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. dwayne

    You want to make a deal after stating the words: "the evils of atheism"? I don't consider myself or any other atheist "evil". Most of us have morals and ethics just like any Christian does. If you want to make a deal, stop assuming that atheists are automatically evil or corrupt in some way. We are mostly just ordinary people who choose not to believe in a deity.

    September 14, 2013 at 10:25 am |
    • John P. Tarver

      The evils of atheism are still evident in South Africa.

      September 14, 2013 at 10:44 am |
      • Al

        Do you have evidence to support your statement?

        September 14, 2013 at 1:42 pm |
  2. Mentalcase

    "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?" Sorry but Richard Dawkins isn't on TV with tens of thousand of followers.

    September 14, 2013 at 10:24 am |
    • Al

      Atheist are not very good a following leaders. They tend to lack that authoritarian mindset you find in the conservative religious sects.

      The only Atheist I know of with a large following is the late Ayn Rand, and not all her followers are Atheist, or do not profess Atheism due to their politics. We don't know if Rand Paul or Paul Ryan is an Atheist.

      September 14, 2013 at 12:16 pm |
  3. EuphoriCrest

    No deal. The ongoing debate (including the well-deserved criticisms) is healthy and necessary for an evolving society.

    September 14, 2013 at 10:24 am |
    • deep blue

      A debate is not useful. A discussion is.

      September 14, 2013 at 10:31 am |
      • Mike

        A debate can absolutely be useful, but only if both sides are rational.

        September 14, 2013 at 11:10 am |
      • EuphoriCrest

        I'm guessing you were not accepted to be a member of your college debate team.

        September 14, 2013 at 2:17 pm |
  4. Salty Bob

    On this issue yes I can see that their is people of every extreme in all groups. I can not however agree or make any deals
    on the facts that all religions are trying to force us to conform to their will, thru laws and intimidation. I am an Atheist that will never change but I do not force my beliefs on anyone or any group. Once all the religious groups out their realize 1 thing your belief is yours alone stop knocking on my door asking if I found Jesus as far as I am concerned he's dead been dead and will never return. That is if he existed at all or was made up to fill an empty space for those that desperately needed a glimmer of hope that a man can be something more than what he is, an higher form of animal on this blue globe we call home.
    P.S. Your born you live you die. to waste any time trying to convince yourself their is more well. Live for the now do great things hope for the best, is all we can do. Good Luck!

    September 14, 2013 at 10:23 am |
    • deep blue

      Keep in mind, however annoying you find them, the people knocking on your door are trying to save your soul. They may be misguided, but they really are trying to help you out.

      September 14, 2013 at 10:33 am |
      • Joey

        This is part of the disconnect. The fact that someone who does not know me feels they need to save my soul is insulting and demeaning.

        September 16, 2013 at 12:44 pm |
  5. JimW

    I resent being called an Atheist, I'm a Realist. Definition of a 'Realist', a person that can think outside of the 'book'. Just don’t go calling me names and shaming me because I don’t believe everything written in the bible, its one of the greatest story books ever written.
    The bible states that the earth is the center of our universe and the sun, planets and all the stars revolve around us. Even as little as some 500 years ago the church referred to people who didn’t believe this as heretics, even had people but to death for not believing so.
    NASA and SETI both calculate that there are over 6.1X10(22 power) planets in our universe, more planets than there are grains of sand on our entire planet earth. Next time your on the beach wet your finger and stick it in the sand. Remove all of the sand on the tip of your finger except for 8 grains of sand, that is our solar system you are holding on your finger. Next you will need to look back down at the beach at the rest of the sand that you see at your feet, now imagine how many planets (grains of sand), you can see at your feet, now look down the beach as far as you can see and imagine that each grain of sand on that beach is in fact a planet. Now ‘try’ to visualize how many grains of sand (planets) there are on all of the beaches on our entire planet Earth.
    For those that say people who don’t believe everything written in the bible are atheists, I say open your eyes, there a whole great big universe out there to be explored, and don’t expect me to apologize for believing in the scientific evidence.

    September 14, 2013 at 10:23 am |
    • mandarax

      What an excellent, and staggering, analogy.

      September 14, 2013 at 10:26 am |
    • Mama3

      Christianity and science are not mutually exclusive, no matter how much atheists and other non-believers would like to think so.

      September 14, 2013 at 10:32 am |
      • G to the T

        I think that only depends on how seriously you take either of them...

        September 16, 2013 at 12:15 pm |
    • William Yates

      That is an excellent response. Unfortunately, Christians will never accept such truths because of their inability to think outside of "the book".

      September 14, 2013 at 10:40 am |
  6. Marc Perkel

    I say NO DEAL.

    If Dawkins says something stupid he deserves to be criticized. Being critical is how we punish people for being idiots. The believing world is ok with "I'll ignore your stupid belief if you ignore my stupid belief." In the reality based world we call stupid stupid. We welcome Christian criticism. It keeps us honest.

    September 14, 2013 at 10:23 am |
    • deep blue

      The author is not asking that you ignore Pat Roberson's stupidity. The author is asking you to not pretend that, just because Pat Roberson is an idiot, that she is too.

      September 14, 2013 at 10:35 am |
  7. Cynthia Avishegnath

    We who believe in the Almighty are weak. We need to be threatened with damnation and bribed with eternal life to live responsible lives. The Almighty revealed Himself to us because He knows we would otherwise have no motivation to live. Yet many of us who claim to believe are vengeful, proud and murderous.

    But those who live responsibly without the knowledge of the Almighty are more blessed than we are, and the Almighty love these atheists more than us – because they have the intrinsic motivation to live responsibly without eternal threats or bribery.

    September 14, 2013 at 10:23 am |
    • deep blue

      Many Christians are not motivated by fear of hell or hope of heaven in order to do good. They would claim that it is there love of God that motivates them to do "God's work" on earth.

      September 14, 2013 at 10:30 am |
    • JimW

      Excellent, have the responsibility to know the difference between right and wrong. And if you have a bad day or tragedy strikes, don't use the bible as a crutch, don't go saying 'Why would god let this happen to me', sometimes 'sh!t' just happens, if you couldn't control it, neither can this god that you seem to believe can control everything. Its called a 'reality check', the sooner you can accept 'reality', the better off you will be.

      September 14, 2013 at 10:45 am |
  8. Kenneth

    Here the author's entire article is about reasoned, respectful conversation, and most of the responses I've read are snarky comments from atheist trolls. Typical.

    September 14, 2013 at 10:22 am |
    • deep blue

      It is pretty ironic.

      September 14, 2013 at 10:23 am |
    • deep blue

      Keep in mind that the two groups: reasonable people and people who write posts on forums, don't overlap much.

      September 14, 2013 at 10:25 am |
  9. One one

    I shall now pray. Dear heavenly Father, I pray for you to bring harmony between Christians and atheists. Help me understand why godless trash, who deserve to burn in hell, are offended by those of us who are holy, pious, and obviously god’s favorite people.

    Help the unsaved filth understand that by judging and condemning them I am trying to save them from your self centered, vengeful, & vicious wrath, of which they deserve, AND I APPROVE, as long as they refuse to believe what I believe. Amen.

    September 14, 2013 at 10:21 am |
    • Cynthia Avishegnath

      If praying does help, then it is better to pray for the harmony between Christians and Muslims, between Shiites and Sunnis, praying that any religion would not exert its influence to terrorise, constrain or destroy lives.

      We don't' have to pray for Atheists. They are a harmless lot. Though some of them are vehement in opinion, which is good because that gives me a steadfast assurance that the dominant religions are kept busy and have no time to think of means and ways to persecute me for not believing in their "truth".

      September 14, 2013 at 10:29 am |
    • Father Hal

      I may be wrong, but I don't think that's quite what she had in mind...

      September 14, 2013 at 10:34 am |
    • TasieSceptic

      "Insofar as I may be heard by anything, which may or may not care what I say, I ask, if it matters, that you be forgiven for anything you may have done or failed to do which requires forgiveness. Conversely, if not forgiveness but something else may be required to ensure any possible benefit for which you may be eligible after the destruction of your body, I ask that this, whatever it may be, be granted or withheld, as the case may be, in such a manner as to insure your receiving said benefit. I ask this in my capacity as your elected intermediary between yourself and that which may not be yourself, but which may have an interest in the matter of your receiving as much as it is possible for you to receive of this thing, and which may in some way be influenced by this ceremony. Amen."

      September 14, 2013 at 10:36 am |
  10. John P. Tarver

    The use of social Darwinism for the UK to operate slave states in Africa for a century after the USA outlawed slavery is not a problem for Dawkins either.

    September 14, 2013 at 10:21 am |
    • Mike

      Social darwinism has nothing to do with anything.

      The fact that evolution happens in the natural world is unrelated to whether or not it is an appropriate template for behavior in a morally just society. Darwin never argued for social Darwinism. It's a terrible notion that was given his name by idiots.

      September 14, 2013 at 10:27 am |
    • deep blue

      The excuse, "there were slaves in the bible" was used prominently in the United States. People will make up excuses for immoral actions, no matter what belief system they hold.

      September 14, 2013 at 10:28 am |
    • cedar rapids

      what are you on about now?

      September 14, 2013 at 10:46 am |
  11. Buck Rogers

    Since evolution is fake along with most 'religious' beliefs, then actually the 'battle' is between truth and lies, not 'Atheists vs. Christians' per se. Jesus said He is the truth and that He will return to "gather the wheat into the Barn" and literally burn up the Earth and dissolve it. So the truth is there will be "new heavens and new earth, wherein dewlleth righteousness" which sounds like good news to me.

    September 14, 2013 at 10:20 am |
    • One one

      How sad that religion has believers eagerly hoping for the end of the world.

      September 14, 2013 at 10:24 am |
      • Buck Rogers

        The Kingdom of God as Jesus taught, will be part of a New Creation. This is not meant to be 'sad', rather a joyful period to look forward to because the dead will be raised and death itself will eventually be destroyed. Unlike what many 'end time specialists' proclaim, Christ does not return to this Earth and He even calls old Jerusalem "Sodom and Egypt" as well as a "synagogue of satan". "Heaven and Earth will pass away"...."And all flesh shall see the salvation of God." Christ and His Kingdom is indeed good news.

        September 14, 2013 at 10:32 am |
    • Organic1

      You do realize the first part of your post is polar opposite of each other, evolution fake? There are no writings from the time jesus was alive, there are only accounts that were written almost 100 years after he died, so to directly quote those words is stretching your argument. It was nearly 1,400 years before those writings were handed to scholars and the first bibles were compiled. It was called the kind james version, and that makes you wonder why he needed his own version and who that served. All written by men who were 1,400 years off track, and the old testament was taken from the Hebrew bible.

      September 14, 2013 at 10:31 am |
      • Buck Rogers

        Yes, evolution is fraudulent. The ancients believed in God (or a 'higher power') and actually evolution is a modern man-made myth. The Great Flood destroyed Earth's crust and hence entombed the fossils. Christ knew how destructive it was and compared His return to the Flood (as well as the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah), i.e. both were 'complete'. This is why evolution 'exists' – to cover-up the truth that Earth is indeed 'young'.... Yet fortunately the physical removal of this Earth makes way for a literal New Creation. The Bible is prophetic, and this is what the Scriptures proclaim and yes they have been 'revealed' over time until "the fullness of time" before His return.

        September 14, 2013 at 10:50 am |
        • cedar rapids

          everyday you reconfirm for us just what a nut you are.

          September 14, 2013 at 12:49 pm |

          Godless Vagabond
          It's hard to believe that there actually are people like you, Buck. Outside of an asylum, I mean.

          September 14, 2013 at 10:32 pm |
  12. deep blue

    It is ironic, on an article calling for atheists and Christians to be more respectful toward each other, that there is so much disrespect in the forum.

    September 14, 2013 at 10:20 am |
  13. John P. Tarver

    Oral Roberts is a lot funnier than Robertson.

    September 14, 2013 at 10:20 am |
    • One one

      Ted Haggard has them both beat.

      September 14, 2013 at 10:27 am |
  14. Pete King

    What is truth?

    September 14, 2013 at 10:19 am |
  15. julia

    I can't talk for anybody else but I hate Christianity for one single reason. Children from their birth are told that there is no question that Christianity is true. The children are not mature enough to understand that this is a lie so they go along with the crowd and start believing in the ghastly mire of religion. If children were allowed to grow enough (say 13) before the brainwashing began, things would be a lot different.

    September 14, 2013 at 10:19 am |
    • deep blue

      There are plenty of Christian parents that let their kids make up their own minds. Perhaps, instead of railing against Christianity, complain about indoctrination of children. After all, that seems to be the issue your are concerned about..

      September 14, 2013 at 10:22 am |
    • Art Rodriquez

      Indoctrinating children is the purpose for all religious schools and related activities. The fear of losing customers$$$ by allowing their brains to develop and gain real world experiences where they might go elsewhere or nowhere at all(atheism)is too risky.

      September 14, 2013 at 10:28 am |
    • Mama3

      We have taught our children to follow Jesus since birth. We've taught them to love God and to love others better than themselves. We've taught them to serve the poor, feed the hungry, seek out and fight against injustice, to be compassionate, and to fight for the oppressed and marginalized. I'm sorry you feel that these are such awful characteristics to instill in our children.

      September 14, 2013 at 10:53 am |
      • G to the T

        The second half of what you taught them is great – everyone needs compassion, etc. The first half is the part he is speaking too – i.e. you "program" a child that a) god exists and b) christianity is the true word of god. The contention is that these are not necessary for the other attributes to be instilled and so can be seen as indoctrination.

        September 16, 2013 at 12:22 pm |
  16. Jay Jay

    No deal. Given the chance most religions would impose thier value system on my children. We won't be free as a people until all of it is shown to be the thinly veiled control system that it is and consigned to history.

    September 14, 2013 at 10:19 am |
  17. Dennis

    The fact is that there is enough hate in the world and we could do without the hate between Christians and Atheist or any other group for that matter. I think the issue is that of respect, mutual respect. Even Christians believe that choice is important. So if somebody chooses to be an Agnostic, an Atheist, a Muslim, A Christian, or any other belief we should respect their right to make that choice. When people use battering rams against each other the results will not be good.

    In regards to truth, I think people define truth differently which is why there is such a difference between them. Science has not and will likely never answer all of the questions thus there will always be a need to try to understand those things that cannot be explained by science. Unfortunately, not all religions have the same respect for life and the need to pursue truth.

    We live in a world full of people who are bent on hate, retaliation, revenge, getting ahead of others, being better than others, and for some it seems as if life is a paraphrase Star Trek, The needs of the one (me) outweigh the needs of the many.

    September 14, 2013 at 10:18 am |
    • julia

      There are many tests for a belief that will tell whether the belief is true or not. It has been in use for about a thousand years and is called the scientific method. Religion uses a different method called "shouting the loudest".

      September 14, 2013 at 10:23 am |
  18. One one

    The solution isn't less Pat Robertson like comments, rather, we need more.

    All the better to expose religion to be the infectious nonsense it really is.

    September 14, 2013 at 10:16 am |
  19. Rob LeVine

    Thank you Rachel, for a dose of reasoned, non-partisan, objectivity. Sad that so many people on both sides of the issue (aisle) just don't want to get it, but happy that so many do.

    September 14, 2013 at 10:16 am |
  20. Scott

    Wow, I didn't really get the whole "atheist hate" thing from the article itself, but from all of these comments it's pretty obvious who the hate filled individuals are in today's society. You atheists are proving the point that you are, indeed, unified, and a religion of your own. And as far as there being no atheist terrorists- How about the theater and school shootings? Those are a result of kids being raised in an atheist home with absolutely no morals and no value on human life. It's the religion of liberal thinking; one of no backbone or moral ground.

    September 14, 2013 at 10:15 am |
    • One one

      Apparently preaching that non-believers deserve to burn in hell is how christians show "love".

      September 14, 2013 at 10:20 am |
    • Jay Jay

      Onyl an indoctrinated fool would describe it as another religion.

      September 14, 2013 at 10:20 am |
    • Alex

      The Aurora theatre shooting was carried out by an alleged man who was raised in an evangelical Christian family. He was active in his church as a teenager. So there goes that premise.

      September 14, 2013 at 10:24 am |
    • sandalista

      There were no shootings in the name of atheism or to further same agenda. If you have more info than us, please post links.
      Yes, atheism is a religion if not collecting stamps is a hobby. I truly feel sorry for you if you need a 2000 year old fairy tail book to have morals.

      September 14, 2013 at 10:28 am |
    • cedar rapids

      'Those are a result of kids being raised in an atheist home with absolutely no morals and no value on human life. It's the religion of liberal thinking; one of no backbone or moral ground.'

      you false christian. you spout hate and bear false witness, your god condemns you for that you know.

      September 14, 2013 at 12:51 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.