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)

    Armed and dangerous Sam the stone. How do we help u break out?

    September 15, 2013 at 1:37 pm |
  2. Elena

    The truth is that we dont know nothing about anything! just ads a famous Greek thinker said " all i know is that I know nothing"

    The truth can very well be something so unthinkable to the human mind as the atomic structure is to the mind of any other animal other than a human!
    However is it futile discussing that here!

    September 15, 2013 at 1:36 pm |
    • tony

      You won't learn anything by shutting your eyes iin prayer.

      September 15, 2013 at 1:38 pm |
      • Elena

        i pray with my eyes open as we say in Spanish " A Dios rogando y con el mazo dando" if you dont know what does it mean use google translation!

        September 15, 2013 at 1:44 pm |

    R u still in solitary?

    September 15, 2013 at 1:35 pm |
  4. tony

    She's realizing that she is wrong and hoping that she might only have to come half way back to sanity from her little comfort zone.

    September 15, 2013 at 1:35 pm |

    We r taking over. We have no gsaawwwwd on our side. We will win.

    September 15, 2013 at 1:34 pm |

      Sam stone, we r meeting at your place. What cell r u in?

      September 15, 2013 at 1:35 pm |
    • rob

      NO DEAL!

      religious believing and the idea of a so called 'god' (or better 'dog'?) have done so much harm to mankind and it is frustrating to everyone with some brains – let alone with some education, that such hare-brained concepts still exist in the 21st century!

      muslims, christians, hindus and whatever you call it – all the same nonsense and bad influence.

      we should do without it, so once again: NO DEAL!

      September 15, 2013 at 1:45 pm |
  6. Elena

    any body cab have tier convictions and that doesn't make them more or less $tupidos than other. Now Scientist are saying that the Big Bang theory wasn't true at all after they held it as almost a true origin of the universe! I would post the kink to the article but CNN tent to moderate comments with links! but was publish on the UK newspaper The Mail

    September 15, 2013 at 1:33 pm |
    • tony

      You have a record of believing anything that helps you keep your faith. Try getting educated instead.

      It's hard work, compared to kneeling and shuting your eyes. But you'll know more in the end.

      September 15, 2013 at 1:37 pm |
      • cymom611

        Are you implying that all Christians (or people of other faiths for that matter) aren't educated?

        I'm tired of people on message boards throwing out generalities about people whose faiths aren't their own. I really wish we could all respect each other enough to know that it's fine if someone doesn't believe as you do. For example, I could have wrote a scathing reply to your comment, but I'm choosing to only point out that not all Christians are uneducated. Some Christians are quite educated, like myself, but still choose to believe in the Christian faith. I understand and respect that other people do not believe as I do; however, I do not ridicule them for those beliefs. I wish others would do the same.

        Normally, I would end with "God bless you" but I've no idea what an appropriate farewell would be for you, one in which you would get offended by, so I'll just say, "may you have peace" and leave it at that.

        September 15, 2013 at 4:23 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      I'm not sure which article you are refering to, but all I was able to find was scientists tweaking some information as we find more and more accurate info on it. Nothing to say they are changing their minds, just adjusting data

      September 15, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
      • Elena

        like I said cant post the link as CNN will moderate my comment but try this

        doble w tree time punto nature.com/news/did-a-hyper-black-hole-spawn-the-universe-1.13743

        punto means dot!

        September 15, 2013 at 1:47 pm |
        • Richard Cranium

          You are clearly confused. The Big Bang DID happen, it is fact. What led up to the Big Bang is in question, and since we do not know, many rival theories are thrown around. Why is that difficult for you to understand. NO ONE KNOWS is the answer we have right now, so we have theories, which gives us the chance to test and observe.
          There is nothing to test in the hypothesis that there is a or are many gods. There is nothing to examine, nothing to observe that indicates any god (s)

          September 15, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
        • Elena

          the article clearly says that scientist are saying good bye to the big bang theory

          September 15, 2013 at 1:57 pm |
        • Richard Cranium

          Your referenced article is just a different take on what may have led up to the Big Bang, a theoretical counter to what had been previously hypothesized. The writer of the article was clearly confused, and it is very likely the writer mistook the already proven portions of the Big Bang, for the entire theory. There are adjustments made to theories all of the time. What you see in that article are just other possibilities. Nothing concrete, we aren't just throwing out theories. We know the Big Bang happened...we are now trying to figure out what caused it, and that may change a thousand times or more before we know, and we may never know.

          Stop saying the Big Bang theory is going away. It isn't.

          September 15, 2013 at 2:03 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Yes, science changes its conclusions when better information comes along. That is not a negative, it is a positive. It is what makes science better than religious dogma.

      September 15, 2013 at 1:41 pm |
      • Elena

        Science cant answer certain issues as emotional pain or a need for complete peace? have ever feel real inner peace? I bet you didn't, neither any other atheist!

        September 15, 2013 at 1:52 pm |
        • Richard Cranium

          Why do you think these thinga are indications of any gods? They aren't. Not even close. I have practiced a form of meditation for many years, and can put myself in a very tranquil state of mind quite easily now. That does not mean there are any gods.

          September 15, 2013 at 1:57 pm |
        • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

          Making up "answers" does nothing. Your religious belief is as inane as any other.

          September 15, 2013 at 1:58 pm |
        • doobzz

          Your posts are lies and conjecture, which you are trying desperately to pass off as truth.

          September 15, 2013 at 2:33 pm |
        • Unbelieveable

          Non-believers have oxytocin and dopamine flooding their brains occasionally too.

          September 15, 2013 at 7:52 pm |

    R u athies punks?

    September 15, 2013 at 1:32 pm |
  8. Physicist

    Just curious, how many noble prize does Mr. Dawkins have? wow he has that many? I can see why he made that comment who wouldn't?

    September 15, 2013 at 1:29 pm |
    • doobzz

      Most physicists know how to spell Nobel Prize.

      September 15, 2013 at 1:54 pm |

    We have put up with under god for far too long.

    September 15, 2013 at 1:26 pm |
  10. Peter

    No deal.
    Science and religion are not equal, they are not compatible and you cannot be both.
    Here is a more reasonable deal. We will not call you hypocrite if you stick to only using things that have come from religion and do not use things that were contributed by (atheistic – evidence based – science). When you get sick use prayer not medicine, get off the internet, stop using GPS, cars, etc. You get the idea.

    September 15, 2013 at 1:26 pm |
    • turner1988

      Wow. So you're suggesting that Christianity and the Bible are void and and separate from science? You do realize that many of the world's most important scientists have been Christians, including Charles Darwin who was and continues to be grossly misunderstood and misquoted.

      Every atheist and scientist knows that without God, there is a massive, unexplainable gap, starting from the very beginning; what got all this started and set in motion. The most basic scientific laws and principles make clear that order cannot come from disorder and that something cannot come from nothing. So using science itself, we must contend that there's something greater than ourselves out there which has, at the very least, put all of this in order. It's bad science to suggest otherwise.

      September 15, 2013 at 1:47 pm |
      • Peter

        Yes Turner, that is what I am suggesting. Religion (pick any of thousands out there) is exactly opposite of science.

        "Every atheist and scientist knows that without God, there is a massive, unexplainable gap, starting from the very beginning..."

        What is the source of this statement? do you care to provide reference? Every atheist and scientist... you speak for all of us? Really? I know quite a few atheists and scientists and none of us think that. There are gaps in science, but you cannot fill them by making stuff up. Again, that is exactly opposite of what science does. If you cannot have something from nothing, then gods could not have come into existence either. If gods were here always, why cannot we say the same about the universe? We do not have answers to all questions and probably never will, but making stuff up does not help.

        September 15, 2013 at 2:01 pm |
    • Peter

      I just google 'Vedic Science' and came across a list of points in Wikipedia and few other pages comparing Vedic Science and Modern Science. These points can be pondered on to see if the modern science is associated with and Science based on religion of the past

      September 15, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
      • PaulS

        Error: I typed my name as Peter(the name of the person I was replying to). Correcting the same for the following point
        I just google 'Vedic Science' and came across a list of points in Wikipedia and few other pages comparing Vedic Science and Modern Science. These points can be pondered on, to see if the modern science is associated with Science based on religion of the past

        September 15, 2013 at 2:17 pm |

    If you wait, u r not an athie

    September 15, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
  12. 20tbsandgoing

    I can understand Rachel's desire for everyone to get along. I'd like that too! But that is not about finding some middle ground. This is discussion about whether humanity should continue to cling to ancient mysticism and magic or progress to more rational explanations of the world we live in. It is time to move on.

    September 15, 2013 at 1:24 pm |
    • NoReligion

      Absolutely agree. Its seems Rachel Evans is building a little career on this. Rachel...in about 10-15 years the world will be way past these beliefs. You're getting left behind. The information revolution marches on...and Christianity doesnt stand a chance. Its just too flaky.

      September 15, 2013 at 1:38 pm |
    • Elena

      scientist are now saying that the Big Bang theory wasn't that correct at after all? why do you assume that all that exist can only be perceive through the physical senses?

      September 15, 2013 at 1:40 pm |
      • Richard Cranium

        Where are you getting that. I checked out your non-link, and could not find what you are referring to. I was able to find a few articles as to some alteration of information, nothing saying the basic theory is in question. The Big Bang if fact by the way. The Cause of the Big Bang is all that is in question right now. One thing that is certain....there is absolutely no evidence of any of the thousands of gods men have worshipped.

        September 15, 2013 at 1:45 pm |
      • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

        Name another way to perceive information other than through our senses...

        September 15, 2013 at 1:47 pm |
      • NoReligion

        OK Elena...thats BS. Why dont you show me where you found that information.

        September 15, 2013 at 7:13 pm |


    September 15, 2013 at 1:23 pm |
  14. Unbelieveable

    My belief system is better than your belief system! Or to put it another way, my B.S. is better (and truthier!) than your B.S..

    So there.

    September 15, 2013 at 1:23 pm |
  15. get realist

    No deal. The fact that you're even comparing insane extremist Pat Roberts to Richard Dawkins shows that you have no interest in any sort of intelligent conversation.

    September 15, 2013 at 1:19 pm |
    • william mason

      Si­­nce I st­a­r­t­ed fre­­el­anci­­­ng I'v­­e be­e­n br­in­gin­g i­n $­9­0 bu­ck­­s/h… I s­i­­t a­­­t ho­m­e a­n­­d i a­m do­in­g m­­y wo­rk fr­om m­y la­pt­op. Th­℮ be­st th­ing i­s th­­a­t i g­­­­et m­­o­­r­e ti­­me t­­o sp­­e­­­nt wi­t­h m­y fa­mily a­­n­d wi­t­h m­y ki­ds a­nd i­n th­­e sa­me ti­me i ca­n e­a­­rn en­oug­h t­o su­pp­­ort them... Y­ou c­a­n d­o i­t t­oo. St­­art her­e-­-­-­-­>g­i­­g­­2­­5­.­­­ℴ­

      September 15, 2013 at 1:21 pm |
    • Unbelieveable

      "Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'” (Isaac Asimov)

      When the traditional aggressor (organized sky-fairy apologists in this case)of a longstanding conflict is offering truces and peace deals it just means they're finally starting to lose their dominant position. That suggests now is the time for the anti-religion rebels to redouble their efforts, not make a phony peace deal that will only last until the pious regain their political hegemony like in the so-called "good ol' days," which I sure as Hell hope never happens (pun intended).

      September 15, 2013 at 7:49 pm |
  16. kebcarerra

    So now it's a truce ? Maybe you could put my head in a vice and slowly squeeze till I confess Jesus my Lord and savior . Or just tie me up and burn me for my heretical non belief . Now we have muslims chopping heads off and it's no different from what christians have done and are doing .

    September 15, 2013 at 1:13 pm |
  17. wallstreetcrime

    Why would I meet anyone halfway on this? Dawkin's comments are a drop, of a drop, in a bucket when compared by the lunacy of the Christians who are now claiming to speak for all of Christianity. On top of that, Dawkin's comments pale in comparison to some of the mildest comments that the Christian loonies make on their TV and radio shows.

    The deal should be that Christians stand up, every time, to the crazies who have taken over the religion and publicly and vehemently rebuke them. Take your religion back and shun those that claim to speak for you.

    September 15, 2013 at 1:12 pm |
    • George

      Yeah, they like to ask why Muslims don't denounce their extremists yet they stay silent about their own.

      September 15, 2013 at 1:18 pm |
  18. FrankinSD

    How about this for a deal. Christians will stop misrepresenting the views of atheists in order to create strawman arguments and atheists will keep on excoriating prominent Christian hate mongers for their genuinely atrocious remarks. Deal?

    September 15, 2013 at 1:11 pm |

    Time has come! No more gawwwwwwd.

    September 15, 2013 at 1:08 pm |
  20. thegadfly

    People's idiotic beliefs wouldn't be a problem is there weren't laws based on them.

    September 15, 2013 at 1:07 pm |
    • thegadfly

      "If". I meant "if".

      September 15, 2013 at 1:08 pm |
      • Reality # 2

        What laws are you referring to?

        September 15, 2013 at 1:10 pm |
        • jens gessner

          I am sure 'thegadfly' is referring to the laws you have on your books that restrict gay marriage and abortion, for example. But it should also refer to numerous other public policies that are influenced by irrational religion, i.e. decisions affecting your children's education. It could even refer to executive decisions, i.e. the President deciding that you should go to war because his god told him it is the right thing to do.

          September 15, 2013 at 1:24 pm |
        • Richard Cranium

          The laws being referred to are:
          1) The blue laws. Laws restricting selling of alcohol and other activites on sunday mornings. You are supposed to be in church.
          2) Several states still carry on their books, laws preventing an atheist from holding public office.
          3) Arkansas still has a law on its books preventing an atheist from testifying in court.
          4) The law that illegally allowed the change to the PoA.
          5) The law that illegally changed the national motto to the LIE it currently is.
          Start there, there are many more.
          Granted the laws that didn't allow for an atheist to hold office or testify have in fact been struck down, but the laws are still on the books. There are many, many more that WERE on the books, but have been removed.

          September 15, 2013 at 1:31 pm |
        • jens gessner

          Atheists are not allowed to testify in court in Arkansas? Holy Hanna, that is crazy.

          September 15, 2013 at 1:44 pm |

          Godless Vagabond
          The fucking religies there didn't think it was crazy when they passed those laws. It would seem they're slowly regaining their sanity, though.

          September 15, 2013 at 2:31 pm |
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About this blog

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.