Via the series of tubes known as "The Internets" I've had the pleasure (and misfortune) to communicate with a lot of different people. Obviously, I have some pretty strong views about things (like potato salad, and how it's poison), so I can get into the occasional debate every now and then. Some folks I can debate with and disagree without it getting rancorous. Some people though - not so much.
I don't remember where I read it, but recently I read something to the effect of how a sign of an open mind is when you're willing to honestly look at another person's point of view and try to understand it. You can still disagree, but you need to be honest about what it is that they're really saying.
The one issue where this is clearly not displayed is when it comes to the abortion issue. Sure, you have some extremists on both sides, but I guess since I fall more on the pro-choice side, the arguments of the extreme pro-lifers bother me more. The one thing that I find frustrating is when they call the opposite side "pro-abortion". Now, I don't know about you, but I've NEVER met a person who actually considered himself or herself to be "pro-abortion." Can't we just be honest and realize that on one side, you have people who feel as though preserving life is the most important thing, but on the other side, you have people who feel that choice is the most important thing (or a better way to put it - the most important thing is keeping the government out of the decision-making process when it comes to a woman's reproductive rights.)
I think that I fairly stated what pro-lifers believe. If there are any pro-lifers out there who feel that I have mischaracterized their position, please let me know. I should also point out that there are some pro-lifers who are more honest when it comes to what the opposition is saying, yet they still disagree anyway.
Another thing that I run into when I talk to theists is that they can never seem to get their head around the atheist viewpoint. If they want to debate me, they tend to paint some picture of how I see the world that is completely inaccurate. Of course, some of the more common things are, "Oh, so you believe that everything is just a big accident then!" Umm...no. Since when is "accident" the opposite of "God"? Also, they will try and make it seem like my life is some empty, meaningless vacuum because I lack their beliefs in God and the afterlife. Personally, I think that statements like that say a lot more about them than it does about me - as they obviously can't see much point to their lives if they abandon their particular belief system.
Only one time have I ever read a theist give a description of the atheist mindset that I couldn't fault. A Christian friend of mine said that an atheist is like a guy where you tell him that his house is on fire, but he insists on checking out every single room of the house before he's willing to believe you. That's not the way I'd put it, but it's a fair assessment, I'd say.
It seems hard to get some people to understand what it's really like being an atheist. A lot of them seem to feel that we really do, secretly and deep down, believe in God. Well, maybe some of us do, but I don't. Some of them also think that if we just had the right kinds of experiences, we'd see things there way. Well, I've read enough to know that the saying about how there are "no atheists in foxholes" is a myth. (Check this out for some good reading on that.) I realize that I've used the Santa Clause comparison before, and I realize that might sound somewhat patronizing and rude, so let me try again (and this argument is hardly original on my part). If you're a theist reading this, ask yourself if you believe in Vishnu. (Sorry, Hindus, you'll have to come back some other time.) Do you believe in him? What if I told you that hundreds of millions of people in the world do? What if I told you that they feel his presence? They know he exists. You probably still don't believe in him, do you? Well, take that same question and fill in every other god from every other religion that has ever existed. Do you believe in any of them? I'd reckon that the answer is no.
See? I'm just like you. I don't believe in all of those gods either. And I don't believe in your god the same way that you don't believe in those gods.
Okay then, I'm appealing to people to at least try and understand where I'm coming from if they're going to disagree with me. What about me? Can I play by the same rules? Let me try this out. Here is what Christians believe (and I realize that I'm generalizing, but I'm going for the majority here): God consists of the Trinity - the father, the son, and the holy ghost. There is only one God, but he has three aspects. (For instance, the son is God in human form.) He came down to Earth in the form of Jesus Christ. Jesus was sacrificed on the cross in order to pay for all the sins of humanity. He rose three days later and ascended to heaven. Anybody who believes in Him will have eternal life, and those who do not will not. (Many Christians believe that the "not" involves an everlasting eternal punishmen in the fires of hell.)
So, am I wrong? That's it, right? I'm not trying to be a smartass here. If I'm getting it wrong, please tell me. (And again, realize that I'm going for the majority of Christians. I know that there are still some who question the Trinity, amongst other things.)