Picard Facepalm: Because expressing how dumb that was in words just doesnt workIn a country which is overwhelmingly religious, it’s not unreasonable to assume any given American is a believer. But that doesn’t mean everyone is a believer, so making this assumption all the time inevitably will cause one to stumble into an awkward moment. Precisely this happened to Wolf Blitzer of CNN, as CNN’s own Belief blog reports, when he interviewed a tornado survivor in Oklahoma (WebCite cached article):

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.…

“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.

CNN provides video of this exchange:

I note that Ms Vitsmun had worked fairly hard to avoid having to address the matter initially, but Mr Blitzer kept trying to elicit a religious response from her, so finally she had no choice but to just admit she was an atheist. But even then, she only meekly — almost apologetically — admitted being an atheist.

The best thing for Blitzer to have done, of course, was not to have tried to get her to talk about religion or God in the first place and not to have pronounced her “blessed” before he’d even said anything else to her. If she’d chosen to bring up God or religion, that would have been fine. But for him to assume that she’d want to, and then to repeatedly try to get her talk about them … well, that was pretty stupid of him to do.

This Belief blog article itself also engaged in an invalid assumption: It pontificated about the growing influence of “the Nones,” as though atheism and “the Nones” are one and the same. But they aren’t. By the admission of the folks at ARIS, who originated this term, “only a small minority are atheists.” (And in turn, the folks at ARIS are themselves the originators of a misnomer: While they call “the Nones” a “no-religion population,” the truth is that most of “the Nones” are theists. That makes them decidedly “religious,” even if they don’t belong to a specific religious organization, sect, denomination, whatever.)

On the subject of thanking God for getting through disasters like this … can religionists please stop doing this already? People survived this tornado … and any number of other natural catastrophes … for any of a vast host of other reasons. A lot of those reasons depended on them; God, assuming he exists, had nothing to do with it. Let’s give people, not God, credit for their own resourcefulness and accomplishments. Taking the credit away from them, and handing it over to God, is quite simply wrong. It needs to fucking stop already.

Photo credit: Science After Sunclipse.

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