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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. R.M. Goodswell

    Richard Dawkins = Pat Robertson? really?.......

    1. Dawkins was merely saying that a single disgusting encounter did not destroy or define his life.

    2. He is right in his statement about Muslim scholars – a single Imam writes that algebra and mathematics are satanic and that was all she wrote for Arab scholars. Arab achievements do not = Muslim achievements btw. Scholars flourished in the ME and Europe until the religions controlling those regions put their foot down. As Islam is more intrusive and a bigger micromanager than Christianity (not for lack of trying mind you) it was harder for Arab knowledge to get rolling again.

    September 14, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      well said!

      September 14, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
  2. jameswells540445617

    How about we just stop trying to find ways to classify and compartmentalize other people? Don't paint anyone with any brush, wide or narrow. Instead of me calling you a Christian and you calling me an atheist, let's try I call you a human and you call me a human.

    I have a difficult time caring less what religion a person is. Unless they bring it up, which generally is a sign of at least mild intolerance and bias.

    September 14, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
    • Yahweh

      Didn't your god specifically command you to spread his word? I know it was his son/alternate personality that said it but I thought that was as good as hearing it straight from Yahweh's mouth. Aren't you concerned that he'll find out that you publicly claimed that it's not necessary and a sign of intolerance. Jeebus commanded you to convert. Now get out there and do it lest you face his wrath.

      September 14, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
      • mac12311

        For someone who prides himself on intelligence you demonstrate a staggering lack of it with your post

        September 14, 2013 at 4:10 pm |
        • Yahweh

          I wish your pathetic retort would have at least made sense.

          September 15, 2013 at 1:50 am |
  3. Steen

    The reason Dawkins has a voice is, that he stands vigorously up to creationist lies about evolution.
    If creationists would stop lying, Dawkins really wouldn't matter much.
    So here is the real "deal" Ms. Evans. Your "side" stops lying about evolution, and Dawkins won't matter.

    September 14, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
  4. Del

    Hey Rachel, Dawkins merely stated a verifiable fact about the Arab world. He should have added that their wonderful contributions to science stopped when they started to become Muslim fundamentalists. The same will happen here if the Christian fundies have their way. They are actively trying to dumb down the science taught in our schools, as is now being tried in Texas.

    No deals with people who believe that mythology is truth. No way.

    September 14, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
    • Shorn

      Amen, brother.

      September 14, 2013 at 3:18 pm |
  5. Shorn

    Except he has millions of Christian followers. How many followers does a Christian leader need before we can assume he speaks for... millions of Christians?

    September 14, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
    • kati

      he said nothing when asked for whom he spoke?

      September 14, 2013 at 2:36 pm |
      • kati

        correct. he has millions of followers. christians? how do you know?

        September 14, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
        • Shorn

          Yeah, Pat Robertson followers call themselves Buddhists.

          September 14, 2013 at 3:01 pm |
        • G to the T

          So does each person get to define what a "christian" is now?

          Tell you what – No one who calls themselves a "christian" is allowed to make any point about christianity until you all decide what a "christian" actually is. Otherwise, it's just goal-post moving.

          September 17, 2013 at 12:41 pm |
  6. #1Christ-Fan

    How about you non-believers just stop being so gosh-darn stubborn and accept the Love and Power of Christ Jesus,Amen

    September 14, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Well, shoot. I guess we're waiting for evidence that your god, or any god, actually exists. Or the devil. Or hell. Or heaven. Heck, it would be great if someone could provide indisputable proof that if Jesus actually did exist he was anything more than a radical rabbi. But honestly, there is no more proof that your god exists than there is proof that Vishnu or Zeus exist.

      Course, I don't know why anyone would need the love and power of a mythological dead guy anyway. I have plenty of friends and family who love me, and I am an adult - fully able to take care of myself.

      September 14, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
    • Unbeliever

      Why aren't you praying to Ishtar, or Zeus, Or Osiris, or Baal, Or Ahura Mazda, or Krishna, or The Great Raven, or Ametarasu, or Amida Buddha, or The Cargo Cult Plane, or Papa Gueda?

      When you realize why you reject all other religions but your own, you will realize why I reject your religion as well.

      I just believe in one less god than you do.

      September 14, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
    • Robert

      How about you religiots stop being so darn pushy with your nonsense. I could care less what you believe and THAT is what bothers you; my apathy.

      September 14, 2013 at 2:59 pm |
      • mac12311

        Actually your apathy is appreciated. If all atheists were apathetic like yourself that would be awesome:)

        September 14, 2013 at 4:14 pm |
        • Robert

          Don't confuse apathy to your fantasies to lack of participation in the democratic process to make sure I vote for individuals who express a strong desire for separation of church and state. Your religion as a source of law is terrifying.

          September 14, 2013 at 6:58 pm |
    • John

      Hee yuk?

      September 14, 2013 at 4:54 pm |
  7. albie

    christians have always been and continue to be a detriminint and danger to society

    September 14, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
  8. kati

    Bible Clown©
    "Yo bozo, what example did Jesus set?" How about let he among you who is without sin throw the first stone? Meditate on that parable for a time, grasshopper, and see if you notice anything.

    who said that? the embellishing frauds or the hucksters that stole from horus, zeus and many other gods?

    September 14, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
    • G to the T

      And what is "sin"? Betcha if I ask 10 christians I'll get at least 5 different answers. Hard to understand the meaning of something when the terms cannot be defined...

      September 17, 2013 at 12:42 pm |
  9. :) he which is filthy, let him be filthy still :)

    🙂 He that is unjust, let him be unjust still 🙂

    September 14, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
  10. Michael Jeffers

    I stopped reading after the comparison of Richard Dawkins to Pat Robertson.

    September 14, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
  11. AtheistHuman

    Godies are a hoot. ; )

    September 14, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
  12. albie

    now that i know colbert is a christian i will stop watching him

    September 14, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
    • mac12311

      More examples of humanists tolerance for others. Way to go

      September 14, 2013 at 4:16 pm |
  13. Why compromise rational inquiry and verification for this?

    Mindset of the believer:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4YIj4rLYo0c

    September 14, 2013 at 2:16 pm |
  14. Dyslexic doG

    Well done Rachel. That was funnier that a Seinfeld episode! ROTFL.

    (it was supposed to be comedy, right?)

    September 14, 2013 at 2:16 pm |
  15. John

    What a vacuous heap of parrot droppings.

    September 14, 2013 at 2:14 pm |
  16. deal?

    lol

    September 14, 2013 at 2:13 pm |
  17. tired of your crap

    you're all a bunch of jerkwater

    September 14, 2013 at 2:13 pm |
    • Unbeliever

      Your harsh words will land you in H-E-double-toothpicks....

      /step on a crack, break your mama's back...and other childish nonsense....

      September 14, 2013 at 2:49 pm |
  18. SouthernFriedInfidel

    Sure. I never consider any Christian extreme to be representative of the spectrum of Christianity anyway. Does this help you feel better?

    September 14, 2013 at 2:13 pm |
  19. :) he which is filthy, let him be filthy still :)

    🙂

    September 14, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
  20. Rob

    She also needs to realize that there are more people like Pat Robertson than Richard Dawkins. We are outnumbered 1000 to 1 (or more) when it comes to people who think we are evil just because we don't believe in God

    September 14, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
    • Dyslexic doG

      all Dawkins did was state a few facts ... and we all know how upset Christians get when confronted by facts! LOL

      September 14, 2013 at 2:17 pm |
      • Robert

        I will say it again; for a group that has guaranteed eternal life in paradise they are remarkably thin skinned.

        September 14, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
    • citizen

      As an asian, I can't wait to see the fall of Europe to Islam 🙂
      Atheism allows a gap for Islam to sneak in. Keep it up guys!

      September 14, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
      • Cpt. Obvious

        I didn't realize that atheists had such power. Wow. I'd prefer that people reason with rationality, believer or atheist. Fundamentalists, muslim or Christian, are irrational by definition.

        September 14, 2013 at 2:27 pm |
      • Dyslexic doG

        poor deluded citizen ...

        September 14, 2013 at 2:31 pm |
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About this blog

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.