This might be crashingly obvious to some, but you shouldn’t overlook “neutral” forums, either. Let me tell you my success story. I first got on the Internet back in the year 2001, mainly because writing letters to the editor to my conservative local newspaper, the Augusta (Georgia) Chronicle, was very frustrating. My letters (defending Evolution, usually) were always editted for space, and somehow my best points always seemed to get snipped. The newspaper’s policy was to allow only one letter per month, and yet when I did patiently wait for 30 days to write a reply, the editor felt the public was suddenly “tired” of this controversy. Curiously, my Creationist opponents always got in the last word, even so.
Then I discovered that the Chronicle ran an Internet forum, where none of these rules applied. You could write as much as you wanted and reply as often as you needed to get your point across. And you could ask questions, to clarify what your opponent meant. This was wasn’t just sniping at one another; this was dialogue! This was great! The first thread I started was “Why do Christians seem to hate Atheists so much?”, which drew a LOT of replies. Then I started threads on school prayer, on Church/State separation, on Creationism, and other matters which touched on religion. Soon we had so many threads going on, the newspaper added a separate Religion section to the forum.
In the beginning, I was the only atheist contending with a dozen or so Christians. I had to send an e-mail to the Atlanta Freethought Society’s newsgroup and ask for one or two allies to help me argue some Church/State separation points which I wasn’t sure how to respond to. But before long, there were several agnostics and atheists coming out of the woodwork from the Augusta area. One guy started as a church-going Christian and eventually admitted (thanks in part to our arguments) that he was sort of a borderline agnostic. Finally, he came out and declared himself an atheist! Nowadays there are so many of us, the Christians have been known to complain about being outnumbered! Actually however, our numbers ( in terms of regular contributors) are about equal. I guess they’re just so used to being in the majority, equity is scary for them.
But regardless of whether I won a single argument or not, time and time again these new atheists and agnostics will say that all their lives they had kept their mouths shut about what they believed, because they felt so alone. Thanks to my encouragement, they were finally able to speak their minds. It made me feel that, if I accomplished nothing else in my life, I had at least done something worthwhile. You’re welcome to drop by augustachronicle.com/forums and peek in at the Religion section. Then see if your own local newspaper has an online forum, and start your own success story!