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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. Elcoguy

    The person who wrote this is an idiot. You can't compare Dawkins and Robertson. Pat Robertson is a doddering old fool who believes gay people give straight people AIDS by using secret razor rings and Dawkins is a respected academic.

    September 14, 2013 at 10:15 pm |
  2. Unfrozen Caveman

    Atheism is merely a word used to denote no belief in god or rather gods – as in all of the deities man has made over the eons. As such, I'm interested to hear more on the "evils" you or others prescribe to this lack of belief.

    On another point, those criticizing Dawkins seem to lack an understanding of nuance or degrees. Maybe read this to clear things up: http://www.richarddawkins.net/foundation_articles/2013/9/11/child-abuse-a-misunderstanding

    September 14, 2013 at 10:04 pm |
  3. Mary Smith

    Most of us just ignore the trolls.

    September 14, 2013 at 9:57 pm |
    • Mary Smith

      Trolls that look a lot like Mary Smith.

      September 14, 2013 at 9:59 pm |
  4. nothern Light

    "and already I’ve seen my fellow Christians seize the opportunity to rail against the evils of atheism."

    And just what are the evils of atheism?

    September 14, 2013 at 9:57 pm |
    • northern Light

      mass murder is an evil of atheism

      September 14, 2013 at 10:00 pm |
      • Jeeves

        Mass murder is an evil of religion.

        There. I fixed it for you.

        September 14, 2013 at 10:02 pm |
        • Jeeves

          Nope just hid the Truth like I always do.

          September 14, 2013 at 10:08 pm |
        • Jeeves

          You're a fucktard name stealing git who is too dishonest to use his own alias to refute a point and instead justifies their theivery by saying "how can I steal an alias?"
          Typical dicieving behavior by a typical lying religie. Asshole.

          September 14, 2013 at 10:17 pm |
        • Jeeves

          Just pointing out the errors of my ways, now you have the rest of the story.

          September 14, 2013 at 10:19 pm |
        • Cpt. Obvious

          Is your god proud of you and the tactics you use? You really don't think you're pulling one over on him, do you? Real Jeeves is right; you're a lying azzhole.

          September 14, 2013 at 10:34 pm |
      • jens gessner

        Nonsense.

        Mass murder is always evil, and I know of nobody who committed mass murder in the name of atheism.

        September 14, 2013 at 10:03 pm |
        • jens gessner

          not in the name of but because they were atheists there was no moral restraint.

          September 14, 2013 at 10:09 pm |
        • Cpt. Obvious

          God believers who claim to be killing and causing pain for their god are simply labeling their own murderous way "god's will." Just because a religitard claims his evil is moral doesn't mean that it is.

          Question: Is it moral for god to allow a place of eternal torture when he could destroy it? God has no morals.

          September 14, 2013 at 10:14 pm |
        • reasonablebe

          agreed, with the unusual exception of the ussr, perhaps, which didn't actually commit murder in the name of atheism but in the name of power to control....

          otherwise, most mass murders– as in by nations or leaders– have indeed been in the name of 1 religion over another. very horrid truth. and the mass murder was wither for 1 religious group or against one. examples, crusades, muslim reaction to, hitler, and lots of others...

          September 14, 2013 at 10:15 pm |
        • jens gessner

          For the moment, I am going to ignore the fact that you are using my name as a moniker.

          It makes no difference whether a mass murderer is an atheist or not. Religious tyrants have used their religion as justification for their evil. The devout Catholic Adolf Hitler comes to mind, who stated that he was doing a 'Christian deed' by eradicating Jewish people.

          September 14, 2013 at 10:17 pm |
        • jens gessner

          of course quoting hitler for truth is like getting a ham sandwich off a side of beef. hitler to those who truly knew him or those that accurately study history was an atheist.

          September 14, 2013 at 10:21 pm |
        • jens gessner

          Well, name stealer,

          it just so happened that there is nobody left who personally knew him, and who could confirm your assertion. Thus we only have historical records to guide us, and those records speak for themselves. Hitler was Catholic.

          By the way, I get why a coward would steal somebody's moniker. But mine is my real name.

          September 14, 2013 at 10:30 pm |
      • Doug

        Mass murder...LOL...who?go ahead and say Stalin or Mao...you're clueless if that's what you think

        September 14, 2013 at 10:04 pm |
      • Jerry

        As if all the atheists throughout history have caused even a miniscule fraction of needless death & suffering of the Roman Catholic Church, alone!

        September 14, 2013 at 10:15 pm |
        • Jerry

          Atheists appear in many disguises often claiming to be Christian to hide their true intent.

          September 14, 2013 at 10:23 pm |
      • Joe

        Not aware that a mass murder has ever been committed out of atheism. Please, state an example.

        September 14, 2013 at 10:37 pm |
      • mongol1

        "Mass murder is an evil of atheism" – oh really? Christianity has murdered more people in the name of religion, as has Islam, than atheists ever have or could do in the future. I'm not an "atheist" by the way. The root of all evil is when human beings think they have a monopoly on "truth". Only when all human beings realize that they are not enlightened enough to "know truth", and accept the potential that any spiritual path that makes one a better human being is valid will that root disappear. Frankly I don't see that happening in my lifetime or that of my grandchild either. Truly sad; makes one wonder if there is really any hope for humanity (and don't tell me that all I need is Jesus because 98% of Christians don't get Jesus' teachings anyway).

        September 14, 2013 at 10:37 pm |
    • Roger that

      Countries with a higher percentage of atheists have much fewer murders and ra pes.

      September 14, 2013 at 10:13 pm |
      • Roger that

        Countries that have had atheist dictators have all been subjected to mass murder often in the millions of victims. Historical fact.

        September 14, 2013 at 10:24 pm |
        • Roger that

          Someone finally used my name. HeavenSent is that you? Prayer bot?

          September 14, 2013 at 10:31 pm |
        • Heads Up

          Be aware that if/when you all report abuse on the troll, your replies will also disappear. You might not want to spend too much time, thought or typing on them. Blast him quick and severe, if you like, though.

          September 14, 2013 at 10:48 pm |
  5. JesuswasfromAFRICA

    personally I'm rooting for Anubis...

    put all of these Christians/Muslims/Jews/Hindus etc where they belong!

    where?

    huh?

    my turn to triumph!

    September 14, 2013 at 9:56 pm |
  6. Cosmic_joker

    Why do some many people knock religion? Its required for the less fortunate. Also, its one of the best scams in all of history, just wish it would allow a reach around once in a while.

    September 14, 2013 at 9:56 pm |
  7. Aaron

    How about, No.

    September 14, 2013 at 9:56 pm |
  8. Mandingo

    "but I’m convinced that both Christians and atheists are interested in the truth" hahahahaha I laughed for a good 2 minutes at that statement. Christians are not interested in the 'truth'. Isn't religion based on the fact that the 'truth' has already been revealed and you should live according to those truths? What a joke

    September 14, 2013 at 9:53 pm |
    • SweetMaryJaneTwiceTonightBeGood

      LOL, right on!

      September 14, 2013 at 9:58 pm |
      • pothead

        Mary jane? Hmmmmmm

        September 14, 2013 at 11:51 pm |
  9. skytag

    "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?"

    Christianity teaches that you should treat others as you would have them treat you, not that you'll do the right thing if they'll agree to do it too. Therefore as a Christian you should need no deal to do this. I have a different deal for Christians to consider: Start living your beliefs and I'll stop thinking you're a bunch of frauds.

    September 14, 2013 at 9:52 pm |
  10. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

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

      Here's how God treated children and NEVER named ONE SIN that the babies and fetuses had done.

      (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 9:50 pm |
    • Observer

      The one sin common to everyone was continual and only evil minds. Sin had become a genetic deformity that would have destroyed all creation. It was a wise healer who compassionately spared the righteous and cut off the cancer to save the future of mankind.

      September 14, 2013 at 9:55 pm |
      • Observer

        fake Observer,

        You keep coming on here and LYING about your name.

        Is that level of honesty the same as most Christians?

        September 14, 2013 at 9:59 pm |
        • Observer

          Observer is a fake?????????
          Since when is an alias a name?????????

          September 14, 2013 at 10:01 pm |
        • Cpt. Obvious

          Sounds like typical Christian behavior to me, real observer. They take their cue from their god who will kill babies and torture people forever and such.

          September 14, 2013 at 10:02 pm |
        • Observer

          fake Observer,

          Claiming to be me is a LIE.

          Is your level of HONESTY the same as that of most Chrisitians?

          September 14, 2013 at 10:03 pm |
        • Cpt. Obvious

          You understand the point, well enough, fake observer, now, be a good little Christian idiot troll and go lie for your brain virus some more.

          September 14, 2013 at 10:03 pm |
        • Observer

          Since Observer is without Truth there cannot be a lie and an alias cannot be owned by a person.

          September 14, 2013 at 10:12 pm |
        • Observer

          fake Observer,

          That was a riot. Here's the question you keep avoiding because you are AFRAID to say the truth:

          You keep coming on here and LYING about your name.

          Is that level of honesty the same as most Christians?

          September 14, 2013 at 10:14 pm |
        • Cpt. Obvious

          Fake observer, try lying to real observer about how you chose your alias. It's okay, it's just one more lie, and only you and jesus will know.

          September 14, 2013 at 10:16 pm |
    • skytag

      It's obviously not changing you.

      September 14, 2013 at 9:56 pm |
      • Observer

        When in Gods grace why would someone want to change?

        September 14, 2013 at 9:58 pm |
        • Jeeves

          Why do you steal someone else's name, alias or not? Too dim to think up your own?

          September 14, 2013 at 10:12 pm |
    • Aaron

      LOL

      September 14, 2013 at 9:57 pm |
    • SweetMaryJaneTwiceTonightBeGood

      LOL.
      putz.
      (you probably watch a video screen for 4+ hours a day, eat junk, and ARE FAT! 🙂

      September 14, 2013 at 10:00 pm |
    • Observer

      The fake Observer here is saying that there is no such thing as "free will for everyone". Those thoughful fetuses had no chance to change their "minds" before they were horribly killed by God.

      OOOOOPS!

      September 14, 2013 at 10:01 pm |
      • Observer

        I guess I'd miss the cancerous mass.

        September 14, 2013 at 10:04 pm |
        • Observer

          Waiting for your answer.

          STUMPED?

          September 14, 2013 at 10:06 pm |
        • Observer

          Please I'm trying hard to recreate the evil of those days, I want to be sick and demented, I want my mind to be warped beyond repair for ever. I want to destroy all that is true and decent, I want to continue to corrupt even the unborn.

          September 14, 2013 at 10:07 pm |
      • Observer

        At this point we cannot even be certain that any children were even being conceived. After all Noah's children did not have offspring until after the ark landed.

        September 14, 2013 at 10:18 pm |
        • Observer

          fake Observer,

          Still STUMPED?

          September 14, 2013 at 10:19 pm |
        • Observer

          Never was.

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

          fake Observer,

          Is your LYING typical of most Christians?

          Try not to get COMPLETELY STUMPED again. A simple "yes" or "no" will do. No need for more than one word: "yes" or "no".

          September 14, 2013 at 10:32 pm |
  11. Copenhagun

    No, there is no excuse for Pat Roberts and Dawkins doesn't speak for me as an atheist. He deserves any and every criticism he gets. What Dawkins said doesn't relate to any atheist dogma, because there IS NONE. On the other hand, Roberts tends to relate all of his crap to the bible and Christianity, which is why he rightfully so is made fun of by atheists. Dawkins is not a representative of atheists, he is merely AN atheist. He gets what he gets.

    September 14, 2013 at 9:45 pm |
  12. Mike

    Rachel Held Evans is way too naive here, assuming both atheists and Christians seek the TRUTH. No way! Science seeks the truth, religion has faith that it ALREADY has the REVEALED truth. Fundamental Christian believe in a LIE as the foundation of their faith, and irresponsible MAGICAL thinking proceeds from there.

    September 14, 2013 at 9:43 pm |
  13. Raz

    I wonder if we are going to find out something about Mr. Dawkin's personal life in the near future.

    September 14, 2013 at 9:41 pm |
    •  

      Godless Vagabond
      Why would we care? If we found out about his personal life, it would no longer be personal, would it?

      September 14, 2013 at 9:43 pm |
    • donna

      You mean like when he shared that he and his friends were touched by a teacher, and they didn't think it did major long lasting harm to them? Then he compared that to when his parents emotionally traumatized him by telling him he was going to heII when he was little and he feels like that had more of a traumatic impact on him?

      Yeah, he did share something personal and look at what people did with that.

      September 14, 2013 at 9:59 pm |
  14. skytag

    "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?"

    A real Christian wouldn't do that even without a deal.

    September 14, 2013 at 9:37 pm |
    • SweetMaryJaneTwiceTonightBeGood

      a REAL christian is an oxymoron, no pun intended. Worthless nonsense, you have no soul, death is death. Study the Universe not your iron age textbook for sadism

      September 14, 2013 at 10:02 pm |
  15. MashaSobaka

    Asking people to be rational, huh? Well, it's going to be an uphill battle, but I'm willing to try if other people are.

    September 14, 2013 at 9:37 pm |
    • skytag

      Why do you wait for others to act a certain way to exhibit good behavior?

      September 14, 2013 at 9:39 pm |
  16. donna

    Dawkins is guilty of the same thing the Harvard President was when he pointed out that biological differences might impact the male-female ratios in engineering and the sciences.

    Sometimes scientists are more interested in being realistic than obeying cultural taboos.

    September 14, 2013 at 9:26 pm |
    • lol?? Your comment is awaiting moderation.

      Like any other atheist it's who's payin'?? They make great progress during war time with blank checks.

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

        Why do you lie so much?

        September 14, 2013 at 9:49 pm |
    • MashaSobaka

      I'm honestly amused that you think the Harvard president's words were rooted in science. And that Dawkin's words are. You're adorable. Go have your momma give you a cookie.

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

        I know they were, I heard Steven Pinker talk about the meeting where Summers got that information from. Pinker studies biological gender differences. He told Summers, and Summers told the conference, and Summers got ignorant people like you screaming that male and female brains are identical.

        September 14, 2013 at 10:04 pm |
  17. Lance the Atheist

    The evils of Atheism? What might those be again?

    September 14, 2013 at 9:25 pm |
    • Raz

      Well, mass murders have been done in the name of eradicating religion. Mexico in the 1930's is a good example.

      September 14, 2013 at 9:39 pm |
      • skytag

        That's not unique to atheism.

        September 14, 2013 at 9:43 pm |
    • Poolwrecker

      Oh, good question. Probably referring to the godless, conscienceless, lack of regard for accountability of life and life impacting decisions that atheism breeds. People call themselves atheists yet replace the God figure with incredibly fallible, prideful, self promoting scientists who steal money from the general public under the guise of pushing humanity into the next technological phase of evolution. Atheists refuse to believe in having to account to a higher power so as to allow them to feel free to operate without morals, integrity to humanity, and regard for the moral well being of society.

      That's probably what she was referring to but I'm just guessing.

      September 14, 2013 at 9:39 pm |
      • skytag

        Oh look, another Christian bearing false witness about atheists. What a load of BS.

        September 14, 2013 at 9:44 pm |
      • JesuswasfromAFRICA

        This was the single dumbest, most unintelligent, idiotic comment I've read in weeks (and I read that Trayvon Martin nonsense)
        THANKS

        September 14, 2013 at 9:47 pm |
      • jens gessner

        Poolwrecker ironically, the very same could be said of religious folk.

        "Evil" must be referring to the lack of regard for accountability of life and life impacting decisions that religion breeds. People call themselves 'religious' yet replace the God figure with incredibly fallible, prideful, self promoting prophets who steal money from the general public under the guise of pushing humanity into the nextl phase of consciousness. Religious folk refuse to believe in having to account to their fellow man so as to allow them to feel free to operate without morals, integrity to humanity, and regard for the moral well being of society.

        That's probably what she was referring to but I'm just guessing.

        September 14, 2013 at 9:49 pm |
      • Jeeves

        Poolwrecker, why do you feel you have to lie to back up your belief in God? And as for stealing money from people, nobody, and I mean nobody, does it better than those who represent God.

        September 14, 2013 at 9:57 pm |
      • nothern Light

        "who steal money from the general public under the guise of pushing humanity "

        And what happens every Sunday at the end of the sermon in every church world wide.....they stick their fingers in yoyur pocket of course.....your god is supposed to have created the earth ....but he cannot create his own money.

        September 14, 2013 at 10:05 pm |
    • Christian Yeti

      The evils of atheism? Lets' start with 'subjective morality' and its' slippery slope, then make our way towards the progressive liberalism of Christian persecution...

      September 14, 2013 at 9:40 pm |
      • Dippy

        Let's, not lets', its, not its'. You write like a Yeti, alright.

        September 14, 2013 at 9:45 pm |
        • Bob

          Grammatical corrections are all you have to offer? My Freshman high school can do that.

          September 14, 2013 at 10:02 pm |
        • What do you have to offer, Bob?

            

          September 14, 2013 at 10:09 pm |
      • Observer

        Christian Yeti,

        "Progressive liberalism" usually has "subjective morality" that doesn't support much of the Bible like slavery and discrimination against women, gays, and the handicapped. You are welcome to claim those.

        September 14, 2013 at 9:46 pm |
      • skytag

        Get a clue. Christians excel at subjective morality. That's part of the reason there are so many forms of Christianity.

        The fact that Christians so often tell these kinds of lies about atheists is just more evidence they're frauds.

        September 14, 2013 at 9:46 pm |
        • nothern Light

          "That's part of the reason there are so many forms of Christianity."

          Ah yes the Christian bible supposedly written by an all seeing all knowing infallible sky daddy ....who writes so poorly that his religion can be interpreted in hundreds of different ways....some book....some sky daddy.

          September 14, 2013 at 10:09 pm |
      • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

        If your morality is based on the Christian Bible your morality is subjective.

        September 14, 2013 at 9:51 pm |
      • Cpt. Obvious

        God's morality is ALWAYS subjective. "Don't kill"... (three verses later)... "kill every person in that town over there, I want you to have their land that they have worked and lived on for several hundred years." Why? Because god is a "might makes right" kinda guy. Always was and always will be.

        September 14, 2013 at 9:54 pm |
  18. Emigdio

    On one condition. both of us can make fun of Miley Cyrus. deal?

    September 14, 2013 at 9:25 pm |
    • Sal

      Whoa. Lots of wisdom in this, and a lot of material to work with there!

      September 14, 2013 at 9:27 pm |
  19. PleaseDontLabelMe

    You want to call it a wash because Dawkins said something stupid? No deal.

    September 14, 2013 at 9:20 pm |
  20. RichardSRussell

    If Richard Dawkins were to say "It appears to me that the sun rises in the east", you can bet full well that within the week some Bible-thumper will be accusing him of being arrogant, hostile, and condescending.

    You see how this works, don't you? If they can't find anything wrong with WHAT he says, they jump right straight to b¡tching about the way he says it.

    September 14, 2013 at 9:15 pm |
    • lol?? Your comment is awaiting moderation.

      Calm down. When your spirit is separated from your body you will understand. Your life is short. Why not party instead of hating??

      September 14, 2013 at 9:19 pm |
      • Sal

        This, coming from you, is patently absurd. You are the biggest hater on this blog.

        September 14, 2013 at 9:23 pm |
        • lol?? Your comment is awaiting moderation.

          Oh, ooooohh. Socie peer reviewed pressure is never very far beneath the surface.

          September 14, 2013 at 9:30 pm |
        • Sal

          Idiot. I'm about as conservative as it gets. You just don't disguise your hatred very well.

          September 14, 2013 at 9:44 pm |
    • JeR

      If he's patting someone one the head and saying it in a arrogant, condescending manner, yes, he will be told that. Tone is everything.

      September 14, 2013 at 9:20 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.