kk - right now we have nothing that is anywhere near as effective as praying to Jesus. It would be good if we could put something in place to do that job. What it might look like, I've got no idea.
I am fascinated by religion. I think the Big Three middle eastern religions are boring. Hinduism and Buddhism are much more interesting. I don't believe any of it. There is some wonderful art related to all religions. Is "Jesu, joy of man's desiring" somehow bad because it was inspired by religion?
"Jesu, joy of man's desiring" - I've come to the conclusion that trappings such as these are essential for amplifying the central essence of religion. For example, I think that out of all the religions, only Christianity can cure somebody of the flu, because it has a central figure which people can pray to. Perhaps Islam is the same. But I can't imagine Buddhism, with its message of "stillness, morality and wisdom" being able to activate the Healing Principle in the same way. Certainly, the atheist version couldn't achieve it.
I decided to go back and 'study' some of my catholic roots. When I was 'younger', catholic school was mostly by memory, not understanding. Sadly, my 'study' is not really going very well. I now have a rather good background in philosophy and the sciences, and I 'read'. The Lutherian church I 'putter' in, are a nice bunch of folks, but I fit only along one body part, my big-toe, which seems coated with a very slippery mineral oil..;p).
I hear the lessons, understand the 'english' rather well, but my brain runs like a runaway weazel tearing everything apart, looking the 'beef'. I feel very much underfeed!
My girl friend sort of but me up to it, but I found that she accepts everything at face value, while the minister feels just a little uncomfortable with me. Sitting quietly, listening to the lessons would feel like my pre-unitarian days, stewing, and painfully holding back my questions, till I let one fly and I am reminded how 'imperfect' I am..
So far, our minister is a rather kind soul, and their fellowship is made up of mostly older people waiting to be recalled...
I do spend quite a bit of time doing 'follow up' research; after reading a book by Dawkins or Harris or Dennett, I like to delve a little deeper into each religious tradition they mention, mostly as an anthropological or sociological exercise, which is how I regard my limited study of Christianity as well. For one thing, I suspect that there are great figures at the root of many religions who had great impacts on their followers' personal lives via some idea or other that they preached. They are, therefore, worth studying to me. Second, the fact that their teachings were inevitably dressed up in ritualized mystical nonsense is a separate but equally interesting subject which draws on fields of study as diverse as game theory, evolutionary biology and economics to provide explanations. From a historical standpoint, the differences and similarities of religion take on a whole new demeanor, with strong parallels in the evolution of different languages or different species, but where the defining evolutionary environment is as much a social one as an physical one.
All of the above is personal; it does not change my belief that one does not need to be an expert of any sort to speak strongly against religion. The only necessary reason for this is simple; the onus of providing proof rests with those making claims. An atheist who, pressed by a thinking religious person, still refuses to admit that he is, technically, an agnostic is not making such a terrible mistake. The fact that one cannot disprove God (or, more generally, that it is impossible to conclusively disprove anything) does not make it illogical to disbelieve in something for which there is no evidence. This is a perfectly self-sufficient reason for atheism. The idea, which I sort of detect lurking behind your question, that we must be actively knowledgeable about everything we wish to disbelieve in, puts an unreasonable burden on not only atheists but also believers (for what Christian, Muslim or Jew could claim to have studied and understood each of the world's religions enough to refute them and still retain his or her faith?).
It's great that you study other religions in an earnest attempt to understand what makes their believers tick, so to speak. We as active atheists need as many people as possible to be able to speak to the religious in a language they will understand. Being an atheist, however, does not automatically make you responsible for anything of the sort. As others have expressed, more or less vehemently, the study of the physical world is certainly a complex and inscrutable enough subject to keep many people busy for many lifetimes. They seem, perhaps, a bit sour towards religion, probably for eminently understandable reasons, and I often am too, but I don't study religion because I'm looking for religious answers, but rather, as I say, an anthropological and sociological activity. It is interesting to me that a guy like Joseph Smith (Joe, as I call him) could, through sheer charisma and poorly disguised forgeries of scripture, start a cult whose appeal is still relevant today. It is interesting that people can study geology, physiology, chemistry, physics and biology with high levels of understanding and still believe in things like Noah's ark or Adam living to age 930, or just that there is a personal God listening to your prayers. I see my study of all religions as an inseparable part of a general interest in knowing more about how the world works, and I can swallow my personal bitterness (which is, comparatively, not too great) easily enough to study it with a relatively unbiased eye.
Because of my background I learned a fair bit about Judaism, Christianity and Shia Islam; but I still have an interest in other religions to the extent that it helps me deconvert others. Beyond that, zero interest I'm afraid.
It could be framed this way: if I wish to convince someone that Alice in Wonderland is not a real person and there is no Wonderland, I might read the book "Alice in Wonderland" to understand their perspective. I would then use its own internal inconsistencies to show how silly the whole business is. But I would likely have little interest in it beyond that.
For academics there is value in studying it because it helps us learn how a hyper-patriarchal, power and control system (which generally was and still is, abusive) for society evolved. It helps us put perspective around what the proper balance between patriarchy and matriarchy should be. There is so much built-in to human history and modern culture that has antecedents in religious belief that it could takes pages of discussion to elucidate to any satisfying degree.
Perhaps you've started something. ;-)
I wonder why I should study religion. I presume that my life does not revolve around debating with believers about their gods and their faith. There is quite a lot of things I would rather study, like achieving my Doctorate in Anthropology, my Masters Degree in Languages, completing my books and by the way saving up for my holiday home! "Who cares? Religion is all crap anyways!" That is exactly my answer to you!
A life without religion, or it's study, is certainly something that has it's merit. One almost needs to be a recluse in the backwoods to completely avoid the daily interactions that has religion at it's roots. Such is the fate of we southern U.S. unbelievers.
Once you stop thinking you 'know everything', school is always in session!