Living Secular: Books on Nonbelief Shift from Argument to Lifestyle

Oct 28, 2014

By Henry L. Carrigan Jr.

In 1950, fewer than 5 percent of Americans were nonreligious. Sixty years later, in 2010, as Phil Zuckerman writes in his new book, Living the Secular Life: New Answers to Old Questions(Penguin, Dec.), that number had jumped to 16 percent, according to the Pew Research Religion and Public Life Project (with a smaller proportion actually identifying as atheists). Today various national surveys find some 30 percent of Americans saying they do not practice any religion. With an increase of more than 200 percent in the past 25 years, this latter group–which sociologists of religion refer to as the “nones”–is the fastest-growing “religious” orientation in the country. How do people live fulfilling and meaningful lives without the traditional support of religious beliefs and institutions?

As they studied what they call secularism—”our term for atheists and non-theist humanists”—sociologists Richard Cimino and Christopher Smith say they noticed the issue of atheism vs. religion has generated “more heat than light.” Rather than joining the debate, in Atheist Awakening: Secular Activism and Community in America (Oxford, Nov.), Cimino and Smith draw on in-depth interviews with atheist, secular, and humanist leaders and activists to illustrate the ways these nonbelievers organize themselves. “Even though organized religions are antagonists of secularists,” the authors tell PW, “we found that secularist groups do share some common ground with religious groups, especially evangelicals. Atheists mimic evangelicals in their emphasis on outreach; some secularists are seeing the value of rituals and even talk of ‘spirituality’ minus the supernatural elements; and atheists and evangelicals often see themselves as a struggling minority and see the other as a dangerous force in society, leading both camps to take up political activism.”

In Atheist Mind, Humanist Heart: Rewriting the Ten Commandments for the Twenty-First Century (Rowman & Littlefield, Oct.), Lex Bayer–a board member of the Humanist Connection, a humanist, atheist, and agnostic nonprofit organization serving Stanford University and Silicon Valley–and John Figdor–the humanist chaplain serving the atheist, humanist, and agnostic communities at Stanford–address the question, “So, you don’t believe in God; now what?” The authors argue that atheists need not react against God but instead can embrace a set of constructive principles to live by that establish a meaningful view of the world. To aid in that quest, Bayer and Figdor provide a set of ten “Non-Commandments” that include affirmations such as “we can perceive the world through our human senses,” and “we act morally when the happiness of others makes us happy.” They invite readers to discover their own non-commandments, to help them arrive at a deeper understanding of their core beliefs.

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7 comments on “Living Secular: Books on Nonbelief Shift from Argument to Lifestyle

  • @OP- “So, you don’t believe in God; now what?” The authors argue that atheists need not react against God but instead can embrace a set of constructive principles to live by that establish a meaningful view of the world.

    This repeats the old mantra that atheists “react against God”, as if there was some default god to react against!

    The whole capital “G” concept assumes an Abrahamic mind-set, which all atheists but the most recently liberated from God-delusions, will never have held in the first place, or will have binned long ago!

    Do Buddhist atheists “react against God”? It’s just a silly question for those who do not believe in gods!

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  • 2
    mikenlynn says:

    Agree. I just don’t understand where people get this idea that when someone quits believing in god that they become unmoored from all the moral and emotional aspects of being human. I realized that all of the positive human traits I possessed were not resident in me because of some ethereal higher power, but were actually part and parcel of who I was. If anything, my level of empathy and concern for my fellow humans is higher than when I believed, simply because my concern for them resides in the here and now, where it really matters.

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  • Pretty gutted and confused why am I having such reading recommended to me as if I do not have a natural and innate ability to be a good human because of my none belief in some superbeing?

    I personally found being ethical and morally sound, thoughtful about and respectful of others and of this planet came quite naturally (been atheist since age 9!) Am keen to hear a really good explanation of why I need to read these books because it seems the authors think my moral compass is in deficit due to my none belief which ipsofacto seems to imply that they must believe in a greater guiding power – totally confused – guidance please what am I missing here?

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  • Why is the US so panic striken and ‘fraidy dog about this?

    You don’t need stabilisers on your bike just because you think daddy’s let go. He was never holding on in the first place. Europe never had stabilisers and look how far down the street they’ve got…

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  • 6
    aquilacane says:

    So true. I have never even begun to wonder how to behave or what is the meaning of my life. I behave naturally and my life means nothing. I am alive. I like it. I witness stuff. I combine what I have witnessed into new things and thoughts. I like physical combat. I like drawing. I like creating. I hide it well at work but I rather fail alone than succeed with help. The last thing I will ever listen to is someone telling me how to be myself.

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