September 17th, 2014
05:36 PM ET
Opinion by Candida Moss and Joel Baden, special to CNN
(CNN) – The Air Force has reversed course again and will allow an atheist airman to omit the phrase "so help me God” from its oath, the military branch said Wednesday.
“We are making the appropriate adjustments to ensure our Airmen's rights are protected,” Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James said.
Earlier, the Air Force said the unnamed airman would not be allowed to re-enlist unless he recited the entire oath, including the disputed "God" section.
It was the latest religious controversy in the heavily Christian Air Force, but this particular issue has ancient and somewhat surprising roots: In the early days of Christianity, it was Christians who refused to swear by powers they didn’t believe in.
The oath was written into law in 1956 and, like the Pledge of Allegiance, did not originally include any reference to God. The final sentence came into the text in 1962, just eight years after “under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance.
Even then, however, it was not an absolute requirement in the Air Force: Official policy had stated that “Airmen may omit the words ‘so help me God,’ if desired for personal reasons.” But the lenient policy was updated and eliminated in 2013, leading to the most recent standoff, which Wednesday's announcement seemed to solve.
"The Air Force will be updating the instructions for both enlisted and commissioned Airmen to reflect these changes in the coming weeks, but the policy change is effective now," the Air Force said.
"Airmen who choose to omit the words 'So help me God' from enlistment and officer appointment oaths may do so."
The repeated fights over the Air Force oath highlight the fraught relationship between faith groups and military service.
August 22nd, 2014
07:00 AM ET
Opinion by Chris Stedman, special to CNN
(CNN) – Conservative atheist and television pundit S.E. Cupp has come out swinging against progressive atheists.
In a clip (see above) for CNN’s “Crossfire,” she argues that conservative atheists are “better” than liberal nonbelievers. What’s more, Cupp says, those on the right respect and tolerate atheists more than liberals do.
She’s wrong, and here are three reasons why.
Fact: Atheists are still political outcasts.
“It seems like there’s this idea perpetuated by atheists that atheists are somehow disenfranchised or left out of the political process,” Cupp says. “I just don’t find that to be the case.”
Survey data contradict Cupp.
For instance, a 2014 Pew Research study found that Americans are less likely to vote for an atheist presidential candidate than any other survey category—even if they share that candidate’s political views.
Faring better than atheists: candidates who have engaged in extramarital affairs and those with zero political experience.
And unless she recently had a change of heart, Cupp herself falls in line with the majority of Americans. In 2012 she said, “I would never vote for an atheist president. Ever.”
While atheists are making political inroads, we’re also still on the margins in a number of ways. Cupp concludes the clip by saying, “I think our atheists are better than yours.”
Apparently they’re still not good enough to be president.
June 24th, 2014
08:03 AM ET
By Sara Grossman, CNN
(CNN) When Americans think of their future in-laws, they approve of nearly every type of person - except for atheists.
A recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center aimed to examine political polarization. It asked Americans whether they would be disappointed if a close family member married someone of a different race, country, political party or someone who doesn't believe in God.
Less than 20% of Americans said they would be unhappy if a close family member married someone from the opposite political party and only 11% said they would be upset if that person was of a different race.
But 49% of Americans said they would be disappointed if their family member married an atheist, making nonbelievers by far the most stigmatized group in the survey.
Conservatives overwhelmingly held reservations about secular Americans, with 73% saying they would be less than thrilled if a family member tied the knot with a nonbeliever.
June 10th, 2014
02:40 PM ET
Opinion by Frank Schaeffer, special to CNN
(CNN) - All the public debates between celebrity atheists and evangelical pastors are as meaningless as literary awards and Oscar night.
They are meaningless because participants lack the objectivity to admit that our beliefs have less to do with facts than with our personal needs and cultural backgrounds.
The words we use to label ourselves are just as empty.
What exactly is a “believer?” And for that matter what is an “atheist?” Who is the objective observer to define these terms?
Maybe we need a new category other than theism, atheism or agnosticism that takes paradox and unknowing into account.
Take me, I am an atheist who believes in God.
Let me explain.
May 24th, 2014
06:00 PM ET
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Editor
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:
May 7th, 2014
11:58 AM ET
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Editor
(CNN) - Young Latinos are leaving the Catholic Church in droves, according to a new study, with many drifting into the country's fastest-growing religious movement: the nones.
Nearly a third of Latino adults under 30 don't belong to a faith group, according to a large survey released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center. That's a leap of 17 percentage points in just the last three years.
While the demise of organized religion, specifically Catholicism, is most dramatic among young Latinos, the overall shifts are broad-based, according to Pew, affecting men and women; foreign-born and U.S. natives; college graduates and those with less formal education.
The trends highlighted by Pew's Latino survey also mirror large-scale shifts in the American population as whole.
According to other studies conducted by Pew in recent years, nearly a third of all millennials - Americans between the ages of 18-33 - are religiously unaffiliated, a dramatic and ongoing change from previous generations.
“One of the most striking recent trends in the American religious landscape has been the growing share of the unaffiliated, and this study allows us to see where Latinos fit into that story,” said Cary Funk, a senior researcher at the Pew Research Center and one of the co-authors of the study.
May 5th, 2014
04:23 PM ET
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-editor
(CNN) - If you don't like it, leave the room.
That's Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy's advice for atheists and others who object to sectarian prayers before government meetings.
In a 5-4 decision written by Kennedy, the Supreme Court allowed Greece, New York, to continue hosting prayers before its monthly town board meetings - even though an atheist and a Jewish citizen complained that the benedictions are almost always explicitly Christian.
Many members of the country's majority faith - that is, Christians - hailed the ruling.
Many members of minority faiths, as well as atheists, responded with palpable anger, saying the Supreme Court has set them apart as second-class citizens.
Groups from the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism to the Hindu American Foundation decried Monday's decision.
"The court’s decision to bless ‘majority-rules’ prayer is out of step with the changing face of America, which is more secular and less dogmatic,” said Rob Boston, a spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which litigated the case.
At least one justice, Elena Kagan, seemed to agree. And while Kennedy's decision reads like a lesson in American history, Kagan's dissent offers a picture of the country's increasingly pluralistic present.
April 9th, 2014
12:17 PM ET
By Jessica Ravitz, CNN
(CNN) We can blame the Internet for plenty: the proliferation of porn, our obsession with cat videos, the alleged rise of teen trends like - brace yourself - eyeball licking.
But is it also a culprit in helping us lose our religion? A new study suggests it might be.
Allen Downey, a computer scientist at Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts, set out to understand the national uptick in those who claim no religious affiliation. These are the “nones,” which the Pew Research Center considers the fastest-growing “religious” group in America.
March 19th, 2014
08:31 AM ET
(CNN) - Once again a new Gallup Poll has reported that Vermont is the least religious state in the country, with only 22% of the people willing to call themselves "very religious." On the other side of the poll, there is Mississippi, where a whopping 61% of citizens lay claim to that self-description. But what does it really mean to be "very religious" and not just spiritual?
I've been living in Vermont for much of my adult life, adding up to nearly four decades. And I've been keenly interested in the question of religion, having written a biography of Jesus and practiced Christianity as best I can for much of my life. I've also traveled in the South quite often, and understand where that 61% comes from: Not long ago I drove across Mississippi, and I couldn't find a secular radio station on the dial. It was all preachers, all sounding alike. Repent, repent, repent. Billboards everywhere shouted religious slogans. It seemed there was a church on every street corner in every town I passed through.
So what's going on here? Do Mississippians have a direct line to the divine? Don't the majority of people of Vermont also have an interest in religion or belief in God? Is this why Vermont was the first state in the union to allow for civil unions? And does secularism run rampant here?FULL STORY
January 14th, 2014
01:20 PM ET
By Daniel Burke, Belief Blog Co-editor
(CNN) - Ryan Bell, a one-time Christian pastor, says he didn't expect his yearlong experiment with atheism to get much attention.
"This wasn't intended to be an international journey that was done in public," he told CNN's Brooke Baldwin last Wednesday.
But what began as Bell's personal project has now been covered by NPR, the BBC, Religion News Service, and, of course, here at CNN.
It's not just the mainstream media that are along for the ride, either. Dozens of blogs and columnists have weighed in on Bell's "Year Without God," with responses ranging from support to skepticism to scorn.
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.