The other day I was at dinner with my family when my mother refered to me as a militant atheist. It bothered me. One because she waited until I was out of the room to say it (possibly to avoid a theological discussion). But really it was the word "militant". To me this describes someone who is agressive in forcing people into their way of thinking, maybe even using violence. Does my mother really believe I'm like this? If my mother doesn't understand where my beliefs stand, how can anyone?
Unfortunately I ended up making some throw away remark about the world being better place without religion. I don't really believe this! For a lot of people believe in some kind of supreme protector watching over them provides comfort through hard times, the ability to deal with death and despair. Belief can comfort whether God exists or not.
What the world would be better off without is dogmatic thinking. "God says X and you do Y so you're going to hell" type of mentality. This is what causes wars, it's what causes politicians to backpeddle on human rights issues, it causes intolerance for anyone with a difference of opinion. But this is true of dogmatic thinking even when it's not tied to a belief in a particular deity. Rigid adherence to political beliefs, for example, can be just as dangerous. A truly militant atheist could fall into this category too, if he looked down on others for having religious beliefs.
Perhaps what my mother meant, was that I am a proud atheist. I refuse to be ashamed of not holding any religious beliefs. I wear my "Atheist Angel" t-shirt all the time, because I want everyone to know that I'm an atheist. Not because I want everyone to be an atheist. I want people to understand that atheists are not evil people, and I think people that have met me will agree that I'm a nice person. Also I want people to understand that they don't have to cherry-pick a religion. You can just not believe in God and that's okay.
Yes, I do sell atheist t-shirts (to be fair, this was originally my husband's idea) but I don't force anyone to wear them. I don't even advertise them particularly agressively. And I try my darndest to make sure the designs promote atheism, without denouncing religious faiths.
I don't personally believe in God. I think if there were a God, of the sort that is described in the bible, performing miracles all the time and interfering in everything from floods and hurricanes, to procreation and sporting events, then there would be evidence of Him everywhere. Science would already have collected all the data and put together a "God Theory" and I wouldn't have to "have faith" in order to believe. The lack of evidence for God, for me, is evidence for His non-existence. There could be supreme beings out there that don't interfere with our day to day lives, that don't answer prayers, and that don't decide who lives and who dies, but that's not the sort of being one builds a religion around, is it? That may be far from a persuasive argument for you, so please feel free to substitute your own logic for my own. I'm just passively stating my beliefs here, not being militant in any way.
So, Mom, perhaps this will help you understand me a little better. For more information on atheism, I should mention that I often (but not always) agree with this guy.