To put this in context, I am a professor of sociology by profession, so I tend to frame my understanding of the stigma related to atheism in somewhat academic terms. My intent is to deepen our conversation, but if the outcome is otherwise, please forgive.
In 1963 the sociologist Erving Goffman published a book that has become part of the canon in social psychology. This book, Stigma Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity , is a good primer for those interested in understanding how our self-concepts are created and maintained both because and despite stigmatization we may face. As for the definition of stigma, Goffman tells us that it is "... an attribute that is deeply discrediting." Those that are stigmatized are "... reduced in our minds from a whole and usual person to a tainted, discounted one." Further, "... sometimes it is also called a failing, a shortcoming, a handicap" and that in extreme cases, a stigmatized person is "... bad, dangerous, or weak."
In the chapter entitled "Information Control and Personal Identity" he talks of the dilemma of coming out: "To display or not display; to tell or not to tell; to let on or not to let on; to lie or not to lie; and in each case, to whom, how, when, and where." I have few doubts that most of the atheists reading this post have at one point asked those exact questions of themselves, all of us laboring to manage our identity in such a way as to maximize our self esteem and to minimize interpersonal conflicts, especially with those whom we care about a great deal.
Which attributes are and are not stigmatized in any community certainly vary over time. For example, being divorced -especially for a woman- was something of which to be ashamed in many social circles in the United States back in the 40's and 50's. That, thankfully, has changed: the attribute "divorced" has been destigmatized over time. Many stigmatized attributes have, as our culture has become more (for lack of a better world) cosmopolitan are now viewed more liberally, less judgmentally. Indeed, many of the social liberation struggles in our American past -the civil rights movement, the feminist movement, the gay rights movement- have involved concentrated efforts to challenge the public perception of blacks, feminists, gays, etc. In other words, these movements were, in part, focused on destigmatizing each group.
And that is where we are now, we being the emerging atheist community. We are in the midst of campaigns to encourage the general population to see atheists in a new light, as "normal" people who have chosen to not believe in a god. That, indeed is the goal of my research: to add to the conversation about the atheist community in a positive way, and to describe who we are and how we are affected by the stigma that atheism has in our culture.
A final thought before I sign off. You are on this site, Atheist Nexus, because it is a "community of nontheists." You can post comments, blog and otherwise participate in this community without fear that you will be seen as "bad, dangerous or weak." You do not feel the social stigma of atheism when you are here, and that is why the numbers on this site grow every day, and Brother Richard's hope that there will be 10,000 members by the "birthday" of his cyberhome for nontheists will no doubt be realized.