I can't help but feel at a disadvantage here. It seems every time religion comes up in my discussions with others, it always melts into me constantly defending my atheism, while every point I bring up is brushed off for another shot at my 'godlessness.' I try to help these people, but how can I when I can't get any information to them at all.
If you're really discussing/debating that often, I'd advise getting to know the bible. Taking it to them with their own book can be fairly effective. Also knocks away the all-to-common shot "if you would just read the bible, you would believe."
To provide information, the recipient must be open to receive it. Believers have all the information they want, and are not going to open up to receive any from you. you can throw a life preserver to a drowning man, but if he doesn't grab on, you don't jump in and drown with him.
I have a small quibble with Johnny's advice to know your Bible. In my experience, Christians don't really know the Bible very well, and rely much more on the word of authority than on logic to comprehend its message. So, when you point out obvious contradictions or immoral teachings, they look at you a corrupt source of knowledge and comfort themselves that their favorite apologist has an easy solution to whatever problems you raised (which they do). So while it helps to know the Bible, and I agree that it's a good defense against the "if you'll just read the Bible" counterargument, you just can't expect a believer to accept any critique of it you offer.
The bigger issue is the meaning of life. No matter how much a believer may doubt the validity of his or her religion, he or she will cling to it if he or she thinks the alternative is a meaningless life. So, if you can come up with a positive statement about the meaningfulness and purpose you feel in the absence of religion, your words will be more effective.
I agree somewhat. It really depends on the person. Some people will be effected by certain Biblical truths being brought to their attention. But others will tune you out as an agent of the devil, there to sow doubt. My mother will feign a massive and sudden headache and announce loudly that she is too exhausted to answer questions whenever I ask her simple questions about the Bible or Jesus. I don't even need to know anything about the Bible to end that conversation. Some people cherish their ignorance.
This makes me think of a discussion on a podcast I listened to recently...
Some religions (and atheist groups usually) place very low demands on their members. Basically, you show up at meetings and you're a member of the group. It's easy to get join, but often this also creates a low level of attachment and dedication. Many may join but many will also leave, and their involvement may be low.
Other religions, such as Mormanism, are more difficult to get into, and once you are in you are required to participate in a variety of ways. Not showing for church regularly and not taking part in all of that day's activities are considered problems. This type of bar to entry means you'll attract fewer people, but they'll be less likely to leave and their dedication and contributions will be greater.
Hehe, sounds familiar to me. With my mother it's not a headache but some kind of anger-sadness plus a statement that I'm better at debating anyway... :-)
(I haven't read this argument anywhere before, let's call it the "superior debater argument" ;-)
I personally tend to avoid conversations involving religion whenever humanly possible. In the few discussions I have had, it's mainly concerning them trying to save my soul by converting me, or by questioning how I can possibly live without religion and god in my life. I once had someone wonder how difficult life may be for me because I cannot turn to god. I tell them I do not need to turn to an imaginary friend to find comfort in my life.
In my experience, most christians are not interested in hearing anything negative about their god or their bible. They pick and choose the passages they follow, and anything they do not agree with they dismiss as a misinterpretation or assign some benign modern language to it. I tell them I do not need to be able to quote individual passages, as they don't truly believe the bible is the book of god, or else they would follow it's teachings without fail.
I guess it depends on the venue, so to speak. Many times I find that people who come to me about religion are more interested in converting me, than listening to what I have to say. They are so busy waiting to give me talking points on how to save my soul, and thinking about what they are going to say next, that they do not hear a damn thing I say.