Saturday, January 31, 2015

Whatever Happened to Rebecca Vitsmun?

On May 20, 2013 a gigantic EF5 tornado struck the city of Moore, Oklahoma. The tornado did massive amounts of damage and directly caused the deaths of twenty-four people. In the aftermath of the tornado, an unlikely resident of Moore by the name of Rebecca Vitsmun garnered international attention. Rebecca had the following highly overproduced and staged (per information revealed later on) interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer on live television.

As you can see, Wolf essentially painted Rebecca into a philosophical corner and forced her hand. He repeatedly brought up the concept of being blessed, even going so far as to ask if she thanked the lord multiple times. If you pay attention to Rebecca, you can tell she was trying to be nice and continually dodged Wolf's assertions. But, at the end, Vitsmun finally had to respond to Wolf's incessant badgering... so she didOn live television, she outed herself as an atheist. Even her own family was not aware of her position, much to their surprise. It took a great deal of bravery and fortitude to make such a statement on air for the whole world to see. But... the story did not end there.

Soon after the interview went viral on the internet, the insightful and witty comedian Doug Stanhope decided to help. He created a crowd-funding project with the website Indiegogo to help Rebecca and her family. This project, which initially just started out as an affront to the hypocrisy of organized religion, soon morphed into a massive campaign. When the funding project finished, it had raised a whopping $125,760 from 4,475 donors! In fact, I was one of the donors to the campaign. As a fellow atheist; it was the least I could do.

At this point, most would ask...

"Whatever happened to Rebecca Vitsmun? Where did the money go?"

I recently found a podcast that Stanhope recorded in March of 2014. He finally had the opportunity to speak at length with Vitsmun after the donations had been awarded to her. During the course of the interview, she revealed that her family (husband Brian and son Anders) moved away from Oklahoma as soon as possible. Thanks to her insurance coverage, she spent a year in nearby Norman, Oklahoma getting her family's affairs in order. From there, they purchased a home in the Tacoma, Washington area with the money that was raised. Vitsmun has since become a compassionate voice within the atheist and humanist global community. She has also profusely thanked everyone whom helped her family.

It's stories like this that reflect the good that atheists can do. It highlights a few key points that I greatly appreciate.
  • Religion isn't necessary to lend a helping hand.
  • Having faith does not automatically equate to having compassion -- they are NOT mutually exclusive.
  • You never know who might be an atheist in your life. Many atheists are closeted out of fear from persecution -- usually from their own family.
  • Atheists are not devil-worshipers, Satanists or evil. They're no different than anyone else.
I commend Rebecca for being honest with the world. The atheist community owes her a debt of gratitude. She makes us all look a little bit better.

For more information about helping others in the capacity as an atheist / humanist, please visit Foundation Beyond Belief.

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