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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. Rhonda

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2395972/Atheists-higher-IQs-Their-intelligence-makes-likely-dismiss-religion-irrational-unscientific.html

    September 15, 2013 at 11:01 am |
  2. What

    I've been working on a new kids game,, called 'Crucify Jesus'. It's a fun game where you need to do stuff to him. ie. if you put a crown on him, he's temporarily blinded. But you must do it when he's off guard as in preaching to crowds. He can escape, like walk on water. What you need to do is lure him to John the Baptist,, then quickly put holes in his feet. Doing so will cause him to sink when he walks on water (the holes allow water through). If you only get one foot, then he limps across water which slows him down.

    One of his pitfalls is that he descends to see satan. There you can nail his side, but be quick.

    When you finally crucify him, he then transforms into god. As he becomes god, you must start to destroy his power. His followers will now try to stone you to death. You need to start with the muslim and christian ministers. Once you have terminated them, the followers become confused zombies and can no longer harm you. Next, you need to destroy the religious right muslims and christians. much more fun stuff.

    Kids will love it! It will be the talk of parochial schools.

    September 15, 2013 at 10:59 am |
  3. tommy

    I'm an atheist. I don't believe in God. I also don't believe that Superman or the Tooth Fairy are real either. In neither case do I foam at the mouth or have elevated blood pressure as a result of such lack of belief. I also lack belief in Zeus, Odin or Batman. Just that simple.

    September 15, 2013 at 10:59 am |
    • D MURDOCH

      WE MUST END ALL THOUGHTS OF GAWWWWWWWWD, 2DAY

      September 15, 2013 at 11:01 am |
    • Z

      That's fine, and by this definition I would probably fit into the category of "atheist" too. And yet I'm a person of faith. Do you think it's possible that we can have this conversation without reliance on the word "belief" or literal interpretation of old books?

      September 15, 2013 at 11:25 am |
      • G to the T

        So if you are atheistic to all these gods, why do you say you have faith?

        September 19, 2013 at 4:54 pm |
  4. D MURDOCH

    ARREST ALL XTIANS NOW

    September 15, 2013 at 10:54 am |
    • D MURDOCH

      ENOUGH IS ENOUGH

      September 15, 2013 at 10:55 am |
      • D MURDOCH

        END RELIGION NOW

        BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY

        September 15, 2013 at 10:56 am |
        • D MURDOCH

          DO IT NOW SAMMY THE SIDEARM. SEND EM TO MEET THEIR MAKER

          SUCK A 12 GAUGE

          DONKEY PUNCH PALEN

          September 15, 2013 at 10:57 am |
  5. fnordz

    I don't know what the fuss is about- no "groaning" here. What he said was not PC, but I don't see anything wrong about it.

    September 15, 2013 at 10:49 am |
  6. sybaris

    No Joe, you are patently wrong.

    People once believed the earth was flat. The reasonable conclusion based on the evidence provided has shown otherwise.

    You can go on practicing willful ignorance in support of whatever god you worship but that doesn't make anything about it "true".

    September 15, 2013 at 10:44 am |
    • listenCarefully

      No deal. You relinquish your hold on the word "faith". Then we can start having a conversation.

      September 15, 2013 at 10:48 am |
      • Z

        What if faith means something different than you think it does? What if we have this conversation without the word "belief" or literal interpretation of an old book?

        September 15, 2013 at 10:58 am |
        • sqeptiq

          What do YOU think it means?

          September 15, 2013 at 11:11 am |
        • Z

          It's a higher bandwidth conversation than can be fully carried out in the comments section of a CNN article, but its starting point would have to be a willingness to have it. So there you go. Is this a conversation the atheist community is willing to have? Because in my experience it is not.

          September 15, 2013 at 11:29 am |
        • Z

          When I look up the word in an online dictionary, the first definition is "complete trust or confidence in someone or something" and the second is "strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof." I think this is a perfect starting point. The popular atheist argument defines faith in its secondary definition and refuses to discuss the concept in terms of its first.

          September 15, 2013 at 11:32 am |
        • Z

          i.e. I place complete trust in confidence in the value and importance of the understandings found through and the actions guided by enacting and carrying on my native language of mythological existence. It is the language through which it is expressed and experienced that the atheist argument attacks, and particularly the literal belief in it, without willingness to address the non-literal understanding that the majority of parishioners are taught.

          September 15, 2013 at 11:41 am |
    • devin

      The discovery of the earth's boundaries is completely irrelevant to faith in a creator.

      September 15, 2013 at 10:51 am |
      • sybaris

        Really devin?

        Obviously you do understand how to teach through providing similar examples

        September 15, 2013 at 11:02 am |
        • devin

          Yes, really.

          There was no intention of "teaching", I simply stated an obvious conclusion to your false premise.

          September 15, 2013 at 11:06 am |
  7. Zeibbodique

    I'm sure the amount of people who believe in a God, well out numbers those who do not. Yet, when the non-believers say something, they're "Shoving Atheism in our faces", and when those who do believe say something, everyone else should shut up and accept it. I was once asked why I don't believe in God. My reply was, because i've never seen him/her. I was then asked if the sun was going to rise in the morning. I replied with a strong Yes It Is. I was then questioned on how I know that is in fact going to happen. I said since my birth, for decades the sun was there every morning like clock work, so the chances of the sun shining again tomorrow, barring the end of earth, it will again rise....BUT can you tell me, being absolute certain, that you will a physical being who is God tomorrow and not just what you read in a book? You could cut the silence from this person with a knife.

    September 15, 2013 at 10:40 am |
    • M

      And that's a really powerful, logical argument about why we choose not to believe.

      September 15, 2013 at 10:47 am |
    • Reality # 2

      http://www.adherents.com/Religions_By_Adherents.html

      Religion………………………… Adherents

      Christianity ……………………..2.1 billion (divided into at least ten major sects)

      Islam…………………………… 1.5 billion (divided into two major sects who hate each other)

      Irreligious/agnostic/atheism…… 1.1 billion (look out here we come)

      Hinduism 900 million
      Chinese traditional religion 394 million
      Buddhism 376 million
      Animist religions 300 million
      African traditional/diasporic religions 100 million
      Sikhism 23 million
      Juche 19 million
      Spiritism 15 million

      Judaism…………………………………….. 14 million

      Baha'i 7 million
      Jainism 4.2 million
      Shinto 4 million
      Cao Dai 4 million
      Zoroastrianism 2.6 million
      Tenrikyo 2 million
      Neo-Paganism 1 million
      Unitarian Universalism 800,000
      Rastafari Movement 600,000

      September 15, 2013 at 10:49 am |
  8. kati let's pay for your daughter's lifelong hospitalization

    Anyone even thinking about gawwwwwwwd should have to spend a week staring at Sam stone. That'll learn em

    September 15, 2013 at 10:36 am |
    • M

      Did saying that really make you feel better?

      September 15, 2013 at 10:38 am |
  9. kati let's pay for your daughter's lifelong hospitalization

    Sam the woman for pres. She's our man

    September 15, 2013 at 10:35 am |
  10. Brent

    Sure, we'll agree to that, as soon as you stop believing in fairytales.

    September 15, 2013 at 10:31 am |
    • Z

      Deal. Do you think that's a deal breaker or that "belief in fairy tales" is the only way to be religious?

      September 15, 2013 at 11:15 am |
  11. Felix Sinclair

    An atheist is honest about something he experienced in his past and religious people take it out of context to make a straw man argument out of it?

    Gosh, that never happens.

    September 15, 2013 at 10:30 am |
    • M

      The point is not to invalidate atheism, but to validate civil disagreement.

      September 15, 2013 at 10:34 am |
  12. joe

    atheism's intolerance on par with muslim extremism's intolerance.

    September 15, 2013 at 10:30 am |
    • Felix Sinclair

      Don't pull a muscle stretching.

      September 15, 2013 at 10:31 am |
      • zeyn2010

        LOL

        September 15, 2013 at 10:33 am |
      • fnordz

        LOL... I'm going to appropriate that 🙂

        September 15, 2013 at 10:51 am |
    • M

      I know some atheists that are accepting of others with belief, while there are others who are not. Yet, atheism intolerance, atheism = disbelief. There other stuff you see here is some folks just being cruel, or expressing an inner anger.

      September 15, 2013 at 10:32 am |
    • sqeptiq

      Hyperbolic nonsense, Joe!

      September 15, 2013 at 11:14 am |
  13. clepto

    you act as if there was a period in time when christians didn't have their heads in the clouds...as if there are some who are within the lines of reasonable sanity...

    September 15, 2013 at 10:27 am |
    • M

      From a scientific point of view, there are a range of behaviors, from "having their heads in the clouds" to some having an awareness that they have a responsibilities here on the earth.

      September 15, 2013 at 10:30 am |
  14. VegasSmitty

    Only children and the misinformed believe in a god.

    September 15, 2013 at 10:25 am |
    • M

      Congratulations, that was very insulting.

      September 15, 2013 at 10:28 am |
      • Monty

        It was very honest

        September 15, 2013 at 10:29 am |
        • M

          It was very honest, but it furthered the impression that atheists are "angry," and that just isn't the case.

          September 15, 2013 at 10:33 am |
        • George

          No, it was just insulting. This is what the whole article is about. You may believe what you want, tolerance (which you may have but are not showing, would dictate that you let me believe what I want. It would be best if we could do it without insult.

          September 15, 2013 at 10:38 am |
        • M

          And as an atheist, I agree with George. Everyone has a right to believe what they wish. I would hope everyone has the responsibility to consider what they believe, though.

          September 15, 2013 at 10:40 am |
      • Monty

        Religion turns this world in to sheeit and we don't have a right to be angry?
        F'k religion.

        September 15, 2013 at 10:37 am |
        • M

          Not at all. You have a right to be angry and to give it a voice, to protest if you like, but be civil about it. Are you advanced or primitive in you thoughts and behavior?

          September 15, 2013 at 10:42 am |
  15. Godly Woman

    For those who think that God don't exist, let me tell you that you are blind. Just take a look around you, examine yourself and think to your self that how is earth functioning the way it is. Someone have to be controlling it. Earth has been in existence for years and nothing has really change. Nothing major had went wrong. There has to be a creator and someone who is controlling the universe. It is impossible for this earth to function without a higher power who is God the Almighty.

    September 15, 2013 at 10:24 am |
    • Richard Cranium

      For those of you who think god (s) exist. There is no evidence anywhere of any gods. Every reason you may give is just as much evidence that we are in the matrix, or that we were planted here by aliens.

      September 15, 2013 at 10:26 am |
    • snowboarder

      @woman, holy cow that is the lamest comment of the day.

      one fact is undeniable. nearly all things once attributed to supernatural cause have been determined to be of natural origins. the realm of gods is simply a continually shrinking placeholder of ignorance, waiting for the determination of the natural cause.

      September 15, 2013 at 10:32 am |
      • counter

        Really? How did all this matter and energy come to exist? Your statement is ludicrous.

        September 15, 2013 at 10:34 am |
        • zeyn2010

          That's funny while I bet you believe God came out of nothing!!

          September 15, 2013 at 10:36 am |
        • snowboarder

          @counter, I love that fallacious argument. "you don't know how everything came to be, so it must be my god!"

          September 15, 2013 at 10:37 am |
        • jens gessner

          Theoretical physics is very hard to understand, but I think Lawrence Krauss explains really well how the universe could have come from nothing.

          September 15, 2013 at 11:13 am |
    • kati let's pay for your daughter's lifelong hospitalization

      Vote for sambo stone for pres.

      September 15, 2013 at 10:33 am |
    • Damocles

      I felt a disturbance in the Force as if a million brain cells cried out in horror. I fear something terrible has happened.

      September 15, 2013 at 10:34 am |
    • sybaris

      A tree is only evidence of.............. a tree. To associate anything more is just dishonest.

      September 15, 2013 at 10:37 am |
      • mary

        it is evidence of soil, water, light

        September 15, 2013 at 10:40 am |
        • sybaris

          No, now you are doing what religionists do......... attributing the cause of one thing to something not necessarily related. Like the guy who teaches his kids that the Grand Canyon was carved out by the biblical flood and ignores all the other possibilities (and evidence) to the contrary.

          A tree is evidence of soil, water and light in as much as soil, water and light is evidence of trees.

          September 15, 2013 at 11:00 am |
      • mary

        any one found to have any love in his heart 4 gawwwwwwwwwd will be arrested and severely punished

        September 15, 2013 at 10:42 am |
    • sybaris

      a tree is only evidence of............ a tree. to as_sociate anything more is just dishonest.

      September 15, 2013 at 10:38 am |
    • Hey! You!

      How can anyone be so uneducated in this country. School, for the most part, is free and open to everyone.

      September 15, 2013 at 10:39 am |
    • I've changed

      Rather than trying to research and read about the origins of life and the universe,just say God did it.It doesn't get any lazier and childish than that.But if it makes you feel superior claiming to know what you do NOT know,and you have no problem abandoning reason as your basis for reality,then have a nice,delusional day

      September 15, 2013 at 10:46 am |
    • sam stone

      you are delusional, godly woman

      get off your knees

      September 15, 2013 at 11:46 am |
    • GetFiddle Man

      ...so your proof of the existence of some sort of god is that there just has to be one, and look around. Thank you, but I am looking around and there just doesn't have to be one. Sorry, but you are wrong.

      September 15, 2013 at 11:57 am |
  16. mearisher

    Dawkins' idiotic comment about pedophilia are not attributable to an interpretation of atheism; however, Robertson's inane comments are reflective of his interpretation of Christianity. Your fallacious reasoning is far too often used by defenders of religion to obfuscate or deflect attention away from believing in Santa Claus long after the debunking of the myth in the face of quantifiable evidence. Regarding his comment on Nobel laureates, its truth cannot be disputed and is verifiable. And, it is hard to argue about the veracity of his comments regarding the lack of progress since the Middle Ages.

    Neither Dawkins' nor Robertson's views can be used to define all those that follow their respective views of the divine. To even attempt this syllogism is to advertise that you, Rachel, are also an idiot that has little respect for the truth. That said, it is your right–as well as Dawkins' and Robertson's–to hold any belief that is not substantiated by empirical evidence. But, please remember, "It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt."

    September 15, 2013 at 10:24 am |
    • TrueBlue42

      Hear, hear. Very well state, mearisher. Thank you!

      September 15, 2013 at 11:33 am |
      • TrueBlue42

        state=stated*

        September 15, 2013 at 11:34 am |
    • donna

      His comment wasn't idiotic- he was sharing his personal experience and it was taken out of context.

      September 15, 2013 at 12:44 pm |
  17. bakslider

    It is funny but religious people, like our State Department, seem to have no concept of "blow back." If religious folk would quit trying to rule us and guide our nation with their Iron Age concepts, we would probably back off a bit. But 24/7/365 on almost all media outlets we are flooded with their sad theology and how we are going to roast in Hell for not complying with it.
    . Can't you just believe what you do and leave the rest of us alone? Why isn't the church enough? Why do you have to own Congress too? Why must you insist that all of us adhere to the rules of your god?

    September 15, 2013 at 10:23 am |
    • Monty

      You give these nuts too much credit. The dominate religions these days mostly date back to the Bronze Age. These people weren't smart enough to work with iron yet. And by the look of things most religious folks today are so dumb that they probably wouldn't make it through the stone age.

      September 15, 2013 at 10:28 am |
      • counter

        Another elitist comment. I know doctors, lawyers, graduate degree people that are all believes. I will match my education against yours ANYDAY.

        You are the epitome of the typical radical atheist. you don't know as much as you think you do.

        September 15, 2013 at 10:48 am |
        • a reasonable atheist

          I would dismiss Monty's comment as baseless hyperbole just as you would. However, given your claim that you are highly educated, you must be aware that there is a strong inverse correlation between religious belief and education level.

          September 15, 2013 at 11:39 am |
  18. permafrost

    i think most atheists would agree that reality is subjective and everyone has an innate right to
    their own interpretation of it. beyond that, their is not much common ground.
    i.e. formalization of deities is a complex psychological phenomena, but nothing more.

    September 15, 2013 at 10:22 am |
    • a reasonable atheist

      I would say reality is objective, but an individual's perception of it is highly subjective.

      September 15, 2013 at 11:43 am |
    • donna

      I think most would say the opposite permafrost.

      "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away." Philip K. Dlck.

      September 15, 2013 at 12:46 pm |
    • Dippy

      Permafrost, your second "their" should be "there". Keep trying, it may come to you in time.

      September 15, 2013 at 2:57 pm |
  19. (required)

    No deal. The problem is that all people who believe in god are crazy, and that their endless, dogmatic rhetoric is harmful to children (who tend to believe whatever lies their parents tell them), and as such humanity (when those children grow up). Believing in things that are not real simply for the sake of Pascal's wager turns otherwise mentally healthy people into those who believe in sky fairies, which then becomes pervasive in their day to day life and behavior. It's not just Pat Robertson who is opposed to gay marriage, or any of the other items on the long list of things religious people hate - it's most religious people. The day you all find sanity (i.e. atheism) is the day we can start to talk deals.

    September 15, 2013 at 10:21 am |
  20. Monty

    I wonder if Rachel Held Evans believes that Mary got pregnant without pulling her pants down and spreading her brown legs.
    Yes Jesus was brown, so was Mary..... In fact, probably more brown than Bin Laden. Nothing wrong with being brown. But there is something wrong with being stupid. You can't make deal with people who are stupid. That's why I say NO DEAL to Rachel.

    September 15, 2013 at 10:20 am |
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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.