May 24th, 2014
06:00 PM ET

Atheists in the Bible Belt: A survival guide

By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Editor

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Raleigh, North Carolina (CNN) – Back home, they erase their Internet histories, look over their shoulders before cracking jokes and nod politely when co-workers talk about church.

But in a hotel ballroom here on a recent weekend, more than 220 atheists, agnostics, skeptics and freethinkers let it all hang out.

The convention was called “Freedom From Religion in the Bible Belt,” and it was part celebration of skepticism and part strategy session about surviving in the country’s most religious region.

They sang songs about the futility of faith, shared stories about “coming out” as nonbelievers and bought books about the Bible – critical ones, of course.

“Isn’t it great to be in a room where you can say whatever you want to whomever you want without fear of anyone criticizing you for being unorthodox?” asked Dan Barker, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, as he opened the two-day convention.

The Wisconsin-based foundation co-sponsored the event with the Triangle Freethought Society, which draws its members from this state’s tech-heavy Research Triangle.

The nonbelievers came from as far afield as Ireland and France, but most described themselves as refugees from the heart of the South - atheist anomalies amid fiercely devout friends, family and neighbors.

We wanted to know what it’s like to be a nonbeliever in the Bible Belt, so over the course of the weekend we asked some of the folks here to share their secrets.

They had a lot to say, and some of their advice overlapped, but we came away with eight top tips. Some said they wished they’d had something like this list when they began their foray into religious infidelity.

So, without further ado, here’s a “survival guide” to being an atheist in the Bible Belt:

You may be lonely, but you aren’t alone

Not so long ago, every other letter sent to the Freedom From Religion Foundation would begin something like, “I’m the only atheist in Nebraska … “

It’s still lonely being an atheist in rural America, says Annie Laurie Gaylor, the foundation’s co-president, but there are plenty of skeptics and nonbelievers in God’s Country – if you know how to find them.

Even the most religious states like Mississippi and Alabama have secular meetup groups, although many keep quiet and require long drives to attend.

Gaylor’s favorite story about the secretive lives of Bible Belt atheists involves two neighbors in Georgia whose jaws dropped when they saw each other at an atheist gathering. Each had assumed that the other was a good, God-fearing Baptist.

“They were afraid to speak out," she says, "because they didn’t want to be stigmatized.”

Gaylor recommends looking online for atheist support groups in your area; and be sure to search for related terms as well: agnostic, freethought, skeptic and nonbeliever.

It’s no fun debating fundamentalists

Bart Ehrman doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who backs down from a fight.

The University of North Carolina scholar often seeks them out, regularly debating the Bible and early Christianity with evangelicals and other experts.

But Ehrman told the atheists gathered in Raleigh not to bother arguing with fundamentalists.

“You can’t convince a fundamentalist that he or she is wrong,” he says.

Their theology is a closed system, according to Ehrman, and their social bonds with fellow fundamentalists are too tightly knit to admit any wiggle room.

“You can point to any contradiction in the Bible and it just doesn’t matter. They will either find some way to reconcile it or say that even if they don’t understand it, God does.”

Technically, the term fundamentalist refers to a movement of 20th-century Protestants who rejected modernity and clung to a literal interpretation of the Bible.

But Ehrman has a different definition: “Someone who is no fun, too much damn, and not enough mental.”

People will think you worship Satan

Many Americans don’t actually know any professed atheists, according to surveys - which means they often seem to assume the worst about them.

Fewer than half of Americans say they’d vote for an atheist politician; a similar number say they wouldn’t want their children to marry a nonbeliever.

A recent study also showed that businesses in the South are more likely to discriminate against atheist job candidates.

“I don’t know what they think we are, Satanists or baby eaters or who knows what,” activist Todd Stiefel told the atheists gathered in Raleigh, “but it’s kind of scary."

A recent survey conducted for Stiefel's new “Openly Secular” campaign found that 20% of Americans can’t even define atheism. Far more don’t know what “humanist,” “freethinker” or “agnostic” means.

Behold, the six types of atheists

Based on “It Gets Better” and other gay rights campaigns, “Openly Secular” hopes to counter that ignorance by asking atheists to share stories online about their lives and beliefs.

“What we’re really trying to do is humanize us,” Stiefel says. “Frankly, most of the hate and distrust comes from misunderstanding about who we are.”

You don’t have to convince your friends, family and neighbors to accept all of your views, the atheist activist says. You just have to get them to accept you.

Sometimes it’s better to stay in the closet

After secular conferences like the one here Raleigh, many nonbelievers get so jazzed that they rush home and blurt out … "Guess, what? I’m an ATHEIST!!!"

That can be a really bad idea, says Sarah Morehead, executive director of Recovering From Religion.

It may help the atheist movement as a whole to share your lack of faith with friends and family. But it’s not always the best - or the safest - move for you, she says.

Recovering From Religion’s online support groups are filled with stories about people who lost their jobs, their kids or their spouses after coming out as atheist, Morehead says.

“It’s heartbreaking. People don’t realize how big a difference expressing their nonbelief can make.”

Recovering From Religion recommends having a plan in place before coming out as atheist.

“If you decide you’re a nonbeliever,” Morehead says, “you’re still going to be a nonbeliever in a year."

The group’s own 10.5-step plan includes creating a support network, declining to get into debates and preparing yourself for a “religious breakup” with friends and family. (The half-step assures budding nonbelievers they don’t have to be experts on atheism and points them toward educational resources.)

Don’t be the ‘office atheist’

Candace Gorham says her close family is accepting of her atheism - but she’s not completely “out” at work yet, and doesn’t know if she wants to be.

Gorham, who was raised in the black church, says religion is deeply embedded in the lives of many Southern African-Americans, and the borders between private and public spirituality often blur.

“I work for a black-owned company, and most of my supervisors are black females, and it’s just sort of OK for everybody to talk about God, or offer to pray for you,” says Gorham.

The 33-year-old is author of a new book called “The Ebony Exodus Project,” about black women leaving the church, which has pushed Gorham herself to become more public about being an atheist.

Recently, a co-worker told Gorham she had seen her talking about being an atheist on Roland Martin’s television show.

“I was like, Oh my God, shhh don’t tell anybody!”

A mental-health counselor who works with children, Gorham worries that people will stop referring clients to her once they find out she’s a nonbeliever.

According to a survey Stiefel presented in Raleigh, more than 50% of Americans believe atheist teachers and day-care employees - people who, like Gorham, work with children - are likely to face discrimination at work.

She knows it's only a matter of time until more of her office mates find out.

“It’s getting to a place where I don’t have a choice. I’m just going to have to be comfortable with it - but it does concern me.”

The Internet is your frenemy

A co-worker isn’t the only person who saw Gorham talking about atheism on television.

Her aunt read about the Roland Martin interview online, which led Gorham’s mother to call and ask if she is really an atheist.

The conversation went well, Gorham says, and her mother understands and respects her beliefs.

But the unexpected disclosure shows why many atheists cover their Internet tracks, even as they increasingly look for like-minded communities online.

Gorham says she used to delete her browsing history on her laptop after watching atheist debates and lectures online lest her husband or other family members find out her faith was wavering.

“I was still early in my deconversion and I wasn’t sure how he would perceive it,” says the Greensboro, North Carolina, native.

Others here for the conference said they keep two separate Facebook pages, one for friends and family and one for their secular communities.

“Facebook is my happy place,” says one middle-aged woman who made a nearly seven-hour drive to Raleigh from Crossville, Tennessee.

The woman, who didn't want to be identified, teaches at public schools. She says most of her neighbors and co-workers are Christians.

“Crossville is a small Bible Belt community with churches on every corner,” she said, “and everything shuts down on Sunday except for Wal-Mart and the hospital.”

Most co-workers assume she’s Christian, but she joins as many atheist groups online as she can and keeps an anonymous Facebook page called “Within Reason.”

One recent post asks people to click “like” if they’ve ever been unfriended because of an atheism-themed status update.

Some people take Bible-thumping literally

Adults may face more real-life repercussions for coming out as atheist in the Bible Belt, but that doesn’t mean kids have an easy ride.

Kalei Wilson, 15, says she lost friends after trying to start a secular student club at Pisgah High School in Canton, North Carolina; and someone used a Bible to destroy her science project, leaving the holy book on her smashed model of the universe.

The blue-haired, nose-pierced freshman says she’s not the only atheist at her high school, but most of them are closeted.

“I didn’t want to come out at first,” Wilson says, “but in order to start the club I had to.”

In exchange for her openness, Wilson says, some students mutter "Jesus loves you” as she walks down the hall, and she regularly receives text messages with the greeting, “Hey, Satan.”

“I’ve lost friends because of it,” the teenager says of her atheism, “but they’re not real friends if that’s what they do.”

Have a sense of humor

For all the heartbreaking stories, if was there was a soundtrack to the conference in Raleigh, it would include a lot of laughter.

It seemed as if the atheists and freethinkers here had been storing their sharpest religion jokes for weeks, preparing for the day when they would find an appreciative audience at last.

“I’ve been living in the South for 13 years,” says Pat Meller, who came to Raleigh from nearby Greensboro, “and I’ve had to watch my tongue for just as long.”

So for two days, Meller and her kindred spirits cut loose.

They quipped about the folly of prayer, bought bumper-stickers calling the Bible a “Grim Fairy Tale,” and wore T-shirts proclaiming their belief in life before death.

Harry Shaughnessy, president of the Triangle Freethought Society, played the cut-up emcee for much of the weekend.

“For every activist-oriented event we have, we want to have three to five things that are just fun,” says Shaughnessy, whose group holds regular “Heathen Happy Hours” and meets for barbecues in each other’s homes.

At one point, the youthful 44-year-old donned a crown and a form-fitting, skin-colored costume to bestow Freedom From Religion’s “Emperor Has No Clothes” award on Steifel for his activism.

Perhaps appropriately for an atheist event, Shaughnessy’s get-up left little to the imagination.

- CNN Religion Editor

Filed under: Atheism • Belief • Black issues • Church and state • Culture wars • Discrimination • Internet • Lost faith • Nones • North Carolina • Prejudice • Religious liberty

soundoff (4,807 Responses)
  1. southerncelt

    What amazes me is how 2% of the population gets so much news coverage. Maybe CNN's editor is one of them. Maybe they are just checking if the rest of us still believe. I'm still here, I still (and always will) believe. Nothing will change that. Hey CNN, how about doing a story on all the people coming into The Church every Easter?

    May 25, 2014 at 10:44 am |
    • primatica

      There's more atheist that go to church then ones that proudly, without fear, pronounce the truth. We only have each other...

      May 25, 2014 at 10:46 am |
    • G to the T

      Well, let's take a look at the most recent batch of articles:
      – Pope Francis in the Holy Land: 5 things to know
      – U.S. to Sudan: release Christian woman
      – The worst places in the world to be religious
      – 9/11 Museum film stirs controversy
      – The secret confessions of Jackie Kennedy
      – Update: Harvard's satanic 'black Mass' cancelled
      – The next chapter in faith films: comedy
      – Were TV hosts' religious beliefs a problem?
      – A mother's prayer, a son's death and a song that lives on

      Wow, you are soooo right. Those darned atheists are hogging all the attention!

      May 25, 2014 at 10:47 am |
    • MidwestKen

      Interesting, are you saying that Belief Blog doesn't have enough articles on Christianity? Have you missed the minute by minute coverage of the Pope?

      May 25, 2014 at 10:55 am |
    • Reality

      And that is the only time most Christians go to church. For " Easter bunny" Catholics, it is a matter of making their Easter duty preventing them from spending everlasting life in Hell for not attending Mass and Communion at least once during the Easter season. http://catholicism.about.com/od/holydaysandholidays/f/Easter_Duty.htm. I jettisoned this Easter inanity many years ago.

      May 25, 2014 at 10:55 am |
    • Reality

      The demographics of atheism are complex. I highly recommend perusing http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_atheism#United_States to get the complete picture.

      An excerpt:

      "Statistics on atheism are often difficult to represent accurately for a variety of reasons. Atheism is a position compatible with other forms of ident-ity. Some atheists also consider themselves Agnostic, Buddhist, Hindu, Jains, Taoist, or hold other related philosophical beliefs. Some, like Secular Jews and Shintoists, may indulge in some religious activities as a way of connecting with their culture, all the while being atheist. "

      May 25, 2014 at 11:07 am |
    • lewcypher

      Feeling persecuted cause you think your faith doesn't get enough publicity?

      May 25, 2014 at 12:01 pm |
  2. primatica

    I say stand up for yourselves non-violently and let the righteous show their true colors....they will attack because ultimate truth is on the secularist side.

    May 25, 2014 at 10:44 am |
    • n2vegas

      But, but, but it's OK for the Christians to attack and demean others, just don't do it to them because then it become "persecution".

      May 25, 2014 at 2:11 pm |
  3. stucarius

    First. As a Southerner in a far more central location than N.C. I can tell you this author fabricated a fiction. Athirst innocent wY have to live in the shadows in The South.

    Second. The only thing I find more ignorant than people who are part of any fundamentalist religious sect are the myopic atheist who bend just as many elements of reality to fulfill their very similar fundamentalist beliefs.

    It is amazing how similar the two groups are..

    May 25, 2014 at 10:40 am |
    • magicpanties

      You simply repeat the ridiculous fiction that atheism is somehow equivalent to religious belief.
      It is nothing like it.
      Atheism means "lack of belief". That's it. Nothing at all like religion.

      May 25, 2014 at 10:42 am |
    • primatica

      Simple definition od atheist....We don't believe in ghosts

      May 25, 2014 at 10:44 am |
  4. sandycamargo04

    Two things: First, both fundamentalists and atheists exhibit the arrogance of certainty. Since we cannot know for sure, I find agnosticism more congenial. Second, I really don't care what people believe as long as they don't try to impose their views on others who have different beliefs. Atheists don't do that, but fundamentalists do, so there is that against them.

    May 25, 2014 at 10:37 am |
    • magicpanties

      Atheism means "lack of belief" [without proof].
      Certainty is the realm of believers.

      May 25, 2014 at 10:39 am |
      • igaftr

        I lack faith the same way I lack cancer.

        I do not have faith in any deities.
        I also do not have cancer.
        I do not lack either thing.

        May 25, 2014 at 10:48 am |
    • bostontola

      Anyone who is certain is closed minded, that makes learning limited and biased.

      There is a difference between reasonable believers and atheists though. Religious beliefs are based on faith only, there is no objective evidence for any God. Atheists' beliefs are based on physical, scientific objective evidence. Both are beliefs, both are limited, but they are very different in character.

      May 25, 2014 at 10:43 am |
    • Doris

      Mainstream atheism is fairly agnostic in some ways.

      May 25, 2014 at 10:44 am |
    • nepawoods

      I'm not certain God doesn't exist. God, Zeus, Thor, invisible leprechauns, the boogeyman, and an infinite number of other possible things without evidence ... I can't prove the nonexistence of any of them. They're all on equal footing. But if a child asks me if the boogeyman is real, I tell them, unequivocally, NO. It's the way I treat things with zero evidence.

      May 25, 2014 at 10:55 am |
  5. md22mdrx

    Quite frankly, I believe the "big bang" has happened over and over again.
    The universe is expanding from a finite point. I feel this expansion will slow, reach a point of equilibrium, then start contracting back to that finite point. Once it gets back to that finite point, the "big bang" will happen again.
    Of course the god-ites will say the forces of the universe are "god" in this model. They'll ask about the original creation of matter and energy, which IS a good point ... but not good enough to prove the existance of any "god" ... ESPECIALLY the judeo-christian variety.

    May 25, 2014 at 10:37 am |
  6. Doris

    “The problem with religion, because it's been sheltered from criticism, is that it allows people to believe en masse what only idiots or lunatics could believe in isolation.”

    ― Sam Harris

    May 25, 2014 at 10:35 am |
  7. ddm11

    Google 'meetup' for your area, then search for atheist, secular, free thought, skeptic groups there. Most areas do have at least one meetup group where you can socialize with fellow atheist/agnostic people. Such groups may be listed as 'private' meaning others cannot see you are a member unless they also join, or a group might not be private. Just something to consider.

    May 25, 2014 at 10:35 am |
  8. magicpanties

    My invisible pink unicorn made me a bible belt, a bit flimsy but quite handy.

    May 25, 2014 at 10:35 am |
    • runninggun1024runninggun1024

      I don't no any atheist but in tennessee were I live I no plenty of hypocrites starting with the so-called minister and preachers and of-course the congregation On SUNDAY they meet in the churches to talk over business deals were to plan there next party's and how to steal every penny they can..The preacher will stagger to the front half drunk babbling about the two blonds he left at the best western and the women strut around wearing short skirts and two lbs of makeup trying to hide years of whoring around and martini sipping.Are these atheist or hypocrites you tell me I cant tell the difference.my opinion

      May 25, 2014 at 10:46 am |
  9. wilburw7

    Why are most mass murders atheists?

    May 25, 2014 at 10:31 am |
    • gregoryjwiens

      You mean like Stalin and Mao?

      May 25, 2014 at 10:33 am |
      • magicpanties

        You mean like the Crusades and the Inquisition?

        May 25, 2014 at 10:36 am |
        • johnroush

          Crusades and Inquisition<Stalin & Mao

          May 25, 2014 at 10:38 am |
        • Doris

          Many deaths that happened under totalitarian regimes of the past century were from starvation. Were they democracies by any stretch of the imagination, greggy?

          May 25, 2014 at 10:42 am |
      • Doris

        You mean like, just a few years ago, Scott Lively and his team of evangelicals traveling to Africa to incite the killing of certain people there?

        May 25, 2014 at 10:39 am |
    • MidwestKen

      Please cite your source.

      May 25, 2014 at 10:34 am |
    • bostontola

      Does your God approve of libelous statements with no supporting evidence?

      Maybe you are a Muslim, the Quran allows lying in support of Allah, because Christianity doesn't.

      May 25, 2014 at 10:37 am |
    • sam stone

      why do you need to be a troll cvnt?

      May 25, 2014 at 10:38 am |
    • rhyde52

      Your statement merely demonstrates your ignorance. To begin with, Hitler was a Catholic. However, whether "most mass murderers are atheists" or not is irrelevant. They don't kill because of their lack of religion, they kill in spite of it. On the other hand, people kill in the name of God all the time. And according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, only 0.07% of those in prison are atheist. The other 99.93% are religious.

      May 25, 2014 at 10:41 am |
    • TruthPrevails1

      Why is it that 75% of the prisoner population Christian and only 1% Atheist? Why is it that Christians have the greatest number of abortions and the highest divorce rate?
      Do you see the hypocrisy here?? Stop pretending to be better and more moral because you have an imaginary friend.

      May 25, 2014 at 10:54 am |
    • ohioatheist

      Why are most mass murderers men?

      What's your point? There is no nexus between mass murder and atheism.

      May 25, 2014 at 12:04 pm |
  10. wilburw7

    It is amazing how much damage that one phrase had:"If I only had a brain." I will be thinking about that all day. Atheists are mean spirited.

    May 25, 2014 at 10:30 am |
    • nepawoods

      Christians believe in a God who will condemn non-believers to eternal suffering, and they believe this God is good. Nothing could be nearly so mean-spirited.

      May 25, 2014 at 10:34 am |
      • n2vegas

        You are 100% correct. Nice "god" they have there isn't it?

        May 25, 2014 at 10:55 am |
    • igaftr

      Atheists are not the ones who passed laws violating the const!tution with laws limiting and disrespecting atheists, they aren't the ones who hijacked the PoA and the National motto and now print a lie on our money..

      Christians lack empathy for others who do not believe as they do ( ironically, that intolerance is often directed at other christians)

      May 25, 2014 at 10:35 am |
    • MidwestKen

      Nothing even approaches joyously celebrating the eternal torture of others.

      May 25, 2014 at 10:36 am |
    • ohioatheist

      Generalize much?

      May 25, 2014 at 12:05 pm |
  11. samsstones

    Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion. Steven Weinberg
    Strange place, the bible belt where you have upstanding Christians, so they say, picketing and harassing people at an abortion clinic, promoting scientific ignorance in schools, disrupting veterans funeral, etc. to then get upset that atheists might put up a few billboards stating their positions on secular matters. The so called war on religion is just a simple attempt by the minority to have their voices heard.

    May 25, 2014 at 10:29 am |
  12. gregoryjwiens

    This blog clearly cannot represent the average atheist, because most of the atheists that I know are nice people who don't call other people names and get along with other people in general.
    The ones here call people names that disagree with them and belittle those whom they deem "inferior intellect"

    May 25, 2014 at 10:21 am |
  13. Science Works

    Hey finisher

    Great stuff (click bait front page – click opens new window) – But a great way to educate the masses


    No god(s) required.

    May 25, 2014 at 10:15 am |
  14. kyzaadrao

    Oh please.

    And if there is true reason with the atheists among you, I would also ask you to call upon your reason to see when a media outlet with a clear agenda uses you as a demographic to sensationalize and capitalize on.

    These articles on atheism in a "belief blog" focusing on something anti-religion is a pretty clear inkling of that.

    If you can't tell when you're being sold hair tonic by a manipulative media, even if they agree with your position, I tend to doubt your ability to really reason. The problems we both have in common, religious and atheist alike, is a manipulative media that practices a bit of social engineering according to their particular political bias.

    This is how you drive a wedge in between two groups and make money from it.

    May 25, 2014 at 10:15 am |
    • lewcypher

      You exhibit the same kind of "keep atheists in the closet" mentality the article describes.

      May 25, 2014 at 10:23 am |
      • kyzaadrao

        I think the only thing I exhibited was that both groups being manipulated here for clicks and profit.

        May 25, 2014 at 10:28 am |
        • G to the T

          I enjoy the discussions and it costs me nothing but my free time.

          So who's being taken advantage of here?

          May 25, 2014 at 10:33 am |
        • kcanderson2014

          Are you Bart Ehrman and do you teach at Carolina? Otherwise I don't think I said you exhibited anything.

          May 25, 2014 at 10:40 am |
        • kcanderson2014

          Sorry, you didn't even reply to me. The email I received made it appear as though your response was to me. My most sincere southern Christian apologies.

          May 25, 2014 at 10:42 am |
    • drufusonfyre

      Reporting on different views and perspectives is a valid genre of journalism. The article itself is not inflammatory or divisive; it impartially describes a convention held in the Bible Belt and expounds upon the experiences of the participants.

      May 25, 2014 at 10:55 am |
  15. moxrox84

    FYI, we're all born atheist. It takes indoctrination from our family to convert us into whatever religion they follow. Our spiritual paths are nothing more than structured indoctrination methods passed down from generation to generation.

    May 25, 2014 at 10:12 am |
    • gregoryjwiens

      FYI, we are all born with the innate desire to worship something or someone.

      May 25, 2014 at 10:16 am |
      • lewcypher

        No, that is what religionists spew in order to claim that we are born as a gods child and to follow it.

        More accurately, we "acquire" the desire to worship or more specifically follow something because of the dependency relationship between us and our parents as infants and children.

        May 25, 2014 at 10:21 am |
        • gregoryjwiens

          How do you explain when you remove faith from the country that we have billion dollar football stadiums, baseball fields, soccer stadiums, basketball and hockey areas where the masses come to worship their teams and their champion players?
          Did they have to be taught that?
          That every culture in history has some sort of religious symbolism that they worship.
          Look at the "great communist experiment" of the 20th century. They were more religious than just about any religion.
          Or how about the New Atheist Movement with its evangelical zeal, the desire to meet as "churches" as they worship at the feet of their priest Bill Mayer and Richard Dawkins paying them millions of dollars per year to tickle their belief system.

          May 25, 2014 at 10:33 am |
        • nepawoods

          Not everyone worships something. Personally, I think only the weak-minded do. The whole concept of 'worship' has always been strange and foreign to me.

          May 25, 2014 at 10:39 am |
        • MidwestKen

          I think you might be confusing separate things. Sports is more of an ingroup thing rather than religion, although if you want to argue that religion is ultimately just an ingroup bonding thing, then I won't disagree.

          May 25, 2014 at 10:43 am |
        • lewcypher

          Like minded people or people with the same interests gravitate towards each other. By your logic a group of bald men standing together are worshiping the bald god. But I understand how religionists deni.grate sports and other activities that take away from the coffers of their churches.

          May 25, 2014 at 11:51 am |
      • moxrox84

        Behaviors are learned, especially when it comes to belief. No one is born with an innate desire to worship anything...it's a taught behavior.

        May 25, 2014 at 10:24 am |
      • nepawoods

        I agree, there is reason to believe evolution may have produced in us a tendency to believe in an imaginary God.

        May 25, 2014 at 10:29 am |
        • G to the T

          It comes down to whether it's safer to assume intention and agency vs not doing so.

          If I'm a hominid walking in the grasslands and I hear a rustle, I can either assume it's the wind (no intent/agency) or a predator (intent/agency). It's safer to assume it's a predator. This bias towards assuming intent/agency is (to my mind) the genesis (pun intended) of religious thought.

          May 25, 2014 at 10:35 am |
      • Reality

        Only for the new members of this blog:

        “John Hick, a noted British philosopher of religion, estimates that 95 percent of the people of the world owe their religious affiliation to an accident (the randomness) of birth. The faith of the vast majority of believers depends upon where they were born and when. Those born in Saudi Arabia will almost certainly be Moslems, and those born and raised in India will for the most part be Hindus. Nevertheless, the religion of millions of people can sometimes change abruptly in the face of major political and social upheavals. In the middle of the sixth century ce, virtually all the people of the Near East and Northern Africa, including Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Egypt were Christian. By the end of the following century, the people in these lands were largely Moslem, as a result of the militant spread of Islam.

        The Situation Today
        Barring military conquest, conversion to a faith other than that of one’s birth is rare. Some Jews, Moslems, and Hindus do convert to Christianity, but not often. Similarly, it is not common for Christians to become Moslems or Jews. Most people are satisfied that their own faith is the true one or at least good enough to satisfy their religious and emotional needs. Had St. Augustine or St. Thomas Aquinas been born in Mecca at the start of the present century, the chances are that they would not have been Christians but loyal followers of the prophet Mohammed. “ J. Somerville

        It is very disturbing that religious narrow- mindedness, intolerance, violence and hatred continues unabated due to randomness of birth. Maybe, just maybe if this fact would be published on the first page of every newspaper every day, that we would finally realize the significant stupidity of all religions.

        May 25, 2014 at 10:30 am |
        • gregoryjwiens

          Christianity has never been a faith of just location or family ties.
          Actually one of the most important aspects of the Christian faith is that each person has to make their own mind up if they will follow or not in order for them to be a follower of Jesus.
          While it is true that the Roman Catholic Church has in the past, through the baptism of babies, tried to "make" people Christians, it has not worked out so well.
          That is why even the RC Church has catechism classes when their children come of the age of Reason.

          Christianity is a faith based on the real historical person of Jesus of Nazareth and the faith that his followers spread to the world afterwards.

          May 25, 2014 at 10:39 am |
      • denkidemuerto

        I think worship can be called trust. So in a way you are right. Religion is the trust you have that the men who claim the stories in the bible are inspired and should be considered the divine word of God.

        I was born, and I was not taken to church or told to trust in God. I did trust my mom to provide for me. I love and adore my mother. I dont worship her.

        You can also have trust in information. Is the bible or book of mormon or quran information? Yes, how do you resolve the trust you place in any of those books?

        May 25, 2014 at 10:31 am |
      • drufusonfyre

        If anything, we are born with the desire to understand. Religion is definitely indoctrinated into the populace, thus the different branches and philosophies in different regions of the world.

        May 25, 2014 at 10:59 am |
  16. lewcypher

    Religion, any religion requires willful ignorance to perpetuate. That is not to say religionists across the board are ignorant people, quite the contrary, there are millions of well educated religionists. The persons education however does not inherently mean the religion or god they subscribe to is any more right than any other, it only means they will create smarter ways to justify their religious delusion.

    May 25, 2014 at 10:12 am |
  17. thenitenurse

    I work in a hospital in the South. I don't know how many times patients have asked me if I'm saved or what church I go to. When I tell them I'm not saved or I don't go to church they stare out me as if I'm some weirdo Satanist. They'll often ask if I want to go to heaven and I say I don't know if there is a heaven or hell. Then I get to be preached at for the next 12 hours. So I know just to lie so patients in the South will just leave me to do the nursing care I'm good at.

    May 25, 2014 at 10:04 am |
  18. colin31714

    I am not an atheist because I am "stupid" or “evil.” I, like most 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 basic 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, strains credibility. Not only that, but it then sits back and waits 13,720,000,000 years for human beings to evolve on one planet so he can “love them” and send his son to Earth to talk to a nomadic group of Jews in Greco Roman Palestine about sheep and goats (while ignoring the rest of the 200 million people then alive). This makes no sense to us. We can’t help but ask ourselves, “did God make the Jews or did the Jews make God?”

    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. The Universe may well be infinitely old without a "cause," there may be an infinite number of universes or time itself may have began in the Big Bang. We simply do not know. BUT “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?

    Similarly, “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.

    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.

    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 Greco-Roman Mediterranean. For example, many of the myths about Jesus, including his birth around the Winter Solstice, his being betrayed and executed, his virgin birth and his rising from the dead after three days are straight out of earlier myths about Horus and Apollonius of Tyana.

    Human beings are terrified of their own deaths and it is difficult not to 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 naïve, 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”. We sure as hell will not be cowered into accepting absurd beliefs out of a silly threat that it is “wrong” to question or doubt cherished or deeply held religious beliefs. That just gives them a place to hide and avoid scrutiny.

    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 written and 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 any Christian next proudly proclaims that 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 Greco-Roman 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 25, 2014 at 10:02 am |
    • saneandreasonable

      You wrote a novel there dude. Whatnot boils down to is that you do fathom that all this complexity just " came to be" .

      You seem to be too smart or you ego is way beyond control. I bet you are a just a peach to be with.

      May 25, 2014 at 10:11 am |
      • bostontola

        In other words, you couldn't refute the argument.

        May 25, 2014 at 10:28 am |
        • kcanderson2014

          There was no argument. That's the issue with Faith. You either have it or you don't. I have it. I have no issue with people who don't. I don't see why anyone else has an issue with the fact that I DO. But it won't change my Faith.

          May 25, 2014 at 10:36 am |
        • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

          Faith is the excuse people use to believe things for bad reasons.

          May 25, 2014 at 10:53 am |
        • questioningsoul420

          @Kcanderson- "Faith" is not mutually exclusive to people of religion. As an atheists I have faith in scientific fact. Scientific fact points more towards the nonexistence of a supreme being. It actually points more towards the universe being a small molecule floating around inside another being. The wonders and miracles from the Bible have nothing on true scientific marvels of reality and the universe. In my brief existence most of the people I have come across that NEED religion are scared of the true uncertainties of death. I say need because as you will I'm sure gladly admit it is a need not a want. When in true reality our needs are the things that directly help us survive: food, water, rest, some may say shelter I disagree, and each other. No one can do it alone. So in reality religion is not supportive of progression. If everyone in the world was religious 1000 years ago, what progress would we have made? None science would have stop existing for a time because everyone already had it all figured out. It tells us to not look at scientific facts that contradict its belief systems. Everything you use today was made through science exploration. The car your driving that has fossils fuels in it. Oh that fossil fuel made of matter religion says shouldnt exist or was put here as a test of faith. Many infrastructures that exist today have this same issue. They claim to want progression but deter it. Economics for example scarcity drives all markets so money can be made. I think scarcity Is used in religion. Only certain types can be granted access to heaven the other burn forever. It's the longest hoax in history. You need to understand there are no grounds for your beliefs much like you would say of a cult. You would also say that people in cults are not living in reality. I would say the same of you. I mean that respectfully because we as human being need religious people to understand, so that we can finally unit and progress further then ever imagined. I have faith! Faith in scientific facts that have proven to directly interact with reality. You may be just fine living in obscurity through your faith forever but I will not. My faith is truly tested and reinforced time and time again. Yours has been unable to prove anything in its whole existence. Please seek logic with out it you would not be able to be on your phone or pc using the Internet through wifi via a broadband network that is processing every word you type to attempt to refute all the atheist that just want all the sheep being herded by their Shepard to Wake UUUUPPPP!!!!!!! Please we will get down on our knees and beg if that's what it takes but wake up and start using your deductive reason capabilities that we have evolved to hold. This Is the most pointless dispute in the history of man kind. There is no basis for these belief systems in true reality. It's served the purposes it had 2000 year ago too hold people to a strict moral code and control the masses. We have moved past this thought. Now we need to start the wave of progress as we step away from these codes because it scary and uncertain. Together we can tho.

          Final thought too all free thinkers: people that chose religions even after contemplation have chosen to be naive, much like the people whom just follow are naive. You can not deal with people that are naive they have chosen to put up walls and not use logical reason. Most of these people are very accepting of authority. Belief in god is a fascist belief. Only one true authority/ god and the radical spreading of the gospel through war and slaying of inferior tribes, screams fascist. Last I knew we tried to completely Eliminate all fascist regime's.

          Sorry have have been reading for a while now and have come across your post many times I needed to finally say some thing.

          May 25, 2014 at 4:37 pm |
        • bhoffinger

          Read this. This book should inform you and most other people of the truth of 'The Torah' and science.

          May 25, 2014 at 4:40 pm |
        • saneandreasonable

          No, I don't have the time or energy to spend an hour to refute a fool.

          May 29, 2014 at 1:41 am |
      • Reality

        And since creationists believe everything was created by someone, who then created their god?

        May 25, 2014 at 10:38 am |
        • saneandreasonable

          Believe in the origination of God and that he always was and is. Or believe in the creation. I choose the love of the creator.

          May 29, 2014 at 1:38 am |
    • demoguy1

      Nice and Thank You

      May 25, 2014 at 10:35 am |
    • noybizz

      You just summed up hundreds of pages and hundreds of hours of Hitchens and Dawkins better (and more politely) than I could have. Thank you. I'm copying your post for my future reference.

      May 25, 2014 at 10:46 am |
  19. timelord7202

    If people can't compromise and agree to disagree and work for the common good, then moving might be the only viable option.

    May 25, 2014 at 9:56 am |
    • nepawoods

      What's the "common good"? To me it includes people being educated about the scientific facts of the universe we live in.

      May 25, 2014 at 10:04 am |
      • saneandreasonable

        The scientific facts about the universe do not preclude a creator. In fact, they point to,one.

        May 25, 2014 at 10:12 am |
        • nepawoods

          They don't point to a creator. Everything we know tells us sentient beings require physical bodies with physical brains. There is no conceivable way an incorporeal intelligent being can exist, nor is there any reason to believe one exists or existed.

          May 25, 2014 at 10:25 am |
        • igaftr

          The one who calls himself sane and reasonable, clearly does not understand that not being able to exclude a god does not indicate there is one.
          He clearly thinks it does, with is not reasonable at all.

          May 25, 2014 at 10:38 am |
        • saneandreasonable

          according to your definition of reasonable. How convenient.

          May 29, 2014 at 1:38 am |
        • MidwestKen

          "The scientific facts about the universe do not preclude a creator. In fact, they point to,one."

          I agree that they don't preclude a creator, but they don't point to one.

          May 25, 2014 at 10:46 am |
        • multiversatile

          The evidence does not point to a creator, nor suggest one. Assertions to the contrary come from religious folk, and are one of the many ways they have mangled and distorted science to reconcile it with their continued denial of logic and reason. Then they call themselves "moderate" or "reasonable" because they don't reject science outright, like those less moderate or reasonable science-deniers do.

          Sorry to break it ya, folks, but if the science you accept is some ridiculous caricature of the real thing, then you are no better than they. In all likelihood, you are worse. Because while science could be right or fundamentalism could be right, you embrace neither.

          May 25, 2014 at 10:59 am |
        • saneandreasonable

          Uhh, science can tell us a lot about why something happened or how it happened, but it cannot preclude that someone caused it to happen. All we see is mankind taking matter and forming it to work for humankind. That model is the GOD model, who took matter HE created and formed it into the organized fashion we now have.

          May 29, 2014 at 1:34 am |
        • ohioatheist

          I've yet to see a peer reviewed scientific journal draw that conclusion.

          May 25, 2014 at 12:09 pm |
        • saneandreasonable

          Yes, because all you believe in science. Science does not teach us about Hope, faith and love, attributes that are more important than anything else we can learn from science

          May 29, 2014 at 1:42 am |
        • tallulah131

          Actually, "hope, faith and love" are human emotions, and science can tell us all about human emotions.

          May 29, 2014 at 5:12 am |
        • ohioatheist

          I believe in far more than science.

          Science does explain how the abstract concepts of hope, faith, and love as specific chemical reactions in the brain.

          Without science we'd more than likely be extinct, or, at best, living 20-year lives in sickness and decay.

          Science evolves and it self-correcting. Religion does not.

          May 29, 2014 at 11:48 am |
        • saneandreasonable

          Science explains love, faith and hope by chemical reactions in the brain. Right. you "believe " but science is agnostic to those attributes. And people make decisions on those attributes and choose to love people that are unlovable. Explain that one.

          June 7, 2014 at 6:00 pm |
        • ohioatheist

          Your statement is self-contradictory. Agnostic means "without knowledge." If science can explain those things (which it does), then it is not agnostic, it is gnostic. Quite the opposite.

          June 7, 2014 at 7:18 pm |
        • saneandreasonable

          Science cannot explain those things. You "think" that it does, but having hope is a value and force that science cannot explain. Please provide proof that science explains hope. It does not exist, neither does it explain love people have for one another in all of its different forms.

          June 12, 2014 at 10:00 pm |
        • ohioatheist

          Excuse the typos and gramamtical errors above. There is no edit feature to fix my comment.

          May 29, 2014 at 11:51 am |
  20. barbara451

    Karl Marx said it most succinctly "Religion is the opiate of the people" and most recently I read another relevant quote:
    "Religion is what keeps the poor from killing the rich."

    May 25, 2014 at 9:56 am |
    • snyphilis

      Karl Marx. There's a guy who had ideas that work.

      (extreme sarcasm intended)

      May 25, 2014 at 10:01 am |
      • colin31714

        Its not an all or nothing affair. People can have booth good and bad ideas. That quote was one of his good ones. Religion has a retarding effect on our advancement as a species.

        May 25, 2014 at 10:04 am |
        • freewillofyours

          Even without religion, to call our species as humans advanced, is a joke. Religion has no to do with it.

          May 25, 2014 at 9:02 pm |
      • sburns54

        it seems MOST "philosophies"- Marxism, capitalism, libertarianism, stoicism, anarchism, whiggism, you name it- work better in theory than reality. That's because "imperfect" men will always find ways to subvert them for their own profit, benefit, and personal belief.
        That includes religion.

        May 27, 2014 at 8:39 am |
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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.