January 8th, 2014
08:39 AM ET
By Daniel Burke, Belief Blog Co-editor
(CNN) - In the past, at times like these, when his life foundered and frayed around the edges, Ryan Bell often prayed for help. But this year, at least, the pastor has resolved not to.
For the next 12 months, Bell says he will live as if there is no God.
He will not pray, go to church, read the Bible for inspiration, trust in divine providence or hope in things unseen. He’s taking the opposite of a leap of faith: a free fall into the depths of religious doubt.
Bell’s “intellectual experiment,” which began January 1, has already borne dramatic consequences.
In less than a week, he lost two jobs teaching at Christian schools near his home in Los Angeles. He’s 42 and has been a pastor or in seminary for most of his adult life. Now he faces the prospect of poverty and taking odd jobs to feed his two daughters, 10 and 13.
“There have been times, usually late at night and early in the morning, when I think: What have I done? It really undermines the whole structure of your life, your career, your family,” Bell said.
But just as the man of God began to despair, he found help from an unlikely source: atheists.
January 4th, 2014
09:00 AM ET
By Katie Engelhart, special to CNN
LONDON (CNN) - The Sunday Assembly was riding high.
The world’s most voguish - though not its only - atheist church opened last year in London, to global attention and abundant acclaim.
So popular was the premise, so bright the promise, that soon the Sunday Assembly was ready to franchise, branching out into cities such as New York, Dublin and Melbourne.
“It’s a way to scale goodness,” declared Sanderson Jones, a standup comic and co-founder of The Sunday Assembly, which calls itself a “godless congregation.”
But nearly as quickly as the Assembly spread, it split, with New York City emerging as organized atheism’s Avignon.
In October, three former members of Sunday Assembly NYC announced the formation of a breakaway group called Godless Revival.
“The Sunday Assembly,” wrote Godless Revival founder Lee Moore in a scathing blog post, “has a problem with atheism.”
December 7th, 2013
09:16 AM ET
Opinion by Mark Schacter, special to CNN
(CNN) - I don’t believe in a divine presence, nor do I subscribe to any organized religion.
And that, perhaps oddly, is why I am drawn to the mystery of faith.
With the wonderment of an outsider, I try to understand the seemingly incomprehensible (to me, at least) pull that faith exerts over so many people's lives.
As a photographer approaching this mystery, I am confronted by what might seem like a contradiction: Photographs capture what can be seen, and yet faith is often invisible.
November 7th, 2013
12:30 PM ET
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-editor
(CNN) - With his penchant for crowd-pleasing and spontaneous acts of compassion, Pope Francis has earned high praise from fellow Catholics.
Hell, even atheists love him - as amply demonstrated by the surprising displays of affection tweeted after the Pope publicly embraced a severely disfigured man on Wednesday.
Here's what some atheists had to say on Twitter:
October 16th, 2013
03:20 PM ET
(CNN) - To some, Oprah Winfrey appears to have an almost godlike status. Her talents are well recognized, and her endorsement can turn almost any product into an overnight bestseller.
This godlike perception is fitting, since in recent years Winfrey’s work has increasingly emphasized spirituality, including programs like her own "Super Soul Sunday."
But what happens when an atheist enters the mix?
A few days ago Winfrey interviewed long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad on Super Soul Sunday. Nyad identified herself as an atheist who experiences awe and wonder at the natural world and humanity.
October 5th, 2013
08:00 AM ET
By John Blake, CNN
(CNN) –"Yo mama..."
Whenever I heard those two words while growing up in inner-city Baltimore, I knew something bad was about to happen. Trading insults was a childhood ritual. But everyone understood that one subject was off-limits. You didn’t talk about anybody’s momma unless you were prepared to start swinging.
Now that I’m all grown-up, I’ve discovered a new arena for combat: The reader’s comments section for stories about religion.
When I first started writing about religion for an online news site, I eagerly turned to the comment section for my articles, fishing for compliments and wondering if I had provoked any thoughtful discussions about faith.
I don’t wonder anymore.
When I look at the comment section now, I see a whole lot of “yo mamas” being tossed about. Readers exchange juvenile insults, condescending lectures and veer off into tangents that have nothing to do with the article they just read.
For years, I’ve listened to these “holy trollers” in silence. Now I’m calling them out. I’ve learned that the same types of people take over online discussions about faith and transform them into the verbal equivalent of a food fight. You may recognize some of these characters.
You might even recognize yourself.
September 9th, 2013
09:04 AM ET
(CNN) - With "Crossfire" returning to CNN this Monday, September 9, CNN is taking a closer look into the hosts' lives with a series of Web videos.
In this first video, S.E. Cupp, a columnist, commentator and author, delves into her experiences with understanding religion and what it’s like to be an atheist and a conservative.
"To me, it never seemed like a contradiction," Cupp explains. "We have the same values," Cupp says of herself and religious believers. "I just think I get them from somewhere else."
Cupp, who has a master’s degree in religious studies, says she was always curious about religion. "I was just fascinated by the pomp and ceremony and ritual nature of religion, and yet couldn't completely get there ever; couldn't completely wrap my mind around the idea of God."
Cupp says she has been working on finding greater understanding for the last 20 years, and isn't giving up. "I want to get to the bottom of this story. It's something that I'll always be challenging myself on."FULL STORY
July 18th, 2013
03:14 PM ET
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
(CNN) - They were trying to prove a simple point: That nonbelievers are a bigger and more diverse group than previously imagined.
"We sort of woke a sleeping giant," says Christopher F. Silver, a researcher at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. "We're a bit overwhelmed actually."
Silver and his project manager, Thomas Coleman, recently released a study proposing six different types of nonbelievers - from strident atheists to people who observe religious rituals while doubting the divine.
The study clearly struck a chord, particularly among triumphal atheists and uneasy believers. Articles appeared in in Polish, German, Russian and Portuguese, Silver said.
Here on CNN.com, our story "Behold, the Six Types of Atheists" garnered about 3.14 gazillion hits and thousands of comments.
Half the fun seemed to lie in atheists applying the categories to themselves, kind of like a personality test.
"I guess I'm a 1-2-4 atheist," ran a typical comment.
Other commenters questioned the study's categories, methods, and even the religious beliefs of its authors.
Silver and Coleman agreed to answer our readers' questions via email from Tennessee. Some of their answers have been edited for length and clarity.
July 15th, 2013
02:50 PM ET
By Dan Merica, CNN
(CNN) - How many ways are there to disbelieve in God?
At least six, according to a new study.
Two researchers at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga found that atheists and agnostics run the range from vocally anti-religious activists to nonbelievers who still observe some religious traditions.
“The main observation is that nonbelief is an ontologically diverse community,” write doctoral student Christopher Silver and undergraduate student Thomas Coleman.
“These categories are a first stab at this," Silver told the website Raw Story. "In 30 years, we may be looking at a typology of 32 types.”
Silver and Coleman derived their six types of nonbelievers from 59 interviews. We're pretty sure we've spotted all six in our comments section.
June 22nd, 2013
11:25 AM ET
By Dan Merica, CNN
Boston (CNN)-– It’s Sunday in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and a rapt congregation listens to a chaplain preach about the importance of building a community.
A few dozen people sit quietly for the hourlong service. Music is played, announcements are made and scholars wax poetic about the importance of compassion and community.
Outsiders could be forgiven for believing this service, with its homilies, its passing of the plate, its uplifting songs, belongs in a church.
If so, it’s a church without one big player: God.
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.