How Should Atheist Bloggers Treat Religious Readers? November 20, 2009

How Should Atheist Bloggers Treat Religious Readers?

There are some atheist blogs out there which treat religious readers and commenters with complete contempt.

I try to stay away from that — and it’s always nice reading comments by atheists on this site that show religious people some kindness and empathy — but no doubt it seeps in from time to time.

Greta Christina believes that when religious people visit atheist websites (or read skeptical magazines or atheist books), they are making their first steps toward atheism whether they know it or not. And we ought to help them with that journey.

… They’re proto-atheists. Any formerly-religious atheist knows that these kinds of doubts and questions and investigations are the first cracks in the foundation of faith. These folks — some of them, anyway, maybe a lot of them — are taking their first steps to atheism.

So what does this mean for atheists?

I think it means we have to be patient.

Patience doesn’t mean letting ourselves be kicked around. What it means is remembering that we’re talking to human beings, and treating them as such. It means being rigorously careful about critiquing ideas and beliefs without insulting people… It means remembering that it’s not fair to treat people like they’re stupid just because they’re not familiar with the ideas we’re so intimately familiar with. It means keeping in mind how hard it can be to let go of religion. It means remembering that we’re asking people to abandon a form of comfort they’ve relied on for years… and are asking them to make themselves into one of the most hated groups in the world, and quite possibly to alienate their family and friends, while they’re at it.

Sometimes, treating religious people (and their beliefs) with anything but spite is unbelievably difficult. But it’s necessary if we want to persuade anyone to consider our views.

Greta wrote that after reading a posting by Sarah Braasch at Daylight Atheism — Both pieces are great reads and well worth a few minutes of your time.

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  • littlejohn

    I have no idea whether the more vocal religious visiter to atheist blogs may be on their way to atheism, but I agree we should welcome them.
    To look at it from the opposite direction, I’m a semi-regular visiter to a Scottish-based Catholic blog called Catholic Truth. You’ll find it here:
    http://www.catholictruthscotland.com/
    I debate with them, which they seem to enjoy, although I always remember it is their site and I’m just a visiter. In other words, I try to be polite when I question odd-sounding dogma like purgatory and the trinity (which seems to contain four entities, counting Mary).
    Another atheist, who calls him/herself Russell’s Teapot (an allusion I suspect most atheists will recognize, but may not mean anything to conservative Catholics) also shows up regularly.
    It’s kind of fun, and I can say there appears to be zero chance Teapot or I will be brought around to Catholicism.
    You might want to visit, but please be respectful or they may cut us off.

  • Ubi Dubium

    I remember a wonderful point made here recently, I think by Richard Wade: If you want to help someone see more clearly, don’t start by poking them in the eye.

    The commentors I have little patience with are the drive-by trolls who cut and paste and post a load of rubbish and never stick around to talk about it. I have only marginally more for the preacher who thinks they will make converts by throwing us the same old sermon just one more time, and never actually read any responses before throwing it at us again. But anyone who is willing to carry on an actual conversation is worth being polite to.

  • Josh

    This is a good post. I think especially online, it is sometimes easy to see just an idea and not the person that believes it.

    But then again, a lot of people are deserving of scorn and disrespect. (Ray Comfort comes to mind.)

  • littlejohn

    Yeah, I know I misspelled “visitor” in the above posting, but your click to edit feature didn’t work. I clicked and fixed it, but despite having time on the clock, I kept getting a message “submssion completed.” Huh?

  • It really depends on the nature of the theist. What’s that line from ‘Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’?…”If the milk is sour, I ain’t the sort of pussy to drink it.”

    I’ve been having a long running tete a tete with a deeply Christian childhood friend – the sort that watches talented doctors bring all their skills to bear in saving a child and remarks, “It’s a MIRACLE!”
    I simply cannot resist pointing out that her “miracle” is the product of science, biology, evolution, experiment, skill…that if, as she says, “all good things come from god,” then why were Bronze Age sheep herders incapable of transplanting a heart?

    Nevertheless, I am also capable of giving credit where credit is due:
    Tip o the Hat

    Patience, like respect, is given when it’s granted. Quite frankly, as snarky and intolerant as strident atheists (or in my case anti-theist) may be, I find that generally speaking, we are outgunned and overrun on those measures by the followers of gentle Jesus, meek and mild.

    Still…point taken.

  • Roger

    I look at it this way: if the theist doesn’t show up attempting to “save my soul” or witness, then we’re cool. If they show up and they’re all, “Jesus is the ONLY WAY!!11! You’re nothing but Nazis!!!!11” then I see no reason to be polite.

  • My mamma always said a little honey will get you farther than a lot of vinegar.

    I agree completely–nice will at least help religious folks to not see you as a demon.

  • sven

    I miss Jon.. he allways had a clear xtian p.o.v.. NOT!

  • Some of my religious readers are lovely people. Others are a pain. But then atheist readers can be a pain, too.

    As religious visitors for being proto-atheists, one of my most loyal commenters is a priest in the church of England. He even does the odd (sometimes very odd) guest post.

  • Great post!

    I’ve never had religious people comment much on my blog; I’m not sure if they just don’t read it (actually, no – I know some regular readers are very religious) or I’ve gotten lucky, but they haven’t.

    Having religious people read and comment on an atheist blog is a good thing, providing it doesn’t degenerate into abuse. Even if they never become an atheist, at least it makes them start to question their beliefs. That’s never a bad thing.

  • Trace

    The ethic of reciprocity. Not always easy but worth a try.

  • I agree that it’s circumstantial. I usually start with a news article that I’ve caught wind of, share the facts, then comment.

    I cannot be kind to acts, motivated by religion, that cause others harm. But I agree that we should try to balance the negative with the positive.

    I haven’t come across any inappropriate Atheist blogs, yet. I hope mine isn’t one of them :-S

  • guest pest

    Off topic: Why is a Flash advertisement from dia – netics.org placed at the top of this page?

  • Sebastian

    Greta is so very true. Even though religious people hold differing beliefs and worldviews, they still do not deserve disrespect as human beings. They are simply miseducated (indoctrinated as children), ignorant (of scientific facts for example) and/or not thinking clearly in their justifications of their faith (logical fallacies).

    Religion is a mindset, a way of thinking, a collection of thoughts, a frame of mind. Everything is stored in our brains and learned during our lifetimes. Therefore, it can also be unlearned. It is the memes that we have issues with, not the people that hold them.

    No person willfully wants to hold false beliefs. Education is the key here. Even though you will have to explain the falsehood of Pascal’s wager for the umpteenth time, it’s worth explaining. In a respectful way. Not “How stupid are you really if you believe this sutff!”, but “Have you thought aobut this…?” and “Did you know that…?”. Be polite and courteous, and the world has gained one rational thinker more.

  • Name calling is the result of running out of useful things to say. It is better to simply remain silent than result to name-calling.

    Attack theism, not the theist.

  • Joe Hern

    I couldn’t help but notice how Greta Christina’s post could just as easily be said by a Christian proselytizer. Without changing any of the first part fo the post, it fits the ‘disarming’ Christian approach. And by only changing a few words, such as “faith” to “secularism and sin”, the rest also sounds like a thiest attempting to disarm the atheist.

    I am not knocking the post, as it’s nicely written. I am just pointing out the ‘disarming’ approach can make the theist feel the exact same way we do when we encounter the ‘disarming’ theist. Just being ‘happy’ doesn’t do it. Having direct dialog about the flaws of epistemology is important if not necessary. The art is doing that (pointing out the flaw in someone’s epistemology) and being nice at the same time. That’s how I began my conversion from Christianity to atheism. It was back in the pre-WWW days on what was then called USEnet, and an atheist was polite and friendly, but did not back down from pointing out my flaws in epistemology.

  • Jeff Says:
    Name calling is the result of running out of useful things to say.

    You’re such a dick.

    /I’m here all week. Try the veal.

  • Colin

    I agree that believers visiting atheist blogs should be treated with respect and kindness, and for the most part, be given every benefit of the doubt.

    While my own deconversion occurred during the early days of the internet, I think the blogosphere now offers the easiest access to the kind of arguments and debate that someone re-examining their faith might seek out. I would also think that a lot of this would involve lurking through blog archives, where the record of how we treated believers in the comment section is displayed for posterity.

  • Part of the problem is that the online environment is notorious for removing the restraints that keep us (mostly) polite in face-to-face conversation. It’s way too easy and tempting to just use someone as a rhetorical punching bag.

    Being automatically rude to someone solely because of what they think — independent of anything concrete they may have done — is just stupid in so many ways. It’s certainly not likely to make them listen to your arguments any further. Back in my religious days, I certainly tended to ignore the more obnoxious Usenet atheists (and I still tend to ignore obnoxious people, on any topic). So I think the default first response should be to take the high road of reasoned engagement. If your respondent proves unable or unwilling to do more than rant at you….well go ahead and file them under “punching bag”. But only then.

  • TXatheist

    I agree with the ones who noted it depends on the theist’s approach. Asking a question gets respect, telling me I’m wrong and going to burn in hell gets a short response of prove it.

  • On my examiner.com page I try to be thoughtful and courteous in my replies to all commenters. I am not the most patient person in the world but it’s a lot easier to not blurt out a put-down in writing than it is in conversation. I try to remember that the commenter isn’t the only one reading the response and that, if I want to promote rationality and critical thinking, it behooves me to provide a good example myself.

    On the other hand, man, it sure does feel good just to nail some of the morons once in awhile!
    😉

  • I’ve met Hemant in person, and I can largely give him credit for being a friendly atheist, but I can’t recommend this site to any religious friend of mine who may begin inquiring about atheism, because most of the comment threads are just plain NASTY. They are gratuitously sneering in a way that doesn’t invite thinking or discussion. That’s too bad. I’d like to have a site to point religious friends to when they begin pondering atheism.

    After edit: And that is not only counterproductive for producing thoughtful dialog, it is unkind to Hemant insofar as it belies the branding of his blog. The Friendly Atheist site ought to have friendly comment threads, it seems to me.

  • Polly

    I definitely lean towards respect. Of course, as TXatheist may or may not remember, sometimes I wake up supergrumpy (must be low sugar or something).
    But, I try not to be an asshole MOST of the time.

    Oftentimes, when I’m tempted to get annoyed online, I simply ask WWRWD.

    What Would Richard Wade Do?
    🙂

  • I’m very hesitant to think of all religious readers as proto-atheists. It assumes that everyone is either completely religious or completely atheistic, or in transition between the two. In practice, there are lots of people who exist stably somewhere in the middle.

    Not to say that you should abuse such people. If your goal is persuasion, obviously you should persuade them in a way that won’t make them hate you afterwards.

  • Randy

    This site is the most level headed bunch I’ve seen in regards to posts. Granted, I don’t read every article or comment(sorry)but when compared to PZ and some of his pitbulls for example this is Romper Room.

  • TXatheist

    Polly, I apologize I don’t recall.

  • TXatheist

    token, what is the difference to you between friendly and simply getting walked on? I try to be civil but if you insult I either confront or if they are simply way too stupid I ignore but that’s is rare I label someone that.

  • This is great, I’ve just recently been thinking about this too. If you know of any denomination-specific communities for on-the-fence theists, please comment at luckyatheist.blogspot.com. There are many people losing their faith who are programmed to run for the exits when they see the word “atheist”, and there aren’t a lot of middle-of-the-road sites on the internet. It’s easier to get them to take a couple more steps if they find a community that’s using language they’re comfortable with and where they can feel supported.

  • Polly

    @TXatheist,
    That’s good! Nothing terrible as forums go, but I was an asshole one day. You reacted very maturely.

  • Kate

    What Would Richard Wade Do?

    If everyone lived by this, the world would be an awesome place. 😉

  • As a practicing Christian, I find the folks commenting here to be quite reasonable, and the conversation to be pointed but not mindlessly ad hominem.

    Just don’t y’all turn into the Rational Response Squad. Poo-flinging is for lower primates, eh?

    And to echo Kate, yeah, the world would be a better place if everyone showed kindness to one’s enemies. Darned if I can remember why that sounds so familiar. 😉

  • Hammurabi

    Of course everyone should treat each other politely, but we should also remember that civility is a two way street. There are times where “polite” simply isn’t the best response. For example, when someone shows up on your blog spouting “God hates fags” or some such similar hate-filled nonsense, how do you respond with anything but contempt? Also, there are those who actively try and dismantle/deny science (I’m looking at you, creationists). While some are genuinely misled, others have been shown the errors in their arguments over and over again and they persist in their denial of reality. Are we atheists supposed to have infinite patience with these people? If anyone persisted in any other mistake for so long after being repeatedly shown their errors (think moon landing conspiracy theorists, homeopathy practitioners… etc.) would they be granted the same unending patience? Finally, we are all familiar with the fact that sometimes all you have to do to offend theists is exist.

    The point is that a patient, civil discourse is the ideal that we should all strive for in all conversations. However sometimes, what some people need is direct confrontation. Not polite hand holding, but a full on open argument like grown adults have on any other subject.

  • stephanie

    My blog is an extension of my space. So, just like everyone is welcome in my home, they’re welcome in my blog as long as they obey basic rules of civility. I don’t bring the hammer down unless someone instigates.

  • duhsciple

    Hemant wrote: Sometimes, treating religious people (and their beliefs) with anything but spite is unbelievably difficult. But it’s necessary if we want to persuade anyone to consider our views.

    Why (or when) is it difficult to avoid spite?

    Personally, I cannot stand arrogance no matter the origin, atheist or theist.

    Duh

  • My initial reaction to “proto-atheist” was to be a little offended. To believe every Christian who has a serious question must be a future atheist is an unhealthy assumption to base having a true dialogue.

    Then again, I know plenty of Christ followers who will approach conversations with “non-believers” as if they’re somehow “wiser” than this child who will eventually grow up…even if it takes death.

    Guess we could both work on that.

  • Just being ‘happy’ doesn’t do it. Having direct dialog about the flaws of epistemology is important if not necessary. The art is doing that (pointing out the flaw in someone’s epistemology) and being nice at the same time. That’s how I began my conversion from Christianity to atheism. It was back in the pre-WWW days on what was then called USEnet, and an atheist was polite and friendly, but did not back down from pointing out my flaws in epistemology.

    Joe Hern, I totally agree. That’s actually one of the main points I make in this piece: that we can be polite and still stand our ground, that we can firmly critique ideas and beliefs without insulting people.

    I’m very hesitant to think of all religious readers as proto-atheists.

    Miller (and others who made similar points): Again, I agree. I didn’t actually say that all theists visiting atheist blogs were proto-atheists. Just that many of them were, and that we should bear that in mind.

    Of course everyone should treat each other politely, but we should also remember that civility is a two way street. There are times where “polite” simply isn’t the best response. For example, when someone shows up on your blog spouting “God hates fags” or some such similar hate-filled nonsense, how do you respond with anything but contempt?

    Hammurabi (and others who made similar points): I agree that if someone is being insulting or abusive or hateful, we don’t have to keep being nice. But I think it’s better to take the high road rather than sinking to their level. I’ve found cold good manners to be more effective. (And it makes you look better to anyone else who’s following the thread.) And comment moderation/ ignoring trolls is a time-honored form of dealing with incivility. Descending to their level just throws gasoline on the fire.

    Again: We can disagree with people, even firmly and passionately, and still treat them with basic civility. Civility isn’t the same thing as letting yourself be a doormat.

  • N

    This is a great post.

    I’m a living example of Greta’s point that religious readers of atheist blogs are on their way to atheism. I started out by reading the now defunct “Primordial Blog” and branched out from there. If I had started with a more acerbic blog like PZ’s, or jumped right into Dawkins, I might not have ever come around to reason.

  • Meh, I’m female – there are certain times (that, oddly, tend to correspond to certain days each month) when I’m not feeling overly nice. This, shockingly, can be said of many Xian women too! I KNOW!!!! Anyway, this is just me taking exception to an above comment about this being the “friendly atheist” site. Yes, it is. Hemant is branding himself as friendly, but I don’t think he expects everyone who posts to be friendly at all times (do you, Hemant?) Sometimes people, including ones who think the same as you, need a good smack upside the head..other times they need a hug and some hand-holding. I’m capable of both and usually try to do what is appropriate of each separate situation, however, as far as blogs go, they are one’s personal domain so I say do as you will! You’re going to find both varieties (nice and not nice)of Xian blogs so why do all atheist ones HAVE to be nice?
    I’d, actually, rather be funny – but my vodka bill is getting way high.
    What the hell was I talking about again??

  • tokenadult Says:
    I’ve met Hemant in person, and I can largely give him credit for being a friendly atheist, but I can’t recommend this site to any religious friend of mine who may begin inquiring about atheism, because most of the comment threads are just plain NASTY.

    Hemant is nasty, too. Really.
    He’s not nice at all. It’s a facade.
    He’s up to something.
    You’ve been warned.

  • Brad

    So does that mean that you are going to stop insulting your religious readers?

  • Neon Genesis

    One of the things I love about the friendlyatheist is that it’s friendlier than a lot of other atheists site out there. Even as an atheist, I don’t like the excessive anti-theistic sites that only insult religious believers all the time and don’t allow for any different points of views to be expressed. I like friendlyatheist because we can express our views and stay true to our beliefs while at the same time I think it’s a pretty friendly atmosphere. Of course, some theists will be offended by our mere existence no matter what we do, but I try to follow the Golden Rule and treat others the way I want to be treated. I know I wouldn’t like it if Christians just came up to me and started telling me how crazy I am for denying their god and how I’m going to hell in a handbasket, so I should try to treat Christians the way I would want them to treat me.

  • muggle

    Funny you should mention this.

    I just took a lot of heat on another board because I called fellow regulars (it’s a mixed board so we’ve Christians, Wiccans, Atheists, Agnostics, Jews and who knows what else, one won’t say because she doesn’t want to be labelled) out on being particularly nasty and vile to a kid who said he was in Liberty University, even making assumptions about him because he was a student there. Like he couldn’t be trusted. He was a liar for Jesus. Push him and he’ll turn on you. Yes, one actually used that excuse for getting nasty to him first.

    Now this kid (okay, I turn 52 soon, college students are kids to me, alright, you’re right) um, young adult, he was polite and respectful and didn’t make any assumptions about those who believed differently than he did and I felt that he should be treated as he was treating others — respectfully.

    Now a couple of regulars took my comments (I tried to be polite about my criticism) to heart and minded their manners after it but a couple of the others (other women to my chagrin, the guys were the ones who woke up to their rudeness when it was pointed out to them) got real nasty about it.

    One in particular was rather vile and took it as a personal affront. It finally got so bad between the two of us (don’t know if you’ve noticed but my fuse is rather short and my patience extends only so far) that a couple of the guys teasingly commented, one saying the fur and feathers (her avatar’s a bird) were flying and the other saying that he was enjoying the catfight because his wife is always saying if woman ran the world, there’d be no wars. I laughed and told him I never bought that one; other got pissed at him for making a sexist remark.

    Looking back on it, she seems to be pretty touchy. There are some regular Christians too who can get pretty obnoxious (one’s so bad, I don’t even read his posts; people seem to overlook that you can do that if you really can’t stand someone who’s a regular on a board you really like) and the other’s well, they bristle but they talk and discuss and I do likewise.

    About six weeks ago, one of those posted that he had taken a fall and needed hip surgery as a result. I was shocked to read this and find the comment ignored by other posters. So I said, c’mon, we’re not so uptight we can’t wish him well and speedy recovery, are we? after my comment telling him I hoped it went well then other people did the same.

    After I got my avatar, before this commenter’s injury, the one who’s gotten particular nasty told me she thought it was scary in a tone that indicated I should change it. Yeah, right. I just said sorry. I like it and let it go but I’m kind of wondering if she isn’t still carrying a bug up her ass because she couldn’t nix a avatar she didn’t like. Shrug. What are you going to do with people like that?

    So, I’m now also not reading her posts, still having give and take with the Christian commenters in the same vein they take with me and find I’m really not missing her comments at all. She tells the board all the time how they should be running it. She complained in a chat room to an internet radio show that a lot of us listen to about their censorship and was kind of huffy when I pointed out that they were a national organization ( 😉 this could be what you’re getting yourself into Jessie; any word on the job yet ) and they had to censor since the RR is after them all the time. At that, I don’t think their limits on free speech are bad at all and even then you can get around it by putting in an * or something. She’s also called them and asked for changes she wants and last I was reading her (I stopped wasting my on-line time on it), she was in a hissy fit that they hadn’t got back to her the same day.

    So, yep, not only the impression you make on Christians or other theists but even those whose side you are on. As others have mentioned above, don’t we all wish we could be as patient and well-spoken as Richard (he was with me once when I was ready to go off and pretty much diffused the situation by being so and I still appreciate it and learned from that) or as friendly as Hemant? Pretty much, I treat other posters as they treat other people. I be polite and respectful if they are, crude and rude if they are, somewhere in the middle if they are.

    That said, I can be bad. I’ve got a short fuse myself and if someone gets under my skin, I can blow. You’ve all seen it and know what I mean and thank you for your tolerance and patience. But there are certain things that will set me off every time. I’ve got to work on that. Well, mostly, since one of those things is speaking up when I see someone else treated badly. I hope I never lose the courage to do that.

    Bottom line, who knows or cares why other people are there. Everyone who is is getting something out of it for their own reasons. Don’t second guess it. Some Christians might be having doubts, some are there to try and convert you and some just want to hear what we’re thinking. One reason I was so annoyed at the reception the guy from Liberty U got was that I was interested in his point of view and he was a pleasant fellow who was a refreshing change from the Christians who were argumentive or out to save your soul.

    On this other board, they often accuse posters of being the same person under differing names. Don’t know about that but I really don’t care. It’s nothing to get worked up about and doesn’t matter in the final analysis. This is the internet. Who cares? Whoever they post as or pretend to be, for Pete’s sake, just respond to the content.

    I treat people as I find them and, while I trust very few people in this world, I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and treat them respectfully until they give me reason not to.

    And I’d rather read the Liberty University student’s comments than the regular who has to have things her way any day of the week.

  • I treat religious visitors to my blog according to how they behave. If they’re polite and seem to be interested in genuine dialog I’ll respond in kind. If they’re only interested in spewing nonsense and/or leaving cut & paste drivel I’ll either ignore them (my comments are moderated) or approve them and read them the riot act. Which course I take with the troll types depends on the content of their post and my mood at the time. If they post anything that includes a threat (and we get several of those a year) we contact the appropriate authorities.

  • cicely

    I don’t agree that religious readers on atheistic sites are proto-atheists; sometimes, they’re On A Mission From God.

    My preference is to respond to other posters civilly, even the obnoxious ones, because in my experience, once you’ve called someone an asshat, they stop listening. Oh, they may continue hearing or reading what you have to say, but their minds are now set to auto-dismiss. After that, there’s no real communication taking place, just poo-flinging. Unless you’re into invective as an artform, it’s just a waste of everyone’s time.

  • Michael

    Doesn’t it depend on the individual blogger? If one has complete disdain for a given childish outlook on life, why can’t you tell people to grow out of it, as rudely as you wish? It doesn’t mean anyone has to listen to you, but that is surely your own personal choice. And if people don’t like it, they wont come back (or will come back more often!). Not everyone is trying to force their point of view on others, merely to express it.

    Not everything in life is a popularity contest. If people feel strongly enough about something to say it, they can surely say it how they want. They’re allowed to be wrong too.

    In society there seems to be a general will to ‘belong’ to some group or another, and a pressure to conform to whatever that group may be. e.g. you’re not a ‘real’ x y or z if you don’t do a b or c. A good example are Emo’s or goths and so on that celebrate their non-conformity to general society by wearing an amazingly consistent uniform across the whole planet. Way to show your rebellious side guys!

    Another example within the atheist ‘community’; there’s a lot of ‘hate’ toward people like Hitchens because of some of his political ideas – things which have nothing to do with his atheist ones. People want to label him with one thing or another rather than taking the merit of his arguments individually, and will dismiss him entirely because of just one of his views.

    I really don’t understand why everyone wants to label themselves or others with a particular tag and then expect them(selves) to stick to that tag rather than make their own way in the world.

    So, if people want to pick on people for believing nonsense, let them. It’s their choice, they might not be trying to `turn’ anyone and simply don’t give a rats who they offend. If that offends you then don’t give them air-time …

  • Philoctetes

    One of the elements of theism that I find the most offensive is the need to proselytize. As an atheist, I have no such need, confident that reality is not affected by how many people believe in it.

    I am new to this site, but the impression I’m getting is that you want atheism to appear friendly so we can get more recruits. Are really recruiting? That sounds like a form of ‘converting the paynim’ to me.

    I’m all for being nice and all, but that’s because I’m a nice person. My mom thinks so anyway!

  • Linda

    One of the elements of theism that I find the most offensive is the need to proselytize. As an atheist, I have no such need, confident that reality is not affected by how many people believe in it.

    I am new to this site, but the impression I’m getting is that you want atheism to appear friendly so we can get more recruits. Are really recruiting? That sounds like a form of ‘converting the paynim’ to me.

    Thank you for saying so simply what would have taken me two pages to say.

    The realness is exactly what drew me to this site, NOT necessarily the “niceness.” If someone is friendly, it should be genuine without an agenda, otherwise it’s not friendly at all. That’s called deception.

    Sometimes truth hurts to hear or even uncomfortable to say, but views need to be expressed the way each individual sees it. Then they can be sorted out in plain view.

    Not everything in life is a popularity contest. If people feel strongly enough about something to say it, they can surely say it how they want. They’re allowed to be wrong too.

    Well said. 🙂

  • Richard Wade

    WWRWD?

    Oh dear, I’m in trouble now. 😉

    Greta’s full article on her site clearly states that she realizes that only some of the Christians who visit an atheist blog are transitioning toward atheism, and she has further clarified that in her comment here.

    I fully agree with her description of how Christians should be treated on atheist blogs: being patient, being careful to argue about ideas and beliefs without insulting their person, not treating them like they’re stupid, empathizing with them, and various other expressions of simple decency.

    Most of the commenters here have expressed their own ethic of treating such people with courtesy and civility, and that is very encouraging.

    I’m a little afraid that some readers, if they don’t deeply read Greta’s intentions, will come away thinking that the reason that atheist bloggers should treat Christians decently is so that they can be coaxed toward atheism. That outcome might be more likely with civility and compassion, but it should not be the purpose. That has never been my motive, and I think it is not a good idea for anyone to adopt that goal as their motive for treating people respectfully. It would contradict respect to have an agenda for respectful treatment. It would be tainted by disingenuousness. Treat all people respectfully, regardless.

    I only wish to clarify what I think the motive should be for treating people respectfully, regardless of whether you respect or agree with their beliefs:

    .

    There should be no motive at all.

    .

    I do my very best to treat people respectfully, with compassion, honesty, equality, and open-mindedness, PERIOD. There is no outside reason why, no “because” that is connected with my mood, my feelings or my circumstances, OR their motives, behavior or circumstances.

    If I base my ethical treatment of others on a “because,” then there will always be another “because” to justify treating them unethically. If I base my treatment of them on their behavior, then I am being reactionary only, having no solid ethical principles of my own. I would be like a chameleon or a mirror, having no color of my own, only reflecting whatever is around me. Then, if I was surrounded by unkind people, I would only be adding my own unkindness to the scene. I want better than that.

    Make no mistake, I can fight back against rude treatment of me, and fight against cruel treatment of others, and I do. But I can still do that within my ethical boundaries. If necessary, I can seriously kick their asses, respectfully.

    Do I fail? Of course. Some people really get under my skin, especially those with deeply disingenuous agendas of their own. But I only consider the statement, “I’m only human” to be an explanation for my failure, not an excuse. I have to clean up my act every time I tarnish it. I have to afford myself the same compassionate and respectful treatment that I hope to give to others. So I respectfully kick my own ass, forgive myself, and try again.

  • WWRWD?

    We should get tee-shirts made.

    I may be mistaken, but I think Richard once cured a leper. 😉

  • Philoctetes

    Richard Wade, the point I must have made imperfectly was that I am against proselytisaton. Many of the comments about Greta’s article appear to support being decent to theists visiting the site in order to convert them.

    Now, upon reading Greta’s article again, I find those elements there as well. I don’t want to overload this comment with quotes, but here is one that is telling.

    Today’s defenders of the faith are tomorrow’s die-hard atheists. Some of them, anyway.

    I agree 100% that we should be civil and welcoming to everyone without ulterior motive.

    The problem I see in non face-to-face communication is that there are no consequences for the diatribe. Since it is more entertaining to tear somebody a new one rather than engaging them, that’s what people do. But that behavior is wrong because it hurts others, not because it drives theists from rationality.

  • Richard Wade

    Philoctetes,
    I was not singling you out, and your point was well stated. I concur with you that deliberate proselytizing in any direction should be avoided, so we are both making the same statement. I find any kind of proselytizing at best distasteful, and at worst destructive.

    If someone wants to change their religious beliefs, that’s none of my business. I won’t encourage or discourage it. If they are in pain because of that process, I will do what little I can to reduce their suffering, but which way they go is up to them.

    Thank you for stating so clearly that online cruelty is wrong simply because it hurts others, not because it reduces the chances of deconversion.