He was a real to me as Santa Claus was when I was a child. (I wasn't born in). But letting go of Santa wasn't too traumatic, and holding onto any vestiges of a myth seems unreasonable. If reality is perception, then one could argue he was real. But I don't think that perception is reality, however I believe the perception is stronger than reality for those under its grip.
We don't call ourselves doll atheists. We probably wouldn't call ourselves atheists, except that within a believing society, we are forced to define ourselves as to how our view compares to the views of a believer. For instance, the insistence by some that atheism is a religion, shows that they are incapable at the moment of defining the world outside of their own belief. Belief is their compass, if you will, and everything is measured against such. We cannot even communicate with them unless we come up with a term that allows them to start at their True North.
I've seen this a lot in our discussions lately. Believers start to explain their god and his personality to people that don't even acknowledge that their god exisists. Rather than talking about the evidence at hand, they tell us about their 'dolly'. Maybe we encourage this by reasoning within their context. We start with the possiblity that there is a god, and then pick apart that god's personality and deeds, in an effort to show how contradictory and human their friend really is. As such, we indulge them---perhaps too much.
It would be interesting to start the conversation from where we stand. That there is no evidence for a god. Then instead of getting into conversations about their god, we insist they first prove this god exists. But we don't really get to start from our True North, and endlessly get pulled into the murky waters of conflicting beliefs and interpretations.
I think it would be fun to have a board for athiests/secularists that used to be JW. Where we could speak freely without being called extreme or militant. Where we wouldn't have to qualify every statement we make with 'I know this is not true of all believers' or where we won't be portrayed as horrible because we cannot respect belief. Not respecting a person's belief is apparently understood not to respect the person. It puts us in quite the corner. Either we say there is value to belief, or we are saying we don't respect the person. We aren't given other options by the believer.
I like the idea of a separate forum----where conversations start with OUR true north. Not at the exclusion of other forums, but a supplement.