As an atheist, I tend to be annoyed by prominent public moralistic posing by other atheists. A particularly egregious example thereof were the billboards recently put up around Charlotte, NC mocking Obama’s Christianity and Romney’s Mormonism ahead of the Democratic and Republican Party conventions. Aside from the fact that “atheist moralist” is an oxymoron, they don’t even seem to serve any utilitarian purpose, such as promoting public acceptance of atheists, or inspiring people to actually reason about their religious beliefs. Rather, they are the human equivalent of a troop of atheist howler monkeys rushing to the boundaries of their territory and loudly berating the religious howler monkeys on the other side. All these people, who refer to themselves as American Atheists, really accomplish with such antics is to reinforce the ideological barriers between their ingroup and the ingroups of their religious opponents.
I should probably use the term “spiritual religious opponents” in place of “religious opponents.” I suspect most of these atheists are just as religious as the Mormons and Christians they scorn. Their religion just happens to be secular, with a secular God replacing the spiritual one, but otherwise entirely equivalent to the traditional variety. The distinction between spiritual and secular religions is entirely artificial. I strongly doubt that there is any innate wiring in the human brain that somehow distinguishes between the two. Public atheists do tend to be strongly religious in that way. I would just prefer that they don’t drag me into their ingroup by implying that, because I, too, am an American atheist, I am also one of them.
Other than being annoying, these billboards are also absurd. As I pointed out earlier, “atheist moralist” is an oxymoron. As the proponents of spiritual religions, who never seem to realize they are in the same boat, are fond of pointing out, atheists have no legitimate objective basis for claiming one thing is Good and another Evil whatsoever. And yet these billboards make just such a claim. Moral anathemas are hurled down on the Mormons because they are “bigots,” and on the Christians because they “promote hate.” As Jonathan Haidt has pointed out in his The Righteous Mind, such self-righteous moral judgments are entirely typical of our species. They are also rationally insupportable. These atheists are trying to fly without even bothering to don the imaginary spiritual wings of the Christians and Mormons they condemn.
I note in passing that I’m not the only atheist outlier. For example, while most of the other atheists I know tend to gravitate to the left of the political spectrum, there are conservative atheists as well, and they even have blogs. The “American Atheists” might want to note in passing the next time they get the itch to launch a billboard campaign that they don’t represent all American atheists. Meanwhile, no doubt to the relief of right-thinking atheists everywhere, the old ones have been taken down.