Being an atheist scares a lot of people. It is human nature to fear the unfamiliar and anything you do not completely understand. I find that the definition of atheism is almost universally misunderstood by everyone that is not actually an atheist.
The true definition of atheism is the philosophical position that deities do not exist. Atheism to me is a lot like politics. You have your conservative, moderate and your liberal atheists all of which agree for whatever reason that deities do not exist. Most of the difference between atheists seems to be with regard to how they feel about organized religion on a whole. Conservative atheists tend to have a pretty positive feeling towards religion, religious followers and organizations. They see religion as relatively benign and harmless with, at the very least a purpose in this world which they tolerate. Moderates, as you can imagine, really have no thought one way or another about religion. Liberal atheists tend to be the most outspoken and militant of the bunch, taking every opportunity they are presented with to interject their opinions. The liberals tend to have the biggest grudge against organized religion and are by and large the most intolerant branch of atheism. I feel like I think I fall into the liberal category for the most part.
Anyone that knows me knows I don’t have very positive feelings when it comes to religion. My reasons for this are varied. Most have to do either with the role religion has played and continues to play in world affairs or the use of it by others to berate and “evangelize”. “Evangelize” here would mean the use of judgmental attitude and guilt in an attempt to indoctrinate others into religion.
The fact of the matter is that religion has certainly not been an unmitigated good throughout history. Quite the contrary a great deal of the suffering, destruction, and death humanity has experienced can be DIRECTLY traced back to religious beliefs, religious attitudes, and religious power. This is not to say that there has never been anything good about religion – it also hasn’t been an unmitigated evil, either. Nevertheless, there are many historical, cultural, and philosophical reasons which I could use to justify criticizing religion.
I and most folks I know came from a Christian background where doubting and questioning is, even today, vehemently discouraged. I found that once I began studying and questioning the actual facts surrounding the religion I was born into that I had been deceived and lied to by religious leaders and even my own family. This has resulted in a lingering resentment and even hatred of the religious beliefs and power structures which allowed such deception to occur and allows it to continue even today.
To this day I find that I suffer from discrimination and abuse from family, friends and colleagues. There were a number of years in my life where I felt unable to even reveal that I was an atheist for fear of reprisals and ostracism. In such situations, it simply isn’t possible to expect a person to have warm, fuzzy feelings about religion, which is used, from my perspective, to foster hatred and repression. In such an atmosphere, it is possible for bigotry to develop – and so, yes, it is surely true that some atheists are bigoted towards Christians and Christianity. I try very hard not to be this way.
The real point I want to get at here is that you can’t assume that an atheist is opposed to all religion or that a theist is in favor of all religion. Such correlations may indeed be common, but there are too many out there who don’t fit that pattern to justify gross generalizations and hasty assumptions. If you want to know what a person thinks about religion and religious beliefs, you simply have to ask them, and you have to consider their response for what it actually says instead of imposing preconceptions you may have developed over time.
So don’t be afraid of your friendly neighborhood atheist.