Henry Farrell and Will Wilkinson closed their debate on Blogginheads by discussing atheism and whether or not guys like Dawkins aren't in fact enormous jerks. One of the objections raised was that criticizing someone for their religious beliefs is like criticizing them for their aesthetic taste, or for liking Italian cuisine.
If religion were in fact just a personal preference, wouldn't we all be happier?
But your religion is not like having a preference for Coke instead of Pepsi, or Chevy instead of Ford. Religious beliefs have very real social and political effects, and those effects have consequences. They can get you killed, or they can get you to kill someone else. They have an impact on how you view women, gay people, minorities, your neighbors. They have an effect on what does and does not get taught in schools. They have an effect on what you do or do not consider to be science.
This is a problem, and that is the real issue that people like Dawkins are trying to fix. If the argument has gotten louder and more shrill recently, it's because a certain segment of religious people have been doing increasing amounts of damage and need to be stopped. We need to protect secular society, culture, science, and education from people who would otherwise tell you not only what to believe, but what to think. And if you have to be a jerk to do that, well, the world needs more jerks.
I do take heart in Wilkinson's comments that the U.S. has been secretly secularizing in spite of what the polls say. The truth may be that most people aren't as religious or as knowledgeable about their own religious beliefs as they think they are.