[Christian author and philosopher Os] Guinness says, "The backlash against Christian faith in general is mounting, and now in certain circles is becoming quite vicious and vehement."
He hopes there can be a respectful exchange of ideas somewhere between the militant extremes of religious violence and militant atheism.
Source: KTHV Little Rock
Notice how Guinness contrasts "religious violence" and "militant atheism" as if they were opposites on the same spectrum. This is a reprehensible distortion of reality because there is nothing even remotely comparable between the two. On the one side are religious believers who are willing and able to justify torture, mass murder, and terrorism on the basis for their religion; on the other side are atheists who use harsh words, pointed criticism, and sometimes even mockery to make their case against religion.
Os Guinness sounds upset that atheists aren't willing to moderate their criticisms and treat religion with the sort of respect, deference, and honor which religious believers do. That, however, is no excuse to depict such atheists as though they were the equivalent of violent religious terrorists. If Os Guinness is sincere in his wish that there can be a "respectful exchange" between atheists and theists, then the first step will be for him to stop misrepresenting atheists like this; so long as he continues, he communicates to us that he's more interested propping himself up at others' expense.
Sadly, he's not alone in this sort tactic...
What worries [Robert Wright, a visiting lecturer at Princeton University] most about the new atheists is that they might undercut the very thing that makes America work as a civil society. "We restrain ourselves from saying bad things about religion, from talking about it at the dinner table. These guys want to talk about religion at the dinner table."
Source: U.S. News
Since when has "America" traditionally avoided talking about religion at the dinner table? I know that there is a traditional saying about not discussing religion and politics at the dinner table, but that saying keeps being brought up because people keep doing it anyway — discussing religion and politics is not something Americans are shy about.
As Daylight Atheism observes, "I am puzzled by the assumption on display here that discussing religion openly is somehow a bad thing." The answer here, I think, is that people are not really trying to say that discussing religion openly is a bad thing — what they are trying to say is that being critical of religion and openly dissenting from the attitude that religion automatically deserves respect and deference is a bad thing.
Robert Wright's statement is misleading because he makes clear what he means at the beginning when he says "We restrain ourselves from saying bad things about religion," but then deflects attention from that by "explaining" this with something else, "...from talking about it at the dinner table. These guys want to talk about religion at the dinner table."
The second half, because it derives from popular saying, appears unobjectionable and reasonable. If we examine the first half, which is what he's really driving at, then we find that what he wants is objectionable and unreasonable: Robert Wright is claiming that we shouldn't say bad things about religion. Instead, we should be respectful of and deferential towards religion, exactly what religious believers want and exactly what gives the impression that religion is inherently good, positive, and worthy of belief.
That, however, is the opposite of many atheistic critique of religion. What this means, then, is people like Robert Wright want to completely undercut those critiques by portraying them as inherently unreasonable. There is no effort to engage the critiques specifically or to address their content. People like Robert Wright may disagree with those critiques, but there is no effort to explain how the critique are unreasonable, unfair, or incorrect.
Instead, they are trying to prevent the critiques from ever being aired to begin with by portraying them as contrary to whatever "makes America work as a civil society." Since when has America required people to hush up criticism of powerful traditions and institutions? This is both ethically and intellectually deplorable and I hope that no atheists, freethinkers, or skeptics take him seriously. If anything, his statement should be treated as a sign that atheistic critiques of religion are starting to afflict the comfortable and discomfit those who had grown used to their positions of intellectual respectability. In other words, it's a sign that atheistic critiques of religion may be having an impact and that's a reason to keep pressing forward.