home
RSS
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. craig leslie

    never meet an atheist terrorist.....they dont exist.just like god. we just want equal protection from nutjobs. atheist are truely the last group to recieve such protections in our society. try going to public school, it isnt easy.

    September 14, 2013 at 9:57 am |
    • Rett

      Please explain how atheists are not protected in the public schools....i have taught in public schools almost 30 years and would love to know what you are referencing...

      September 14, 2013 at 10:12 am |
      • SixDegrees

        Try taking a public school biology class in Texas or Louisiana.

        September 14, 2013 at 10:16 am |
      • Hodor

        why should my taxes pay for classes that teach children that this particular set of irrational supernatural beliefs is superior to every other belief and if you don't believe you will be punished for eternity?

        September 14, 2013 at 11:16 am |
    • Glenn Parker

      You ever heard of Josef Stalin? Mao Zedong? Benito Mussolini? I guess history's not your thing?

      September 14, 2013 at 10:14 am |
      • Neo Agnostic

        For every Stalin, Mao, Mussolini, you have thousands of more examples of religious killings. The Crusades, Muslim Extremists, IRA, Al Qaida, the Inquisition, Salem With Trials, the subjugation of the native American people by Christians...the list can go on and on...you pull out the three or four examples of atheists killing others, I can pull out way more examples of religion killing others.

        September 14, 2013 at 10:20 am |
        • michaelflyger

          LOL yup–and those who think that those historical figures did what they did because "caused by atheism" don't actually understand history or the effects of ideology.

          September 15, 2013 at 6:34 am |
  2. magicpanties

    "So let’s talk about the truth..."

    Ok, the truth is that there is no proof that your imaginary skypappa exists.

    So yeah, one can criticize some stoopid things that Dawkins or anyone else says.
    But Dawkins also states the truth about religion, while people like Robertson [and this author] regurgitate old myths.

    September 14, 2013 at 9:57 am |
  3. The Truth

    I don't ever remember an Atheist trying to legislate their personal beliefs into law. Many Christians on the other hand....

    September 14, 2013 at 9:57 am |
    • Sam Mensch

      Valid point in our current era. However, could you swear that several generations into the future atheists wouldn't legislate their morality? It has happened in other eras.

      September 14, 2013 at 10:02 am |
      • cedar rapids

        why would you think atheist's morality is different from a believers?

        September 14, 2013 at 10:07 am |
      • anthonydavidpirtle

        There's no such thing as atheist morality. Atheism is simply the lack of religious belief.

        September 14, 2013 at 10:14 am |
      • The Truth

        Like what? "Now with extended hours on Sundays"? LOL!!

        September 14, 2013 at 10:31 am |
      • The Truth

        When the current crop of Christians learn that Freedom FROM religion is Freedom FOR religion, then we can talk about making a deal.

        September 14, 2013 at 10:33 am |
  4. Equal Scout

    Athiesm and science is a religion also that needs to be kept separate from the state.
    How many of you readers that espouse evolution have personally seen evolution ocur?
    Or have you simply read about it from from others' conclusions based on empirical evidence?
    If you want bible thumpers to put their books away and visually prove there is God, then well maybe you should do the same...

    September 14, 2013 at 9:54 am |
    • Gotta Luv Me

      AMEN, WELL SAID!!!

      September 14, 2013 at 9:55 am |
    • Sam Mensch

      To simplify another's argument the way you are doing shows a lack of true compassion (marking you as a fake or immature Christian).

      September 14, 2013 at 9:57 am |
    • No one

      Each flu scare is evolution, of bacteria, so if you don't believe it, do not get vaccinated, then go to the center of the outbreak, if you develop symptoms, do not seek treatment, simply pray.

      September 14, 2013 at 9:57 am |
      • Sam Mensch

        No true, mature Christian denies reason. We simply suggest that there is something that exceeds it, and that our reason isn't the final word on reality. It's somewhat like agreeing that all numbers we've got are correct, but then acknowledging that the infinite exists, and no human could ever number it.

        September 14, 2013 at 10:00 am |
    • The Truth

      Laughable, keep up with this argument .. please.

      September 14, 2013 at 10:01 am |
    • James

      Are you serious? You are comparing science which is an understanding based on empirical evidence with religion which isn't based on any evidence at all and is expected to be completely taken on faith?

      Science isn't a religion, it isn't a system of beliefs. I accept evolution to be true because all the evidence points towards it and none disproves it. I don't 'believe' in evolution like you believe in god, I acknowledge the vast amount of evidence supporting evolution.

      September 14, 2013 at 10:01 am |
      • Neo Agnostic

        I always find it funny how those with religious views point at evolution as how science is wrong and cant be trusted. BUt yet they embrace every other scientific invention the world over. They claim that there is no evidence of evolution, but there is in micro-organisms, there is evidence as well on the larger scale. You just have to look around for it. Evolution is a process that takes generations to occur, this is a fact on the micro level as well on the macro level.

        September 14, 2013 at 10:11 am |
        • Sam Mensch

          I'm a Christian. I understand and accept many aspects of evolution. Genetic modification does occur through generations. However, the theory as it currently stands isn't infallible. But the fact that it is coming up in a board like this marks it not as a theory to be understood and debated rationally and scientifically, but as a tenet of one's personal understanding of where one came from. And that's always a sensitive personal area, which just cannot be argued on a message board. But I respect where you're coming from. Sorry that some Christians don't.

          September 14, 2013 at 10:17 am |
    • One one

      It's impossible to keep science out of schools because the fruits of science are all around us, like instantly communicating with potentially billions of people like we are now. Science actually works and delivers tangible benefits. All religion delivers is mind candy.

      September 14, 2013 at 10:05 am |
    • Neo Agnostic

      You apparently seem not to understand how science works. Science isn't about blind faith. Its about proof, process and evidence. The scientific method that has been developed to explain how the world works. If you take science out of the equation you wouldn't have anything here. Without science you wouldn't have the internet, computers, cars, cell phones and countless millions of other things you use everyday. All done with science and built on science. While yes, Atheism is a religion, it is one that embraces science. Religion deals with what may and may not be possible. Science deals with facts and if something comes along to prove a fact wrong, science can embrace it as long as its supported through the scientific method. Where as if something comes along to prove religion wrong its fire and brimstone and hell on earth. Science can change to fit what is proven. Religion cannot or will not change even when proven wrong.

      September 14, 2013 at 10:06 am |
    • Grampa

      Are you serious? Do you really nor know about the mountain of evidence supporting the theory of evolution, from fossils to DNA? Do you understand that a scientific "theory" is not a guess, it's an explanation for observed phenomena that is backed up by evidence and research? Science does not demand faith, merely an education. It is not a religion. It is a way of intelligently investigating and understanding the universe.

      September 14, 2013 at 10:07 am |
    • Rolick

      Atheism is not a religion, it's a choice not to believe. I don't go to an atheist church every week, I don't put my kids in atheist religion classes because there is no such thing and I would not do either if there was. Science is not a religion either.

      I agree with this writer though, but the non extreme religious people need to be more vocal in their opposition to the likes of Pat Robertson. Because where her mistake is, there are many more Robertson types out there than Dawkins types.

      September 14, 2013 at 10:08 am |
    • cedar rapids

      Tell you what.
      We will put forward all the evidence we have for evolution, and you put forward all the evidence you have for a deity, and we'll compare the two 'piles'.

      September 14, 2013 at 10:09 am |
      • ron

        Your comment implies an either/or proposition between evolution and Christianity; whereas truth be told the two are compatible. Rather than a rush to judgement, look a little deeper.

        September 14, 2013 at 9:04 pm |
    • ME II

      @Equal Scout,
      The key is "... based on empirical evidence." There is no evidence for the supernatural, but there is abundant evidence for evolution.

      September 14, 2013 at 10:12 am |
    • anthonydavidpirtle

      Science is not a religion. It is a process for refining knowledge, and has been used for centuries by people, both religious and otherwise, to expand our understanding of ourselves and the universe around us. The scientific method is based on evidence and experimentation, and we have more evidence and experimentation backing up biological evolution than almost any other scientific theory in existence. We know more about evolution than we do about gravity. This is why most educated christians from the Pope on down agree with at least some form of evolution. You can choose to remain ignorant of the evidence or you can use that computer beneath your fingers to visit reputable science websites and actually learn a thing or two about the origin of the diversity of life.

      September 14, 2013 at 10:28 am |
  5. No one

    Ok, how much incest did it take for Adam and Eve's children to populate the Earth? How much of Noah's family? What truth is there that a book filled with hate and contradictions? What truth is there in an organization that plays cups and balls with pedophiles?
    Which god is truth? The one who is both jesus and jesus's father? Allah? Thor? Zeus? The flying spaghetti monster?
    We can play this song and dance all you like, religion is in its death throes when knowledge is easily accessible(the internet) not surprising that the ultimate sin was taking fruit from the Tree of... wait for it, Knowledge.

    September 14, 2013 at 9:54 am |
  6. An Atheist

    No deal. If an atheist says something stupid / incorrect / insensitive in a public forum, we will challenge them on it the same way we'll challenge every religious nutjob when they proclaim something stupid / incorrect / insensitive.

    September 14, 2013 at 9:51 am |
    • Sam Mensch

      Almost everyone respects a true person of reason, but very few respect those who irrationally screech about their "reason".

      September 14, 2013 at 9:56 am |
  7. Kevin

    The article states, "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."

    Releigion isn't interested in searching for truth. Religion believes it already has the truth, and irrationally stands by its "truth" even in the face of contrary evidence.

    September 14, 2013 at 9:51 am |
  8. Jim

    Even our posts are moderated by "believers". This is exactly why I an not a fool for religion. They are scammers of the worst kind.

    September 14, 2013 at 9:50 am |
  9. Gotta Luv Me

    Both Pat Robertson and Richard Dawkins are IGNORANT!! MOST atheists are evil minded, angry, bitter, and live miserable lives, just like the self proclaim "Christians" wannabe Catholics.

    September 14, 2013 at 9:50 am |
    • Sam Mensch

      To simplify another's argument the way you are doing shows a lack of true compassion (marking you as a fake or immature Christian).

      September 14, 2013 at 9:53 am |
      • Gotta Luv Me

        Both of these men are full of hate. You must be one of their followers. THE BLIND FOLLOWING THE BLIND, BOTH SHALL FALL INTO THE PIT OF HELL.

        September 14, 2013 at 9:57 am |
        • Neo Agnostic

          Oh, your a troll, now I get it. Go away.

          September 14, 2013 at 9:58 am |
    • Neo Agnostic

      I don't know what you are smoking but the Atheists I know are anything but angry, evil minded, bitter and miserable people. They go out help others, do what good they can, donate money to causes and charities and live very happy lives. All of which they say people can do without the need of a god to make them feel guilty to do so. Leave your general assumptions about a group of people you don't really know at the door. ITs like me saying Christians are all pedophiles and want to take and convert my children to their religion. Sounds stupid doesn't it? Because it is.

      September 14, 2013 at 9:57 am |
    • Count Boogie

      how funny you make a hateful miserable comment about people who you view to be hateful and miserable...I love you though and give you a warm atheist huggy!!!

      September 14, 2013 at 9:58 am |
    • MildlyMisanthropic

      Pat Robertson is hardly an extreme voice among evangelical circles. That is a red herring to line him up against a radical like Dawkins. Sort of like when evangelicals claim to be persecuted for their views. Name the last atheist, or secular humanist for that matter, who won election to major office? None in my lifetime, or at least none that I am aware of. "Faith" is a requirement in the U.S. You cannot accomplish anything is society without constantly professing your faith. You can't even sneeze.

      September 14, 2013 at 9:59 am |
    • cedar rapids

      troll or fake believer.
      you get to choose.

      September 14, 2013 at 10:10 am |
  10. John P. Tarver

    Now is the time for Christians to push Rachel, not retreat.

    September 14, 2013 at 9:50 am |
    • Jim

      Yeah, right off a cliff.

      September 14, 2013 at 9:51 am |
    • The Truth

      Keep pushing John, the Nation as whole grows tired of such shenanigans and will tolerate it no longer.

      September 14, 2013 at 9:59 am |
    • sirhuxley

      Oh yes! Poor victim Christians have "push" because they are so oppressed!

      Christian Churches in the USA operate a business TAX FREE!

      All 535 Congressional Representatives and Senators claim Christianity (Save 2)

      All 535 Congressional Representatives and Senators regularly mention God, Blessings, and the Bible in State Speeches.

      Even our Muslim President claims to be a Christian, and he's a [sic] Muslim!

      No, I think its time for Atheists to push, because Christians have a plan that spells FAILURE for Democracy in the USA.

      Other countries are leaping ahead of the USA in Education, Science, and Technology because Christianity has crippled the USA public education system in favor of faery tales.

      September 24, 2013 at 12:32 am |
  11. Praise Jeebus Ya'll!

    Imaginary friends and sky fairies are for children.

    Isn't it time to grow up?

    September 14, 2013 at 9:48 am |
    • John P. Tarver

      The fake science of Dawkins is for fools, isn't it time to wise up?

      September 14, 2013 at 9:49 am |
      • Praise Jeebus Ya'll!

        Fake science?

        How so?

        September 14, 2013 at 9:51 am |
      • Sam Mensch

        To simplify another's argument the way you two are doing shows a) a lack of reason (marking you as a fundamentalist Atheist) and b) a lack of true compassion (marking you as a fake or immature Christian).

        September 14, 2013 at 9:51 am |
      • Jim

        Science has proof of many things and can back them up. You, however have not one shred of proof.

        September 14, 2013 at 9:53 am |
    • Gotta Luv Me

      We did, that's why we no longer believe in the big bang and your family ancestors, the APES.

      September 14, 2013 at 9:52 am |
  12. lheilman2012

    As a Buddhist, most Atheists are ready to throw in the "religious" fire. The people of the Book, Muslims, Jews and Christians, are ready to damn me to hell for atheism. That puts me exactly where I want to, in the middle. Atheists, stop painting all believers with the "moron" brush. Believers, have the compassion that your Book expects of you and treat others with respect whether they agree with you or not. What a whole lot of hollering and name calling to no useful point. Sheesh. This whole thread makes me fear that intelligent comments only come marinated is anger. What a waste.

    September 14, 2013 at 9:46 am |
    • Kevin

      I'm an atheist, but I can respect Buddhism because it's about enlightenment and self-development.

      September 14, 2013 at 9:59 am |
      • G to the T

        That and it's based on truly self-evident principles – "Suffering exists". Pretty hard to deny that vs. "God exists".

        September 16, 2013 at 11:51 am |
  13. geckopelli

    At least Dawkins has an opinion, unlike non-thinking believers who have nothing but knee-jerk defense of their silly beliefs.

    September 14, 2013 at 9:45 am |
    • Glenn Parker

      That's an excellent defense of your stance. I can't believe others haven't thought of it.

      September 14, 2013 at 9:51 am |
    • John P. Tarver

      Dawkins sells 19th century science in the face of modern knowledge, at least the sky fairy might be true. In fact Einstein's Copenhagen Interpretation comes to mind, "Quantum Mechanics and Relativity require a sentient being outside the universe to make the universe real." So then, no sky fairy, then nothing.

      September 14, 2013 at 9:52 am |
    • Brandy

      Wow, you didn't learn a damned thing, did you? Atheists like you are as arrogant and annoying as any religious zealot.

      September 14, 2013 at 9:52 am |
  14. MACT

    Maybe the place to start is to have the media, including CNN, stop reporting the views of all extremists, or at least reduce the frequency so it is proportional to their numbers.

    September 14, 2013 at 9:44 am |
    • One one

      Why should CNN do that when articles fostering discord increases their ratings ?

      September 14, 2013 at 9:52 am |
  15. Dr E

    Great idea, but probably won't be popular because some of you thrive on dissent and discord.

    September 14, 2013 at 9:44 am |
    • Sam Mensch

      Many, but not all of us, thrive on discord. Unfortunately those who do flock to anonymous internet comment message boards.

      September 14, 2013 at 9:47 am |
      • Dr E

        Yes, and use them as an orotundity to spew all of the hatred inside their hearts, but for those of us who don't, I think this is an excellent opportunity.

        September 14, 2013 at 9:50 am |
        • Dr E

          *opportunity

          September 14, 2013 at 9:51 am |
  16. amertheconqueror

    Why would I care about other atheists and theists ridiculing each other? This is a dumb deal. I also don't really know who Pat Robertson is. I could ridicule virgin birth and the entire human race spreading from two humans (It happens again with Noah) all day, but I don't really have a compulsion to criticize religion, but I do criticize it when the Christians start the argument. Usually,it is the Christians that start it.

    September 14, 2013 at 9:43 am |
  17. Alex

    The author confuses Dawkins as some kind of authority figure within an imaginary atheist hierarchy. Dawkins and his words are nothing to me, and I'm an atheist.

    September 14, 2013 at 9:41 am |
    • John P. Tarver

      Dawkins peddles outdated science to fools, where is the difference?

      September 14, 2013 at 9:44 am |
    • Sam Mensch

      His sales and visibility mean he is, if not respected, at the very least listened to by many.

      September 14, 2013 at 9:45 am |
      • John P. Tarver

        The fascist social political agenda of the modern atheist is another religion; leap of faith.

        September 14, 2013 at 9:48 am |
        • Kevin

          Atheism isn't a leap of fait, it's a leap FROM faith. Socialism, you say? Don't you know Jesus was a socialist? That's why they crucified him.

          September 14, 2013 at 10:04 am |
        • Summer Glau

          If we use that kind of logic, then Starbucks, Golf, Twilight and Fantasy Football are religions too

          September 14, 2013 at 10:07 am |
  18. Ajax

    In answer to the deal. Okay, because I don't know if god exists. As well, I don't want to look because it's too time consuming and our time is very limited. I'm sure if he does exist, he will find me. So in lieu of religion, I have two rules. Rule one is "Don't hurt anybody". Rule two is "Only hurt someone if they are trying to hurt someone else". Now I know how that sounds but it really has worked quite well so far. It covers pretty much everything. From gossips to bullies to rapists to thieves to murderers and on and on. It clearly covers emotional hurt as well. The old maxim "Treat others as you wish to be treated" is very good but it doesn't cover how to treat people in the real world because it is too limited. My rules do.

    September 14, 2013 at 9:41 am |
  19. One one

    Her comparison is fallacious. If an atheist happens to make a stupid comment, it is not necessarily born from any particulate atheist doctrine. When Pat Robertson said the earthquake in Haiti was because Haitians made a deal with the devil to end slavery 200 years ago, the comment is born out of Christian doctrine.

    September 14, 2013 at 9:40 am |
  20. CTed

    The problem is that most atheists don't care what you believe, but MOST Christians do. This is not about the Pat Robinson and Richard Dawkins. It's about why we have to have "under god" in the pledge because the Christians in the US feel like we need to salute god in order to love America. It's about christians across the country failing to honor the separation of church and state so you can love america and live life on the one hand and have your faith on the other. When mainstream christians stop pushing their faith on everyone we can talk about deals.

    September 14, 2013 at 9:39 am |
    • John P. Tarver

      Atheists are quite intent on using 19th century false science to prove their point. Consider how the Nobel Committee rejected General Relativity in 1919, for the same fascist social political agenda our online atheists pimp today.

      September 14, 2013 at 9:46 am |
      • anthonydavidpirtle

        You, sir, are a fool.

        September 14, 2013 at 10:05 am |
        • Rett

          Why not shoot down his statement rather than just call him a fool and go on

          September 14, 2013 at 10:18 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67
Advertisement
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.