I've been engaged in online conversations most evenings for the past month with some pretty vitriolic atheists. It has been an interesting, challenging and moving experience. I don't think I've ever seen so much hate expressed in print and the degree of anger has been astounding.
Jim Packer comments in Test of Faith (2009) that, 'when in the name of science people attack Christianity in savage and sarcastic terms, it is not because they have overwhelming arguments to deploy but because they have in some way been hurt by persons who professed a Christian identity and, in consequence, they are now gripped deep down, perhaps deeper down than they themselves discern, by the passion that the world knows as revenge."
This certainly coincides with my own hypothesis and experience and I believe it calls for those of us involved in Christian apologetics to act with clarity and kindness, humility and understanding. It's all too easy to get locked into arguments, debates and conflict with an unhealthy competitive spirit and a determination to win at all costs. We convince ourselves that God is at stake when it's sometimes our own sense of security and pride that's at stake.
One thing I've noticed when engaging with atheists at the anti-theist end of the believer-agnostic-atheist spectrum is their surprise and amazement if a Christian is prepared to say, 'I'm sorry' or 'I don't know'. That can feel difficult in the heat of the moment or when under proverbial fire but I've learned that sometimes the best way to disarm the perceived enemy and diffuse a hostile conflict is to put your own weapon down first. I've learned to pray before going online, to ask God to enable me to love, hear and respond with kindness and an open heart.
I've been humbled and amazed by some of the changes in tone and conversation I've experienced as a result. May God give us courage to make ourselves vulnerable and to reach out with an open hand when our natural instinct is to attack, protect and defend.