If you interact with those among the New Atheism crowd, whether personally or through writing, it won’t take you long to pick up on their intellectual arrogance. Phrases like “I like to use my mind” or “I don’t need the crutch of belief in God” and words like “moron” or “coward” pop up regularly. These atheists don’t allow the possibility that you might be an intelligent person who has thought through the issues and still disagree with them. You must be a fool if you believe in God.
Why this snobbery? Part of the explanation is that many atheists are following the modus operandi of their heroes. This elitism pours out from the leading voices of the New Atheism, so many atheists are simply doing what they have been taught to do: When opposed, ridicule. Of course, this tactic is employed outside of the New Atheism crowd as well. For years, many in society have tried to marginalize belief in God, not by reasoned discussion but by arrogant dismissal. If enough people dismiss an idea as barbaric and backward, many will assume it to be true and act accordingly. When you combine the fact that “faith” is continually being pitted against “reason” in our day, it is not surprising that many atheists feel like the smartest person in the room. They have been led to believe that they are.
But I think there is something deeper at work as well. If you simply assume those who disagree with you are idiots, when you encounter someone who isn’t, you might theoretically respond by adjusting your attitude or at least wondering if you’ve been wrong. That does not often happen with the New Atheist crowd. They simply ramp up their intellectual disdain. Why?
We are all worshippers by nature. We were made to worship God, but our sin causes us to replace God with other, lesser things. Some make gods of their family, others of their careers, others of pleasure, etc. Whatever we view as god is what matters most to us, and when we feel that our god is threatened we move to demonize those who threaten it.
When a New Atheist is faced with an intelligent opposition to his belief, his god is being threatened. For some, their god is a particular leader of the New Atheist movement. If that leader is wrong, their god is insufficient. Thus, when someone disagrees with that leader, the atheist will move to defend his god by attacking his opponent in a way that is consistent with his god. If he can convince himself that his opponent is a buffoon, then his god is still safe. For others, their god is their own mind. Thus, for them to be wrong means their god is insufficient. So anyone who disagrees with them must be a moron. They respond with their intellectual disdain because there is more at stake than an intellectual argument. Their god—and their self-worth—is under direct attack.
Are Christians different? Won’t they respond by attacking their opponents as well when their God is challenged? Unfortunately, many do. But when they do so, they dishonor the very God they are claiming to defend. The Christian God is a God who loves His enemies. He died for them! He is kind and merciful to both the good and the evil. With this God, there is no need to demonize your opponents. Rather, you can respond in the same self-sacrificial love He demonstrated.