Rather than quoting the posts junebug and OCG, I'm just going to go a little further with my original post thoughts.
First, I'm very pleased that this conversation is remaining civil. This is a challenging topic, and it can also be a very sensitive one, as junebug pointed out. I'm happy everyone is trying but I'm saddened by the depth of the division that exists, even when everyone is actually making an effort to understand the "other side".
Next, I want to pre-emptively defend myself a bit. This can be really hard to explain without saying things that can be interpreted as insulting by the theists in the conversation. The easiest comparisons (choose to believe in leprechauns, or fairies, or Santa Claus) sort of imply that theists are simple-minded or childish, and that's unproductive at best. I'm trying to avoid treating either of you like that, so please remember that as you read. I'm not trying to be rude, but we lack a "common ground" for this conversation.
There was no point in my life that I "made a choice" to "become" an atheist. Not believing in a god put me at odds with literally everything and everyone I knew. Recall the days before the internet - I had no one to talk to about any of this, for years. In fact, I knew that I didn't believe in the Christian god in high school, and by my early 30's, on some level I knew I didn't believe in any gods whatsoever. I've always allowed for the possibility of a deist-type creator, but to be perfectly frank, that's leftover from smoking a lot of pot and talking about god/life/purpose/angst-laden-whatever with my friends in my teens and 20's.
It didn't occur to me that the word atheist even applied to me. Although I didn't know the term, I was an apathist - didn't know, didn't care, didn't see it as mattering enough to me to bother with it. I had reached the conclusion that I didn't think there was a god and that was the end of it.
At least, that's how I presented the idea, even to myself. Reality was a bit different. It scared the sh!t out of me to realize that I didn't actually BELIEVE any of it. It scared the sh!t out of me to think about that, it scared me so much I just refused to do it at all. For several years, by the way.
Here's a detail I rarely share: I had to give up marijuana because if I got high, I would start to think about the consequences of there being no god. I started having panic attacks when I smoked pot and they were absolutely triggered by my lack of belief.
Brace yourselves for the next part, because this is seriously warped thinking in action: I was absolutely certain that I was going to go to hell and burn for all eternity because I couldn't make myself believe in god. That conviction lingered for years.
Go ahead and take a moment to let the echoes of crazy fade a bit.....
I blame THAT directly on Catholicism (yes junebug, organized religion is f*cking evil, I agree with you).
Now, in light of that, do you see why I insist that my lack of belief is not a choice? If ever I could have chosen to believe, that was the time. Coming to terms with my lack of belief has been the greatest gift I could have given myself, my mental health is quite a bit improved since I've made my peace with being an atheist
I say this often here - the bible had nothing to do with my loss of faith, but it had little to do with my faith when I had it either. I was raised Catholic, and while Catholics generally have a bible or 12 in their homes, we aren't known for our detailed bible knowledge - that's what priests are for. I believed in God because everyone in my life believed in God. I asked a LOT of questions, but concluded pretty young that people had messed up an otherwise fine thing. It wasn't until adulthood that it even occurred to me to question the premise - that a god existed in the first place. I didn't do detailed research, I didn't read the bible to try and make sense of it all, I just took a good hard look at my own beliefs and saw a big gaping hole where everyone else seemed to have a god shaped plug.