How We Treat Religious Believers

Respect expressway
By rrafson [CC BY-SA 3.0], from Wikimedia Commons

Conservative Skeptic posed an interesting question:
What is the purpose of having online or even face-to-face discussions with Christians?
Here are some quick thoughts on the subject:
  • Do you enjoy conversing with Christians? If so, that seems like a good reason to do so.
  • Is the conversation public? If so, effectively communicating your position could impact members of the audience even if it has little impact on the Christian.
  • Are you really trying to de-convert the Christian? If so, you'll probably be disappointed in the outcome. If not, this could be a great opportunity to learn something about what he or she believes and why.
  • Are you in a hurry? If not, recognize that a brief conversation could plant a tiny seed of doubt that might grow into something meaningful months or even years from now.
How should we treat religious believers? If I was aiming to change someone's mind, I'd be reluctant to offend them because I'd worry that this would have the opposite effect. When attacked, we tend to become defensive. Defensiveness isn't what I'm seeking to amplify if my goal is one of persuasion. In fairness, Conservative Skeptic says that he has no interest in changing minds.
...I’m not looking to de-convert anyone from their belief system no matter how crazy it appears to me. I’m not here to evangelize for atheism. I honestly do not care one bit whether a believer takes offense at what I write or tweet or not. There’s no right (at least in the U.S.) to not be offended. If someone doesn’t like what I write here or tweet, they can very easily ignore me.
That's all true, but just because nobody has the right not to be offended does not necessarily mean the rest of us should go out of our way to offend others. Of course, it doesn't mean we should stay silent either. There is a huge difference between holding one's tongue and deliberately trying to offend others.

Personally, I would not get too hung up on notions of fairness or reciprocity here. I'm inclined to treat religious believers with respect and kindness even if they do not respond in kind. When I was a religious believer, I feared those who did not share my religious beliefs. Fear clouded reason and was not conducive to treating others well. I'm over that now, and I am not interested in being fearful, petty, or vindictive. I'm more interested in showing religious believers that atheists can be decent people without gods. And the best way I know to show them that is to do my best to live it.