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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. m

    the age old argument goes on and on. if there is a god I bet he/she/it could care less what we think as to he/she/it's existence. people need to mind their own business!

    September 15, 2013 at 1:55 pm |
    • Henryo

      Then why don't you stop posting?

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

      Could care less or couldn't care less? Which is it? You've got me confused.

      September 15, 2013 at 2:14 pm |
  2. Kenneth Myers

    After the religious blood baths we have just witnessed in the 21st Century you think atheists are the cause. Now that is ignorance.

    September 15, 2013 at 1:54 pm |
    • What is going on? FREEDOM

      They seem to ignore the atrocities occurring in Africa, especially the Christian ones.

      September 15, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
  3. Elena

    I bet atheist have never fell not even one second of real inner peace and happiness!

    September 15, 2013 at 1:53 pm |
    • What is going on? FREEDOM

      You'd be wrong.

      September 15, 2013 at 1:54 pm |
    • Observer

      Elena,

      You lost your bet, but keep the money and spend it on classes in logic.

      September 15, 2013 at 1:55 pm |
    • m

      how would you know??

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

        Because if you did then you wouldn't be atheist any more! see the problem is that we think we have inner peace but that inner peace is just a fake temporary satisfaction that temporary makes us feel euphoric.

        Inner peace is something totally different

        September 15, 2013 at 2:00 pm |
        • What is going on? FREEDOM

          What? You think inner peace is only for religious folk? You'd be wrong. Again.

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

          Elena,

          So you know what someone else's inner peace is like?

          Get serious, mindreader.

          September 15, 2013 at 2:03 pm |
        • Bob

          Elena,

          Really?

          Explain this "inner peace".

          Or admit that you are lying like most Christians.

          September 15, 2013 at 2:04 pm |
        • truthprevails1

          Wow, a load of ignorant blather but please enlighten us with the stats and evidence to have to back this. You obviously have little to do with reality if this is how small minded you really are...try to get out of the trailer a little more, meet some people, enroll in school...get an education.

          September 15, 2013 at 2:04 pm |
        • Elena

          finding inner peace requires a internal journey to the soul! Atheist do not believe in the soul last i knew!. It requires to grow spiritually!

          Would be like saying that Mao believed in private ownership!!

          September 15, 2013 at 2:08 pm |
        • What is going on? FREEDOM

          Elena the soul has no relation to religion.

          September 15, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
        • Elena

          Can I explain how does it feel to face a lion for example or how does it feel to free fall from a plane? no i cant, because even if I had experience that I could not explain a feeling. You have to experience it to know it.

          September 15, 2013 at 2:16 pm |
        • Billicus Maximus.

          Elena, we doubt that there is much that you can explain cogently, regarding the "soul", god, your experiences, or any other topic. However, you are welcome to keep trying. Big fail so far, though.

          September 15, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
        • Elena

          Billicus Maximus; do you think I CARE what you think? as much as you don't care what i say! arrogant people like you will never see beyond their noses! and for that reason will remain arrogant!

          September 15, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
        • Billicus Maximus

          Elena, if you didn't care, why did you reply?

          And as for arrogance, look in the mirror already, stupid.

          September 15, 2013 at 2:39 pm |
    • Dippy's Assistant

      Elena, I bet that English communication is not one of your strengths.

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

        so why are you responding?

        September 15, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
        • Bess The Teacher

          Perhaps Dippy's Assistant wants to help you, Elena.

          September 15, 2013 at 2:16 pm |
    • doobzz

      LMAO. You sound desperate.

      September 15, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
    • One one

      Have you ?

      September 15, 2013 at 1:57 pm |
    • Yep

      Elena,

      If ignorance is bliss, you may be one of the happiest people on the planet.

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

        doest it make you feel happy to offend people? why? may be that means you have a self esteem problem!

        September 15, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
    • jens gessner

      Elena's comment is meaningless rhetoric.

      Coming from a religious person, we can safely assume that 'real' inner peace – as they understand it – can only be attained 'in Christ' or 'Allah the merciful', etc. Babble on.

      September 15, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
      • Elena

        OMMM1 lol, what ever you say!

        September 15, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
  4. D MURDOCK

    Sambo is Hitler's devotee. She alone is qualified to punish xtards for their crimes against innocent athies, all of us

    September 15, 2013 at 1:53 pm |
  5. Agnostickids

    See, instead of being christian or atheist, why not try being agnostic? As an Agnostic, I'm not so easily angered by someone else's beliefs because I'm not threatened by the chance that I might be right or wrong.

    There is no proof that there is a God (or more). There is no proof that there isn't a God (or more). If it makes someone feel good to believe that there is simply 'something' out there, without a punishment/reward system, then it's a win- win situation.

    Helps with anger management as well. I mean, does it really feel good to go throughout the whole day hating a christian or an atheist? I don't think so, and besides, if you are either, then you might want to get up and walk away from your computer – do something to improve the world. Kinda fits both of your beliefs eh?

    September 15, 2013 at 1:51 pm |
    • Observer

      Amen.

      September 15, 2013 at 1:53 pm |
    • donna

      Agnostic just means that you don't think the answer can be known for truth with certainty.

      People can be agnostic atheists, or agnostic deists, or perhaps not even suspect one answer is more likely than the other.

      But, if you do not believe in a deity, then you are an atheist.

      Dawkins is an agnostic atheist because he knows that we cannot be certain and that it is possible that a god exists. He just real really really believes that god doesn't exist based on the evidence. But he does not claim to know it as a certain truth.

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

      I have to say agnosticism is just one step short – there's still no evidence to support the position. I can recall as I transitioned from christianity to agnosticism I found it easy to say things like, "Oh, terrible things happen because God just set things in motion to see how we'll deal with them." Again, just making an excuse for something that has never been shown to be there. It's still dishonest.

      September 15, 2013 at 1:57 pm |
      • Henryo

        Em...M, did you read the whole post? All you're doing is beating semantics to death. That and simply being contrary because you obviously like to hear your self 'talk.'
        So...get up and do something with your life. Who cares what you're experiences with agnostic beliefs are????

        September 15, 2013 at 2:00 pm |
        • M

          That's a little too emotionally charged. The point is agnostics are no much better off than believers. I don't see the big deal when someone likes pizza or ravioli is no big deal. But if someone thinks that when something happens it's just due to God and it's beyond their understanding and no need to worry, that's just as bad as believing that when something happens it's part of a plan.

          September 15, 2013 at 2:08 pm |
      • donna

        No evidence to support that position?? Are you kidding? 100% of the evidence about the universe tells us that we cannot know for certain whether something does not exist.

        PLease explain how there is "not enough evidence" to know that?

        September 15, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
        • M

          No, that's dishonest. By that line of reasoning anything can exist because we haven't proven it doesn't exist. That's not the way we go about proving things in this world.

          September 15, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
        • donna

          What's dishonest? I get the feeling that you don't know what agnosticism is...

          How is that we can know with certainty that a thing does not exist?

          Don't avoid the question- you called that dishonest and you need to explain why.

          September 15, 2013 at 2:13 pm |
    • One one

      Having trouble kicking the addiction ?

      September 15, 2013 at 2:00 pm |
  6. Montello

    How about if we just keep our beliefs to ourselves and not try to force them onto others who don't feel the same. Religion, or lack thereof, is nobody's business but your own.

    September 15, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
    • M

      It should be, but it's not.

      September 15, 2013 at 2:13 pm |
  7. D MURDOCK

    Sam stone, if we can get her out of her cell and the nuthouse in Texas where baptists r holding her for several murders she did not commit, all xtards will be subject to her whims. After all, she was wounded in war cause of fanatics and suffers from PTSD, among other mental disorders

    September 15, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
  8. paul gell

    Okay Rachel, lets talk about the truth. The earth was not made in 7 days. It is not 6,000, or 10,000 years old. it is 4.6 billion years old. There was no adam and eve, who somehow procreated the entrie human race after having only 2 sons.(and therefore there is no "original sin") Humans evolved from earlier ape-like ancestors. There is a billion-year fossil record that lets us see how life on earth evolved. There was no noahs ark. there is no evidence of a world-wide flood. there is no tangible proof that jesus resurrected, and was/is the son of god, or part god himself.So there's the truth. We have it. You can move your bible over to the mythology section of your bookshelf now, and skip going to church on sunday.

    September 15, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
    • Yep

      Well said.

      September 15, 2013 at 1:51 pm |
    • turner1988

      Ugh. Back to the drawing board with this argument. The Biblical account suggests that Adam and Eve had daughters as well as sons. Scientific evidence suggests that all mankind can be traced back to one woman in Africa. There absolutely IS widely accepted scientific evidence that there was once a worldwide flood. And so on and so forth. At least know the facts and claims before you try to argue them. : (

      September 15, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
      • Dippy's Assistant

        Likewise, turner. The evidence actually suggests that there have been several worldwide floods in the history of our planet, but that they pre-dated the presence of man, unlike the claims in the Christian book of fairy tales (which is itself inconsistent re floods and most other topics).

        September 15, 2013 at 2:00 pm |
      • M

        As a geologist I have to say, "no, dude."

        September 15, 2013 at 2:00 pm |
      • Athy

        And, turner, you obviously don't understand the concept of the common woman ancestor in Africa. I'd suggest you do some studying, but in your case that may not work.

        September 15, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
      • Billicus Maximus

        Some Europeans contain bits of Neanderthal DNA too, turner. That's pretty far from the wacky creation story in your holey book.

        September 15, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
  9. Razorback

    We won't agree to disagree because we're right and you're wrong! NYAH, NYAH, NYAH!

    September 15, 2013 at 1:48 pm |
    • m

      hey...5 year old aren't allowed on this page!

      September 15, 2013 at 1:58 pm |
  10. Little Baby Jeebus

    Yes, let's make a deal Christians.

    Prove that your invisible sky daddy exists or sit down and shut up.

    Imaginary friends are for children.

    Isn't it time you grew up?

    September 15, 2013 at 1:48 pm |
    • M

      And who do you think you just convinced with that bit of vitriol?

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

        Got that little funny feeling at the back of your neck again? That's your brain, trying to reactivate itself. It's been dormant too long.

        September 15, 2013 at 2:28 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      M
      You think that was vitriol? Seriously, that to you was the same as having sulphuric acid thrown on you? Lighten up your own rhetoric, he may have been a bit rude, but vitriol?

      September 15, 2013 at 2:43 pm |
  11. Kenneth Myers

    Richard was talking about something he had personally experience and was giving his opinion. He wasn't casting his opinion in concrete for all atheists. You also have to figure out he was talking about a religious group that committed the crime, yes, a crime and Christians seem to gloss it over because it was a Christian transgressors.

    Pat is a self serving, rich demagogue that ignorant people send millions of dollars to. His comments hurt more people than Richard and at least Richard makes sense even if you disagree.

    September 15, 2013 at 1:48 pm |
  12. rob

    NO DEAL!
    NO DEAL; DEFINITELY; NO WAY!

    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 1:47 pm |
  13. Will

    The fall of this country is going to be the fault of atheism.... Funny thing is their so blinded of the so called wisdom, that they don't even realize it

    September 15, 2013 at 1:44 pm |
    • doobzz

      How so?

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

      What vision are you speaking of?

      September 15, 2013 at 1:47 pm |
    • What is going on? FREEDOM

      Atheism has been around since Ancient Greek times. The world is still alive isn't it?

      September 15, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
      • What is going on? FREEDOM

        Also the United States has actually improved due to Atheism. We have kept your religious claptrap out of the government.

        September 15, 2013 at 1:51 pm |
    • Gerry Daley

      You were apparently home praying the day they taught spelling and punctuation at your school.

      September 15, 2013 at 1:54 pm |
    • paul gell

      please be more specific on why atheism would bring down America. Is it because you don't like the idea that there might be no god?

      September 15, 2013 at 1:54 pm |
    • Dippy's Assistant

      Will: you should have used "they're", not "their", stupid.

      However, the content of your post is invalid regardless of that. The backwardness in topics in science and tech, plus the faulty thinking that Christianity embodies and requires, is more likely to be a cause of a decline of America, than would be a lack of belief in a crazy collection of myths written up in a book by too many authors and translated too many times. Yes, I am referring to the bible.

      September 15, 2013 at 1:55 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Oh, brother. Another christian accusation based on nothing but opinion and prejudice. Do you know what they call accusations based solely on opinion and prejudice, Will? One term that can be used here is bearing false witness. Doesn't your bible say something about that, Will?

      September 15, 2013 at 2:03 pm |
  14. D MURDOCK

    We have a new machine that senses one billionth of an energy unit of love for gawwwewwwwd. Anyone spiking it will be dealt with immediately

    September 15, 2013 at 1:44 pm |
  15. Peter

    Dawkins is using conjecture as a means of eliciting refutation to devise a testable hypothesis. Such is the basis of scientific advancement and discovery. He challenges conventional thought, much in the fashion of a true atheist, to seek debate about a question. Though his statements may seem distant form social norms, he invites the presentation of empirical evidence to falsify his claims. Religion is unable to grasp these notions, nor able to provide an epistemological defense to such statements due to the constraints of dogmatism.

    September 15, 2013 at 1:43 pm |
    • M

      So what does that have to do with civil discourse?

      September 15, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
  16. myrtle may

    So, Ms. Evans – great points, but you can see from your comment section that you don't HAVE to suggest reason to the reasonable folk on either side. And you can suggest it until you turn blue to all the others. LOL.

    September 15, 2013 at 1:42 pm |
    • turner1988

      Painfully true.

      September 15, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
  17. Scott

    Atheism is the host hateful religion on the planet.

    September 15, 2013 at 1:42 pm |
    • doobzz

      Your unfounded, ignorant opinion is duly noted.

      September 15, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      Atheism is the non belief in gods. How is that hateful? How is that a religion?

      Is there a religion for people who don't believe in leprechauns? Is there a religion for those who don't believe in Nessy?

      Why do religious people so desperatley try to pull us into their boat?

      September 15, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
    • jens gessner

      Yikes.

      Most broadly, religion could be defined as a belief system or world view concerning the supernatural or the spiritual. Athiesm, however is only a position on a very particular issue, namely the existence of god. Atheists assert that there is not enough evidence to justify a belief in a deity (which could also be further narrowed to mean the existence of a 'theistic god' as supposed to a' deistic' god). And that is it.

      Atheism makes no other assertions. Thus it can not be hateful.

      September 15, 2013 at 1:57 pm |
      •  

        Godless Vagabond
        Nor is it a religion.

        September 15, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
  18. Seamus Ruah

    Richard Dawkins is NOT Pat Robertson, this equivocation is completely dishonest and ignores the long history of unethical behavior of Robertson.

    September 15, 2013 at 1:42 pm |
  19. D MURDOCK

    No battle songs that mention gawwwwwd

    September 15, 2013 at 1:40 pm |
  20. D MURDOCK

    There is no time to waste

    September 15, 2013 at 1:39 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.