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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. Nietodarwin

    "atheists point to the most extreme, vitriolic voices within Christianity and proclaim that they are representative of the whole."
    HA HA HA
    The "whole" is representative of the whole, differing degrees of mental illness is still mental illness. All christians preach and judge, all christians actually believe ONE MAMMAL our of all mammals "rose from the dead" eons ago. Moderate christians may be worse than the extremists, they create a culture where we still tolerate this delusion, and tolerate the brainwashing of children into this delusion.
    Most child abusers were abused as children. This is also the way religion, (which is psychological and intellectual child abuse,) perpetuates its vicious cycle. There is no such thing as a "child of god" because there is no such thing as a "born believer." Believers are people that have not been able to escape the brainwashing that began when they were children and continues in their lives as adults.

    September 15, 2013 at 6:58 pm |
    • josh

      You realize you're one of those atheists like Dawkins the rest of us are embarrassed to be grouped with right?

      September 15, 2013 at 7:52 pm |
  2. Nietodarwin

    Religion was invented when the first con man met the first fool._Mark Twain

    "Faith is believing what you know ain't so." Mark Twain

    "It is very difficult to reason someone out of a position they did not reason themselves into." Rich Rodriguez

    "Who are the bigger fool's, those who are born stupid or those who choose stupidity?" John Kelly

    Some just think they are "educated" when they are actually indoctrinated. George Washington (I had to add this last one especially for Ms. Racheal "Held (back)" Evans

    September 15, 2013 at 6:53 pm |
    • Dippy

      Fools, not fool's.

      September 15, 2013 at 8:01 pm |
  3. Nietodarwin

    NO DEAL. It is ILLEGAL to enter into a contract with persons that are not mentally competent, and "believers" are NOT mentally competent.

    September 15, 2013 at 6:48 pm |
    • Thanks. Your opinion means nothing.

      🙄

      September 15, 2013 at 6:57 pm |
  4. Nietodarwin

    " most extreme and irrational Christians and atheists," HA HA HA HA Atheists don't come in different "degrees" of atheism like brainwashed "believers" and to describe ANY atheists as "irrational" just isn't even using the English language correctly. We don't believe in ANY "gods" or ANY "devils" or ANY "extremes" This lady always makes me laugh.

    “You don’t have to be brave or a saint, a martyr, or even very smart to be an atheist. All you have to be able to say is “I don’t know”.” _ Penn Jillette, God, No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales

    It is a statistical fact that the higher your education, income, and intelligence, the more likely you are not to believe in a god. For every college student that converts to a religious belief system, 17 college students convert to secular or atheist beliefs. "Secular Humanists" have an average intelligence of 15 I.Q. points above their Christian conterparts. Studies have shown the average atheist to have an I.Q. of 9 points higher than the typical Christian. (Mr. Jillette's cite)

    September 15, 2013 at 6:45 pm |
  5. Nietodarwin

    How ridiculous. Dawkins is a sane and educated man, and christians are deluded, mentally ill, and made stupid by their "faith"
    Anyone who ACTUALLY believes that out of all mammals that have ever lived, ONE "rose from the dead" should probably keep such nonsense to themselves. I won't give a christian ANY CREDIT at all, even for a cogent argument, if they make it from a perspective of delusion ( again, they call this delusion "faith") The other story about the preacher's kid who committed suicide is proof that "christian counseling" is one great oxymoron in the English language.

    September 15, 2013 at 6:35 pm |
    • clinky

      People take a lot of things on faith, Nieto. Loving another person involves trust and faith in the bond. Not everything that matters to people is settled by science, either. Ethical investigation can be scientifically informed, but answering moral questions goes beyond the facts of the case.

      September 15, 2013 at 6:44 pm |
      • Cpt. Obvious

        What precisely must be known beyond the facts of a case to reach a moral conclusion?

        September 15, 2013 at 6:49 pm |
      • GodFreeNow

        Belief and trust isn't the same thing as faith. Belief and trust are based on experience. Faith is based on assertion. I choose to have faith despite my experiences. People like to lump those words altogether as if they mean the same thing. They do not.

        For the record, if it matters, science will provide the answer in time and those answers will be based on evidence—not blind, baseless assertions. Morality could simply be defined as why we choose what we choose. While this decision my be subjective to the individual's environment, but the mechanism that drives that decision is chemical and very much the domain of science.

        September 15, 2013 at 6:56 pm |
      • heehee

        You scientists – with your so-called logic – will never learn to love, because you can't use your heart. Some things the mind cannot comprehend – what is the derivative of a flower? how do you quantify beauty and trust? Can you measure a rainbow? There are things not dreamt of in your philosophy.

        Clinky, your post made me feel that my life was missing something. How do I fall in this – thing – which you call ... love? I lack this faith of which you speak. How can I enrich my life and feel love? Oh the pain.

        September 15, 2013 at 7:56 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Egyptian Pharaohs rose from the dead and became gods, long before the christians claimed Jesus did. Yet another common theme in middle eastern mythologies.

      September 15, 2013 at 6:45 pm |
    • Hell and destruction are never full

      Can't you at least hate the correct text??

      "Mat 27:52-53 And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many."

      The critics shouldn't appear so sloppy. 🙂

      September 15, 2013 at 6:49 pm |
      • Commenter

        That would have been quite a sensational event! Dead people walking the streets of Jerusalem! Odd that there is not one single mention of it from a single person living at the time (even Gospel writers) other than this author of the book of Matthew. Not. One. Report.

        September 15, 2013 at 7:11 pm |
        • Doggle

          Maybe Mat was drunk when he wrote it.
          A lot of the bible's authors probably were.

          September 15, 2013 at 7:46 pm |
      • heehee

        Hey, here's that whole zombie thing again. I have a philosophical question about this. Did those zombies have a will of their own, or were they reanimated like something in an HP Lovecraft novel? Also, how did their flesh stay together? Wouldn't it drop off disgustingly?

        There is fruitful ground for theological and scientific inquiry here. Why isn't anyone taking this up?

        September 15, 2013 at 7:48 pm |
  6. frederick johnsen

    Reblogged this on Revving It Up and commented:
    The author makes a good point of not painting people with a broad brush. The other point I would like to make is to dispel the notion of atheism. No one believes in NO god. Everyone has their god in whom the put ultimate trust and see as all powerful and all knowing. As for professional "atheist" Richard Dawkins his god just happens to be named Richard Dawkins.

    September 15, 2013 at 6:20 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Oh, fred. You really have no clue, do you?

      September 15, 2013 at 6:39 pm |
    • Athy

      Fred, you're very unusual, aren't you? You can read the minds of every person on earth, even the ones you don't know about. Amazing!

      September 15, 2013 at 6:48 pm |
    • Snickerdoodle

      Dude, nobody's all-knowing or all-powerful, and everybody knows that. Stop talking. Now.

      September 15, 2013 at 7:04 pm |
    • heehee

      Ouch. A sting. If Richard Dawkins read that post, he would be cut to the core.

      How I hope you don't turn your penetrating eye in my direction.

      September 15, 2013 at 7:29 pm |
    • Johnsen Frederick

      ...and the dumbest post of the week award goes to......

      frederick johnsen!

      thanks for playing kids, that was a good one 🙂

      September 15, 2013 at 7:48 pm |
    • donna

      Did you know that the words "god" and "deity" have a meaning? You can't just decide that anything fits the description.

      September 15, 2013 at 9:11 pm |
  7. Pebbles

    ...and if your eye gets poked out in this life...
    will it be waiting up in heaven with your wife...

    ???

    September 15, 2013 at 6:01 pm |
    • jens gessner

      So he said: "Once there was a boy
      Who woke up with blue hair
      To him it was a joy
      Until he ran out into the warm air–
      He thought of how his friends would come and see;
      And would they laugh, or had he got some strange disease"?

      September 15, 2013 at 6:06 pm |
    • GodFreeNow

      I'm more curious about whether or not the blind spot in our eyes will disappear and be made perfect in heaven or if our vagus nerve will magically shrink in our new and perfect bodies.

      September 15, 2013 at 6:09 pm |
    • wikiMEwikiYOU

      There are really a lot of things about religion that strike me as absolutely hilarious, but that is one of the best ones. Picture all of the quadriplegics or severe down's syndrome cases, or maimed people etc... and so what do they think happens when they get to this afterlife? (I'm going to guess that many of them picture it the way Star Wars Return of the Jedi did with Darth.....all back together and smiling happily 🙂 OH my what a nice little story 🙂 The only possible way anyone could get a Human to become a suicide bomber is with religion. I wonder if in the decades to come when the Christ following is rapidly diminishing as people study more and try to get smarter, whether the last vestiges of christians will also strap explosives to themselves to die for their god. I really wouldn't think that it is only Islam that could convince, all monotheists who believe in another existence after this one would be susceptible to such brain washing...

      September 15, 2013 at 6:15 pm |
    • jens gessner

      Some people will experience brain defects in their lifetime, that means a part of their brain will cease to function properly. But when the entire physical brain shuts down, when we die, somehow – or so we are told – our brain function will be magically restored in the afterlife (I think Sam Harris once said that).

      The concept makes no sense.

      September 15, 2013 at 6:19 pm |
  8. clinky

    Here's the thing. Nobody has all the answers for everybody else. That means Christians don't. Jews don't. Muslims don't. Other believers don't. Atheists don't. If you think you have so much philosophical maturity and authority that you have all the answers for everybody else, may I suggest you could be whacked-out delusional.

    September 15, 2013 at 5:42 pm |
    • jens gessner

      Well, it's like this, clinky:

      Because no-one has all the answers, we developed a process of acquiring and organizing the bits that we do know. We call that 'science'. Nowhere does science claim to have 'all the answers', but to date we have not found a better way to build knowledge.

      My problem with religion is not that I believe that religious people are deluded. – They are, but that is beside the point. My problem is that religious people constantly try – and all too often with great success – to influence public policies based on their religion, which (as you correctly point out) should not be relied upon for answers. Our only hope is to let our best process of organizing knowledge influence public policy. – Thus science.

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

      Yes, those people you imagined are delusional. Feeling superior to imaginary people sounds fun and risk-free. May I join you?

      September 15, 2013 at 7:33 pm |
  9. cymom611

    I find it interesting that this article is about playing nice in the sand box, and hardly any of these comments are in face playing nice in the sandbox. Shame on all of you! None of you are representing your respective beliefs respectfully at all!

    September 15, 2013 at 4:35 pm |
    • GodFreeNow

      So, because someone wrote an opinion peace about being nice, therefore, people should be nice?

      September 15, 2013 at 4:37 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Actually this opinion piece was nothing more than comparing apples to oranges and calling them the same. I find it dishonest and I will certainly comment about it.

      September 15, 2013 at 4:46 pm |
    • Hell and destruction are never full

      My respects to the newly departed. They only appeared to be here. And that's neither here nor there.

      September 15, 2013 at 5:01 pm |
      • Gloriium

        "Hell and destruction are never full" -yeah, sounds like there's no bound to the hate and vengeance of the evil Christian god. What a berk.

        September 15, 2013 at 5:07 pm |
    • jens gessner

      Although I have no way of telling whether your comment was addressed to me, I can tell you with absolute authority that I represent no belief.

      Understand that whichever way you wish.

      September 15, 2013 at 7:26 pm |
    • heehee

      Aw, but mom... but Johnny told me I was going to h**l and that my only god was myself, and that I had a hole in my heart where Jesus should be. So I told him he was a ninny.

      September 15, 2013 at 7:35 pm |
  10. Constantine

    "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 4:28 pm |
  11. jerrymcm1970

    For every one Richard Dawkins there are dozens of Pat Robertsons, so don't try and draw some moral equivalence in your attempt to strike a "deal". In many parts of this country, atheists are afraid to even identify themselves, let alone have an honest discussion, for fear of social and economic ostracizing. Let's start with that before we address obnoxious public figures.

    September 15, 2013 at 4:26 pm |
    • TJ

      I'm sorry, but Dawkins is a narcistic ldiot seeking attention from others. I've listened to him. He has nothing intelligent to say.

      And I've never known a single atheist who was afraid of speaking their mind – even at the most inopportune time. They have been vocal, abrasive, aggressive, and deriding. They are more cult-like than some of the far flung religions in this world, and unable to conceive of anyone greater than mankind (not necessarily a god).

      Then there are those atheists who are respectful, caring, and who don't mind the beliefs of another, no matter what those beliefs are, because they are true Americans that believe in 'live, and let live".

      Grouping people in convenient little "generalized" cliques is nice. EVERYONE DOES IT. Yet it is so wrong. There are Christians who are less "Christian" than many atheists, and many atheists who are righteous in how they conduct themselves, yet simply don't believe in God, or any deity. As Christians AND Americans, it is up to us to allow them to choose their own path (as GOD intended them to do), and as Americans, it is up to them to allow us "FREEDOM OF RELIGION", and not "freedom FROM religion".

      Get it together folks – or our nation WILL fall apart further.

      September 15, 2013 at 8:56 pm |
  12. Kenneth

    Lord, is this idiotic conversation still going on?
    Who would have thought that there were this many people who can't just get along with other people?

    September 15, 2013 at 4:01 pm |
    • .

      Apparently you are one of them.

      September 15, 2013 at 4:03 pm |
      • Kenneth

        Not at all. I can get along with anyone who tries to get along with me.

        September 15, 2013 at 4:05 pm |
        • tallulah13

          Wow. Aren't you a special boy!

          September 15, 2013 at 4:28 pm |
        • Wendy

          Kenneth is especially adept at getting along with those he has referred to as "stool samples". Uh huh...

          September 15, 2013 at 4:46 pm |
        • JoeS

          Kenneth, frankly, ass holes like you have trouble getting along with a lot of people. Chill out and don't act so self-righteous for a start.

          September 15, 2013 at 4:47 pm |
        • Kenneth

          Man, it looks like I missed the chance to converse with the cream of the crop.
          I am mightily disappointed.

          September 16, 2013 at 12:48 am |
    • heehee

      Oh Kenneth. If only I could be as even-handed as you. I would win friends and influence people. I can tell that you are very popular among your peers. What is your secret?

      September 15, 2013 at 7:38 pm |
      • Kenneth

        The secret is to try to be a person instead of an anonymous pinhead on the internet. I am exactly the same person in real life as I am here.

        September 16, 2013 at 12:49 am |
        • hee hee

          if ONLY I could meet you. I bet you're happy and successful. How do you fend off the crowd of admirers?

          September 16, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
  13. the AnViL™

    no deal, racheltard.

    but thank you for confirming the effectiveness of our tactics.

    vae victis

    September 15, 2013 at 3:37 pm |
    • Kenneth

      I think you are one of the people she was talking about when she said the extremes need to be ignored.

      But, being a nice guy, I have fulfilled your need to be noticed by someone.

      Have a nice day.

      September 15, 2013 at 4:03 pm |
      • the AnViL™

        thinking isn't your strong suit.

        September 15, 2013 at 4:10 pm |
        • Kenneth

          Actually it is, but since you have no idea who I am, I am assuming you are just trying to garner more attention.

          I see you. I acknowledge your existence.

          September 15, 2013 at 4:12 pm |
        • tallulah13

          Aw. Kenny is so nice. Look at how he acknowledges the existence of others. What a special boy!

          September 15, 2013 at 4:32 pm |
        • JoeS

          Kenneth, I suggest that you back down. You exemplify what you claim to abhor.

          September 15, 2013 at 4:48 pm |
      • heehee

        Kenneth's posts are fun. He thinks he likes himself.

        September 15, 2013 at 7:45 pm |
        • Kenneth

          It's okay.
          I understand.

          And, I forgive you.

          September 16, 2013 at 12:45 am |
        • hee hee

          Aw, that's cute. You forgive me.

          September 16, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
  14. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    September 15, 2013 at 3:34 pm |
    • Constantine

      ok ok ok, wild guess.

      You're totally overweight. You barely get off video screens or books all day. You regularly eat fast food. You smile and tell yourself you're happy but are actually quite bitter. hmmm...what else? Oh, yes, you have no soul, death is coming, nothing special will happen, KEEP PRAYING BABY!

      September 15, 2013 at 4:26 pm |
    • Observer

      The Bible says that at one time God killed ALL HUMAN BEINGS. That sure wasn't very healthy for children and other living things.

      September 15, 2013 at 8:16 pm |
  15. jens gessner

    I have been following this thread for a few days now, since I originally commented on Rachel Evan's suggestion to dismiss extreme voices from both sides. I asserted then, as I do now, that her argument is invalid, because Dawkins merely made a controversial remark that was unrelated to Atheism, whereas the evangelist Robertson frequently preaches extreme religious views, which find their way into public policy proposals. There is a huge difference.

    But the tone of this thread has changed somewhat, and I am disturbed to see actual attempts of a character assassination developing. Already we see comments by ignorant fools suggesting that Dawkins is a pedophile and Atheists should distance themselves from him. They must be insane for making such wild assertions, and CNN would be well advised to moderate the thread more closely for abusive comments. And I would like to see other Christians respond to such smears, as is required of them (Ten Commandments, anyone?).

    Review Dawkins 'controversial' comment regarding his childhood experience, together with his later clarifications. The statements are public. If you still believe that Dawkins condones child abuse then you are probably ignorant beyond hope, and should be ignored by other readers.

    I challenge you to do the right thing, Christians. But I guess I should not hold my breath, right?

    September 15, 2013 at 3:31 pm |
    • Claire

      Really well said, thank you 🙂

      I too realized that his comments have been radically taken out of their original spoken context. Typical reporting these days, just trying to rile things up.

      September 15, 2013 at 3:52 pm |
    • donna

      Good post, jens.

      September 15, 2013 at 9:14 pm |
  16. D MURDOCH

    U WILL GET MY PERMISSION B4 U BREATHE

    September 15, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
  17. Dark Age Returns

    She must be a Catholic. Mr Dawkins was talking about pedophilia, not religion.

    September 15, 2013 at 2:54 pm |
  18. Nancy

    This article ends with,
    "So let’s talk about the truth, and with the people who most consistently and graciously point us toward it."

    Funny since it really seems that truth has no place in religion or deity worship. Deity worship is about Faith, not truth. Faith is license to believe whatever you want to believe without a shred of proof. Faith has long be lauded as a "good thing" but really, its a life ruiner...

    September 15, 2013 at 2:53 pm |
    • Hell and destruction are never full

      Seriously?? 🙂

      September 15, 2013 at 2:56 pm |
      • Nancy

        Seriously!! 🙂 The Aztecs had faith too

        September 15, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
  19. M MURDOCH

    I COMMAND YOU 2 LOVE ME

    September 15, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
    • heehee

      you must be great with the ladies

      September 15, 2013 at 7:59 pm |
  20. M MURDOCH

    I SHALL BE OBEYED

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

      Shut up, you twit. Nobody cares. Nobody.

      September 15, 2013 at 4:26 pm |
      • heehee

        actually he's great fun. enjoy it.

        September 15, 2013 at 8:00 pm |
    • heehee

      stop it, you're getting me hot.

      September 15, 2013 at 8:02 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.