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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. FoghornTuttle

    Christians are much more likely to be pedophiles than atheists. Not any more outrageous than your statement Rachel.

    September 18, 2013 at 4:49 pm |
    • Reason

      That's just stupid.

      September 18, 2013 at 5:53 pm |
  2. georgex9

    Atheists don't seem to be terrible people anymore than some who claim to be religious. The prisons are full of religious people.

    September 18, 2013 at 4:32 pm |
    • Arya Dharma

      Problem lies with religions having inerrant books and unquestionable Prophets or God, such as Christianity. They start the discussion with the premise they know everything and the other person is a fool (or utterly evil). You can't have open civil discussion with the closed minds.

      September 18, 2013 at 5:02 pm |
      • Sara

        "Problem lies with religions having inerrant books and unquestionable Prophets or God, such as Christianity."

        Agreed, holding anything as inerrant and infallible is the biggest mistake. To be fair, however, not all of Christianity does so, and most religions contain sects that hold at least on text or individual as either infallible or very near to it. In all traditions, it is important to promote that traditions that have recognized this as a problem and are open to change and learning. Some, like Hinduism, are helped by having a tradition that contains many conflicting texts, but still you find fundamentalists.

        September 19, 2013 at 8:25 am |
  3. wbthacker

    "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."

    But you see, that's exactly the problem. We don't agree on how to identify the truth.

    I'm a scientific rationalist, like Dawkins. He and I think truth is established by evidence and logical reasoning. If Dawkins claims something is true, he has to frame his claim in terms I can understand and dispute. It's possible for me to *prove* he's wrong. If he can't justify his statement through evidence and reason, he's not allowed to pretend it's "the truth". He must admit it's just an opinion.

    You and Robertson are theists who believe truth can be established through introspection (faith). When Robertson claims something is true, he only has to say "Faith tells me so", and according to your belief system that's valid. You have no way to dispute his claim; you can say "My faith tells me otherwise," but that doesn't prove he's wrong. In faith, opinions and facts are indistinguishable.

    The blunt truth is this: faith is nothing more than opinion. You just use the word "faith" to make your opinion sound more important than mine. As long as you insist that faith deserves respect, you have to explain why this "respectable" process lets Pat Robertson spout his idiocy as truth and makes it impossible to prove he's wrong.

    September 18, 2013 at 4:07 pm |
    • georgex9

      In Biblical times "truth" was more something that the people expected than in actually happenings. The new book "Jesus, the Zealot..." delves into this with some detail. There were many claims to messiahs and they expect the real messiah to come from a more sophisticated place than Nazareth so they had Mary travel to Bethlehem to give birth. Something that the author didn't think probably happened based on how things were in those days.

      September 18, 2013 at 4:38 pm |
      • Reality # 2

        The author of Jesus the Zealot presented nothing new. And considering he is a Muslim, his koranic-driven motives are not in the interest of honest scholarship.

        September 18, 2013 at 4:54 pm |
  4. OneAM

    Dear Rachael:

    I would gladly keep my atheist opinions to myself if you're willing to keep YOUR religion to YOURSELF and YOUR CHURCH exclusively. That means out of OUR government who works for and supposed to treat EVERYONE equally.

    I would absolutely LOVE to do that – in fact, if the religious could keep their specific religion out of OUR government, there would most likely be much less arguments among atheists and the religious. Why? Because I don't care what god you believe in. I just don't want to be forced to say I believe in your god or A god, just because you do. And trying to shape laws and regulations shaped by YOUR beliefs is unfair to others who do not believe in you religion.

    Thanks

    September 18, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
    • OneAM

      *your

      September 18, 2013 at 3:30 pm |
    • georgex9

      Very well said.

      September 18, 2013 at 4:30 pm |
  5. Amanda

    I can understand and respect the plea to not paint one another "with broad brushes." However, I don't believe Dawkins' statement (though I do not agree with it) had anything to do with atheism. Atheism can't be judged based on Dawkins' reflections on his experiences in the 1950's.
    What Pat Robertson preaches, and what many Christians believe, is DIRECTLY relating to Christianity, and is therefore open to judgement from other religions or the non-religious. I don't think these two can even be compared...

    September 18, 2013 at 2:01 pm |
  6. Just the Facts Ma'am...

    The fact is that Christians have a doctrine they can and should be smeared with. They get angry when one of their fold comes out and says what they are all thinking because it exposes them. When an atheist says something that has nothing to do with atheism, they are not representing anyone or saying something already on the minds of fellow atheists. Do you think there were any other atheists who nodded in agreement as Richard talked about being molested as a child? Like that's some prerequisite to disbelief? No. But when Pat Robertson says things like:

    "You've got a couple of same-s e x guys kissing, do you like that? Well that makes me want to throw up,"

    "I know it sounds cruel, but if he's going to do something, he should divorce her and start all over again, but to make sure she has custodial care and somebody (is) looking after her." in reference to a spouse with Alzheimer's.

    "Males have a tendency to wander a little bit. And what you want to do is make a home so wonderful he doesn't want to wander."

    "I would warn Orlando that you're right in the way of some serious hurricanes, and I don't think I'd be waving those flags in God's face if I were you ... It'll bring about terrorist bombs; it'll bring earthquakes, tornadoes, and possibly a meteor."

    "I know this is painful for the ladies to hear, but if you get married, you have accepted the headship of a man, your husband. Christ is the head of the household, and the husband is the head of the wife, and that's the way it is, period."

    "The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians."

    The Haitians "were under the heel of the French, you know, Napoleon the third and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, 'We will serve you if you will get us free from the prince.' True story. And so the devil said, 'OK, it's a deal.' And they kicked the French out. The Haitians revolted and got themselves free. But ever since they have been cursed by one thing after another."

    This is garbage Pat says and that many Christians believe.

    Richard Dawkins – “mild pedophilia” “didn’t cause any lasting harm.”

    This is Richards personal opinion that virtual NO atheists believe.

    To compair the two is completely dishonest...

    September 18, 2013 at 1:11 pm |
    • Just the Facts Ma'am...

      compare... silly brain.

      September 18, 2013 at 1:14 pm |
  7. My Dog is a jealous Dog

    Here is exactly why the battle rages on:

    Comment by an atheist:
    for a perfect being, god sure seems to display the all too human emotion of jealousy an awful lot

    Response by a "Christian":
    U 2, u disgusting piece of cancerous rotting virus. He loves u. Even someone as utterly vile and full of perverted putrid puss. Repent, b4 u catch fire.

    September 18, 2013 at 1:11 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Is there something inaccurate about what they said?

      September 18, 2013 at 1:28 pm |
      • Zo

        Are you attempting to solicit laughter?

        September 18, 2013 at 2:07 pm |
  8. Kenneth

    Day 4, the battle still rages. Although both sides seem to be tiring.

    Friggin' amazing that people are still finding this article as deep as it is buried now.

    Will continue to monitor.

    September 18, 2013 at 12:57 pm |
    • midwest rail

      The article isn't "buried" at all. Two clicks and you're here.

      September 19, 2013 at 7:56 am |
  9. Felix Sinclair

    "... has been rightfully criticized ..." = "I'll tell you it's bad so you don't have to think for yourself and decide."

    September 18, 2013 at 8:13 am |
  10. Joey Isotta-Fraschini, ©™

    So you want atheists to just shut up and stop telling the truth about the lies you Christians sell?
    No.

    September 18, 2013 at 6:51 am |
    • Meredith S.

      R u kidding? Mocking u deviant morons is a hoot. Besides, U couldn't keep quiet for all the heroin in Sam's veins

      September 18, 2013 at 8:05 am |
      • Meredith S.

        Please stop stealing my name, hharri/tex/terri or whatever your name is. Your continuing to take what isn't yours is disingenuous.
        Please find your own unique name to bash atheists.
        I am asking your respectfully as a Christian to stop.
        Please.

        September 18, 2013 at 11:16 am |
  11. utalkintome

    the internet: where religion's go to die

    September 18, 2013 at 5:08 am |
  12. pulseteresa

    Part two of my response to Reason:

    Your claim that Christianity is responsible for "liberalism, humanism, modern science, modern education, modern hospitals, and the success of the west" is a laughably ignorant assertion. Christianity has always resisted science because it conflicts with its teachings. Christians accept science grudgingly and only after kicking and screaming that the scientists have got it all wrong (Nearly half of all Americans are still creationists, which is a shameful statistic. A large number of Christians deny global warming as well because they belief that their god would never allow it to happen. In both cases, evolution and global warming, the science is in and both have happened and continue to happen). Christianity is by its nature conservative because it wants to hold onto first century mythology. You can't get any more conservative than that. As a result, Christianity has always been behind the curve when it comes to liberal causes. Agnostics and freethinkers have often provided the initial impetus for equality movements, which by their nature are liberal.

    September 18, 2013 at 4:31 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      I know what you mean teresa. Just yesterday I went down to volunteer at the local liberal free thinkers hospital and VOILA! overnight it had been replaced by an evil Catholic one.

      September 18, 2013 at 10:30 am |
    • Reason

      Just to inform you, I responded back to all of you baseless accusations with evidence (ever hear of it?). However, this comment system sucks, but it's in here. There's 3 parts with multiple and reliable sources posted in each.

      September 18, 2013 at 5:53 pm |
  13. Michael Hillier

    Who knew, write an article about getting along, and what happens. Everyone argues. Who would have guessed...

    September 18, 2013 at 4:26 am |
  14. pulseteresa

    Comparing Richard Dawkins to Pat Robertson is a massive strawman. Dawkins has never been as consistently ignorant and offensive as Robertson. Robertson is a professional troll who has made his money by preying on the weak. Dawkins on the other hand, is an educated biologist and science popularizer who has provided thousands and thousands of people with an in depth understanding of evolution. Despite that, he's not nearly as wealthy as the huckster, theif, and liar Pat Robertson. Just because Dawkins has made some off base statements recently doesn't put him in the same category as Robertson.

    September 18, 2013 at 4:13 am |
    • Lisa

      Yes, and Dawkin's remarks had nothing to do with his arguments for atheism where Robertson's all come from appearances on his Christian TV show where he's commenting as an elder teacher of the Gospel. Of course Robertson's comments are fair game while Dawkins' are just a ad hominem attack, like how Christians use to ignore Hitchens just because he smoked.

      September 18, 2013 at 8:36 am |
    • Tim

      You left out the part where Robertson defrauded his flock in order to mine for diamonds in partnership with a war criminal.

      September 18, 2013 at 11:24 am |
  15. Phelix Unger

    Science may not have all the answers, but and this is a big BUT, god has never answered a single question. Go ahead ask him again, when you put it on tape and play that message loud for the world, well. Believe half of what you see and none of what you hear. Nyuck Nyuck Nyuck

    September 18, 2013 at 12:02 am |
    • Meredith S.

      You want an answer? You want an answer, Alice? To the moon Alice- POW right in the kisser

      September 18, 2013 at 12:35 am |
      • Phelix Unger

        Yeah Ralphy boy just you wait, my mother is on her way over. Although that technically isn't god answering. He just isn't that funny apparently.

        September 18, 2013 at 12:46 am |
        • not bad

          he loves you more than you can imagine

          September 18, 2013 at 12:51 am |
        • not bad

          if you would only give him a chance

          September 18, 2013 at 12:53 am |
        • sam stone

          for a perfect being, god sure seems to display the all too human emotion of jealousy an awful lot

          September 18, 2013 at 4:45 am |
        • Meredith S.

          U 2, u disgusting piece of cancerous rotting virus. He loves u. Even someone as utterly vile and full of perverted putrid puss. Repent, b4 u catch fire.

          September 18, 2013 at 5:15 am |
        • sam stone

          spending a lot of time on your knees, are ya meredith?

          what DO you do with all those quarters?

          September 18, 2013 at 5:19 am |
        • Meredith S.

          Lol. What a man!

          September 18, 2013 at 5:22 am |
  16. bostontola

    The notion of this kind of deal is absurd.

    A respectful discussion is preferred, but a heated discussion is preferred over self censorship (which is what the proposed deal is).

    This deal is nothing but intellectual cowardice. Call out people when they are wrong, call out disrespectful behavior, don't agree to be silent on it from either side.

    September 17, 2013 at 11:12 pm |
  17. Robert Brown

    Do you believe there could be such a thing as God?

    September 17, 2013 at 9:50 pm |
    • Robert Brown

      Would you like to find out for sure?

      September 17, 2013 at 9:52 pm |
      • sam stone

        "know for sure", robbie?

        again, you confuse belief and knowledge

        September 18, 2013 at 4:29 am |
      • sam stone

        go home, boy, and get your shinebox

        September 18, 2013 at 4:31 am |
    • jens gessner

      I once saw one of those 'Jesus-bobbleheads' at a store. If that is the 'thing' you are referring to, I absolutely believe in it.

      September 17, 2013 at 11:04 pm |
      • Meredith S.

        U will beg god to kill u

        September 18, 2013 at 12:36 am |
        • Phelix Unger

          Yeah cause begging will work, just like praying.

          September 18, 2013 at 12:50 am |
        • Meredith S.

          it is true

          September 18, 2013 at 12:54 am |
        • Meredith S.

          it is true

          and you won't be able to die

          dear gd have mercy on us all

          September 18, 2013 at 12:56 am |
        • sam stone

          meredith: if you are serious, that is one sick motherfvcker you worship

          September 18, 2013 at 4:42 am |
        • Meredith S.

          Whatever. Repent, u fool. Unless u want to burn. U idiot. Or u will be praying til next Thursday to all the gods that u can count. Entirely your choice

          September 18, 2013 at 5:20 am |
        • jens gessner

          .....only next Thursday? That's not so bad now, is it?

          September 18, 2013 at 8:06 am |
    • sam stone

      would you entertain the possibility that there is no god?

      if not, why should we consider anything you say?

      September 18, 2013 at 4:26 am |
      • Meredith S.

        Back at u lying phony.

        September 18, 2013 at 5:24 am |
    • Ken

      There could be gods somewhere out in the universe, but the Christian version of God is too convoluted and illogical to be even a remote possibility.

      September 18, 2013 at 8:40 am |
    • Sue

      Robert Brown, we can be (and I am) absolutely certain that the "god" being described in the Christian mythbook is entirely fictional.

      Furthermore, I think that the whole Christian foundational premise that an all-powerful being had to "sacrifice" a son to "save" us from anything, and should be worshipped for having done so, is just simply stupid and ridiculous.

      September 18, 2013 at 10:03 am |
  18. fame police

    Rachel your 15 minutes are up

    September 17, 2013 at 9:43 pm |
  19. slick willi

    Athies r idiots. They claim god doesn't exist because he condoned slavery. He told slave owners to love their slaves, so he must exist according to their idiocy

    September 17, 2013 at 9:24 pm |
    • sam stone

      pathetic troll

      September 18, 2013 at 4:22 am |
    • jens gessner

      slick willi,

      Atheists assert that there is not enough evidence to justify believing in a deity. That's it.

      If you review the bible as you should, you will realize that the Hebrew God and the Christian God both condone slavery, but that fact is only pointed out to underscore that the bible can not be relied upon as a guide for our sense of morality.

      September 18, 2013 at 8:39 am |
    • Pat

      We make no claims about your god since there is no knowledge of any gods to support any claims, you are the blind idiots who do that. Stop lying!

      September 18, 2013 at 3:39 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.