I googled the term "self-righteous" today, and this definition popped-up on the screen: "having or characterized by a certainty, especially an unfounded one, that one is totally correct or morally superior." The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines the term as "having or showing a strong belief that your own actions, opinions, etc., are right and other people's are wrong."
It seems to me that people are quick to identify this trait in theists. I guess that's understandable in light of the fact that most theists like to talk about morality - good and evil. However, I have noticed that the feeling of being superior to others is not confined to theists. In fact, it appears to me to be a very human affliction that almost anyone can succumb to.
Folks like Richard Dawkins, the late Christopher Hitchens, John Loftus and their followers have been just as obnoxious to people who disagree with them as any of the Christians that have confronted them. Anyone who has watched one of their interviews, presentations or debates knows exactly what I'm talking about. Their opponents are ridiculous. They are ignorant. Their questions are beneath them and do not deserve an answer. Isn't that the definition of self-righteousness?
As I have mentioned here before, I came from a church culture that was convinced that they had THE TRUTH. Many of those folks bragged about their spiritual insight. Many of them made fun of religious beliefs and people outside of our group. Ministers loved to give sermons that used biblical arguments to demolish the teachings and doctrines of Traditional Christianity. Funerals were a special favorite of some of the most self-righteous ministers. They viewed them as an opportunity to show people how stupid it was to believe that your loved one was on his/her way to heaven (or hell). Anyone who espoused anything different from them was hopelessly deceived or part of a Satanic conspiracy to suppress THE TRUTH.
Yes, I have seen that hungry, wild look in a person's eyes before; and it wasn't pretty. It's like there is an impulse in some folks to defeat and humiliate anyone who dares to espouse an opinion that differs from theirs. I've seen that hateful, superior language in print before too - my church produced a lot of books, booklets, articles and magazines.
When that church fell apart, I noticed that a large number of folks rejected both God and the Bible. Although I can understand the hurt and disappointment that would cause someone to do that, I cannot understand the impulse to exchange one tyranny for another.
This phenomenon, however, is apparently not peculiar to the former members of my church. I have noticed that very often the same folks who were so overtly committed to their former religious beliefs often become the most vociferous critics of the Bible and the most ardent supporters of atheism. In short, their beliefs/opinions are the only things that changed. They still feel that evangelical impulse. They still enjoy that feeling of superiority to lesser mortals - that feeling of knowing more than their ignorant and duped fellow humans.
Go to YouTube and observe one of these folks giving a public lecture. Their supporters laugh, cheer and clap just like some Christians do when one of their evangelists is speaking. In fact, some of these presentations feel a lot like some of the sermons I sat through in my former church. I'll say it again: Self-righteousness is ugly, and it doesn't matter if it's a theist or atheist that is engaging in the behavior.