The following is my attempt to defend myself to those who I offend through my arguments. It is a rough draft and not very well organized because my heart really isn't in the effort. But, feel free to read if you're interested.
On Honest Investigation of Religion
I am a Humanist and an Atheist, and very secure in those beliefs. However, I feel, as a freethinker, I have an obligation to investigate religious beliefs whenever I can. In this search, I sometimes find myself accused of being argumentative or inflammatory or in general unwelcome in the some of the forums where I search for this truth.
On a related note, when I first heard the tenets of quantum physics, I thought they were absurd. Understanding that Einstein and Hawking, as well as the majority of mainstream physicists, are smarter than I, I made every effort to educate myself and see what I may be misunderstanding. A few books later, I felt a little more comfortable with the theories. The same is true of many religious ideals. The tenets of Christianity, for example, seem absurd to me, and some of those same physicists would assure me that Christianity is as certain, if not more certain than anything in quantum physics. However, though I was 'converted' to quantum physics, I still have unanswered questions about religion.
The places I search for truth are often not Humanist, Atheist, or Freethinking forums, because vigorous nodding and approval often don't lead to learning. However, I find that in Christian, Muslim, Mormon, and other religious forums I enjoy the most heated exchanges.
The problem sometimes arises immediately when I am accused of a sort of proselytization. I find that to be a problem because I have often asked that religionists not proselytize to me. On the other hand, there would be no communication or progress if neither side ever interacted with the other. To avoid being called a hypocrite, I always begin with questions about the religion. I come and ask questions and I continue to ask questions until I am convinced. Also, when I know of competing evidence or logic to the opinions of the group with whom I am speaking, I present that so they will know what I am thinking.
Most often, after reasonable exchanges and long talks when I am not convinced, I am accused of being obstinate and insincere in my motives. I'm called closed-minded and argumentative, and sometimes I'm asked to leave. I also would like to avoid this because it's never my intention to offend. On the other hand, if I come to talk, and truly have an open mind, it would seem that I should sometimes be convinced by the opposition. At the very least, we should at times arrive on common ground. Failing this, maybe I have become purely contrarian and petty in my arguments, seeking only the argument and not the truth which was my original aim.
Moreover, I am more worried when I am not seeing the good but only the bad. This is clear in Christian cases when I am presented with a Christ who died so that I might be saved, but I can not reconcile that with the knowledge that he necessarily brought the threat of Hell with the promise of Heaven. I console myself in several ways. On a practical level, I understand that those in the forum can present the supporting evidence well, and I take it upon myself to present the opposing view so that the debate shall be even-handed. My intent is not so much to support myself, but to play devil's advocate of many opposing views so that everyone will present their best evidence. I have even defending Christian arguments when my fellow atheists present shallow and unsupported arguments. Secondly, I proceed directly to the most salient arguments purely to be efficient. I have gone over the standard arguments enough times that it's not necessary to rehash them. As I am skipping over arguments that I've been through, it may appear that I am just unwilling to address certain arguments.
The most important reason that I sometimes seem contrary and insincere is that my intent is sincere in a different way. My first objective in any conversation with a believer is to see if they belief purely based upon faith or if their belief is based primarily upon reason. If the belief is on faith, I wish the person luck and move on. I find more often that the person uses quite a bit of reason in their religious belief, mainly to rationalize in perceived problems with scripture or the world in general. For example, points in scripture that appear to contradict one-another are often explained away by finding greater evidence for one statement than for the other, or by merely feeling out why that is the case. If it is the case that a person reasons out why certain versus are true and others are not, I trust in their ability to reason on the whole. If a person can reason, then there is a discussion to be had, and that is all I desire. At the best, a believer seeing that scripture is subject to reason is opening a door, and that is worth the effort.