I have been reading lately about the problems with organized atheism. It is certainly true that atheists have their heroes and villains, paragons of virtue and scumbags. PZ Myers talks about his disappointment in learning just how many of the organized atheists in the world are sexist, racist, homophobic, or otherwise bigoted (because evolution, don'cha know) and is very sad about how the potential for a truly enlightened movement has been lost. John Scalzi chimed in to talk about how this is inevitable because the atheist movement, like all other movements, is composed of a bunch of people and lots of people are assholes.
Scalzi is right in that there are awful people in every large group and especially in a group that has no entrance requirements, roster, or official organization there is no way whatsoever to keep them out. I found it funny though that Scalzi talked about his group of friends and how good they are as if somehow his circle is clean of jerks and everyone is wonderful. Hint: It isn't and they aren't. I am sure he likes his friends but I guarantee you that they act like assholes sometimes but they do so in ways he doesn't find too bothersome and he ignores that because they are friends. I am not calling Scalzi out as unique here - he is just the example of how pretty much all of us act. We pretend like there are assholes everywhere, but not *our* friends, right?
Some of my friends are assholes. Hell, some of them are proud to be assholes, no denial necessary. The key is that they are my kind of assholes, since a certain amount of orneryness, refusal to get in line, and desire to muck up the calm, orderly world that others try to create is very appealing to me. By a lot of measures I myself am an asshole for the same reasons I outline above; I have a certain belligerence and desire for confrontation that many people dislike.
I think that eliminating religion from the world by conversation rather than by force is a good goal. Unachievable, certainly, but the less our civilization is in the grip of religion the better off we will be. That doesn't mean that atheists are all good and it certainly doesn't mean that forwarding that agenda will solve all of the other problems we face. It just means that there are benefits to be had in doing that. As I have said before though, the trick is to continue to push for change without letting ourselves fall into the trap of assuming that those that want the same things we do must be good people. The halo effect is a powerful and dangerous cognitive bias.
The conclusion that some people seem to be coming to is that they want to identify as something other than atheist. They seek to believe in no god but they do not want to be associated with atheists since there are so many deeply flawed atheists. Sorry to disappoint but no matter what group you are associated with there are going to be jerks. Accepting that groups are heterogeneous and not judging all of their members by your association with their organizing principle is the key. Running away from an accurate descriptor of your beliefs will not solve anything as any group you end up in will also have assholes in it. Speaking out against those who share your beliefs but whom hold other beliefs you do not condone is the way forward.