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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. Incredulous45

    I am fairly certain that many agnostics out there are happy that this discussion does not include them.

    September 14, 2013 at 5:28 pm |
    • Time For You To Grow Up...

      Nah... I'd say they're probably indifferent.

      September 14, 2013 at 5:31 pm |
    • John W.

      Of course it doesn't include them, because agnostics are generally wishy-washy people who would rather stick their heads in the sand than come to any conclusion as to what they believe (or don't believe) in. They're watchers, not participators.

      September 14, 2013 at 5:33 pm |
      • Cpt. Obvious

        No, because most agnostics are also atheists. Most intelligent people are agnostics by default, because to be gnostic is to claim to posses spiritual "knowledge." I am an agnostic because I do not claim to have spiritual knowledge; I am an atheist because I don't believe in any gods.

        September 14, 2013 at 5:49 pm |
      • Incredulous45

        The phrase "I do not know" must not be in your lexicon. Agnostics must be able to use a phrase that is considers a weakness by many, but is often simply the truth.

        September 14, 2013 at 6:51 pm |
  2. John Gillot

    Well, folks, don't bother posting dissenting opinions here. OBSERVER censors posts that he does not agree with.
    That says a lot about their ethics. (and why their type is hated.)
    –Cheating for God. jeusu-hu-akhbar

    September 14, 2013 at 5:27 pm |
    • midwest rail

      Nonsense – you have no idea why your posts were removed, or who removed them. One person cant do it, there have to be multiple reports. Nice assumption, though.

      September 14, 2013 at 5:42 pm |
      • John Gillot

        it's true... Observer referred to my post (with a distortion) –read back a few posts. –one page or so.
        –Delete and censor opposing opinions: I guess these people trash votes too.
        Observer - censorship is immoral and hypocritical. That's why people hate your type! –taliban!

        September 14, 2013 at 5:49 pm |
        • Observer

          John Gilot,

          If someone made a libelous claim using your name you might feel different and possibly WAKE UP.

          September 14, 2013 at 5:58 pm |
  3. john smith

    this is a funny article i think it's the atheist that should be asking what are the theists next moves. we have given proof, facts and evidence that there is no god. what have the religious groups done to prove there is one....nothing .... Atheist are just asking for one sensible explanation from someone about the existence of god. Not quoting the bible or someone how making faith mean absolute truth. Just one piece of evidence is all we ask, yet still no theist can provide it.

    September 14, 2013 at 5:23 pm |
  4. Bob Sanyef

    This is ridiculous, I'll take the atheist loonies any time over any christian loonies don't act as if there the same. And what's wrong with what Dawkins said with respect to Muslims, he was stating a fact that when Muslims veered from their own cultural and scientific inquiries they stagnated and are in a middle ages of sorts. Nothing offense there just the truth. And if one more christian says that they'll pray for me I think I might explode.

    September 14, 2013 at 5:23 pm |
    • Rosamelia

      Bob, whenever a xian says, "I'll pray for you", reply with, "thanks, I'll think for you".

      September 14, 2013 at 5:34 pm |
  5. Gavin Ford

    " the truth, and with the people who most consistently and graciously point us toward it." That would be atheists.

    September 14, 2013 at 5:22 pm |
  6. Lionly Lamb

    LEAF [ The Health Benefits of Juicing Raw Cannabis ]...

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=7xPmR8j4plw

    September 14, 2013 at 5:22 pm |
  7. atheist

    First off, I never "throw anything in anyone's face". I consider myself a reasonable and polite person.

    I'd like to point out however, how much atheists are pushed around and marginalized in society. Most of us won't even dare to admit we don't believe in a god because all the believers will automatically attack us... family, friends, and strangers. There is so much hatred towards us, and honestly, it's for no reason. I guess it's socially acceptable to bash us, so everyone just feels free.

    The day religious people also feel they can't be themselves at work or with family because of their beliefs is the day I'll take this op ed piece seriously.

    September 14, 2013 at 5:19 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      well stated

      September 14, 2013 at 5:43 pm |
  8. heehee

    Dawkins is right about Muslim Nobel prizes. His point is that religious states do not tend to support science. You can imagine that he was making other points if you want, but I see no evidence of anything vitriolic.

    I find this article childish. She addresses atheists, as a group, for a schoolyard-style deal? I won't say this if you won't say that? While at the same time trying to point out that there are a diversity of opinions in any group? How is this supposed to make sense to anyone?

    September 14, 2013 at 5:16 pm |
  9. Jim Dawson

    So Dawkins isn't allowed to state his opinion?.If he believes a time in his life when he was molested did not cause him any long term harm how is that wrong? he believes it and he's talking about himself.
    The religious are really grabbing at straws when they want to use this kind of stuff against us when their own Pope tried to cover up rampant pedphilia is his own oh so holy organization.
    Shame on them.

    September 14, 2013 at 5:15 pm |
  10. Lionly Lamb

    Reefer Madness 2 – David Suzuki – A Nature of Things...

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dazqMXP4qlg&feature=player_detailpage

    September 14, 2013 at 5:09 pm |
  11. J C

    If only. What a kind gesture. My prayer is for haters to drop the hate and think about your proposal.

    September 14, 2013 at 5:09 pm |
    • heehee

      Disagreement is not hate. Religiously-derived views are open to criticism as much as anyone's point of view.

      Please, take my argument as a sign of respect. You'll know I don't respect you if I start mocking you and not bothering. Which I also think is appropriate in some cases.

      September 14, 2013 at 5:18 pm |
    • Andy B

      By haters, you also mean Christians who hate gay people? There are haters on both sides. I've seen so many hate filled post on blogs by Christians and non-believers.

      September 14, 2013 at 5:19 pm |
  12. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things,

    September 14, 2013 at 5:07 pm |
    • Observer

      Here's how God treated CHILDREN AND OTHER LIVING THINGS according to the Bible:

      (Gen. 7:21) “And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, domestic animals, wild animals, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and ALL HUMAN BEINGS”

      September 14, 2013 at 5:09 pm |
      • Observer

        It is a compassionate healer that is skilled enough to cut out the cancer to save the patient.

        September 14, 2013 at 5:15 pm |
        • Observer

          fake Observer,

          Still COMPLETELY STUMPED to show even ONE SIN commited by all the fetuses horribly drowned by God?

          OOOOOOPS

          September 14, 2013 at 5:20 pm |
        • Observer

          Continual evil in the thought process complete and total genetic sin. Unbelief the worst of the worst. Ooops there is a long list of deadly sins.

          September 14, 2013 at 5:29 pm |
        • Observer

          fake Observer,

          There isn't any proof in the world that fetuses can do abstract thinking.

          Still TOTALLY STUMPED. Kill all the fetuses and yet there isn't EVEN ONE sin committed.

          OOOOOOOPS!

          September 14, 2013 at 5:35 pm |
        • Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

          Prayer changes things
          Proven

          September 14, 2013 at 5:37 pm |
        • Observer

          Observer is a fake?????

          September 14, 2013 at 5:37 pm |
        • Observer

          Atheism,

          No PROOF either way. I'm not arguing that. It's your lie about atheism that I can counteracting with FACTS from the Bible. Just like with Christians, there are good and bad atheists. Same for agnostics. You are apparently too ignorant to figure that out.

          September 14, 2013 at 5:40 pm |
      • One one

        A few more examples :

        "Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man intimately." Numbers 31:17

        "utterly destroy all that they have, and don't spare them; but kill both man and woman, infant and nursing baby, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.'" 1sam15:3

        "Yahweh struck the child that Uriah's wife bore to David, and it was very sick." "It happened on the seventh day, that the child died." 2 Samuel: 15 & 18

        September 14, 2013 at 5:17 pm |
        • One one

          The wages of sin is death. No surprise then when sin reaps its full reward.

          September 14, 2013 at 5:19 pm |
      • christy

        So God doesn't have the right to kill plants and animals but humans do?

        September 14, 2013 at 5:32 pm |
        • Gordon Campbell

          How about this...death is the most absolute thing of life....humans just can't get past the fact that all mortal creatures eventually die. God is not concerned about your mortality. He is concerned about your IMMORTALITY, what happens to your SOUL, not your flesh. Stop limiting yourselves to the finite existence of a <100 year life span, and you might make some progress. If not, then what the hell does it matter? Why even waste time on the argument? If you are so damn convinced that there is no God, then there is no promise of immortality, and that's it, what is the point? There's no future for you. You have to live your life to the fullest then, so how is slamming God-believing folks even come into consideration in your too-short life-span? YOu don't have time to fight that battle, do you? It's a battle that's been raging since the dawn of time, by the way? Amazing how people just can't put it down.

          September 14, 2013 at 5:44 pm |
      • Observer

        Total and acceptable proof for all reasonable people that prayer is a force for change.

        September 14, 2013 at 5:46 pm |
        • Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

          Prayer changes things
          Proven
          Powerful

          September 14, 2013 at 5:47 pm |
    • Sane Person

      So, stop looking both ways when crossing the street. Don't bother with medicine and doctors, insurance or police and fire services. Just pray your problems away.

      September 14, 2013 at 5:09 pm |
      • Observer

        Yes. No one lets their 2-year-old cross a busy street alone and depend on God for their safety.

        September 14, 2013 at 5:10 pm |
      • MakingSense

        The same applies when raising you children telling them that h o m o s e x u a l i t y is normal.

        September 14, 2013 at 5:11 pm |
        • Observer

          h o m o s e x u a l i t y is normal in humans and animals just like being left-handed is normal in humans.

          Teaching bigotry, however, is very harmful.

          September 14, 2013 at 5:17 pm |
        • Observer

          ho mose xuality is perverted and unnatural and the cause of much disease and suffering.

          September 14, 2013 at 5:20 pm |
      • Observer

        Prayer is the gateway to common sense. A good man prays a great man acts on prayer.

        September 14, 2013 at 5:16 pm |
        • Observer

          Ending the slave trade
          The Pilgrims journey to the new world
          Equality for women
          The founding of America
          Healing of a diseases
          Scientific advancements
          Freedom
          Joy
          Provision
          Faith
          Hope
          Love
          Moral dignity
          Honesty
          Civil rights

          September 14, 2013 at 5:25 pm |
        • JeffinDallas

          Tedious little name-stealing git. Find your own name to blog under.

          September 14, 2013 at 5:30 pm |
        • Observer

          An alias is not a name.

          September 14, 2013 at 5:38 pm |
    • One one

      Some examples please ?

      September 14, 2013 at 5:19 pm |
      • Observer

        Examples posted above. For a more complete list, find God and pursue a relationship with Him through prayer.

        September 14, 2013 at 5:27 pm |
    • Andy B

      And religion is not healthy for children and other living things. Example: flying planes into buildings, killing abortion doctors, Witch Burnings, The Inquisition, religious wars, God killing Amalekites,etc. God killed millions to make way for his choosen people. Christians seem to forget all the killing in the Bible done by God or condoned by him. So lay off, and just be a good person no matter your belief.

      September 14, 2013 at 5:28 pm |
      • Observer

        The acts of unbelievers and self deceived are not the product of prayer. Prayer involves a real relationship with God not the idolatry of Islam or the false deception of the self proclaimed christian.

        September 14, 2013 at 5:34 pm |
        • G to the T

          Circular reasoning is not something you are aware of is it?

          September 17, 2013 at 4:14 pm |
    • Observer

      A fetus can't drown it is in water. There was no slow drowning in judgement the guilty were instantly blown to atoms by extreme pressure such as the world has never experienced again. The Tsunami was an extremely mild wave by comparison.

      September 14, 2013 at 5:32 pm |
      • Cpt. Obvious

        You have no scripture that remotely implies such a thing. Lying makes baby jesus cry.

        September 14, 2013 at 5:47 pm |
      • G to the T

        If that makes you feel better...lol... You really are grabbing at straws now are you? It rained for 40 days, the people that tried to get in drowned. Now you are saying they were all obliterated instantly and painlessly. Ok... if you say so I guess...

        September 17, 2013 at 4:16 pm |
    • John W.

      What's prayer doing for all the starving orphans with AIDS in Africa? I'll help you with this one: NOTHING.

      September 14, 2013 at 5:35 pm |
      • Observer

        That would be because God left you in charge of looking after your fellow man. Guess you're doing a lousy job of it.

        September 14, 2013 at 5:40 pm |
        • Observer

          fake Observer,

          It's great to see that you and atheists have one thing in common. You lie by claiming you are someone else and atheists agree with you that both of you don't believe the Bible when it says that God hates lies.

          September 14, 2013 at 5:48 pm |
      • John W

        Prayer is the foundation building block on which a million effective programs are built upon. Prayer feeds the hungry and heals the sick all over the world. Sadly I don't

        September 14, 2013 at 5:44 pm |
        • John W

          But I am quick to complain.

          September 14, 2013 at 5:44 pm |
  13. HenryMiller

    I don't care one way or the other what the extremists of either side say, what I care about are efforts to limit individual freedom. So far as I know, atheists don't do that much if at all, but people of religion—and not, so far as I know, just the extremists—seem intent on passing laws concerning abortion. If the religious object to abortions, that's certainly their prerogative, but it's most certainly not their prerogative to make those objection a matter of law affecting those who don't hold their beliefs.

    September 14, 2013 at 5:06 pm |
  14. Lionly Lamb

    Holistic cancer cures are found in the uses of herbal plants and not the pharmacologists pharmacological manufacturing of pharmaceutical drugs which are artificial knock offs of herbal plants of which the main herbal plant is cannabis sativa...

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=qgEP9FdIzT8

    September 14, 2013 at 5:04 pm |
    • Observer

      Does cannabis cause such severe brain damage that it makes people talk about totally different topics in the middle of a religious discussion?

      September 14, 2013 at 5:13 pm |
      • G to the T

        Not in my experience... I have NO IDEA what this one's on...

        September 17, 2013 at 4:18 pm |
  15. The Bible is a badly written book of fairy tales

    I can respect a Christian as a person, but don't ask me to respect their beliefs. There is nothing to respect in someone who believes in nonsense such as religion.

    September 14, 2013 at 5:04 pm |
    • MakingSense

      That is pure hypocrisy, you said you could respect a religious person but you are insulting what that person believe in. That is not what respecting someone is about.

      September 14, 2013 at 5:10 pm |
      • G to the T

        Are you willing to admit that god may not exist? I contend that we cannot KNOW if there's a god either way. So I'm willing to keep the "god exists" option open (pending better data). Are you willing to do the same? If not, then you cannot respect my beliefs.

        Certainty of one's position is the end of fruitful dialog...

        September 17, 2013 at 4:20 pm |
    • HZD

      Your "name" indicates the exact lack of interaction or respect that the author is addressing. Perhaps the Bible is wrong, but be honest with yourself. The history of the world has been profoundly shaped by biblical ideas, their interpretation, and their application. The Bible is not badly written, and it isn't a collection of fairy tales, regardless of your views on God. Go read the book of Isaiah. Wrestle with it–what is he saying? What is the author struggling with? What does he believe? Why does he have hope? The Bible is something vastly more complex than a fairy tale; it touches on the deepest sensibilities of the human spirit and points to (or creates) hope that has inspired literally billions of people. The same is not true of Cinderella.

      September 14, 2013 at 5:17 pm |
  16. KBW

    Everything you have ever been told about why we are here and how we got here are lies, propped up by more lies to keep the greedy in control. We are all going to hell simply because we don't adhere to someone else's ideas. So Hell is going to be a very crowded place because we are ALL going to be there. Judeo-Christians only speak of the last 6 thousand years. They left out history of the rest of the world.

    September 14, 2013 at 4:58 pm |
  17. Mr. T. Bag

    So the moderator here is censoring posts??
    –Now that's just typical.

    September 14, 2013 at 4:55 pm |
    • Observer

      There needs to be some kind of censorship when someone will use another person's handle to falesly accuse someone of being a child molester.

      September 14, 2013 at 5:00 pm |
      • Mr. T. Bag

        I AM REFERRING TO THE NEWS.
        NOW STOP BEING A HYPOCRITE. And allow a dissenting opinion to be posted.
        This is not IRAN!

        September 14, 2013 at 5:13 pm |
  18. Ted

    meh...

    September 14, 2013 at 4:54 pm |
  19. Kenneth

    What this article shows, as many articles on many different topics before have shown, is that most people are not interested in civil dialogue.
    It seems to be all about beating your chest and shouting the loudest and most profanely at anyone who doesn't hold the same religious/political/social/sports/dog-vs-cat views as you.
    With that, I bid you all peace, prosperity and restful sleep.

    September 14, 2013 at 4:53 pm |
    • MakingSense

      @Kenneth
      I agree with you to a certain point. Next time you see an article about a very sick children, make sure you read the commentaries below the article. You will see people saying good things, you will also see people sending messages of hope. Some will send their prayers and you will also see a bunch of atheists lunatics jumping in there and insulting others. These people just don't have any compassion for any other people but themselves.

      September 14, 2013 at 5:06 pm |
      • Jon Dough

        Well it is you throwing the ad-hominem attacks. The other theists trying to tell us our lack of belief is one. You theists bash science through computers and the internet. The irony of it all is too funny.

        September 14, 2013 at 5:20 pm |
  20. Martin Albright

    I was raised Christian but have drifted away from what I saw as a narrow minded mindset with much hypocrisy. I believe that there must be a superior force that has given us great gifts in this world. Just the fact that the world and the diversity of life here exists is a miracle in itself. But I do not believe that God has a religion or denomination. The thing that worries me is not the outspoken believers of either belief, but the fact that we have so many politicians in a position of power that have such strong beliefs that they know the only truth is fundamentalist Christianity. There are good reasons that our forefathers set forth separation of church and state.

    September 14, 2013 at 4:52 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      Liberal Christianity is just as dangerous to the USA and more so to the World.

      September 14, 2013 at 4:55 pm |
    • lol?? Your comment is awaiting moderation.

      Separation of church and state will never be enough for atheism as long as Christians are the temple. The push will continue.

      September 14, 2013 at 4:55 pm |
      • G to the T

        I know you very much want to believe that...

        September 17, 2013 at 4:05 pm |
    • MakingSense

      @Martin

      You're just another wanna be christian.

      September 14, 2013 at 4:57 pm |
    • TO

      Like.

      September 14, 2013 at 5:03 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.