Apparently there is a schism in the atheist community...time to pick sides. I'll see if I can summarize the "schism" for you. On the one side, we have the "old" atheists who just wanted to not believe in magic and invisible friends and be left well enough alone. On the other, we have the "new atheists" who think that their lack of belief in god not only makes them right but also makes them moral. In other words, it comes down to the question of whether you think that religion is a force for good (or is of neutral value) or a force evil. I've already made my point on that particular issue and it puts me pretty squarely in line with the "new atheists." For that position, I've been called immoral, uneducated, a fundamentalist, a liar, a hypocrite, and a host of other things. Would I trade those insults for an imaginary friend? Not on your life. I'll wear them as a badge of pride when they're lofted by ignoramuses.
The NPR article also includes some commentary on the idea that the "new atheists" are critical of not only religion but of religious people and the supposition that such criticism serves no other purpose than to make the religious feel bad or to insult them. While that may be one result it is rarely the purpose. Rather the purpose of the criticism is to try and effect change whereby the place of religion in society is undermined for the betterment of that society. In one small example, suppose I hurl insults towards creationists (who are almost always religiously motivated) and with my limited scientific expertise it undermines their position while at the same time hurts their feelings I think it is justified. It would be the same if they, in their field of expertise (presumably theology) decided to cast derision on my knowledge of new testament scripture (which I think is likely better than the average christian). I might be insulted but in the end they would find it justified if it helped their cause and would have little mind for my feelings on the issue. Though to know less of scripture might also show a certain purity of thought that I could envy under certain circumstances.
So you may wonder how I can go about not caring about the feelings of people with whom I have disagreements. How Machiavellian you might say. Well yeah, it is. But the good of society always outweighs the good of the few and ignorant. What about a nicer approach you may ask. I'm not sure that such a thing is possible without losing all bite. In deed, any questioning of one's religious beliefs (even the minutiae) has the potential to insult ad naseum (ask the Sunni and the Shia about that one). So if I lead with the idea that I don't believe in god I am by very virtue of that stance (with no further input from myself) questioning the foundations of the religious person's world view. That's tough to swallow for most people. Its also tough for me to do it without being just a bit smug. I'll freely admit that and also say that its impossible to get around. But its really no more smug than a religious person believing that other people of other faiths are going to be sent to the fires of hell for all eternity. My smugness just comes from a belief that the religious are wasting their time and that I have succeeded in avoiding such things not as bad as believing that their going to be tortured for their intellectual failings. I also don't derive any smugness from a belief that the creator of the universe talks to me and picks my path in life. Nor do I derive smugness from the revelation of magical secrets that only the chosen get to experience. Far from it actually, I want everyone to see the beauty of the "materialism" that surrounds them.
So for me there is no conflict in atheism. There is an exchange of ideas and a continuum of action but no conflict. No atheist is going to kill another because of his interpretation of godlessness. If only I could say the same for the other side of the coin. Patrick OUT!!!