"...what interests me and always has is this: Do the preachers and prophets also believe, or do they too just "believe in belief?" Do they ever think to themselves, this is too easy? And do they then rationalize the trick by saying that either (a) if these wretches weren't listening to me they'd be in even worse shape: or (b) that if it doesn't do them any good then it still can't be doing them much harm?"
--Christopher Hitchens (author "god is Not Great")
This post might get a little personal...
In the various conversations I have had with family members, in particular with my mother, concerning my position on and apostasy from religion, I have had to define for them what "atheist" actually means, and why I qualify as such, rather than a mere agnostic. There is a common misconception that all atheists believe no god exists, or that they are distinctly anti-religion. However, atheism is simply the position of not holding a belief in god.
Matt Dillahunty of the Atheist Experience often uses an analogy to explain this distinction by comparing an atheistic view of god with a courtroom trial. Suppose a jury is trying to determine if a defendant is guilty or not guilty. Those in the "not guilty" camp include those who believe the defendant is innocent, and those who are simply not convinced of guilt. The same goes for atheism, which includes those who claim to know that no god exists and those who simply do not have an active belief in god (this also applies to theism, which includes those who firmly know of god's existence and those who simply believe). In a sense, atheists find god "not guilty" of existence.
Now, there is another label which has become more popular in recent years: anti-theism. This is the position that not only is religion wrong in terms of its supernatural claims, but that it is actually harmful. This is a point of quite a bit of debate, even within atheist circles, and those who side against anti-theism often say that some beliefs give people meaning or hope, and are therefore, net-positive even if they are untrue.
First of all, I have yet to hear of a false belief which has absolutely no negative effects on a person's life, views or method of thinking. But I don't even have to go that far to show why such supposed "false yet positive" beliefs are actually harmful and why I am anti-theistic.
In one of the very first conversations I had with my mother about my atheism, she admitted to me that she has failed me as a mother. According to her, it was her job to prepare me as a youth to go out into the world and stay firm in my faith; to live in the world, but not of it. And since I no longer have faith in the religion of my upbringing, my mother did not adequately prepare me for adulthood; ergo, she has failed me.
Never mind that by most counts I am a good, moral person, and in many respects still live a "Mormon lifestyle" devoid of many of the things the Church condemns as sinful. Or that my job has me working with people in some of the worst conditions in the developed world. The fact that I don't believe in Mormonism means I won't be able to join my family in the Celestial Kingdom.
The best I can hope for, according to Mormon theology, is the Terrestrial Kingdom (aka Heaven Jr) where my family can visit me on occasion (when they aren't busy building galaxies and making spirit babies). But if I, having gone through the temple endowment ceremony, am a son of perdition, even that consolation prize is taken off the table. This is what my mother fears most of all, and it is why she still prays for my speedy return to Mormonism.
This idea, although completely fatuous and rooted in a notion taken on faith rather than evidence, literally terrifies my mother to the point of tears. This is the damage mythology causes in the hearts and minds of true believers, however pleasant-sounding or otherwise inert it may seem. This is why I hate religion.
Some inspirational thoughts from Christopher Hitchens:
Matt Dillahunty explaining his courtroom analogy (part 1):