In debates I have had, and debates more prominent atheists have had, with religious people, I dare say we have all made a significant mistake in our argument. In my previous post "Why Morality Doesn't Matter", I attempted to address the fundamental problem of debating the good and evil values of religion, before debating the really important question, that of the existence of God, or not.
At the risk of sounding repetitive, allow me to address another, yet similar, error I and my fellow atheists have made in debates with the religious.
It is common for atheists to point out, generally with due intensity, the immoral verses contained inside the Bible, New Testament, and the Qu'ran. Conversely, it is just as common to hear religious people pointing out the humanistic and revolutionary concepts inscribed therein. At times, both the atheist and the religious end up quoting the same verse!
This makes one thing perfectly clear: Since the authors of these texts wrote in vague and poetic terms, everyone can, without much effort, create the meaning that best suits them. The words can be twisted and bent to fit even the most outlandish of explanations. It is for this precise reason that we have two major camps in every religion (and sub-camps in these two as well). There are religious people who will commit heinous crimes whilst quoting verses of their holy texts, and others who condemn those actions based on the very same verses. Because of the vast number of the latter type of religious person, the former is generally referred to as a "fanatic." Needless to say, the so-called fanatics simply think of the moderates as secularized at best, or at worst, full-blown heretics. I stress again, these groups are not called fanatics because they are reading the text wrong, but only because of the vast number of people who view the text through the prism of 21st century modernism. That is a very important clarification. One has to wonder why God, Jesus, or Allah did not feel the need to be a little more specific.
I have heard religious people when stumbling upon a verse that bothers their moral sensibilities, brush it off with feigned nonchalance, claiming they must have not understood the verse correctly, for: "God, wouldn't command that!" In one sentence they claim to know the inner workings of God's mind, while in the next they will tell you that God allows evil to prevail, and we must accept it, for: "We can't understand God's ways." A tragic, yet popular hypocrisy.
The point is, an atheist should examine the texts, he should know the problems with the religious scriptures, but not to use them against the religious. Why? Because it won't work. If you debate a "fanatic" he will agree with you that, for instance, gays deserve to be stoned, as do Sabbath violators and heretics, and therefore, you will accomplish nothing, accept to show him how versed you are in the Bible.
If you debate a moderate, he will show you how each one of the verses quoted does not mean what you think it means. He, as the religious person, will easily discard you as a fool who glances at the "complex nature" of the verses and jumps to conclusions without proper understanding. If you then show him clergy members of his faith espousing different claims than he about the verses, he will generally wave them off as fanatics.
You will have wasted your time and intellectual energy, and will have again, missed the only challenge to religion that it must answer, and that I have never heard it successfully answer: Does God exist? If so, where is the proof? If not, their texts do not matter more than a piece of ancient literature.
No religion does not have it's share of inner arguments about explanations and interpretations of their holy scriptures. In Judaism (I do not know about the other religions), this pluralism of interpretations is embraced, capsulized in the perplexing statement made by the rabbis of the Talmud: "These and these [the disputed opinions] are the words of the living God." Quoting scripture against the religious is a battle you will not win. It is their playground, in which they know how to maneuver far better than you.