How is an Atheist comforted in times of tragedy?

Quora is a neat webpage for asking questions and providing answers.  With tags and categories you can direct your question to a specific group of people (anyone following that topic).  You can also go on and search topics for questions.  As with any internet forum, there are trolls, but Quora does a good job of steering them away.  As a whole, Quora questions tend to be answered by real people.

Two weeks ago, I asked “How is an Atheist comforted in times of tragedy?” and have gotten back some thoughtful answers.  I am hoping to post more questions, but I am well-aware of how ugly internet debates on religion can get.  Here are some guidelines I’m developing for such an interaction.

  1. Be Responsible:  Quora allows for anonymity, but encourages people to identify by name and to claim an expertise.  I use my real name.  In the Religion topics, I self-identify as “United Methodist Pastor”.  I’m accountable at all times to myself, my profession, my Church and my God.
  2. Be positive:  I think I can best represent the faith by not being argumentative.  Also Quora allows you to “Thank” someone for their post.  I believe it is more Christian to show appreciation than to sling criticism.  There are times for engaging and debating, but I find the internet too full of venom.
  3. Seek to learn:  Given that all-out debate is so often fruitless, I’m taking the approach of using the forum to better myself.  My interest in this question stemmed from a comment made in Disciple study about what to say at the funeral of a non-believer.  I know what I would say, but I wondered, “what would be of use?”
  4. Diffuse any potential antagonism:  I added a disclaimer on the end of my question: “***I ask this in all sincerity and appreciate any honest answer.”  This little gesture has seemed to disarm people in a good way and several people have made note of it in their answers.  This suggests to me that there are too many Christians looking for a fight on the internet.  Or there are too many Christians getting suckered into venomous debates over religion on the internet.
  5. Stick to the words:  A couple of answers were quite sharply written.  It would have been easy to read too much ‘heat’ into them.  But on face-value those comments aren’t as harmful as they initially seemed.
  6. Don’t over-correct:  Some answers grossly misrepresent the Christian faith and the intentions of religious people.  In the end, I decided to assume that that was our problem (the Church’s) not their problem.  There is so much I don’t know about the answerers’ lives.  We have burned people at the stake.
In case you are wondering, yes, I have some responses.  But the response is for us (the Church) as much as for them.  That will come later (but soon, hopefully).
What are your guidelines for engaging people of other faiths (or no faith) over the internet?

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