |
    • lol??

      you party with disney.

      May 22, 2013 at 9:56 pm |
  14. Edward

    Tornado miraculously avoids hitting any prisons in Moore OK. However, because God hates children, tornado hits two schools.

    May 22, 2013 at 9:31 pm |
  15. Colin

    Actually Mary, you’ll find that most (ex-Christian) atheists don’t believe for one or more of the following reasons:

    The concept of an immortal being makes no sense to us.

    The concept of an all-powerful being makes no sense to us.

    The concept of an all-knowing being makes no sense to us.

    Throwing the three together into one being effectively cubes its already dispositive implausibility.

    We tend to have a good working knowledge of the age, size and history of the Universe. The idea that a being would create the entire thing – with 400,000,000,000 galaxies, EACH with 100, 000,000,000 starts and even more planets, then sit back and wait 13,720,000,000 years for human beings to evolve on one planet so he could “love them” and send his son to Earth to talk to a nomadic group of Jews about sheep and goats in Iron Age Palestine (while ignoring the rest of the 200 million people then alive) makes no sense to us. We can’t help but ask ourselves, “did God make the Jews or did the Jews make God?”

    The answers usually proffered for what we see as basic logical flaws in Christianity – “you have been blinded by your lack of faith” “God moves in mysterious ways” “God is outside the Universe” or “our minds are too small to understand the greatness of God” are never satisfying to us. We see a retreat to mysticism as the first refuge of the cornered fool.

    The common argument, “well, what caused the Big Bang?” with the implication that, because we have only theories and no iron clad explanation for the Big Bang yet, the Judeo-Christian god must have caused it – does not make sense to us. “I don’t know” does not equal “god” to us, much less the Judeo-Christian god. We feel the answers to such a question are much more likely to be found in Einstein’s equations, quantum physics, large particle accelerators and radio telescopes than in Genesis Chapters 1 through 20. We’re crazy aren’t we?

    We do not see miracles in things like tornadoes missing a certain trailer in a trailer park, cancer going into remission or Tim Tebow winning a football game.

    We understand that Christianity is one of many, many religions in the World, and we don’t think that we were lucky enough to have been born in the one part of the World that “got it right”. Likewise, we know how all faiths evolve, morph and change over time and do not think we were lucky enough to have been born in the one generation that “got it right.”

    We tend to have a basic knowledge of history and know that there is nothing magical or special about the supposed history of the Jews, gospels, letters, apocalyptic story (Revelations) and other materials that found their way into the Bible, in that they are largely indistinguishable from the other mythology and religious writings of the pre Dark Ages Mediterranean.

    Human beings are terrified of their own deaths and we see the various religious beliefs that try to “wish it away,” such as reincarnation, living happily ever after in Heaven with Jesus, having your own Mormon planet etc. as nothing more than childish stories for the more näive, timid minds among us.

    We do not see morality as predicated upon a belief in the supernatural. We accept that one can be moral without believing in the supernatural and that doing so is no guaranty that one will conform to the norms of society that people call “morality”.

    “You can’t prove God doesn’t exist” is not a convincing argument to us, or even a relevant point, because an inability to disprove something is a far cry from it being true. We cannot prove that the Hindu gods Shiva or Vishnu do not exist either, nor Santa Claus for that matter, but that is hardly a reason to believe in them. It is not even evidence for their existence. It is impossible to prove a negative in this context.

    When one looks at the various Christian beliefs that were once firmly believed – Adam and Eve, Noah’s flood, people living to be 700 or 900 years old, the Red Sea splitting, water turning into wine, a talking snake, a man living in a whale’s belly, people rising from the dead, Jesus driving demons out of people and into pigs – but which are now acknowledged by most thinking people to be mere mythology, it is pretty hard to give a lot of credibility to what’s left.

    It is hard not to consider Christianity as based on circular reasoning. Most Christians believe in God because the Bible says so, then turn around and say they believe the Bible because it is the word of God. To draw an analogy, “I believe Mao Zedong was a great man because The Little Red Book says so, and the reason I believe The Little Red Book is that it was written by Mao Zedong, who was a great man.” Do you even have the slightest idea of how your Bible was compiled over the centuries or who decided what to include and what to exclude and on what grounds? Can you even name one of hundred plus authors who contributed to it? One of the many people who decided what got in and what didn’t?

    To be bluntly honest, the more one comes to understand mother nature, the less reason there is to believe in a god and the more one understands human nature, the more one sees why so many of us still do.

    So, before you next proudly proclaim you know the secrets to life, death, the origins of life on Earth and the origins of the Universe, simply because your parents or priest taught you some comforting stories from late Bronze Age Palestine as a child, you might like to reflect upon the overwhelming enormity of the claims you are about to make and the complete paucity of evidence that underwrites those claims.

    May 22, 2013 at 9:29 pm |
    • jkee

      Atheist are just uneducated about the secular evidence of Jesus Christ as well as the accuracy of the Bible.

      May 22, 2013 at 9:41 pm |
    • Colin

      Back that up. What evidence is that?

      May 22, 2013 at 9:44 pm |
    • Observer

      jkee

      "Atheist are just uneducated about the secular evidence of Jesus Christ as well as the accuracy of the Bible."

      So slavery is good to you?

      May 22, 2013 at 9:45 pm |
    • Jonathan

      Beautifully stated Colin, thank you.

      May 22, 2013 at 9:50 pm |
    • sbp

      jkee, there is zero secular evidence that Jesus was a supernatural being. That there may be some evidence a PERSON by that name existed and preached in the Middle East is hardly proof of anything else.

      May 22, 2013 at 9:53 pm |
    • lol??

      colin, that's too much to read of your petty objections which are no doubt, not new and special.

      May 22, 2013 at 9:55 pm |
    • Ken

      Colin – I couldn't agree more. Very articulate and to the point. Most religious people are basically too intellectually lazy to question their beliefs. It's just too much work. I agree, it's hard to grow up and see reality as it is without the comfort of childish stories from the fiction works of the Bible, the Koran, and the Sutras, etc.

      I admire the woman from Oklahoma who said she was an atheist on live TV. More of us need to "come out" as nonbelievers.
      All of the "It's God's Will" comments are obscene and offensive to all thinking people. So it's God's Will that you are saved from the tornado and the school children die? What total utter nonsense. These religious people are disgusting to listen to and should be condemned for their outrageous comments.

      May 22, 2013 at 9:55 pm |
    • Sue

      Thank you Colin, for this articulate, educated and honest explanation of why so many of us are non believers.

      May 22, 2013 at 10:07 pm |
    • lol??

      i'm too seasoned to read it.

      May 22, 2013 at 10:19 pm |
  16. BigD

    More people have been killed in the name of god and religion than for any other reason.
    All you have to do is open a history book to know that.

    May 22, 2013 at 9:25 pm |
    • Pullenseeker

      I think your comment is inaccurate. No doubt there has been horrible, horrible bloodshed in the name of various gods. And there is the combination of tribal violence with religious "justification" (an abuse of the word!). But the deadliest century (the 20th) was driven by non-religious ideologies. I don't believe in most gods myself, and even the true God does not "exist" – to say God did would diminish God. So with Kierkegaard, I say, "God does not exist. God is eternal." And with Moltmann I say, "For the sake of Christ, I am an atheist." But I hope I might pass for a believer (as Derrida passed for an atheist).

      May 22, 2013 at 9:37 pm |
  17. Steve

    My hero, this will be the next big civil rights movement after GBLT...

    May 22, 2013 at 9:25 pm |
    • The Amazing Adventures of Skunkman and Poodle Boy!

      Gay Bacon Lettuce and Tomato?

      May 22, 2013 at 9:28 pm |
  18. yama

    Good for her, keeping her sensible head about her. Thankfully atheism is on the rise and as people get smarter they realize that a man written book can be wrong and they should ask questions instead of the brain washing that starts at a very young age. The church is about power and control, they want both and can't do it if everyone is thinking for themselves.

    May 22, 2013 at 9:20 pm |
  19. Kita

    Oh god I saw this interview and wished Blitzer would just shut up.

    That baby playing with the microphone was adorable though.

    May 22, 2013 at 9:18 pm |
  20. ...

    So in the other article about the tornadoes, the Christians were claiming that those who prayed to be spared from the tornado but died anyways didn't regularly "talk" to God. Since this atheist and her family survived, does that mean God approves of atheism more than "Christians?" Can't have it both ways. Derp.

    May 22, 2013 at 9:14 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.