Recently Gary Wolf wrote an article in Wired called, "The Crusade Against Religion" [link here
]. In it, he describes the works of authors Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett. These three authors have been writing books highly critical of religion, each from a different perspective however.
As a Humanist, I certainly agree with their conclusions about forming our beliefs based on rationality and evidence, rather than authoritarian dogma or unreliable 'feelings' and intuitions. I also agree with their conclusions that faith-based thinking is pernicious and does more harm than good to people. And then there are the institutional criticisms of religions, which even the religious will often agree with.
I don't, however, agree with the insulting and combative approach that Dawkins and Harris seem to advocate. Dawkins wonders aloud if we shouldn't have the state grab up children from parents who try to teach them their religions, while Harris even directly rejects the notion of religious tolerance itself in his book The End of Faith
Within my local Humanist and Freethought organizations, there have been many debates on these authors and what they say. We have picked over their words (especially Harris') wondering just what it is they do and do not advocate. Many of their words would seem to encourage the basis of a totalitarian anti-religious regime of sorts, but when pressed they always come back to water down their statements until it resembles nothing more than: "atheists should feel free to express their beliefs openly".
Dennet seems the most palatable to me, although I disagree with him on the other end. In the article it seems he is far too willing to say, 'yes it's all silly but we really should just look the other way and permit some silliness for the sake of functionality'. I tend to think that reason and compassion are sufficient when employed in concert.
To me, the best summary Wolf gives of the confrontational atheist approach outlines its key flaw:
"The New Atheists never propose realistic solutions to the damage religion can cause. For instance, the Catholic Church opposes condom use, which makes it complicit in the spread of AIDS. But among the most powerful voices against this tragic mistake are liberals within the Church -- exactly those allies the New Atheists reject. The New Atheists care mainly about correct belief. This makes them hopeless, politically."
I think it is far better to always voice our own beliefs, but do so respectfully and with a sense of compassion. Humanists should focus on the positive things that are beneficial in the naturalistic and Humanistic outlook, and trust that reason will tend to prevail when given a chance to flourish in human minds. Instead, what many of these types of atheists stoke in those of other beliefs is their base animal defensive impulses. This is the opposite of what is needed for rationality to blossom.