Despite the fact that I took Scott Stevens to task for this in my last post, I want to point out (in the interest of not being unphilosophical myself) that I don't think it's necessarily impossible to make the case that he was trying to make--namely that the only proper response to disbelief is a kind of monkish solemnity. It's just that Stevens, like the leading names in liberal Christianity, haven't even tried to make that case yet. They've asserted the conclusion, then scoffed at people like me who ask for an argument to support it as if it's self-evident even to children of below-average intellectual capacity.
In short, they do just what they accuse the New Atheists of doing: substituting smug self-confidence for rigorous argument.
This is irritating not just because hypocrisy is always irritating, but because it so willfully ignores the actual state of affairs. I'm sure there are smug atheists--there are smug people in all walks of life, and all belief systems. While I don't deny that the New Atheists have all openly mocked religion, I do reject the implication that mockery and smugness are always the same thing. This leads me to believe that the New Atheists' critics are either reading smugness into attacks on their position, or they aren't reading the New Atheists' books.
One of the most famous bits of supposed smugness in the New Atheist canon is Richard Dawkins's screed against the God of the Old Testament:
The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.
That's harsh, but it's not smug. If it were smug, it would be focused on deriding the stupid faithful who believe in the existence of a divine super-being that any idiot can see doesn't exist. But Dawkins isn't doing that. His ire is focused on what he believes is a fictional character, not the people who think the character isn't fictional.
Moreover, while I'm sure Dawkins believes wholeheartedly in this assault, I'm equally sure that he recognizes the humor inherent in it. And a good part of that humor plays on the thought of how much trouble Dawkins is in if it turns out that he's wrong. That's not smugness--it's practically self-effacing.
So why shouldn't Dawkins and the other New Atheists have a sense of humor about disbelief? How is this any different from saying that Christians should go shuffling around, staring down at their navels in abject misery because they've realized they don't believe in Allah. Of course some people do, in fact, feel sad when they cease to believe in God. But it doesn't follow that all of us must feel sad about our lack of belief.
To say that we must is...well, smug.