I’m an atheist, but I had to walk away from the toxic side of online atheism

When I was invited to discuss atheism on “The O’Reilly Factor” four years ago, I initially wanted to turn it down. However, I ultimately realized it was a chance to show Fox News viewers a different side of atheism on a network where atheists are usually talked about rather than with.

It was December, so former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly attempted to paint atheists as bitter anti-religion Grinches on a mission to take Christmas away. I pushed back, emphasizing the value of the separation of church and state as well as atheists’ contributions to the public conversation on religion and ethics.

In an environment that rewards anger and sound bites, I attempted to humanize my community — one of the most negatively viewed in the country. Afterward, strangers from around the country messaged me to say the conversation helped them rethink their views on atheists.

But the chatter online took a different, but sadly familiar, tone.