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. kC

    How about this deal: The religious accept that their religions are in a terminal decline and should be allowed to lapse into history. Stop trying to encroach on public schools, people's private lives, politics, and every other issue that could be rationally discussed if not for the interference of the religious. The religious come to non-believers asking to be left alone to practice their beliefs, but for thousands of years this option to be left alone was not available for non-believers. “Many religions now come before us with ingratiating smirks and outspread hands, like an unctuous merchant in a bazaar. They offer consolation and solidarity and uplift, competing as they do in a marketplace. But we have a right to remember how barbarically they behaved when they were strong and were making an offer that people could not refuse.” -Christopher Hitchens

    September 15, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
    • Nancy

      I miss Hitch, he had a great way with words 🙂

      September 15, 2013 at 2:54 pm |


    September 15, 2013 at 2:49 pm |
  3. Hell and destruction are never full

    Were Carl Sagan and Liz Taylor soul mates?? They could have helped Kia sell their car. Dodge had the spirit.

    September 15, 2013 at 2:46 pm |
    • heehee

      Pat Robertson left bananas down by the levee... would it break down? They would have been great together making omelletes.

      September 15, 2013 at 8:04 pm |
  4. asdrel

    I will accept that deal. There are extremists on all sides, and those that seem determined to push their beliefs on others. I would propose expanding the deal: I won't claim that my beliefs are the absolute truth and won't try to convince others to follow my beliefs if others will agree to the same.

    September 15, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
  5. Daner

    Hey Rachel,

    Thanks for the great Op-Ed. I'm an atheist, but agree that it makes much more sense for humanity if we recognized and cherished our similarities rather than becoming outraged by our differences. One of my favorite quotes is by Rodney King; "Can we all get along?" I'd like to think we can.


    September 15, 2013 at 2:45 pm |

    Life on Earth was present a little over 3,400,000,000 years ago. The first eukaryotic cells appeard somewhere between 2,000,000,000 and 3,000,000,000 years ago. The earliest multi-cellular organisms

    we have are the Ediacaran biota from about 600,000,000 years ago. Mammals appeared less than 100,000,000 years ago and the first humans about 140,000 years ago.

    Christianity is the theory that an all knowing being created the Universe, waited for 9,000,000,000 years, created the Earth, waited through all the above and then sent his "son" to Earth to talk to a few Jews

    in Greco-Roman Palestine.

    What utter nonsense.

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

      Now provide evidence that we can actual test and prove that we came from a eukaryote. You can't prove or state something that happened, "millions of years ago" as a fact unless you can reproduce it. Waiting...

      September 15, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
      • What is going on? FREEDOM

        What do you think we are made up of? Dirt?

        September 15, 2013 at 2:54 pm |
      • Bill

        This would be a good video for you to watch, but its going to take a lot more work on your part than just watching a clip now and then. Study hard! READ! Learn! Don't give up child and don't give in to what your parents are forcing on you 🙂


        September 15, 2013 at 2:57 pm |
        • jens gessner

          Kenneth Miller is an evolutionary biologist – and a theist!

          September 15, 2013 at 3:48 pm |
      • In Santa we trust

        So by your standards, you cannot accept what the bible says?

        September 15, 2013 at 7:41 pm |
      • heehee

        If we found a branching tree of fossils which traced from simple multi-celled creatures all the way to every organism on the planet, that would be quite a bit of evidence. One would have to compare the traits of all of the literally millions of fossil species, and see if traits were inherited with modification. For example, if one found that all of the four-limbed land dwelling creatures had five fingers, that sure would indicate shared ancestry – it would be even more convincing if the few exceptions there were to that rule had ancestors which were indeed five toed, such as is the case with horses. I mean, a few examples of this would not be that convincing, but if that branching pattern of inheritance were apparent in thousands of lineages that would be nearly possible to dismiss. Of course, all of this would have to have the right chronological pattern; because if it didn't, say if you could find primates before the first tetrapods, boy that would blow the whole thing out of the water. On the other hand, if the pattern were completely consistent chronologically, over millions of fossils, well then that would be very, very convincing.

        But still, if that weren't enough, I suppose we could measure the relation between organisms by counting the DNA strands that they have in common. If you found say that a horse and a cow are equally related to a chimp, rather than just both being different – and this happened again and again for all the groups of species you checked – that could only be explained by a branching evolutionary tree. If furthermore you tested thousands of organisms and found that the genetic similarities actually matched the tree which was drawn up based on physical similarities – long before the genetic evidence was known – then wow, that would be impossible to refute. In fact this is precisely the kind of test you are asking for, and if it were done again and again and again – with literally millions of DNA codons and thousands of species – that would utterly clinch it.

        All of this, my friend, is a very rough outline of part of the evidence. Look it up and learn it. You could start with a web site called "time tree of life".

        September 15, 2013 at 8:18 pm |


    September 15, 2013 at 2:44 pm |


      September 15, 2013 at 2:46 pm |
      • M MURDOCH



        September 15, 2013 at 2:48 pm |

    "When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours." – Stephen F Roberts

    September 15, 2013 at 2:44 pm |

    Wizzlewoonies can fly faster than light, even though physics says they can't, since I invented them, they can.

    Lokenmullers are so strong they can pick up the Sun with one hand!

    Funkletrunkles are the most beautiful creatures the universe has ever known, to bad you've never seen one...

    God is infinite and eternal even though nothing else in the entire universe has ever been shown to be infinite or eternal, not even the stars themselves which will eventually burn out and die.

    Unicorns can run on comet tails and jump from one solar system to the next which is why we never see one...

    If you put Allah on one side of a coin and Jesus on the other, which side would come up most often when flipped?

    Would it change based on the belief of the flipper?

    Would it change if the flipper prayed about it real hard?

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

      Melt the coins and be done with it.

      September 15, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
    • Steve Chernick

      This is the most genius response to anything I've heard in a while. Thank you.

      September 15, 2013 at 3:17 pm |
  10. God

    “I am very conscious that you can’t condemn people of an earlier era by the standards of ours. Just as we don’t look back at the 18th and 19th centuries and condemn people for racism in the same way as we would condemn a modern person for racism, I look back a few decades to my childhood and see things like caning, like mild pedophilia, and can’t find it in me to condemn it by the same standards as I or anyone would today,” Dawkins said.

    September 15, 2013 at 2:43 pm |


    September 15, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
    • Scout

      Piss off, you weirdo. Please decide how you want to spell your name, troll.

      September 15, 2013 at 2:48 pm |
  12. rantsloth

    no atheist speaks for another; thats what makes us different than the morons who follow the words of one bearded guy who lived 2000 years ago

    September 15, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
  13. Dexter

    Hey Christians,

    Get bent. You're losing this fight, stop trying to get in the cheap shots while you still can and just go down with some dignity.

    September 15, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
    • Keelyam

      Get bent like Dawkins was or perhaps is doing? I mean, you're the one that's upset about your leader being defamed by his own words...

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

        Keelyam, Dawkins isn't my leader, although I do think highly of him and his scientific work, his opinions, and his courage in speaking out even in the face of threats from Christians and other lunatics. Nor do atheists have a single "leader". However, unlike your sky creature, Dawkins does actually exist

        September 15, 2013 at 2:46 pm |
      • donna

        He wasn't defamed, his comments were taken out of context. What he said was accurate.

        September 15, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
      • tallulah13

        Christians are creating contoversy about Dawkins' words where none exist. He simply spoke of his own experiences and his own reaction. Christians are forever scapegoating and lying about people who oppose them, possibly because their religion cannot stand on its own merits, so they need to distract.

        September 15, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
  14. What?!


    Written in 1280 BC, The Book of the Dead describes a God, Horus... Horus is the son of the god Osiris... born to a virgin mother.

    He was baptized in a river by Anup the Baptizer... who was later beheaded.

    Like Jesus, Horus was tempted while alone in the desert... Healed the sick... The blind... Cast out demons... And walked on water...

    He raised Asar from the dead. 'Asar' translates to 'Lazarus'.

    Oh yeah, he also had 12 disciples. Yes, Horus was crucified first... And after 3 days, two women announced... Horus, the savior of humanity... had been resurrected.

    September 15, 2013 at 2:40 pm |

      Godless Vagabond
      Same play, different character names.

      September 15, 2013 at 2:41 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      West side story, meet Romeo and Juliet.

      September 15, 2013 at 4:18 pm |
    • jens gessner

      Yes, it sounds familiar.

      Bill Maher, "Religulous" (2008)

      September 15, 2013 at 7:19 pm |


    September 15, 2013 at 2:39 pm |


      September 15, 2013 at 2:40 pm |


    September 15, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
  17. Keelyam

    It's got to be humiliating for atheists now; when they tell people they are atheists and the other person says, "oh, are you alright with pedophilia as well?"

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

      Yawn. You Christians do it every time when a priest has been found molesting children.

      September 15, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
      • Keelyam

        So what's YOUR excuse now?

        September 15, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
        • What is going on? FREEDOM

          There is no excuse troll. He doesn't represent me like your priests do fool.

          September 15, 2013 at 2:43 pm |


    September 15, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
  19. Voice of Reason

    He said other children in his school peer group had been molested by the same teacher but concluded: “I don’t think he did any of us lasting harm.”

    Em...so he's ADVOCATING pedophilia. NOT ONCE did he say it was WRONG!

    September 15, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      Than you admit the Bible advocates slavery right? It never says it is wrong.

      September 15, 2013 at 2:39 pm |
      • Keelyam

        What does the bible have to do with Dawkins? Why try to steer the topic elsewhere? Dawkins is a pedophile and now atheists have to come to terms with it.

        September 15, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
        • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

          You mean Dawkins was a victim of pedophilia, why do feel you need to lie?

          September 15, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
    • Hi Kettle, I'm black

      Dear Christians,
      Are you kidding me? You're going to take Richard Dawkins' statement as a promotion of pedophilia? I tell you what, I'll make you a deal - when your churches and church leaders stop RAPING little boys, then going to great lengths covering it up to protect pedophiles, when that happens you can feel free to have an opinion on molestation. Richard Dawkins as at not time been accused of molestation, he himself was molested. He simply said it had little lasting harm. Sometimes honesty, while it may not be what you want to hear can be startling.

      September 15, 2013 at 2:51 pm |


    September 15, 2013 at 2:37 pm |


      September 15, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.