It has been my experience that when it comes to religious discussions and groups, that there exists within those groups two types of specific atheists. Not too long ago, I was at an atheist meet up here in New York City. It had been my first, so I went not really knowing what to expect.
At the end of the meet up the floor was open for discussion and one of the things most were interested in was my experience in the church as an evangelist and my deconversion story. Someone asked me: ' What made you renounce your beliefs?' The best answer that I came up with was that before I read the bible in its entirety I had already started having some doubts, but after reading the bible it pretty much sealed the deal for me that my beliefs were in fact false.
As I described my experiences in the ministry some of them looked at me as if I was a damn nut job! At first I was perplexed and it took a while for it to register when they began to reply to my questions. I had been dealing with a whole different class of atheist! There are only two; there are those that at one time or another were former theists like myself, and there are those that never had known what it was to be a believer. This second class of atheists see religious beliefs very differently than myself since they themselves have never had a "spiritual" encounter such as speaking in tongues, being slain in the Spirit, or having visions ( I've experienced all of these and more first hand).
This experience helped me to understand greatly why I find their approach to dealing with Christianity so different to my own. They look at it from a purely reasonable position (which I do now), and they analyze everything through the eyes of science, history, and mythology. When it comes to the supernatural experiences they technically don't have a clue what the hell you are talking about. They fall back on their knowledge of psychology, and the mysteries of the mind and body connection such as psychosomatic disorders as a means to explain some of the apparent faith healing claims.
I have to ask myself though: Is this method of confronting religious beliefs effective? I honestly don't think it is. To put this into perspective, think about a drug counselor who has never used drugs trying to counsel a user struggling with addiction. It is my opinion that all of the book knowledge in the world would not suffice in helping that addict unless you have personally walked in his shoes. I believe that when it comes to theism and confronting Christianity that my approach is different than many because I have been there and had many similar experiences as the most fundamental believer anywhere. Because of my experiences with what I believed to be encounters with God, because of what I believed was a solid relationship with the divine, I can help others explain those feelings and encounters much better.
Book learning is good, but if you really want to help some of these theists break free from the bondage of superstitions and get back their self esteem and confidence and help them understand that they too could be good without God, then nothing beats experience. The premise here is that it takes a thief to catch a thief. Even our government does this when they hire former convicted hackers to help secure our nations secrets.