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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. kwall

    I have to agree with this writer, regardless of beliefs most of us are taking the easy route- putting people in narrow little boxes based on what we "assume" they stand for. Instead of focusing so strongly on what we disagree on, why can't we spend our energy working with what we DO agree on. If we were all the same we would not grow as people. Our differences make us think and refine out points of view. But it is doubtful that anyone person is right about everything. We need to rise above our differences and find out common ground.

    September 14, 2013 at 12:25 pm |
    • truthsayer

      In theory what you say sound 'nice', but the fact stands that those of religious beliefs believe the hold a moral high ground without having to prove this via evidence. If we all say god tells us this and tells us that and then disregard the burden of proof for this god...well you can see how fast this gets insane. Religion is basically accepted insanity to push an insane agenda.

      September 14, 2013 at 12:33 pm |
      • Bob Bales

        Atheists provide no more evidence for their beliefs - including that religion is 'insane' - than religious people do for theirs.

        September 14, 2013 at 1:16 pm |
        • G to the T

          It's not evidential in nature – it's that many religious beliefs are held in direct conflict with available evidence that we often have a problem with...

          September 16, 2013 at 4:15 pm |
  2. RWENUTS

    Religion is nonsense, though I can see it used like a crutch to a broken leg. In times of extreme need, if one cannot except the realty of life, then use it. But all of the time, when the leg has healed, it's just nutty...and the number one cause of human death and misery since the beginning of mankind.

    September 14, 2013 at 12:25 pm |
  3. AV

    (This was made as a reply, but also qualifies as a good response for the post itself. Thus is why it is a repost.)

    Pat Robertson is not a leader of the Christian community. There is only one leader of the Christian community. That is Christ Jesus. Pat Robertson is just a man. He does not represent me. He certainly does not represent any other Christian I know. Nor does the Pope speak for me, for I am not Catholic. Anything the Pope says does not speak for the entire Christian community. Again, because Christ Jesus is our only official leader.

    When either Pat or the Pope speaks, do not look at them with high stature or prominence. They are men. They are our equals. Their words carry weight only when they are in line with Christ. So, when you hear them speak, take their words and weigh them with the Bible. If they do not align, then you discard those words and don't let them play in your memories.

    Also, Christians have to be careful about throwing things in people's face. I don't bother with Hawkins' words outside of his field of study. I certainly wouldn't hold anyone with a similar "belief" accountable for his words. We should not hold any human beings accountable for the words of other human beings, just because they claim to believe in the same God or faith or absence of faith. Joe Brown may be an atheist, but his words mean nothing to Jason Jones. (Those names are just randomly generated and are not in reference to specific individuals.)

    Stop throwing other people's words in people's faces. Hold people accountable only for their own words.

    September 14, 2013 at 12:25 pm |
    • Jesse

      What people of religion need to do is hold those accountable that represent them in the community or we will continue to view the religious as sheeple. No one deserves a free ticket to spout off idiotic rhetoric. That goes for politicians and religious leaders equally.

      September 14, 2013 at 12:30 pm |
      • AV

        I definitely agree. They should be held accountable. I don't subscribe to Pat Robertson; so, I don't know what is being said. Others who hear Pat and find what he says to be out of alignment with Christ Jesus should rebuke Pat. He is not above reproof, no matter who he is or thinks he is.

        Same with politicians. Yes. They should be held accountable. We need to start electing different kinds of politicians. Lawyers are trained to argue and lie. It's not so much about facts and truth as it is arguing your point and winning. We don't need people who just want to argue and win. We need to elect scientists. Scientists don't care as much about being right as they do about discovering the truth; unless they have an agenda. That's another debate in itself.

        September 14, 2013 at 12:44 pm |
        • R.J.H

          Your comment about us needing to stop voting for lawyers and picking scientist made me think of a wonderful idea.

          Could you imagine if we could "directly" pick our leaders? We could have things like Secretary of Science-neil degrasse tyson, Secretary of Religion/Belief- Demond Tutu (I have no idea who a "good" pick for religious leader would be in America, so I picked someone I think everyone knows) Secretary of Entertainment- Will Smith etcetc.

          So instead of picking a few people/one person and letting them pick who they think is best in the different fields, often them picking people simply because they like them, agree with them, won't stand up to them etc, we could actually have people that know what they are talking about shaping our civilization. Now that I think about it, didn't the Romans or Greeks have something like this?.

          Sorry for the off topic reply. I was just fascinated when I saw your comment.

          September 14, 2013 at 3:07 pm |
  4. ME II

    Richard Dawkins is a scientist and I respect his scientific view, just as I respect Francis Collin's scientific knowledge, but I do not agree with every thing he says outside of science.

    September 14, 2013 at 12:23 pm |
    • What

      yeah,, and the bible comic book is fact filled.

      September 14, 2013 at 12:24 pm |
  5. Reality # 2

    It is very disturbing that religious affiliation, narrow- mindedness, intolerance, violence and hatred continues unabated due to randomness of birth. Maybe, just maybe if this fact would be published on the first page of every newspaper every day, that we would finally realize the significant stupidity of all religions.

    Now where does Ms. Evans fit in the "randomness of birth" listing ?. As per online bio, her father has an administrative position at Bryan College. And Bryan College?

    "Bryan College is a Christian liberal arts college in Dayton, Tennessee . It was founded in the aftermath of the 1925 Scopes Trial to establish an inst-itution of higher education that would teach from a Christian worldview."

    Now we know, why she is the way she is i.e. brainwashed in the theological and historical flaws of Christianity.

    September 14, 2013 at 12:23 pm |
    • Jesse

      IIndeed! You are a construct of your environment. Anyone that does not give that bit of fact any weight in their world view formation is either highly delusion or absolutely ignorant of reality. The more we are programmed to believe something the harder we hold onto it as truth. Politics is a great example of how we can be programmed to believe lies based on how many times we hear them over the truth. Religion and politics methods are very similar in that regard.

      September 14, 2013 at 12:27 pm |
  6. Sane Person

    I don't care what religious people do. There is no equivalence. Your delusions are not equal to reality. Keep your silly rules and chant all you want in your churches, leave government and public schools to educated, rational people.

    September 14, 2013 at 12:22 pm |
  7. DEAL

    OK, let's make a deal. You all come to your senses and stop trying to turn christian dogma into US laws and then we'll talk.

    September 14, 2013 at 12:22 pm |
    • Jesse

      I wholeheartedly SECOND THAT!!! 🙂

      September 14, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
    • jens gessner

      Hear, hear!

      September 14, 2013 at 12:32 pm |
  8. wakeup333

    Test.

    September 14, 2013 at 12:22 pm |
  9. Time For You To Grow Up...

    I have a deal for the Christians...

    If you don't pray in my schools, I won't think in your church.

    September 14, 2013 at 12:20 pm |
  10. There. Are. No. Gods!

    I have a better deal religion. You prove with empirical evidence that your religion is not a fairy tale, you bring this proof before all the people that god actually exists, that the bible is not just made up nonsense, you prove this all without a shadow of doubt and I drop my instant disregard for you and all your followers and their silly beliefs.

    There are no gods, and you know it! If there are, prove it!

    September 14, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
    • next thought

      How about you prove that it's not?

      September 14, 2013 at 12:25 pm |
    • Tony Chighur

      Stop asking for "proof" from religionists. It's moronic. You look like a moron. You look even dumber than religious people, if that's possible. It's not about "proof", it never was. It's about how obvious it is that religion is a human impulse in the face of nature. You bring nothing to the table with your hurr durrr childish grating insistence on "proof". STFU, sit the f down, and let the grown ups do the talking.

      September 14, 2013 at 12:26 pm |
    • scifigal

      Prove that there ISN'T a God.

      September 14, 2013 at 12:29 pm |
    • Dan

      You're the one claiming to know for sure. You prove it.

      September 14, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
  11. Zon

    Christians started it. This all sounds well and fine until a well-known atheist makes their views public and the radical right pounces with rhetoric and lies. Dawkins says a few off-color comments and suddenly we need to be nice. Besides, Dawkins is one of a very small number of vocal and aggressive atheists, the religious right has thousands of Pat Robertsons.

    September 14, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
    • Maureen Mower

      Oh dear – did you really open your response with "But THEY started it!"?

      If you want to represent the atheist view, please do so without sounding like a whining child!

      By the way – Dawkins is just as bad as Robertson in his own way. Both are primarily out to promote themselves and enrich their personal bank accounts. They get accolades and followers and make lots of money from books and tv shows... but neither represents, or particularly cares about, the average member of their respective groups. They care only for what they can get you to spend while listening to them. Their ultimate goal is to be as extreme as possible, because that's what gets attention, and that attention brings them loads of income.

      So please, don't pat yourself on the back for seeing through Robertson if you don't allow yourself to see through Dawkins as well.

      September 14, 2013 at 12:27 pm |
  12. Merle

    Sory, but religion is too dangerous for the world we live in today. The truth of most religions serves but to justify the exclusivity of their "believer" in the eyes of "The Great boogie man/Santa Claus". Belief is the most dangerous and undermining thought patern because it cannot be reasoned with or contradicted. Enough...enough

    September 14, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
    • I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that

      If you got rid of religion, we'd just kill each other over something else. It's humanity that makes the world so dangerous.

      September 14, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
      • Dan

        Amen.

        September 14, 2013 at 12:26 pm |
  13. Just the Facts Ma'am...

    The fact is that Christians have a doctrine they can and should be smeared with. They get angry when one of their fold comes out and says what they are all thinking because it exposes them. When an atheist says something that has nothing to do with atheism, they are not representing anyone or saying something already on the minds of fellow atheists. Do you think there were any other atheists who nodded in agreement as Richard talked about being molested as a child? Like that's some prerequisite to disbelief? No. But when Pat Robertson says things like:

    "You've got a couple of same-s e x guys kissing, do you like that? Well that makes me want to throw up,"

    "I know it sounds cruel, but if he's going to do something, he should divorce her and start all over again, but to make sure she has custodial care and somebody (is) looking after her." in reference to a spouse with Alzheimer's.

    "Males have a tendency to wander a little bit. And what you want to do is make a home so wonderful he doesn't want to wander."

    "I would warn Orlando that you're right in the way of some serious hurricanes, and I don't think I'd be waving those flags in God's face if I were you ... It'll bring about terrorist bombs; it'll bring earthquakes, tornadoes, and possibly a meteor."

    "I know this is painful for the ladies to hear, but if you get married, you have accepted the headship of a man, your husband. Christ is the head of the household, and the husband is the head of the wife, and that's the way it is, period."

    "The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians."

    The Haitians "were under the heel of the French, you know, Napoleon the third and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, 'We will serve you if you will get us free from the prince.' True story. And so the devil said, 'OK, it's a deal.' And they kicked the French out. The Haitians revolted and got themselves free. But ever since they have been cursed by one thing after another."

    This is garbage Pat says and that many Christians believe.

    Richard Dawkins – “mild pedophilia” “didn’t cause any lasting harm.”

    This is Richards personal opinion that virtual NO atheists believe.

    There is no comparison.

    September 14, 2013 at 12:15 pm |
    • Tina

      I'm still waiting for that meteor to hit florida... 🙂

      September 14, 2013 at 12:22 pm |
    • Peace

      So let me get this straight, Atheists are individuals with different thoughts and ideas based on no common beliefs and Christians are one big group with one agenda and no differences? Is that what you really think? You say that because I am a Christian I have to blindly follow every idea that comes from the bible? The bible was authored in a completely different time then ours. Some of the practices just don't fit in with the way our culture has evolved over time. There is no reason why you can't take an idea and make it better. So long as that idea is for the greater good of man kind I honestly feel that Jesus would not mind.

      September 14, 2013 at 12:37 pm |
      • Just the Facts Ma'am...

        I did not say all Christians, I said " that many Christians believe."

        September 14, 2013 at 4:32 pm |
  14. Real Talk

    There is no way I would strike a deal with a blind follower of religion.

    September 14, 2013 at 12:13 pm |
  15. stevie68a

    Religion is a mass delusion. It just isn't true.

    September 14, 2013 at 12:13 pm |
  16. anchorite

    Deal. Like Robertson, nobody appointed Dawkins head of anything. In fact, by definition, atheists can't have a representative, because they don't all believe in anything specific, they just all DON'T believe in something.

    September 14, 2013 at 12:13 pm |
  17. oneSTARman

    The way I look at it – I only have to put up with Atheists for a short time; but I have to endure other Christians for Eternity.

    September 14, 2013 at 12:13 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      That statement should convince you that you serve an evil deity. God could do things differently, but he doesn't. He's a d!ck

      September 14, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
    • Tina

      Must be like hell having to endure eternity with a bunch of delusional fools like yourself.

      September 14, 2013 at 12:24 pm |
  18. irina

    What would Jesus do with people with this kind of behavior? If they choose not to believe or choose to say mean things to believer, Jesus Himsel warn us of this kind of event's, so NO we don't need to make any kind of deal with them or anyone for it is writen, many are calling few are chosen.

    September 14, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
    • SkepticalOne

      Your kind of narrow mindedness is exactly what the author is talking about. You have blinders on and can't even see anyone else's side. I'm an atheist but I have Christian friends that I greatly respect.

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

        You have respect for adults who believe in fairytales?

        September 14, 2013 at 12:29 pm |
    • doobzz

      And that makes you very, very special, doesn't it, irina? So special that you need to grovel before Jeebus like a dog who's been kicked in the ribs for accidentally peeing on the floor.

      September 14, 2013 at 12:21 pm |
    • Tina

      Jesus would just keep mopping the floor like he's done for the past 6 years at my house. I love Jesus's fresh pine scent!

      September 14, 2013 at 12:25 pm |
    • Irona

      Who is Jesus Himsel anyway?

      September 14, 2013 at 12:26 pm |
  19. I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that

    The thing is, whatever Dawkins says himself, he says as an independent human being and it has nothing or little to do with atheism. However, Robertson and his ilk base their beliefs on scripture. Sure, you may disagree with his interpretation of scripture, but you can't deny that his interpretation is valid to some extent. Some people get love and understanding from the Bible, others get hate and bigotry. Both are evident in the Bible.

    September 14, 2013 at 12:09 pm |
    • Irona

      But that's the thing about christianity... so many fools believe in so many interpretations of their "holy" book. Some don't believe in the old testament, some do believe, but not all of it. The real problem is that most of the christians (especially evangelicals) tend to believe whatever the crowd believes and don't bother to read and interpret their bible themselves.

      September 14, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
  20. Bird

    How about we all agree to stop believing in fairy tales and make-believe mystical nonsense and focus on reality and change the things we have control over like lying cheating governments and corporations.... So that we all can live in peace and harmony, instead of fighting over who has the most powerful imaginary friend.... Deal?

    September 14, 2013 at 12:06 pm |
    • Alias

      Hold on there!
      An all pwoerful, loving, all knowing God created the universe and all the rules. When some guy He made out of dirt sinned, God held it against everyone who hadn't been born yet. So in order to save us all from the hell He created, He impregnated a married virgin so that he could sacrifice Himself to Himself and form a loophole in a rule He made. He did this because He had to so He could judge us fairly when we die.
      How could this not make sense to you?

      September 14, 2013 at 12:15 pm |
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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.