I posted the bulk of this as a comment on one of the blogs, but I think it definitely fits here too.
I was never really raised to be religious (although a LOT of my extended family is very much hardcore Southern Baptist), but I'd always thought of myself as being agnostic. I really didn't know or care one way or another, so why worry about it? And then came my freshman year of college.
I was in an anthropology class tackling the hilariously controversial subject of biological anthropology. The course covered both the physical evolution of humans as well as the social and mental behaviors that led to modern society. The professor was pretty up-front about the course material possibly being offensive to people who didn't believe in evolution. My first thought was 'Duh' and the second was 'if you don't believe in evolution what in the world are you doing in this lecture?' The answer to that, apparently, is to be a huge jerk.
But anyways, the first day of class the professor asked for a show of hands as to who believed in evolution and who didn't. about 60% (including myself) said they believed the theory. He began talking about how he was simply going to be presenting the theory and letting us decide whether or not we thought it was true for ourselves, which is an interesting way of going about it but whatever.
To make a long story short, the rest of the lecture was taken up by the creationists plugging their ears and going LA LA LA CAN'T HEAR YOU while the evolutionists tried to explain how it worked. There was one comment made by one of the evolutionists, however, that really hit home with me: 'Magic and mysticism is just science that we don't understand yet.'
A few weeks later we were discussing the perception of things and how it defines a culture. I don't know if you've seen it, but there was a video going around on the internet in which an isolated Amazonian tribe tries to fight off a helicopter full of researchers, with sticks and rocks. I'm pretty sure it ended up being viral ads for something, but it was used in this lecture as an example of perception. Everyone laughed first, talking about how dumb they must be, it was only a helicopter for pete's sake! That's when it hit me. fake or not, the 'Amazonians' were perceiving something they did not understand to be more than it was. We understood a helicopter to be something relatively harmless, but they thought it was a monster, or a god,something to be feared or worshiped (or possibly both). That's precisely what religion is; humans being afraid of something they didn't understand, and making it out to be more than it really is. Which is utterly ridiculous.
That realization prompted me into some major inquiry into what was actually being claimed, taught, and thought by the religious, and I was incredibly angry at what I saw; hypocrisy, lies, and intellectual slavery. Thus, an atheist was born.
How did people react to it? My parents didn't particularly care, nor did any of my brothers (although one of them did request that I not become 'one of those jerks who converts to Carlinism, that's just as bad'). The aforementioned hardcore Southern Baptist family, however, were HORRIFIED to find that not only was I now godless, but liberal. Many of my more religious friends reacted the same way.
Funny enough, most of them found out on Facebook of all places, when, during a sporadic profile update, I switched my religion/political indicators to 'atheist' and 'liberal', respectively, thinking that nobody would notice. I logged in the next day to a flood of nasty/concerned emails, malicious wall posts, and about fifteen people having 'un-friended' me based on my newly-declared atheism. Which was just fine by me; anyone who thinks I'm less of a person just because I don't believe in god is not somebody worth my time. All the people whose opinion I cared about (my parents, my brothers, my best friends) just didn't care whether I was christian or not. It was a fantastic feeling to find out which of my friends and family were worth keeping around.
P.S.: The title comes from one of the emails sent to me by a concerned aunt upon finding out I was a godless heathen. An excerpt:
'this is a stage that everyone goes thru in college.the world is so big and so scary that yuo feel like there is nothing else out there and all you can do is reject god. DO NOT FALL INTO THIS SIN OF PRIDE God is still your Lord and Master and even the most dedicated college atheist will find her way back to His Holy Word until then stay away from those bad people who lead you toward the brink of Hell'