Below is an article from Dallas, Texas featuring real-world conflicts atheists often encounter.
Atheists discuss their outlook, relationships
For 35 years, Terry McDonald was a devout Catholic, going to Catholic schools and participating in the parish council. Now he's recognized as something that confuses and even frightens some – he's an atheist.
"When you tell someone you're not a theist, it's like saying I'm taking the issue that is closest to them and discrediting it," said McDonald, chairman of Metroplex Atheists.
The stigma attached to atheism, be it perceived or real, is part of what McDonald is trying to quell.
"We'd like to show Christians we don't have horns and a tail," McDonald said. "We're just normal people."
This week, the Metroplex Atheists, along with other nonreligious groups, erected billboards in Dallas and Fort Worth to let other nonbelievers know they have company.
"Don't believe in God? You are not alone," the billboards read.
According to a survey by The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 1.6 percent of respondents classified themselves as atheists, and 16.1 percent were "unaffiliated."
McDonald said he's studied world religions extensively and still has strong Christian friends.
"I find it interesting what people believe. I find it fascinating," he said.
So do others.
When Pastor Derward Richardson co-founded Grand Prairie's Summit Baptist Church about two years ago, he envisioned a church that was small enough to be intimate but open enough to listen to differing beliefs.
He invited McDonald to speak at a public atheist/Christian dialogue. About 75 people turned out one Saturday night to hear the discussion.
Lifelong Baptist Judy Helms said she was "very apprehensive" before attending the forum.
"I didn't know what to expect, like everybody else," she said. "When you say the word 'atheist,' I don't put it with a human. I put it with a monster. I found out, no, they're human. They're people who are different from me. It's like when kids talk about the boogeyman and realize he's not real."
[It’s easier for religious theists to picture atheists as unfeeling monsters stomping on their beliefs, until they look us in the eyes. It’s easier to demonize a personal stereotype than an actual human being. But how are atheists not supposed to be offended by the idea that many people picture us as monsters, as not even human?]
McDonald told the crowd that he rejected Catholicism in his late 30s because "when I looked for God, he wasn't there."
Helms said that although she still disagrees with McDonald, she's glad to hear his beliefs.
"I want people to know that my pastor has an atheist friend ... and there's nothing wrong with that," Helms said.
"Isn't that what we're supposed to do – get along with each other? The whole world can take a lesson from that."
Clark Vinson, a Baptist-turned-atheist who grew up in Irving, said he believes he has been discriminated against in the Bible Belt because of his lack of religion.
"I was on the verge of sealing a contract for $105,000 a year for a school district in the area for counseling services," said Vinson, who was a therapist at the time. "I lost the contract suddenly."
He said a friend who worked for the district told him a school official was disturbed after seeing a Darwin fish on his car.
[What was the school official supposedly “disturbed” by? The fact that Vinson accepts the scientific theory of evolution? I’d be more disturbed by trusting six figure contracts in the hands of someone who rejects reality in favor of young earth absurdities, ID, and who knows what else.]
But Vinson, like other members of Metroplex Atheists, said he and theists can still have good relationships.
"My secretary is very Christian, and she said she's going to convert me," Vinson said. "We laugh about it. We still have a good time and get along well."
Atheists and Christians can do more than just get along: They can be happily married.
Randy and Dana Word have been married for more than 40 years. The couple lives with their daughter, Kelly Word, and Dana's parents. Everyone in the house is a devout Christian except Randy Word. He's vice chairman of Metroplex Atheists.
Though the family gets along most of the time, an evening discussing beliefs can get quite heated.
"We get into it about once a week," said Kelly Word, 27. "It's never a dull moment."
On one particular evening, Randy Word noted that he had no problem with his wife taking their children to church when they were young. But now he regrets not exposing them to other beliefs – or lack of beliefs – as well.
"At any given time, there's a thousand gods people worship to," he said.
"But that would lead to more confusion for the child," his daughter replied. "If you give them all these options, that'd be overwhelming."
Randy Word countered: "It'd be more like, 'Kelly, remember, this isn't the only religion. Always question everything.' "
The volume of their argument increased.
"So you're saying be untrusting?" his daughter said.
"Maybe you trust too much," he replied.
"I can decipher between what's really ridiculous and what's not," Kelly Word said.
Despite such contentious debates among family members, their religious disagreement pales in comparison with the strength of the family, the Words say.
"I know how he feels. I feel very sad he feels that way, but I don't say it to him," said Dana Word. "He's an honest, good man. He's one of the fairest people I know. My mother and father live with us. There's not a much nicer man who would invite the in-laws and be so kind to them."
Randy Word said the family works well because it shares positive morals and values. "I believe in the Golden Rule," he said. "I believe in tolerance and compassion. I don't need religion to give me that."