I think that is critical to the pursuit of discussion. We want people to agree with us, but should this be our only goal? Is there, or should there be, a legitimate goal of trying to understand our differences, and trying to find our what really brings about the disagreement concerning the matter, or, say, belief in God or Christianity?
I think not enough attention has been paid to C. S. Lewis's remarks at the founding of the Oxford Socratic Club. He maintained that such a society was valuable at Oxford because by means of it we could hope to civilize one another.
I think the question we should ask people who are in dialogue about religious beliefs is what their goals are. I think that dialogue about religion isn't simply about getting others to agree with us. It is also about getting others to understand us better and to understand others better. Thus, if I engage an atheist in discussion, I consider it unlikely that that person will accept Christ as a result of what I say. I take that as a given. What I hope will happen is that they will understand my position somewhat better, and hopefully, gain some intellectual sympathy for my position. And with enhanced intellectual sympathy, maybe something will happen along the line. Or not. But I do not assume that when I have failed to convince my interlocutor that I am right, that the discussion has been a failure. Far from it.
What I hear from people out of the New Atheist camp, however, is something along the lines of "Yes, I am responding to you, but your reaction isn't important. I know that you are a hopeless faith-head. But, maybe other people might be listening who are more open to the truth, and maybe if I show zero intellectual sympathy with you and show just how much contempt I have for what you believe, maybe the fence-sitters will jump the fence my way."
This is the Dawkins playbook, and it has been a great disappointment to see Loftus fall for it, for example.
But I think we should probably abandon the irremediably religious precisely because that is what they are – irremediable. I am more interested in the fence-sitters who haven’t really considered the question very long or very carefully. And I think that they are likely to be swayed by a display of naked contempt. Nobody likes to be laughed at. Nobody wants to be the butt of contempt.
The strategy here is essentially to deny that believers and unbelievers have a common goal as well as an adversarial goal when the enter discussion with one another. If the common goal goes unrecognized, then we are going to not get anywhere, and that is why I have gotten considerably less satisfaction out of blogging than I did a few years ago. I don't know what to do about it, but I think it's important that people to look at what is being said not only in terms of what side it is on, but also whether the claims are well-supported or not. We have to be ready to criticize our own side if bad arguments are being used.