I've been trying to respond to the comments on my initial atheism post, but decided that maybe my thoughts required another post. Then I started working on this in my head and realized that there will be at least a total of three posts by the time I'm 'done.'
For me personally, there's a very fine line between agnostic and atheist. And I'm an atheist in scientific terms, which means I don't believe in God as the preponderance of evidence at my disposal leads me to believe this. I do not claim that my view is undeniably correct. Which I think starts to get at the point B&P was making. There seems to be a suggestion in the division between agnosticism and atheism that the agnostic may be more open to spirituality and others' differences whereas the atheist is angry and intolerant. I know I felt these connotations for myself, and I think that my over-riding desire to be polite kept me from identifying as an atheist for so long.
I agonized over the uncertainty for a long time as well, and that kept me in the agnostic camp. I said above that my decision was quasi-scientific. But there was an emotional, intuitive part of the process that allowed me to make the final step. Afterwards I was able to come up with the rationalization that made me feel a little more secure. And this is also the answer I give people who ask me, "But what if you're wrong?" On the one hand, I would like to believe that if there is a God, He is the benevolent sort who would care most that I am a kind person. In that case, I think I would still measure up well. If, on the other hand, He is more of the vengeful sort, I don't think I would fare any better if I did try to follow some religion.
Another aspect of my atheism that has caused a great amount of consternation for many people is the fact that I don't believe in an afterlife. I am an existentialist and think that life is what we make of it here and now. Most questions about this include the assumption that it must be awfully depressing not to have something to look forward to after death. But I imagine that I actually appreciate what I have more. And when I see reports of horrific acts of violence (like all of the school violence recently), I mourn more deeply for such loss. Yet I do not find this depressing, and it certainly informs my desire to see people treat each other kindly--why waste time on insults and unkindness when the time we have is precious.*
Finally, there is still much room for spirituality in my life. One outlet for me is nature. All it takes is a little green space and a patch of blue sky; I lift my head to the sun, listen to the birds, and just exist. Art also brings me many uplifting moments. Certain paintings, poems, pieces of music simply speak to me; a sweeping line, well-turned phrase, a lilting chord change and I feel my soul skip. It's not exactly a religious experience, but I imagine the feeling is similar.
* And no, I'm not all sunshine and lollipops and am often guilty of some less-than-kind gossip, but I don't like that side of my personality.