In The Religion of Paul the Apostle, John Ashton writes:
Jonathan. Z. Smith is fond of quoting a passage from William James’s Varieties of Religious Experience that expresses the resentment people feel when they hear an object that is ‘infinitely important’ to them classified along with something else: ‘Probably a crab would be filled with a sense o personal outrage if it could hear us class it without ado or apology as a crustacean, and thus dispose of it. “I am no such thing,” It would say: “I am myself, myself alone.”
The truth is, however, that there are millions of crabs, and it takes an expert to distinguish one species, let alone a single individual, from another. So the crab’s brazen claims have to be dismissed. [emphasis in the original]
The truth is also that there are millions of religions and gods throughout human history, most with some similarities to Christianity. The claim that Christianity isn't really a religion is no less brazen than the claim of the hypothetical crab above — and no less false, so it also has to be dismissed. The reasons behind the claim, however, shouldn't be so quickly ignored. The feelings are genuine and are obviously strong enough to motivate making absurd claims, so we need to find some way to deal with them.
Unfortunately, I don't have any answers for this. In the past I have pointed out that even rudimentary definitions of religion apply to Christianity as they live it; usually, I never hear back from the person again. It seems that the confrontation with reality is just too much to bear, so they close off the conversation and proceed with their life as if nothing had ever happened. Does anyone out there have any better tactics for dealing with this sort of situation?