Many devoted followers of the major religions see atheism as a disease to cure, or a sign that they should teach you their religion in order to help you reach their religion's heaven. These arguments can often be avoided, but engaging in honest conversations with someone who genuinely wants to discuss their viewpoint (rather than argue) may actually prove beneficial. You may try to remember not to think of "religious" and "non-religious"; there are many flavors of religion, and many ways to be an active atheist. Here are some ways to get along as atheist in a deeply religious society.
1. Don't bring up your beliefs unnecessarily. Try to avoid the subject. What they don't know won't hurt. If they do start talking about their religion don't lie; just state your point of view. Try not to drag it into a debate, because it almost never turns out well.
* Others might argue however, that if, for example, some impose their religious beliefs that homosexuals shouldn't have the same basic human rights as heterosexuals do, or that creation theory should be taught along side evolution in the science class, then yes, what they don't understand can absolutely hurt those we love and respect. Be proactive in the causes that you believe in! For example, find groups that fight for equal rights, or make a presence at your next local Board of Education meeting.
2. Make sure others really understand what it means to be an "atheist". The word atheist may carry false connotations of being "immoral" or "satanic", and this of course is simply not true. If you suspect the person you are talking to may not understand the intended meaning of the word, explain what atheism really is, so you can help to fight prejudice. Let others understand that being atheist by no means is the same as not having morals or ethics. And of course, practice what you preach (pun intended). Be, above all, a good person. Volunteer at a women's shelter. Pick up your trash. Treat others with respect.
* When discussing religious beliefs do not refer to yourself as "an atheist", but merely atheist. Calling oneself "an atheist" might imply to someone that atheism is a religion.
3. Get support from others. If you are feeling ostracized by a religious society, join another 'group'. Getting to know other atheists/believers might help. In such a society, there may not seem to be many, but there are - you may even already know one. However, avoid aggravating others with your inquiries, and don't allow atheism to become a criterion for friendship. If you respect the beliefs of others, you can form friendships with others who respect you.
* The idea of community is very important. A good place to find a few atheists might simply be a science class, or the right section in your local bookstore. The American Humanist Association is also a wonderful place to find a community of free thinkers, and there is probably a chapter in your area. Alternatively, even the Unitarian Church can be a place to find open minded people, and of a more spiritual nature.
4. Don't force your point of view on others, because they will resent that. If you are resentful towards religion, consider that much of your resentment probably stems from religious persons attempting to force their beliefs on you. If you feel like your friends are trying to "enlighten" you, explain to them that you have made a conscious choice and are not simply ignorant of their religion. Argue always with reason.
* Atheists don't impose their beliefs door to door, on TV, billboards, music, politics, etc--and that maybe we shouldn't worry so much about forcing our views on the community. If you feel that others are forcing their beliefs on you, stand up for what you believe in! Find other, like minded people and be proactive!
5. Know and understand the religious mythology of your society. When the subject of religion comes up, you want to be well-informed. If you understand your acquaintances' beliefs as well as they do, they'll eventually see that attempting to "educate" you is unnecessary. Even better: you can even "educate back" religious people about the Bible's obscure parts. Know your enemy.
* The web can be a great jumping point for understanding the basics, and any number of books on the subject can be found at your local bookstore. Richard Dawkins, a biologist and a strong proponent of atheism, has written many books on the subject, the most recent being "The God Delusion". From a philosophical perspective you could try Antony Flew's "God and Philosophy", or go straight for the classics like Karl ("religion is the opiate of the masses") Marx, Friedrich ("God is dead") Nietzsche, Michael Martin, or Bertrand ("Why I am not a Christian") Russell. There is also George Smith's "The Case Against God", or Sam Harris' "The End of Faith"… the list is endless! As always, try starting with Wikipedia.
6. Don't enter arguments with fundamentalists. Arguing with those that attempt to convert you may be an excellent way to clarify your thoughts and learn more about others' beliefs, but arguing with a closed-minded person won't work. If you choose to argue with a friend, approach it as a sharing of beliefs and not a clash. Before beginning to argue, consider whether or not your friend may be able to do this. If you find your friend's attitude offensive, or if you think things are becoming too emotional, let your friend know and gently end the argument or simply consider that you don't need them.
* This completely depends on the situation. You won't convince a devoutly religious person, but that may not be true for conversations with agnostics or others with an open mind, or people in an audience. If you know your stuff, show respect and stand your ground: you can do wonders.
* Research various religions. When confronted by someone who is faithful, whatever their religion may be, you can demonstrate your general familiarity with their conception of reality, which should show them that you're not simply ignorant. You can then go on to point out how their religion relates to other belief systems, especially if you are able to put details into historical context, and show that there is not a universal truth but rather that ideas evolve over time in different places with different people in different situations. For example, you may point out that the Biblical account of Noah's flood was actually derived from the story of Gilgamesh, or that the story of Jesus Christ is a point-by-point parallel to numerous others that came before.
* It may be helpful to ask whether they believe in Zeus, or Thor, or any number of other historical deities. If they say they don't, you can point out that they themselves are an atheist with regard to those deities, and that's precisely how you view their own deity. To underscore the point, you can suggest that, for the rest of the conversation, the word "atheist" be replaced by "athorist," and this should help put the discussion in a clearer context.
* Do some research on arguments for and against the existence of a universal creator deity (which may or may not have been intelligent or conscious in any sense we might recognize), as well as for and against the existence of a personal God (a deity concerned with the daily affairs of human beings). These are separate concepts, and accepting or rejecting one does not necessarily mean accepting or rejecting the other as well. Familiarizing yourself with these points will enable you to present your case when fallacious arguments (such as Pascal's Wager, or the hurricane-in-a-junkyard argument, and so on) are brought up in conversation.
* Keep in mind that a person's religion serves important social and cultural functions for him/her, in addition to just being a belief system. It's helpful to realize that while you might be engaging in a simple philosophical debate, the other person might be seeking reassurance that those around him/her share cultural similarity (one of us), and may become hostile merely because they feel uncomfortable hearing your views.
* If you feel that atheism is taboo in your society, chances are that other atheists will feel the same and will keep their beliefs to themselves. Don't let this make you think you are alone.
* All your friends don't need to be atheists. A friendship requires only mutual respect. If you want someone to discuss your beliefs with, and your friends aren't the right choice, you can visit online forums or chat over the internet.
* Having religious friends needn't be an issue if both of you are friends outside of religion, and are respectful when religion comes up.
* If you are dealing with someone who is persistent in wanting to discuss religion, say something like "I understand that you see your beliefs as the truth, but I feel the same way about mine." You could also end with a statement such as "I am familiar with [your religion], but I have chosen not to follow it," to emphasize that your beliefs are your own choice. Stay friendly, or you could make an enemy. It's always better to have a mere acquaintance than an enemy!
* If you get into a tight spot and want to end the discussion, remember that a deity (EVERY deity, even Scientology's deity) is a philosophical entity that can be neither proved nor disproved. Even if it seems like illogical nonsense to you for them to believe in something that cannot be proven it's still a good way to end it.
* You may consider avoiding the use of the term "atheist" when talking to religious people, for whom it may be emotionally colored. You can favor more neutral terms like "secular" instead.
* Some people come to atheism through rejection of a religious upbringing. If this is your experience, try to separate your negative emotions about your past influences from your rational choice of atheism. Religious people may see negativity and bitterness in an atheist and assume you have rejected religion for the wrong reasons. Face the world optimistically, feeling confident in your beliefs.
* Most atheists find belief in a supernatural deity to be irrational. However, stating this perspective bluntly is bound to cause hurt and discord. It will almost never change minds. Take it easy.
* Remember that before entering any real heated arguments or discussing your beliefs openly, that atheists and agnostics are very different. Atheists are people who either deny or doubt the existence of deity/deities. Agnostics are people who are unsure of whether there is any deity (or other existence of ideas that are usually considered religious, such as an afterlife), or do not believe there is any way to find out if any belief is true.