Rejecting theism is a first step toward freeing ourselves from the shackles of Christian, Hindu, or Muslim religions, but underlying cultural memeplexes with which they are entangled can continue to control our lives and choices. Riane Eisler compared Partnership culture to Dominator culture in The Chalice & the Blade.
Dominator culture religions function to constrain our perception of reality. In particular, I see fundamentalist varieties standing upon an invisible restriction meme, the rescuer/victim/persecutor triangle described by Eric Berne in Games People Play. This restriction meme works by twisting every action and intention into one of the three roles. It's part of Dominator culture because self esteem is inherently hierarchical. One feels good about ones self because others compare unfavorably. If you feel victimized, you're morally superior to your persecutor. If you're rescuing a victim, you're moral superior. But, here's the trick, as a victim you can save up "anger stamps" and later "cash them in" with guilt free persecution of somebody else. You're still morally superior because the object of your anger deserved it. So, in the extreme, you can kill a homosexual, bomb a government office or abortion clinic, or other "enemy" of your values in the self-righteous glow of moral superiority.
It's far easier to give up the fantasy god figure directing the show than to comprehend the way reality itself had been warped when you believed, and then undistort your reality, to imagine the unimaginable.
A movie about two lesbian lovers in India made this vivid for me. Their background culture was saturated with the story of Sati, one of the wives of the Hindu god Shiva. The Hindu myth has married against her father's wishes and then burning herself to death because her father insulted her husband. She's a heroine, a role model for women, burning herself to death for the sake of her husband's honor. She demonstrates the power women have to protest, namely none at all other than painful self-destruction. In the movie, the lover ends up immolated. This was the only way she knew to reject the cultural pressure for heterosexual fidelity to a worthless marriage. She'd been programmed, and could not imagine creating an alternative life for herself and the woman she loved.
In a similar vein, religions invariably portray apostasy as a tragic role. Rejecting faith is imagined only as self-destructive narrative, resembling the martyr, only without righteousness. This path can be rejected intellectually, but remain buried in gut feeling, constraining the perceptions and choices of a skeptic. In short, we can if we're not wise, be tricked into making self-destructive choices expressing atheism.
How does one escape such unconscious influence? First, of course, is to recognize the pattern in yourself intellectually through nonjudgmental introspection. Second, we look at what the persecutor/rescuer/victim memeplex steals from us. Buying into that restricted world view, whether from early indoctrination or conversion in time of stress, means giving up what I'll call Partnership self-esteem, from Riane Eisler's Cultural Transformation theory. Dominator culture is "I'm OK, you're not OK.", or self esteem based on invidious comparison. The alternative is "I'm OK, you're OK.", Self respect and self-esteem based on an assumption that people deserve respect and giving yourself credit for your strengths and accomplishments. You don't have to look down on somebody else in order to love yourself. In fact, Partnership self-esteem is far stronger than hierarchical status comparison, because the Alpha in any hierarchy is instantly crushed if he falls from status. When you cherish a dependent self-esteem, every little threat to your status is overwhelmingly frightening. Like the macho man whose entire manhood is on the line if his woman smiles at a passing stranger, your feeling good about yourself hangs on the thinnest of threads and you can never acknowledge it. So of course it's morally justified to kill somebody for drawing a cartoon, or to kill a daughter for touching bare hands with a young man. You are never in control of your own self-respect, it's part of your status in a social hierarchy, and your fear reflects how that community will react. One can reject theism but retain provisional self-esteem.
In short, it's helpful to jettison provisional self-esteem and embrace a positive self respect based on humanist values and an appreciation of your strengths and accomplishments. Like the thinking-for-yourself of apostasy, this is the respecting-yourself of Secular Humanism. The point of atheism isn't to martyr yourself, it's to live constructively, seeking all of the nuances and possibilities for growth and joy in life.
Ruth - such a wonderful article regarding Memetics. I am trying to study more regarding Richard Dawkins The Selfish Gene and memes. I see that I need to read the books Virus of the Mind by Richard Brodie and Thought Contagion by Aaron Lynch. I'll have to add it to my busy To Do List. I've always been interested in Sociology and the reason why or how belief spreads through a society. I agree with your conclusion that you should "embrace a positive self respect based on humanist values".