It is phony. There are two types of atheists in my experience (the agnosticism thing doesn't ring true).
1. "I prayed to God for X (usually to save a loved one's life), and he let me down."
2. Those actively in rebellion against God.
Category 1, I usually have a fair amount of pity for. They have a sad experience, and they are angry and bitter. I would prefer such people just have a shouting match with me, let all their anger out, and finally have a talk on why God doesn't let us live forever.
Category 2, on the other hand, has layers upon layers of excuses. The reason they cannot be convinced is they already know the truth, but they don't want a part of it. The angry mourning walk away from God, but they can be cheered up; no such approach can be done to those who hate God. They know full-well that God exists, but publicly admitting this means they have to answer for their past and their rebellion. So they concoct lie after lie, like a child screaming "You can't make me." They're correct, I can't make them. Nor will I. They're already
being made to do things. 99.9% of category 2 are statists. You think God is authoritarian? God's like a weird bipolar boyfriend/girlfriend who speaks conflicting truths about theology, hoping we'll decide on our own. But mankind in rebellion with God? They always act the same way. They push people.
Furthermore, controlling groups or ideologies work best when believers are taught to use brainwashing techniques themselves. That’s right. In almost every case, the controlled end up controlling.
I've seen everything from dragoon-like intimidation, coercion, or outright abuse to mind games and manipulation. Sometimes they even pose as religious types, while pushing you away from God. But those at odds with God always use control against those who understand God. Who love God.
If he used to be working under the Vatican, this actually makes perfect sense.