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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. Doug

    As an atheist I appreciate Rachel's conciliatory tone, and as a human being I appreciate the thought behind her writing. We all must find humility in ourselves to admit that we can be sure in our beliefs, but they are only beliefs. Respect the differences and don't worry about changing anyone. I think that those who believe in a deity are foolish. They think that I am misguided. But no matter how strong our beliefs, they are nothing more than belief.
    Both sides need to give up on trying to prove or disprove a belief, spend more time bettering themselves within the parameters of their own ethical code, and save the "told you so's" for the afterlife, or the abyss.

    September 14, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      If there were no (belief in) deities to follow, the term atheist wouldn't even exist. If religious believers kept their beliefs to themselves no one would need to counter their attempts to inflict their beliefs on others.

      September 14, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
    • donna

      It's not that simple when people impose their beliefs on others through laws and public pressures. Christianity actively imposes belief on other people- that's what it is. So are you arguing that atheists should just continue to allow themselves and others to be oppressed by religious groups? That's unreasonable.

      September 14, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
    • Doug

      uh...not sure what kind of atheist you are but not believing is not a belief ...it is a recognition that there is no proof to believe
      and thus lack of ...I don't care that people chose to believe in crazy stuff,but to believe that their "belief world" has not shaped this world and to pretend they have not had massive massive failings is a lie...and it's a lie on a stage that no other can match

      September 14, 2013 at 3:33 pm |
      • donna

        Doug there are multiple types of atheists- you can be be an atheist because you actively hold the belief that there in no deity, or you can be an atheist because you simply lack any belief about the existence of a deity. All that is required for the term to apply is that you do not hold a belief that a deity exists.

        September 14, 2013 at 3:47 pm |
  2. Mike

    Hi Rachel,

    I'm an atheist, not the Richard Dawkins brand mind you. I want you to understand that your search for "truth" is not the universal desire that you think it is. I don't search for truth, rather I search for fictions that meet certain well defined criteria. These criteria are systematic rational choices, such as logical consistency and frugality with contingencies.

    A theist, on the other hand, may believe herself to be searching for truth, but bleary eyed and exhausted from her unattainable goal, she too settles for fictions that meet alternate criteria such as emotional gratification. In the end, we all settle for the same thing - fiction, because that is all there is to be had.

    So you see, we really are different beings entirely. We are different species if you like, our ontology and epistemology could not be more distinct. We can't paper over those differences with your "search for truth" blather.

    September 14, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      "The True" is the empty set?

      September 14, 2013 at 3:36 pm |
  3. Jesus Christ, the gayest savior that ever lived

    ever notice my six-pack abs? my great tan? my long hair? ever notice i hung out with 12 dudes and never got with a woman?

    September 14, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
    • Robert

      Egads; Jesus like show tunes as well? Hello Frisco!

      September 14, 2013 at 6:54 pm |
  4. Robert

    Hey Christian, no dice.

    Richard Dawkins is an Atheist. Singular. He is not our leader, prophet, or anything other than just one proponent of Atheism. Dawkins cannot make a speech somewhere and cause legions of Atheists to burn churches or something like that.

    It's not the same. Atheism is older than Dawkins.

    September 14, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
  5. SoCal Reggae

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vA6Att5Ss-8

    September 14, 2013 at 3:21 pm |
  6. JimK57

    I am amazed by how many people do not even understand the article.

    September 14, 2013 at 3:20 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      i'm even more amazed by your ego and far-reaching assumption...

      September 14, 2013 at 3:23 pm |
      • Bootyfunk's underage victims

        And right away battyfink shows up to add proof to your statement.

        September 14, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
  7. Jesus

    Neither Dawkins, nor any other athiest, ever set about murdering anyone who disagreed with athiesm. I'm so terribly sorry that once in a blue moon you have to hear an athiest criticize one of the millions of examples of Christian intolerance and ignorance, but it won't kill you.

    September 14, 2013 at 3:19 pm |
    • JimK57

      You just don't get it...

      September 14, 2013 at 3:21 pm |
      • Bootyfunk

        sounds like he gets it just fine.

        September 14, 2013 at 3:23 pm |
    • lol?? Your comment is awaiting moderation.

      Sowing and reaping, from Cain's garden.

      September 14, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
      • Bootyfunk

        does he grow zucchini?

        September 14, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
    • Atheist

      Hey Jesus, who's your daddy?

      September 14, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
  8. Pete Zanko

    All Christians are irrational, as is anyone who adheres to a religion. No deal.

    September 14, 2013 at 3:18 pm |
    • Meredith S.

      You just confirmed what this article is talking about. Thanks for falling into the stereotype.

      September 14, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
      • Bootyfunk

        well, he's technically right. if you believe in an invisible sky fairy - that's pretty irrational when no evidence supports such a silly belief.

        September 14, 2013 at 3:27 pm |
  9. Alfredo

    One day humanity will accept that their actions alone dictate their life.

    September 14, 2013 at 3:16 pm |
  10. Mary Jane

    To compare, or to even attempt to say all atheists share Dawkins views is completely ignorant and biased. I'm an atheist and rarely hold anything Dawkins says to heart because of how he handles himself and for the lack of respect he has for other views. This article is as ignorant as something he would say for the simple fact that this was published by someone to simply "make a deal" to keep quiet, which most of us already have the common sense and understanding to be accepting to religion and ALL religions. Richard Dawkins is an extreme example, and many atheists just don't act that way. There is no deal that needs to be made, just everyone needs to have understanding and respect for different views.

    September 14, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
  11. JesusNotReligion

    If it weren't for the influence of Christianity on mankind, which has historically transformed entire countries from being debased and illiterate, there would be no "Science" as we know it today...All of you self-proclaimed athests are the product of Jesus Christ's love, mercy, grace and worldwide renewing & retraining influence, whether you choose to believe or not. Even dogs know better not to bite the hand that has fed them. Science only "discovers" what God has "created"...Science doesn't CREATE "information", which any good scientist knows is already coded within creation, it unveils it and simply redistributes it for various uses...
    You know how the bumper sticker goes: "If you can read this, thank a Teacher"...I say, If you can read this, your Teacher should thank the Christian influence on the general masses of Eastern Europe & Western Civilization...just look at France's transformation from the 1500's to the 1600's as just ONE example...Wherever Christianity goes, so goes a transformed culture for the better (unless they reject it at some point) because Jesus sets people FREE. Just look at all of the former c0mmunist countries where Christ has been introduced. And where He hasn't been, you find tyrannical, oppressive dictatorships controlling the masses and keeping them predominantly impoverished, drugged or drunk (in some cases) & enslaved via dependency on the government (a mafia-like, elitist regime)...Wake up America! You are trading your freedom for this as you continue to bite the Hand that has blessed you!

    Reject it if you will, but I will still be thanking and praising God that "salvation is of the LORD", and the free offer of the gospel is still available to be believed upon unto salvation "today"...My prayer is that this post, which I know is probably too long for most to want to read, would reach even one for the sake of Christ's Kingdom unto eternal life...May it be so...
    JesusNotReligion

    September 14, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      i reject your god and pretty much everything you wrote, mostly because it's so far from fact and reality...

      September 14, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
      • Bootyfunk's underage victims

        Not to mention avoiding accountability by ducking out on your responsibility fo all the pain and suffering you have caused

        September 14, 2013 at 3:28 pm |
        • JesusNotReligion

          I reject the wars of "religion" as you do, but have believed upon (and been saved by) the PERSON & Finished work of the "Jesus" of the Bible. You are confused by "religion" but that doesn't excuse you for rejecting Jesus. Thanks for reading my post even though you disagree. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31)..."for everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord (Jesus) will be saved" (Romans 10:9-13)...

          September 14, 2013 at 3:36 pm |
    • Cedar rapids

      'All of you self-proclaimed athests are the product of Jesus Christ's love, mercy, grace and worldwide renewing & retraining influence'

      what a bizarre claim. And what on earth is a 'self- proclaimed atheist'? isnt anyone that says there is no god 'self-proclaimed'?
      And considering how long the church fought against the bible being in plain language I am not sure how you can claim christianity helped the 'debased and illiterate'. Or that you think science came about because of christianity. Overall you claim a lot of things with no proof to back the claim up.

      September 14, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
      • JesusNotReligion

        @Cedar...The proof is the American soil you walk on, but your woeful & willful ignorance of history is obvious. Shame on you, not on me. You search it out, or not...Your choice...Start with France as just ONE example of what I'm talking about. The historical facts and proof are out there but I'm neither responsible for leading you to them or making you drink...

        "self-proclaimed" means that there are no born "atheists", only a willful supression & rejection of the creation-truth that screems in your face every day that there is an Intelligent Designer & Communicating Creator behind all that you see, the air that you breath and the information coded within your very being that allows you to think and even be concerned avout whether something is right or wrong, good or evil..so YOU, personally, take that label for yourSELF...i.e. Self-proclaimed.

        Apologies for any typos

        September 14, 2013 at 4:42 pm |
    • Robert

      You are such a good example of xianity. Pompous, arrogant, self important. Imagine how far we would be without the religiots burning ancient libraries. Xianity is the problem not the solution.

      September 14, 2013 at 6:20 pm |
      • JesusNotReligion

        And you have actually revealed in your post an assessment of yourself, not of me...You arrogantly judge and attack a person's character instead of interacting with the subject at hand in order to exchangie ideas...I have not assailed or judged anyone's character in my post...but I forgot, you don't believe that you will answer to anyone higher than yourself for your actions in this life, so I guess all I have for you is a 'Jesus quote': "Repent or perish"...believe it or not.

        September 15, 2013 at 1:10 am |
  12. Atheist

    If there is a hell, and hell exists because souls can not be destroyed, why would "God" a "good" being damn you there for eternity for trivial things? I mean, when compared to eternity, everything else seems trivial.

    September 14, 2013 at 3:11 pm |
    • @OD

      Do Christians realize that the dark ages came after Romans became Christians? And the Renaissance that started in the 14 th century was possible because of the revival of Roman and Greek cultures, and most of that knowledge was preserved by Muslims in Arab countries because Christians were destroying anything Roman or Greek.? Jesus, in a way, brought a thousand years of misery until logic started to take over, again.

      September 14, 2013 at 3:21 pm |
    • One one

      Because he is very strict and likes torture and human sacrifice.

      September 14, 2013 at 3:27 pm |
  13. Tom

    Extremes will show up in these comments. Let's make it simple. My faith in Christ. If you are right.... nothing happens to either of us. If I am right... well... it looks like you did not take God up on the opportunity he has pressed on you all your life. God is the judge, fortunately we are not. We would screw it up. Atheist love to show us how we are supposed to act in comparison to the Bible. Atheist are missing the point. As Christians, we are held up to an impossible standard. God knows this. We strive and try, but will never meet it. That is why God sent his son to earth to die for our sins. He paid the price for our sins. All sins. The only thing we need to do is accept Christ with our heart. Yes, we will continue to screw up. We honor God by trying our best. Science and Faith can work together. In fact, God invented both. Faith does not explain everything, but neither does Science. Science can not explain why we strive for God. Why has every society in our history turned to a non-human leader – a "god"? We are naturally created this way. We know we are not in complete control. We know deep down, that there is an intelligent designer. Science has been searching for this. When Science finds the source of all things.... they will find God. As Christians, we are to love all. We make mistakes. We have the same feelings as non-Christians. Islam and Judaism come from the same Abraham. I believe that our Jewish friends are part of a different covenant of God. Islam, we come from the same father Abraham. I do not know how God sees you. All of us know that we are to honor God. The three faiths agree that there is a God, and we are not Him. If you are an Atheist, I am sorry that something or many things happened in your life to make you run from God. By the way, this happens to Christians too. God is here. He loves you... sins, mistakes, doubt, and all.... He is not going anywhere. He allows your free will to choose when it is time to come home. Please, just do not wait too long. Love is at the center of our faiths, even though we fail to show this at times. Instead of telling us where we fail, please take the time to focus on what you can do with your life to help others through love.

    September 14, 2013 at 3:11 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      I don't know if you can see it Tom, but the idea of yearning for someone who will make scarey things right, who imposes seemingly impossible standards on you then forgives you when you don't measure up, you're talking about a rather ordinary sort of parent. Your real parents probably expected you to outgrow the need for parents. It seems you didn't and bought into the idea of an eternal parent.

      September 14, 2013 at 3:18 pm |
    • zjmullen2013

      Pascal's wager is the ultimate intellectual cowardice.

      September 14, 2013 at 3:18 pm |
    • One one

      Translation:

      God created man
      God holds man to an impossible standard
      Man cannot meet the standard
      Therefore god decides to punish all mankind for all eternity
      God changes his mind and decides to save man from his wrath
      To do this he impregnates a virgin with himself then has himself killed
      If you do not worship god for not sending you to hell, he will send you to hell
      And, he loves you.

      September 14, 2013 at 3:23 pm |
    • Cedar rapids

      'My faith in Christ. If you are right.... nothing happens to either of us. If I am right... well... it looks like you did not take God up on the opportunity he has pressed on you all your life.'

      Which once again ignores the 3rd option that there is a god but it isnt the one you worship. You had better pray to them all to cover yourself.

      'That is why God sent his son to earth to die for our sins. He paid the price for our sins. All sins.'

      An emporer's new clothes phrase......sounds good but actually means absolutely nothing.
      Not to mention its hardly a sacrifice if hes up and about 3 days later.

      'Why has every society in our history turned to a non-human leader – a "god"?'
      Because early man wanted to explain why things happened and knowing that they couldnt do them attributed the ability to a magic being, those eventually became gods. That is why societies developed multiple deity systems and over time they merged to a point where religions started attributing everything to a single deity.

      'We know deep down, that there is an intelligent designer. Science has been searching for this. '
      Er, no it hasnt. Science hasnt been searching for god at all. Thats a foolish claim.

      'If you are an Atheist, I am sorry that something or many things happened in your life to make you run from God.'
      Nothing in my life has made me 'run from god'. Heck I dont think I have ever gone to single funeral during my life so not exactly got a death or anything to rail against. I just read the stories and claims, look at the supposed system that the christian god put into place and came to the conclusion that it was all nonsense.

      September 14, 2013 at 4:04 pm |
  14. @OD

    Why Jesus didn't say how important it is to wash hands? This would save millions of lives over the next 2000 years...but no, it was a human who discovered how bacteria spreads. Humans are divine, humanity is a true miracle and we are to humble to realize this.

    September 14, 2013 at 3:11 pm |
  15. kati

    seeing that you are sam stone, a lying atheist, i knew you couldn't follow through. i forgive you

    September 14, 2013 at 3:11 pm |
  16. One one

    Believers deserve the same courtesy they have given atheists.

    September 14, 2013 at 3:11 pm |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      How passive aggressive .. in a naive sort of way.

      September 14, 2013 at 3:16 pm |
      • lol?? Your comment is awaiting moderation.

        lol?? Your comment is awaiting moderation.
        Horses?? Your wish is my command.

        Just another cycle.

        Bush I...........white horse
        Clinton..........red horse
        Bush II...........black horse
        Obama..........pale* horse

        *green, silly socies as in greenbacks.

        September 14, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
    • joe

      Here's an idea "one one." When your kind stop defending idiotic religious beliefs by reference to "faith"("I believe it because I believe it" ) and agree to be bound by the rules of reason and logic like every other belief system, you might get some respect. And since when are atheists treated with respect? We are forced to say pledges of allegiance to a nation under a non-existent god, to carry coins with references to the same god, to take oaths in court that invoke the whim of god, to have our tax dollars support blatantly religious displays on public property during Christmas. You guys get to believe in absolute nonsense like virgin births and resurrections and parted seas without getting locked up, when anyone else professing such hallucinatory beliefs would find themselves in a padded cell.

      September 14, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
    • floridahum

      Do you mean that satirically? Christian leaders have called atheists evil ... fools ... corrupt ... warned people to stay away from them. Is that what you are suggesting?

      September 14, 2013 at 3:30 pm |
  17. MakingSense

    How about we all collect money and then buy an island somewhere and send all the atheist,gays,pedophiles,satan lovers and those alike on that island. They would have a land for themselves and will happily live a life they always wanted. And we would be happy including not having to listen to them whining all the time.

    September 14, 2013 at 3:11 pm |
    • One one

      You would be their leader.

      September 14, 2013 at 3:12 pm |
      • MakingSense

        I would love to be their leader, as a matter of fact i would have great ideas what to do with them.

        September 14, 2013 at 3:18 pm |
        • Pete Zanko

          So very Christian of you...

          September 14, 2013 at 3:20 pm |
    • MG

      The religious would be the majority on that island.

      September 14, 2013 at 3:18 pm |
    • Save

      I wouldn't want to be on that island, too many catholic priests.

      September 14, 2013 at 3:35 pm |
    • Cricket

      I can't tell you how many little towns I know of with a hundred inhabitants – and three churches, because even in that small and insular a group, they can't get along (in one case, two of the churches are Baptist).

      So – I'm a little disinclined to believe the happily ever after prediction, myself.

      September 14, 2013 at 9:02 pm |
  18. bspurloc

    here is the only deal. keep your religion so yourself. and therefore I dont need to point out your ignorance.
    keep it in the closet.

    September 14, 2013 at 3:10 pm |
  19. kati

    how do you decide what to credit as truth, bible clown?

    September 14, 2013 at 3:07 pm |
    • kati

      what about his statement that we must be willing to forgive 7 times 70?

      September 14, 2013 at 3:09 pm |
  20. Tom, Tom, the Other One

    Rachel just wants everyone to get along. Most likely she doesn't think her God is going to send anyone nice to hell for eternity, maybe not anyone at all. Rachel's religion is a nice religion. Rachel and others like her are why the whole idea of God evolves over time, so that it is always tolerated and lingers on and on.

    September 14, 2013 at 3:06 pm |
    • If horses had Gods .. their Gods would be horses

      Gotta keep butts in the seats and cash in the coffers .. the evolution of God(s) is very profitable!

      September 14, 2013 at 3:12 pm |
      • lol?? Your comment is awaiting moderation.

        lol?? Your comment is awaiting moderation.
        Horses?? Your wish is my command.

        Just another cycle.

        Bush I...........white horse
        Clinton..........red horse
        Bush II...........black horse
        Obama..........pale* horse

        *green, silly socies as in greenbacks

        September 14, 2013 at 3:21 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.