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September 14th, 2013
08:01 AM ET

Hey atheists, let’s make a deal

Opinion by Rachel Held Evans, special to CNN

(CNN) - Famed atheist Richard Dawkins has been rightfully criticized this week for saying the “mild pedophilia” he and other English children experienced in the 1950s “didn’t cause any lasting harm.”

This comes after an August tweet in which Dawkins declared that “all the world’s Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though.”

Dawkins is known for pushing his provocative rhetorical style too far, providing ample ammunition for his critics, and already I’ve seen my fellow Christians seize the opportunity to rail against the evils of atheism.

As tempting as it is to classify Dawkins’ views as representative of all atheists, I can’t bring myself to do it.

I can’t bring myself to do it because I know just how frustrating and unfair it is when atheists point to the most extreme, vitriolic voices within Christianity and proclaim that they are representative of the whole.

So, atheists, I say we make a deal: How about we Christians agree not to throw this latest Richard Dawkins thing in your face and you atheists agree not to throw the next Pat Robertson thing in ours?

Now I’m not saying we just let these destructive words and actions go—not at all. It’s important for both believers and atheists to decry irresponsible views and hateful rhetoric, especially from within our own communities.

(Believe me. There are plenty of Christians who raise hell every time Robertson says something homophobic or a celebrity pastor somewhere says something misogynistic.)

READ MORE: Why millennials are leaving the church

But what if we resist the urge to use the latest celebrity gaffe as an excuse to paint one another with broad brushes?

What if, instead of engaging the ideas of the most extreme and irrational Christians and atheists, we engaged the ideas of the most reasonable, the most charitable, the most respectful and respected?

Only then can we avoid these shallow ad hominem attacks and instead engage in substantive debates that bring our true differences and our true commonalities to light.

It’s harder to go this route, and it takes more work and patience, but I’m convinced that both Christians and atheists are interested in the truth and in searching for it with integrity, without taking the easy way out.

Pope Francis took a step in that direction this week with a letter in a Rome newspaper responding directly to questions posed by its atheist director and inviting respectful open dialog between nonbelievers and Christians.

READ MORE: Why millennials need the church

So, yes, Richard Dawkins is an atheist. But so are authors Greg Epstein and Susan Jacoby. So is my friend and fellow blogger Hemant Mehta. So is Sir Ian McKellen. So is ethicist Peter Singer, who may or may not be the best example.

And yes, Pat Robertson is a Christian. But so is Nelson Mandela. So is acclaimed geneticist Francis Collins. So is Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee. So is Barack Obama. So is Stephen Colbert.

And I'm willing to bet that the same collective groan emitted by millions of Christians each time Pat Robertson says something embarrassing on TV sounds a lot like the collective groan emitted by millions of atheists when Richard Dawkins rants on Twitter.

Still, in the end, it’s not about who has the most charismatic or generous personalities in their roster, nor about who has the most “crazies.” It’s about the truth.

So let’s talk about the truth, and with the people who most consistently and graciously point us toward it.

Rachel Held Evans is the author of "A Year of Biblical Womanhood" and "Evolving in Monkey Town." Evans blogs at rachelheldevans.com, and the views expressed in this column belong to her.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Atheism • Christianity • Faith

soundoff (5,916 Responses)
  1. Just the Facts Ma'am...

    I love it how she starts the article by throwing Dick Dawkins rhetoric in your face then says " How about we Christians agree not to throw this latest Richard Dawkins thing in your face and you atheists agree not to throw the next Pat Robertson thing in ours?"...

    Let's be honest here. There is a difference between a person who claims to be part of a larger group of believers, and those other believers tacitly approve of their fellow (brothers in Christ as it were) then one fellow says or does something that many but not all of the group agrees with, that is still far more representative than the one guy who happens to also not believe in something is of those others who also do not believe. Osama Bin Laden disbelieved in almost the same Gods Christians do (Vishnu, Odin, Zeus, etc., he believed in none of them) and yet most Christians would not claim any sort of fellowship or membership with him would they? Why should I as an atheist get lumped in with Richard Dawkins just because we happen to disbelieve the same Gods?

    September 14, 2013 at 11:32 am |
    • Chris Waddell

      Amen to that Brother!

      September 14, 2013 at 11:36 am |
    • deep blue

      How about, assuming that all Christians have the same believe system as Robertson is really stupid. Assuming that all atheists have the same belief system as Dawkins is really stupid.

      You are arguing as if one wrong claim is "more" wrong. Both claims are completely stupid. Both claims subscribe to the same logical fallacy. I have no problem with the comparison of two wrong claims that use the same faulty logic.

      September 14, 2013 at 11:39 am |
      • Just the Facts Ma'am...

        Yes, I am saying one is more responsible than the other. Pat Robertson represents far more Christians than Richard Dawkins does atheists and you know it. This is the difference between a John Hughes movies representing 1980's American youth and Christian Bale in American Psycho with the average investment banker. One is meant as a representative though admittedly pushing things to the extreme for effect, while the other is meant to be a shocking aberration from the norm.

        September 14, 2013 at 11:57 am |
      • SSampson

        The assumption there is that Dawkins actually SAID something stupid – Robertson one can listen to and get his 'context' (which most would agree is insane)... But here – the ONLY comments seen are from those who have NOT heard the comments within the context of his argument.

        I definitely get that the comments – taken alone – can appear ludicrous. Fine – but IN context they are not. This 'author' has intentionally used these out of context to make a point – NOT surprising – in order to believe in GOD you MUST take absolutely everything out of context – otherwise reality would be much too obvious

        September 14, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
    • Pinewalker

      So your answer to her is "no"?

      September 14, 2013 at 11:42 am |
  2. deep blue

    Am I the only atheist on here that thinks this was a great article?

    September 14, 2013 at 11:31 am |
    • Snoopz

      No, but you're obviously not one of the militant atheists that have to try to tear down anything involving faith or religions.

      They're the ones who give the rest of us a bad name. Live and let live, like we want Christians to do for us.

      September 14, 2013 at 11:36 am |
      • Mechahobo

        I agree with you up to a point. If I know a Christian who treats me with respect and does not tell me that I'm wrong and does not try to convert me, I'll treat them in kind and not bother them about their beliefs. On the other hand, if they do tell me I'm wrong and that I should think what they think and give me reasons why, I reserve the right to do the same. Fair is fair.

        September 14, 2013 at 12:17 pm |
    • GAW

      It's fair. But keep in in that most news stories have a tendency to attract comments from people who have polarized views and not fair well balanced ones. For many it's My way or the highway?

      September 14, 2013 at 11:37 am |
      • Cricket

        I think those pushing for laws that control others according to their religion, are much more "my way or the highway" than those just saying "back out of my life, and do what you like with your own", no?

        September 15, 2013 at 11:47 am |
    • flono

      Yes!

      September 14, 2013 at 11:47 am |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      She makes a valid point. But she is also comparing apples to oranges.

      September 14, 2013 at 11:48 am |
    • pazke

      While I agree with her position, I'd hardly call it a 'great' article. So, perhaps you are the only one.

      September 14, 2013 at 4:04 pm |
  3. Athiest

    When you stop preaching about your religious beliefs we can strike a deal. Until then we will hold the world's general population panic on you. Christians are responsible for their tall tales of the apocalypse. On the flip side though we can say we have survived more than 20 of them!

    Christians are just so stubborn to admit how crazy they are and take their beliefs out on other people. The secular nation is going to take Christianity and implode it with good will and wisdom while you are out there telling people they will burn in hell.

    September 14, 2013 at 11:30 am |
  4. Joe M

    I don't understand why Christians are so interested in the faith of other people. If Heaven is there for you congratulations, and if I believe it's a bunch of nonsense so what? Yet, millions of people have suffered and died, because their faith didn't coincide with that of a believer. I am a deist. I am merely acknowledging my belief that Earthlings are not the smartest beings in the Universe. I don't believe that some omniscient, benevolent being cares a fig about me or anyone else on Earth. I don't have that much ego.

    September 14, 2013 at 11:29 am |
  5. Root

    No need to criticize the believer, criticize the doctrine. The Bible says the Earth is 6000 years old, therefore the Bible is false from the creation story making every religion that believes in it a lie. Also, if your God is jealous, doesn't that make him not perfect? That was easy. Lets just move along now and try to learn about the poetry of reality.

    September 14, 2013 at 11:28 am |
    • Hunatic

      Atheism is the clear truth and the best way to fight the pervasive slave-owner relationship the über-rich exert on us the citizenry; via the government and capitalism. They, not God, should be held liable for all the ills in our society. They prop up differing invisible anthropomorphic deities as chaff to prevent the weak-minded from doing their own thinking. By instilling the principles of Atheism in any way possible, you propagate Utopia. Intelligence equals Utopia, idiocy equals Dystopia.

      You just have to prove to the über-rich that they won't lose anything and it will take time, and eventually all this propped-up faux religion BS will come crashing down as the capitalistic collateral that it truly is.

      For the record, Dawkins does speak for me, and most atheists do know him.

      September 14, 2013 at 11:37 am |
  6. joand

    What collective groan? Pat Robertson feeds the worst of Christian fear-mongering, and that translates to actual, quantifiable, verifiable reaction in the so-called Christian community against "others". As an atheist, what Dawkins has to say that may sound fringe results in an eye roll, not the kind of bullying from the other side. Just yesterday was an article here on CNN about the need to create safety zones at schools for areligious children. I will believe your "collective groan" when things like that are not necessary. When I don't have to listen to some nutcase railing on about how there is a "war on Christianity" and how you are not free to practice your beliefs in this country. Please....

    September 14, 2013 at 11:28 am |
  7. matt burns

    What a waste of people's time to read this article. How fitting it is to have a person of faith tell everyone to be quiet. hahahahahh I guess it wasn't a total waste of time, I did get a laugh.

    September 14, 2013 at 11:25 am |
  8. Bill

    Um you lost me when you said, "and already I’ve seen my fellow Christians seize the opportunity to rail against the evils of atheism."....... Yea Ill make a deal with you when you stop saying that Atheism is evil.

    September 14, 2013 at 11:25 am |
    • deep blue

      It is a dismissive comment toward the critics she disagrees with. She was not saying atheism is evil.

      September 14, 2013 at 11:27 am |
  9. Brisancian

    Ms. Evans: And the extreme statements of Jesus or Moses or Paul? Are they off the table too?

    "And a person's enemies will be those of his own household." ~ Jesus (Matt. 10:36)

    “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword." ~ Jesus (Matt. 10:34)

    “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple." ~ Jesus (Luke 14:26)

    “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled!" ~ Jesus (Luke 12:49)

    September 14, 2013 at 11:23 am |
    • deep blue

      I'm sure that a respectful contextual discussion of the bible would be welcome among many Christians.

      September 14, 2013 at 11:26 am |
      • Root

        The problem is, a contextual discussion of those passages would leave a Biblical Brawl between Catholics, Mormons, Baptists, Presbyterians, Evangelicals, etc. etc. etc. Religions fight more amongst themselves for verification of their beliefs. Who has the true church of God? It is up to your interpretation.

        September 14, 2013 at 11:32 am |
      • Brisancian

        Been a Christian for 35 years. Its a serious question.

        September 14, 2013 at 11:40 am |
    • magicpanties

      Oh, Bri.
      The "bad" parts of the bible are just parables and stories.
      The "good" parts of the bible are the literal word of god.
      Sheesh.
      (and no, don't ask which parts are which, I'll leave that to Rachel, I'm sure she knows)

      September 14, 2013 at 11:28 am |
      • Brisancian

        🙂

        September 14, 2013 at 11:39 am |
  10. Beachplant1

    Wrong, most athiests don`t have a clue who this guy is. Unlike those of you who call yourselves "Christians" we don`t have a leader or leaders.
    Read the nasty comments aimed at us just on this story.
    We pay taxes-there are no tax exemptions for being a non-believer.
    We never start wars in the name of God.
    We are not on TV asking for money or passing around a collection plate at meetings. Why do your gods need such expensive things anyway?
    We are not out trying to convert the world to our thinking and destroying cultures in the process.
    We have one nut making stupid statements in public, you have hundreds of thousands making stupid remarks in public.
    We have no priests to be pedophiles.
    So Rachel, I, and most other athiests have no interest in making a "deal" with you.
    Take a deep breath, relax and take comfort in the fact that we athiests could care less about this man.
    I seem to remember the bible saying something about loving your neighbor, maybe Christians should try practicing what they preach.

    September 14, 2013 at 11:22 am |
    • deep blue

      You seem to think that the author wants to judge you based on Dawkins. She was asking you not to think she is an idiot just because Robertson is.

      September 14, 2013 at 11:25 am |
      • fmblog

        Nobody needs to judge the author an idiot based on Pat Robertson, her writing is sufficient evidence.

        September 14, 2013 at 11:40 am |
    • Athiest

      I really hope that was a troll comment because most of the Atheists know who he is.

      September 14, 2013 at 11:34 am |
      • tallulah13

        I disagree. Atheism doesn't have required reading. Those atheists who enjoy reading and who pay attention to the media know who Dawkins is. But I have no doubt that there are plenty who don't know, or just don't care.

        September 14, 2013 at 11:43 am |
        • Beachplant1

          just don`t care. I don`t spend my days looking for articles on athiests to read.

          September 14, 2013 at 11:50 am |
        • Athiest

          Fair enough and the reason why she says "just don`t care. I don`t spend my days looking for articles on athiests to read" just indicates that she probably never cared to look into her own religion. She really knows how to represent her religion.

          September 14, 2013 at 11:57 am |
    • smeeker

      Well said.

      September 14, 2013 at 1:59 pm |
  11. Dennis

    So much hatred, so little time.

    September 14, 2013 at 11:22 am |
  12. Mike

    The biggest threat to religion isn't atheism, it's KNOWLEDGE. The more knowledge a person has the harder it is for them to believe in such things. As knowledge and education becomes more and more available (as it has in the last few decades) you will see the numbers of people belonging to organized religions fall (as they have in the last few decades). Their days are numbered.

    September 14, 2013 at 11:22 am |
    • tallulah13

      Education is the worst enemy of religion and conservative politics. For the last 10-15 years or so, there has been a rather overt campaign by conservatives to create the perception, especially among lower income individuals, that education is actually something to sneer at. I feel sorry for the children of people who think that ignorance is a family value. Unless they can see past their upbringing, all they will inherit is poverty.

      September 14, 2013 at 11:32 am |
    • Benton Collins

      With the acquisition of more KNOWLEDGE, some organized religions will begin to fade, but not because science points to no God. As greater understanding of us and the Universe continues, the mechanism and state that has traditionally been assigned "God" by religions will be more fully understood. Science has been peeling away layers that is taking us from a mechanical /particle based view toward a view that only sees the flow of vibrating and spinning energy and that no actual "real" particle of any kind exists. What drives this energy? The Science of Quantum Physics has many proponents that suggest that the Quantum Field, which is proposed to be the fundamental fabric of all things which stretches boundlessly in all directions, is also the fundamental foundation of all consciousness. What does this have to do with God? If correct, this brings full circle what many ancient texts have described about God. God is universal mind out of which all creation comes into existence and we are a product of that process and evolution. "God" is not a figure out there pulling strings (that's what we've become), but the fundamental force that makes it all possible.

      September 14, 2013 at 2:15 pm |
  13. tony

    I'm curious. What answers did the Pope give the Italian Newspaper that were so wonderful???

    September 14, 2013 at 11:20 am |
    • Ruby Long

      "...responding directly to questions posed by its atheist director and inviting respectful open dialog between nonbelievers and Christians."

      September 14, 2013 at 11:27 am |
  14. David Smalley

    Here's the problem with your deal: There is no doctrine of atheism from which Dawkins gets his statements. Pat Robertson, on the other hand, uses the same book that Christians consider "The Word of God" as his evidence to make these claims. The reason many Christians don't like Pat Robertson is because he reminds them of what the Bible actually says, which makes it difficult for them to continue this culture-based Christianity which really doesn't come from the god you worship. So, you can distance yourself from Robertson if you like, but you're also distancing from the teachings of the religion you claim to be a part of. If atheists, however, distance from Dawkins, the position of atheism is not hurt one bit.

    September 14, 2013 at 11:18 am |
    • deep blue

      So you are saying there can only be one interpretation of the bible and that is Pat Robertson's interpretation?

      September 14, 2013 at 11:21 am |
      • tony

        If it's the crystal clear words of a god, why would it need interpreting?

        September 14, 2013 at 11:23 am |
      • magicpanties

        So you are saying there is more than one interpretation of Grimm's Fairy Tales?

        September 14, 2013 at 11:24 am |
      • Derek

        On the contrary...there are an infinite number of interpretations of the Bible, as evidenced throughout history whenever Christians realize that what the Bible says is true doesn't end up reflecting what's true in reality (as soon as humans discover a means of verifying that reality), so their "interpretation" changes.

        What this really means is that the Christian religion, as with any religion, is a farce, something dreamed up and written straight from the minds of men who wished to control the societies around them, and as with all human-engineered devices, is a flawed product of its times, which will inexorably be proven false as time and technology advances.

        Religion is the ever-shrinking pocket of human ignorance.

        September 14, 2013 at 11:26 am |
        • joand

          Concur

          September 14, 2013 at 11:32 am |
      • David

        he is not saying Robertson's interpretation is correct. rather, he saying that the very book that Christians appeal to is the very book that Robertson appeals to, and therein lies the problem. Christians appeal to a book that it is open to interpretation ("cherry picking" as Dawkins calls it) but at the same time, authoritative (allegedly). the irony, if not the problem, is blatant. atheists, in contrast, haven't any book. by the way, what gaff(s) did Dawkins make? and, yes, that's rhetorical.

        September 14, 2013 at 11:36 am |
    • Ken

      Spot on! 🙂

      September 14, 2013 at 11:22 am |
    • joand

      Well said, sir.

      September 14, 2013 at 11:32 am |
  15. raeder10

    If you think you understand all of this
    you must be god.

    September 14, 2013 at 11:17 am |
    • magicpanties

      My invisible pink unicorn understands.
      ...OMG!

      September 14, 2013 at 11:22 am |
  16. tallulah13

    Very few atheists think that one specific christian speaks for all christians, but it seems that some christians (especially evangelicals) think that Dawkins speaks for all atheists. It's a weird mentality. It's like they don't understand that most people don't actually need to be told what to think.

    Anyway, What the author fails to understand is that Pat Robertson has followers who somehow still believe that he is a representative of god. Richard Dawkins has readers and fans who are interested in what he has to say. Like it or not, Pat Robertson has actual influence. When he says something hateful and dishonest, there are those who will see his words as gospel. So I'm sorry. When Robertson makes false claims that can potentially damage the lives of other, innocent individuals (as he so often does), it's the responsibility of moral people to criticize.

    September 14, 2013 at 11:17 am |
    • kati

      "Anyway, What the author fails to understand is that Pat Robertson has followers who somehow still believe that he is a representative of god. Richard Dawkins has readers and fans who are interested in what he has to say. Like it or not, Pat Robertson has actual influence. When he says something hateful and dishonest, there are those who will see his words as gospel. So I'm sorry. When Robertson makes false claims that can potentially damage the lives of other, innocent individuals (as he so often does), it's the responsibility of moral people to criticize." lol

      1 u ain't moral.
      2. u r a sick demented nazi
      3. you have no idea what u r talking about.
      4. lol
      5. thanks for the jokes

      September 14, 2013 at 11:27 am |
      • tallulah13

        Thank you for your pointless, useless commentary. How many screen names do you have, anyway? And how is your mom doing? Is she still pestering you to get a job, make some friends and finally move out of the basement?

        September 14, 2013 at 11:35 am |
        • kati

          how is sam stone?

          September 14, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
  17. tony

    The devil has the best tunes. Atheists just make fine instruments. And the faithful always turn up whenever there's a sing-along.

    September 14, 2013 at 11:16 am |
    • Athiest

      According to Manowar God Made Heavy Metal.

      September 14, 2013 at 11:40 am |
      • G to the T

        Hail! Hail! Hail and Kill!

        (wow – that was one from the vaults!)

        September 16, 2013 at 3:30 pm |
  18. Brisancian

    Ms. Evans: And the extreme statements of Jesus or Moses or Paul? Are they off the table too?

    September 14, 2013 at 11:16 am |
  19. burello1

    This is probably the worst argument I have ever seen. For one thing, atheists don't follow Dawkins as if he is some kind of religious leader the way that Christians follow their leaders. Not only is Dawkins not representative, but atheists tend to put a high value on critical thinking and don't just follow someone or something blindly. And to address Dawkins' comments directly, all he did was mention something about his own experiences and statistical facts about academics. How is that even remotely controversial? Maybe the author doesn't know how to distinguish facts? When Pat Robertson gets up there and declares all gays "evil", or he tells women to make their home "more wonderful so that [their] husband doesn't wander", or when he tells a man to divorce his alzheimers stricken wife because alzheimers is a "kind of death" and as such falls in line with the "til death do us part", he is not only incredibly judgmental, but he is cruel. I have extended family members who follow the words of Pat Robertson, and others like him, as if they are words directly from God. And this is not a fact that is lost on the Robertson family. They exploit it for all it's worth. They are criminals. To contrast, you don't see followers of Dawkins that take every word that comes out of his mouth as truth. In fact, atheists tend to question everything. So, Dawkins doesn't have the opportunity to lead his "blind" followers toward some kind of self-aggrandizing purpose. Speaking as a former Christian, I have first-hand knowledge of the kind of wide spread exploitation of ignorance that runs rampant in that faith. It is deplorable to see so many people used and abused in such a large manner. That is why the atheists get so upset when it comes to Christianity.

    September 14, 2013 at 11:15 am |
    • tallulah13

      I didn't get the whole "Dawkins' controversial comments". They seem fairly mild, compared to claims like "god is punishing (insert name of area struck by natural disaster) because of gays".

      September 14, 2013 at 11:19 am |
    • counter

      Criminals? That is pretty nutty. A former Christian is not a unbiased person. You sound bitter to me.

      September 14, 2013 at 11:21 am |
    • NorthVanCan

      burello1 ; Right on the mark with that one.
      Thanks.

      September 14, 2013 at 11:36 am |
  20. John P. Tarver

    Great troll Rachel, see you next time.

    September 14, 2013 at 11:15 am |
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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.