We are atheists, and as such by definition reasonable. Why do we get annoyed or even enraged by religious symbols, which to our belief have no effect at all? The answer to that question is both essential to our own inner growth and to the way of coping we should choose. These ways are probably very individual. I will list mine.
For me, a religious symbol is not the symbol of any good god. It is the symbol of lost independence, of low self-esteem of the bearer's intellect, of lost competence and authority over essentials in his own life. That makes me sad. What makes me angry is that in the name of this symbol, patently wrong political decisions are taken - about wars, abortions, elections, health care coverage. Understandably, that anger needs venting. Strategies include:
- Wearing “anti-symbols” just to make a point that there is opposition somewhere, not because I believe in it. The A is not widely recognized, but depending on which religions or beliefs surround you, you choose your anti-symbol. If homeopathy is pervasive, wear something that shows your belief in science. If creationism is your problem, wear the spaghetti monster. If sin and evil are frequent themes of your Christian community, wear heavy metal band t-shirts. In my opinion it's not important at this point that for example you don't believe in a Great Beast, but it's important that you focus your anger into a clear anti-position by wearing a Therion (a heavy metal band) tee.
- Debate the wearers. Doesn't work too well with the suggestion above. Try to be subversive and very, very reasonable. But don't let them get away with anything. Your anger will give you power (coincidentally a Sith teaching for all the geeks out there, so in a way a religious tenet) and will flow from you once you've made your points. As a secondary effect, you might even learn a new argumentative strategy. As a tertiary effect, you let the bearers of the symbols feel that there are people around who disagree - they're just usually quiet. As a quaternary effect, who knows, you might be convincing!
- Subtly, but unmistakably state your disapproval. Wrinkle your nose. Minutely shake your head. It frees you from your inner rage. It gets the message across. It will make a statement.
- Debate with someone who's with you (and agreeing with you) about religions, make some good points you recently thought about. If you dare appropriate volume (so you can be overheard) is a bonus, but even getting your mind clear of your current thoughts among friends helps.
I think the most important thing to remember is that while atheism is not a religion, it is completely fair to demand treatment as if it were - in public, in debates, in where you can put your symbols, etc. Just because you don't believe without evidence doesn't mean you have to swallow your anger at displays of irrationality. It doesn't mean a debate is lost if the other party's offended and it certainly doesn't mean that beliefs without evidence should have extra rights anywhere in life.
The second most important thing is that sometimes, life is “offend or be offended”. I hope you all value your inner health greatly enough to know when it's one of those days or events when you just can't keep quiet.
You are just as valuable as any believer. Take care.