I have recently read 'The God Delusion' by Richard Dawkins, and it moved me a lot. I too am atheist and proud, dismayed by the wars, violence, coersion, daylight robbery, opression of women...well I could go on, caused by organised religion.
One of Dawkins' first points is the way in which religion is afforded a disproportionate amount of respect from society in general, many times more that that we are expected to afford people simply for being human. Religion is like a get out of jail free card which immediately allows people to indulge many kinds of hate-fuelled behaviour, or even simply to express extreme opinions without any kind of proof or back up, and somehow we are not allowed to question it, challenge it or ask for proof, let alone call it wrong or publicly call for it to be silenced or changed.
As an example of this Dawkins gives the case of a Quaker extricating himself from serving in the army giving the excuse of being a conciencious objector. A birthright Quaker, Dawkins argues, may be waved through simply for having Quaker parents, whereas someone who may have much more strongly held belifs & values will have to argue their case much more strongly. Religion is used as a passcard.
My argument with this is that Quakerism is not a religion! Officially we are 'The Religious Society of Friends' Religious society!!! I am an atheist quaker. I don't believe in God, I believe that if humanity works togther with a systematic application of morals, freedom of speech, staunch pacifism & an openess & belief in the potential of all people no matter what their upbringing or personal cricumstances we will have a better world. I do not use God as a passcard, in fact that would fundimentally go against my morals. What is more, I had to explain this to the Society in order to join, the question of inherited membership is a contentious one within the society, but I maintain that very few Quakers, by birth or otherwise, deviate from these core values.
Yes, Quakers have their roots in the christian religion, and many Quakers still are christian, just as there are Buddhist, Taoist & New Age Quakers. We tend to be on the 'hippy' end of the scale, but we are far from being blinded by religious doctrine & conveniant interpretation of & dogmatic adherence to scripture. Instead we use historical texts (such as the bible or the writings of early Quakers), common sense, open, intelligant discussion & a founding belief in sticking to our morals combined with a continual reviewing of our beliefs & systems.
The basis of Quakerism is systematic, we follow practices, not creed, and although I would never presume to speak for any other Quaker on their own personal theistic beliefs, I am atheist & proud, yet Quakerism welcomes me with open arms. This is why we are a 'religious society' and NOT a religion.