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Atheists challenge the religious right

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Yet the authors are anything but modest about their efforts to supplant faith with pure scientific rationality. While critics point out that religion is a genuine reflection of people's experience and will always exist, Mr. Harris suggests it could be equated with slavery, which once was widely acceptable, but eventually was looked upon with horror. He sees it as responsible for many of life's tragedies.

Harris first hit the bestseller bull's-eye in 2004 with "The End of Faith," and he says the responses to that book, particularly those from Christians, spurred his latest epistle.

A mere 96 pages, "Letter" may be dismissed by many for its condescending tone or overheated rhetoric. Yet its bold arguments offer a useful window into nontheist perspectives and could also startle some complacent religionists into a rethinking and refining of perceptions.

Many nontheists don't share this militant perspective, but have decided that keeping silent in religious America no longer makes sense. They are astonished that a majority of Americans question evolution and support teaching intelligent design in the science classroom. They are distressed over polls that show that at least half of Americans are unwilling to vote for an atheist despite the Constitution's requirement that there be no religious test for public office. And they contend that in recent years, Congress has passed bills and the president has issued executive orders that have privileged religion in inappropriate and unconstitutional ways.

As a result, seven organizations of nontheists – including atheists, freethinkers, humanists, and agnostics – began the Secular Coalition for America (SCA), a lobby seeking to increase the visibility and respectability of nontheistic viewpoints in the United States.

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