Owen wrote:
"atheist NOUN:  One who disbelieves or denies the existence of God or gods."
Owen, thanks for your contribution to the Theism vs. Atheism web. I enjoyed reading your candid, autobiographical anecdote. I can relate to many of the experiences you've had as a non-believer. Needless to say, you're not alone in your experience as a non-believer in a society which is populated by a vast majority of individuals who have taken the god-belief which was served to them in their childhood and never really questioned its validity.
I wanted to offer some thoughts on the definition of 'atheist' for your consideration. You may or may not agree with what I have to say, but it may also be that you've not considered it from the same perspective which I have on the matter as a consequence of several years of investigating the matter.
I define "atheism" as "absence of god-belief," and an "atheist" as "one who has no god-belief." I take this definition from Anton Thorn, who wrote a short essay about this definition. See the following:
The term 'atheism' does not mean "no gods" or "hater of God" or "a person who has animosity towards those who believe in God." Look at the word's root ('theos', "god"), prefix ('a', "without," "non-," or "absence of") and suffix ('ism', "belief"), and you'll see what it's essential meaning really is: without god-belief.
While this definition includes those who disbelieve in gods or deny the existence of gods (as you define it), it is not restricted exclusively to these conditions. My definition of atheism would also refer to an individual who grew up isolated from a religious society and has never even heard of the notion of a god, let alone examined the merits for or against belief in such a being.
Let's say for example a man named Bill was shipwrecked as a small boy on a deserted island. Bill was not old enough when he departed from civilization to have ever been indoctrinated in any form of god-belief. Thus, he's had no exposure to god-belief, and he's remained on this deserted island all by himself with no outside contact, no outside influence. Somehow, by his own precocious wits, Bill learned to survive in the rugged environment, and grew into adulthood all alone. According to my definition, since Bill has no god-belief, he is an atheist. He's never even heard of the notion of a god, let alone entertained belief in one.
My definition of 'atheist' also applies to infants and toddlers who haven't the vaguest understanding of a god. Since I hold that human beings are born tabula rasa, I hold that human beings are necessarily born without god-beliefs. In other words, they are born atheists. Now, no doubt, many theists will not like this. But that is my view on things. In other words, I think that atheism is the natural and normal condition of man, that god-belief is abnormal. And I would also say that my view on this makes the best sense with religions which seek converts, for from what is it that converts are expected to convert? Typically, when one speaks of conversion, they only think of the destination of conversion: To what did he convert? some will ask. But there's another side which is often neglected, and that is: From what did he convert? Well, if you trace it back to one's earliest youth, ultimately, he converted (if he converted at all) from a position of non-belief (i.e., atheism) to a position of belief (i.e., Christianity, Mormonism, Islam, etc.).
Thus, while the term "agnostic" presupposes exposure to god-belief (since it is essentially a position of uncertainty on the truth of god-belief), atheism as such may apply to those who have been exposed to god-belief and do not accept it (for whatever reason), as well as to those who have never been exposed to god-belief, and thus cannot accept it, since they have had no exposure to god-belief in the first place.