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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. brian

    Superficial article. Church ladies tend to be soft in the head. They call this softness "faith."

    September 15, 2013 at 2:36 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      Yet in your case Brian, they call it impotence.

      September 15, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
      • doobzz

        Nice ad hominem, JPT. Typical Christian.

        September 15, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
    • Jason

      This article is yet another false equivalency. She's saying "hey atheists, we won't mention Dawkins' comment that essentially says 'pedophilia is wrong, but I was not injured in a way that I couldn't recover' if you don't mention how Westboro Baptist blames everything wrong in the world on gays." Um, not the same thing. You could certainly (if you want to see it this way) claim that Dawkins is giving a soft endorsement of pedophilia. He isn't, and the author knows that. But the nut jobs on the far right have actually HELPED created laws in Africa that allow for the killing of gays...just for being gay. It's disgusting that the author wants us to shut up about real atrocities because she wants to twist Dawkins' words.

      September 15, 2013 at 2:49 pm |
  2. M MURDOCH

    I AM,KIND AND GOOD

    September 15, 2013 at 2:36 pm |
  3. Michellef

    Stunning to read that reasoned men and women in this day and age, actually DO BELIEVE these ghost stories. Why on Earth would any sane individual think that there would/could/ be a god or gods? CRAZY. A soul? C'mon people, where is the proof, even a tiny ort of evidence? Heaven? Hell? Fiction! What a waste of time dwelling on such tripe. Are the believers on here all fat and lazy? Go outside, run, read a book (no, not that piece of junk one) DO SOMETHING with the real time that you do have here and now in the REAL LIFE, and stop dreaming and salivating and fantasizing over this "next" fictional after life you think will be yours. GOODBYE! 🙂

    September 15, 2013 at 2:36 pm |
    • Hell and destruction are never full

      Keep the shiny side up. 🙂

      September 15, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
  4. What is going on? FREEDOM

    Funny how the christian trolls think Dawkins was an Atheist leader. Sorry but Atheists don't have a Pope or priest. Dawkin spoke about pedophilia sure but that doesn't automatically make the rest of the research he made (which I am sure many of you trolls are trying to do) false.

    September 15, 2013 at 2:35 pm |
  5. Seven Gold

    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.”
    Gotta love how the opening to this article makes a blanket statement about what the author views as 'rightfully', instead of talking the points about what he said. Too bad, other points in the article about don't judge a whole group on what one person in that whole group says is IMO a fine approach.

    September 15, 2013 at 2:35 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      Next Dawkin's can claim the quote "blacks are cattle", from Origin of Species, did no harm in south Africa.

      September 15, 2013 at 2:36 pm |
      • Dippy

        It's Dawkins, not Dawkin's.

        September 15, 2013 at 2:43 pm |
      • doobzz

        You're an expert cherry picker, JPT.

        Ever think of putting your talents to use in Napa? They need quick folks like you to pick grapes right about this time of year.

        September 15, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
        • doobzz

          Bring a hat, and lots of sunscreen.

          September 15, 2013 at 2:44 pm |
  6. The Atheist Response

    We don't care.

    September 15, 2013 at 2:35 pm |
    • foryouIwrite

      Then why did you write a response?

      September 15, 2013 at 2:36 pm |
  7. M MURDOCH

    THOU SHALT HATE GAWD AND LOVE ME. THAT'S # 1

    September 15, 2013 at 2:35 pm |
    • M MURDOCH

      I DON'T JUDGE OTHERS

      September 15, 2013 at 2:35 pm |
  8. Dave Harris

    Does it make any difference whether one is a Christian or an atheist? Only if you want to wage 'holy war', and then it's your problem.

    September 15, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
    • God

      From some of the angry comments on here from so-called atheists, I'd say they're pretty much as hateful as the christians they decry.

      September 15, 2013 at 2:35 pm |
      • roenfurr

        Yeah, but our hatred is a result of observed behavior in Christians, whereas Christians hate because their pastor told them to.

        September 15, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
  9. M MURDOCH

    YOUR LOVE 4 ME WILL BE TESTED

    September 15, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
  10. lbdukeep

    IIts truly a sad/sick age of time when Christians (Christianistas) still force their beliefs on others. FORCE their beliefs on others. WHY can't they just accept the fact that there are people in the world who DON'T want to believe as the Christians believe? What is their major malfunction? Do they think they are responsible for all the ills of the souls of the worlds? Well they caused most of the damage of the world's ills....so why can't they just STOP? Atheists and Pagans, no matter what their beliefs...should be left alone. Gays should be allowed to be as they are. The CHRISTIANISTAS do not follow Jesus's word – they don't follow what He prescribed in how to treat others. So do NOT confuse true believers in Jesus compared to Christianistas. (By the way – Jesus when he decided it was time to visit his mother, sent out his disciples – two by two to speak of all they had seen. One of the Disciples said Jesus -" what if the people don't want to hear what we have to say?" He said " Just dust off your clothes of that town about you, and move on". So why can't the CHRISTIANISTAS move on? Because they are intentionally going to work to change the world to their idea/form of CHRISTIANITY – but today's Christianity has NOTHING to do with Jesus. Today's CHRISTIANISTAS are extremists! I would go so far as to call them TERRORISTS! Beware, they are coming ....and there is another truth...from WWII – "They came for the Jews, but I am not a Jew so I did nothing, they came for the Gays, But I am not gay....then they came for me!" Don't be like this folks....don't let any religion walk all over YOUR rights to be!

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

      Yeah, you wrote to much. My eyes glazed over after the first sentence. BORING...couldn't finish.

      September 15, 2013 at 2:34 pm |
      • Dippy

        It's too, not to.

        September 15, 2013 at 2:35 pm |
  11. Rob-Texas

    Eewww....atheists, be told!!!!

    LOL!

    How the mighty have fallen.

    September 15, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
  12. M MURDOCH

    U WILL LOVE ME OR ELSE

    September 15, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
    • M MURDOCH

      AND NO, I'M NOT GOING TO PRISON

      September 15, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
      • M MURDOCH

        (WELL, MAYBE FOR 23 TO LIFE, BUT NOT BLOODY LIKELY)

        September 15, 2013 at 2:33 pm |
  13. jfc1

    not getting it...the article is a plea to atheists to not do the same dumb thing that many christians do, in exchange for this one christian to not do the same dumb thing to athiests?

    How does this woman function on a daily basis?

    September 15, 2013 at 2:30 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      Her troll is out to almost 50 pages of mostly atheist rants now. Did you order her book yet?

      September 15, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
      • John Q. Public

        Protest is not endorsement.

        September 15, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
        • doobzz

          John P. Tarver is not big on facts, but he can pick cherries like a mofo.

          September 15, 2013 at 2:46 pm |
  14. D MURDOCH

    soon, all xtards will b a distant mermory and u can worship me

    September 15, 2013 at 2:28 pm |
    • M MURDOCH

      I AM YOUR SAVIOR.

      September 15, 2013 at 2:30 pm |
  15. rhobere

    There's a HUGE difference between Pat Robertson and Richard Dawkins. Richard Dawkins riles people up by simply stating observations that cannot be disputed (like the nobel prize count), while Pat Robertson spews hateful OPINIONS that have no grounding in observation, but only interpretation of events through his own little religious looking glass. Dawkins is a scientist first while Robertson is a bigot first, second, and third.

    Second of all, calling Atheism evil is a fantastic way to present yourself as a bigot and not the greatest way to strike up any kind of meaningful conversation. So NO DEAL.

    I have a proposal though. How about we take freedom of religion to mean that your religion doesn't dictate the laws I must abide and vice versa. Shouldn't be that hard. Most of the laws that do that are pretty petty (e.g. states that don't sell liquor on sundays). Some you have shown adamence against and I can understand, but remember, repealing a law doesn't mean reversing it and forcing you into an abortion line.

    September 15, 2013 at 2:27 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      Dawkins and Robertson are in agreement, there is nothing different about them.

      September 15, 2013 at 2:29 pm |
    • Henryo

      So you defend Dawkins' stance on pedophilia...that it doesn't really cause harm and people exaggerate their experience?

      September 15, 2013 at 2:29 pm |
      • doobzz

        You are as big a liar as the unethical "journalist" who posted this piece of claptrap.

        September 15, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
  16. templerecommend

    Oopsie,

    I see a lot of atheists crumbling on here. Scared that their leader is a pedophile, scared that people will think that means they are alright with pedophilia; just really, really scared.

    It sucks to not hold priests as the only creepy old men in the world now, huh? How filled with his own megalomania can a man be, to admit to his own molestation, let alone advocate that of others while saying that it doesn't harm anyone in the end?

    DEEPLY disturbed.

    September 15, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
    • What is going on? FREEDOM

      Dawkins have never been my leader. I guess you are about as clueless as the rest of the Christian fools on here.

      September 15, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
      • John P. Tarver

        I enjoy seeing pastor Dawkins make fools of atheists.

        September 15, 2013 at 2:28 pm |
        • What is going on? FREEDOM

          Tarver you made a fool out of yourself by trying to hide behind a profile name called Pam.

          September 15, 2013 at 2:29 pm |
        • John P. Tarver

          I only post here by this name and sometimes as TarverEngineering elsewhere. If you mean that my ideas feed parrots, of course they do; why else would I come here and engage in a battle of wits with unarmed men?

          September 15, 2013 at 2:35 pm |
      • What is going on? FREEDOM

        Tarver that is a falsified statement and you know it. You posted the same ramblings under the profile name under Pam. It was quite obvious.

        September 15, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
    • Michelle

      If you think atheists have a leader you need to go back to school son

      September 15, 2013 at 2:28 pm |
    • forgetaboutatleast

      another christian espousing unfounded opinion: "i declare, so mote it be!"

      you simply cannot come up with a valid argument, so you engage in ad hominem attacks. typical christian debater – epic fail.

      September 15, 2013 at 2:29 pm |
      • templerecommend

        Right, so, not a christian. One.

        Two, you all avoid the point that Dawkins is alright with pedophilia instead of decrying him like you do the disgusting catholic priests.

        Three, if you're atheists just to be contrary people, then you're really wasting your lives and the lives of others.

        September 15, 2013 at 2:31 pm |
        • forgetaboutatleast

          right, so, not an atheist. one.

          two, there is nothing in the dawkins statement that endorses pedophilia.

          three (again, not atheist), if you spend your life trying to proselytize, then you are wasting your life and the lives of others.

          September 15, 2013 at 2:35 pm |
    • Unbelieveable

      You're projecting. To informed readers, your comments make us feel embarrassed on your behalf.

      September 15, 2013 at 8:18 pm |
  17. D MURDOCH

    I SAID now!

    September 15, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
  18. forgetaboutatleast

    if you read all 4000+ comments, you will see a pattern: non-christians meticulously tear apart the arguments of christians, while the christians rely on bible quotes and circular reasoning in a desperate bid to proselytize. this pattern is nothing new and indicates a big shift in the enlightenment of secular society.

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

      The enlightened mob had blood on their minds. Nuthin' new.

      September 15, 2013 at 2:19 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      The Christian evidence might be true while the discredited science of "science" of Dawkin's is false.

      September 15, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
      • What is going on? FREEDOM

        What happened to your girl profile called Pam, Tarver?

        September 15, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
      • forgetaboutatleast

        that's a declaration of fantasy, not an argument based on facts. epic fail.

        September 15, 2013 at 2:24 pm |
        • John P. Tarver

          The global geological fossil record proves species occur as a result of a mass extinction, the opposite of evolution.

          Robertson and Dawkins agree about evolution.

          September 15, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
        • What is going on? FREEDOM

          Tarver you are a fool.

          September 15, 2013 at 2:28 pm |
        • John P. Tarver

          I always like to introduce general relativity to these discussions early, for when the evolutionist says, "we don't now where gravity comes from either." It is like they follow a formula of one false cause and effect ratio to another.

          September 15, 2013 at 2:31 pm |
        • forgetaboutatleast

          tarver, there is nothing in your statement that discredits evolution. nor does it validate creationism.

          September 15, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
        • What is going on? FREEDOM

          Tarver stop acting like a scientist. You aren't one and your false information you post prove it.

          September 15, 2013 at 2:33 pm |
    • Seven Gold

      Many (not saying all) religious people tend to want to pick and choose what points about religion they want to talk about and have reviewed to see if it is consistent and makes for good logic.

      September 15, 2013 at 2:30 pm |
  19. M MURDOCK

    It was gawwwwwd who created the bomb

    September 15, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
    • M MURDOCK

      Even though he don't exist

      September 15, 2013 at 2:13 pm |
      • M MURDOCK

        Well, OK, he exists for the bad stuff

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

          But that's it. All evil, disease, hate and stuff, gawd done it. Other than that skyfairy is in your sick imaginations

          September 15, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
    • HM8432

      That's the problem with atheists, they spend so much time focusing of the negative, that they incorrectly attribute to God, that they completely forget about the other 99% of things that are good and right with the world, being directly connected with God. No mention from these guys of Satan, and his influence on our actions; it's too easy to blame God for man's shortcomings...and the Devil is having a good laugh about that!

      September 15, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
  20. Jerry

    Dear CNN, if you're going to insist on a religion piece once a week or so, at least make it less trite.

    September 15, 2013 at 2:11 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.