I don't think anyone, Dawkins and Hitchens included, is trying to actively destroy religion. The statement that Christianity is on its way out is merely an observation, not a declaration of war.
So what would you call writing a book titled "God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything"? If I wrote a book called "Why GiC is an idiot and his point of view is dangerous and will ruin the world", could I then fall back on "hey, I'm just making an observation"? No. You're making a stand. You're making some sort of point in favor of your viewpoint over the viewpoints of others. Don't cop out with all that "hey, we're only observing this stuff" business. Your original post that I responded to was about what a great impact these secularists are having on society. (And I agree that they are, my point is just don't back away from it now. That's dishonest.)
How do you confuse the expression of his opinion with 'actively destroying religion'? No laws were passed that forbid your exercise of religion, you were in no well compelled to abandon your faith, Hitchens simply stated that 'god' throughout history has never been a positive influence on society, that the belief in such a god has historically been damaging and unproductive. But if you still desire, you're free to follow a religious belief system; it seems that you're not upset with secularists trying to destroy religion, you're upset that you're not allowed to destroy the secularists and deny them the same rights you claim for yourself.
The belief in a utopia, be it in this life or the next, is a political position, it's a statement on the ideal manner in which a people should be ruled. The statement that there is no god is a simple probabilistic observation, no belief in the ideals of the state required.
Here's the disconnect between arguing as you are now and the kinds of arguments that come out of the Hitchens and his ilk: If God does not exist, who cares? Why is it bad if I believe in something that is not scientifically verifiable? I'm not talking about religious extremism; that is obviously bad. I'm talking about basic belief of the "yes or no" variety. If I say "well, I believe that God does exist, because science has its place and that place is not to answer the ultimate questions about the point of our existence", what does it matter? Every single atheist or atheistically-minded person I've ever talked to makes the argument that this would hold back humanity in some way. So to read that disbelief in God does not require a belief about the ideal of the state (intellectual and material progress and whatnot), well...I'm willing to grant you that, but also you'd be the first. I don't really see how that works, but I guess that's only because ultimately every atheist I've ever read about, talked to, listened to, etc. ultimately falls back on this "you must shed your superstitions" idea -- well, WHY? If it's not about something good happening when I do that, then why? Because you can't find God with laboratory equipment? But I don't care about that...I leave work at work!
I'm not sure where you found these atheists of which you speak, maybe in a former or current communist state? Most, though not all, atheists I know tend to follow enlightenment-era philosophical ideals; yes, they will argue against religion and the harm it does, but I don't know anyone who would seek to use the violence of the state to suppress it. Whether or not religion is detrimental to the state, most who embrace the ideals of the enlightenment would argue that the individual's freedom of conscience takes precedence over the interests of the state, rending the question moot. There are obviously exceptions, such as the atheism that arose during communism and even a few technocratic atheists in the west, but in my experience they are a small minority in the west, especially in the United States.
(Sorry, I don't mean to harangue you, since you don't appear to be making that argument. I'm just not understanding how atheism is preferable to theism if that is not included. Why cheer on the advance of secularism if you don't think man is better off for it? What's the advantage if it isn't about reaching some more advanced state? That everyone will be rational because rationalism is inherently good or something?)
I praise the advance of secularism because, first of all, it seems most probable that it is true and that because of this, it is worth pursuing by its own right. Secondly, I consider dogmatic responses to questions to be entirely unhelpful and unproductive, I would rather that the energy spent defending the dogma of ancient texts be used for an objective pursuit of knowledge through science and reason. Also, I would hope that the realization that this is the only world we have and the only life we live would implore people to make the best of it, rather than living in misery with the hope of better things that will never come.
But I believe that these things must be achieved by knowledge and education; any attempt to use force would be worse than counterproductive. If people believe what they believe because they are compelled by law or threat of violence to do so, then any belief will become destructive, no matter how true it is. Freedom must be valued even above truth.
In Nietzsche's social circles, that was true when he said it, it's true for much larger segments of society today and I only see the trend continuing.
Why then do other thinkers such as Huntington make the argument that religious and cultural identities are the new source of conflict in the post-cold war world? What is all of this conflict in the Middle East and exported from there to the West about, then? Maybe Osama Bin Laden was really just frustrated about the lack of progress in education in his part of the world? Or do a billion people (or many more billions, if you count all religious believers as being a homogenous group by virtue of a common belief in something) not matter because they're not part of the "civilized world", as you alluded to in the part of your reply about the Muslim world?
I don't know that these thinkers are wrong on this particular point. Until the cold-war era, these questions and philosophical debates were largely the province of the upper classes, few in the lower classes or even growing middle class (outside academia, at least) had the time, money, or inclination to involve themselves in these philosophical debates that became common place amongst the upper classes of the 19th century. Through academia, and largely thanks to the GI Bill, atheism and agnosticism were slowly introduced to the middle class during the cold war, very slowly at first but the rate has increased. People like Dawkins, Hitchens, et al. are really the first populist atheists, or at least represent the first large-scale populist atheistic movement. Their target audiences aren't the landed nobles or titans of industry, but the common man; their insistence on the rational abilities of the common man are probably also why the movement is so strongly steeped in enlightenment-era philosophy, it is one of the few philosophical systems that truly treat all members of a society as equals.
It's easy to look at America and Europe and say that secularism will win the day. Well, America and Europe are not the world. I would think that our current war against radical Islamic terrorism would drive that point home, but it seems that all many people have gotten out of it is "religion bad".
It's just as easy to look at the Islamic world today and see Europe during the Reformation; of course, unlike Europe during the Reformation, there is significant outside pressure towards more secularism in the Islamic world today. History has also taught us the path towards secularism from religion, namely education and the empowerment of women (both of which undermine the heart of fundamentalism, namely poverty). And none of this is to say that I predict the complete demise of all religious belief, merely a paradigm shift where society informs religion rather than religion informing society (we're already seeing this in the West, especially amongst the Protestants and more slowly amongst the Catholics and Orthodox); once that shift occurs, I think a society can be fairly considered to be secular.