Satire, red-faced name calling, subtle mockery and not-so-subtle insults, elitist sarcasm and sly jabbing, all are pretty dang common on the Internet, especially in controversial realms. Things like abortion, health care and religion have been battered beyond any shred of self-respect.
I don't care what you believe or how strongly you believe in it (well, I do, but not for the purposes of this argument). There is a right way and a wrong way to debate, to look at other people's viewpoints and how you decide your own.
A good debate, discussion or argument, whichever term you wish to use, is characterized by a few things: calmness, open mindedness, and respect. The participants are gentle, polite, and motivated by a genuine desire to know the truth, and through this take what their opponent has to say with careful thought and consideration. Emotions do not factor into this, because anyone can get emotionally charged about any topic on either side of the spectrum - your opponent, too. And what do you do about an emotionally charged opponent?
The key is to try your best to see things from the other person's point of view. Consider them carefully. Don't dismiss them as a lunatic just because what they believe in sounds ludicrous. Dismiss them as a lunatic because you have done the research, you personally have studied the facts, and you yourself have decided that their viewpoint is inconsistent with reality. And then go from there.
You would love it if someone else put aside their own biases and tried seriously to understand why you believed what you believed, right? Therefore, it's only right to do the same thing for them.
Stay away from sarcasm (unless, of course, it's a good friend or if it's downright funny). Do not mock, call names, or make them seem stupid in any way. It is impolite, bad manners, and earns you nothing but scorn and displeasure, as well as a reputation for being an insufferable jerk. Do not exaggerate the other person's position to make it seem like they believe something ridiculous when they really do not. Do not use wordplay, satire or rhetoric to make them out to be stupider than they actually are. There are genius atheists who could slaughter you in every academic subject known to man, and there are theists who could follow right in their footsteps without faltering. Do not resort to cheap tactics. Use honesty and genuine open-mindedness.
People are idiots. All the time. I stumbled upon a page on the Internet that sparked me into writing this, titled "Top Ten Signs You're a Fundamentalist Christian." I'll provide one for an example:
"You vigorously deny the existence of thousands of gods claimed by other religions, but feel outraged when someone denies the existence of yours."
The proposition of contradiction makes the subject out to be an idiot and the term 'outraged' makes the subject out to be arrogant. The fact is, not all Christians are arrogant idiots. This example is generalizing and making a mockery of them.
It's not just atheists who do this, it's Christians too. Republicans or liberals, anarchists or communists, Buddhists or satanists, I don't care who you are, there is a pit of bumbling laughing dunning-kruger-plagued morons who somehow manage to infect any group of beliefs anywhere. Realize that idiots belong to each category, and try not to classify that category according to its idiots. Be nice. Be considerate.
This being said, there is such a thing as right and wrong. There is a single truth, and some people have it and others don't, in the same way that some people think that we all are secretly hamsters and others don't (hey, we might be, it just seems extremely improbable). Don't sacrifice belief in the interests of being fair and kind. That's not the point of arguing. The point is to try to identify flaws in another's belief system and gently and kindly try to point it out, while perpetually watching for newly-revealed holes in your own argument. Take other people's ideas seriously, while being serious about the ideas you bring up to them. See them not as your enemy, but rather all of you as a collective group trying to better help each other understand what is true and what is not true by use of debate, sharing of facts, and criticism. It is no shame to be wrong, only to be an idiot.
Editor's Note: I'd like to thank Antier for being very honest and open in this article. We all have different opinions, and the Times is a great place to voice those. Please remain respectful when discussing with your peers and try to learn from each other.