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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 MURDOCK

    We only donkey punch palliden cause she caused the shooting in arizona

    September 15, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
  2. M MURDOCK

    Xtards r responsible for all killings

    September 15, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
  3. M MURDOCK

    9/11 was caused by xtards

    September 15, 2013 at 2:08 pm |
  4. Mark

    Oh please! I can't tell you how many times Christians bring up Stallin or Mao and think that's a retort to the Inquisition or KKK.

    See, non-believers are independent. We don't have a doctrine or central, unifying belief. Someone can be an atheist and be a bigot or even a mass-murderer like Stallin, but being an atheist is inherently bigoted. Christianity is, both by doctrine and tradition, inherently bigoted and judgmental. There was no Grand Atheist Church commanding Stallin or Mao to commit atrocities. The Catholic and Protestant Churches has actually commanded it's people to do so. There's a paper trail!

    Stallin and Mao were evil men, but they weren't evil because they were atheists. Christians are evil because they follow Christianity, which has hatred, oppression, and bigotry inherent in it's doctrine. Many of them commit their crimes BECAUSE Christianity demands they do it. Any Christian who does not embrace this bigotry is a "cafeteria Christian" who is not fully embracing his faith.

    September 15, 2013 at 2:07 pm |
    • Dippy

      Its, not it's.

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

      Agreed. Mao and Stalin committed their atrocities in the name of communism not atheism. And anyone would know that communism is a political group.

      September 15, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      The KKK worships Ba'al, that is the reason they burn crosses. A modern version of that alternative religion is burning man.

      September 15, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
  5. Voice of Reason

    So atheists, do you have problems with your leader being alright with pedo's? Kinda gross to have somewhat ADMIT that they are alright with it. Sure, christian priests have been caught, but Dawkins admits to it and LIKES it.

    Disgusting.

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

      You are disgusting for lying about him and his experiences.

      September 15, 2013 at 2:07 pm |
      • Voice of Reason

        Oh, sad little donna, you've lost your hero. I know, it must be rough. It's ok...you'll get by. Surely there's someone out there that can tell you how to think that ISN'T a pedo...

        September 15, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
        • tallulah13

          What a sad little liar you are. How can you believe your god is great if you need to lie to defend him?

          September 15, 2013 at 2:12 pm |
        • jens gessner

          Voice of Reason,

          Seems to me you have not actually read his respective comment, and neither his clarification of it. – But you can judge it, anyway. Not so smart.

          September 15, 2013 at 2:48 pm |
    • Dippy

      Pedos, not pedo's.

      September 15, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
      • Voice of Reason

        Didn't know you had such a close relationship to the abbreviation....

        September 15, 2013 at 2:15 pm |
        • keenanomeara

          I had this long answer all ready to go. Systematically and irrefutably burying all substance by every single nasty and pious little retort you've posted here. Then it dawned on me. You're a troll. Another faceless little troll. trollalalalelujah.

          September 15, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Doesn't sound like you have a problem bearing false witness.

      September 15, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
    • tallulah13

      "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.”

      He's saying his life wasn't ruined, not that pedophilia is okay. You are such a liar.

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

        You're going to be ok. There is therapy for Stockholm syndrome. You can talk about your own experiences and NOT have to support others that advocate such evil practice.

        September 15, 2013 at 2:17 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      Dawkins is not my leader. That is ridiculous. I do not follow him, I do not read his works, I do not go to his lectures.
      I am my own atheist.

      September 15, 2013 at 2:12 pm |
      • M

        I doubt that. We're all a result of all the influences in our lives.

        September 15, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
    • Hell and destruction are never full

      The A&A's leaders, errr teachers are OK with it. Google the Neal Erickson story.

      September 15, 2013 at 2:17 pm |
    • doobzz

      He's not my leader. I don't need anyone to tell me what to think. I am my own person.

      I've never read one of his books, but I've heard of this "controversy" before. It's meant to discredit him by taking his personal experience and extrapolating a complete falsehood from it.

      Ms. Evans isn't exactly known for her journalistic integrity. She's more like Nancy Grace for Christians.

      September 15, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
      • templerecommend

        OH! Dawkins isn't your leader NOW! Now you think for yourselves. NOW you don't read his books and applaud his anecdotes, quotes and wisdom. NOW that he's humiliated your ranks, you run from him like a bunch of scared, leaderless, mindless rats.

        September 15, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
  6. JA

    ""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?""

    Deal. Pat says enough crazy things that we can let one slide and just throw the one after that at you.

    September 15, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Dawkins said nothing wrong. They are making a false controversy out of a man stating a fact and sharing his personal experience. Pat Robertson is a profiteering bigot. This is a case of comparing oranges to rotten apples.

      September 15, 2013 at 2:14 pm |
  7. Charles Darwin

    Oh sure, and by the truth I suppose you are referring to your truth of mythology.

    The truth is, if Atheists didn't have to listen to all of the religion being slung our way and in our faces every day we probably wouldn't be out there slinging it right back at you.
    The deal is...just shut up and perhaps we'll do the same.
    Until then, let the truth and reason against mythology mud slinging continue full steam ahead!

    September 15, 2013 at 2:05 pm |
  8. Truth+Christianity=Oxymoron

    How do you compare truths when you have Science vs. Mythology? Why is it Christians and Atheists? Shouldn't it be religions and Atheists.. one sided.. very stupid read.

    September 15, 2013 at 2:05 pm |
  9. Jaceb Goerge

    For god so loved the world that he drowned everyone on it.

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

      Why did he give us life to begin with? And families?

      September 15, 2013 at 2:05 pm |
      • Voice of Reason

        You seem to know that answer JM. Why did he?

        September 15, 2013 at 2:07 pm |
        • JM

          Count your blessings.

          September 15, 2013 at 2:08 pm |
        • Voice of Reason

          And yet, still not an answer, but an automaton. Huh.

          September 15, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
        • Bob

          JM, grow some courage and try to answer the question.

          Not that I am expecting that you can...

          September 15, 2013 at 2:13 pm |
      • Charles Darwin

        Ever stop to think that perhaps life is a product of the swirling gases and particles of the universe mixing together over billions of years like soup in a bowl to create cells that in turn mixed together creating other cells and eventually formed into DNA? It's all part of evolution.
        Families came much later as a byproduct of mammals feeding and protecting the young from predators in the sea.

        Our minds have not evolved enough to understand the complexities of the universe and perhaps never will, but Physicists are piecing together more of the puzzle every day using proven scientific methods.
        To believe that a god simply waved his hand or whatever and created everything is totally unacceptable, child like and without reason in this day and age.

        People really need to read some science books if we are ever to advance as a race.

        September 15, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
  10. Andrew

    You have good intentions in writing this piece, but you totally miss the mark by making it sound like the extreme elements of christianity and atheism are comparable. The extreme elements of christianity call for the executions of certain people and eternal hellfire for men who love other men. You also claim that both atheists and christians should ignore these extremists because in the end we are all just seeking some sort of "truth". How is Dawkins' tweet not truthful? What he said might've been offensive to some people, but it was an actual FACT about Nobel Prize Winners, not an opinion. However, most extreme christians only have their beliefs and opinions to go off of, like gays being responsible for hurricanes. Dont create false equivalencies here. "Extreme" atheists are much more intelligent and rational than extreme christians.

    September 15, 2013 at 2:04 pm |
    • the truth shall set us free--love, not hate

      If people claim to be Christian but aren't actually following Jesus' teachings, they aren't actually Christians. The Bible says that every person is a 'sinner' because every person has fallen short of God's holiness (obviously; none of us is w/o fault) and that He (the God of the universe) created us out of love and forgives us out of love and wants each of us to understand that He loves us. This world is not the end of the story.

      September 15, 2013 at 2:08 pm |
      • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

        All that you are saying is it your god's fault....and he blames us. Glad it is just a stupid myth.

        September 15, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
  11. Joemama

    A hopeless Egotist.

    September 15, 2013 at 2:04 pm |
  12. Hell and destruction are never full

    tallulah13
    This whole sacrifice thing is one of the creepier aspects of christianity. It just makes me shudder when they rejoice that an innocent man was tortured to death so that they don't have to be responsible for their own actions. The joy they so often express at this thought is possibly the most selfish thing I have ever heard.

    September 15, 2013 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    Hell and destruction are never full
    Well, you just keep on enjoyin' yer demobocracy death. The joy is the resurrection and comes from God.

    September 15, 2013 at 2:03 pm |
    • tallulah13

      You can't even prove that your god exists. Keep clinging to your little life raft of lies, sparky. Keep rejoicing in the thought that a man was tortured to death so that you can live forever and never have to be responsible for your own actions.

      You'll be dead and gone in the end, just like the rest of us.

      September 15, 2013 at 2:17 pm |
      • Hell and destruction are never full

        False prophet alert. 🙂 They turn you away from God, no matter the results of their bets.

        September 15, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
    • Observer

      Hell and destruction are never full,

      Your comments seem to reflect the same maturity level as lol does.

      Why do you think redneck baby talk impresses any adults?

      September 15, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
      • Hell and destruction are never full

        This is lol?? Pithyism is a heavy cross.

        September 15, 2013 at 2:36 pm |
  13. Kenneth Myers

    The only inter peace I've felt is after I left religion and put aside its effects. Religion has tormented more people than atheism by far. Christian don't want to take responsibility for their own actions, so they blame a fairy tale character for their bad actions. They pray to God for forgiveness when they never think to ask the person or persons they have actually hurt for forgiveness. Once they pray, all is forgiven and they don't have to admit to anyone their transgression.

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

      There are some interesting truths there – religion allows one to "let go the reigns" a bit of ones own life. That's easier than being an atheist.

      September 15, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
  14. M MURDOCK

    Though gawwd don't exist, he is the source of all evil

    September 15, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
    • Jaceb Goerge

      No, that would be you. murdock...

      September 15, 2013 at 2:04 pm |
  15. Henryo

    So yeah, Dawkins...the whole pedophile thing...kinda creepy. Don't you think, atheists?

    Is that the moral character you have as an atheist?

    September 15, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
    • What is going on? FREEDOM

      I don't even listen to the guy, so I don't care. But you shouldn't be speaking about morality issues when you have pedophile priests in your religion.

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

        LOL. Typical atheist.

        I'm not a christian. But go ahead, pass judgement, just like you did when you WERE a christian.

        September 15, 2013 at 2:05 pm |
        • What is going on? FREEDOM

          I doubt you aren't Christian. Also I wasn't born Christian I was born an Atheist. Both my parents were Atheists.

          September 15, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
        • Voice of Reason

          Wow, you're in a lot of denial and a bit of a liar, aren't you 'freedom?'

          September 15, 2013 at 2:08 pm |
        • tallulah13

          "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.”

          That was for you, Henry, because apparently your reading comprehension stinks.

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

          And you silly little girl tallhahah, whatever...

          If you read the WHOLE article, he states his own experience and says that people that experience "mild" pedo are over reacting...that indeed, no harm is caused.

          What a way to defend your leader. Blind as a christian, aren't you?

          September 15, 2013 at 2:12 pm |
        • What is going on? FREEDOM

          Voice of Reason the only little liar here will be you. I don't even listen to the Dawkins fellow. Hell I didn't even hear about him till two years ago. I kept to myself most of the time until fools like you tried to implement Christian laws in my state.

          September 15, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Did you read the article, lame nuts? Or are you blaming the victim here - because what Dawkins' said was that he was a victim, and it didn't destroy is life.

      Is blaming the victim something you learned in church?

      September 15, 2013 at 2:06 pm |
      • Voice of Reason

        You sound like a victim with Stockholm syndrome. I feel sorry for you, but that doesn't make what Dawkins said, ok...by ANY standard.

        September 15, 2013 at 2:14 pm |
    • donna

      Nothing creepy about what he said. he was being honest.

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

        You know you're one when you defend one....

        September 15, 2013 at 2:17 pm |
        • donna

          He didn't defend anyone. Try again.

          September 15, 2013 at 2:29 pm |
  16. M MURDOCK

    We no gawwwwd rped mary

    September 15, 2013 at 2:01 pm |
  17. M MURDOCK

    We know skydaddy hates all

    September 15, 2013 at 2:00 pm |
  18. D MURDOCK

    Just like gaeewwd killed everybody err ven though all were innocent, we shall reward the xtards for all they have done to stone and obnoxious

    September 15, 2013 at 1:59 pm |
  19. D MURDOCK

    Send Sam any suggestions on tips for torture including techniques on donkey punching

    September 15, 2013 at 1:56 pm |
  20. Yep

    Jesus, as a philosopher is great.

    Whether he ever existed or not, his story and words serve as a great role model.

    It's just a shame that most of the people who follow him and call themselves Christians act nothing like him.

    September 15, 2013 at 1:55 pm |
    • Dippy's Assistant

      There are No True Scotsmen.

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

      AMEN!!! I doubt that true Christians would even be commenting on this page.

      September 15, 2013 at 1:59 pm |
    • DonH

      Jesus is a great role model? You mean like how he told slaves to obey their masters? Or like when he told slave owners it was OK to beat their slaves as long as the slave recovered within 2 days? lol....
      His dad is no better.
      Anybody who would willingly kill his own kid for the crimes committed by "other" people is NOT the kind of parental role model we should be proud of.

      September 15, 2013 at 2:02 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Jesus as a philosopher is mediocre at best, at times his philosophy is terrible. It shows he was not divine.

      September 15, 2013 at 2:03 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.