I hate to say it, but I wouldn't start off with the word "atheist". Losing your faith and not being religious is one thing, but atheism currently has a special stigma among Christian zealots of all kinds.
If it's important enough to you to be fully honest with people, I would simply say to selected people that you don't believe in God (anymore, if you ever did). Don't deny atheism if you're accused of it, but don't bring it up yourself.
Once it's out there, you'll have to explain yourself. Not just yourself, but all atheists - you'll find all kinds of misconceptions about them: that they hate God, that they worship Satan, that they want to force people to give up religion or remove kids from religious parents and so on.
Besides that you'll get all the really obvious, kneejerk arguments for God, like the beauty of a flower and "where did it all come from". Your family may send you to a preacher or even a Bible camp if they don't trust their own ability to proselytise. This site and the rest of the Web provides answers to pretty much all of it. Bone up. Start by searching for my "Great Big Arguments" series.
Once you've established that you've thought this through and you can't be reconverted with simple platitudes, if your community is as religious as you say it is then you will lose friends. Sorry, but some people don't like to be around atheists, who question their lifelong assumptions by just existing.
You may also find that you become better friends with others; those who are also quietly questioning their faith. When Richard Dawkins did a lecture tour through the Bible Belt, he found big, enthusiastic audiences everyplace. The irreligious are everywhere, as paranoid Christians often warn. Hopefully you'll find some more of them.
Let us know how you go, if you go ahead with it. Good luck.
For those who came in late, this is where I've laid out the definitions of all these terms.
It is indeed possible to be an agnostic strong atheist, Jessica. That means you allow for the possibility that there's a god, but you positively believe there are none. A similar position is actually the exact opposite one. The world is full of agnostic strong theists: those who do not claim certainty that there's a god, usually because of lack of evidence, but believe in one anyway. The very concept of faith encourages this position.
My question to you would be the same as to any theist: "Why do you believe this, when you know it might not be true?" In the absence of hard evidence, what is your alternative basis for believing that there aren't any gods? Consider if you like, and get back to me.
You don't have to burden anyone else with these semantics. Simply calling yourself an atheist expresses most aspects of your position. If people ask you how you know there's no god, you can honestly say that you don't, and that you don't have to. If they accuse you of having as much faith as a theist, they might actually be right (since you're a strong atheist), but this doesn't make you any worse than them.
Ta for the compliments.
Always keep in mind how long it took you to come around. I know you want better for your kids, but perhaps they need to take the same path you did.
Think a step further: why would they be shocked and horrified to find out you're an atheist? Partly because of the stigma attached to us by the religious, but ultimately they would be afraid for you. You reject God, so you're going to hell, that sort of thing. The most important thing when it comes out, and it will, is to let them know that you are not afraid yourself. (Another little fact which might help is the idea that not everyone who claims to be religious really is.)
At that, they'll either ask why not or argue with you. You'll then have a line of communication open, and it's up to you. Expect your husband to get involved, and make no attempt to make this happen behind his back. Just be open, and listen to them all.
I grew up religious too, as you might have read in another answer of mine. What first set me on the road to doubt was the fact that my father was an atheist. He didn't talk about it AT ALL, he just told me once and that was it. I wondered why, and later, I found my own reasons.
As for kids' books, I recommend the children's and young adult books of Terry Pratchett. A humanist himself, his books often encourage critical thinking despite having fantastical premises. A favourite of mine is The Wee Free Men. Later, perhaps they'd enjoy his other Discworld books.
Incidentally, I just watched Happy Feet and the anti-religion message in that is fairly obvious.
You're not the first one to ask about the Church of Reality. Here's the previous question on the subject.
No, it's not true, but I can see how the deist fellow might get that idea.
Laws against discrimination on the basis of religion extend to cover atheists. That's not because atheism is officially a religion, but because there are additional clauses in the laws to include those with no religion.
If atheism really were classified as a religion, atheist organisations could apply for the same tax exemptions as churches. As it is, the best they can do is get recognised as non-profit charities, like the secular Red Cross.
I was looking for a piece of Way of the Master propaganda suitable for analysis, to apply real criticism to the real thing rather than just dealing with the occasional WOTM quotes people use. I found what I wanted on Comfort's own blog, which while not officially WOTM turf is certainly by the same author.
This piece flabbergasted me with its bare-faced sophistry. It is, in the main, an attempt to characterise legitimate objections to apologetic arguments as mindless talking points which believers can safely ignore. I'll be handling each one in turn, by number.
Introduction> There is no atheist belief. Comfort denounces the belief that there is no god, but most atheists don't have this. They simply don't believe in any gods, and are of the opinion that there are none.
1> Calling a credible argument these things is deceitful, but if you're calling a spade a spade...
- A straw man argument misrepresents the opposing view to make it easier to rebut, e.g. "Atheists have no morals."
- Circular reasoning relies on the conclusion in the premise, e.g. "Creation must have had a creator." (Response: what if it isn't a creation?)
- Quote mining is finding quotes which, out of context, appear to say something the author didn't. There's a quote by Darwin where he asks how the eye could possibly have evolved, and it's often used to say that he didn't know. In fact the very next thing he wrote was the answer to his own question.
2> The "Creator" argument is the watchmaker argument, but that would be fine if the watchmaker argument were sound. The real problem is that it illegitimately expands our reaction to complex and obviously manmade objects to all complex objects. It is the artificiality of a watch that tells us it's created, not its complexity.
3> Pascal's wager presents the same choice as the gain-loss argument. The trouble is that if you consider the possibility that other gods exist besides the Christian one, you realise you may have everything to lose by choosing Christianity or any other religion.
4> "Adultery in the heart" is Comfort's way of making sure anyone with working eyes and hormones has to admit to sinning. If sexual attraction without action is only a sin to the Christian god, it's important to determine whether that specific god exists. Therefore it matters whether Jesus not only existed, but performed miracles and came back to life as the son of God would do. That's the part that's lacking in evidence.
- Well, the Bible is full of mistakes. Many are listed here. That doesn't disqualify the whole thing automatically, but it does mean it's not inerrant. It is worth reading regardless, whether or not you believe it.
- Dawkins did say those things about the God of the Old Testament in The God Delusion, and much more besides in that sentence alone. It's meant to be funny (it always gets laughter and applause from an audience), but every word of the takedown is supported by at least one action taken by God in those old books.
6> "No true Scotsman" means taking those who do not fit your image of your own group and finding excuses to exclude them. Comfort's definition of a Christian doesn't seem to match the usual one (scroll down to the Noun section).
- If the Lord doesn't exist, then it's impossible to know Him and according to Comfort there's no such thing as a genuine Christian.
7> Atheists question evolution all the time. The difference from faith is that evidence for evolution answers those questions. Here is an inventory of hundreds of species-to-species transitional species for which there is substantial credible evidence.
8> If there is no Hell, there is no eternal punishment. If there is a Hell, it could be anybody's Hell, and have any arbitrary entry requirements (say, eating with a fork). We have no way of knowing whether we're already on the train tracks, and that's how it is for our whole lives. So it's not worth worrying about.
9> Sorry, but this really is "no true Scotsman". Catholicism was Christianity in Europe until the 17th century and the advent of Protestantism and Lutheranism. With few exceptions, all Christians were Catholics, or branded heretics. If the true Christians in Europe weren't the Catholics, who were they?
- It's doubt, unbelief and lack of faith that makes people atheists in the first place. We don't abandon all that as soon as we find a new name for ourselves. We all entertain the possibility that we might be wrong, and to some extent we look for that one obvious argument for gods that we missed. That's partly why I write for this site. On behalf of all atheists, bring it on.
- This is Comfort's true opinion of atheists: that we're all theists in denial. Of course, denying something isn't the same as being in denial. Sometimes, a person will deny something because it really isn't true.
If you're going to argue that abiogenesis is not science, it might help to define science first.
Science is the formulation of natural explanations for observable phenomena in the universe. Abiogenesis (the emergence of life from non-life), while not yet observed itself, is a natural explanation for the observable phenomenon of life. It is therefore a scientific hypothesis, and yes, it is science. What it is not (yet) is a theory.
Though some natural selection may have occurred in the process, abiogenesis should not be classified as chemical evolution. It may have been a rapid, non-cyclical process instead. We freely admit that we have no clue how it happened.
At least until we do observe a second abiogenesis in a lab or in nature (positing that the event which produced us was the first), not only do we stick to speculation as to how it happened, but we refrain from stating 100% certainty that it did happen. If evidence of intelligent design were to emerge (say, actual physical impressions of fingerprints in our DNA) we would soon abandon the hypothesis that we are the products of abiogenesis. We would then try to determine whether the designer was a god, an alien or an extinct Earth creature, and in all three cases start to hypothesise about the abiogenesis and evolution of that being, if any.
This is the difference between a scientific hypothesis and a faith position. We assume a scientific hypothesis for practical purposes as the best current explanation until a better one comes along, at which point we chop and change. We're not precious about it at all, at least until it accumulates enough evidence to be declared a theory. A man with a faith position defends it to the end, because he usually expects no contradictory (or even supporting) evidence to present itself.
Another difference is that a hypothesis must be falsifiable, which means there must be some hypothetical event which demonstrates it is false. Our abiogenesis is falsifiable because we might find firm evidence of a creator, like a signature or a work log billions of years old. By comparison, what would falsify the intelligent creation of life? Nothing. Even if we achieved abiogenesis in a lab, it might be the case that although abiogenesis is possible, we were still designed.
On the basis of this last point, I submit to you the idea that intelligent creation of life is a faith position where abiogenesis is not. There may be additional ways to establish this comparison, but I'll leave it at that for now.
I've seen the genetic code argument before, you know. The idea is that all codes are intelligently designed, so the existence of one in DNA proves a designer. That's an argument from ignorance because there is no evidence that a code is impossible without a designer. Further, if you present this argument, I can provide examples of naturally occurring codes which have nothing to do with life, like the means by which mineral crystals can transmit their structure to non-crystallised material.
There's another side to the genetic code argument which states that it's impossible for new information to appear naturally. We've been over that here.