I would probably have to call myself a newbie atheist, despite honestly having felt like one the majority of my life. I was that kid who struggled to find new ways to delay my family from getting to church on time in the hopes of getting left behind for punctuality's sake. Once in church, I would promptly crawl under the pews to build fortifications out of the hymn-books and bibles.
I realize now how completely unaware I was of what was happening to me as a kid. I lived in my own fantasy world up until the end of high school. Through college I actively neglected religion, but still clung to a rudimentary belief in God. Now that I'm in my late-20s I'm beginning to recollect my Sunday school lessons where I was always singled out by the teacher because he had some sort of grudge against my father (who is an atheist) and believed that the path to converting him was through me. I'm recalling times where I would get punished by my mom for not attending church, even if I was legitimately sick. It churns my stomach to remember these things, despite never really experiencing a moment of perversion or physical abuse like you read about nowadays.
I'm in that phase where I've now discovered the beauty of nature and the powerful allure of unbelief and the logical underpinnings built into this way of thinking. My problem, however, is that I find myself more critical of other atheists than of religious people. The religious "believers" out there have heaps of faulty logic, make no mistake, but I fear the biggest hurdle free-thinkers face is that the religious still have the power to set the terms of the debate.
I recently had a discussion with a Muslim co-worker about religious belief. The conversation started around work, dabbled into pesonal lives/movies/music/etc., then slowly evolved into a philosophical conversation and then an all-out religious debate. The first question he asked, of course, was "Why don't you believe in God?" I answered that there was simply a lack of evidence to support the existence of such a being as defined by religious scripture. That humans in the form of homo-sapiens had been around for at least 200,000 years that.... he interrupted me with "I don't believe that is true. Scripture says humans are only 6-7000 years old and this is what I believe." My jaw dropped. The rest of our discussion centered on debating terms within religion as defined by the Bible and Qur'an. I mean, really!
I'm of the belief that the biggest gap between religious people and non-believers is our foundation principles and assumptions about the nature of the universe. Putting the emergence of religion within the context of human history, where humans really only invented organized religion within the last 10,000 years and primarily as a result of the agricultural revolution, allows us to deduce that such belief structures serve a purpose in early civilization building, but that as time goes on and technology progresses their purpose becomes muddled at best. But in that discussion I was having, I had no way of convincing him of even the most basic of scientific proofs that he could believe. It was like he had a blindfold on to any and all logic.
On that same note, it actually disheartens me to bear witness to heavy weight evolutionists such as Richard Dawkins getting sucked into debates (with people like Bill O'Reilly), where the religionist sets the conditions of the debate and then Dawkins has to maneuver his giant intellect within these narrowly defined topics where it's usually constructed to give more credence to the religionist perspective. Enough!
Why can't we change the debate? Perhaps I'm hasty with this question. I acknowledge that our biggest problem is in educating people about scientific thought and methodology first, and then teaching them to apply it in their everyday lives afterwards. But I'm aching for that day when we can simply talk of evolution and science without a religionist jumping in and saying, "Oh, I don't believe that non-sense, give me some Jesus any day and that's all I need."
For now, I try to observe these conversations more and more, looking for that "in" where I can potentially change the debate in our favor. Since that rarely happens, I find myself simply watching, listening, and thinking (freely).
I started my own blog a few years back but kept erasing and rewriting the articles to the point where it currently only has a handful of them.... and I'm not even sure I'll keep those. Perhaps I'll just shift my writing to this site, but for those interested, here's the link to my other one: Average Atheist Blog