Preface: I wholeheartedly expect this post to be cast aside and ignored, but I want to put it out there, and if I get even one person looking inward, then it will have all been worth it.

I live in Salt Lake City, Utah and work at one of the few beacons for the non-Mormon/anti-Mormon counter-culture. A great deal of my coworkers are ex-Mormons that quickly dismiss anything LDS. They have good reason for this. Leaving the church was especially tumultuous for them, and I'm not going to say that I can even begin to understand what they went through with the mutual rejection of their parents and communities.
I'm also a new member of the Atheist Nexus. While I've only read one other blog post and the comments associated with it, it seems like there is similar distaste for religion and religious people represented on this site. Maybe there are similar stories about religious upbringing or maybe members of this site tend naturally to be vocal opponents of the status quo. Either way, I think there are more effective ways to advancing theological discourse than poking fun or bragging about debunking a theist or watching videos about how to shut a religious person down.
What I notice and bemoan is the tendency for atheists to scoff at practicing religious people as if they're wrong to believe what they do. This is not the attitude that will get people thinking about their actions, or their role in the world, and it won't change minds or even get people to listen. Having a respectful and grounded discussion will only come with mutual respect and understanding for other beliefs (I understand it's hard in the context of beliefs as diametrically opposed as theism and atheism).
It's common for people to belligerently defend what they believe in and this goes for both sides of the atheism/theism argument. I have been guilty of it. But after argument upon argument with religious people, I came to the conclusion that I'm not going to change their minds any more than they will change mine. It is a futile and ultimately fruitless endeavor to argue with someone about what they believe. Logic rarely plays into discussions of faith.
The true change will only come if people can understand one another and respectfully disagree with each other. There are a lot of people out there that desperately want life to mean something greater, and will hold on to false beliefs to find that meaning. It's a completely legitimate if not wholly fantastic desire.
Regardless of it's scientific legitimacy, belief in God(s) has the potential to help people be truly to good to one another. Imagine if everyone on the planet loved his or her neighbor and treated others the way they wanted to be treated. Aren't those lessons worth teaching; lessons you want everyone to learn, regardless of belief in the supernatural? Antagonizing someone for believing the earth is 6000 years old doesn't accomplish anything. I imagine a world where being wrong is OK and being right doesn't justify looking down your nose.
If someone asks me what I believe in, I wish in my head there was another word for atheist that wouldn't immediately lump me in with people angrily making fun of most of the country. I agree that the religious walk around with blinders on, but I think we need to start with the understanding that true belief in eternal life is a lot easier for them if they never have to open their eyes. If we meet that blindness with blindness of our own, it will eventually just be a cacophony of "God doesn't exist"'s and "you're going to hell"'s and atheists, agnostics and nontheists will be no better than bible beaters we share a planet/country/city/economy with.
We as atheists can be different. We already are. It's hard for me to imagine a conversation between two religious people regarding why they believe in God that doesn't involve canned affirmations from sermons they've heard throughout their lives. Agnostics, atheists and nontheists ask each other questions like 'why don't you believe in God?' all the time, and receive logical, legitimate answers unique to the person that gives them.
Let's open and listen to everyone, regardless of belief. We may learn something.

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Comment by Keith R Araneo on November 3, 2010 at 2:02pm
@strgaze: I really liked what you had to say. A great point about people's behavior being a personal choice. I was really just hoping to make the argument that people's hatred of those who believe in God may be reciprocated on the other end. If that's the case, they are sort of choosing to be frustrated. Thanks so much for the comment. A great addition. You are truly Rock and Roll!
Comment by Keith R Araneo on November 3, 2010 at 1:57pm
@Lindsey: I think you're right to give your opinion when someone asks for it. I guess the bottom line of my argument is that I don't like people with superiority complexes whether they share my views or not. You're right that being passive is not productive either. If someone is annoying you by shouting at you, you should tell them that. But if you step back and look at it as unbiased as possible, do you really think these people have bad intentions in mind? I think their world view is a little skewed, but they're doing something that they feel is incredibly noble. They think they're saving our souls. At it's core, that's pretty nice of them. They don't want you to see eternal damnation. I try to remember that when I ignore them. If they press the issue I tell them how I feel and and continue on with my life. I don't really have time to let that sort of stuff interrupt me (I'm usually too busy with my road-rage). I'm not sure that "progress" needs to be made, though, honestly. I don't think anyone's mind needs to be changed so long as they're not harming anyone, and even if they are, it's only my place to intervene if it affects me directly. I'm never going to claim that I have all the answers or that I should be listened to. I think it's atrocious that anyone pretends to do that (atheists and theists alike). I really appreciate that you're not quiet about your beliefs and I hope you continue being respectful with people who don't agree with you. Thanks a lot for the comment. It really got me thinking
Comment by Keith R Araneo on November 3, 2010 at 1:36pm
@Glen: I appreciate your comments and think they need to be expressed. The opinion I was trying to get across, though, was not about changing anyone's mind about theology or getting anyone to abandon ship. I just think maybe people should reexamine the goals they have in mind as far as coexisting with people who don't share the same beliefs. You seem like you want change people. That's good for you, but when you think about it, does that really make you any better than the "robots?" Disrespectful rhetoric doesn't get them anywhere with us, so why would you think disrespectful rhetoric will get you anywhere with them (or with me or anyone)? At the base of it all, we're all people and like our opinions to be acknowledged and respected if not widely agreed upon. I think you make an incredibly valid point about the "house of horrors which haunt humanity" (nice alliteration by the way). Opinions like that need to be expressed. They don't however need to be expressed in an insulting way. People are not robots. Beliefs are the product of widely different circumstances, and understanding that is crucial in coexisting. If you think everyone needs to share your beliefs about the existence of the supernatural and abandon ship, then I can make the argument that you're no better, in fact probably worse than, LDS missionaries knocking on doors to politely ask to talk about something they passionately believe. LDS missionaries don't call people names either. My point isn't to "not piss off the robots". My goal is that I want people to respect my beliefs if they don't agree with them, and for the most part I have been incredibly successful in that cause. I respect and acknowledge other people's opinions while making my level of agreement perfectly clear because that is what I would want someone to do with me. You made some great points. I truly thank you and hope you comment on my future blog entries.
Comment by Glen Rosenberg on November 3, 2010 at 12:15am
Unless and until there is a scientific study to determine the factors which lead to apostasy the writer's experience can be disregarded. In my confrontations/argument I have helped persuade some individuals to abandon ship. My "success" does not carry any more weight than the writer's failure. My point is simple. We dont know if dont offend the robots is better than piss off the robots. We do know that inroads have been made. I suspect the one pill cures all robots is flawed. So I reject the main point.
I dont antagonize a robot because it believes the earth is six thousand years old. The theology is secondary. I antagonize the robot because he belongs to a cult which is guilty of producing the house of horrors which haunt humanity and jeopardizes our future. (I wont start a diatribe which could go on for hours.)
Comment by Lindsey S. on November 2, 2010 at 7:03pm
I don't go around knocking on doors and telling people to give up God because he doesn't exist. I don't stand around on college campuses with that say everybody's beliefs are wrong except mine. I don't walk up to other peoples children and ask them if they want to come with me and learn about atheism, without first asking the parents. I don't push my lack of belief on other people. So how come I'm not allowed to openly criticize religion without being labelled "intolerant" or "arrogant" or "confrontational"? How come I have to be quiet about my beliefs so I don't offend theists when they don't see any problem at all with shoving their own views in my face all the time? I'm never the one who starts the religious conversation, and I'm never the one who uses personal attacks. I'm not going to coddle the religous for fear of insulting them, if they want to start up a religious conversation or debate I'm going to tell them my honest opinion; they don't have to like it, but if I have to listen to theirs then they have to listen to mine too. That doesn't make me 'confrontational'. We're never going to make progress just sitting around being passive.
Comment by Strgaze5 on November 2, 2010 at 6:29pm
I agree with your view on this. This is something I try to live by everyday. Not every atheist needs to be a bully.

Bottom line...it's personal choice. How accepting do you want to be of others? How considerate do you want to be of others' feelings and beliefs? How much do you want to learn about others and their beliefs? It's rewarding to be proactive on all these things. There are times that I really hope religious people are just as respectful of my choice as I am to theirs. And that usually isn't the case and I end up being hurt by it.
Comment by Keith R Araneo on November 2, 2010 at 4:25pm
I agree that it would take a long time. Some religious folk are in quite a lot of denial and are afraid to talk about the things they don't know and that fear can manifest in being defensive or aggressive. It takes two people to argue, and if there's any kind of confrontation, you can be direct and say something like, "I appreciate that you don't agree with my point of view, but I am not here to argue with you. We can have an honest open respectful discussion or we can stop talking about this." You can also just away from belligerent people. I don't know if this was your question, but the blog, that got me thinking about this, it was called 'how my six-year-old son debunked creationism.'
As for how people should act when confronted with angry people, I think a lot could take lessons away from christianity or hinduism or budhism or anything. People can be as confrontational as they like, but not they're not going to get respect without giving it. Recognize some kind of validity in someone else's argument and you'll be better equipped to both respond to their argument as well as allow them to recognize validity in yours. If all goes well, you'll both walk away more knowledgeable and understanding people. If they don't want to listen to you, listen to them anyway. You gain and they lose.
Comment by Dr. Terence Meaden on November 2, 2010 at 3:52pm
How do the religious get to be religious?
Mostly it is because the religious got at them when they were children.
Therein may lay part of the answer. Cannot more atheists teach children the common sense of atheism before the youngsters get brainwashed at school or by churchgoers or preachers into biblical creationism?
We need more atheist teachers in our schools.
Comment by Keith R Araneo on November 2, 2010 at 3:29pm
It doesn't matter who pursues whom. Aggressive retaliation doesn't teach anyone anything about anyone. I just don't think perpetuating this us against them mentality is productive. I guess the post didn't really make that clear. Oh well.

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