Let me start off with a disclaimer: This is not true for every atheist and every theist. There are a handful of theists who really know their faith, and there are a handful of atheists that just don’t give a shit about religion enough to know.
It has been my experience, associating with other atheists, that as a general trend most atheists know the average believer’s faith better than the believer. What do I mean by that? Well it seems to me that atheists, on the whole, are more familiar with the doctrines, dogma, and scripture than the average person. How can this be?
Simple. Many atheists grew up in a religious household. They were taught the scripture, they went to worship, they experienced the whole thing. Religion and the truth were important enough to them that they paid attention. They’ve taken the time to seriously examine their faith, and that of others. Over the course of their own personal journey they realized that it was all bunk.
On top of that, just trying being an open atheist for one day. You’d constantly be under attack from other “loving” believers. It helps to know their religion in order to run circles around them. You get good at and remember something you constantly do. If you’re constantly having to defend yourself from the religious, you learn those religions in and out. I’m an atheist. I’ve read the bible, cover to cover, not just the “good bits”. I know plenty of other atheists that have also read the bible cover to cover.
It is my experience from interacting with believers (of which I was one until about 4 years ago), that most people just grow up, go to church a couple of times a year, and never give anything much though. It’s just a motion one does within society in order to be viewed as a good person. Some people may go more often, say every week, but even they don’t always seriously examine what they’re swallowing. When these people meet an atheist, they’re surprised by the oddity. “What do you mean you don’t believe in god? Everyone believes in god!” I can’t tell you how many times a believer tries to lecture me on religion, as if I were ignorant of it, as if I was an atheist just because I had never heard the gospel story before. I get the feeling a lot of believers look at atheists this way. “Oh, they just don’t know, they’ve never thought about it, they’re just ignorant.”
I love to see the look on their faces when they’re shocked to find that this is the exact opposite of what’s going on. The jarring shock when they find out that the atheist HAS heard it all before, that the atheist DOES know that bible verse, along with it’s context, the book it’s in, and even a handful of other bible verses that contradict it. What a surprise! The intimidation then mounts as they see the atheist can navigate easily through the dogma and bible, make connections, build a case, compare with other faiths, point out logical fallacies, explain scientific fact, highlight contradictions, atrocities, provide alternative natural explanations, understands history, can name names, dates, events, the list goes on.
You see, in order to be an open atheist and engage other people on the subject, you must have at the very least a cursory understanding of Christianity, it’s various sects, the differences between those sects, the bible, biblical contradictions, other religions, world history, where religion fits into that history, politics, law and legal documents, ethics, philosophy, logic, reasoning, and a little science never hurts. In order to be successful, you must know at least the basic pillars of somebody’s faith, and the next guy’s. The bar is so much higher for an atheist. Most theists just know what they believe, their label, and perhaps a small handful of worthless platitudes. They just don’t bother to learn anything else. On several occasions I’ve had to explain to somebody that they are not what they label themselves as because what they believe does not fit the doctrine of the label they think they belong to. They don’t even know the official tenants of their own faith. >.<
Having to know all this information may seem daunting, but at least the arguments for god are finite. Yes, there are only so many arguments for believing in an invisible man in the sky who magically created everything with a wave of his hand. A lot of the arguments are just rewording other arguments. After a short period of time you will have heard them all, and every single one of them has been debunked over and over again. (Just google any argument) It’s a little maddening sometimes. Theists start to sounds like broken records, spouting the same failed argument over and over again. You soon learn all these arguments along with their strengths and weaknesses. Another thing that really shocks theists is when you can quickly name the argument they just postulated. In my experience, most of them memorize an argument they heard, don’t really think about it or where it came from, and just spit it out at you thinking it’ll work like a silver bullet. They always fail and are surprised when I show them that I’ve heard that before, name it, and point out why it fails. “Oh, that’s called Pascal’s wager”, “That’s called an argument from ignorance”, “That’s called god of the gaps”, etc…
So next time you think you can easily prove to an atheist that a god exists, and further that your specific religion is true, think twice; chances are that atheist knows your faith better than you.