Over the past three years I have been using Stumble Upon as a resource for atheist sites. I have read thousands of blogs and arguments between atheists and “christians.” I know how frustrating these debates can be because there is clearly no convincing some christians that what they believe is completely ridiculous. Regardless of how frustrating debates with “believers” can be, my deeper concern is that most of the current population does not have the opportunity for higher education and because of this, most don't have the chance to become critical/skeptical thinkers. Unfortunately, the tenor and attitudes that some in the athiest community have aren't helping this situation. Instead of being open-minded and debating in a civil fashion, many christians are instead ridiculed and berated by athiests—eventually causing many of them to leave these debates feeling “non-bielevers” are rude, hostile, and arrogant. I see this as a missed opportunity.
I work and volunteer with the rural low income populations. Most are christian and probably will never be open to atheists perspectives—but I believe many other may, if presented the right information, in the right way. I believe many of these people are open to skeptical thinking (not towards religion) but towards the system that represses them. People begin to see the injustice around them, and start researching facts in hopes of improving their lives. Learning facts develops leadership and many community groups are being developed by low income people focused on gaining evidence and facts that exposes how they're being exploited or ignored. This type of critical thinking isn't far from the very same skeptical thinking necessary to understand the faults in their religious beliefs.
What I observe in many (but not all) atheist sites is atheists boasting about their high levels of education, and belittling others who don't have the basic knowledge or even education to even understand the argument. I also observe harsh judgment on grammatical errors, this prevents people from asking questions and communicating: and when there is no discussion there is no learning. Because of OUR inability to discuss atheism with those less educated, less fortunate, I believe we miss a great opportunity to show that atheists are NOT snooty and snobby elitists who look down on the dumb and blind masses. I think its time we atheists take a different approach.
Personally, my own transition from catholicism to atheism many years ago was not an easy journey. I spent years in transition, mainly because I wanted to continue a relationship with my family, who are die-hard catholics. Growing up in a very religious, blue-collar town, I did not become an atheist because someone smarter than me explained how ridiculous being catholic was, nor by someone who berated my spelling and grammatical errors; I did not become an atheist because I went to college and became impressed with the minions of intellectualism; I became an atheist because I realized innately (as many do) that something just wasn't quite right about everything I had been told growing up about religion and life. That spark of skepticism led me to research even further. Luckily, I completed this transition to atheism before I ran across any super-elitists bent on pummeling me about my ignorant ways and the stupidity of my improper grammar. Had I been ridiculed and laughed at by a puffed-up atheist interested in his/her own superiority, I may have taken many more years to “open up” to the ideas of atheism.
We as atheists need to ask ourselves who we have turned away and what opportunities we might have lost to open eyes and minds? How many poor, rural Indiana girls have we chased away? You don't have to be a genius to be an atheist or a skeptical thinker. Perhaps its time to re-evaluate our language, intentions, behavior, motives and whether a different approach might have different results.