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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. Richard

    I am atheist who doesn't care what Richard Dawkins says or does. I have thousands of reasons of my own to be an atheist. And, nothing he ever does could make me embarrassed enough to believe in a God thingy. For that, I need evidence that a God thingy exists – period.

    September 16, 2013 at 9:00 am |
    • Samcan

      Huh, hopefully one of those "thousands of reasons" includes a lack of education...considering your grammar and sentence structure.

      September 16, 2013 at 9:05 am |
  2. Reality # 2

    Hmmm, there is still some activity on this topic, so another summary is in order:

    Putting the kibosh on all religion in less than ten seconds: Priceless !!!

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated/reborn Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    • A constant cycle of reincarnation until enlightenment is reached and belief that various beings (angels?, tinkerbells? etc) exist that we, as mortals, cannot comprehend makes for a no on Sikhism.

    Added details available upon written request.

    A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups calling themselves a religion.

    e.g. Taoism

    "The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally, Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth century is regarded as its founder. Its early philosophic foundations and its later beliefs and rituals are two completely different ways of life. Today (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.

    Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately conceived by a shooting star; carried in his mother's womb for eighty-two years; and born a full grown wise old man. "

    September 16, 2013 at 8:58 am |
    • Samcan

      And yet, you've posted this exact same post for over a year...your opinion doesn't seem to be making a difference. Even to you.

      September 16, 2013 at 9:07 am |
      • Reality # 2

        Updating Matthew 28:18-20:

        As a good student, you have read the reiterations of the "fems" (flaws, errors, muck and stench )of religion. Therefore the seeds have been planted in rich soil. Go therefore and preach the truth to all nations, reiterating as you go amongst the lost, bred, born and brainwashed souls of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism as Rational Thinking makes its triumphant return all because of you!!!!

        September 16, 2013 at 12:28 pm |
  3. Richard

    "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?"

    No, how about you prove your God thingy exists and stop making excuses for why you can't support your claims about it?

    September 16, 2013 at 8:58 am |
  4. Bill Deacon

    Having read one page of the comments to this article it seems the general atheist answer to Ms. Held's invitation to civil dialogue is "No"

    September 16, 2013 at 8:57 am |
    • hee hee

      Look up "selection bias" and then re-think.

      September 16, 2013 at 4:40 pm |
  5. Nicholas Sammons

    It's sorta hard to really equate a few off color remarks from Dawkins with the things that Robertson has said in the past.

    September 16, 2013 at 8:53 am |
  6. Honey Badger Don't Care

    “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.”

    The most basic precepts of Christianity, salvation, is one of the most vile things that there is. Psychological terrorism.

    September 16, 2013 at 8:26 am |
  7. Ron Henzel

    Of course Rachel Held Evans does not want atheists to "throw the next Pat Robertson thing in" our faces. That's her job!

    September 16, 2013 at 6:49 am |
  8. GOOD NEWS

    So let's talk about THE TRUTH indeed.

    http://www.holy-19- harvest.com
    UNIVERSAL MAGNIFICENT MIRACLES

    September 16, 2013 at 4:01 am |
    • Honey Badger Don't Care

      There have never been any confirmed miracles.

      September 16, 2013 at 8:27 am |
      • Doc Vestibule

        That is patently false, Honey Badger.
        There was a Miracle confirmed in 2004.
        Kurt Russell gave an awesome performance as hockey coach Herb Brooks.

        September 16, 2013 at 8:39 am |
  9. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    September 16, 2013 at 3:53 am |
    • billy

      Prayer changes nothing

      September 16, 2013 at 6:03 am |
      • Anna

        You have to actually pray, before you come to the conclusion that you have. Why not give it a try. You will/might be greatly and pleasantly surprised by the outcome.
        (James 4:2 And yet the reason you don't have what you want is that you don't ask God for it. And even when you do ask, you don't get it because your whole aim is wrong).

        So ask humbly, and sincerely. You'll be amazed at the Goodness and Grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
        Have a blessed week. May God's favor surround you as with a shield this week.

        September 16, 2013 at 6:57 am |
        • Mirosal

          people pray and thank "god" when they've lived through a natural disaster ... did they ever pray to say thank you to their "god" for giving them the diaster in the first place? I spent 10 years in religious school while growing up ... prayer does absolutely nothing but generate a placebo effect in whoever does the praying.

          September 16, 2013 at 7:01 am |
        • Sea Otter (Leader of the Allied Atheist Alliance)

          LET's Religiosity Law #3 – If you habitually spout off verses from your "holy" book to make whatever inane point you're trying to make, and not once does it occur to you to question whether your book is accurate in the first place, then you are definitely mentally retarded.

          September 16, 2013 at 9:31 am |
      • Al

        I have to disagree with you Billiy. Prayer changes believes into atheists.

        September 16, 2013 at 6:58 am |
        • Al

          Believers.

          Love the auto-correct spelling.

          September 16, 2013 at 8:07 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      I thought the prayer-bot troll had crawled back under it's bridge along with Captain America and Just Sayin'.
      I guess the Troll of Many Monikers had stopped taking their meds.
      Next time the nice men with the huggy jackets are going to have you doing the Thorazine shuffle instead of having a fun trip to Lithium land.

      September 16, 2013 at 8:10 am |
      • Dippy

        Its, not it's.

        September 16, 2013 at 10:23 am |
    • Sea Otter (Leader of the Allied Atheist Alliance)

      Prayer didn't save Tebow from being cut from the Patriots... Thank God (irony filter off)

      September 16, 2013 at 9:33 am |
  10. joshuaoransky

    The difference between religion and atheism, of course, is that atheism isn't defined by a central dogma generally agreed upon by adherents. The *ONLY* thing atheists share in common is the base postulate that there is no supernatural being responsible for us, the universe, or anything else. From that perspective, Christianity has more in common with Wicca than two atheists do with each other.

    The crux of the author's article is that it equates atheism to religion. She states that when a famous, self-proclaimed atheist says something moronic, it's somehow analogous to a religious authority saying something of similar stupidity. The fallacy of that position is assuming that atheists stand together as a united "front".

    In fact, although I am an atheist, I feel no particular kinship with anyone else who claims to be atheist - and I wouldn't assume that there's anything else we agree on. It's kind of like saying that the next time someone who happens to be male is an idiot, everyone who is female agrees not to make a big deal of it since - not too long ago - there was a woman who said something stupid. Being male or female doesn't provide any basis to presume solidarity to either side.

    This is in stark contrast to someone who is an outspoken member of an organized religion or political party. In both cases, for better or for worse, those who identify with the organization are assumed to agree with some, if not most, of its ideological platform. If someone accepts the tenants of fascism - well, except for the mass-murder parts - they're still a fascist. Yeah, Pat Robertson is an ignorant xenophobe, but if you're a Christian you agreed with him more than you disagree.

    In contrast, even if you know that I'm a male human being, it's impossible to determine anything else I may have in common with another person just by knowing their gender.

    September 16, 2013 at 2:43 am |
    • Kathy

      Very well said. Thank you.

      September 16, 2013 at 7:59 am |
  11. Topaz

    The truth is this:
    *He died for an atonement of sins for those who believe , was buried and rose on the 3rd day. Believe he did this and put faith in the name of Jesus and you will have eternal life. This is the truth. Read your bible to know the one who died for you, he loves you and desires you to come to him before its too late. It may sound crazy and not true, but just think for a second that if YOUR wrong that mistake can cost you eternity.

    September 16, 2013 at 2:21 am |
    • HotAirAce

      You can't prove anything you claimed above. Unless you can, you are just another lying mentally ill delusional believer who can't figure out why Pascal's Wager is bogus.

      September 16, 2013 at 2:31 am |
      • Mark

        Hot do you have hope? Prove it.

        September 16, 2013 at 6:23 am |
        • Mirosal

          Mark, what does having hope have to do with any of this?

          September 16, 2013 at 6:48 am |
        • HotAirAce

          What would me having hope or not, or being able to prove that or not, have to do with believers proving their unproven-after-thousands-of-years claims? Nice attempt at deflection. . .

          September 17, 2013 at 1:43 am |
      • Mark

        You believe that something you can't feel or touch doesn't exist like God. Hope is there, but where? However in my life I feel the presence of GOD. It is not a fairy tale like so many of the bloggers with little insight want to point out.

        September 16, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
        • G to the T

          Hope is an abstract concept. The way we describe a particular mental state. Are you really saying that god is just an abstract concept? Because if you are, we're right on the same page my friend...

          September 20, 2013 at 3:49 pm |
    • sam stone

      ooooh.....

      proxy warnings

      go fvck yourself topaz

      September 16, 2013 at 3:20 am |
      • Mark

        Sam that is not nice to say to him. Let go of your insecurities and need to admonish that which you believe doesn't exist. That's a sign of deep seeded vitriol you established in your youth. Were you bullied or were you the bullier?

        September 16, 2013 at 6:47 am |
        • Dippy

          Seated, not seeded.

          September 16, 2013 at 10:26 am |
        • Mark

          Good catch, always learning.

          September 16, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
    • Mirosal

      We have read your bible, why do you think we are Atheists? There is no greater tool created to show what a scam religion really is. Also, if you are going to emphasize your belief by saying "YOUR wrong" to Atheists, I think you need to finish that 3rd year of sixth grade so can learn the difference between "your" and you're", ok?

      September 16, 2013 at 3:24 am |
    • billy

      Religion is a $50 billion a year scam and faith is about humility and service. I do not see much of that coming from any religion today. They are all building big impressive places of worship to gather more money, meanwhile the poor are still hungry.

      September 16, 2013 at 6:08 am |
    • andrewpetercarter

      If I'm wrong my mistake may cost me eternity?

      Well, I'm only wrong because God created me that way! If he didn't want me to be wrong, he should have ironed out that design fault, shouldn't he? The responsibility is his (if he exists) not mine. And don't give me the "but he gave you free will" crap. If he gave me free will I am using it to decide that I don't believe in him. Again, his fault. And as already said, Pascal's Wager is a nonsense. Believe in something because it puts you in a "no lose" position is incredibly cynical. Is cynicism like that approved of by the big man in the sky?

      September 16, 2013 at 9:13 am |
  12. HotAirAce

    The craziness of Pat Robertson or the occasionally ill chosen words of Richard Dawkins are mild faux pas compared to believers' inability to provide a single bit of factual, independent, objective or verifiable evidence for their mentally ill delusional beliefs.

    September 16, 2013 at 2:19 am |
  13. Roger that

    Do you think God will send himself to hell for all of his immoral actions?

    September 16, 2013 at 2:18 am |
  14. Jason

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wOjuIB8a-zI

    Theist have the wright to be wrong, but I also submit that I have the wright to be right and to correct you. You can deny facts and logic to your hearts content but it doesn't change the facts.

    September 16, 2013 at 2:14 am |
    • Robert Brown

      a picture is worth a thousand words

      September 16, 2013 at 11:37 am |
  15. Richard Maloney

    Hey, Evans, shut your face. Just because you purposefully misunderstand that Dawkins was comparing physical abuse to spiritual abuse doesn't mean he made a gaffe.

    Even if he did, your misunderstanding of Dawkins's opinion of something unrelated to atheism doesn't invalidate atheism.

    On the other hand, if Pat Robertson tells a call-in viewer that God flooded Haiti because the brown people made a deal with Satan, then we can suspect that his view about Christian theology DOES invalidate Christian theology.

    September 16, 2013 at 2:13 am |
  16. TRUTH

    oops

    September 16, 2013 at 1:57 am |
  17. Betty Boo

    4725 comments = 122 posters

    September 16, 2013 at 1:47 am |
  18. emma

    when I am really bored or having a hard time sleeping I always go to the beliefs
    stories and comments....It has the most entertaining and funny posts.....thanks

    September 16, 2013 at 1:32 am |
    • Snotty Carl

      Me too 🙂

      I wonder if the appearing bitterness (on both sides!!) is real or just that emotion doesn't translate through the text?

      September 16, 2013 at 1:49 am |
  19. Bill

    Dawkins didn't say anything wrong, he was misunderstood once again. As an atheist he is very representative of my views and I would be happy to be compared to him

    September 16, 2013 at 1:29 am |
    • Athy

      Me too.

      September 16, 2013 at 1:33 am |
    • Not a real Republican

      Me 3 🙂

      September 16, 2013 at 1:49 am |
  20. Phelix Unger

    Only if you stop talking about god, then we have a deal, because everytime some one mentions this being who must have been a retard to create us in the first place, some one else wants to start a war in the retards name. Whether that be god, allah, or Jerry Springer.

    So button up and we can all get along just fine.

    September 16, 2013 at 12:45 am |
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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.