This is such a difficult and sprawling subject to approach that even devising a suitable title for it is a challenge.
I don't often post on here but I come on from time to time to ask for advice and try to learn from the discussions. I would like to hear some insights from people who are either still involved in the church or are de-converts; since I have never belonged to a religion it is difficult for me to empathise with the mindset. I've tried to split this into decent sections to make it more bearable because I've rambled on a bit!My Mistakes
I live in an extremely secular country (The United Kingdom). There were only two people in my class at high school who I knew to be religious (and they were cousins). The internet was my first introduction to religious fanaticism, it was absurd and a little scary to me. I'm embarrassed to say that I reacted by taunting and insulting these people, and wasted a lot of time in abusive arguments with them (I subscribed to VenomFangX on youtube just so I could make fun of him in the comments). Later I found out about people like Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and a host of youtube atheist commentators. I grew more mature and got better at arguing.
But I don't want to argue any more. A Call for Unity
I confronted my hostility towards religion and thought about what I actually want to achieve. I would like to live in a world where people are not delusional, where they accept that they are mortal animals reliant on senses that can be deceived. I want to live in a world where rationality and evidence are held in higher esteem than faith and gut instincts. I realised that to achieve this we need to include everyone in this change. Atheists and Theists treating each other as adversaries doesn't help anyone, we can only prosper and change for the better if we are on the same side.A Delicate Subject
It's very difficult to talk about religion without offending someone. The trouble is that religious belief is very immature, yet it can be held by mature and educated people who have been taught to quarantine their faith from the logic and reason they apply to the rest of their lives. So how does one tell a rational and mature person that their faith is immature and irrational? How does one extract the cancer of religion from a healthy mind?Religion & Mental Illness
Yes, I really am trying not to offend theists here! I'm not saying that everyone who has every prayed is bat-shit crazy but I do believe that religion has the potential to cause sufferers of mental illness to go undiagnosed and untreated, and with most mental illnesses they only get worse without treatment. If we even so much as hint that having auditory or visual hallucinations is "normal" (or a blessing!) then we are neglecting people with serious health issues. Thankfully, the stigma attached to mental health issues is gradually depleting and we are realising that a significant proportion of the population suffer with them (around 22%); people who are otherwise fully-functioning human beings. If religious beliefs were treated as the delusions they are this number would be far higher and we would have a healthier population for it.Mature Atheism
We need to be the mature ones here -- again, that is not to say that the religious are immature -- we have to be respectful of the people behind the belief; we have to be sensitive to their condition and treat it as such. They are not insane, they are not immature or irrational, they need therapy to come to terms with reality.
This all probably sounds patronising and passive aggressive, and to be honest I am snickering at some of it, there is still a "devilish" part of me that finds it amusing that a theist might get offended, but I'm being serious here. It's really hard to be serious about this and not come across as condescending or sarcastic. Religion is so deeply engrained in our cultures that it is difficult to pry it out and look at it for what it really is, even for those who denounce it.My Strategy
I don't really have one... any tips?
I have decided only one thing so far, and that is to avoid the elephant in the room: god. I don't mean I will not talk about god at all, but I will not say things like "I do not believe in god" any more because that implies that I simply do not accept
the existence of god. I will also ignore statements that talk about god as if he is a person in the room; I will even try to avoid calling him "Him" (which I don't appear to be very good at). Thirdly, I will avoid phrases that are directly confrontational, such as: "God does not exist." I don't think it's healthy to keep reinforcing this notion of "god", in either a positive or negative manner.
Apart from that I will attempt to speak rationally and maturely about the subject, without being dismissive or insensitive. I think of it like talking to an adolescent: you know when they are being foolish but ridiculing or patronising them is only going to cause an argument that goes nowhere. We have to be patient and rise above squabbling.