Some of you will be aware there was an incident in chat recently regarding a 'theist'. The individual involved was claiming not to be a theist by virtue of following no religious dogma. They thought there may be some 'god type thing', but were exploring the idea. Before there was a chance for any further dialogue, the chat erupted and the individual in question left and was promptly reported. I suspect that that person has been banned, but I have no real idea.

This got me thinking about how we as a community deal with those theists who come amongst us. Given that atheists already seem to have a negative reputation, are we playing into the hands of theists if we immediately harangue any who dare to come on and question us? I discussed this with a fellow A|Ner and we wondered about whether there is a smart response rather than a gut reaction response we ought to be employing. Should we always assume a theist is here for ill or can we take a rational perspective and engage said theist, perhaps with a view to converting them?

Irrespective of the religious affiliation of any chatter, I am personally uncomfortable with any situation where one person is under scrutiny from a larger group. It looks like hectoring and can be seen as bullying, is this how we want to be seen? I have no doubt there are theists who will infiltrate A|N with a view to causing maximum disruption, in which instance the full might of the collective response is to be expected. If however a person comes on and merely wants to explore some ideas for their own understanding, isn't it incumbent upon us to allow them the benefit of the doubt and listen before we attack?

I recognise this is an atheist site and that one of the joining criteria is that a person be godless, but it isn't as though nobody here has bypassed religious sites sign up rules for their own motives. I am not even saying that no theist should be held to account for their comments and/or beliefs here. I am proposing that we have something like a code of conduct where we treat all chat/forum users with respect until and if they demonstrate they do not deserve it. Immediate attack on sight of potential theism undermines our case as rational thinkers, moreover it plays into the hands of those who would portray us as immoderate, closed and defensive. More worrying though is the impact we may have on those wavering theists who are looking to free themselves of religion. If contemplating a life changing decision requires that you explore your options, meeting with animosity is hardly going to encourage you in that direction, is it?

That's my two penn'orth worth, how do you all feel about such a code? All responses gratefully received.

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Comment by Jim DePaulo on August 31, 2009 at 8:50pm
If a person is up front and states they are a theist and ask a legitimate question then I think we should give them the initial benefit of the doubt and treat them with common courtesy, they may, as you say, be considering dumping their theist beliefs and looking for validation in doing so - one doesn't win friends (or converts) being an asshole.
OTOH, if they creep in under false flag and prove to be a theist troll - we should feel free to roast them over a smoky fire.
Comment by Calvin Motes on August 31, 2009 at 8:30pm
Agnostics do not deserve extreme scrutiny, and we should not abuse them. however, wingnuts (see landover baptists) should have the idiocy of their beliefs pointed out to them. we should treat all people with respect, and engage them in intelligent debate. its not hard to tell who is genuinely interested in a discussion and who is trolling.

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