One big issue that some friends and I feel is weird is that religious people seem to feel that we are persecuting them. I can't see how that could be given that we represent such a small minority of any population. If anything, it is we who are persecuted.
I think this goes to a broader point that we atheists -- and even theologically liberal believers -- find hard to grasp. When people read the Bible, the Qur'an, or whatever holy scripture it is they're reading, many of them actually believe this stuff!
They hold it to be factually true. As Sam Harris points out somewhere, believing should
have very serious consequences. Once you accept the belief as factually correct, the rest is common sense: All
reasonable persons would have
to support even the most hideous prosecutions of atheists, if
prevailing religious beliefs were true.
For a specific example, put yourself into the position of a religious parent, who also happens to be a neighbor of yours. According to your faith, whose doctrines you accept as true, disbelief in god will condemn your child to spending the rest of eternity under excruciating torture. (See Dante for some juicy details.) Then from your perspective, this atheist next door, littlek, is much, much worse than the child rapist next door. She's worse than the terrorist sleeper next door. So of course
you'll ask your child not to talk to littlek. It's the least you should do as a responsible parent.
Indeed, it's a monument to your tolerance that you're not demanding more. Given what you take to be the facts of the matter, and given how society treats terrorists and child rapists, what you really ought to be demanding is: stiff prison sentences for atheists (segregated from the rest of the prisoners, so as not to condemn them
to an afterlife of torture); laws shutting down atheist publications similarly to NAMBLA publications; a national atheist registry where you can look up people like littlek to avoid moving into her neighborhood; and at the very least, electronic shackles to keep track of her, if crazy Cambridge liberals must
let her ilk roam freely.
Sure, that's persecution. But given "the facts", it's only a reasonable protection. You can't have everyone be tortured eternally just so a dangerous few can abuse their freedom of expression. The constitution is not a suicide pact. You and your family are very tolerant indeed to settle for shunning littlek and her kind.
Obviously, this isn't what I
believe, but this is what we're up against.