Stephen, it is sad that you, and many of us, have been treated in this manner. I pretty much don't bring it up with my older brother or his wife mostly because I love them and don't want to lose the relationship. They know how my wife and I think and sometimes a quiet truce is an acceptable option, at least for a while. No telling how these standoffs will end as sometimes the religious people lose faith, sometimes they decided to accept the other person, and sometimes the relationship weakens and breaks.
Steven, OUCH! What a horrible experience and one you do not deserve. However, what is, is. If your family and friends can't accept your carefully thought out reasons for changing your mind about no god/s or spirits exist, then it seems to me you have a couple of options.
1. Do nothing. Continue to feel lonely and abandoned.
2. Give in to their demands to follow their wisdom.
3. Think your decision through with some people you trust and who trust you to make a decision that is healthy for you. Watch out for the people trying to catch you on the rebound.
4. Make your decision, stand tall, confident, competent, assured of your decision being right for you and develop a tough skin ... hear what they have to say if you choose to and stand proud in your knowledge that comes to you through critical thinking.
5. There are 7,000,000,000 human beings on this planet and you don't have to receive your sense of community from those who attack you, un-friend you, return your gifts, and no longer communicate with them.
If your experience will be anything like mine, it will not be long before those who rejected your decision begin to make little "inquiries", to ask simple questions, i.e. "How do you have a moral code if there is no god?" or "Do you think humans evolved from monkeys?" or "Do you think the earth is billions of years old?" "Aren't you afraid of going to hell?" "Why don't you take Pascal's wager?"
It will take time to develop the answers to these and other questions, but the questions are the beginning of breaking through for them ... if they ever will.
Here are a few videos that may help you become clearer. And remember, being atheist means nothing more or less than not believing in god/s.
Neil deGrasse Tyson
Richard Feynman on God
I wish you well in your exploration. Know that your mind has a natural questioning quality that is part of your gift of life; don't squander it by believing other people's beliefs, think through to your own solution.
Saying I'm an atheist is the easy part, but it's been hard on some of my loved ones that I don't want to participate in their little Christian reindeer games, so to speak. It helps not to be the only atheist in the family though, so I'm not viewed as some sort of rebellious teenager raging against conformity. Most of my family can see that I have a viewpoint that is shared by many famous and ordinary people.
Also, I try to keep my atheism very low-key when I go on dates, talk to friends and strangers, etc. I've met a lot of Christians and Muslims at work and elsewhere who identify themselves as Catholic, Mormon, Muslim, etc., but don't see a conflict with dating or being friends or partners with an atheist. I think that's the effect of non-believers and atheists being increasingly open, but also vigilant to point out that atheism is not a synonym for devil-worshipper, anarchist or cynical amoralist. I've found that to a lot of people who still believe, the message is getting through.
David, I had the same difficulty with religious celebrations so I created my own and invited others to join me, i.e. Winter Solstice, Spring Equinox, Summer Solstice, Autumn Equinox, birthdays, anniversaries, and stuff like that. Our biggest celebration is Autumn Equinox because travel is easy and safer at that time of year, we harvest my garden with feasting, and we note the days will start getting shorter. Winter in the north is miserable driving and flying so I hibernate and read and write. Spring is a very busy time with planting and getting things growing well, summer usually has camping and other events taking priority for families.
Very open about my atheism. I recently started a new job were it is mostly right wing Christians. At first I didn't let them know I was an atheist, I wanted them to get to know me first. Now that they know, I have had no problems. We even get to talk about religion now that it is in the new so much lately, with the republican debates and the Obama Care/Catholic contraception uproar. I am even a member of the newly formed CFI-Humanists of Salem, Oregon. I have a lot of online atheist friends, but it would be nice to have more in-person atheist friends. Hopefully, the group will grow and we can make a positive impression on the community.
I don't hide the fact that I'm an atheist to my friends on FaceBook and a lot of them post religious comments. I don't antagonize them, but I do welcome any discussion on the topic.
Be a proud atheist.
When I get sappy stuff from religious family and friends I thank them and send them some quote or article about atheism. I hate those "made-up-stories-that wring-one's-heart. A report of suffering or overcoming is welcome, but a lot of it is just obviously creations of someone's overactive imagination.
If and when the topic comes up, I'm very open about it. In most European countries, it isn't
a big deal to be honest... When I read the posts from people from America, I feel sad for them. I could never live in a environment like that...
Sadly, many of us cannot or are not willing to move to Europe where the civilized countries have established a level of compassion and fairness not currently possible within the US. There have been huge changes since I was a child but the differences from Europe show how much farther we have to go.
Greg, The principles upon which USA was founded are grand and glorious, but as a nation we never lived up to the words. Washington, Jefferson, etc. owned slaves, after slavery ended, discrimination continues to this day. But the echoes of freedom, justice, equality of opportunity reside in our minds and are worthy principles. Instead of going toward those noble ideals, we seem to be caught in an avalanche of ownership and property rights, with little thought of people and their rights to fairness and justice.
Therefore, we cannot remain silent! or acquiescent! or obedient! and need to be making a lot of noise, marching in streets, registering voters, and praising the true heroes of our nation (Bradley Manning).
There are so many issues that need repair and replacement, and one cannot do all of it, so I am focusing on violence in the home and violence in the military-industrial complex. I go to bed weary from working on just that one topic.
Joan, agree - I was just lamenting that we have so far to go. Having traveled around the world, I'm astonished at how many of the people who insist that the US is still the greatest nation of all time (and I share that notion but for different reasons than they) even though they've never left their state or region of birth.
Greg, I have the same impression. While I found a lot of people angry with the USA's policies, I was treated very well, even though I travelled mostly alone or with an interpreter. Not many of my generation seem interested in history ... I mean real history, not the propaganda stuff that comes through movies and TV. I seriously doubt kids get the stories of greed and domination. Extreme patriotism grates on me and when I hear people say, "God bless America" i ask if they could include a blessing for the innocents of bombed out villages.
What countries have you been to? Were you in the military?
I've been all over the Caribbean and South and Central America; visited some of Europe, too much of the Middle East, and not enough of Asia. Yes, I was in the military. In one of my assignments about two decades ago, I had the opportunity to meet some senior leaders of other nations - to a person they felt that the US, with its 'advantages' was both a great hope and sometimes a disappointment that we didn't do more with what we had. As one colleague put it, it is a moral challenge for us, in the US, and people in capitalist societies, to see that we could spend our efforts taking our lives from a 9 to a 10 or helping much of the rest of the world go from a 0 to a 1. Sadly, I don't know that they'd see us a positive example with our low world-wide rankings on public health, education, science and math knowledge, government openness, and more. We've been eating the seed corn of the past generations and have squandered much of what we inherited but did not earn. Much of this is related to the cultural and religious wars fomented by the religious extremists of our country but there is plenty of blame for all of us.