By personal atheist, I mean an atheist who was formerly a religious believer of some kind. [ … ] The personal atheist, having experienced religion firsthand, may be able to empathize with the belief system that he now rejects. As a former Christian who deconverted in my teens, I can recall how it felt to believe in the Christian God and what the world looked like from a Christian point of view. It was comforting to believe that God was watching over me, that Jesus was listening to my prayers (though he usually said no), that my life had a divine purpose, that I was on the path to eternal happiness.
Such beliefs seemed to me incontrovertible, part of the warp and woof of my existence. I did not experience Christianity as a number of discrete beliefs, but as a worldview that unified my beliefs. My relationship with God did not manifest itself in different experiences, but was an interpretative framework that gave meaning to my experiences. I therefore felt no more need to prove the existence of God than to prove the existence of the ground on which I stood. [ … ]
Although I now reject Christianity root and branch, I can nonetheless empathize with the Christian point of view. This empathetic understanding, however, is often missing in the natural atheist, i.e., the atheist who has never been a religious believer and so remains in his original condition of nonbelief. Although both types are religious outsiders, the personal atheist was once an insider, so he is more likely than the natural atheist to understand his Christian adversaries.
George H. Smith, Why Atheism? (Promotheus Books: 2000) pp. 25-26