I wonder how much and often you like to debate atheism/theism. Do you seek it out or avoid it? Are you "naughty or nice" (Santa Claus reference) about it? Do you operate from "Well, isn't it obvious?" How is/isn't it working for you? Have you ever actually gotten religious people to take off their blinders?
I am, by academic training, a Rhetorician. I'd like to hear the argumentation techniques that work best for you -- either to convince the other side or get crowds carrying pitchforks and torches to let you live. :)
I discuss/debate fairly regularly. I do my best to stay calm and respectful. Instead of making a declaration that gods don't exist, I state that I simply see no evidence that gods do exist. That deflects any claims that I have to prove that gods don't exist.
I also repeatedly have to remind people that their justifications for faith in their individual god are also valid for any theistic (or supernatural) belief. At the same time, none of those justifications can be considered evidence or proof.
I've gotten theists to concede points, especially in specific biblical examples where 'God's justice' couldn't be considered justice in any shape for form. I've been concentrating on making my arguments logically sound, while also containing a gut/emotional level. I think that atheistic arguments rely too much on the intellectual side, and don't target the emotional side of humanity. Faith lives in emotion, and needs emotional force to be effected.
Just my 2 cents.
You shouldn't keep quiet, because then those zealots succeed in their mission: silencing you. Who cares if a bunch of close minded people get butthurt, who needs em? Don't back down.
It's been my experience that by staying calm and discussing the subject when it comes up, I help strengthen and become more comfortable with my own position. Also, while the discussion may have no effect on zealots who may be involved, it can have a huge impact on 3rd parties who witness the exchange, hear my position, and see the contrast between my behavior and the person I'm having the discussion with.
I absolutely agree with you Ofuskation. Unfortunately when dealing with those who are irrational, it is impossible to 'win', one can only gain the upper hand by staying in control. The calm deployment of intelligence that you speak of is exactly the sort of behavior which makes a positive impact on onlookers and agnostics.
Obfuskation and Kirstyn I also completely agree with both of you. I love having a respectful and mature Atheism/Theism debate simply because the subject interests me so much, but most religious people instantly become offended and feel attacked whenever someone expresses a contrasting view. Usually, the second I mention I'm an Atheist, I get either directly or indirectly accused of being used by Satan to place doubt in people's minds about God. Its impossible to have a cordial, intelligent conversation with someone like that. It's sad, because I can tell deep down most of these people believe these things out of fear. For the most part I'm never taken seriously. I've read the books and done the research (unlike the majority of them), yet somehow in their minds I'm the one who must be misunderstanding something.
I've found that the best thing to read if you're going to have conversations with theists is the bible itself. The best way to have an impact with them is to have an obviously more thorough knowledge of it's contents. It tends to cultivate a little bit of respect by itself.
I've had a running debate with an evangelist literalist for a long time. I get him to concede points fairly regularly, and get frequent compliments on my knowledge of the bible. While I know I'll never convert him, the discussions sharpen my game and are actually enjoyable. Most importantly, there are always people around us enjoying the verbal jousting. Those are the people that are being effected, and they are probably the best reason for me to keep rehashing a lot of the same discussions with that guy.
It's also fun to get a specific compliment from a "true believer". The compliment that even though I don't believe, I'm sure to be going to heaven.
To answer OP's question, I avoid it like rape. There's no helping those sheep. Those of them who are openminded and intelligent enough can find their way out of that dark maze by themselves, if they truly have the will that is. But the rest is just a hopeless lot, don't waste your time.
If you have no choice but to debate on of them, don't, instead try to make it fun for yourself. Troll them. Just roleplay and make them angry as much as you can and at the first chance get as far away as you can before any stupid spills on you.
Here are some great ideas for trolling morons/theists:
LOL but what is phase 2?
I like #8!
I tend to use:
"Jesus Christ jumping up and down on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich!" or whatever comes to mind that he should be jumping up and down on at the time....LOL
I wouldn't say that I go out and seek debate on the subject although I do assert my opinion/position when it is socially acceptable to do so.
I also spend a considerable amount of time in the Religion and Spirituality section on Yahoo! Answers.
I don't troll and I find kOrsan's ideas to be reprehensible. I probably spend just as much time correcting that kind of nonsense as I do religious nonsense. That isn't to say that there isn't a place for ridicule but you really have to know what you're talking about or else you are just playing into the stereotypes they believe of what it means to be an atheist.
If logic was enough to debate religion, it would have disappeared ages ago. Instead, we have to try to really understand the religious experience in order to talk about it in a way that really makes sense to a religious person.
Adam and Eve is a good example of what I'm talking about. I see the same old simplistic questions/criticisms about Adam and Eve (ie, about incest or where the women came from) that only displays the ignorance of the critic. Instead, I'd rather study the story and try to understand it in a historical context. For example, http://www.noonespecial.ca/adam-and-eve/
Of course, it all depends on why it is you might want to get in a debate.
Do you simply want to hone your rhetorical skills? Then go ahead and talk about the 'problem of evil.'
Do you simply want to have a laugh? Then go ahead and talk about how Ezekiel 23:28-35 is basically 'two girls and one cup.'
Or do you want to affect change? Well, then you have to make sure your tactics are congruent with your goals and that is going to mean digging deeper.
To answer your question, Rich, I love to wait until people have expressed their opinions as bigoted and ignorant as they are, and then ask them politely to explain how their faith chooses to explain a whole realm of evils that can be attributed to any of the major global faiths at some point in history...
For example; religious wars, jihads, crusades, inquisitions, censoring of free speech,
denial of human rights, brainwashing of children, murdering of albinos,
forced underage marriages, rampant misogyny, male and female genital mutilation,
stoning, pederasty, rape in every form,
homophobia, and the willful rejection of science and reason.
Very interesting topic of convo, it'll be good to see how other people do this!