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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. MelissaMeyer

    Odd how it's good ole' Christian family and "friends" telling me I'm burning in hell regularly, or possessed by the devil, in the grip of demons or call me names other than my own, etc. Really it's typically a combination of those. The erratic cut and paste dialog of these relatives pales in comparison to the unfriending and estrangement from other so called "religious" relatives.
    One day I happened upon one of these religious "friends" that had just been in a car accident, I helped them of course, despite earlier in that day that very individual stating I was in the grip of the devil. It was only later I learned they had robbed me blind that very day too. If I'm to believe in god then perhaps he was guiding their car after all after they robbed my property.

    September 14, 2013 at 8:09 pm |
    • BiblesMakeGoodTP

      Be well 🙂

      Don't cave in. You have morals and beauty and courage, and none of this came from "their god".

      But leave this place you are and separate yourself from these crazies and their destructive belief systems. There's a garden out there somewhere just for you sister, I would bet on it, you just have to work to find it 🙂

      Be happy.

      September 14, 2013 at 8:57 pm |
  2. John P. Tarver

    You really trolled the atheists in with this one Rachel.

    September 14, 2013 at 8:06 pm |
    • bostontola

      Tarver is a troll, ignore it.

      September 14, 2013 at 8:09 pm |
      • What is going on? FREEDOM

        Of course he is. He denies that black holes even exist even though scientists have already found black holes in the galaxy.

        September 14, 2013 at 8:11 pm |
        •  

          Godless Vagabond
          And his wacko beliefs don't end there.

          September 14, 2013 at 8:34 pm |
  3. bostontola

    Weird that Christians, which comprise about 75% of the US population want to make a silence deal with atheists (less than 5% of the US population). That only makes sense if you think you are losing the argument. You have to admit its impressive that such a tiny minority can fluster the vast majority so profoundly.

    September 14, 2013 at 8:03 pm |
    • Hey! You!

      They have a better argument.

      September 14, 2013 at 8:05 pm |
      • bostontola

        Only if you prefer facts and evidence over faith and hope.

        September 14, 2013 at 8:08 pm |
    • Time For You To Grow Up...

      'No Religion' is the fastest growing belief system in the US... And you can thank the crazy, right-wing Christians for that... Every time a rational person hears one of them spout off about hell, creationism or the rapture, another atheist is born.

      September 14, 2013 at 8:07 pm |
      • bostontola

        True, although the majority of "nones" are not atheists.

        September 14, 2013 at 8:11 pm |
        • Time For You To Grow Up...

          Not yet, but they probably will be... Without religious dogma clouding their rational judgement, a disbelief in god is the next logical step.

          September 14, 2013 at 8:13 pm |
        • bostontola

          You're probably right. It may take a couple of generations.

          September 14, 2013 at 8:16 pm |
      • jens gessner

        Well, I would thank my science teachers instead:

        Richard Dawkins (Evolutionary Biology)
        Richard Carrier (Ancient History)
        Sam Harris (Neuroscience)
        Neil D Grasse Tyson (Astrophysics)
        Lawrence Krauss (Theoretical Physics)

        Religious folk had nothing to do with it.

        September 14, 2013 at 8:14 pm |
    • Exo-neo-cont-7894b

      Love it! Well said!

      But its just good math, science and reason I mean , whereas most religions are just plain BAD MATH. The concept "eternal" being a good example.

      September 14, 2013 at 8:10 pm |
    • Kyle

      Terribly inaccurate statistics

      September 14, 2013 at 8:10 pm |
      • bostontola

        What are the correct stats then?

        September 14, 2013 at 8:12 pm |
    • lulany

      First of all, this is one woman's article and as far as I know she hasn't been elected as a representative of all believers. Second, she's just trying to appeal to people of all beliefs to be fair and kind to one another. Anyone with a good heart will take that message at face value and not try to use a gesture of good will to bring down the other side.

      September 14, 2013 at 8:12 pm |
      • bostontola

        I disagree. She misrepresented Dawkins comments.

        September 14, 2013 at 8:14 pm |
  4. Ottis

    I pretty much always ignore the crazy religious people. It is the rest of the religious people that I worry about.

    September 14, 2013 at 8:02 pm |
  5. Richard

    How about I agree to not call out your crazy religious brethren for their urge to return us to the dark ages if you stop pointing out when Dawkins speaks truths that make you uncomfortable?

    September 14, 2013 at 8:01 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      If Dawkins is speaking truth about molestation it would be a first.

      September 14, 2013 at 8:05 pm |
    • Oceanus

      Whether the author is right or wrong for having a belief in (a) god, your reply is toxic, and does not create a peaceful atmosphere for people to find the truth, whatever that truth is.

      September 14, 2013 at 8:10 pm |
    • Oceanus

      My experience of life leans me more toward atheism, let me spell that out. Too many things just should not be if the claims of the western theistic beliefs were true. Maybe I am wrong though.

      Before the point of my earlier reply to Richard gets misinterpreted, it should be spelled out like this: that replying aggressively does not convince anybody, it only causes them to be entrenched deeper in their beliefs. All of us, atheist and theist alike, have the responsibility not to act on tribalistic instinct and escalate the spirit of hostility and supress the spirit of clear thinking.

      Rather, if the theists are wrong (as I currently believe at this point in my life) let them hit their bottom quietly; act only as necessary to make sure that their more deranged members are not able to force their views on us.

      September 14, 2013 at 8:24 pm |
  6. R W

    "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.".

    Christian's are not interested in finding the truth, nor are any religious people. All religious text is written without any proof that the words in them are "truth". They are believed to be truth without question, they don't seek to validate this proof, they just accept its as.

    So saying that Christian's are interested in finding the truth is asinine. . Atheist have to prove that GOD isn't real, but Christians do not have to prove that GOD is real. There is more that enough evidence to disprove pretty much everything in the bible, but Christians will never accept it as. Hence not interested in finding the truth.

    September 14, 2013 at 8:00 pm |
    • Dippy

      Christians, not Christian's.

      September 14, 2013 at 8:02 pm |
      • fallen angel

        Hey Dippy you suck wet donkey B@LLS

        September 14, 2013 at 8:13 pm |
        • Dippy

          And they're very good with a little "poop-on" mustard.

          September 14, 2013 at 8:19 pm |
    • DNADEB

      So you think Dr. Francis Collins, head of the NIH and a very fine scientist who is a Christian, is someone who is totally misguided and has nothing worth listening to? He certainly has a lot more to show for his life than a majority of people in the US. Or maybe there is more to it than some of the minority of rightwing religious groups who may not be interpreting their Bible correctly?

      September 14, 2013 at 8:16 pm |
    • Exo-neo-cont-7894b

      YO, what this person said. !!
      This is exactly what I have found after living with Christians in my house for 4+ years now. They really don't care to learn anything new but they do ensure that they read their bible at least 2 hours every day. So I sneaked a peak since its been decades since I read it cover to cover. LOL. So I started a game and every now and then when they are not around I open it randomly to 3 different pages and start reading. My words are complete cow dung, usually within less than 10 words. It's circular talking, always looping back on itself establishing the rules to memorize (no wonder there are so many contradictions, not to mention the scores of authors, not to mention there were NO WOMEN writing it, not to mention it was written 300 years after J-Man's unfortunate staking, not to mention the whole King James "lock 'em in a room write me the kind of bible I want to see" fiasco)

      So. why is this.

      Here's why. (same reason humans do drugs or drink or watch too much tv or have too much animals passions or get fat)

      EGO. Feed the ego, protect the SELF. Self. Me.

      Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me.

      This is what Humans are concerned with. So if you tell a Human that he will exist after his death and that that "eternal soul" of his , is in jeopardy.........well, you could get a man to do almost anything if he truly believed that he had one of these "souls" and that there was something called an "afterlife" and that there were "Creators" and that some form of "Utopia or Valhalla or heaven" existed.

      So REAL LIFE is wasted. Hours every day. Every Sunday each week. Imagine how much thought every single day and thus how much time/energy/usefulness/LIFE gets used up by people thinking that they are excellent Christians/Jews/Muslims/Devout Hindus etc simply so that their "eternal soul" is safeguarded and this fictional NEXT LIFE that they so devoutly believe in will be THEIRS.

      Ego. Sad.

      IMHO Humans are at an equivalent stage of development to....perhaps a 20 month old Human Female (or a 3 year old Human Male)

      Give up on your gods kids. Thor was cool. Bast was hot. Tiamat was wrath incarnate. Bhrama created this verse. Buddha is not a god but he dwells with them. Manjushree's flaming sword of TRUTH will be your true judgement upon death? 🙂 Just stories.

      Good Night from Guam.

      September 14, 2013 at 8:25 pm |
  7. Lloyd Clarke

    Hey Athiests, let's make a deal? How about this for a deal. You keep believing in fairy tales and myths and whining when people point out that you are foolish. Meanwhile we athiests will just keep making fun of your stupidity. Fair enough? Every time a religious person squeals about mean athiests unfairly criticizing religion it just makes me laugh. Have your supreme being call me when he gets done watching the human race destroy the planet.

    September 14, 2013 at 7:57 pm |
    • Kenneth

      I think you are one of the people of whom the author was speaking.

      September 14, 2013 at 8:00 pm |
      • Richard

        I think the author is reaching at straws. She is trying to put science and fantasy on equal footing because a scientist expressed an opinion about a social/historical issue that some people find disconcerting.

        September 14, 2013 at 8:04 pm |
        • Kenneth

          I agree. She is reaching at straws to think the average human can have a respectful conversation with another human.
          Whether discussing religion, philosophy, sports, politics or whether dogs are better pets than cats, I have found respectful, rational dialogue to be nearly impossible for people who do not share exactly, precisely the same viewpoint.

          September 14, 2013 at 8:07 pm |
        • Jon Dough

          Kenneth most of the ad-hominem attacks have been flung by the theists.

          September 14, 2013 at 8:13 pm |
        • Kenneth

          Jon, I would say they have been pretty even. I have had my education, which is robust, and my intelligence, which is in the top 10%, insulted by people who can't spell or use punctuation.

          September 14, 2013 at 8:17 pm |
        • Exo-neo-cont-7894b

          Kenneth, I salute you, be well...

          September 14, 2013 at 8:30 pm |
    • Hey! You!

      Right now he's watching Notre Dame take on Purdue.

      September 14, 2013 at 8:03 pm |
  8. Kenneth

    Many good people do good works under the umbrella of their faith.
    Many bad people commit atrocities under the umbrella of their faith.

    Would it not be interesting to watch and see what their actions would be if you took their faith away and left them to their own devices?

    I would go out on a limb and say most people would act exactly the same, only they would find another excuse.

    September 14, 2013 at 7:56 pm |
    • Exo-neo-cont-7894b

      WELL SAID 🙂

      September 14, 2013 at 8:31 pm |
    • Exo-neo-cont-7894b

      ...which bring us back to EDUCATION
      for all Humans...

      This should be the Human Goal.

      September 14, 2013 at 8:32 pm |
  9. Dan Drew

    Too bad it's every day, "normal" Christians that are telling me that me and my kids are going to burn in hell. To my face. So, nice attempt, but I don't think so.

    September 14, 2013 at 7:51 pm |
  10. Time For You To Grow Up...

    Jesus healed the sick, fed the hungry and preached tolerance... Why do Christians do exactly the opposite??

    September 14, 2013 at 7:50 pm |
    • Kenneth

      Because the people you are thinking of embrace the power of the religion and not its tenets.
      Many people of all faiths do exactly what you speak of, quietly and without fanfare or compensation.

      September 14, 2013 at 7:52 pm |
      • Time For You To Grow Up...

        So, if their morals are the opposite from what's actually practiced by the church, why don't they leave?? By staying, they're giving a de facto acceptance of that ideology.

        September 14, 2013 at 7:56 pm |
        • Kenneth

          Not sure I understand who you are talking about. The people who do good works stay because they believe in the work they are doing and the reason.
          The people who abuse under the name of religion stay because it is an easy power base.

          September 14, 2013 at 7:59 pm |
        • Time For You To Grow Up...

          The point is... Why affiliate yourself with an organization that espouses many of the OPPOSITE ideals you do??

          September 14, 2013 at 8:05 pm |
    • Jon Dough

      In the following parable, Jesus clearly approves of beating slaves even if they didn't know they were doing anything wrong.

      The servant will be severely punished, for though he knew his duty, he refused to do it. "But people who are not aware that they are doing wrong will be punished only lightly. Much is required from those to whom much is given, and much more is required from those to whom much more is given." (Luke 12:47-48 NLT)

      They are doing exactly what the buy-bull tells them.

      September 14, 2013 at 7:55 pm |
    • R W

      You spelled Doctors wrong.

      September 14, 2013 at 8:03 pm |
      • Huh?

          

        September 14, 2013 at 8:07 pm |
  11. sick of christian phonies

    What she says sounds nice- let's not take the extremists as spokesmen for everyone else. But the book Christianity is based on is extreme in itself! Read the horrific Old Testament- god ordering death to people that gather sticks on the sabbath, among many other capital offenses. THIS god was an extremist- no wonder he inspires fanaticism in many of his sheep!
    Playing hideous mind games on Job, and Abraham, and others...killing Lot's wife- a good woman by his own reckoning- because she looked back at Sodom- ordering unbelievers to be killed... he is a true megalomaniac. An insecure egomaniac, too: he makes 10 commandments and the first 3 all revolve around him in stupid, petty ways- don't take my name in vain? That's a big deal?- while he fails to prohibit slavery, or child or woman abuse in them.
    If the book wasn't so extremist maybe the adherents wouldn't be.

    September 14, 2013 at 7:48 pm |
  12. lulany

    What a great article. If only more people thought like you.

    September 14, 2013 at 7:46 pm |
  13. NorthVanCan

    It should be illegal for anyone 18 years of age or less to enter a church. Like the military or alcohol , some things kids should be protected from.
    Is it fair to brain wash a kid and leave him confused for the rest of his life?
    I think not.

    September 14, 2013 at 7:46 pm |
    • Kenneth

      Does that also apply to parents' political views? Their views on race? Sports? Social standing?
      While I applaud your idea, it might be better expose them to as many religions and non-religious people as possible and then let them make up their own minds when they get older.

      September 14, 2013 at 7:49 pm |
      • NorthVanCan

        I'm confident that given the choice and accurate information kids will do the right thing.
        Most of the time.

        September 14, 2013 at 7:52 pm |
      • NorthVanCan

        I find it interesting how many religious people don't, can't and refuse to understand what Atheism is. Almost as if their brains can't compute a world with out a belief system . I shouldn't be surprised, but still I am .

        September 14, 2013 at 9:41 pm |
    • sick of christian phonies

      There is a reason the Jesuits believed "Give me the child until he is seven and I will give you the man".... they knew that beliefs inculcated in the formative years will last forever, in most cases.

      September 14, 2013 at 7:51 pm |
    • lulany

      The thing is, you can't take away a parent's right to raise their kids within their own sets of beliefs and values (or lack of for that matter). My teen goes to school everyday with kids who are disrespectful to their peers and teachers, come to class high, smoke at lunchtime (with their parent's permission) and cause all kinds of problems that affect all other students. Some are just bad apples most most are just badly raised and are not only not disciplined appropriately by their parents but often times they are enabled by them. Bad parenting should be illegal but where do you draw the line and who decides? And I personally if I had to choice of who my child is surrounded by I would pick the kid raised in a religious faith with strict values and principals over the one's described above any day.

      September 14, 2013 at 8:03 pm |
      • Exo-neo-cont-7894b

        you have an immensely valid point. I detest Christianity and near nigh all religions (an analytical form of detesting, not like angry hatred or anything, but like Oscar Wilde, I just don't deal well with stupidity) but at least they do have SOME moral framework. I mean its these guys who operate and run numerous charitable organizations, food banks, soup kitchens etc etc. Its probably the only really really good thing about christians, is they do love to spread this kind of good. Unfortunately they follow it up all the way with believing in lies and metaphysical tripe!

        September 14, 2013 at 8:40 pm |
    • Exo-neo-cont-7894b

      Well said!

      I never went there, but wow...wouldn't that be grand?

      Imagine there's no Heaven...its easy if you try...

      September 14, 2013 at 8:35 pm |
  14. Steve

    If you think Barack Obama is dumb enough to believe in a religion, than you are even dumber than you would need to be to believe in religion.

    Grow up and take the world from these pathetic god delusion dark ages of ignorance and subsequent immorality and unnecessary evils stemming from such negligent careless ignorance...

    September 14, 2013 at 7:45 pm |
    • AON

      What a fucking stupid comment. You have no clue what the POTUS believes, faith wise. Grow up yourself, little boy.

      September 14, 2013 at 7:49 pm |
  15. jens gessner

    Rachel seems to be suggesting that we should dismiss extremist voices of 'the other side' in the discourse, because they do not represent the mainstream. But there is a huge difference between an atheist scientist, Dawkins, who expresses his own, controversial opinion on a matter unrelated to atheism, and an christian evangelist, Robertson, whose irrational preaching makes its way into public policy.

    Thus, IF Richard Dawkins' comment about his own childhood experience resulted in people demanding changes in the criminal code, or IF his assessment of the long-term effect of 'mild pedophila' caused proposed changes in public policy and the way we view child abuse, then Rachel would have a valid argument. – But nobody, atheist or not, is making any such proposals.

    Therefore, Rachel Evans' argument is invalid.

    September 14, 2013 at 7:43 pm |
    • jens gessner

      oops. I thought the first one did not make it?

      September 14, 2013 at 7:44 pm |
  16. jens gessner

    As I see it, the biggest problem that atheists have with religion is NOT that religious people are irrational. – They are deluded, for sure, but why should I care about their delusions? The bigger problem is religion's insistence on influencing public policy based on irrational belief (the most serious issue is, of course, competing religious views and their resulting threat to all of humanity, but that is beside the point).

    Rachel seems to be suggesting that we should dismiss extremist voices of 'the other side' in the discourse, because they do not represent the mainstream. But there is a huge difference between an atheist scientist, Dawkins, who expresses his own, controversial opinion on a matter unrelated to atheism, and an christian evangelist, Robertson, whose irrational preaching makes its way into public policy.

    Thus, IF Richard Dawkins' comment about his own childhood experience resulted in people demanding changes in the criminal code, or IF his assessment of the long-term effect of 'mild pedophila' caused proposed changes in public policy and the way we view child abuse, then Rachel would have a valid argument. – But nobody, atheist or not, is making any such proposals.

    Therefore, the argument the Rachel Evans made is invalid.

    September 14, 2013 at 7:41 pm |
    • Jake

      Good post jens.

      September 14, 2013 at 7:53 pm |
    • BiblesMakeGoodTP

      good post.

      September 14, 2013 at 9:01 pm |
  17. bostontola

    "all the world’s Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though.”

    This is a factual statement, why was it used to illustrate outrageous comments?

    September 14, 2013 at 7:41 pm |
    • Jake

      Boston, go back to the last page. I'm waiting for your reply.

      September 14, 2013 at 7:51 pm |
      • bostontola

        Thanks Jake, I replied.

        September 14, 2013 at 7:57 pm |
  18. Jon Dough

    Kill Nonbelievers

    They entered into a covenant to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, with all their heart and soul; and everyone who would not seek the Lord, the God of Israel, was to be put to death, whether small or great, whether man or woman. (2 Chronicles 15:12-13 NAB)

    Yeah this is moral and just.

    September 14, 2013 at 7:38 pm |
    • Observer

      As always, no concern about whether the woman is pregnant or not.

      September 14, 2013 at 7:45 pm |
    • Alex Powers

      If you knew the context of that text then you wouldn't be citing that on the comments page. Read the story. Its about a community of people who set themselves to a really high standard and they punished themselves for not following their oath they made. They were not commanded to do these things! I do not mind you challenging scripture because everyone should do that, believers or unbelievers, but just know the context before you start posting things carelessly.

      September 14, 2013 at 7:56 pm |
      • Jon Dough

        Anyone arrogant enough to reject the verdict of the judge or of the priest who represents the LORD your God must be put to death. Such evil must be purged from Israel. (Deuteronomy 17:12 NLT)
        More death from your buy-bull, seems atheists know more about your book than you do.

        September 14, 2013 at 8:03 pm |
  19. Bob

    I agree fully with the author. The raging animosity between those who believe and those who do not believe is absurd. I am not an atheist. I am an agnostic, tried and true. I believe both Dawkins and Robertson are fringe lunatics who do not represent the majority, moderate portion of those following their ideologies, much like the ultra left wing lunatic liberals and the Tea Party. The are diametrically opposed. It is the fringe of both believers and non-believers that cause the friction, the animus, the ad hominem arguments thrown back and forth. I don't care what you believe, or if you do not believe. That is your choice, either way. And both sides need to stop trying to jam their decision down the throats of the opposing side, and then degrading them when they refuse to accept it. Does that sound hard to do?

    September 14, 2013 at 7:36 pm |
    • donna

      Dawkins is an agnostic too. It's odd the way you say "tried and true" like you're supported a ball team. Agnostic just means you understand you can't prove or disprove mysticism or the existence of a deity. It's not exclusive of being an atheist or a believer.

      September 14, 2013 at 7:48 pm |
      • Bob

        "Dawkins is an agnostic too. It's odd the way you say "tried and true" like you're supported a ball team. Agnostic just means you understand you can't prove or disprove mysticism or the existence of a deity. It's not exclusive of being an atheist or a believer."

        Donna, I include your entire post here so as to be sure I address your points. First, by tried and true I mean I have thought long and hard, (as have you, I'm sure), and decided to be an agnostic. Agnosticism has nothing to do with proving or disproving anything. The definition of an agnostic is: "a person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God or of anything beyond material phenomena; a person who claims neither faith nor disbelief in God" That is exactly where I am. My personal choices in this matter are: one, total disbelief in a god, or : two, take the blind leap of faith and just believe in a god. I am on the horns of a dilemma here. I can do neither of the two options proposed by believers and non-believers. There are many other reasons for my position, but this is at least a brief summary of where I stand.

        September 14, 2013 at 8:03 pm |
        • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

          Bob,

          Are you agnostic to all gods? For instance Zues? Or could you say you are an Atheist when it comes to Zues?

          Most "atheists" are agnostic when it comes to a deistic god...but are atheistic when confronted with any definition of specific gods.

          September 14, 2013 at 8:27 pm |
        • donna

          Are you kidding me right now- my definition and your definition mean the same things. Read the original definition- the concept is that we cannot know for sure, can't be proven.

          Huxley, the man who invented the word. made it clear that it was intended to refer to a method of thinking not a creed- not a statement of belief, so it does not contradict a belief. I'll grant you that there are other meaning evolving such as people who actively withhold forming a belief about a deity, but that doesn't mean the original definition doesn't stand.

          September 14, 2013 at 8:34 pm |
      • Exo-neo-cont-7894b

        Nicely put! 🙂

        September 14, 2013 at 8:05 pm |
        • Bob

          Thank you.

          September 14, 2013 at 8:23 pm |
      • Bob

        Donna, I had a feeling you might reply to me in the manner in which you did, and it is perfectly valid. I think the difference in my mind is that I'm not trying to prove or disprove anything. I am admitting I don't have the intellectual wherewithal to make such a determination. In so many words, I'm too dumb to understand. Fine with me. Maybe someday I will have an epiphany of some sort and the lights will go on. But in the meantime, I just don't know.

        And I'm not sure about your comment regarding Huxley, and the word he invented. My understanding of agnostic is based in the Greek definition, agnōstos unknown, unknowable. Regardless, I think we are on the same page, just lost in the semantics.

        September 14, 2013 at 9:04 pm |
        • donna

          Maybe you're a buddhist. ; ) You sound pretty Zen.

          Huxley was the first to use it as agnostic (to make and English word out of it), and it was a reference to Gnostics, but not exclusively towards them. He wanted it as an alternative to people (believers and non believers) who claimed to know the truth about the subject. So he would oppose it to atheists who claim to know for sure that there is no god, but it does not oppose atheists who don't claim certainty.

          Dawkins, btw, concedes there is a small possibility a god exists, he does not claim to know for sure that it does not. He just believes is does not (kind of like if you're going to bet, which do you think is more likely). So an agnostic atheist is someone who doesn't believe there is a god, but doesn't think it's knowable as fact.

          The greek word isn't specific to religious/mystical difference, it simply means unknown. So Huxley's part was to make it a formal philosophical term.

          September 14, 2013 at 9:47 pm |
      • Bob

        Damn woman! You keep coming back with good answers...lol. At the advice of you, and few others on the board, I retract my statement that Dawkins is a lunatic. Some quick research has piqued my curiousity regarding Dawkins. I also understand the concept of atheist/agnostic. If you have read the article on Yahoo regarding the “Six tribes of atheism”, and regardless of the quality of the journalism, I place myself in the class of a “seeking agnostic”. Does that make any sense? Who knows, but for now it works for me. As for being a buddisst....I may have a big enough belly, but not the intellect or insight.! Besides, it's getting late on a Saturday night and the football and the beers are catching up with me.....LOL

        September 14, 2013 at 10:27 pm |
        • donna

          Cheers Bob, It was a delight to talk with you! Good night! I think I will pull myself off too.

          September 14, 2013 at 11:10 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Bob,

      I certainly don't agree with Dawkins on several issues....but what has he said or done to be considered a "lunatic"? Especially as compared to Robertson?

      September 14, 2013 at 7:48 pm |
      • Bob

        "Are you agnostic to all gods? For instance Zues? Or could you say you are an Atheist when it comes to Zues?

        Most "atheists" are agnostic when it comes to a deistic god...but are atheistic when confronted with any definition of specific gods."

        Cheesey, if I may be so familiar..lol. That is a great question! No one has ever posed it to me in quite that manner. In a nutshell, as best I can anyway, my issue regarding god comes from my upbringing in the Roman Catholic Church. But after 16 years of it, I got over it. The problem in my feeble mind is this: “God is infinite, omnipresent, omniscient” So my catechism taught me. But, being a mere mortal man, I have a finite brain. How can a finite creature begin to grasp the infinite? Einstein and Stephen Hawkings have come close, but I am not in their league. I cannot grasp an infinite being. So where does that leave me? The blind leap of faith. I don't have the strength to do that, freely admitted. And as Gandhi once said... "Faith... must be enforced by reason... when faith becomes blind it dies”

        As for Zeus, Thor, etc., I have never really thought about them, but I think my basic position would fit them. Thanks for a challenging question.

        September 14, 2013 at 8:44 pm |
        • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

          Bob,

          Sounds like we could have an interesting discussion in another situation. I was raised Catholic too, Catholic school, the whole bit.

          I never wanted to really challenge my Christian beliefs because I had an idea where that would lead. I ended up rejecting Catholocism because it was obvious they did not have a higher "truth" than anyone else. I was then forced to confront the reasons for my beliefs and I realized I was an atheist. I also don't think atheism and agnosticism are mutually exclusive. If you are interested I will explain.

          September 14, 2013 at 9:34 pm |
      • Bob

        Cheesemaker (love the ID..lol) I think we could have a “real conversation” about this in another forum separate from the fanatics on either side. I came to the realization in college that everything I had been taught was so much subject to my “believing in God” that it became unpalatalbe to me. When I finally stopped going to “church” my mother, a fervent catholic, asked me why I was falling away from the church? I told her I was not falling from anything, but rather making an informed decision to walk away. We have since made up...lol. Nonetheless, a persons decision to believe or not believe is what it is.. a personal decision. I am the last person in the world to criticize that. I may have an opinion, just like everyone else in the world, but they are like hineys. Everyones has one. And by defintion they cannot be wrong. As for athiest vs. agnostic, Yahoo has an article at the top of this page about the 6 types of atheists. It is actually worth reading. I classify myself as a “seeking agnostic” Nice chatting with you.

        September 14, 2013 at 9:53 pm |
        • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

          Bob,

          I feel for you with your mother, mine isn't happy either (staunch Catholic) and mine doesn't even know I am an atheist.

          Here is my take on Atheism/agnosticism

          It has to do with the difference between what you believe and what you think you know. For any particular god that you can imagine, a "theist" is one who has a belief in that god. In contrast, an "atheist" is one who does not have a belief in the god. A "gnostic" is one who knows about the existence of god and an "agnostic" is one who thinks that god is unknowable.

          Notice that the terms "atheist" and "agnostic", by these definitions, are not mutually exclusive. You could be an agnostic atheist, meaning you don't think that the existence of gods is knowable, but you don't choose to believe in one without further proof. Many people assume that atheists believe that gods can be proved not to exist, but this isn't strictly true and there is no proper word to describe this. You could call such a person an "untheist", perhaps. Or, you could just call such a person a "gnostic atheist", one who doesn't believe in a god and thinks that his non-belief can be proved.

          So there are four possible ways one could be.

          1. Agnostic-Theist: believes god exists, but the existence of a god is unknowable
          2. Gnostic-Theist: believes in a god for which he claims knowledge
          3. Agnostic-Atheist: does not believe god exists, but it can't be proved
          4. Gnostic-Atheist: believes it can be proved that god does not exist

          I also don't think "beliefs" are "choices". I think this is a fallacy religion likes to spread because otherwise it makes the morality of said religion untenable. I didn't choose atheism, I realized that is what I was. I could not more "choose" to be Christian at this point as I could choose to believe in Pink Unicorns.

          I agree opinions are a dime a dozen but I do take issue that they are therefore "equal". They are not.

          September 14, 2013 at 10:29 pm |
      • Bob

        Dude! Good stuff! I just hope the beers and football don't start catching up to my ability to think! Your four categories make sense. My only difference would be on #2. A gnostic theist is just someone who believes in a god, and should be excluded from any conversation regarding agnostics or atheists. As for the others, I think there might be other defintions. For example, I am an agnostic. My reason for taking that position is that I don't know that the existence, or non-existence of a god, can be proven or disproven. (How does one prove a negative?) I cannot rely on “faith” to accept the existence of a god. I need proof of an infinitie being. Until such time, I cannot say yes or no. But I am still seeking an answer. An answer that may well be beyong my ability to comprehend, in which case, I am no better off than I am now. If you have read the article on Yahoo regarding the “Six tribes of Atheism”, and regardless of the quality of the journalism, I place myself in the class of a “seeking agnostic”. I'm must not sure. Regardless, my 4 children, raised as Quakers, (The Religious Society of Friend, no, not Amish..lol) all understand that there may or my not be a god. It is their choice to make based on their thought processes, education, and experince. I can't begin to tell you how many hours long conversations I have had with them on this very topic. It is nice to see you people think about something we had shoved down our throats.

        September 14, 2013 at 11:19 pm |
        • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

          Bob,

          Keep searching, I have all the respect in the world for someone honestly seeking truth, but I never trust anyone who has claimed to have "found" truth.

          September 14, 2013 at 11:46 pm |
    • bostontola

      Bob,
      You should do more research. Dawkins may be aggressive, but what he says is at least 95% fact and evidence based. Robertson says opinion that is also aggressive but too often hateful.

      September 14, 2013 at 7:55 pm |
      • Bob

        To both Cheesemaker and Boston, thanks for your comments. I may be suffering from the terrible situation of "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing" Well, no "may" involved. I am! Again, thanks!

        September 14, 2013 at 8:27 pm |
  20. bostontola

    No deal. Attack Dawkins, who cares (not Dawkins).

    Dawkins is not the atheist pope. Atheists have no such leader or representative.

    Typical of a religious person to want to suppress discourse. When a person from either side says something wrong, call them on it. Agreeing to ignore ignorant statements might help the religious side, but it doesn't advance truth.

    September 14, 2013 at 7:35 pm |
    • Jake

      Hey, it's my old friend / enemy bostontola! The religious people can't seem to offer any intelligent discussion, so perhaps we can spar. How do you feel about childhood indoctrination? That is one of my biggest issues with religion. If they didn't brain-wash children, something I consider to be a form of mental abuse, there wouldn't be many religious adults. How do you think we can and / or should prevent this?

      September 14, 2013 at 7:42 pm |
      • bostontola

        Hey Jake,
        I completely agree that there would be almost no religion if parents didn't infect their children with it. I don't think you can do anything about it. Children learn how to be functional members of society from parents. It has been that way all along and I can't conceive of a better approach. You have to take the bad with the good. I believe religion will diesel on for a while, expanding in poor, undereducated regions, reducing in regions that are well educated. The world is becoming more and more educated, at the same time science is expanding natural understanding at an exponential rate. I think that religion will fade in the long run even though it is highly contagious.

        September 14, 2013 at 7:51 pm |
        • Jake

          Darn, I completely agree. I guess I'll have to go back to the futile exercise of trying to enlighten religious people.

          September 14, 2013 at 7:59 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.