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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. salvatore

    Sure let's all be fair to one another, but the truth is Christianity has a vast amount of power and influence and atheism has practically none.

    October 1, 2013 at 8:21 pm |
  2. Dan

    Atheists are not "evil". Dawkins just points out how religion is a bunch of absurd magical nonsense.

    October 1, 2013 at 7:51 pm |
  3. Howie

    No deal. First off, I'm an Atheist and I have no problem whatsoever with anything Mr. Dawkins has said. His pedo comments reflect his own experience and a contrast with the intense spotlight victims are placed under today. Nothing controversial there at all. Also, the muslim world has lived in its form of the Dark Ages since...The Dark Ages. They seemed to be having intellectual progress about 500 years ago, then they stopped. again – nothing controversial there. On the other hand, Mr. Robertson and thousands of others spout utter nonsense, hypocrisy and hatred daily. Further, I completely disagree with your statement that we are all 'seeking the truth'. Atheists might be, any believer in supernatural forces is by definition not. You bury your heads in the sand and pretend that the more we learn about the world somehow does not correlate to the less likely any of your beliefs are to be true. You intentionally try to stop progress and the increase of knowledge at every turn. Your indoctrinate youth with your hateful and obviously false dogma. There is no equivalency here. Personally I will not be happy until all religion is dead. Only then will mankind be truly free.

    October 1, 2013 at 4:32 pm |
    • Gawd

      Well said.

      October 1, 2013 at 7:53 pm |
    • ALL RELIGION DEAD?

      THANKFULLY THAT WILL NEVER HAPPENED. THE VAST MAJORIOTY BELIEVS THERE IS A HIGHER POWER. LIKE YOU I CAN'T STAN RELIGIOUS BULLIES OR SANCTAMONIOUS TYRANTS. AS FOR ME, I WAS BORN INTO A RELIGEOUS FAMILY. NOT SO MUCH MY FATHER AS MY MOM & GRANDMA THE VALUES I'VE LEARNED IN SUNDAYSCHOOL & THE ROLL MODELS DEMONSTRATED BY MY MOM & GRANDMA ARE THINGS I REFLECT ON DAILY ESPECIALLY BEING A DIVORCED FATHER OF 2.

      I KNOW A LOT OF PEOPLE INCLUDING ME WHO HAVE CHANGED THEIR LIFE FOR THE BETTER BY TURNING OUR LIFE AND WILL TO THE CARE OF GOD. THAT DOESN'T MEAN THAT EVERY THING IS PERFICT BUT I AM ABLE TO DEAL WITH LIFE ON LIFE TERMS WHICH HAS BEEN A GREAT IMPROVEMENT FROM A TIME WHEN I HIT BOTTOM. GOODLUCK WITH YOUR VENTURES IN LIFE & GOD BLESS YOU

      October 3, 2013 at 10:52 am |
      • truthprevails1

        I can see why you use god for a crutch...your lack of spelling skills show how uneducated you are. While the majority may believe in a higher power, none of you can verify with certainty that said power even exists and so without said evidence there is no reason to believe. All of these religions will eventually die off, some will take longer than others to do so but it will happen...history speaks for itself on that. Hopefully by the time the last one dies off, we will have come to world where people know that a religion or belief in god is not required or necessarily good to make survival work.

        October 3, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
        • whoknows

          While I don't understand or feel the need for organized religion, I also can't agree with insulting people because they do. The lack of spelling skills or education for that matter, doesn't dilute or remove an individuals right to believe in what they want as long as they don't force it on others. I hope that someday no one feels the need to assault others personal beliefs.

          October 5, 2013 at 12:48 pm |
        • LesfromMC

          It's actually spelled God...hate when an atheist can't believe,I mean ...spell...hate when atheists can't spell
          You are the evidence

          October 9, 2013 at 11:41 pm |
        • truthprevails1

          No to spell it that way would mean I give credence to it and have respect for it. I do not respect something that there is zero evidence for. I hate it when christians think they are right about this stuff...suck it up darling, you have nothing.

          October 10, 2013 at 5:29 am |
        • Lou

          Enlighten us – which god is spelled God? I hate it when the deluded can't provide evidence for their imaginary god, but instead want to split hairs over semantics when they can't defend their delusion.

          October 10, 2013 at 7:34 am |
      • trip

        WHO SAID ANYTHING ABOUT A CRUTCH. YOU EITHER BELIEVE OR YOU DON'T. BUT I'LL STILL PRAY FOR YOU ANYWAY.

        ABOUT THE SPELLING THING, I'M RETIRED NOT RETARDED. MAYBE BOTH

        October 5, 2013 at 10:57 pm |
        • CommonSensePrevails

          Trip, it is a crutch, no matter how you look at it. It's the insurance of going to some imaginary place when you die because death is something we all have difficulty dealing with. That does not make it true though.
          About the spelling note: I don't care for name calling, and I wish non-believers would not stoop to that. There is, however, proof that the more educated tends to spell better; there's no argue in that. There's also a tendency to not needing a crutch such as religion as you get more educated. The more you learn about the world around us and start using critical thinking, you start understanding that religion is a made up concept. If believers need that crutch, fine, but keep it to yourselves and leave it out of the public for the good of the people.

          October 11, 2013 at 11:37 am |
  4. Ken

    The difference between Robertson and Dawkins is that there is only on Dawkins but there is a Robertson in nearly every county in this country running at least one church. These people have far more followers then Dawkins ever will. That is why this article is seperate from reality.

    October 1, 2013 at 2:36 pm |
  5. lunchbreaker

    Another great article assuming that every member of a particular group is the same.

    September 30, 2013 at 5:09 pm |
  6. Colin

    I think we atheists should make a truce with the religious the day that doctors make a truce with sickness, psychiatrists with mental illness and teachers make a truce with ignorance. Until that day, I wll do everything in my power to help young people to break free from the religious garbage they have been taught when they were too young to question it.

    September 30, 2013 at 1:14 pm |
    • lol??

      Jhn 3:36 He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.

      September 30, 2013 at 11:52 pm |
      • I wonder

        Do you even know who this Jhn guy was? What makes you think that he (or the several who may have written under that name) knew anything special?

        October 1, 2013 at 12:18 am |
      • tallulah13

        Quotes from the bible have no power until there is proof that the christian god (or any god) exits.

        October 1, 2013 at 1:17 am |
  7. Kris

    This is a very good example of a false equivalency.

    The views of Richard Dawkins that you mentioned are his views on that particular incident, not of atheism or all atheists.

    The views that you refer to : of Pat Robertson and various other people (including the catholic church) go to the core tents of Christianity – as defined in the bible. Don't believe me? You should really read the old testament.

    Good try, you failed.

    September 30, 2013 at 1:08 pm |
  8. Dean Chryszk

    Er, no. Richard Dawkins and Pat Robertson is a major false equivalency.

    September 30, 2013 at 4:19 am |
  9. Bridget

    I don't identify myself as anything. I believe in a higher power, just not necessarily a God as described in religious texts. Both radical religious and radical atheists annoy the crap out of me. I just cannot understand the hate and judgement coming from both sides.

    To those radical Christians, you need to realize that the bible is not the source of absolute truth; it was written by humans, not God, and humans are not perfect. Not to mention the amount of change it has gone through since the original words were written, due to translations and censorships.

    To radical atheists, even with scientific advancements, we've only really scratched the surface of the workings of the universe, and there's so much out there that can't currently be explained. The lack of evidence is not evidence at all. To both sides, the bottom line is that there's no reason for you to be more right than the other, and fighting will only cause weakness. Just look at our bi-partisan congress! Only through tolerance can we all grow stronger.

    September 29, 2013 at 1:37 pm |
    • Riposte

      40,000 versions of christianity prove that even those who believe cannot get along.

      September 29, 2013 at 1:39 pm |
      • Bridget

        Unfortunately, that's a good point, and I've seen it myself. I was raised Catholic, and was basically told by other factions of Christianity that I was going to hell because I didn't subscribe to their specific beliefs. If they're not even tolerant of their fellow Christian, I don't see how they're going to be tolerant of an atheist.

        September 30, 2013 at 1:11 pm |
        • aldewacs2

          ... but of course YOU are 100% tolerant of all others, right?

          October 2, 2013 at 6:22 pm |
    • Anon

      Present evidence for your deistic god then.

      September 29, 2013 at 4:22 pm |
      • Bridget

        Why must I prove my beliefs to others? They're my beliefs, and you have no business in it. Anyways, I prefer "higher power" rather than "God" because of the word connotations. God brings to mind a human-like spirit; not what I believe in.

        September 30, 2013 at 1:17 pm |
        • Edward

          Well, you should present the evidence because you said the Bible is not the source of absolute truth and dissed science because it's too little what they can explain, so at least we expect you to show valid arguments that make us understand why is your view correct enough for you to find fault with that of religion and science. And, hey, as for the "you have no bussiness in it" bit, you shouldn't post your opinions in sites like this if you can't tolerate being questioned. If you just say "they're my beliefs" you're acting quite like "radical religious". You sound like a mini religion yourself.

          September 30, 2013 at 11:44 pm |
    • George

      "The lack of evidence is not evidence at all."

      So then, I assume you're agnostic concerning Zeus, Odin, fairies, leprechauns, and mermaids?

      October 1, 2013 at 10:24 am |
      • Bridget

        You don't know what's out there, that's all I'm going to say.

        October 1, 2013 at 7:53 pm |
        • George

          The point is, lack of evidence is a very good basis for disbelief; I'm sure you put that idea into practice all the time regarding things like Zeus, mermaids, unicorns, etc. Why is it any different when it comes to the multi-tude of religions?

          October 3, 2013 at 12:13 pm |
  10. Kyle

    I don't believe there is a supreme being – be it God, Allah, etc. That being said, this talk of "taking sides" is destructive. Look at Congress. Look at the political polarization of America. OK, so my religious beliefs aren't the same as my neighbors. So what. We're still friends. I don't bring up religion, nor would I, if I did believe in a supreme being. It almost looks like people (some people) are looking for differences to exploit, reasons to fight. That doesn't sound like the basis of any religion I know. Nor does it sound like my core beliefs. Find what we have in common, not on our differences.

    September 29, 2013 at 11:17 am |
  11. Steve Johnson

    Dawkins chose his words very poorly in this case, but I do think he had a point.

    His point was NOT that everything was fine, "no harm done".

    His point was that a large % of the harm done to a child who is molested is actually caused by the response, not by the event itself.

    He was molested, but he didn't have to bear the pressure of public scrutiny, he didn't have to deal with the mental weight of being told that he had been violated, didn't have to answer awkward questions to friends and adults, didn't have to sit through a court case and re-live the experience again and again, etc. etc.

    But mainly, he didn't have to become "that kid that got molested" – he remained a normal kid. Nobody knew about it.

    Much of the actual harm done in a case like this might have been avoided if nobody ever found out. That was his point.

    Not that it's OK.

    September 29, 2013 at 10:02 am |
  12. RW2

    You compare Dawkins to Robertson and then ask for a truce? We're growing, Christianity is disappearing rapidly. Your side has lost for a very simple reason: you cannot demonstrate that any god exists. We win. But we'll be nicer to you than you lot've been to us.

    September 29, 2013 at 5:18 am |
  13. Doggone

    "...already I’ve seen my fellow Christians seize the opportunity to rail against the evils of atheism." It's a real shame, I agree, because of the many years the religious have gone without criticizing atheists. Now, due to Dawkins, all that time of peace and loving embrace from Christians is over.

    September 29, 2013 at 4:11 am |
    • I hope that was sarcasm

      .

      September 29, 2013 at 4:04 pm |
    • aldewacs2

      Oh, I suppose killing them at the stake is different from criticizing?

      October 2, 2013 at 6:26 pm |
      • ALL RELIGION DEAD?

        THE GREAT THING ABOUT AMERICA IS THAT EVEYONE HAS A RIGHT BELIEVE OR NOT TO BELIEVE OR HOW MUCH TO BELIEVE. ME FOR INSTANCE MY FAIYH IS NOT UP FOR DEBATEAND THOSE WHOWHO BELIEVE DIFFERANTLY THAN I DO ARE WELCOMED TO THEIR OWN BELIEFS

        AS MY X-WIFE REMINDED ME ALL TOO OFTEN "DON'T BE LOOKING FOR THE SPLINTER IN MY EYE, WHEN YOU HAVE LOGS OF YOUR OWN OR MY OWN. FROM ONE CHRISTAIN TO ANOTHER, GO WITH GOD

        October 3, 2013 at 11:03 am |
  14. jess evans

    People should never agree to not criticize the stupid things that others say. Once you say anything at all, anywhere, it is open to criticism and stupid things SHOULD be criticized...reguardless of who says it! I am an atheist, I enjoy Richard Dawkins and believe he has done some very important work, but that does not mean every syllable he utters will be pure genius. Agreeing to overlook stupidity, or bend over to the sensitivities of those who cannot stand behind their own beliefs, or lack thereof, in the face of criticism is a travesty that is changing our world in most unfavourable ways.

    ALWAYS question, and ALWAYS CRITICIZE STUPIDITY!!!

    September 28, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
    • aldewacs2

      To be more blunt about it: the time that religions were immune from criticism has past.
      Assertive atheists are here to stay, and the religious need to get used to that.

      October 2, 2013 at 6:28 pm |
  15. Carl Pierce

    Please stop trying to desperately demonise Richard as the 'unreasonable' side of Atheism.
    Personally I cheer Richard's comments more often than not as being spot on.

    I'll respect the religious as people of course but NOT the crazy iron-age middle-eastern myths you have been brain-washed with.

    September 25, 2013 at 6:19 am |
  16. rh

    I was beaten the crap out of as a kid, by my brother, on a daily basis, and my parents warned me not to tell or *I* would be taken away by the police. I am now in a great relationship, have been for 25 years, and I don't beat my kids.

    His point was that unfortunately it was common and yes there are many kids who had bad things happen to them, very rarely, and they did not hang their hat on "HEY I WAS ABUSED SO IT IS THEIR FAULT I AM MESSED UP!".
    That's a far cry from saying that pedophilia is okay. I would say that the level of war and hunger in the world is more worrisome than Uncle Bob copping a feel once in a while.

    September 24, 2013 at 8:38 pm |
    • doobzz

      Great for you. The same can't be said for everyone else who has been abused.

      Personally, I think I have a better chance of standing between a child and a creepy uncle/priest/coach than I do of ending war or hunger. I'll do what I can, where I can.

      You can feel free to marginalize those who aren't as "tough" as you.

      September 28, 2013 at 12:34 pm |
  17. Art

    If all you crazy religious types have is Richard Dawkins, then you need to STFU. Is Richard Dawkins encouraging pedophilia? No. Does the Catholic Church encourage it and act upon it? Yup.

    No deal. You shared imaginary friend believing asshats have rules the Earth long enough. You have held humanity back with your nonsense. It's time for YOU to go the way of the dinosaur. Hope you enjoyed the ride. Because it's about to end.

    September 24, 2013 at 11:23 am |
    • Jason

      Now we have Richard Dawkins and Art.
      Settle down. I am not holding you back from anything except radical humanism, which is as bad as radical fundamentalism of any kind. Have your own beliefs and I will have mine. No deal? I don't care. Your vitriol, anger, lies and sweeping generalizations will not cause me to alter my calling to kindness regardless of your behavior. Good day, sir.

      September 24, 2013 at 1:21 pm |
      • doobzz

        Good day, pompous ass.

        September 28, 2013 at 12:37 pm |
    • MyselfReasonable

      With a viewpoint like that, you yourself are an obstacle to the progress of humanity that your kind believes Christians like myself hold you back from. So, in the words of Jesus Christ..."Hypocrite." What you are calling for instead and implicated is that us Christians need to be irradicated from existence to make way for your so-called better way. I don't believe that really that's what anyone with common sense would want is to destroy other humans regardless of their doctrine or lack thereof. You are simply a troll and a poseur of other atheists to try and be accepted by them, but something tells me they can see through your façade. No deal? This isn't a game show, you don't win the grand prize by ridiculing others. You missed the whole point of this blog or editorial, which is that regardless of what banner we claim to hold...we are called upon and charged to love one another...to find the common ground to stand on so that we can continue to maintain balance in life. It is true that both sides will present their argument as truth, but it is the personal choice of the individual to figure that out for themselves, as God has given us that right to have free will to do, and to give the same free will to others to choose which way is their salvation based on all of the facts laid out on the table. I personally am confident that by living a Christian life, humans can progress. What has stopped our progress or slowed it is all the confusion of what we should believe and what our path is in life. Following the commandments of God has never resulted in death...in fact it has brought about life time and time again. It calls us to be decent to one another, and acknowledge whom our father is...maybe it is corny in today's age but it certainly does not call us to be lazy or to not think beyond what is possible...just what is acceptable behavior. I think we can all agree that those are good things to latch on to whether Christians are your enemy or your friend. Certainly there are things that atheists believe that are decent as well such as the pursuit of wisdom and improving upon oneself...but we are not the most important or most powerful beings nor should we be, as we have proven that by nature we are sinful and destructive as well as loving and charitable. While we are still on this earth you cannot have one without the other, but you can serve one over another...I pray that you all choose wisely. It is not always the prettiest newest cup that holds the cure.

      September 24, 2013 at 5:26 pm |
      • Jerome Haltom

        Ya know he meant your BELIEFS need to go the way of the dinosaurs. Not you. Right? You got that, right?

        Oh, you didn't? Weird.

        October 2, 2013 at 9:37 am |
    • Rob-Texas

      Don't hold your breath. We will be here till the end.

      September 26, 2013 at 11:48 am |
      • truthprevails1

        Oh you silly boy, the end we may never see. Our planet will see another ice age or some major earth shattering disaster and in turn will see the end of our species long before our planet itself ever comes to an end and even when our species goes extinct, we'll still be waiting for jesus to return (cause people don't return from the dead).

        September 26, 2013 at 2:28 pm |
  18. Non-militant Atheist

    As my screen name implies, I really am a non-militant atheist. However, it is becoming increasingly obvious that I am in the minority, at least within my community/circles/etc. I don't understand the hate or the anger that is spewing forth more and more from my fellow atheists' mouths. Yes, a lot of us are starting to sound just as fanatical as the religious "examples" we've condemned for so long (the esteemed Mr. Robinson being a prime candidate). I'm not saying any of this to endear myself to any religious groups because, as much as I may disbelieve in the existence of a deity, I dislike and disapprove of religion even more. In closing, can't we all just get along?

    September 24, 2013 at 8:49 am |
    • Jason

      Yes, most of us can. The few idiots on message boards (myself included) do not represent the majority.

      September 24, 2013 at 1:27 pm |
      • gumbyfootball

        While I appreciate the "can't we all get along sentiment", after centuries of persecution continued up to this very day, these calls for peace sound false. Hell, when only half of Americans would vote for an atheist for president. Doesn't that show that half the country would discount us merely for different beliefs? Atheists seem to attract more vitriol than muslims...

        September 29, 2013 at 9:54 am |
  19. Spectrophiliac

    Don't tell me not to live, just sit and putter
    Life's candy and the sun's a ball of butter
    Don't bring around a cloud to rain on my parade
    Don't tell me not to fly, I simply got to
    If someone takes a spill, it's me and not you
    Who told you you're allowed to rain on my parade 😀

    September 23, 2013 at 7:33 pm |
  20. mike hunt

    i prefer the term nonbeliever rather than atheist just to avoid being grouped with of over zealous humans, whom wish to draw attention for extreme statements and gestures. not buying into the god theory, doesn't mean you have to be hateful about it. i really enjoy being more compassionate and caring than any christian. Without any god or religion

    September 23, 2013 at 7:03 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.