We can recognize this occuring when complaints about "militant" atheists fail to produce any examples of genuine militancy, or complaints about "intemperate" atheits fail to produce any examples of intolerance that is anything like what we already see in religion. Sometimes, we'll even see an admission that it's criticism of religion itself that's the problem.
This is exactly what we get from Madeleine Bunting who criticizes in the Guardian what she calls the "vituperative polemic" of atheist writers:
The danger is that the aggression and hostility to religion in all its forms (moderates are castigated as giving the fundamentalists cover for their extremism) deters engagement with the really interesting questions that have emerged recently in the science/faith debate. The durability and near universality of religion is one of the most enduring conundrums of evolutionary thinking, one of Britain's most eminent evolutionary psychologists acknowledged to me recently. Scientists have argued that faith was a byproduct of our development of the imagination or a way of increasing the social bonding mechanisms.
Does that make religion an important evolutionary step but now no longer needed - the equivalent of the appendix? Or a crucial part of the explanation for successful human evolution to date? Does religion still have an important role in human wellbeing? In recent years, research has thrown up some remarkable benefits - the faithful live longer, recover from surgery quicker, are happier, less prone to mental illness and so the list goes on. If religion declines, what gaps does it leave in the functioning of individuals and social groups?
Madeline Bunting probably couldn't be more clear if she hired a sky-writer to spell it out above our heads. The foremost danger for her isn't anyone's language or tone. She doesn't even bother to consider whether atheist critics of religion are right and certainly doesn't try to argue that atheists are wrong. No, the "danger" she cites is that atheist critics of religion might cause religion to decline. That, however, is a possible product of any crtique, regardless of how militant, intolerant, or intemperate it is. We must conclude, therefore, that Madeline Bunting's problem with atheists isn't the "vituperative polemic" she accuses them of, but the mere fact that they are criticizing religion and might actually succeed in convincing people to turn away from religion.
Although few religious theists and Christians state it as baldly as Madeline Bunting, I suspect that this perspective is quite common. Almost anything that is said in defense of religion is acceptable, but almost any critique of religion is unacceptable. People don't adopt this attitude with anything else, just religion - almost as if they are afraid that the critics are right and, if they are permitted to go too far, then others will realize this and religion will decline even further than it already has.
To be fair, though, it is reasonable to be concerned about the decline of religion if religion provides genuine health benefits. That's a big "if," though, and this means that the concern is only really valid if the existence of those benefits can be demonstrated. In such a case, though, apologists will be defending religion not because it's true, but merely because it's useful. If that happens, religion and religious theism will have essentially lost.
Ebon Muse's conclusion to his commenatry on Madeline Bunting's piece is spot-on:
And so, let the so-called moderates wring their hands. Let religious liberals bemoan our incivility because we fail to concede the fight to them at the outset. Let the accommodationists study the problem to death and fiddle while Rome burns. If they will not take up arms and join battle against the fundamentalists who threaten us all, then we will. And if they want to call us uncompromising and controversial, they may do so to their heart's content. None of these groups have any power to silence us, and so long as we know to disregard their unfounded criticisms, they will not succeed in doing so.
People use complaints about atheists' "incivility" and "intolerance" as substitutes for addressing the substance of atheists' criticisms of religion.
This attitude of "it's offensive and wrong for you to question me, to challenge my claims, or to criticize my beliefs" is not limited to conservative religion, though. We can also find very strong examples of it in conservative politics. A recent instance is described in David Leonhardt's column in The New York Times about all the extreme, inexcusable errors being made by Lou Dobbs in his "reporting" about illegal immigration:
When I asked Mr. Dobbs about this yesterday, he said, “You’ve raised this to a level that frankly I find offensive.”
It's amazing how similar Lou Dobb's comment is to things said by apologists for religious theism when their ideology is challenged. Quite often, the only thing a person needs to do to "raise" things to an "offensive level" is to challenge religion in a direct, public, an unapologetic manner. Here, the "offensive level" was reached when Lou Dobb's reality-challenged assertions were questioned. There is nothing about conservatism which should necessitate such an attitude, but given the extent to which the GOP has come under the control of the Christian Right, perhaps conservative religion has influenced conservative politics to the point where such an attitude is now difficult to escape.