One of the more important concepts in religion is often spoken about, but I see it practiced far less often than I would like. It can be summed up in the Christian theology with the adage, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.”
I try to subscribe to a similar ideology, though I fail quite frequently: “Ignore the delusional, address the delusion.” Ad hominem attacks are just too emotionally satisfying to avoid, especially if someone has been getting on my nerves and I want nothing more than to cause them to experience a comparable level of annoyance.
However, I should not waste energy metaphorically killing the messenger. Believers didn’t come up with this garbage on their own. They are just doing what they’ve been trained to do: spread the good news. As a skeptic who is aware of this, I must keep another Christian idea in mind, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
While I often indulge in criticizing religious figures, the only good that can come from discussions on atheism are those which address the abstract concepts, the philosophy and theology of the various religions. The religious have no difficulty in disassociating any earthly human and their actions from the divine. Any religious person who does something wrong is merely seen as having “lost his way.”
This is even the argument of some when it comes to problems regarding the Bible: it’s a work of man. Luckily there are still fundamentalists who believe it is the literal word of God, who apparently stopped speaking Semitic languages in the 1st century and switched to Greek, only to go with Arabic in the 7th when speaking to Mohammad… But, arguing with someone who thinks the Bible is the literal word of God is pointless. There’s nothing we can do about kids who were dropped on their heads as children.
Personally, I think the most success might come from educating someone about cults, or even other religions. Nothing can compare to exposing someone to the reality that all of these other groups rely upon the same mechanics, have the same “success” among their followers, and even believe basically the same things.
At some point, everyone is capable of realizing their religion is as insane as Scientology. After that, how can you keep going through the motions of standing, sitting, singing, etc. every week at church?