By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor
(CNN) – In case you were wondering about all the balloons and cake: CNN’s Belief Blog has just marked its first birthday.
After publishing 1,840 posts and sifting through 452,603 comments (OK, we may have missed one or two) the Belief Blog feels older than its 12 months would suggest. But it also feels wiser, having followed the faith angles of big news stories, commissioned lots of commentary and, yes, paid attention to all those reader comments for a solid year.
10 things we’ve learned:
1. Every big news story has a faith angle. Even the ordeal of 33 Chilean miners trapped underground for more than two months. Even the attempted assassination of Arizona congresswoman Gabby Giffords. Even March Madness. Even – well, you get the point.
2. Atheists are the most fervent commenters on matters religious. This became apparent immediately after the Belief Blog’s first official post last May, which quickly drew such comments as:
Can we have a fairy tale blog too?
This is nothing but America moving away from its wondrous spirit of Apollo 11 into a mindset of the perpetually intellectually challenged.
I think there was some news today about scientists having created the first artificial cell. That should have been a HUGE story. And yet, what do we get? A faith blog. Pathetic.
This blog is terrifying. It’s amazing how much power the radical religious right is amassing in our country right now. If I can’t have some legislation, can I at least have some news that does not cater to zealots?
Those early comments presaged an avalanche of alternately humorous and outraged atheist responses on virtually everything the Belief Blog publishes. They’re more evidence that atheists are coming out of the closet to trumpet their disbelief, argue with the faithful and evangelize their godlessness. (It’s worth noting that the Belief Blog does plenty of atheism stories.)
3. People are still intensely curious about the Bible, its meaning and its origins.
It’s an ancient tome, but more than any other book in the Western tradition (with the Quran being the lone exception), the Bible still fascinates us. And it still feeds our most heated debates. In February, a guest post here arguing that the Bible is more ambiguous on homosexuality than traditionally thought elicited more than 4,000 comments. A response post insisting that the Bible clearly condemns homosexuality brought in an equal number of comments – and was the most popular story on CNN.com on the day it was published.
Other Belief Blog pieces about biblical scholarship – including a recent offering about biblical misquotations – have also caught fire. More of us may be reading it on iPhones these days, but the Good Book still matters a lot more than the popular culture lets on.
4. Most Americans are religiously illiterate. Despite the appetite for stories and commentary about the Bible, most Americans know little about it. A huge Pew survey released in September found that most Americans scored 50 percent or less on a quiz measuring knowledge of the Bible, world religions and what the Constitution says about religion in public life. Ironically, atheists and agnostics scored best. How did you do on the quiz?
5. It’s impossible to understand much of the news without knowing something about religion. Why did the Egyptian revolution happen on a Friday? Why was Osama bin Laden’s body buried so quickly after he was killed? Why did Afghan rioters kill seven United Nations workers in April? You simply can’t answer those questions without bringing in religion.
6. Regardless of where they fit on the spectrum, people want others to understand what they believe. That goes for pagans, fundamentalist Mormons,Native Americans, atheists – everyone.
7. Americans still have an uneasy relationship with Islam. Nearly 10 years after the September 11 attacks provoked many Americans to pay attention to Islam for the first time, much of the country is still somewhat uncomfortable about the religion, which counts 1.5 billion followers worldwide.
The biggest domestic religion story in the Belief Blog’s young life was probably last year’s opposition to a proposed Islamic Center and mosque near New York’s ground zero. And with the 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks approaching, domestic tensions around Islam may flare again. The Arab Spring, meanwhile is raising weighty questions about Islam’s role in post-autocratic regimes, guaranteeing the religion – and its relationship with the U.S. – will be one of the world’s big stories for years to come.
8. God may not prevent natural disasters, but religion is always a big part of the response. We see it play out every time Mother Nature delivers a punishing blow, from March’s Japan earthquake and tsunami to the recent tornado that flattened much of Joplin, Missouri.
9. Apocalyptic movements come and go. The May 21st doomsdayers drew loads of interest, largely thanks to a massive ad campaign, but they’re hardly original.
10. Most Americans don’t know that President Barack Obama is a Christian. It’s ironic, since church-based community organizing led him to politics and since hisclose relationship with a pastor almost sunk his presidential campaign, but that’s what a Pew poll found last year.
Only about a third of Americans correctly identified Obama’s religion, while nearly one in five said he’s a Muslim. Another irony: The longer Obama’s been in office, the smaller the proportion of Americans who can correctly name his faith. As the 2012 presidential race approaches, this story bears watching, since views of candidates’ religion influence voting patterns.