Atheists Put Their Faith in Backlash of Politics; Fear of Radical Islam and Bush Policies Cited

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Byline: Julia Duin, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Not since the April 8, 1966, famous "Is God dead?" cover of Time magazine has atheism been the topic du jour.

"Atheism has come into vogue in cycles pretty reliably for the past 300 years," said Nick Gillespie, editor of Reason, a libertarian magazine. "These days, at least you won't get burned at the stake, and you might get a New York Times' best-seller."

A flood of post-September 11 books on the topic have done quite well. Among them are "Breaking the Spell" by Daniel Dennett, Michael Shermer's "Why Darwin Matters," Michel Onfray's "Atheist Manifesto," Sam Harris' "The End of Faith," Ibn Warraq's "Leaving Islam," biologist Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion," and journalist and critic Christopher Hitchens' "God is Not Great."

Reasons for the surge range from a backlash against radical Islam to a general unhappiness with the Bush administration.

"The rise of militant Islam revived questions as to where does faith lead people?" Mr. Gillespie said. "It all proceeds from September 11, which in many profound ways was a religious act."

Plus, he added, the current administration has given religion-friendly policies a bad name.

"To the extent that this administration has been seen as a complete failure," he said, "on the right, you'll see a reach for a new kind of conservatism. It will have more in common with atheism that says religion should not be part of politics."

According to the American Religious Identification Survey, conducted by the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, the share of American adults who do not subscribe to any religion increased from 8 percent in 1990 to more than 14 percent - about 30 million people - in 2001.

"Forty-three percent of Americans don't attend church," said Paul Kurtz, founder and chairman of the Amherst, N.Y.-based Center for Inquiry. "A lot of people realize they don't believe in religion, and they don't want the state to meddle in private belief. They're looking to literature, ethics or philosophy to get guidance. …