A fellow blogger, Joel Monka, has offered excellent suggestions about how to discuss religion respectfully. I’ve adapted his ideas in terms of the theism-atheism-agnosticism discussion. Joel’s original statement is at:
Here are adapted excerpts from that statement:
Don’t fall for the either/or, binary paradigm. This is a problem for theists and atheists alike. Intellectually we know that there are hundreds of religions, and many shades of atheism — but all too often discussions fall into “either you’re a Bible-thumper or you’re trying to outlaw God.” “Believer” and “fundamentalist” are not synonyms. Neither are “godless” and “Communist”. If someone disagrees with you, don’t presume to know what he or she believes — find out by asking!
Religion has nothing to do with intelligence.
By the numbers this is more of an atheist failing as far as I can see, but now and then believers will also try to make claims linking intelligence to whether one believes or not. Fact is, there are geniuses and morons on both sides of the discussion, and any trends you think you may see are always less than the difference between individuals.
Even if it’s a joke, don’t say anything that requires an “Except for you, of course; you’re different,” if a friend is listening. Three reasons — first, it doesn’t make your friend feel better to know that “I’m accepted, but my friends, family, and heroes are not.” Second, you may not know where everyone within earshot stands, and your “joke” might come just when someone is trying to decide whether to join your congregation. Third, everyone knows that there’s many a true word spoken in jest. Some rhetoric is dangerous because it is exaggerated, over the top … and some, because it is exactly what you really meant.
Thanks, Joel, for those wise and practical suggestions,