Against Proselytism

A reader writes:

Yes, these particular atheists sound like smug assholes--but can you seriously describe religion as a 1-dimensional scale from smug atheist to smug Christian fundamentalist? Where do Jews and Buddhists and Mormons fall? And are there really no smug asshole mainstream Christians? I've sure met a few.

The key factor to me tends to be whether someone is involved in proselytism, and I'm broadening that word a bit: I'd apply it to anybody who believes strongly that their particular religious beliefs should be adopted by everyone, whether or not they actively try to convince others.

As an atheist (or perhaps more properly a "none") I've been afflicted by proselytes since the age of 5, when I admitted my family's lack of a god to other kids on the playground. It's awful. It always feels as if the proselytizing person has no respect for your actual experience or belief, as if they don't see your reality at all. I expect an encounter with a proselytizing atheist (which by the way I am not--I'm delighted that your religion serves you well, just please extend the same respect to my beliefs) would feel much the same to you as a devout person.

So I do get your reaction to the smug atheists, but I'd ask you to consider that they are, in part, just hitting back at the very unpleasant experience they're on the receiving end of every day.