American Humanist Association president Niose provides a thorough examination of modern secular movements in America, while lumping believers together in disdain.
From the beginning of the book, the author pits “Secular Americans” (identified as atheists, agnostics, humanists and those who are generally nonreligious) against “the Religious Right,” an amorphous group who appear throughout as the source of most of America’s ills over the past 30 years. Niose points out that while nonbelievers have always existed in American society, only recently have they begun to act to institute changes in public policy, mainly as a direct reaction to the religious right. Looking back to America’s founding, Niose argues that “a fair assessment of history would reveal that the structure of American government was not intended to be either proreligion or antireligion, but simply neutral on religion.” Where religion did become involved in early American public life, he writes, it was harmful or even disastrous (e.g., the Salem witch trials). Niose echoes the argument of other modern nonbelievers that religion is usually immoral in its effects on society, whereas secularism is untainted by any immoral past. This sets the stage for the author’s extended assault on the religious right, which is characterized as anti-intellectual, hypocritical and belligerent. The most useful part of the book is Niose’s survey of the rise of organized secularism. He discusses important figures in the secular movement, landmark Supreme Court cases and the creation and growth of national organizations. Readers hoping to better understand the background of today’s secular movement will find solid material, and secular activists will applaud the author’s zeal for the cause. The vast majority of religious Americans, however, will not see themselves in this book at all. While it may be understandable that Niose attacks the most radical of the faithful, it is less understandable that he ignores the existence of the vast majority of people of faith.
A loaded attack on religion redeemed by a useful examination of secularism.