I was recently browsing twitter and I saw someone make the all too common statement that atheists need as much faith to believe God doesn't exist as theists have that he does. Of course such a thing bugs me, so I figure I'd engage and started a conversation with her. The conversation seemed to me to be fairly calm but after a quick back and forth she defended herself by saying it was just a tweet and not a big deal, she just had a thought and was throwing it out there. I told her I meant no anger, but tone is hard to express in text, especially with the character limit on twitter. She then said that a ton of atheists insulted her for her original tweet.
This got me thinking about how we atheists interact with the general public. Suppose you see someone make a common argument against atheism, such as the one here. The way I see it, there are two possibilities, first is that they are die hard Christians who hate atheists and are trying to make a point. The second is that they haven't really thought about it much but it seems reasonable to them. Perhaps they are even just repeating something they heard somewhere else.
If we are in the first case, chances are any conversation will get heated pretty quickly. That's fine, I don't like having these ridiculous ideas stated without challenge, and a little yelling isn't necessarily a bad thing when appropriate. However, if we are in the second case perhaps it will be an opportunity to correct a misconception. If they have only heard the theists stupid argument and you explain the counter-argument perhaps they will come away with a new idea to think about.
So how do you know which case you are in? Well, you don't right away, I think the best strategy is to begin by assuming you are in the second case and start off with a friendly conversation. If you are wrong and you are talking to a fundamentalist, they will show their true colors with a hostile comment soon enough and you can respond in kind when it is appropriate. On the other hand if you are talking to someone unfamiliar with the argument you could actually teach them something.
If you instead assume you are talking to a stubborn jackass and start calling them a moron, you might have saved yourself a few minutes if you are correct. However, if you are wrong you have missed an opportunity to spread some good information, and the person will probably walk away thinking that atheists are a bunch of assholes. I know it is easy to get worked up after we talk to some many stubborn theists, but make sure your ire is aimed at the right people.