It seems to happen every time I mistakenly scroll down to the comments below a certain type of news story. True, it would be better never to look at comments below a news article in the first place, as news article commenters tend to be...interesting sorts...but there's a certain type of article that seems to set up a rather bizarre chain reaction, as follows:
First, the article itself will tell about some fairly sad or tragic news event (which covers just about everything except weight loss articles, something new everyone should be worried about dying from articles, political articles, and economic and/or science news the reporter obviously didn't understand but wrote a provocative, hard-hitting piece about anyway articles). Then, in the comments, some person will employ prayerful and/or Christian language directed at the person or people impacted by the tragedy, of the "Prayers going out to the Smith family," or "God bless the people of Rabid Squirrel Junction as they dig out from underneath the volcano" variety, or something like that.
The next chain in our reaction is equally predictable: some disciple of New Atheism will show up to trash the person who prayed, prayers in general, tragedies in general (often handing out "Darwin Awards" to the deceased), and any human being who actually tries to find any transcendent meaning in life whatsoever.
Fortunately, these sorts of comments resemble Hobbes' description of the life of man, in that most of them are solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and (thankfully) short. Unfortunately, they tend to act upon the assembled virtual crowd like a catalyst, and the commenters will turn from pretending to comment on the article to their own pet faith-related subjects; they all have their own axes to grind, their own agendas to push, their own views of God and man to propound--and all of this delights the sort of self-avowed atheist who shows up in these sorts of comment threads, because he can now engage in the sort of argument where sooner or later he can showcase his brilliance and high-minded intellectualism by a copious use of the phrases "sky-daddy" and "flying spaghetti monster."
Now, just as the typical Christian ought not be lumped in with the most extreme stereotypes, so ought not the sky-daddy-dude who delights in irrelevant comment and Christian-trolling be mistaken for a typical atheist. It would be unfair and counter-productive to ask an intelligent, thoughtful, rational, civil atheist to explain all these atheists who show up not just in comment boxes below news stories, but in comment boxes below all sorts of Christian writings, theological debates, etc. to make essentially the same snotty sky-daddy remarks. It is not at all polite to assume that just because someone is an atheist, he must also be rude to people of faith, unwilling to engage in philosophical discussions, or uninterested in questions about virtue. It is unkind to suppose that all atheists believe in the same thing; they only agree that they don't believe in God--and not all of them are united as to which God they don't believe in, so to speak. It behooves Christians who enter discussions, online or in real life, with atheists to remember all of this.
Of course, it is true that many atheists have no problem lumping all Christians, or "Christianists" as some of them may sometimes say, together. They may think all Christians are sola scriptura types, that all Christians shun the theory of evolution, that all Christians dislike science generally, that all Christians would like to impose a theocracy on the United States, and so on. They may even assume all of these things, and when told otherwise by a specific Christian, they may demand answers for those Christians who do believe any of these things, just as if a Christian were to ask them to defend the overuse of the flying spaghetti monster even if they think it's stupid, too, and have never brought it up in an argument.
But that doesn't mean we should turn around and treat them the same way. "Do unto others," and all that, you know.