From time to time I notice comments made by A|N members to the effect that the tone or content of this or that discussion may not reflect well on our community. Some bristle at the mere mention of certain words or concepts- suggesting that their usage could somehow reverse "atheist progress". As a person that spent most of my life in a religious cult I sincerely understand these concerns. But I wonder if public perception of atheism is really a factor in the ex-believer's self-deprogramming. Does someone really question their beliefs because of what they read on a discussion forum for atheists? Or do they end up there after leaving religion(mentally at least- the physical exit usually comes a little later), seeking out like minds and new ideas with which to reconstruct a worldview?
I may be especially sensitive to the worry about what the "religionists will think if they see this" because of my religious background. We were continually being admonished to put on an appearance of normalcy and unity that would promote our message. But even then I wondered, 'If we really have The Truth, any personal idiosyncrasy or organizational failing will not be enough to prevent its discovery by a sincere person.' Why such a preoccupation with good PR? Now I understand. PR is all they had. We have reality.
I didn't arrive at atheism because of what I read in any book or on any discussion forum. It was a personal realization that I'd been altering reality for my whole life to make it match what my religion taught. The facts were always there, I just resisted acknowledging what my brain was processing. In my defense, I was brainwashed. But the day came that I could no longer jump through those doctrinal hoops. I think I'm mostly done deprogramming now. Completely? I doubt that. But I am nearly a gnostic atheist. I'm so thoroughly convinced that there's a naturalistic explanation for everything that I couldn't go back to theism, of any brand, even if I saw some social or emtional benefit to doing so.
What I'm trying to get at is that divergences in point of view about language and what it means- isn't that what most of our perceived differences are about?- do absolutely nothing to change that fact that we all lack belief in deities and the supernatural world that they purportedly inhabit. The unique window on reality that each and every one of us brings to this ongoing discourse about the universe, life, and what it means or the very good possibilty that it means nothing at all is our strength. We no longer have to follow some religious protocol or check with headquarters to get permission to think. That's something I love about this place. I'm not here because I need to reassure myself that "we're right and they're wrong". I'm here because the atheist community is also a community of persons courageous enough to pick cold and harsh reality(also full of beauty and wonder) over the warm comforts of delusion. That's bound to be an interesting bunch.