Throughout human history, there have been people of faith, and people who do not believe in any supreme being. Problems occur when one side misunderstands the other. This article will help you avoid those problems. Understand what the terms “theist”,”atheist”, and “agnostic” mean. The theist believes in a god or gods; the atheist denies this belief, and all others like it. An agnostic is one who believes that there is currently insufficient evidence to know the answer. That is, one can be an agnostic theist if one believes that a god/gods exist, but this cannot be proven. Likewise, one can be an agnostic atheist if one believes that there is no god/gods, but this cannot be proven. In a strict philosophical sense, some scholars would argue that we are all agnostics about everything (epistemology) because we can never truly know anything, including our own existence.
Understand the difference between monotheism, polytheism, pantheism and omnism. Monotheists believe in only one God or divinity, but not in any divinity or gods of other religions. Polytheists believe in a set of many gods. Pantheists believe that everything in the universe is divine. Omnists (omnitheists) accept all gods and religions as equal. Of course, these statements may over-simplify for the sake of being concise.
Notice that proponents of each ideology hold their beliefs strongly. Theists may view atheists as immoral because they do not believe in a god/gods, while atheists may view theists as immoral for believing in a god/gods. Both hold their beliefs strongly and necessarily make sacrifices by subscribing to one over the other. Understanding this will lead to more productive and personable debate which will further human understanding and community.
Find a common ground. Notice that if you remove the supernatural elements of most religions, their moral code is very similar to that of atheists. Most ethical elements of many religions are agreeable to theists and atheists alike, e.g. the golden rule of Jesus: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” or as Rabbi Hillel put it, “Don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want done to you.” Most people agree with that. Recognizing this common ground provides a buffer for the emotional issues surrounding belief vs. disbelief.
Study your “opponent”. Most atheists were once theists (or were raised in a theist tradition), but those who were not should consider the ideas of various forms of theism before discounting such ideas, and those who were raised as theists should study theist ideas with which they are unfamiliar. Many theists have been theists all their lives. Before satisfying debate can occur, both parties must understand their opponent by critically examining their ideas.