In order to raise awareness for ReasonFest this year, we had a table in the Union on campus every afternoon during the week before the event. I had wonderful discussions with students, raised awareness for SOMA and found many students interested in attending ReasonFest 2012.
Aside from students being curious about SOMA, we got the usual students who think that every atheist wants to defend their belief (or lack thereof) system. To be quite honest, I hate debating. I hate arguing. I'm really awful at it. I can never recall the right facts, and I can never think of the right words on the spot. I'll stumble through arguments and just hope that I don't sound completely uninformed or unintelligent. Being open about my atheism though, I've had to better develop these skills due to constantly being asked about my views and constantly having people try to randomly prove the existence of a god or at least the existence of a super natural force.
This is interesting to me for several reasons. For starters, when someone tells you they are Christian, the automatic response is not to ask them to defend their beliefs or ask them for proof of a god. Why then, when I tell someone I'm an atheist, do they feel compelled to invite me to coffee to "discuss SOMA" or "discuss atheism" which really entails them trying to convince me that I'm wrong. I've stopped accepting such invitations because the conversation goes nowhere. If anyone invites me to lunch or coffee to discuss SOMA and I don't know them well, I make sure they are truly interested in joining SOMA before accepting.
While we table for SOMA or ReasonFest, we get the same kind of response. We'll get random people that walk up to our table and start spouting off various arguments for the existence of a god. Of course I or someone else at the table will explain our viewpoints and why we think their logic is unreasonable; we don't just ignore them, and we're generally polite to a fault so that SOMA won't be seen as rude or insulting because that's not our purpose.
I suppose I should be happy that people with opposing views are approaching us. Maybe they'll start to see things from our point of view or at least understand where we're coming from. I don't think that arguing is pointless; I just don't enjoy it.
I have to wonder, does this happen to all the other religious groups on campus? Do people walk up to them and just start telling them why they're wrong? Sure, I go talk to the religious groups on campus, but I don't start by telling them why I think they're wrong. I usually go up to them, ask about their group or event, and then if they ask what I think about it, I'll tell them. Usually I'll tell them about SOMA and to contact me if they'd like to organize an event such as a debate or panel with us.
Here's why I hate starting arguments with believers: When atheists start arguments with believers, they're seen as assholes. When believers start arguments with atheists they're seen as good people trying to save our souls. This should change.
We're seen as the assholes because religion isn't supposed to be questioned. It's something you accept on faith, but that's not good enough for the skeptic community. Our mere existence is offensive to the vast majority of believers because their religion is a part of their identity. This all comes back to religion being an untouchable subject because it is so personal to so many people. To question it is to insult them. Well, it shouldn't be insulting. A religion to me is an idea. It's not a person. It doesn't deserve to be protected or placed on a shelf where it can't be touched by doubt. I question religion like I question a political view or a scientific claim. Atheism is what makes the most sense to me, and I'm not sorry for it. It isn't shameful, and we shouldn't be made to feel guilty when we come to this conclusion.
Aside from that, those that are religious should question their own worldviews. If you have a belief system that you live by, you should be able to defend it and you should know why you chose that belief over others. If your life revolves around a belief that you can't defend, then you're not asking yourself the right questions. If your religion is so personal to you and such an imperative part of your identity, don't you want to be able to justify your claims? To be quite honest, not asking important questions such as, "Why do I believe this but not something else?" is just lazy.
I may be terrible at arguing on the spot with confrontational theists, but I at least can defend my worldview with evidence to back it up.