NPR ran a story reporting describing what it calls a "bitter rift" between those atheists who favor an aggressive and hostile stance towards religion and those who do not . NPR names the usual suspects in the former camp, including Hitchens, Dawkins, PZ Myers (to that list one could probably add Jerry Coyne and John Loftus). In the latter camps NPR mentions Paul Kurtz, who has this to say about those of his fellow atheists for whom vitriol and ridicule are tools of the trade:
"I consider them atheist fundamentalists," he says. "They're anti-religious, and they're mean-spirited, unfortunately. Now, they're very good atheists and very dedicated people who do not believe in God. But you have this aggressive and militant phase of atheism, and that does more damage than good."He's right that they are fundamentalists--some of them, like John Loftus, are in fact former evangelicals who simply changed teams without changing their mindsets as True Believers.
During the period of my life when I was a former-fundamentalist-turned-atheist (before I subsequently discovered progressive Christianity), I never gave religion that much thought one way or the other. I saw religion as something that I had outgrown, that no intelligent person believed in, and while I did not agree with religion, I also felt no need to actively attack it or its adherents. It simply was not a part of my life. So when I now look at someone like Hitchens, who was quoted by NPR as saying,"I think religion should be treated with ridicule, hatred and contempt, and I claim that right,", all I can think is that Hitchens and his ilk are nothing but a bunch of schoolyard bullies.