Atheism is not a belief system, nor a cult, nor a religion. According to Merriam-Webster, it is “a disbelief in the existence of deity”. According to other sources, it is denial of any kind of a deity, so an Atheist is a non-believer, nothing more or less. Some may even use the term ‘godless’ but this has a slightly different spin. Versus atheism, godless is someone who does not recognize or worship any gods. Some people are Pantheists, which goes a step further than atheism. According to Richard Dawkins, "atheists don't believe in a supernatural God at all, but use the word God as a nonsupernatural synonym for Nature, or for the Universe, or for the lawfulness that governs its workings."
Because of its negative connotation in American society, some Atheists may prefer to use the term “non-theist”, as it has a softer meaning in American society. Many that have left the church have not even told all of their families and friends for fear of ostracization or of hurting a loved ones.
Richard Dawkins, a renowned evolutionary biologist and atheist, has a “spectrum of probabilities” in regards to one's belief, with levels ranging from 1 (strong Theist) to a 7 (strong Atheist). These two levels of atheism, whereby some Atheists are stronger in their belief (or disbelief, if you will) than others, led Sydney J. Harris, an American Journalist who died in 1986, to observe that some Atheists may take an unyielding and dogmatic position as a fundamentalist may, and that agnosticism was a better philosophical position. On the other hand, many are very respectful of others religious beliefs and love to have a respectful philosophical discussion with anyone.
Some Atheists were raised as Atheists. Others come from many different backgrounds and become an Atheist for many different reasons. Since everyone is born without any knowledge of a supreme being, that person’s religion or culture introduces him or her to that way of believing. Once raised in faith, many atheists decide, after studying the Bible and looking at scientific evidence, that being an Atheist made sense to them and they deconverted. Some are Atheists because of the logic behind ‘the problem of evil’ (basically, if God is all-powerful and good, why does evil exist?) and the scientific founding behind evolution and Darwinism. Despite the reasons, it is a very personal decision and a long, agonizing road for many.
Atheists are your family, friends, and neighbors. So if one of them decides that this is the right thing for them, please be kind and understanding.
Atheism is more than just the knowledge that gods do not exist, and that religion is either a mistake or a fraud. Atheism is an attitude, a frame of mind that looks at the world objectively, fearlessly, always trying to understand all things as a part of nature.
- Carl Sagan