Things both militant religionists and anti-theists could do betterDISCLAIMER: Since my wording caused confusion, I am not labeling all atheists as anti-theists. I intentionally used that phrase to distinguish open minded atheists from those who *are* anti religious.This difference in terms is much like the difference between "all Christians" and "fundamentalist".
Last Friday, I found myself in two different conversations on two different social media platforms with two different rabid anti-religionists (neither of whom I know personally). I'm pretty sure that I didn't manage to convince these people that I was not, by simply being a religious person, mentally ill, or abusing my children by bringing them up in the faith. (Yes, both claims were made in a general way). Now, I have friends with every type of belief about the metaphysical, and I truly believe we all *can* treat each other with respect and work together for the common good. So why don't we? I've spent some time thinking about what both sides do to increase acrimony, and how they could proceed differently.
If you're North American, think carefully before you cry oppression: Honesty compels me to note that historically, religion has committed more oppression than atheist states (One notable exception being religious suppression in the former Soviet Union ) However, if you live in North America, it's unlikely you're experiencing true oppression. You may be treated to unfair stereotypes, rudeness, and ostracising. You may find it harder to get elected in the area where you live than someone with a different worldview. Oppression? Try being a religious person in North Korea or living in a country modeled on theocracy .
Stop assuming you know exactly what someone believes because of their label: This was part of the argument with one of the anti-theists I engaged. And frankly, this person was wrong. Just because I embrace the label "Christian" doesn't mean you can assume you know the whole scope of my belief, just like I know that the labels Pagan, Atheist, Muslim, Jew, Agnostic, etc; all carry a broad range on interpretation. Be willing to ask people, "What does being a _________ mean to you?", and listen with an open heart.
Don't confuse the roles of religion and science: If you're religious, be open to the idea that the creation story in your tradition is allegorical and even poetical. If you can't, at least don't try to supersede separation of church and state to try and have creationism taught in the schools. Don't deny climate science. If you're not religious, understand that religious people DON'T need proof that their god or gods exist: that's kind of the opposite of faith. It's OK if you would need proof to believe in the divine, but if someone finds comfort in the idea of a ( completely unprovable) afterlife, who are you to take that comfort from them? A last word to both groups on this: if people who are trying to figure out what they believe hear from both sides that they have to choose between religion and science, they will, and you may be on the side that loses out.
Understand that anger, hate, fear, and insults NEVER truly change some one's mind: Fundamentalists, you can't convince atheists to believe in your God with the threat of Hell. It doesn't exist to them. And neither side is very convincing when they call people with a different view of the metaphysical immoral, idiotic, or evil. Would you want to throw your lot in with such insulting people?
Find common ground outside of the discussion of religion: Simply spending time with people who hold different beliefs can help you to see how much our similarities outweigh our differences. Find a mixed group of people who share a common interest with you- knitting, philately, weight lifting, and truly get to know them. You might be pleasantly surprised.
Engage in common service: Intentionally seek out opportunities to serve side by side with people from differing world views. It's hard to demonize someone when you've cleaned a highway, fed the hungry, or worked a blood drive with them.
Read the work of at least one person with a different worldview from yours: If you're religious, I suggest reading the blog Non Prophet Status or the book Faitheist by Chris Stedman. If you're not religious, I suggest following Unfundamentalist Christians or reading Evolving In Monkey Town by Rachel Held Evans, or The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne. (If you have a suggested reading from your tradition, leave me a comment and I'd edit to add it) .
Step it up. Ask someone with a differing worldview what led them to that view, and don't try to argue them out of it. Did your atheist friend come to believe there was no divine power after delving into science? After a prayer went unanswered? Or was it after a traumatic experience in the church? What experiences made your spiritual friend believe in the metaphysical? Scholarly study? Experiences that convinced them they or a loved one was remembering a past life? A feeling of love and comfort during prayer? Or maybe a congregation that carried them through a hard time? Listen, accept, and don't minimize.
Stop insulting each other. Just stop it. Really, our world has bigger problems than whether your neighbour believes in the divine or not. Stop bashing each other over it and start working together to combat environmental degradation, domestic violence, and poverty. Don't make me use my teacher voice.