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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. Chris

    This is one of the great things about being an atheist. We don't have any leaders. I've never even heard of this Richard Dawkins guy. It's the media's laziness that gives him any notoriety.

    September 15, 2013 at 2:48 am |
    • Chris

      I don't even like that there has to be a term for atheists. It's like coming up with a name for people that don't believe in the tooth fairy.

      September 15, 2013 at 2:50 am |
      • HuskerPatti

        Well spoken!

        September 15, 2013 at 3:10 am |
    • donna

      He earned his notoriety by being one of the most brilliant evolutionary biologists ever.

      September 15, 2013 at 3:10 am |
  2. RPCinHI

    Not a chance lady.... There can be no peace deal with those operating under the God Delusion...

    September 15, 2013 at 2:46 am |
  3. klaus

    No Deals with religious lunatics. That is all people who have faith or believe they have a big invisible buddy up in space looking out for them. If you believe in something that stupid in this day and age you can not be trusted. Why don't all you Islamists and Christians join together. It's simpler for us atheists to lump you together as one enemy.

    September 15, 2013 at 2:44 am |
    • Your superior

      Why must we be your enemy? I thought atheist were the open minded, tolerant ones?

      September 15, 2013 at 3:01 am |
      • Evert van Vliet

        You're not, you "just" are....it's folks like you who hunt for enemies and "find" them too.

        September 15, 2013 at 3:12 am |
      • Webster

        You are not my superior, kid. You don't even know that the plural of 'atheist' is 'atheists'.

        September 15, 2013 at 3:12 am |
  4. Joseph

    So what's so wrong with what Dawkins said? I don't get it...his comments are in no way comparable to those like Robertson or Fawell or the Westborough church...

    September 15, 2013 at 2:43 am |
    • donna

      Nothing at all. They were completely taken out of context.

      September 15, 2013 at 2:46 am |
  5. S1N

    No deal, lady. It's entirely past time for your idiocy... I mean, religions, to becomea footnote in the pages of history.

    September 15, 2013 at 2:36 am |
  6. Honey Boo Boo

    Richard Dawkins should be applauded for his direct honesty and use of logic.Muslims, are the best examples of how severely religion affects a society, that is why they constantly hate the US, engage in suicide bombings, wear pubic hair on their face and dress their women in blankets. If it was not for the retarding effects of Christianity, we would currently be a millennium advanced in terms of science and technological capabilities. Religion has constantly tried to explain Nature, but Science is the only discovery that has had success, that is why scientists and engineers use science to build computers or launch spaceships instead of the bible. Christians need to grow up and stop believing in fairy tales and flying spaghetti monsters.

    September 15, 2013 at 2:25 am |
    • FAH

      What verse of the bible are the "flying spaghetti monsters" in?

      September 15, 2013 at 2:44 am |
  7. Will Godbout

    ” It’s about the truth."

    Facts versus beliefs.

    September 15, 2013 at 2:24 am |
  8. Dan

    I came in to this article expecting something completely different. I was pleasantly surprised to find a great article with an excellent idea. Cheers to the author and I agree 100%. Even in spite of being from the "other side of the tracks".

    September 15, 2013 at 2:21 am |
  9. NavinJay

    There is no truth in religion. It comes from a book written by sheep herders 2000 years ago. Please do not pretend you are searching for any truth.

    September 15, 2013 at 2:19 am |
    • Masud Harouny

      and bingo was his namo!

      September 15, 2013 at 2:28 am |
    • bam

      High on Poppi which was grown then too derpa.
      sheep herders couldnt write. bibles were written by priests who were educated and used their knowledge to control the masses for personal gain.

      September 15, 2013 at 2:36 am |
    • "Dearest Angel..." A Father's Post Abortion Journal of Hurt and Healing

      LOL. typical....

      September 15, 2013 at 2:53 am |
  10. Will Godbout

    "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?"

    NO DEAL!!!!

    September 15, 2013 at 2:18 am |
  11. Tom Moilanen

    Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist whom, admittedly, has garnered a bit of notoriety and fame as an atheist. But to refer to him as an atheist only is suspect, and actually the real element that gives Evans her ammo. Had she cited his profession there wouldn't be an opinion piece here. It's self-serving on her part. Shame, Rachel. Pick on an intellect your own size.

    September 15, 2013 at 2:16 am |
  12. Karl Denton

    How about in that deal you Christians stop pushing teaching religious dogma in science classes around the country, we atheists do not care what you do behind closed doors regarding your delusional religious beliefs. What we care deeply about is that you continue to push the teachings of creationism and intelligent design as science!

    September 15, 2013 at 2:02 am |
    • bam

      EXACTLY keep your fairie tales in the closet where they belong.

      September 15, 2013 at 2:38 am |
  13. scottoest

    And once again, another person fails to engage with what Dawkins ACTUALLY SAID – which was largely commenting on his OWN EXPERIENCES – in order to go "omg Dawkins condones "mild pedophilia!!!" I guess this... somehow... validates my religious beliefs that an atheist would say something stupid!"

    It has been pathetic, watching multiple bloggers and writers this week, pouncing on this Dawkins interview, and all absolutely missing the point of what the man was actually saying - in this case, to draw some hackneyed false equivalency between Dawkins, and all of the religious loons out there.

    September 15, 2013 at 1:56 am |
    • michaelflyger

      Although I posted a long response I have to agree with you. Dawkins was immediately taken out of context. And I love how the religious have spent centuries picking this fight–then when it looks like they might not win they call the fight off.

      Frankly the reality is normal humans (atheists included) just want to get along and not have nonsense shoved down our throats.

      September 15, 2013 at 2:03 am |
    • Just the Facts Ma'am...

      I agree, Rachel here is saying "Hey all you atheists as a group, why not give Christians a pass on the awful rhetoric some of our leaders spew because we know this one guy, who's also an atheist, and like, he was molested and stuff, and called it mild, so you should back off calling us out on our crazy doctrines..."

      This just further proves how far out to pasture these Christian nuts are.

      September 15, 2013 at 2:14 am |
  14. D

    Really? You want to equate Dawkins with Robertson? Ever hear of the fallacy of "false equivalence"??

    September 15, 2013 at 1:53 am |
  15. Phelix Unger

    Once upon a time there were people who would believe anything and now we have religion, instead of making up the truth, try and find it.

    September 15, 2013 at 1:43 am |
  16. MarcNJ

    Hear hear... well said Rachel.

    September 15, 2013 at 1:40 am |
  17. letthepeoplevote

    put an atheist blog on CNN and we'll talk.

    September 15, 2013 at 1:30 am |
    • SSampson

      I want a Tooth Fairy blog too... How about a Santa Claus blog... or a Goblin blog... A blog for anything created by imagination and imposed on children at a young age... From Jonestown to AL Qaeda to genital mutilation... Get them young enough and you can make them do or believe in anything.

      Of course Dawkins comments were taken out of context entirely to make this weak argument. Which, of course, is all one can do when you are making arguments on behalf of something that has absolutely NO proof of being true. NONE, ZERO, NADA. Proving that a few historical figures existed that had the same outrages and unproven (impossible to prove) ideas, is NOT proof... it is delusional based on conditioning. Same methods used throughout the ages to get people to do all sorts of things. From mass genocide to mass suicide....Definitely the tools required for any religion to exist, but certainly used outside the religious context as well (of course that doesn't grant religion a pass... just because it is used elsewhere...in fact it does the opposite)

      Of course, I'm not an atheist... I'm not categorized with a name that implies there is actually something there NOT to believe in... sorry...

      Hopefully before I become worm bait the human race will mature past beliefs in mythological creatures. Its fun to study, but scary to realize people see it as a reality.

      September 15, 2013 at 2:10 am |
    • bam

      or remove the religion blog from a news site and let the religious go to their respective religious sites to blog

      September 15, 2013 at 2:34 am |
  18. David Nelson

    I think it is funny watching "enlightened" individuals fall to pieces when someone puts them to task =)

    September 15, 2013 at 1:25 am |
    • joell

      What is that supposed to mean? Who fell to pieces and who put whom to task?

      September 15, 2013 at 1:32 am |
  19. Jordan

    Things are always put into a broad scale of what a few people of any certain group does.
    Agnostics are put into the group of atheists
    Atheists are put into the group of Anarchists
    Furries are known by the few people using the group to do perverted things
    Muslims are thrown into the same pot as the extremists involved in 9\11
    Christians are known by their few bad apples as well, be it Westboro or the 90% of Christians who are hypocritical in what they believe and what they do.

    We all have them and the only way NOT to be ignorant about it is to educate yourself on the majority, rather than guilty by association.

    September 15, 2013 at 1:12 am |
  20. Truth

    I am still waiting for Christian lawmakers to make new laws allowing us to buy and sell daughters as the Bible tells you to do.

    September 15, 2013 at 12:44 am |
    • Casey

      Where does it say that?

      September 15, 2013 at 1:00 am |
      • Observer

        (Exodus 21:7-8) “If a man sells his daughter as a slave, the rules for setting her free are different from the rules for setting the male slaves free. If the master wanted to marry her but then decided he was not pleased with her, he must let one of her close relatives buy her back.” [God]

        September 15, 2013 at 1:10 am |
        • heehee

          Casey: busted.

          September 15, 2013 at 1:17 am |
        • bubblysoup

          This is fantastically priceless....

          September 15, 2013 at 1:31 am |
        • Casey

          Here's the deal on that writing: I'm no Biblical scholar, but I do know that it's important when reading the Bible to always try and understand the historical context in which the words were written. Also, many parts of it are allegorical, or are attempting to make a particular point. In the case of the verse you site...

          Exodus is from the Greek and means "departure". The book of Exodus deals with the departure of the chosen people, the Israelites, from their oppression and oppressors in Egypt. It also lists the rules, laws and customs of the day and time in which the people lived. It is a fact that slavery was an integral part of those times.

          But the Bible does not endorse or promote slavery and it is simplistic to read it that way. You miss the broader point. Instead, what the Bible teaches are concepts that ... had they been put into practice.... would have made all men realize how wrong slavery really is. The writer of 21:7-8 wasn't saying that slavery is what God wanted or ordered, he was reporting that that is the way the people lived, and these were the rules they'd come up with on their own to live by.

          Read more: http://www.city-data.com/forum/religion-spirituality/1428023-why-does-bible-permit-slavery-church.html#ixzz2ewFyX0VE

          September 15, 2013 at 2:08 am |
        • heehee

          That's what some of us call a "rationalization".

          A simpler explanation would be that, rather than being divinely inspired, the bible was a product of its time. That's why some of its morality is so obviously barbaric to modern readers. Your post shows that you can almost see it for yourself.

          I encourage you to read the bible! Some history of religion would also be very interesting.

          September 15, 2013 at 10:03 am |
        • Casey

          No... this is what they call study and understanding... something I learned in my professional life as an engineer and physicist. To understand something, you have to study it, understand the context, read what others have said about it, and draw a conclusion based on all the facts, and thought experiments. If you base all your understanding on sound bytes... you will never get it.

          September 15, 2013 at 7:27 pm |
        • hee hee

          Hi Casey,

          I'm familiar with the methods of scholarship, thanks. In fact I suggested more study of the bible and the history of religion, so I'm wondering why you think I devalue context. Perhaps that is more of the wishful thinking which is preventing you from applying Occam's razor, in spite of your very impressive credentials. Maybe you can post a link to one of your publications in physics review letters.

          I think we've made our points. I'm happy to rest my case here and leave it for others to judge.

          September 16, 2013 at 12:15 pm |
      • Nimrod

        Wow, learn your own book...Learn it, read it. Read where it says that you should kill non-believers, before you rant about Islam, too...

        September 15, 2013 at 1:20 am |
      • G to the T

        I believe you place much faith in the integrity of the source materials than I do. So far there is zero evidence that the events in Exodus occured as they are portrayed. There is no extra-biblical evidence of millions of jewish salves in Egypt or anykind of mass exodus of them from Egypt.

        What we do find is every evidence that a parts of the tribe of Caanan that were originally sheep herders eventually settled down into lands we now call Israel. So your apologetic attempt fails because the source material isn't reliable to begin with.

        September 19, 2013 at 10:23 am |
    • David Nelson

      Atheists seem to take the bible more seriously than Christians.

      September 15, 2013 at 1:22 am |
      • heehee

        I have a theory about this. I think sociopath televangelists make up quotes from the bible. A lot of people attend megachurches run by these sociopaths. If you don't spend a lot of time reading the bible, you won't discover the mischaracterizations.

        September 15, 2013 at 1:24 am |
      • Just the Facts Ma'am...

        That's because they've read it...

        September 15, 2013 at 1:48 am |
    • Casey

      See... it's easy to pull something out of context, and hold it up as a sort of GOTCHA ha ha ha ... I win ... sort of deal. I see tis all the time. It takes study and context to understand what is being said.

      September 15, 2013 at 2:13 am |
      • tallulah13

        Casey, the bible is either the word of god or it isn't. You don't get to cherry-pick.

        September 15, 2013 at 12:47 pm |
        • Casey

          Did you read anything I posted? I am not cherry picking.. those who want to tear down the Bible routinely cherry pick, put something out, without any context, or study, or attempts to understand the meaning... and just say AHA!!! This was the point of my post ... which you.. of course totally missed. There is simply no way to have a reasonable discussion with an Atheist. They always attempt to tear down others Beliefs... while accusing people of Faith of trying to indoctrinate them. It's so weird and intellectually dishonest it defies rationality. If you don't believe... well.. that's too bad but it is your choice. I wish you would respect me in the same way.

          September 15, 2013 at 8:18 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.