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Atheists challenge the religious right

Growing religious influence in the US government has led some nontheists to take positions some describe as 'secular fundamentalism.'

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For some time, the religious right has decried "secular humanism," a philosophy that rejects the supernatural or spiritual as a basis for moral decisionmaking. But now, nonbelievers are vigorously fighting back.

Only a small percentage of Americans admit to being nontheists (between 2 and 9 percent, depending on the poll), but that equates to many millions. And religionists' role in debates over stem-cell research and evolution vs. intelligent design – as well as radical religion in world conflicts – have galvanized some atheists to mount a counteroffensive.

In bestselling books, on websites, and with a national lobbying effort, atheists and other nontheists are challenging the growing religious influence in government and public life. Some are attacking the foundations of religion itself.

Two particularly provocative books, in fact, hit the top of Publishers Weekly's religion bestseller list in December. No. 1, "The God Delusion," by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, and No. 2, "Letter to a Christian Nation," by writer Sam Harris, are no-holds-barred, antireligion polemics that call for the eradication of all manifestations of faith.

"I am attacking God, all gods, anything and everything supernatural, wherever and whenever they have been or will be invented," declares Dr. Dawkins, the famed Oxford professor who wrote "The Selfish Gene."

These offerings are so intolerant of religion of any kind – liberal, moderate, or fundamentalist – that some scientists and secularists have critiqued their peers for oversimplification and for a secular fundamentalism.

"They undermine their own case by writing in a language that suffers from many things they say are true of believers – intolerance, disrespect, extremism," says Alan Wolfe, a professor of religion at Boston College, who is a secularist and author of several books on American religious perspectives.

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