I've received some feedback about my "vitriolic" tone, which has its most severe expression in my recent essay Sir Salman Rushdie, but has also been noted regarding my writing about religion in general, most recently my essay Rococo metaphysics. I'll not deny the charge, nor make excuses, but I would like to give my readers a little of the back-story.
I came to philosophy via religion: I started discussing both religion and philosophy at the Internet Infidels Discussion Board beginning in late 1999. Before that, I'd read a little philosophy and "spiritual" stuff, but I'd not thought or read deeply on the subject. I started off very abstract and dispassionate on Infidels, using my innate skepticism and skill at logical analysis developed as a computer programmer to discuss and criticize the canonical arguments for the existence of God. I worked out most of the rebuttals on my own; they're really not that difficult.
I noticed a curious thing... well, two curious things. The more logical flaws I found in religious people's philosophical and ethical reasoning, the worse their reasoning became and the more angry and contemptuous they became. I've lost count of the times I've been damned to hell or the had dust of my words shaken off someone's feet.
The other curious thing I noted was that the more I departed from the philosophy endorsed by the atheist philosophical gurus of Infidels—mostly regarding scientific epistemology and meta-ethical subjective relativism—the worse their reasoning became and the more angry and contemptuous they became. I was the subject of the most vicious personal attack I've ever witnessed merely because I left the board.
I came to the conclusion that no one, atheist or religious, enjoys having his or her own views criticized, and, absent a structure of enforcement, will often early abandon reasoned discourse for invective and personal attack.
As a case in point (on the religious side), look at Stephen's comment on the feedback post. I am called a "relentless prick", a "pain-in-the-ass", "obnoxious", "like a self-absorbed bully", "splenetic and insecure", "attention-hunger[ing], swaggering, and bullying", arrogant, mean-spirited, pissy, needy of attention, outrageous, egotistical, angry, and hateful. In an earlier comment, Stephen calls me "a take no prisoners troll". Kenneth has called me "a petulant man-child", "insulting", a "victim", "a classic bully", "a petulant, arrogant, bully", one who "a sound defeat as a stunning victory" [a lie; I never claimed "victory"]. He further calls me "snippy", an "ass", "closed-minded", "a playground bully", one who "crap[s] on my plate and call[s] it chocolate pudding," one who indulges in "playground name-calling", "rigid and so enslaved". (He correctly identifies where I was unclear to his detriment; had he simply pointed out the error, I would have apologized and corrected it.) And these are just a sample.
Now, I'm not in the least bit offended by Stephen's or Kenneth's comments; they have a right to whatever opinion of me they please and I'm happy to let them slide off my back. But compare and contrast their comments with my own in our conversation, especially the post which apparently drew his ire. Search as you will—I've linked to most of the posts on his blog on which I've commented—and you will
I had a falling out with a theist friend because I said that employing the fall of Man (i.e. original sin) as a component of theodicy was too risible to be worthy of discussion.
(Just to compare, the vicious personal attacks on Infidels stemmed from a particular personal attack ostensibly regarding my use of "evidential" instead of "evidentiary" (or was it the other way around?); I was contradicting the dominant anti-Popper philosophy of the Infidels philosophical gurus.)
There are, of course, two sides (at least!) to every story; I'm not trying to justify myself; I'm just trying to tell you where I'm coming from, from my own subjective perspective.
I've drawn two conclusions: First, the philosophical underpinnings of religion are not merely mistaken, they are ridiculous. They are nothing but post hoc rationalizations to support the objective truth of the speaker's moral self-righteousness. (I am, of course, just as self-righteous as any religious person, but I have what I see as the honesty and sincerity to own my self-righteousness as my opinion, however strongly held.)
The other conclusion is that once someone has become attached to any philosophical idea, they view any criticism of that idea as a personal attack and react defensively. Religious people tend to be more attached to more ideas which are more stupid and ridiculous, but the defensive reaction is not limited to theists.
I have an extremely passionate nature, and I'm becoming more passionate as I grow older. Were I not gifted with a degree of analytical skill and, perhaps more importantly, had I not received a pacifistic and liberal upbringing, I might well have become violent to some degree. But I do have analytical skill, and I was raised as a pacifist, and I'm not violent, not in the least. I'm not going to apologize or feel the slightest shred of guilt or shame for who I am; I'm ethically responsible only for the choices I make in how to express my nature.
I very passionately loathe stupidity, falsehood and error. I abhor human suffering and despise that which causes it. Half of all human suffering is caused just by people being mean and dumb, but a goodly portion is at least amplified, if not directly caused, by ideological stupidity. Religion doesn't have a monopoly on ideological stupidity—I oppose more-or-less secular American exceptionalism, and I would oppose Soviet-style Marxism were it still a live philosophy—but religion has been, in my opinion, the longest-established and biggest supplier of evil-causing bullshit.
I admit to rather more personal grievance against Islamic culture and religion. My wife is an apostate from Islam (and thus subject to the death penalty in any Islamic country), and the level of suffering she has endured at the hands of this culture and religion angers me to this day. Her experiences have prompted considerable research, and the more I read about Islam, the more I become angered by its medieval ethics, pervasive misogyny and violent response to the lightest criticism.
But other things really piss me off too. The millions of Iraqis killed—and tens of millions injured and made homeless—by our regime of sanctions and two wars. The destruction by the Republican party of what few Enlightenment gains made in my country over two hundred years, the enthusiastic Christianist support for this destruction, and the shameful complicity of the Democratic party in not opposing this destruction.
I don't believe that anything changes until people get really pissed off about it, until they stick their heads out the window and say, "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore." The men in Islam are not going to treat their women better—and the women in Islam cannot fight for their ordinary human rights—until the weight of world's contempt exceeds the male privilege of that culture. As valuable as is dispassionate, abstract discourse, we're not going to stop wars of aggression, torture, and the destruction of our civil liberties with abstractions and bend-over-backwards politeness.
I do not attempt to disguise my contempt for stupidity, but I do my best to talk in detail about what I am contemptuous of and to justify and explain my contempt. I hope you will never see a simple pejorative without (excepting common knowledge) a detailed substantiation underneath it.
What you read here is me, good and bad. I write for myself only, and to an audience of one (my wife, with whom I do not always agree). Keep reading my blog, gentle reader, and I will contradict some dearly held idea of yours. If you defend your idea poorly, I will mock your defense; if your idea supports human suffering I will express my contempt. You have been warned.
 "Howard Beale", Network, 1976, Paddy Chayefsky. Happy, Jimi?