Atheist tornado survivor refuses to thank the lord

May 22, 2013 • 4:40 am

If you’re a nonbeliever, I’d be surprised if you haven’t heard about this. On the Cable News Network (CNN), correspondent Wolf Blitzer asked an Oklahoma tornado survivor if she thanked the Lord for helping her from her house just before the twister struck. The video is below, and PuffHo recounts the interview:

“We’re happy you’re here. You guys did a great job,” Blitzer said to Rebecca Vitsmun, who escaped from her house with her 19-month-old son right before the twister tore through it. “You’ve gotta thank the Lord, right? Do you thank the Lord for that split-second decision?”

Vitsmun hesitates for a moment and smiles. “I — I’m actually an atheist,” she said, laughing off the awkward moment.

“You are. All right. But you made the right call,” Blitzer said.

“We are here, and I don’t blame anyone for thanking the Lord,” Vitsmun said.

In Oklahoma! What better sign of the increasing nonbelief in the U.S., and of people’s willingness to go public with it? Kudos to Vitsmun, and a warning to newspeople: don’t assume everyone believes in God.

What would really have been nice is if Vitsmun had replied, “What? You mean the Lord who killed those twenty-odd people?”

h/t: Alberto

91 thoughts on “Atheist tornado survivor refuses to thank the lord

  1. It was terrible how Wolf prodded her and tried to force her to thank god. I would have said, “what, your god wrecked all my stuff! I will sue you as his proxy then”. 🙂

    1. I was thinking the same thing. The questioning is lighthearted and I don’t want to read too much into it, but Wolf is almost MILKING her for a pious response. He’s fishing for an easy, ready-made lowest-common-denominator television emotion.

  2. am about to make a donation for tornado survivors….was thinking red cross

    but now i’d like to send my donation
    directly to rebecca vitsmun and am wondering
    if there’s a post office or box number which could deliver mail to her

    please r.s.v.p.

        1. Agreed: don’t donate just to the atheists, donate to all that have suffered in the tornado – but FBB is a good way of doing it.

    1. I’m not entirely sure if she is a member, but she has many friends within Oklahoma Atheists, and they have announced that they are accepting pay-pal donations for her (as well as general tornado relief donation). You can donate to them @ this webpage: http://www.oklahomaatheists.com/donate
      via paypal. Mark the donation as being for Rebecca Vitsmun, and they will get it to her.
      You can follow their twitter feed for more information. @AtheistOK

  3. Nature is totally indifferent to us, human beings. It will not care whether people are grateful or not.

    Would wonder how theists would react if some natural disaster would hit some community and all atheists, and only them, would survive; whist all god fearing folks would be killed.

    1. Something tells me a sizable proportion of them would see that as proof of the end times, with the surviving atheists being the poor bastards who would now suffer the worst depredations that Satan had to offer.

      Then such folks would sit back, eyes rolled up in their heads (YES, Jesus… I believe… etc.), waiting for similar disasters to hit their own neighborhoods.

    2. some natural disaster would hit some community and all atheists, and only them, would survive; whist all god fearing folks would be killed.

      That sounds like The Rapture.

      1. Yeah, if something bad happen to theists of if something good happens to them, it’s all prove of god’s “omnibenevolence”. So theists are always right….

  4. Isn’t that the truth. I have never understood why anyone, during or after a tragedy such as this as the ability to thank the lord they were not hurt or claim it a miracle of god they were not hurt, but never make the statement I would be making of why did that focker let this happen in the first place. What a bunch of loonies.

    1. Well, the insurance companies will call the tornado an “Act of God” when they dismiss the damage claims.

  5. A wonderful moment in an otherwise terrible situation. I wonder if Blitzer will pause for a moment to think about how stupid and offensive that question was.

    No. I won’t hold my breath.

    1. I can’t hardly watch the guy for even a minute. He just comes off as a bumbling idiot. He doesn’t have a clue about how to do journalism, and though he tries desperately to be a good carny, he sucks at that too. Too obvious.

      I guess what I’m saying is, I wouldn’t hold my breath either.

    2. Totally offensive. He looks like an asshole. But it looked STAGED to me. Did anyone else get that feeling? I think he knew it was a stupid and offensive question and that is why he asked it. “I guess you gotta thank the Lord, right? Do you thank the Lord…?” Hmmm. I’ve watched Wolf Blitzer conduct plenty of interviews and I don’t recall seeing him ask anyone if they thank god, let alone ask it twice. (He probably has, but it doesn’t seem like a regular thing.) In fact, the people that want to thank god get to it quickly when they are interviewed so they don’t need to be asked. I’m skeptical about every damn thing I see on television. CNN wants stories. Blitzer knows how to work a story and an interview. Everyone they pull aside for a live interview has already been interviewed off camera. I wouldn’t be surprised if he knew she was an atheist before he interviewed her. I’m calling bullshit on Blitzer. If he didn’t know then he is a complete douche bag. If he didn’t know then is it some CNN policy that if a person doesn’t thank god to put her on the spot and ask her if she is thankful to god? If so CNN should be getting some hate mail because the question was unnecessary and completely offensive. I think he knew the answer he was going to get.

      1. “Blitzer knows how to work a story and an interview.”

        I’m with you most of the way, but I have to disagree with you on this point. I admit I don’t watch hardly any Blitzer, can’t stand too, but none of what I have seen of him leads me to believe that. Very much the opposite in fact.

        I don’t mean that I don’t like, or agree with, the way he does his job, though I don’t. What I mean is that even as a ratings chasing, propagandist, playing to the least common denominator carny mouth piece, he is not very good. Clownish, sort of like Inspector Clouseau, but not as funny.

      2. …he is a complete douche bag.

        It’s funny you should put it that way. I was commenting with a coworker about the pantheon of media *stars* and said that I was reminded of a George Carlin routine in which he was a game show host and the task of the contestants was to correctly label the people brought before them as “moron, asshole, or douchebag” (as I remember the categories, anyway). I had also classified Blitzer as a douchebag in my personal Carlin game.

      3. What casts doubt for me on the interview being staged is her response. Blitzer might be able to fake it, being a media professional, but she is clearly who she says she is and not a trained actor. If she had been in on a set-up, her response would surely have been forced and amateurish. It wasn’t.

        1. No it was not staged in the sense that she was in on it. It could have been staged in the sense that Blitzer knew she was an atheist beforehand, and was putting her on the spot.

          Or maybe it wasn’t staged at all. Either way, Blitzer was baiting with his question.

      4. I have thought every time I’ve seen this clip that it seemed very weird. I’ve seen a lot of these post-disaster interviews and while the interviewees are often quick to bring God into the picture I don’t ever recall a reporter trying to draw it out of them like this. The question was awkward and weird even before she answered. The idea that it was staged, at least on Blitzer’s end, hadn’t occurred to me, but now that you raise that possibility it seems quite plausible. A heavy handed attempt to generate traffic? I know I wouldn’t have seen Blitzer’s coverage without this hook.

  6. I’ve heard plenty of reporters get a thankfultotheLord reply from a neutral question, but I can’t remember a leading question like that. Good the Blitzer got it right back at him. Even better wouldda been, “Yeah, right after I thank him for visiting this disaster on us.”

    1. Coincidentally, WBC had just been in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, two days earlier, blaming the death and destruction of the city by the April 2011 tornado on…gay marriage. Like Alabama allows gay marriage.

        1. I just hope her god-fearing neighbors don’t come after her and blame the poor woman for not being an xian. Maybe SHE brought this disaster upon us, for not worshipping their deity!

    1. Everybody rides the bucking horse better than the gal riding it. How is it all that accommodationist to basically say that everyone is welcome to whatever personal, private perspective one wishes to have on the matter? We all should contemplate how we would off-the-cuff handle an out-of-the-blue smarmy question like that. How should she have ideally responded? She had already dealt, and is continuing to deal, with the tornado, as if she possibly needed more to deal with. No doubt, she’ll be getting more than enough religioso grief as it is. Bet she wished she had never talked to the institutionalized gossip press.

      For sure bloody Wolf Blitzer won’t pose such a question to the faithful who have lost one or more loved ones.

      1. I was not criticising her. My comment was more inline with the other replies above. She really did feel she had to say something accommodating towards religion. It’s a comment about the influence of religion in American public life.

  7. “In Oklahoma! What better sign of the increasing nonbelief in the U.S., and of people’s willingness to go public with

    One person’s televised response isn’t a sign of increasing non-belief or willingness to “go public”. Poetic, yes, but not indicative.

    1. There was a time when nobody would even think of saying such a thing. Now a young woman with a child has said it. That’s a big deal in my language.

      1. Thank you Ant. Don’t fret over your error rate. The citation of Juan Mendez is right on and a hopeful sign.

  8. I saw that on the net…. not on CNN. Curiously, it’s not one of the interviews they have been endlessly repeating

  9. I would of blown a gasket. 24+ people dead.. massive destruction, could easily been me or my child, “thank the lord” for what exactly? What a jerk.

  10. I keep hearing calls from high elected officials in Oklahoma for people to send their “prayers” could this be another way of them saying send money? If it is they need to just say so.The idea of prayers helping people in a material way is ludicrous.

  11. I think Ms. Vitsmun struck the right chord. There is a time to push our worldview and a time to rein it in IMO. The aftermath of a disaster has to be about communities coming together. Getting a jab in at the god-squad is pretty churlish when people are hurting enough. My personal view is we atheists have a way better understanding of reason and empathy than the religiously blinkered. We can use these tools judiciously and appropriately nuanced. Sometimes we need to play the long calls too. For sure human relationships do not parallel Newton’s third law: Every human action usually has a stronger and often inconsistent reaction. The push back from telling Wolf to shove his Lord in the midst of a disaster ,and on national TV, would surely have gained less than Ms Vismun’s simple reply which reached out to her neighbours too.
    No I’m not an accomodationist and when the sun’s shining I enjoy undermining the faith of the irrational at every opportunity. But I aim to win with every tool in the box and Wolf’s indirect black eye was pitched pretty good for the circumstances.

    1. I agree entirely. I don’t pretend to know what was going through this woman’s head during the interview, but I can relate on some level to her spoken reaction. A monster tornado caused massive devastation and 44 deaths in my Alabama hometown in 2011, and though my family wasn’t directly affected, at least for me personally there was no room emotionally in the immediate aftermath for irritation or anger at all of the “God blessed us” and “praise You in the storm” signs and speech. I consider myself very far from an accommodationist and, for reference, tend to agree with much of what Jerry says on this website regarding the issue, but when you’re right there in the middle of the catastrophe experiencing it personally, the only thing that matters is being part of the community spirit. In these situations, there is so much hurt, everyone needs everyone else, and nothing else matters. Only after the immediate shock passed – which for me took a few weeks – was I able to start processing, and only then did all of the God talk start making me ill.

    2. I’m with you on this. It was no time to be cruel. Ms Vitsmun gave exactly the right response.

    3. Even though I might have told Blitzer to go help christ with his nails, I think Rebecca Vitsmun’s response was better, given the circumstances. Perfectly wonderful, very impressive.

      Thank YOU muchly Rebecca Vitsmun!

    4. You have to admine her restraint.
      I watched a longer clip and even before this he was going on about being “blessed” etc. She was going along with it until he forced the issue. This is the kind of passive religious crap atheists have to deal with constantly. While I agree that in this context it may have been appropriate to shut up and take it, I really wish somebody would Hitch-slap the guy one of these times.

    5. I think you nailed it! The anti-atheists are always looking for examples of how they are persecuted, and she didn’t buy into that. Consequently, she’s off their list. In so doing, I think she did more good for atheism, or at least secularism, than 10 god-bashers. Not that god-bashing is a bad thing. But in the aftermath of a disaster, the focus should be on pulling together. An event like this shouldn’t be used as a pulpit for either religion or atheism.

    6. Just to be clear I wasn’t criticising the young lady, I was commenting about the influence of religion in American public life. I was pleased to near her admission that she was an atheist, but her last sentence jarred a little for me, sorry for saying. But, again, I don’t hold it against her. One step at a time.

  12. There was also the rather touching video clip of the elderly lady surrounded by the wreckage of her house in which her d-g was lost after her home fell down around them. During the interview the d-g emerged from the rubble looking stunned but otherwise no worse for wear.

    1. I enjoyed that one too, other than her comment at the end that she thought god had answered one of her prayers but he really answered two. Boy, that guy has the sweetest gig ever. Heads he wins, tails he doesn’t lose. Such an easy job, you don’t even have to exist to fulfill the requirements.

  13. She handled herself beautifully. I absolutely loved that clip. I agree it would have been nice to hear something like she felt it would be insulting to those who lost their lives for her to assume she was chosen by god to survive, but it wasn’t the right time. I’ve been through a tornado and don’t believe I could have been nearly as self-possessed as she was. Very impressive.

  14. “What would really have been nice is if Vitsmun had replied”

    A good atheist should always be prepared for that sort of layup; it’s the one we all fantasize about.

    In the meantime, OK authorities will be trying to take her child away, since she’s obviously an unfit mother.

  15. Although I am not a member, there are several active atheist organized groups in Oklahoma. They have been active is opposing creationist legislation that have helped defeat bills during the past 13 years.

  16. It’s weird, is CNN trying to hide the atheist? I wanted to see how CNN was playing the story on their site. My first couple of searches of the CNN site didn’t find anything even though I was including words such as “tornado” and “Rebecca Vitsmun”, so I tried a couple of other interviewees names from the tornado stories presented on the cnn.com site, the names I tried seemed to produce plenty of tornado related hits. Tried again with “Rebecca Vitsmun” and finally got a hit on the story but it was the third of three results, the other two were garbage hits. I don’t know if that has any significance or if it is normal or coincidental, though it seems weird and not consistent with the other results.

    So anyway, here is the video with Rebecca Vitsmun from the CNN site. CNN cuts it off just before Woof asks Rebecca the christians’s damned god question. I suppose it’s possible that CNN edits out any references to any of the christian gods but I doubt it. I think CNN could possibly be showing their prejudice against atheists.

    1. It looked to me like Wolf Blitzer was trying to pull out a sound bite so perhaps CNN asked him to go out there and get sound bites of people thanking god….so they don’t want to show the atheist…..so glad it backfired for them.

    1. People who imagine it is God’s plan to let the world end in an nuclear war Armageddon would have to explain why that God would place the uranium deposits in the Earth’s crust before life on Earth formed. It would mean that
      he had planned all along for things to go exactly as they have. Why would he need to make nuclear war possible when he could just wipe out Earth by sending large asteroids our way ?

      I think there probably is no supernatural realm but the most likely sort of God is one who starts off the big bang and is currently unaware of the existence of Earth or humans on it.
      There could be the sort of God who starts the evolution of life on Earth and then is surprised by how well it goes, even more surprised when humans emerge. This God would be like, ” Ooops , sorry about this, didn’t realize you would evolve such intelligence and consciousness & be so aware of your suffering. Sorry that I can’t help improve matters “

  17. This little clip must be in the running for the next Daily Show hosted by John Stewart. It is the perfect ‘Moment of Zen’.

  18. I am still waiting for some idiot preacher to say that the reason god let the tornado happen is that the folks in OK aren’t praying enough.

  19. Jesus effing Christ! Only in America….

    That is to say, I can’t believe any reporter in this country (NZ) would be so thick as to ask a question like that, unless of course the interviewee was a priest or something. They just wouldn’t expect the average person to be that religious.

    On the subject of apt replies to stupid questions, ages ago I saw a news item on a plane that made an emergency landing, and the reporter approached a passenger, a well-dressed and quite attractive woman, and asked the inevitable stupid question “When you all thought the plane might crash, how did you feel?” She just said “What do _you_ think?” and walked off. (I cheered the TV set.)

      1. Because she was? Why did you think it was worth querying? I could have said she appeared to be in her mid-thirties, obviously someone who took care of herself and some pride in her appearance, probably a professional or executive of some sort and therefore quite likely a person of some intelligence (though if I’d just said ‘intelligent-looking’ I’m sure someone would have quibbled about how I could tell). In other words, the opposite of trailer trash. But I didn’t really want to spend six lines on it as I have just now. If I were better with words I could doubtless have found a brief description that conveyed my meaning without impinging on anybody’s sensibilities.

        On second thoughts, that’s probably impossible.

        1. Though you probably wouldn’t have written, “…the reporter approached a passenger, a well-dressed and quite attractive man…”

          Good anecdote, though.

          (Why do I jump into these things? Why oh why oh why?!)

          1. But would Alice Shortcake have done that? Due to my awkward butt ugliness I stand to gain enormously if society becomes attractiveness agnostic. However, I’ve noticed that women seem to critique males with impunity, which leaves me nonplussed about the issue, and my personal gain vanishes.

            1. You may have the last word. I know it looks like I’m having the last word, but I’m actually just posting to say I regret jumping in because this is not the right place to get into these old discussions yet again. There’s no quicker way to destroy our community here. Mea culpa.

              1. Agreed. But, I hope you don’t think I was trying to be argumentative. I’m honestly confused. I intended it as an honest question and I have much respect for you.

          2. ‘Though you probably wouldn’t have written, “…the reporter approached a passenger, a well-dressed and quite attractive man…”’

            That is probably true. I judge men and women’s appearance by different standards. (Anybody here claims to not?) Though I notice nobody has challenged my implication that we tend to equate good-looking with intelligence (wonder if anyone’s done psychological studies on that, I bet someone has).

            I wasn’t looking to start that old thing up again though.

  20. I haven’t seen this mentioned yet, so here’s a link to the Oklahoma Freethought Convention’s site, where they are both collecting donations for Ms. Vitsmun, and have created a T-shirt based on her simple declaration “I’m actually an atheist,” and are selling them, with proceeds also going to assist Ms. Vitsmun, as well:

    http://freeok.org/tickets/actually-tees/

    I thought she handled herself graciously and with generosity of spirit, so I’ve placed my order already!

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